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Jef Lippiatt answered a question

Apart from a good idea, what would you need for successful product development?

What steps have you, or would you follow when trying to develop your own product? 

Jef Lippiatt

Jef Lippiatt, Owner at Startup Chucktown

Yee,

I think this is a question that can help a lot of people forward in their journey.

  • Flush Out The Idea - For an idea to become more than something in your head or doodled down on a napkin you need to expand on it.
    • How? The easy way to do this is write down short clear thoughts and then categorize them into groups (e.g. Product, Target Audience, Price, Sales Channels, etc.). You can and should iterate on this process multiple times over the period of several days or weeks depending on the complexities of the underlying idea.
  • Test Quickly & Inexpensively - You need to validate that your idea is worth pursuing with your time, energy and money before getting too attached to it.
    • How? By using inexpensive or free tools to test your assumptions. You could quickly craft up a survey using Google Forms, Survey Monkey or other related tools to put one or several different surveys together. To ensure the surveys serve your purpose decide are you trying for "breadth" of answers (quantity) or "depth" of answers (quality). I don't recommend trying to do both in one survey. After you determine that, use your connections within your physical network or across social networks to share your survey with the type of customers you are hoping to connect with (don't just blast this and have anyone and everyone answer - doing so will dilute the strength of the collected information).
  • Review Results - After collecting the desired number of survey responses, pour over the data without being quick to make judgments. Remember that you need to be open and connected with your potential customers. Do not disregard their feedback as uneducated, incorrect or invalid, or you will do so at your own peril. If your potential customers clearly need something else or want something slightly different, adjust your idea based on this feedback to better connect with your potential customers.
  • Now You Need To Build - This is the time where you need to put together an early version of your product. If you are a baker start working kinks out of the recipe, if a furniture maker build a scale model, if software maker create a paper or low fidelity prototype.
    • How? You need to be judicious with what you put into this version of the product. Ask yourself, "If I don't include this, will customers still get value?" If yes, leave the feature out, if no put a rough version of the feature into the design. Review each decision against the feedback you previously received. Is rough version ready to be put in front of potential customers? No, but you will do it anyway. It is counter-intuitive to test something that isn't "polished" or "finished" but it helps you iterate and adjust to feedback before you get so far along in the process you can't afford to later.
  • Iterate Again - Take that initial round of feedback on your rough version and start building the next slightly better version of your product.
    • How? Did you notice users not using a feature or not liking a feature? Pull it out. Don't try to rationalize leaving it in, the customers have spoken (you can always try the feature out again in a future version). Remember, if you don't include everything the customers want in the next version it is okay. Measure putting something in whether that would still be value without including it.

This of course has quite an alignment to the Lean Startup Methodology by Eric Ries, however, I do have some of my own liberties coming from a background of Product Design. I've also spent several months on putting documentation and forms and interactive forms together to put this process to a time table. However, it is not quite ready for public consumption. I will say, stay to relatively short blocks of time. If at any point your potential customers or your research proves an idea to be unsustainable for a business, go back to the drawing board and start on another idea.

Above all remember the process to continuously iterate and improve your offering, even once you have successfully launched and are making money. Comfort and complacency never lead to future growth or innovation.

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Lisa Ormenyessy answered a question

Lisa Ormenyessy

Lisa Ormenyessy, Business Coach and Marketing Specialist at Straight Talk Group

Marketing is designed to change the behavior of your audience. Taking them from inaction to action. Successful (and I would argue all) marketing should take prospects from not buying to buying. This can be taken in one giant leap (not often) or a sequence of events.

The ultimate measuring stick is sales - ie dollars in your bank account.

Is a campaign really successful if it doesn't reach your end goal?

You could for example have prospects go from not clicking on your facebook 'likes' to clicking. These likes are great, however meaningless as a marketing tactic if your next step is not in place to ultimately take them to a place where they are taking action that ends in a sale.

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Jef Lippiatt

Jef Lippiatt, Owner at Startup Chucktown

The most important thing is setting your goals ahead of your marketing efforts (or at least setting them before your next marketing effort). You need to have things to track against, however, you also need to select the right things to be tracking.

What would items would really indicate whether your business was growing, flat or struggling? Those are probably the best key metrics that you should be tracking. Every business (and every industry) have different success indicators.

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Iain Dooley answered a question

How can a virtual assistant help you?

Hi Savvies,

I'm asking my first question here today, I would love to know more about what businesses think and want from a virtual assistant.  All comments welcome!

How would you and your business benefit in having a virtual assistant and what stops you from contracting a virtual assistant?

Sorry that is more than one question, regards Maria

Iain Dooley

Iain Dooley, Owner at The Procedure People

Hi Maria, I love hiring virtually. In fact, I currently have on staff an accounting assistant, sales assistant, 2 editorial assistants and 2 project scheduling assistants.

The key for me has always been to have adequately defined roles, and adequately defined processes.

I think a lot of people expect to hire a VA and have all their problems solved magically, but hiring someone to do a clearly defined role with properly written documentation can dramatically decrease the hassle and risks associated with outsourcing work.

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Lisa Ormenyessy

Lisa Ormenyessy, Business Coach and Marketing Specialist at Straight Talk Group

Hi Maria the one characteristic I would like in a VA is initiative.  A proactive VA would be a god send and worth their weight in gold. :-)

Maria Nikas

Maria Nikas , Founder/CEO at Limitless Virtual Assistant

Hi Lisa, I agree initiative and being proactive is a must when working with any employee, contractor and especially a VA as you can't see them all the time you think 'ok what are they up too'. When you first hire a VA it is good to introduce them to the business and tell them what you want, what you are about and your goals, make sure you are both on the same page. Let your VA know that you are open to suggestions and happy to take questions just like any new employee you will have to spend a bit of time with them at the beginning and set some goals too.
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John Eustace answered a question

John Eustace

John Eustace, Principal / Communications and Media Strategist at Bells and Whistles Marketing Pty Ltd

"The general public" cannot realistically, commercially of culturally be considered a target market (or as customers).

All media (social or otherwise), claiming to be for the general public, is by its very definition far from focused. You can only ever focus on customers, a microcosm of a specific section of the general public.

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Jef Lippiatt

Jef Lippiatt, Owner at Startup Chucktown

Great question. I believe it really comes down to two pieces of criteria.

  • Who (as in what segment) is your customer?
  • What is the purpose of the communication?

If your customer is the general public you may want to make more general announcements. However, it is unlikely that the general public as a whole is your customer. Perhaps if you are a giant big box chain, but even then it is unlikely. You would typically have customer segments, potentially stratified by the range of your products or services or the prices of your goods.

Getting the attention of the general public is not easy because the message must resound with everyone (not very likely). Chances are you need to focus your communication to your largest or most profitable customer segments (e.g. use social networks that the custom segment uses to send them a focused message).

The purpose of the communication will also help you focus your communication.

  • Are you trying to get customers who have previously made a purchase to make another purchase?
  • Are you trying to reward your loyal customers?
  • Are you trying to get new customers?
  • Are you announcing a new product/service or an update?
  • Are you venturing into a new industry or demographic?

All of the above questions will help you focus your communication. Why focus? Using focused communication will produce a better response from customers (you are calling them to act on something). Using focused communication makes the message more personal.

Preetha S

Preetha S ,

All ears to your answer Jef. Considering that the SME markets face stiff competition from players of all sizes and nature, the five points you have mentioned would definitely help me while designing and delivering messages over social media. IYes, I agree that the 'what is in it for your audience' must be ringing when we do any communication - especially in business ones
Jef Lippiatt

Jef Lippiatt , Owner at Startup Chucktown

Exactly. The era of general and generic messages is gone. Communication must resonate with customers on a personal level. The other important thing making sure you are enabling a two-way dialogue.
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Brad Lyons answered a question

How do I choose the best web agency for my social media marketing?

What are the first steps I should take, and what questions should I ask to make sure it's a good fit?

Brad Lyons

Brad Lyons, Consultant at SMS Fusion

I believe the biggest question is why are you looking to hire a company to do the social media marketing for you?

Is it because you are not sure what is involved?

You don't have time to do it?

You expect a quick ROI if you pay someone else?

There are a number of tools available to help people with social media marketing. Tools that allow you to post on multiple social sites at the same time, track comments and likes etc.

If you expect a quick ROI chances are that may or may not happen even if you hire a company to do it for you. If your business is not yet active on social media you will have an instant result by starting to be active.

What are the first steps:

Before you hire a company to do it for you I would recommend starting yourself, that way you can measure the success more accurately.

If you are not sure what is involved in social media marketing call the companies that offer the service. Ask them what they will do, what type of results you can expect. They will tell, it is part of their sales pitch. Once you have called a number of companies you will know the basics of what they do.

With this information you should look at the different social marketing tools that are available. Try some of the things the companies told you they would do then look at the success you have achieved.

Now you have something to base their success on. And most importantly you now know what they should be doing. I have never hired a company to do something that I don't know how to do. The main reason is I want to know if they are doing their job!

If I don't understand the job I have hired someone to do, how could I possibly know if they are doing the right thing. It doesn't mean you have to be a professional at everything, it just means you understand what they are doing and you will quickly be able to work out if someone is just taking you for a ride or not.

So the best questions you should ask them? None! Let them do the talking and explain the industry to you. Whoever gives you the best explanation will most likely know what they are talking about.

You will know if the company is a good fit if you understand what they do and they take the time to explain what they do in clear and simple terms. If you are happy with how they treat you and don't feel pressured into signing up, they will probably look after you and do the right thing.

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Steve Osborne answered a question

Would you pitch advertising/design/marketing concepts to clients?

I'm working on a business model based on involving a group of talented creatives in a cooperative environment.

Here's my question: On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 low, 10 high) how interested would you be in pitching advertising/design/marketing concepts on niche briefs for a range of big and small name clients? Successful submissions would be paid a (decent) flat fee. All submissions would have the option of anonymity.

Steve Osborne

Steve Osborne, director at Steve Osborne / Smarthinking

Thanks to all who've posted comments so far. Here's a bit more detail on how this might work.

The model is intended to attract concepts only, not execution ie. production would not be included in your submission. This is not a 99Designs model.

There are two levels of involvement – open briefs and closed briefs. Open (or public) briefs are accessible by all and any group member can respond. Payment would vary depending on the brief and the client. Closed briefs are by invitation only. Only those who have proven themselves on public briefs are eligible. Everyone working on a closed brief would be paid for their contribution. 

The entire model is managed by a team of experienced marketing heads. So the briefs would be well-written. This team makes the final decision as to which responses are shown to the client, so yes, you would be competing against other members within the co-operative on open briefs. However, the responses are selected on the simple basis of "best idea wins." The management team controls client communication and production.

A submission would have 3 x mandatory and one optional component. 1. a strong, memorable, two sentence headline or title that clearly conveys the idea. 2. a concise, one paragraph description covering the Who, What, When, Where of the idea. 3. the How ie. an insight into how the concept would be realised. This might include suggestions for production. 4. (optional) some sort of reference image, sketch, drawing, storyboard – whatever you felt might aid the idea.

The model does not preclude you from working with a partner(s), or from submitting multiple responses. The model is intended to induce the best ideas with the least amount of physical labour.

The idea started because we all have a massive file of rejected, unsuited or self-censored concepts. Either the client didn't appreciate their beauty/profundity/cleverness, or didn't have the budget! Whatever the reason, they they never saw the light of presentation. We wondered, what if there was a way to get some of those brilliant, but unused, ideas into the hands of businesses that needed them? Without necessarily revealing where they came from/who did them. Clients get to go outside their formal agency setups and draw from a larger pool of top talent (some of whom might want to stay anonymous because of conflict of interest issues). 

So the co-operative idea was born.

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Neil Steggall

Neil Steggall, Partner at Wardour Capital Partners

For me it comes down to teamwork and the emerging trend to outsource. If the concept is well managed the outcome for the client (and this is what we should be focusing on) has to be better.

Steve Osborne

Steve Osborne , director at Steve Osborne / Smarthinking

Thanks for your comment Neil. Yes, the model would be well managed and you're right, the outcome would definitely be better for the client.
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Pam Pitt answered a question

Which part of my online business income is or isn't taxable?

Hi everyone

I currently started my own online business , mainly focusing on men's fashion. I'am very new to online businesses and especially the accounting side, i would like to ask what is taxable and what isnt? should i set aside money for when tax time comes ?

Pam Pitt

Pam Pitt, Partner at Bookkeepers 4 u

Feel free to ask some more direct questions, if my answer was too general...

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Johnny Li

Johnny Li, Director at Naive and Young

Thank you so much,

you have answered more than i asked, I have a clear understanding of what my profit and loss will be

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What is the best software for creating forms?

Adobe is getting rid of form central and we are going to have to switch to new software. Is anyone familiar and have experience with form creation software?

Sourcefit Custom Offshore Staffing Solutions

Sourcefit Custom Offshore Staffing Solutions, Owner at Sourcefit Custom Offshore Staffing Solutions

Google forms is OK. For email marketing forms, I've also tried Mailchimp's forms. They're easy to use. If you're using WordPress, you may want to check out form plugins such as Gravity Forms.

Lisa Ormenyessy

Lisa Ormenyessy , Business Coach and Marketing Specialist at Straight Talk Group

Thanks, 'Sourcefit'!
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Jef Lippiatt

Jef Lippiatt, Owner at Startup Chucktown

I think it depends on the type of forms. Are you talking about online forms, print forms or both? I typically use Google Forms for online capture. I've also heard good things about Wufoo (although I've never used them myself).

Lisa Ormenyessy

Lisa Ormenyessy , Business Coach and Marketing Specialist at Straight Talk Group

Thanks Jef, yes I'm talking about both. I will check out your suggestions.
Matt Dell

Matt Dell ,

I hadn't tried Google forms before but just did Free with no limit to response numbers, easy enough and lots advice on Youtube for help Goodbye Surveymonkey :) Would be interested in paper/printed forms software though
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Yee Trinh answered a question

Are newsletters dead in email marketing?

With just about every business offering newsletters and people's inboxes getting crowded, are they effective or worth the time and effort? What has been your experience as a small business or marketer?

Yee Trinh

Yee Trinh, Cofounder at SavvySME

I don’t think newsletters are dead in email marketing, but maybe it has gotten competitive in certain industries. It’s why your newsletter need to have a point of difference instead of doing a run of the mill job. You must think of newsletters as a long-term game. It’s about understanding the issues your subscribers are facing and helping them out or educating and inspiring them regularly. You’re regularly engaging with them and nurturing them, building credibility and trust in you until they are ready to do business with you or buy your products. Before you start a newsletter, you need to sit down and hash out a plan that is tailored to your audience. I suggest looking at other newsletters to see what they offer and if there are any gaps you can find. And always monitor your newsletter’s performance, checking stats such as open rate, click through rate and where your readers are clicking in the email to gauge their interest. MailChimp regularly publishes benchmark numbers for email marketing, and you can see where you are faring to the industry average. For example, if your open rate is below the average of say, 18%, then you know that you need to try something new, such as A/B testing your subject lines. As long as you monitor your email marketing, then you can decide whether newsletters are worth running for your business or using other email marketing strategies to nurture your audience and get sales or leads. You can try working with an email marketer who has more knowledge and skills to help you out, as I feel that email is an important marketing channel for small businesses. 

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Sonja Ceri

Sonja Ceri, CMO at Four Drunk Parrots

 

If you are producing useful information that people want to read then no - newsletters definitely aren't dead. If you are producing newsletters just for the sake of it then there isn't really much point. You could be putting your time into something which is going to give you better ROI or is higher on your to do list. Write your newsletters from the point of your readers and before you put anything out think would I be interested in this if I were in their position? Is it adding any value or would it make them want to stop what they are doing in their busy lives to read it? Newsletters help keep your brand top of mind for your customers and when they have that problem you can solve they are likely to think of your organisation first. 

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Andrew Tucker answered a question

Andrew Tucker

Andrew Tucker, CEO at ITonCloud

Skeeve,

Your dream is no longer a dream :) In a hosted desktop environment everything is kept separate, no company data on the BOYD and therefore no personal data on the company servers. In the Windows environment all you need to do is ALT-TAB between the to environments and this applies to the Windows mobile devices as well. In the Mac world you would move between spaces and again this applies to the Ipad and even the Google tablets. I have a Mac and when I am at work or for that matter at home working I have my personal environment open in Desktop 1 (spaces) and my work environment open in Desktop 2 (if you have a mac you will have a better understanding of this).  When I am in the hosted desktop environment I have access to all my company data and printers etc no matter where I am traveling. For example I was in NZ traveling from the South Island to the North Island on the ferry. I was able to log into my hosted desktop on my Google tablet via 3G and was able proof read a document in Word make the changes (attach a diagram from Visio) and email it off. Close down the work environment and return to sending off a picture of the scenery to my family from my personal email using the native email client. 

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Andrew Egan

Andrew Egan, Director & IT Specialist at Adept IT

Skeeve - the new Blackberry OS offers this. It has distinct "corporate" and "personal" partitions (for lack of a better word) that allows the enterprise side to be controlled by the enterprise, and the personal side to be offlimits to enterprise. This means the enterprise could wipe all the corporate data when an employee leaves, without damaging their personal information.

to my understanding, there obvioulsy has to be some communication between the two sides but it's kept fairly separate..

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