Strategic Planning & Forecasting

I used to have many false preconceptions of what I thought were relatively easy skills to master given X amount of time — anything from marketing to design and development. Turns out, all of those are fairly difficult. But again, with enough rigor, grit, trial and error, those have skills have become easier (heavy emphasis on the “ier” part) over time.

Several years into delving into all of these skill sets, I’ve encountered what has yet to be the most difficult task — forecasting. While all three aforementioned skills all deal with some rudimentary type of forecasting, mostly in the form of resource allocation (we predict X should happen when we devote Y marketing/design/development resources to it), when it comes to the financials, that part’s always been a black box and barf-inducing buzzword to the highest of levels. And that black box has to deal with the overall picture and trajectory you want to hit. That’s a huge undertaking and challenge — doing the resource allocation forecasting on all three fronts plus the varying ways you could take something from Point A to Point B —  and it’s something I’m starting to delve into … so, onward and hakuna matata.

Epiphanies

What Monday Taught Me

Nope, not the actual day but rather the project management platform that I’ve been retargeted for. One of the little micro-interactions that sold me on trying it out was the color-coded task statuses in one of their video ads. Very neat feature. But… I’m cheap and I’m on the freebie PM tool that’s called Trello, which sort of kind of has a similar feature with their color-coded labels. Not as pretty but, hey, it works.

Short story long, I had no idea of the power of this color coding it would have of me completing certain tasks, but it’s actually quite satisfying, especially if you have 60-plus or so tasks at hand. The rainbow of colors that you’re greeted with is visually stimulating, anxiety-building yet equally motivating. My favorite part is when said rainbow turns into a field of greens … ahh yes, done, done and DONE! It’s a built-in reward mechanism that keeps you on track. And there goes your productivity hack of the day. Hakuna matata.

Epiphanies

Your site performs above average for male age 25-34

Headline up there comes courtesy of Google Analytics, which you’ve also got set up on your site/app, hopefully, lest you love navigating in the dark. With that in mind, as it has become customary on this written stream of consciousness, here are some tidbits for you guys …

  • If you’re in that 25-34 age range and want to dip your toes into SaaS-land, get as close to the scene as possible … Silicon Valley if you can swing it.
  • If you’ve got a choice between more money up front + stability vs. bigger reward (financial/career/connections/etc.), take the latter.
  • Learn how to sell … lots of different approaches out there. Grant Cardone has dialed it down pretty well but his tactics aren’t for everybody.
  • Set goals where you want to be in 5 to 10 years from now (family, no family, X amount of businesses built/exited, etc.).
  • 10% toward your 401K … compound interest is no joke. Also, CDs with good rates can yield a higher return if you can swing the terms.
  • Sunscreen.

There you go. Happy July Hump Day.

 

Epiphanies

60-Plus Open Items And Counting

It’s that time of the month again when a few random thoughts spur some fingers to dance on this lovely keyboard laying in front of me. That is, in trying to keep up with some sort of regular cadence in posting posts, I’m starting to look at the date of my last post thinking, “oh, I really haven’t posted in a while.” Not a bad thing. More like a floodgate problem. In fact, there are 60 open items on my personal Trello board that I’m keeping track of, with each part progressing ever so slightly — it’s that life-long gantt chart.

BUT! Progress, yes. I used to think I could keep important things in my head. But that list got too long and my memory fails. Next up: a sheet of paper to continue writing that list. But I’m terrible at keeping loose papers organized, too. Awesomesauce. Enter: Trello. Not really a plug… let’s call it kanban-style notes. Monday.com has some cool project management features that ship with that sort of thing, but it’s way too pricey for a personal endeavor, and the former is free, so there’s that. At any rate, now it’s just a matter of managing that list and chipping away at it. Onward then.

 

Epiphanies

Top 3 Audiobook Playlist on SaaS Apps

Mandatory post since life is busy… a good list on audiobooks for SaaS apps.

  • The Messy Middle by Scott Belsky
  • Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling Technology Projects to Mainstream Customers by Geoffrey A. Moore
  • Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World by Rand Fishkin

If you like to build stuff online, these are awesome books full of actionable advice and immersive anecdotes.

Epiphanies

24 Notes on Instagram

Not a thorough post… more like sticky notes…

  1. Growing from 0 to 100 feels like a slog
  2. Growing from 100 to 150 still feels like a slog
  3. When you’re near 200, going beyond feels really fast
  4. Growing to 350 feels like a lot of work
  5. Growing 50-100 users per week is doable provided you post regularly
  6. At 150 followers, you’ll start getting bombarded with tons of spam messages
  7. Growing at a good clip means 10-15 posts a day
  8. Posting fewer than 10 posts will lead to a net negative
  9. Posting more than 20-30 posts a day will yield a net positive
  10. Using the right hashtags will far beat out any posts with few and/or unpopular hashtags
  11. Definitely use more than 10 hashtags per post … 20-30 is ideal
  12. Posting original content at 20-30 posts/day if it’s not a full-time commitment will deplete you
  13. If you can’t post 20-30 original posts/day, #repost
  14. If you edit too many posts within a short time frame on the same day, expect captions to be disabled on your account the next day
  15. Most followers will thank you for a repost
  16. Some followers will promote you for a repost
  17. Posting in the mornings will yield more likes
  18. Getting into a posting rhythm is fun … if you can commit to the timesuck
  19. Posting on a large variety of topics will make a very time-consuming and arduous growth in followers
  20. Using the right niche hashtags makes all the difference
  21. Finding niche tags means following the hashtags rabbit hole
  22. After posting hundreds of pictures, you’ll notice the fragile and vapid existence of social media
  23. Everybody is doing the same thing, hence, all the spam
  24. #moodygrams are awesome
Epiphanies

Data Due Diligence

A funny thing happens when your web traffic starts to travel up and to the right … you tend to overlook the outliers. Sure, you’re aware that those tiny spikes can offset your overall raw dataset by a small margin, or even a relatively significant one. But what about 30% of traffic? What if almost one in three uniques is screwing up your whole data? That’s what happened after postponing data due diligence.

In effect, what I thought to be exponential growth was just normal growth, after removing every single spike to smooth out the overall data. My new data is more accurate, less exciting, but it’s also more motivation to try harder and see if there are any improvement I can make to drive it up higher, faster. If you’re analyzing your data through Google Analytics, I implore you to clean it all up by removing data from yourself, your friends (maybe even your town if it’s fewer than 80,000 people) and any cities that have spiked only once a year (I’m looking at you Ashburn, VA and Boardman, OR). Set up those special segments in GA and dive a little deeper into your data. Mahalo.

Epiphanies

The Reality of Setbacks

Last year ended on whimpering note for one of my passion projects. Just as I was recovering from the growth slump following two months of seemingly exponential growth, December 2018 proved to be even more dismal. Numbers stagnated across the board for every single metric and that’s when Gary Vaynerchuck’s advice of “deploying massive patience” kicked in. I chalked up the cruddy stats to the holidays — a drop, not a dip, north of 30% — and went about my usual business of running things.

Fast-forward to the last day of January 2019, every metric across the board jumped beyond the 30% drop. That is the reality of setbacks. They stink. They make you question decisions and keep your mind analyzing on how to solve them. But, sometimes, it’s the actual act of waiting that’s all you need. So, note to self: keep it cool and chill out a bit for this year’s drop in December.

Epiphanies

2018: Year In Review

It’s my freshman year for a hypothesis: hyperlocal journalism just needed to be approached from the right angle. True statement? All signs point to a resounding yes after launching countless content aggregators in various locations this year. But more on that on a different post. Here’s what I’ve learned in running my side project …

– A picture isn’t necessarily worth 1,000 words. Having stripped off everything but the title and lead from the aggregated content, people are still willing to peruse through dozens of headlines, irregardless of any imagery.

– News readers don’t want to be patronized. For each post on my network, readers are encouraged to rate each headline as “fair and balanced” or “false or misleading”. In a two-week A/B split test, I changed the wording to “boring” or “interesting”. All things remaining the same, the user interaction dropped by almost more than 20% when ratings came into play.

– Dot coms are still preferable over other domain extensions, but not why a whole lot. TLDs ending with .com are easy to remember, and they’re also much more expensive than their alternatives, but sometimes the other extensions can perform just as well. If I had to pick one, I’d always go with .com, but not at the heavy expense of having to dole out four-figure amounts.

Google Adsense sucks. Don’t get wrong here … if you’ve got millions of monthly readers visiting checking out your content online, then you can make a great living off of it. But trying to monetize a small crowd by plastering ads everywhere on the onset of your journey will most likely hurt your traffic instead.

Suppress your outliers. Throughout the first year of running my network, there were several times when traffic spiked enormously and the resulting traffic would’ve suggested a growth curve that was seemingly exponential. However, after several weeks when those numbers dropped, the growth looked more gradual and steady … and very boring.

I remember launching FolsomPress.com and thinking, “it’d be awesome if a fraction of the 80,000-plus people who lived here used the site.” After a few weeks of running some experiments on that site, I decided to go wide rather than deep and expanded to other cities, which eventually led to the 86,000+ users that have since used the site over the past year. Not a small feat but it also felt rather underwhelming, as well, because we’re not talking DAUs here … yet. So, off we go into 2019. Mahalo.

Epiphanies

Cannibalizing Traffic … with Google AdSense

This one’s another one-liner: Add Google AdSense tags and watch traffic take a dive as it makes your site load like a slug. August was a great month as traffic spiked to nearly 14,000 MAUs. So, what to do next? I know… let’s slash that number in half by splattering banner ads everywhere!!

Here’s a fact: Google AdSense will slow down your site. And, generally, people will not care to see any ads — two bad things, especially when your CTR is crap. There was a brief period of about two to three weeks where I thought, “hey, this network is actually starting to make some revenue,” but that came at the very huge cost of slowing down the sites of loading said ads. Awesomesauce. Lesson learned: when you’re first starting out in building an online network, don’t fall for AdSense, the quick buck.

Epiphanies: AdSense isn’t terrible. It won’t slow down your site by 10 seconds of anything, but if you’re trying to score that sub-1,000ms loading time, AdSense feels like it’s adding an eternity. Also, the revenue isn’t terrible at nominal traffic but, on a personal preference of disliking display ads myself, it wasn’t worth keeping them up. It was distracting to me and my users, so back to the drawing board!

Epiphanies