Growth Report August 2019: Growing Revenue By 30%

 

(Watch, Read, or Download the Audio File Here)

“Don’t bury the lead! Don’t bury the lead!” as the saying goes when writing any news article.

The “lead” (headline) from last month’s growth would be that we grew AutoGrow’s revenue by 30% and broke $20,000 in sales.

Launching Our App

On the very last business day of August, we launched (internally) AutoGrow’s (web) app. 

For those who don’t know, we have been coding an awesome—yet simple—piece of software that will let our clients request On-Demand any funnel tasks they want done. 

Want a landing page? Click a button.

Email copy? Click a button.

Ad campaign? Click a button.

Whatever you want, just click the button—and AutoGrow does it. No need to worry about hiring, interviewing, proposals—none of that. 

And through the app, AutoGrow’s team will complete the work, saving our clients time and making their businesses market better online.

It’s only available for our team to use it right now, and there are still some bugs floating around in it.

But it’s live—FINALLY—and our team is starting to use it now.

And I say finally, but, in reality, we’re getting it out there pretty quick. 

A larger company would have probably taken many more months, and then maybe never launched.

But we did. And I think that what helped to make it real was to constantly talk about it with the team, receiving feedback and ideas, pointing to the goal, the “mountain” to climb, and saying “we’re going to be THERE at the top.”

That, plus, a bit of focus, and NOT adding all the possible features and instead limiting it to the essentials, helped a lot.

So, now we’re migrating our stuff from Trello to our brand new app while 1) testing it (2) identifying any bugs and fixing them, and (3) adding any new features on an as-needed basis.

I can’t wait for our clients to try it soon and hear their feedback.

By the way, minimalism is important to the user experience long term. I want the users experience to be as satisfactory as possible.

The whole functionality of the app is summarized in three words, IDEAS MADE REAL and you’ll totally “get it” when you see it.

Here are some of the main features and what team members can do right now when they sign up to use the app:

  • Users (our Project Manager at the moment) can choose any funnel task (copywriting, web design, ads, etc.) from the list of “Ideas” to be completed by AutoGrow’s team. 
  • Admin users can create “Ideas Templates”. These are the ideas or tasks our team will “make real”.
  • AutoGrow’s Project Managers and admin users can “Make Ideas Real” or the tasks they want our team to do for them by clicking a button (this sends the task into the “Made” tab where progress is shown via a progress bar and checking off tasks). 
  • Users see the progress or status of their projects/tasks as they are worked on. 
  • Users can access a company’s business profile information (background info we collect from clients on our calls with our clients).
  • When your projects or tasks are created, they start as “IDEAS”, when those ideas are being executed, they are being “MADE”, and when they are completed, they will be “REAL” (get it? Ideas + Made + Real? See the screenshot above for clarity).

Simple, right?

So we’ve just built out that piece of software and are still integrating it into our day-to-day workflow this month…

Other Wins In August:

Ok, so August hasn’t been only about building and testing our app. It has also been about…

  • Onboarding not just a solid copywriter, but someone I respect as a consummate professional with a great character too.
  • Launching our first funnel for our clients and see leads coming in!
  • Launching our Funnel Strategy Blueprint sales page (I share results on how this did in the next section).
  • Publishing content and sending newsletters consistently.
  • There was a nice bump in our product revenue, and I think something about selling our service and publishing more content helped with this. I think our service works as a price anchor.

  • LOT of momentum in terms of day-to-day productivity. We’re starting to develop a “fly-wheel” you could say.
  • Meeting with the team one-on-one and being honest with my feedback about their work, and discussing how to improve. People develop themselves with guidance, coaching, and leadership.

  • Saying NO to things personally and professionally (like replying to or even reading simple emails and messages that I know are distractions from company growth goals).
  • AutoGrow’s homepage relaunched with B2B niche + stonier offer + Google Ads Campaign launched.
  • My personal productivity system has been helping me be more disciplined and organized.

By the way, same as I mentioned in July’s Growth Report, August has also been about receiving more and more compliments from clients, for example:

I feel like I’m in good hands and that I’ve made an extremely good decision bringing you guys on. And just wanted to thank you for your efforts.

– Brian Maiolo – Founder and  Creative Director of Hardnut Advertising

I could probably write a whole article on each of the points above, but I’ll go into more detail on some of the mistakes I made, the areas we want to improve on, and the lessons I’ve learned this past month.

Lessons Learned Or Areas For Improvement

One frustrating thing from this past month has been when a client’s account has been “at the 20-yard line” and then they either disappear, say “we need to pause the account because we have X new initiative”, or they suddenly get cold feet about turning on ads.

It’s like, dude, this was the plan from the beginning, and now we’re at this point—I’m glad you’re paying us money to make this for you, don’t you actually want leads or sales to come from it??

Of course, I don’t say that to clients.

But I’ve learned that the best way to handle those situations is to be more firm with clients by setting expectations upfront.

I get the mindset of seeing ads as a “cost”, but done right, in combination with our funnel service, it earns back that investment many times over. 

The other issue I’ve been seeing is that many clients are not meeting the minimum criteria we have for getting results and getting started. We ask for $1500 ad budget and 3 months minimum to launch a client’s funnel and to complete the initial 90-day funnel plan.

Part of the issue might be how we position our Done-For-You service and simply saying NO to people when needed.

We normally cancel 1-3 appointments per week with people or businesses who aren’t a fit. 

We do this because although we have our “filter” on our homepage and in our Done-For-You service demo video, sometimes people omit it. They book a call with us, don’t answer the basic questions we ask them to see if they are a good fit, and then we have to dismiss them.

I think as we grow to 8+ quality client appointments per week, it will naturally become easier to disqualify people who aren’t a fit.

Hiring Is a Major Thorn In Our Side

More than qualifying clients, hiring has been a real pain in the a** this past month.

You might relate to that situation if you’ve ever tried to find, vet, and hire competent people online.

My reaction to the lack of good candidates is too often…

WTF!

To be clear, I’m super grateful for the team we have today. They are rockstars. One or two can improve their work ethic in terms of quality checking their work before me or the QA specialist checks it, but other than that, I really appreciate them.

We had to go through a lot of applicants and interviews to find them. But here’s why that’s my reaction to our current hiring process.

First, many jobs sites that used to be free are now charging to post.  As a scrappy startup, we like to save $$$ wherever and whenever possible.

Some sites that were resources before are now closed to us unless we subscribe or pay per post, etc. Still, the quality of former employees we hired from those sites wasn’t high. Our standards are much more rigorous now.

But the process of hiring has really been tiring. 

Going over to Upwork, for example, posting a job and offering a high compensation, great benefits, and a job description like…

  1. Monthly compensation that grows over time.
  2. Possibilities of being promoted.
  3. Streamlined process, each role is FOCUSED (you’re not doing a million things). 
  4. Benefits like bonus pay for good performance or the possibility to travel with our team in the future.

I mean, what kind of freelancer doesn’t want all that?

And here’s the funny thing…

We’re NOT noticing much correlation between the quality of applicants and increase in pay. If there is a correlation, it is VERY loose.

For instance, we posted a job for an Account Strategist position recently. Freelancers bid on our “project” and applied.

Then we raised the compensation but HALF of the applicants didn’t even reply to our messages after they applied to our job.

One person even booked a call with us and didn’t show up. This was after he tried negotiating his rate and insisting to get on a call with us.

Well, not only that but he lied about not replying to us after we contacted him. He said Oh, I was online and I did reply to you. We said all right, send us a screenshot of your message and then we’ll reschedule.

He didn’t send the screenshot and we obviously dismissed him.

The Hiring Funnel Challenge

I look forward to sharing more about our hiring problem and how we’re already solving it.

I think the best thing we can do for now is to keep posting job posts consistently until we find the right people for each position we are hiring for.

I love the idea of thinking of it as a “hiring funnel” though. It really clarifies the problem in a way that our team and I can understand, and it will help us systematically break down each step into critical components.

Keep Launching…

In August we launched a sales page to sell our Funnel Strategy Blueprint.

We made zero sales from it. And I think I know why…

If you try to sell something you’re already selling elsewhere in a completely new way, there’s a good chance it won’t work as well. You must copy what works. 

For instance, if you sell something successfully and then try selling it somewhere else, replicate what worked in the first place.

In our case, we recently launched and sold the Funnel Strategy Blueprint with a call-to-action that invited people to buy it on our website, instead of scheduling a consultation call first like we were doing it before.

This is because we thought we could accelerate the sales process simply by selling the Blueprints upfront rather than:

Consultation call > Sale > Present Blueprint to client.

Alas, people preferred to buy it the original way. So launching a sales page to sell our Funnel Strategy Blueprint didn’t work out…

But what IS working out is that we didn’t stop launching things this past month.

We launched our own Google Adwords campaign, and that has instantly started bringing in results. I’ll share more on that in the next growth report…

To keep launching stuff like this makes me feel ALIVE as an entrepreneur. 

I love seeing what our team can co-create with me, and how much faster we can get stuff done than if it was just me. And that’s a huge part of our value to our clients too—we’re like an instant marketing team at their fingertips.

So even though one launch succeeded, and the other did not—I learned from both.

Takeaway? Keep “swimming” (launching), don’t stop flowing forward…

New Systems Only Work If…

I wouldn’t call this one a win, but certainly is an important lesson I was (re)reminded of.

When you read, your reaction might be like “well duh” (if you’re a bit overconfident). But the lesson is useful for anyone who wants to grow a company where things get done without business owners always doing them.

Here’s an experiment I did.

Recently, I’ve found it more and more difficult to keep up with a regular content writing schedule.

I’m talking with clients, quality checking teamwork along with Mariana, our Quality Assurance Specialist, and many other day-to-day priorities.

So, I wanted to figure out a way that a new, quality content writer could be hired without me needing to be involved in the process.

How could I design a simple system whereby we could hire one GREAT writer, on autopilot?

I thought I had the answer, so I drew out the flowchart for it on paper. 

We’d reach out to writers. We’d invite them to contribute with title ideas and outlines, and then to pick the top two to actually write the full article.

We’d AB test two of the articles submitted by the candidates. We’d send them to our email list to see which one had better open rate. And based on the AB test results, we’d hire the writer.

Simple enough, right?

It turns out, not so much.

After contacting some writers, some of them were willing to pitch us ideas. Others lamented “the rate isn’t high enough.” 

Just like with the hiring issues I pointed out above, we’d stay open to feedback and email these people back:

“All right, what’s your rate?”

No reply, vanished like a ghost in the wind.

On one hand, I’m glad it happened that way because who wants to work with these kinds of people? Certainly, not us.

On the other hand, we were offering a rate at or above the market average, AND more importantly, we were offering to pay on an ongoing basis! Plus, we always look to hire for the long term.

SO WEIRD!

If I was a freelancer—recurring revenue? I can work on my own schedule? I can write what I want as long as it is relevant to AutoGrow’s audience?

Hell yes, I want AutoGrow to hire me!

Alas, we received some title ideas for articles. 

About eight out of ten were no good or downright terrible. And when I say terrible, I mean, nothing to do with marketing.

I think I laughed at one or two of them because they were so bad. 

“Someone pitched us an article on gun control?” I said to myself and laughed. “Did they even read the instructions?”.

It makes it pretty clear to me that for the long term there is a HUGE market of unskilled, untrained labor online that is in SERIOUS need of the kind of training AutoGrow can provide.

But that’s a conversation for another day…

Luckily, one or two ideas pitched to us were good. 

But here’s where the system “fell flat”…

We didn’t follow up with the people who submitted decent or good title ideas and the system stopped working.

I think this is because (1) it was a new hiring process for us (2) our team got busy with other priorities, and (3) I didn’t have a way (nor did I focus on) holding my team accountable. I sort of forgot to reach out to the writers too towards the end of the month because we’re quite busy servicing our current client base.

So yeah, we’re fixing that this month… 

I think in general too, I have more and more ideas that I’m delegating to our team to execute on overtime and we need a good system for keeping track of it all.

That’s largely where AutoGrow’s app and our “Ideas Made Real” interface is going towards. More on that next month…

Learning To Manage Your Energy

The human mind is fairly programmable and a robot.

You give it an input, you get a fairly predictable output. But each of our minds works a little different.

The key to success, and maintaining a high level of productivity and energy lies in understanding your own brain “chemistry” patterns.

For example, with AutoGrow day-to-day, I know that if I close a new client sale, or if I do my most important task first thing in the morning, I’m pumped up and ready to work hard for the rest of the day.

On the other hand, if I procrastinate, this makes me feel lazy and I don’t want to work at all because I’m putting something off. And if I stop putting it off, well, then I’d have to actually do work! But I don’t want to… etc.

Another pattern in my weekly productivity routine I’ve noticed is that I’m less productive on Mondays. It often feels like I’m in a slump until Wednesday rolls around, and then I start gaining traction, progress, and a feeling of real momentum.

I’d guess many other people often feel the same and this is from what I’d call “The Weekend Effect.”

You see, unlike in past months, I’ve actually started taking Saturdays (and sometimes even Sundays—GASP!—off).

So here’s the important point to that…

I’d create a pattern during the week, a habit of being productive, waking up early, etc.

But then on the weekend, I’d completely destroy that productive routine! I’d sleep later, I stay in bed, not work sometimes for the whole day, and just RELAX.

“Matt,” you might say, “It makes sense to take time off so you can recharge.” 

Yeah, it probably does, but there’s a better way to do it because every week is like whiplash and I’m not performing at peak levels 2-3 days out of the week.

And for a high-growth startup that NEEDS to grow FAST and keep up that momentum, I need to make sure I’m always giving it my best.

So, I’ve started to transition to keep sleeping early and waking up early on the weekends.

I’m also looking at starting my Saturdays and Sundays with some work task, so my brain stays in the “productive mode” for the mornings.

I’m not going to make myself work all day, but I do need to keep the gears of the engine flowing in order to be “ready to go, all pistons pumping” come Monday.

Stay tuned, I’ll tell you the results next month…

But, speaking of energy levels…

Burnout—And The “Zone of Genius”

I can feel my brain some days just wanting to take a break.

It’s been 14 weeks since we started this journey with our Done-For-You Funnel Service, and I’m definitely not giving myself as much sleep as my brain wants on top of it.

Day to day, there are tasks I’ve realized that drain the life from me and I spend way too much time on them.

They are pretty much anything repetitive like client emails, editing, and quality checking items and that’s one insight I’m internalizing from August. However, we put a lot of work on quality assurance and on everything we deliver to clients. For us, quality always wins.

My brain hates repetitive work, even if I’m quite good at it. I prefer little to no structure, or a specific new problem to engineer a solution for.

This insight reminded me of an article I read recently from this successful entrepreneur turned Venture Capitalist. He said, as a founder, you have work that falls into:

(a) Your Zone of Excellence or

(b) Your Zone of Genius

Zone of Excellence work is the work you’re good, even great at—but for whatever reason, it drains the f**king life out of you. 

Many great entrepreneurs are generalists, so a significant portion of work that a company must get done can fall into this category. For me, that’s editing, as another example, because I read things very slowly and deeply in order to make it perfect—so I don’t enjoy it.

Zone of Genius work is the work that fills you up, you do it and you feel energized when it’s done.

For me, this would be:

  • Coding / working with our developer on AutoGrow’s app (product development).
  • Developing and optimizing internal systems (e.g. hiring systems).
  • Developing and optimizing our own marketing funnel to accelerate traffic, leads, and sales.
  • Working one-on-one with team members to help them solve a problem and optimize their workflow.
  • Doing “macro” work that grows the business or help us be faster / more efficient.

The key, the Venture Capitalist wrote, is to understand what work is in your Zone of Genius, and which is in your Zone of Excellence—and then to delegate everything from the latter.

I think the biggest challenge will be to delegate sales coming up, but I have some creative solutions for that… Stay tuned.

Looking Ahead To Next Month

We’re hiring with a lot more focus this month for key positions, like Project Manager and Funnel / Account Strategist. We want to fill 4 positions on the team (a new Virtual Assistant and Content Writer as well) ASAP.

Our app will be integrated into our workflow (assuming we can work out all the bugs and add key features!).

We’re launching 0-2 funnels on a weekly basis now, so I look forward to sharing more results about that pretty soon.

Client leads are ramping up, even as traffic from content has dropped recently. I’m hopeful we’ll grow the former, and solve the latter… We’ll see.

In general, we want to see a consistent number of appointments being booked, 5-8 per week will be our sweet spot to hit 23 active client accounts before the end of the year.

We’re on track at the moment, but we can’t get comfortable, kick-back, and assume “it’ll just happen.”

It won’t.

The final thing I’ll say is that our current business model needs to be made more scalable. So we’re going to have to make some CRITICAL decisions about how best to do that in the weeks ahead.

I already have two really awesome ideas, but we’ll just have to wait and see… Next month!

So, lots of exciting stuff for our team, our clients, and our company happening.

I look forward to sharing more with you in 1 month!

What questions do you have that you wish I had answered?

What in this growth report is most interesting to you?

Keep funnelin’, stay focused,

 

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