The most important thing you need to grow your online business is more traffic to your website, right?
Well, here at ActiveGrowth, we say...forget about traffic altogether! In our first full podcast episode – Forget Traffic! Part 1 – we're going to tell you why.
It turns out that web traffic is overrated when it comes to pulling success levers for your online business. In fact, traffic is such an over-emphasized performance indicator that it usually distracts you from much more important things that actually help to grow your business.
In Episode 1: Forget Traffic! – Part 1, Shane and Hanne introduce a business strategy they like to call the Customer First approach.
Download the podcast below to see why a customer first approach is so crucial to sidestepping the grind of audience building and moving you straight towards revenue generation instead.
Listen on the go! Subscribe to the ActiveGrowth Podcast using your favorite app:
Episode 1 Show Notes
Download this episode to discover:
- Why More Traffic is such a seductive online business trap.
- Why you can't set up a niche content site focused around a few researched keywords anymore.
- Why traffic is not a key performance indicator for most online businesses.
- Why investing your time building audiences on platforms like Instagram and YouTube are Customer Last strategies with limited upside compared to building value based businesses.
- What a Customer First Approach looks like and why it provides laser focus to get the right people's attention from the very start of of your business.
- Introduction to the most solo-preneur friendly and "bootstrapped" way to start your own customer first business – online coaching.
View episode transcript
Let's launch right into this and let's talk about why are we talking about traffic generation. Why are we telling you to forget about traffic generation?
Because that isn't the most important thing in an online business.
Right. That's what most people would think, right. In fact, it's one of those things were I bet you if you went to pretty much any site in the online marketing space that has a large audience. Think of your Quick Sprout, Smart Passive Income, go somewhere. There's a large online marketing interested audience. Put a survey or a poll on that website. Ask people what is your biggest problem. What's the thing that you need to make your business work? I bet you that the number one answer is going to be I need more traffic. The number one problem is I don't have enough traffic.
Of course, that's not a very daring bet of me to do this because we have run many polls and surveys asking such questions. This always tends to be the top, or one of the top answers, right. It's always people are always talking about and thinking about. If only I had more traffic.
I have to say, it seems like a logical thing to think about because if you have 1,000 people or 100,000 people coming to your website, rather than 10 people, that should fix all the problems, right?
For sure, yeah.
We all know that traffic is basically infinitely scalable almost, right. We're all aware that some websites get just unbelievable amounts of traffic. Millions and millions of visitors. It's easy to think, especially if you got something. You know maybe you've got a website that makes $10, $50 or something a month. Then it's easy to say, well, if I had millions of visitors, if I could just multiply this result by hundreds or thousands, then I could go and retire on a beach somewhere. I think that's one of the reasons why we tend to focus on traffic. We want more traffic.
I think there's also another reason. I think that this is a bit of a relic of past years in online marketing because, well, and I was part of this, not too long ago, actually. A few years ago. A fairly viable strategy to make money online was to do the kind of mini site, niche site thing. Where the approach would be, you pick out some keywords, right. You build a website around this keywords. It can be a really simple website. You throw some back links at it. Maybe you pay for some back links spamming service or something. Essentially, what you do, is you just try to get more traffic. You try to get more clicks to your site, then you've got some affiliate links or some ads on your site.
Two things. First of all, like I said, I'm kind of guilty as charged here. I used to do this as well. To give you an example of how extreme this can be, I had a website about paralegal training. I actually don't know what a paralegal is or what they do but I had a website about it. On which I didn't write a single word. I simply paid for some very cheap content filled with keywords. For this website, I had AdSense on it. For this website, the only criteria was well there's a bunch of keywords around paralegal something. The higher I rank for these keywords, the more traffic comes to this site and the more money I make. So there it makes sense. Just more traffic equals more money.
You were actually smarter than I was because my first money online also came from a niche website but I decided to do everything myself and actually go into a website where I thought that I liked the topic and put Amazon affiliate links on there. But yeah, it was the same principle, right. Put on content, have people find it through the search traffic, then make money.
Exactly. The simple truth is that so this was valid. This was a valid way to look at your business at some point. The valid thing to think was well, if I just open the taps further, if I just get more keywords ranking, more clicks, that equals more money. However, that is simply not the case anymore.
You cannot. There's no way I could build a paralegal website without doing any research on this topic and just pay someone five dollars an article to fill it up with content and get anywhere with that. It just doesn't work anymore.
Well, Google became a bit smarter, right.
Exactly. Yes, Google kind of wised up to this. The problem is we still have these stories. We still know about the cowboys in the wild west of the internet who did this kind of thing. So that kind of perpetuates. Well, I want to do that. I heard this guy did that five years ago, I want to do that now. Unfortunately, that doesn't work. So there was this niche site boom a few years ago. I think we were still hearing the echos of that boom, which leads to people overrating the importance of traffic.
I guess it's also something that is kind of the easiest way to kind of measure. You know, you install any analytics program, it easily shows you how much traffic you get. That's the first thing it shows you. So it's an easy thing to kind of understand. I get more visitors. It's an easy thing to be envious of. Someone else gets more visitors. It's an easy thing to measure. I think all of these things combined lead to an overrating of the importance of traffic. Everybody seems to be obsessed with traffic.
We let it distract us from what really matters. The series of episodes are called Forget Traffic. We're literally telling you forget about traffic. I'm not going to tell you it's not that important. This is not ... I'm pretty extreme in this. I want to tell you that I'm totally serious about this.
I have a couple of website. I have two main websites in businesses online. ActiveGrowth and Thrive Themes. I actually can't tell you how much traffic these sites get. I'm serious about that. It's because look, I spend quite a lot of time looking at various analytics and data and split test results and things like that. One thing that I never look at in analytics is the traffic. I simply don't care. Traffic is not one of key performance indicators in our business. It's not something.
And Hanne, you're the head of the marketing team with Thrive Themes. Have I ever asked you to get more traffic? Have I ever asked you about how much traffic we have?
Right. So this is how serious I am. I'm literally totally uninterested in traffic. I'm gonna tell you how that's possible that we're still, you know, that it still works. We have working business, even though we don't care about traffic.
I think there's, you talked about the niche boom site a few years ago. I think we can still see some examples today online of the chasing traffic rather than having another valid strategy in place for an online business. Because the difference is that now it's more on social media, right. The thing is, you can still think about building an online business and being like I will build up a YouTube channel and I will put advertising on my YouTube channel. I will use 10 cents a click for an advertisement on every video. So if I just make 100,000 videos, I might be able to make a living out of YouTube, right.
The same is happening today with Instagram. This is a discussion that I had very recently with somebody who wanted to start an online business. I asked her what she was planning to do. She told me, I'm planning to build my Instagram following. Which you might have, maybe you can imagine my face at this point.
I was like okay, explain me exactly what you are going to do. She's like, "yeah, I'm going to build up my Instagram following and so I read that once I get over 5,000 followers, or 10,000. I don't even know anymore. Then actually I can go to brands and brands will pay me to put an Instagram post on my profile."
So it's like 20 to 50 dollars, I think, that a brand will pay you to have a post on your Instagram account for that number of visitors.
This would be like “look at my new handbag”…
Yeah, it's like “oh, see my sports shoes or my new yoga pants”. Yeah, something like that. Product placement. Yeah, exactly. Product placement on Instagram. Then again, it's like wow, you just build up a whole Instagram following for weeks and weeks and months. Then you can have maybe, what, I don't know, five sponsored posts in a month because you don't want to scare away your audience, right? You cannot just put like publicity every day on that account. So it's like you pay to earn $100 with your account. You just spend months and months. It's still not a very viable thing to do.
Yeah. Yeah. I think also, it's kind of deceptively simple, right. It's like well, you already use Instagram perhaps. You've already, you have an idea of ... Again, like okay, I have followers. If I get more followers, I can get paid. Then you see some Instagram accounts with millions of followers. You're like well they're making out like bandits. Why can't that be me? I think it's this kind of it's an easy thing to grasp.
I'm seeing the same thing more on YouTube because I'm personally, I use YouTube. I don't use Instagram. There's the same thing that the idea of, it's a very appealing idea of the some guys who are just playing video games and recording themselves playing video games on YouTube. They have millions of views and they make a ton of money. Why can't I do that? I can play video games, right. So it's like, it's very appealing idea. It also,
I think a problem with it is also that because the barrier of entry is so low. Taking pictures, putting them on Instagram. Recording video of yourself playing a video game. Putting it on YouTube. Anyone can do it. So it's totally flooded as well. You don't see for everyone who has a large audience and such a platform, you don't see how many other accounts there are who make content that's just as good and they try just as care. Nobody cares and they don't have any followers and don't make any money.
Another thing about this is that if you're getting paid to whatever, post for ad clicks on your YouTube channel or to post a picture with product placed yoga pants, someone else is actually making a lot more money than you are. Otherwise, they wouldn't pay you for this.
I remember listening to a podcast and that was actually a very interesting podcast about paid traffic. Which is called The Art of Paid Traffic. They were talking about Instagram. This one guy is telling, "oh I had the option of paying $50 for one post, that would be taken down after 48 hours. So they would delete the post. Or I could pay $90 to stay on that Instagram account." At that point, he actually explodes laughing. He's like, "so I think you can imagine the option I chose, right, hehehe."
So at this point, this guy is literally laughing with the Instagram account saying, "do you understand how crazy it is that I can buy all this exposure for 90 bucks?" For him traffic was not a problem, right. He would just like for 90 bucks be in front of a huge audience.
Exactly. So this is part of why we're taking this whole forget traffic approach because it's much better to be on the other side of this equation. It's much better to build a business that allows you to buy these ads from the people desperately trying to build an audience than being one of the people desperately trying to build an audience.
So this kind of build an Instagram audience or build a YouTube channel thing, this is an extreme example of what I would call the customer last approach. So you think about getting a customer at the very end. Again, let me give you a quick example of a YouTube channel. If you look at popular YouTube channels, what you usually see is that on the one hand, they make ad money. At some point, the successful channels usual do some of the of their own stuff. They start selling t-shirts or posters or they ask people to support them on Patreon or something like that. So they usually start finding ways to make money, apart from just the YouTube ad money.
This is really important. If you look at the chronological order of this, they start out. They make all this content all the time. They ask people to like and subscribe all the time. They build their audience usually over years. At some point they're like, okay, I'm making some money here but not enough. Now I have to think of how I can get, how can I think about turning these people into customers. They add some kind of product thing. That's the last thing they think of.
Do you think that maybe like the whole Silicon Valley approach might be also a part of that. Because we've seen this products, like WhatsApp or even Instagram, or whatever. They are like free apps. Building up audience, building up traffic. Then in the hope that they will get bought up, right.
Yeah. Yeah, totally. That's another. That's actually a good point. The whole Silicon Valley IPO thing, right? You want to get bought. You want to go public. You want to have a huge public offering or something like that. Where it's all about audience size and growth. As long as you're growing rapidly, you're valuable. Your business if valuable. You've not made a cent, you're billions in debt, it's fine, it's fine. You're growing quickly so it's valuable.
Again, this actually brings us to another thing, I've talked about this before. Avoid being in a superstar business. So if you're an Instagrammer, YouTuber, whatever, you have to be a superstar. You have to be one of the very, very few. Much less than one percent. Much less than one percent of people on these platforms that are the superstars that are making good money. Everybody else is poor, basically.
The whole Silicon Valley thing is the same thing, right? You either manage to take off and you become the next Facebook and you make billions of dollars or you just die in obscurity. This is not a good position to be in. You want to build a business where you can be in the middle ground and you're fine. You're making good money in the middle ground. There are many, many business like that. In fact, most are like that. It's just not the ones that you hear a lot of media noise about.
So maybe a more typical example. For people who are listening to this podcast, you're probably not trying to be a famous Instagrammer or YouTuber, but you're actually making a similar mistake, I bet. Because tell me if this approach seems familiar. You start your business, you build a website. You put a blog on that website and you start doing content marketing. You start creating content around relevant topics, around questions people might be asking, around keywords that you've reached. You start doing social media marketing. You post on Twitter, you post on Facebook, you post wherever. You follow and unfollow. You do all this stuff, right, to try and build an audience and try and get people to your website so that then at some point you maybe add an opt in offer to your website, right. So that some people can covert on that opt in offer. They can become your email subscribers, which is great. Now you can get them to come back, right. Now you can build some momentum with your audience.
At some point maybe you already have, or maybe you plan to create some kind of a product. Maybe you want to create an information product or a membership or something. Again, it's a customer last approach. Because you're thinking, "I'm going to build my website. I'm gonna do social media marketing. I'm going to build content marketing. I'm going to do this and that and the other. SEO, keywords, blah, blah, blah. Then at some point, I'm going to have an audience to which I'm going to sell a product."
This, too, is a customer last approach.
You know that my marketers side is really struggling not to scream right now. Not to be like yes, this is important. You have to do this. Because I think the most important thing here is to say that yes, all of these things will be important at some point, but there is one thing you need to do first. Like before starting to do all of this, right.
Yeah. So let's continue on this example to get to one of the key points here. What will happen if you do this and if you've done this you will know that this is true. What will happen is when you start, you do your content marketing and all this. Then you start to get some idea of what works and what doesn't. Some topics you get more comments, you get more shares, you get more traffic. Others you don't. So you start to get a better idea of what kind of content to create. Then when you create an opt in offer, most people won't opt in for it, right? Most people won't opt in for it.
So again, you learn something about okay, some people are interested in this, most people aren't. Once you have people on your email list, if you are smart, then you find a way to communicate with these people to get feedback from them in the form of comments or having them fill out surveys or whatever. So you get some more information from this audience. Once again, you'll see, you'll get a clearer idea of what are these people actually interested in. What do they actually need? what do they actually want?
Finally, when you start selling a product, inevitably when you start selling a product and it's actually about turning people into customers and asking for money in return, you will have many aha moments. You will have many moments where you see, oh this is what people really want. This is what they really need. This is what I've been missing this whole time. These aha moments come inevitably if you sell something and you pay close attention. Of course you can sell something and be oblivious to this. But if you pay close attention and give people opportunities to communicate back to you, then you will have many aha moments.
These insights that you get from customers and from people who are almost customers but don't become customers for some specific reasons, these are the deepest, richest, most valuable insights. What I'm saying is get those insights first because it saves you so much time and saves you so much effort. If you get those insights first, then you can make a better product to begin with. You can make an opt in offer that will convert more people and more of the right people who will become future customers. You can create better content, better website, better messages, better sales material, better marketing material that appeals to the right people, answers the right questions, and so on. So that's why and this is what I call the customer first approach, get a customer first. Get those deep insights first and build your entire other marketing stuff based on that.
I think like if I can add, for me, it's the example you just gave about building a website and starting to blog and making an opt in offer and hoping that what to find out what people actually want. For me the big difference between the approach of having a product and creating content around that to attract customers to that product is the difference between blogging and content marketing. It's the difference between just putting content out there and hoping to please somebody with an entertaining read or creating content that is very specifically made to help you sell. The way to create that kind of content is only if you're super clear on what you're selling in the first place. So you need that offer and those customers first to be able to know what to create at that point on your website, on your blog.
Exactly. Now, a couple of things. So maybe you're thinking, well, I'm seeing a bit of the chicken and the egg problem here, right, because how do I create a product when I have no customers and I don't have this information yet and I don't have an audience. So how do I create a product and how do I sell it to anyone? Well, we're going to talk about that in just a second.
Let me also mention to you two other things. The first is think about having this experience from the customer side. I'm sure you've experienced this. I'm sure that at some point, you've done some research on maybe some topic or tried to find a solution to a problem and you've come across a piece of content. It just exactly answers your question. Then maybe there's an opt in offer there that is just irresistible. It's just exactly what you've been looking for. So you opt in. Then maybe you get a couple of emails and they are just on point. They talk exactly to your problem. It's exactly what you needed to know. Then there's this product or this service and you sign up for it. The whole thing seems just effortless and inevitable. At no point do you feel like bleh, this bloody, they're spamming my inbox with this nonsense or anything like that. It just flows. You discover this solution and step by step you kind of just slip down this funnel and in the end, you're a customer and you're happy to be a customer because this thing is exactly what you need.
That is what you are trying to create. That only happens, you know, this kind of seamless, effortless funnel only happens based on the insights you get if you go for customers first. It's great when that happens. I hope that if that happens to you, pay close attention to how this feels and what's happening. It's great when you come across a great marketing funnel. When you come across someone else's great marketing campaign. It's such good learning opportunity. I know you're a huge fan of learning this way, as well, Hanne.
You mean I buy a lot of stuff online.
Yeah, no. I think it's one of the very good ways to learn is seeing when yourself you get triggered by this kind of things, right.
Like when do you click on an ad? When do you buy a product? Why did you buy that product and not the one from the competition? Because many times when we're selling something, we kind of forget what it is to be a customer, which is weird. I think that's a very interesting point. Like you said, it's also you're happy with that product in the end. It's actually like solving a real problem for you.
I had this very example with an analytics course because I was trying to learn more about Google Analytics and something very specific about Google Analytics. So I arrived on a website that talked about in a blog post about this very specific thing. The next thing they offered me was well, do you want to learn more? You can take the full course. It didn't even take me 30 minutes to think about it. It was exactly what I needed but that content could not have been created without knowing what the full course was, right, and without knowing the problem that the people had that would actually buy that online course.
Exactly. So, that's one of those things that if you use the customer first approach, all of your content and all of your marketing and everything else you do can be just so laser focused on getting the right people's attention and leading them down this funnel that just ends up saving you a lot of time.
One more thing I wanted to quickly mention is that if you're listening to this and you're kind of skeptical. What if I don't want to sell a product? Maybe want an affiliate marketer or you want kind of passive income just make money through ad clicks. See I think that's still possible. In fact, I know that's possible, but you have to be aware that this kind of business model where you don't sell something is usually a very long, very slow grind to get anywhere with that. It's something we can talk about and we probably will talk about in future episodes but our main emphasis is always on building a product or service based business where you sell something directly to people because it's a short cut, it's a short cut in so, so many ways.
Let's start talking about well, how. How do you do this? This chicken and egg problem. How do you get a customer first? You can literally get a customer first before you have a product to sell. So how the hell does this work? Well, here's an example comes from Eric Reis, the author of The Lean Startup. It's what he calls the concierge MVP. So a minimum viable product, the concierge minimal viable product. So an example that he gives is where a business has this, they create a website where they offer. It's a very simple website at first. With their offer was like an analytics platform with AI. So you plug your Google Analytics into this platform and it analyzes your data and every day it gives you intelligent actionable insights. So an AI creates these insights for you. It's basically like instead of trying to looking at the data yourself and figuring out what's going on and what you should do, this platform will give you the information about what you should do based on that data. So you can sign up for this. It's a monthly fee and you will get these insights in your dashboard.
What you don't realize is there is no AI. It's actually just a room full of people with Excel spreadsheets, right. They literally look at your data and try to figure out what's some intelligible advice we can give based on this. Then they put this out and they make it look in your dashboard like it was automatically generated. This is happening right now actually. It's happening a lot. There's a lot of AI businesses where you get an AI for something or other, that's not an AI at all. What they're doing is instead of building an AI, which is as you can imagine not an easy task. Instead of building an AI first, they get the customers first because if they get to a point where it's like, okay, there's enough people willing to give us enough money, then we now have some money to build an AI with.
So the other important this about doing this with humans first is that, so you have a room full of people with Excel spreadsheets and you get people to sign up for this service. You can then get information from those people about what they actually want. It's much easier to tell a room full of people, "okay guys, people aren't interested in this kind of thing we've been sending them. They want to know more about this kind of thing." Then everybody does their calculation everybody does things differently. That's much easier to do that to reprogram your AI to do something else, right. So this is an example of how to get customers first. You make an offer and you get people to pay you for that thing, even though your product doesn't exist yet. You gather information about exactly what people want and you do it manually. You do whatever the work is. You do it manually until you have enough information and enough proof that people are willing to pay for this. Then you build the product. That is I think a pretty badass example of what we're talking about.
So instead of using robots to replace people, we actually used people to replace robots, basically.
Something like that, yes.
In the beginning at least.
I think there was one thing that you said that is pretty interesting. It's the you have to do it manually in the beginning 'cause it's one of those things I've heard before. I think it's been say to you at one point also says, "do things that don't scale.'
Because when you are at the beginning of your business, you actually can do things that don't scale. You don't actually have to worry yet about how would they scale. Like how am I going to be able to scale this because you're not at that point yet. You're still at a point where you can actually manually send an email to every possible customer or get on the phone with them yourself before having to think about how can I actually scale this whole process so that it's automatic without my influence, right.
Yeah, there's some fairly famous examples of businesses that have done this. One of them is Groupon. So famously Groupon started out with a very simple WordPress blog with the default WordPress theme. They just post everything they did was manual. They posted the stuff manually. They collected people's email addresses manually in spreadsheets. Sent out the offers to the companies that made the group deals and so on. Everything manual before they build the whole platform and before it then scaled, right.
Another example is Zappos.
I was just going to ask did you know Zappos 'cause they were pretty amazing. When I read about that, I was really scotched because it's like instead of building this e-commerce platform, so Zappos sells shoes online, right. Instead of building this e-commerce platform, they didn't know yet if people were actually willing to buy shoes online. So they would go to the local shops, take a picture of the shoes, put that on a website. The moment someone bought the shoe, they would actually go back into the local store, buy that pair, and ship it to the customer on the website. They would have no margin in the beginning and nothing was automated. They didn't have an e-commerce website or whatever. They just wanted to see if people would buy shoes online without testing them on first. Yeah, they were actually able to validate this first idea before investing years and having Facebook and whatever, didn't even exist at that point, I think.
Yeah. I also think a good point here is like these guys were also running a nonprofitable business, right. They were not making money on these shoe sales. It's an important difference between the kind of Silicon Valley type approach where you're also not making money but you're just trying to build and scale and so on. You're like well I guess at some point we'll figure out how to make money. There's a big difference between that and what Zappos did. Where even though they didn't make money on those shoe sales, they were still selling something. So it was very clear how they were going to turn this into a profitable business. Because the moment this is a proven system, we build an e-commerce store, we buy these shoes directly instead of in a shoe shop, right, and that's where our profit margin will come from.
So I think that's also very important. It is okay initially to do stuff that also initially doesn't work in terms of being a profitable business, as long as it's basically based on selling something and not just on the hope that maybe in the future we can sell something.
Yeah, I think that there was another example like this which started out as a service and was then created more like software like. The company would do accounting for entrepreneurs as a service and do it pretty cheaply because the whole idea behind it was to make a software that would be capable of doing the accounting. In the beginning, they didn't have the software worked out yet and they didn't know the exact problems that the entrepreneurs would have. So they started out with doing it all manually. Then created the software after.
I would say that the most bootstrappy and simplest and the solopreneur friendly approach to customer first is to do coaching. Okay. You can do coaching. Coaching is a great thing that can translate into a future information product, book, online course, perhaps even software kind of stuff in the future.
As an example, this is something I did many years ago is that I would simply get on coaching calls with people about productivity and procrastination. So I would get on on calls with people who had problems with procrastinating too much and wanted to be productive and I would have a conversation with them and help them out on a call one on one. Based on the information I got off of these calls, I then built an information product about productivity and as you can imagine, this can be further developed into maybe some kind of productivity app. A coaching call is something you can do without a team, without any infrastructure, without anything. If you've got a microphone and a Skype account, you can do coaching calls. I think that's one of the lowest barriers of entry to doing product first.
Now, these are some examples of how you can do this. In the next episode we're going to go into more detail. We're going into much more detail and give you examples of how to do customer first.
For this episode the main idea is to change your mind. So to change this traffic first approach really is a customer last approach. It's very common. It's very common for people to focus on a traffic before anything else. While it can work, right, because there are people who are making money on YouTube or on Instagram with authority sites and ad click. It can work. It's a very slow, long grind. It means that you will make many mistakes very slowly and gain realizations about how to do thing right very late in the process. What we're saying is get your first customer first and completely forget about trying to get more traffic.
With the customer first approach, you never have to worry about traffic because your business will grow in a completely different way. Traffic will kind of just come as a side effect.
One of the reasons we want to do this and one of the reasons we want to encourage you to do this is because you get those aha moment insights that you get from interacting with customers. As soon as possible. That is the idea of the customer first approach. That is how you can make traffic and needing more traffic and wanting more traffic a problem of the past in your business.
Right now, what we'd love to hear from you is your thoughts on this. Have you made, do you have an experience with either of these approaches? Have you maybe struggled with the traffic first approach for a long time? Have you gained some insights from talking to customers or interacting with customers? Tell us your stories and also tell us what kind of questions you have so that we can answer them and address them in future episodes.
You can do that buy going to activegrowth.com/one. That will take you to the show notes of this episode where you can find a summary, find all the resources we mentioned and leave a comment to interact with us.
Resources Mentioned in this Episode
- Eric Reis' Concierge MVP (Minimum Viable Product) examples from The Lean Startup: The Artificial Intelligence Analytics Business & Groupon's startup story.
- The story of how Zappos.com started small and with a customer first approach.
- We mentioned the method of starting a software company without software - by doing the work manually, to begin with. Here are more examples of how to start up along these lines.
- Shane's Value Based Business blog post mentioned in this episode.
We Need Your Feedback
If you've already listened to this episode, did we succeed in changing your mind from using Traffic First strategies (a.k.a. Customer Last) to our Customer First approach?
We'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you have any experience with either of these approaches starting your own business?
Have you gained any important insights from interacting with your own customers and leads?
Tell us your stories and ask us your questions in the comments section below so we can answer and address them here and in our future episodes!
You can leave a comment below or record an audio message for us, here:
See you in the next episode,
The ActiveGrowth Team
Nice podcast. Love the simplicity of the web design here. Great content.
Looking forward to hear more.
Thank you very much, Nick! I appreciate your participation in the webinar, yesterday!
I totally get your point. It would have been valuable to me when I first began my site, but also useless because at that stage the internet was immature and I had no marketing experience.
Now many years later I have traffic that makes many people gasp, and my ‘Product’ is actually my traffic, because Sponsors are supporting the site because of the big numbers that I can demonstrate in my media pack.
Thanks for your comment, Sheila. If you have gasp-worthy levels of traffic, you’re in a great position! :)
Do you have a lot of repeat traffic and people coming to your site because of you or your brand? Or is it more just-passing-through traffic? Because if you have a passionate audience, there will probably be a lot of opportunities for making more money from your own products, compared to via sponsors.
The customer focused approach makes so much more sense than writing content with offers here and there. My question is…I get the impression it is wise to start with one product and build around it. So I assume making my store – of may products – live would dilute the effect and not be my best move. Do you agree?
I don’t think that really matters, Ali. What I got from the Podcast is that the traditional approach of building an audience and generating traffic, and only THEN think about things to sell is not the best strategy. This means investing a lot of time (and money) into something that you hope will generate income down the line.
A value first idea where you focus on your customer first by getting a product out as soon as possible and build further from there, is a good alternative approach that will be more successful in a lot of cases. It won’t matter much whether that’s 1 product or an entire shop. I agree with the whole principle that it’s better to come up with a product to sell as soon as possible. You can start content marketing and building an audience straight after, but if you have something interesting to sell you make money quicker + you provide more value to your customers right from the get go.
So if you intend to build a web shop, I’d say go for it! As long as you know there is an interest in the market for these products. There are some cool ideas in the second episode on how to test this and also connect with potential customers.
Thanks for your reply, Michiel! 100% agree with what you’re saying. :)
I agree with Michiel’s reply, here. We can take Thrive Themes as an example: we’re selling over a dozen products, there. However, we started out with one product that we saw a clear need for (Thrive Content Builder). And new products were added based on the feedback we got from the customer base we built around the first product.
Also, we don’t add products for the sake of having more products. We are always paying attention to the needs and one of the things we’re looking at is consolidating some of our products or offering “bundles”.
The point is: the number of products is basically irrelevant. Whether it’s dozens of different products, just a few products or a single product or service. What matters is that you get customers as quickly as possible and then work relentlessly to build what they need (and are willing to pay for).
Love the Podcast guys, you’re off to a great start! Hadn’t expected anything less really :).
I did a strategy call with Gael from Authority Hacker and he also kept stressing the importance of having a product. Trying to generate traffic, build an audience, and only then creating a product, is an often used approach, but it it time consuming and needlessly postpones the point of starting to make money. And the nightmare scenario is that you build the whole platform, only to find out there is not sufficient interest in your product.
Your vice versa approach is really good and I like the ideas you hand out for this in Episode 2 to make it work. I’ll listen to Episode 3 asap!
Thank you for your comment, Michiel!
Interesting to hear that Gael recommends a similar approach. Not that it’s totally surprising, but Gael is really good at the audience building and the stuff that’s on the other end of the spectrum (tons of traffic, money through ad clicks).
But he’s also a product creation machine. :)
I agree about the nightmare scenario you describe: one that’s an all too common experience among entrepreneurs…
Thanks for your reply Shane :).
Yes I really like the customer (and product) first scenario. It saves you some headaches in investing time and money in building the audience and generating traffic, only to find out later there is not enough interest in the product you decide to create down the line.
Yes, Gael is a master in audience building and traffic generation :). But in our strategy call he kept stressing the importance of creating your product fast if you want to make an authority site profitable and sustainable.
I was thinking of going mainly down the affiliate route. So the traditional approach of SEO, traffic generation, and promoting affiliate products. Whereas that can definitely work, selling your own product is obviously way more profitable. It’s also a harder route as you have to invest into creating a good product, setting up payment systems on your site etc., but in the end much more worthwhile.
It’s also nice to take things more into your own hands. I started out selling Kindle e-books in the KDP Select program (exclusive contract to sell on Amazon only). That worked out really well for me, but in the end you’re at the mercy of a retailer giant. If Amazon decides to not promote you anymore from one day to the next…..poof, your income is gone just like that. Comparable to the case when you’re 100% dependent on organic Google traffic. It’s great when it works, but when your rankings drop for whatever reason, it could be the end of your business.
I didn’t extend the KDP Select on 3 of my books, and plan to sell the e-books directly on my site (as well as on other retailer sites e.g. through Smashwords). Next plan is to create an online course to go along with the books. It’s a more difficult route that involves more time and money investment, but in the end a lot more worthwhile I think and you keep matters in your own hands, rather than relying on a third party like Amazon or Google, or promoting affiliate offers.
Looking forward to some more nice episodes with you and Hanne! And having a guest on the Podcast from time to time might also be a cool idea. This could be a successful entrepreneur, or (maybe even better) someone starting out who has the same struggles that many listeners would likely have as well.
Thanks for sharing!
About your suggestion, we will have other people on the podcast, just not in an typical interview matter :)
About the book, I think Pat Flynn did something very smart, he used the big retailers to sell tons of his book, but he also had a strategy in place to get those people back to his site/on to his list with a free e-course readers could sign up for.
Just food for thought here :) But you’re right, depending on another platform for your business is never a good thing
Thanks for the great content shared on the podcast.
There is a question or a fear that jumps on my mind when i read about “Costumer First Aproach”.
And is, if i don’t have an audience or an strong authority, is it not more hard to sell?
Thanks for your comment, Luis!
I would say it the other way around: if you have an audience and authority, it’s definitely easier to sell. However, if you have expertise and skills, then you can hustle and sell even if no one knows you. Also keep in mind that even if you do have authority and an audience, it’s likely that many people will come to your site, who’ve never heard of you before and make a purchase before you’ve established yourself as an authority in their minds. Many purchases (especially in low to mid price ranges) are made because someone needs something and they see an offer that matches that need.
Another point is something I wrote about here. In summary, for me, the fastest way to gain an audience and authority has always been to create and sell products.
Great kickstart, guys!
You really got me thinking outside the box with this first episode.
Perhaps we can take a lesson from brick and mortar. Low conversion rates are unheard of for most tangible businesses.
Why is that? Why does it make sense for online businesses to accept such low rates?
How do I get rid of my useless traffic?
That’s such an interesting point, Martin. I’ve never thought about that before, but yeah: how often does someone walk into a bakery and not buy some bread? Really makes you wonder about conversion rates online.
Great podcast and nice timing for me as I’m just about to embark on building a website (with Thrive of course) to promote my coaching services. However, as this is a new venture for me how do you view not having past customers or testimonials as this could indicate a lack of credibility to a lot of people?
Thanks for your comment, Maurice!
That’s a good example of something not to worry about. Sure, it’s better to have testimonials and past customers, but every business starts out without those.
So, just get started anyway. And the more you apply a customer first approach, the sooner you will have customers and testimonials. :)
I love the clarity you use to present your concepts. Also the down to earth perspective. I agree with doing the research first. I don’t want to waste time or energy launching 2 degrees off course without a way to tweak and correct. I’ve thought a lot about how I could sell my services as a coach and still am struggling with identifying exactly how I can do that but I’m looking forward to the next episodes…which I’m listening to coming up next. Thank you for coaching us in how to accomplish coaching. Sort of a snowball.
Thank you for your comment, Trish! I hope the following episodes help you in sorting out this puzzle. And if not, please feel free to let us know what your business idea is and we’ll provide our suggestions for how you could “customer first” it.
Started to catch up on the Podcast – after weeks of catching up/finishing others (wanted a clear run at these) – and so glad I’ve devoted time to concentrate on each one.
I was going to write something gushing about this episode…but all I say is that it was an eye opener.
Thanks for wanting to stand out and not follow “the experts!”
I do have one question though, I’ve put a couple of posts on LinkedIn and Facebook groups “asking what people want” and I keep getting two recurring themes: (a) “I want to learn everything from you” and (b) “can I have it at zero cost”
Do you think I should pursue these people as potential customers or just free-loaders?
Interested to hear your thoughts.
Thank you for your comment! Those are interesting questions.
About people telling you they want to learn anything from you: that’s basically “I don’t know”, plus some good news. Because no one would be saying that if they didn’t already trust you and believe you could teach them something. If you’re getting a lot of this kind of feedback, then doing 1 on 1 customer development calls can be very useful. We have a guide on how to do that, here.
Another thing that can help is surveys or polls with multiple choice options. So, you can basically say: here are several things I could help you with/teach you, which one is the most important one to you?
About people saying “I want more free stuff”: this is another huge advantage of going customer first. If you build your audience first, you build it using free stuff. And if you ask people who get free stuff from you what they want and what they’re willing to pay, a common answer is “everything, for free, please”. Start getting paying customers and ask them and you’ll get different answers. To find out what’s best to sell, it’s best to ask people who’re already paying you.
Of course, when you’re starting completely from scratch, this is a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem. But don’t let that stop you from asking and doing calls. Just be aware that you can get a higher tier of valuable feedback from paying customers, once you have them.
I’ve been enjoying your podcasts for weeks now, Shane. Personally, wanting to provide real value means I’m actually envious of the amount of research and bonus information you and your team provide with these podcasts. I would have benefited from this “customer first” approach years ago but will do a better job of implementing it in the near future. In the meantime, I want to mention that “customer first” means something a bit differently on my site. I teach relationship selling, which means to serve the customer first, gain their trust and “help customers buy.” A blog post that describes this version of “customer first” is “The War Between Heart-Centered and Power-Centered Salespeople,” https://www.askjra.com/ae117.
Thank you for your comment, John! Glad to know you are enjoying the podcast. :)
Hey Hanna, hey Shane,
I found your active growth site via your bio and personal story on Thrivethemes. It’s really great to find such a high quality product as Thrive AND to get All the background stories, All the the principles and that you share All this experience you have gained in this field. It’s great to be a Thrive member with all the awesome tools, but what makes it really, really great is all the extra information, tutorials, courses and podcasts.
This first podcast brought back an idea that was in the back of my mind. I am happy that this episode triggered that idea. The idea is putting up a call to action for my affiliate nice site, asking vistors to share what kind of product they are looking for and what problems they encounter choosing a product. The offer is to do research for them and help answer there questions. This will really focus the process on what real vistors are looking for online and how I can answer the question.
I still have to work on the exact wording, but helping vistors for free will get me great inside what kind of information they are looking for.
I have two small points of technical critic for this podcast.
The laughing they both of you do during the podcast is distracting. It’s like: “Hey they have some fun and are laughing and I don’t know what they are laughing about” This somehow excludes me as the listener. This takes away some of the quality of the awesome concepts you both are presenting.
Shane is sitting closer to mic than Hanna. Hanna’s voice is sounding spatial, which is cool and nice to listen to. Shane is sitting just a bit to close to his microphone. This gives the now and then characteristic plopping / windy noise as Shane’s breath comes into the mic. For the podcasts it would be better to just sit backlit 30 centimeters, to get the same cool spatial sound. (Note don’t do this in the instruction video’s they are really good the way they are)
Thanks for sharing these great concepts!
Thank you for your comment and feedback, Bart!
I think starting to communicate with your audience to find out exactly what they want and need is a great idea, regardless of whether you sell your own products or are an affiliate.
Regarding the sound issues: we’ve got some things to improve there and we’re working on it. One issue is that we both travel a lot, so we don’t have a permanent setup. But we’ll definitely get better at this over time.
Stop building my digital product! After listening to this episode it’s vibrantly clear to me that I need only a relatively few people from my target audience who will educate me and follow me as I roll out sections of my product. It seems so easy and logical and true. I will build my simple survey and take matters where responses lead me.
Yes! I’m glad this episode sparked an insight for you, Lee!
For my next business, I’m following exactly your approach! I just found 4 paying coaching clients, and will structure my content marketing on that. Thank you so much for the invaluable advice, as always! Will keep you updated on how it goes!
Boom! That’s awesome, Angelo. Congratulations for taking action on this!
Just found this, great commentary. I use Thrive and love it. Thought I needed memberfactory for my new site. Hated it, canceled, came back to my first option of Thrive plus S2member.
Im an e-commerce consultant with over 19 years of experience. Clients bring me products already in the pipeline. I’ve built up a list of around 150 different ways of generating traffic and sources. Traffic is everything, but the quality of that traffic is more important. I have a client doing the same sales on Jet.com he does on Amazon and he does very, very well.
Jet with a fraction of Amazon’s traffic happens to appeal to his target audience. It is all relative.
People always are puzzled (especially Amazon sellers) because they do not understand why we lean on that list as much as we do. The answer is simple. You have to know who your audience is and understand their frustrations, motivations for needing a product. Only then can you truly build a better product.
Once you know your audience, somewhere on that list will be sources to target the market and get the product in front of as many people as possible. You have to follow them, speak their language and appeal to the final outcome of what the purchase will achieve. That approach has led us to getting clients on some pretty niche sites and areas but has produced incredible results. A giant brand vendor on Amazon that does very well is projecting out 10x his Amazon sales in 2020 based on a niche site we sourced for them. Not quite on topic to your podcast but along the same lines
Yes, I 100% agree with this. Truly knowing your customer is everything.
Just getting started with your podcast. I was blown away with this out of the box thinking. I’m at a stage in my new business that this will really impact, thank you.
Thank you very much for your comment, Jim! I’m happy to hear that this inspired you. :)
Now, I am confused! Hello, I am a water resources engineer and for some reason got sold in online marketing. I have spent thousands of dollars in trying to generate some traffic by writing what my readers say is “genius work”, not by one but a few. The thing is that I have been trying to get a hang for this since August, now I bought the Thrivethemes subscription, I wrote another “genius” article and have made “$0.00” in this “business”. Now you tell me that traffic is not important, but give me no alternative than continue writing for the fun of it. 500 engagements with my post and “$0.00” and this is supposed to be a conversion-optimized system. Now the only thing that I know how to do, which is water resources engineering and teach and you close the dam premium course on my face…I really don’t know what to do anymore, I really don’t. I guess I’ll return to the 8 to 5 and stop complicating my life and wasting more money than I have already.
I don’t know what course you are referring to, but we don’t close courses for customers. If you bought it, you have access to it. If you didn’t buy it, don’t worry about it. Our courses are not the only source of good information.
I don’t know what you’re angry about in your second comment. But it looks like you won’t like what I have to tell you. I’ll tell it to you anyway, because it’s honest and hopefully it gets through to you.
When you bought the Thrive Themes membership, you bought a set of tools. You didn’t buy an absolving of responsibility and you didn’t buy a passively cash generating asset. Note too that nowhere in our marketing do we make any claims about guaranteed income or anything like that.
When you run an online business, you don’t get paid for the words you write, directly. You can be angry at the world for paying you $0 for your articles. You can be angry at Thrive Themes for it. You can be angry at me for it. The total additional income from your anger will be $0.
I only have your two comments to go by, but it looks to me like your problem is with responsibility. You want to pass responsibility for your outcomes to someone else. You paid Thrive Themes money, so now it’s Thrive Themes’ responsibility to make sure you get paid, right? Or maybe it’s my responsibility. But it’s definitely not yours…
I used to be a martial arts instructor and I saw this problem in some students. Some students want something like a guarantee that they’ll never be in danger or that they’ll win any fight, if one breaks out. They want the teacher or the style they’re learning to “fight for them”. When something goes wrong, they blame the technique, the teacher, the equipment, anyone but themselves. But the truth is, no one can fight your fights for you.
The best advice I ca give you is to deal with this problem first. You cannot be a successful entrepreneur until you take responsibility for your actions. And you’re always going to be holding yourself back if you spend your time and energy being angry at the world or others when things don’t go your way.
Now, let’s take a step back and look at the odd conundrum of me teaching people how to get more traffic and ALSO teaching this “customer first” approach.
Notice how the customer first approach is completely free? Notice how there’s no upsell, no premium course, nothing to get here but free information? And notice how I explicitly say that this is how I recommend people should get started, to get paid first, before business expenses start piling up?
That’s not a coincidence.
And notice how the SEO course I recently sold was aimed specifically at people who already have a website with content and a working, running business?
That’s also not a coincidence.
THAT IS EASY TO DEAL WITH IT! ONLY POSITIVE APPROVED! I am your costumer and my cry was of frustration. I really thought higher of you, I really did