Growth Report – March 2014

Greetings, and I hope you enjoy this second ever AutoGrow monthly growth report for March 2014.

My goal is to build a business that can grow with a certain level of predictability and consistency. To do that, I’m focused daily on what I can actually measure through our online marketing efforts, i.e. social media following, email list growth, traffic, leads, conversions, and sales.

Why I am doing this

I am writing this for a few reasons. Some are selfish while others are purely for your benefit.

  1. I want to be held accountable.
  2. I want to connect with my audience by showing what I am learning each month as I work to grow AutoGrow’s business via the same online marketing strategies and tactics that I recommend. I believe it is one thing to “preach about the benefits of building a sales engine” on the web–but it’s an entirely different thing to go beyond that and say not only am I going to teach it, and put what I teach into practice, but I’m going to openly show you how I do all of my marketing. And more than that, I want to share this part of my journey so it’s almost like you’re along for the ride with me.
  3. I want to reflect and internalize what had worked and what isn’t. I find that it is incredibly useful if you’re able to “check-in” with yourself and look back on what you have or haven’t accomplished. Then ask the questions: what did I do right, where do I want to improve, and where do I want to ultimately go?

This Month’s Progress Update

  • Actions taken
    • 6 blog articles written and published (+1 from the previous period) which is just over 13,000 words. Here are those articles:
    • Email and social media promotion once per week–the exception being two days where I promoted two articles that were published on a Tuesday and Wednesday via social media (those were the Q&A Tuesday & Highest Point of Leverage posts)
    • Added conversion tracking for our custom sales funnel services landing page
    • Added two more email collection options on our blog
    • Followed people on Twitter daily who also followed my competitors, and unfollowed accounts who didn’t follow back after four or more days
    • Tested several new content distribution channels
      • Google+ community groups
      • LinkedIn groups
      • BizSugar
      • Manual outreach to Facebook fan pages
      • Inbound.org
      • GrowthHackers.com
      • Stumbleupon
      • Digg
    • Tested different subject line lengths for our weekly newsletter
    • Briefly tested a simple SEO tactic
    • Tested writing three articles per week instead of just one
    • Simplified our email opt-in forms
    • Added some WordPress plugins, like the “sticky” widget that makes the banner ad and our newsletter sign-up form scroll down the page with you. Also the “SumoMe” plugin that let’s you Tweet text that you highlight from within an article.
    • Test launched a pre-order page for an online course I’m writing called “Covert Visitors into Customers on a Shoe-String Budget”

Results:

  • In the last month, website visitors increased by about 17%, and unique visitors by slightly more.
  • Pages per visit were down slightly, but over all page views were up.
  • Also, the percentage of returning visitors increase by exactly 2% (more people are finding the website for the first time, but also more people about coming back again and again which is good)

growth traffic google analytics comparison

  • Our Twitter followers grew by about 253 (up from 338)

twitter growth

  • Email list grew by about 52 new email opt-ins (slightly less than 2 per day, considering February is a short month). This is 12 more than was collected last month (or a 30% increase). Overall I’m confident that our visitor/opt-in rate actually doubled in this last period, but that isn’t fully reflected here since many of the changes were only implemented in the last 2.5 weeks. To be conservative though, I’ll just stick with the 30% increase that’s shown here.
  • Unfortunately, I don’t yet have the data on net total new subscribers for this period, but the trend definitely appears to be an upward one now that we have almost exactly 1200 subscribers on our email list.
  • Our open rate has gone down over time but has definitely leveled off now around 28%. This is still great by overall industry standards, but I’d like to see that number go up to 35-40% eventually.
  • Interestingly enough, my one email newsletter that was dedicated to promoting a paid course (which I was worried would annoy people) actually received the highest open rate this month.
  • Sales and Leads
    • This past month, we generated 3 leads for our custom sales engine services, which is one more than last month (only one of those came through our landing page, the rest came via our email newsletter, which just goes to show you the power of email marketing 🙂 ).
    • One of these leads closed and we decided to structure it as a revenue-share deal so there is no revenue being counted for this deal this month.
    • For Saber Blast, our email marketing product we generated 8 leads and 2 sales.
    • For our pre-order online course, we generated 2 sales (this is our first info-product and I expect that number to go up over time and after the official launch)
    • Total revenue generated as a direct result of our online marketing efforts this month: $144.50 (nothing to brag about, but hey, last month it was zero! And keep in mind, though AutoGrow has an existing batch of clients and projects, I am only counting revenue coming as a direct result of our efforts to build an online sales engine for our business).

Reflection and Lessons Learned

  • I was extremely inspired and energized to find people pre-ordered our online course. My expectations were low in part because I had never created this type of product before. I started off imagining I would develop some kind of voting system for different info-product ideas that I thought our audience would want. Then, thanks to the advice of my peers, I decided to keep it simple and focus just on one product and position is as a pre-order instead (i.e. no voting).
    • Action Step (for next mont): take further steps to promote the course and tie it in with our free course delivered via our email marketing autoresponder.
  • I only implemented half of the action steps from our previous month’s growth report. This is because I’ve put most of my time into actually writing the articles more than anything else. However, I need to constantly remind myself that marketing those articles (which take 8-14 hours alone to write) and making small changes (like adding useful WordPress plugins) will have a huge effect over the long term. For example, the “sticky” WordPress widget I mentioned above is foundational for improving how the previously blank screen real estate in the right-hand column of our blog is now used.
  • As far as building our email list, which I believe is far more important than any traffic number, I am not satisfied with our current rate of ~2 emails per day. I understand this all takes time to build up, but building a loyal, engaged is critical to our long term success.
    • Action Step: Identify which websites and social media channels are converting the best for us as far as email subscriber sign-ups.
  • I believe a big reason traffic continued to increase this month was due to my efforts to find new (relevant) channels to promote our articles within. Surprisingly, Google+ has been on of the best as far as positive, qualitative feedback. People are very engaged in the various community groups there, unlike Twitter where it’s a bit more random and messy and many accounts are just spam or are robots.
  • I was very pleased to see that my experiment with Facebook page marketing actually yielded results. Just as I advised in my article, I received a 15% response rate and one was willing to reshare the article I was trying to promote. This was pleasant reminder that even if you fail most of the time and you’re successful just once, you can still win. Sales is the same way.
  • I put very little emphasis on SEO as far as my marketing efforts go. However, I think SEO combined with building our email list are the two best elements of our sales engine to focus on developing.organic traffic increasingThe reason why SEO is almost as important as an email list is if it’s done right, it represents a steady, sustainable flow of visitors to our website who are searching for answers which we can already provide. However, right now, because we are ranked low in most searches our valuable content is not reaching its intended audience. Still, there is a positive trend in search traffic since we started publishing articles in late January.
    • Action Step: Develop and execute a daily link-building strategy as well as putting time and thought into how to optimize our existing base of articles for better search rankings.

Overall, if I was to be completely honest with you, I’d say I was frustrated at how slow growth is this past month in terms of traffic and email list optins. At the same time though, I am also pleased to see all of the numbers going in a positive direction.

I can understand why many businesses struggle with the idea of building a sales engine. It’s great when you’ve got it set up and running and you’re seeing results daily or weekly. But until that point, you have to be patient, persistent, and consistent. It is a very different “beast” compared to networking or just spending money on ads. You have to be dedicated to building up your sales engine for the long term.

Also, I know from studying other websites and blogs that growth is largely a step-based function. One day you can wake up and Google’s algorithm has decided to bump you up in your rankings again due to a variety of factors, and in turn your traffic has increased 30%. Or you could write an article like I did in our first month and it goes viral.

Overall though, I love this experience so much more compared to whatever I was doing before to grow our business. Why do I love it?

  1. Numbers don’t lie
  2. I love getting to interact with marketers, entrepreneurs, and business owners who benefit from the articles I’m writing and/or provide constructive feedback.

Finally, I’m beginning to develop a new theory of marketing on the web called “roadways” or “tubes” which falls under our sales engine concept. A sales engine makes up all the systematized components of a successful web marketing strategy in action, while the roadways are the paths on which prospective customers drive through your marketing system. For instance, similar to Brennan Dunn’s “choose your own adventure” email autoresponder, a prospect may enters your system (e.g. through free content you offer), then move into the next tier (email subscriber) and over time one or more of the next tiers (customer for a paid online course and/or client for a more expensive service offering and/or marketing tool a la Saber Blast) and eventually into an evangelist who can recommend what you offer to others.

This idea is still raw in my mind, but I like how it fits with our sales engine concept. It just makes sense. The customer is in the driver seat and as trust is built and what’s offered is aligned with that they need as they’re driving along, they “take that off-ramp” to get the “fuel” and then get back on the road.

That’s all for now. If you liked this growth report or have ideas for how it could be better, let me know in the comments, thanks!

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