How can I avoid becoming isolated in my home-based business?

7:02AM | Tuesday, 30 July

I’ve started up a home-based business, but am worried about it becoming a little isolated. Outside the contact I have with a few initial clients, I don’t feel I’m having much interaction with the business world, which makes me wonder if I’m lagging behind innovations or industry standards. What can I do about this?   Every start-up business is a combination of optimism and isolation. It is vital to have something special to offer the market and work hard to build up a business base.   At the same time, it is essential to create customers and generate a network of friends and associates who can keep you in touch with trends and what competitors (or copiers of your product or service) are up to.   As I write in my book No Workplace Like Home, you need a staged plan that lists the people who are your keys to success. This means that you identify business leaders, distributors and potential customers who you plan to meet and greet.   By doing this you are proactively establishing what’s new and different and can overcome that sense of being cut off by your start-up activities. Pick up the phone, send them an email and invite their comment on what you are doing.   Here are a few tips to help as you get things onto a steady track.   First, make a list of your key customers so that you can ring them and ask how things are going. Ask who is buying from them, what else they are purchasing and what comments they have made about your product or service.   Next, make contact with shops or customers who may be on your list to expand your business, go to see them and ask the same questions. Concentrate on the ways that your product or service fits in with other market opportunities.   Third, find the small business networks in your neighbourhood, such as the local traders association or the chamber of commerce, and invest a little time in building business networks.   Fourth, use social media such as Facebook and Twitter to let people know what you are doing and to exchange ideas and information to keep you at the front line of start-up activity.   Finally, use StartupSmart.com.au and SmartCompany.com.au mentors as a source of support and challenge so that you stay in touch with their ways of adding value to your business and keep up with the latest in entrepreneurial endeavours.

IAB declares Facebook comments don’t constitute advertising

7:11AM | Thursday, 18 July

The Interactive Advertising Bureau has given its official view regarding ‘comments’ on social media, following confusion about exactly what constitutes advertising.   The industry body has stated that comments written on social media platforms such as Facebook, directed towards an organisation or to other users, don’t constitute advertising.   But companies still have to make the extra effort to engage with users on social media and clear up any possible misconceptions.   The confirmation is a welcome one. About a year ago, the Advertising Standards Board declared a brand’s Facebook page constitutes an advertisement. The ruling sparked confusion among small businesses.   The crux of the ASB’s ruling was that a Facebook page is essentially used as a marketing tool.   Although the ASB has no actual legal authority, there was misunderstanding over the decision. The new IAB announcement is meant to clarify some of that confusion.   The IAB’s director of regulatory affairs, Samantha Yorke, told SmartCompany it needs to be spelled out exactly what Facebook comments are classified as.   “After a careful analysis of existing laws, regulation and industry practice around social media, IAB Australia has reached the view that user comments directed towards an organisation or social media platform, or to other users who are drawn to a particular organisation, do not constitute advertising,” she says.   Yorke says the decision was made because, if organisations view comments as advertisements, there is a risk they will “err on the side of caution” and be heavy-handed in their moderation, potentially impacting the “spirit” of social media.   Yorke says the IAB had some concern with the ASB decision because it would require all businesses to take the exact same approach to moderation.   “We didn’t think that would necessarily be reflective of how businesses wanted to operate in this space.   “Some businesses will want to have a conservative approach, while others will want to push the envelope and talk about controversial things,” Yorke says.   The IAB says companies still have a responsibility to moderate comments extensively, and have prepared a list of guidelines for how businesses should do so. Some of these include developing moderation guidelines and publishing them, developing a moderation schedule and creating a “crisis management plan”.   Such plans are useful in case social media sites are hacked – which has become a slightly more common occurrence among businesses both large and small.   The complete plan is available through the IAB.   Yorke says for now, businesses need to make sure they treat their Facebook pages “consistently” – and it’s easier for them to do if user comments aren’t viewed as advertising.   “But there still needs to be a sense of responsibility,” she warns.   This story first appeared on SmartCompany.

Five simple strategies to attract the right people to your business on Facebook

7:49AM | Thursday, 18 July

Are you attracting the right people to your business page on Facebook?   Are you wondering why some people seem to have a steady stream of “likes” and interaction, while your page falls flat?   If that’s you, today’s post offers some encouragement. A lot of people give up on social media because they don’t know how to attract the right people to their social profiles.   If you think this topic has been done to death, I hope to show you today that there is still much businesses can learn about Facebook marketing that isn’t covered by the Facebook gurus.   Below are five simple strategies you may have overlooked:   1. Including a Facebook Like box on your website   I’ve mentioned this strategy before but you’d be surprised at how many people overlook it. So, I thought it was worth mentioning again. A Facebook Like box entices qualified prospective clients to “like” your business page, particularly if they never log out of Facebook and can see which of their Facebook friends like you too.   2. Including a “like” button on your newsletters and emails   Do you invite your subscribers and customers to “like” you? You may be amazed at how many don’t already “like” your business page. Don’t take it for granted. Ask for the “like” so you can continue the conversation and relationship building with them on your Facebook page.   3. Inviting people to “like” your Facebook page in guest posts   When you guest post somewhere, do you invite people to ask you questions on Facebook? This one simple strategy opens the floor for people who may never have come across you before, but who are interested in what you have to offer.   4. Sharing the Facebook SMS address to people at networking events so they can “like” your page immediately   Did you know that your contacts can “like” you on Facebook via SMS? Test it out now! Text the words (with no parentheses): “like casmccullough” to 32665. You can find out more about this here at Facebook.   5. Creating Facebook ads targeted at your mailing list, using Power Editor   This week social media pro Jon Loomer wrote a beaut post about this on Social Media Examiner. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I thought you might like to read it here.   Again, just because they’re your subscribers, does not mean they “like” your business page on Facebook already. If you’d like to extend more relationship-building opportunities to your subscribers, inviting them to “like” you so you can continue the conversation on Facebook is a fantastic idea. You can simply upload your mailing list to Facebook and target an ad specifically at your mailing list recipients.   Over to you! Have you implemented any of the above simple strategies? Leave a comment below to share your outcomes or suggestions!   P.S: I’m hosting a FREE webinar on July 31 where I’m going to share more on Facebook marketing conversion strategies and take your questions. If you need help in this area, register here.

The social media campaign making Coles and Woolworths take notice of new products

7:33PM | Thursday, 18 July

The start-up social enterprise behind Thankyou Water has launched a major social media campaign to get its products stocked at Coles and Woolworths.   Founder Daniel Flynn told StartupSmart the campaign’s success has even taken Thankyou’s team of 12 by surprise.   “It’s really nerve-wracking when you launch something like this because it’s up to the people,” Flynn says. “We were watching it in the first few minutes, we couldn’t believe it. The support has been amazing.”   Thankyou products, including a water range, food range and body care range, directly fund projects in developing countries. The team behind the brand called for supporters to upload videos and post comments to Coles and Woolworths Facebook pages to show they’d buy the products if stocked.   Their launch video has received over 22,000 views and hundreds of people have got in touch.   A post by Coles on their Facebook page saying they’re overwhelmed by the support and looking forward to meeting with the Thankyou team has received over 2,500 likes and almost 1,000 comments.   A similar post on the Woolworths page saying they’re looking forward to a meeting has received over 1,800 likes and almost 1,000 comments. Flynn told StartupSmart they had already locked in meetings with Coles and Woolworth, but they had to demonstrate demand.   “The meetings were locked in prior to the campaign to present, but the key to this presentation and really what underpins this is we didn’t want to present just an idea. Because in the past we’ve presented ideas to retailers, they’ve said ‘that’s nice’ but we’ve struggled to get traction. We needed to present an opportunity, and even we didn’t realise how big it was,” Flynn says.   He says they’ve been working on the campaign for a few months, and the products for 15 months.   “A lot of our time has gone into development and making great products. We knew we had to nail the product to make sure people keep buying it. People will buy something once because it’s a good cause but go back to other brands,” Flynn says.   Flynn says an appearance on the Sunrise TV program yesterday morning, and their call-to-action-laden launch video have been the most important elements in campaign taking off.   They ran a similar but much smaller campaign last year to get their products stocked in 7-Eleven convenience stores across the country.   “We were aiming for those numbers but we’ve smashed the metrics of that whole campaign in first day,” Flynn says, adding showing the opportunity is just the first step in their plans.   “This campaign is a long one. While we want to get the products on the shelves, we also need to get them off. We need to raise awareness to get our products sold as well. We don’t have the millions to advertise, so we put the cart before the horse to make the product move by raising awareness,” Flynn says.   Consumers can track the impact of their purchase on Thankyou Water’s website. Projects funded include clean drinking water, food and nutrition, as well as health and hygiene training.   “I’m now even more confident there is a big opportunity to make a massive impact. It’s my open dream Coles and Woollies will take this on board, because the figures of what could happen are crazy and a lot of people are keen to get behind us,” Flynn says.

Australians building empires from their local café

7:30AM | Tuesday, 16 July

Hunched over a laptop with a smartphone by her side, Andrea Sophocleous is a familiar sight in the cafes around the trendy Sydney suburb of Newtown.   The freelance publicist and writer heads into a café, orders a pot of tea and transforms a table into a makeshift office for a few hours, returning calls, tapping out some words and checking her emails.   Sophocleous is one of a growing army of Australians grabbing their laptop and escaping their home office to work from a café in search of new input and stimulation. Choosing a café over an office space is of course a far cheaper option, making it particularly appealing to start-ups.   Sophocleous regularly works from Maynard’s Café, set within Berkelouw Books in Newtown. She spreads out her MacBook and paperwork on the vast collective table, which means she’s just taking up a single seat rather than an entire table, which she admits alleviates any guilt.   “The reason I work from cafes is to escape the limited confines of my home office and hopefully benefit from external stimulation and inspiration. Some noise and excitement is good, but too much would be distracting,” Sophocleous says.   “There are generally other people – freelance workers and students – working away on laptops, so at times it can have the feel of a hip open-plan office, particularly with all the books surrounding the café tables.”   Melbourne businessman Paul Meissner launched his start-up from café tables, admitting he took over a table at a different café across the city every day for two years.   He openly admits this saved him having to fork out for office space while setting up his cloud-based accounting firm.   “The experience was amazing. In fact, many café owners were really appreciative of me being there.”   Travel bloggers Caroline and Craig Makepeace also frequent cafes with their laptop to work.   The pair works a six hour stint in their local café on the central coast, an hour north of Sydney, every week. When they’re on the road, they write from cafes across the country most days.   The ideal café is one with comfortable couches, relaxing music, good coffee, power point access and where possible, free WiFi.   Sophocleous opts for establishments with lots of light, enough space so you don’t feel like you’re tying up a table and a medium level of noise.   The unwritten rules But there are some tips for ensuring you’re not booted out of a café for breaking any unwritten rules.   Meissner recommends asking staff if they mind giving you a table near a power point to get some work done. Ordering a drink straight away, or order food if you’re there during meal times, he advises.   “Try and order drinks steadily during the time you’re there. You don’t need to always have a drink on the go, but don’t sit there for hours on one coffee.”   And if the café has a Twitter account or Facebook page, promote them as being friendly to business, he adds.   Makepeace often asks the waiter if it’s OK if to work, just to be polite.   “It’s a good gauge on whether it is the right working environment. You don’t want to stay if they will be resentful towards you.”   If the café is busy, she’ll order a meal.   “But if it’s quiet, I don’t think that’s important because you’re helping fill up the café and make it look popular.”   If a few rules are followed, the majority of café owners welcome workers armed with laptops.   In fact, a Brisbane café has taken the concept of welcoming workers one step further by renting desks for $10 a day to creative people wanting to work in a café.   Located near Fortitude Valley, The Rabbit Hole Ideation Café provides WiFi, desks, chairs, lockers, a meeting room, air conditioning, and an outdoor patio for those wanting to work in a relaxed shared space.   Melbourne’s Cupcake Central also welcomes workers. It is one of many cafes to provide a recharge station especially for workers.   Paul Lange has worked in dozens of cafes over the years running his virtual business incubation program. He suggests hosting meetings at your favourite café, which brings new business in for the café owner. As people come to meet you, try and introduce them to staff and the café owner, he says.   “When you find the right place and go regularly, you’ll find the owner will be happy for you to stay longer. You may even find that the occasional coffee or lunch is on the house.”   What not to do   But Brianna Robinson of Perth café Esprezzo doesn’t like workers parking themselves in her establishment for hours, so purposefully doesn’t offer free WiFi.   “We find that generally, people who come in and work for hours on end on their laptops don’t purchase enough to warrant the seat they have taken up. One coffee does not justify staying three hours.” Correct etiquette would be to pay for your time by at least ordering a meal or a few drinks, she says.   “If you intend to stay a while, perhaps ask staff where would be the best location to sit. We have nothing against people on laptops, so long as they pay their way,” Robinson says.   Andrew Huffer of fellow Perth establishment Food for Me agrees not all workers play fair.   “I’ve been in the position where I need to find a place to just sit down and get some work done. A cafe is the logical spot when you’re on the move,” he says.   “But when I’m on the other side of the counter – things change. I get frustrated when someone plonks themselves down with a laptop in a prime real estate position and orders one latte over the course of three hours. That’s really pushing the friendship,” Huffer says.   Although his business sense takes over and he works hard to make patrons to feel welcome so they return.   Top tips – To find the ideal café to work from: Consider asking if the waiter minds you working before you sit down Opt for cafes with relaxing music, good lighting and lots of space Rotate cafes to bring new input and stimulation Make sure you order something, preferably a meal if the café is busy Choose a table with privacy so people can’t see what’s on your screen Come with fully charged equipment Be conscious not to speak too loud into your mobile phone or disrupt other diners

Building community: Finding the first 10,000 fans

7:45AM | Tuesday, 16 July

When launching a band, web platform or any kind of product, there’s one challenge we all: How to find the first 10,000 fans?   There are many different approaches – some smart but difficult, others easy but expensive. The first 10,000 fans create momentum for your product. No one likes to hang out in an empty bar no matter how great the music is. The best way to experience a new band is in a small venue crammed with screaming fans – a small group of trendy tastemakers who will be the first in the world to discover this great talent.   Then one day they can say, "I saw them at venue X with 200 other people and now they're playing stadiums”. But, how do you find this first group of fans? How can you ensure they're the 'right' people: The people that others will follow? How do you make them love you?   I'll look at three ways of reaching your first 10,000 fans, as well as how I used each in music and at Posse, to varying levels of success.   1. Paid marketing, PR and hype   All these methods aim to put your brand in front of as many people as possible in a way that says, "Try me. I'm cool and I'll make your life better." They all work, otherwise no one would use them.   PR may create more exposure per unit cost than paid advertising, although some new marketing tools like paid Facebook ads can be effective at reaching targeted audiences for a lower cost. Hype certainly helped sites like Pinterest and Wanelo grow from hundreds of thousands of users to many millions.   But what about the first 10,000 fans? A new start-up with a good story can score both PR and hype. That's easy. It's also easy for a new band to set the whole music industry talking through rumours that a major record deal is imminent.   But hype, PR and paid marketing are like cotton candy: It tastes sweet; you get an instant sugar high, but then crashes when everyone goes away.   Big record labels used to burn through artist's careers by launching them like this. They had pots of money, were impatient – and a bit lazy.   Does anyone remember the girl group 'Cherry' or 'Jackson Mendoza'? One big label launched both in the late 1990s and early 2000s, coupled with massive marketing budgets. Both failed to connect. They never found the first 10,000 fans, so they never got the momentum they needed to build a community.   It's the same in tech. At Posse, we've had a lot of great PR. Every time a headline story breaks, our user numbers jump – but often we don't gain quality users. They join the site, add a couple of places and don't come back. If we depended on PR, marketing and hype to build our user base, we'd be dead.   Story continues on page 2. Please click below. 2. One-by-one engagement and community building   One-by-one engagement and community building is a long, slow, painful, yet effective way to build an engaged audience.   In a previous blog, I wrote about our early experiences launching the band Evermore. We spent two years with no money driving all over the country playing in high schools by day and small pubs by night. After they played, the band would hang around and meet fans, personally selling CD singles and signing them. They met a lot of people in two years and these fans felt special. They'd seen a show, had met the band personally and became evangelists, calling their local radio stations requesting the songs. Momentum started building.   The bad news? It's a process that takes time, hard work and can't be accelerated. In 2008, my music company, Scorpio, signed the musician Matt Corby. In 2009, we released his first EP and his manager, Matt Emsell, arranged for Matt to play “secret shows” at fans' houses, or in their back gardens, so long as they could organise enough people.   Over four years of constant touring and many EP releases, he built up a passionate army of fans. So, when his new record was released in 2012, they rushed to buy it and share it with their friends. The fans felt that they were responsible for Matt's success – and they were. This real momentum created hype which led to his 2012 EP reaching five-time platinum sales and winning the ARIA Award for Song of the Year.   The communities in tech that have stood the test of time often also took years to develop. Twitter launched in 2006 and developed a passionate but small user base before taking off more than two years later in January 2009.   Pinterest launched in 2009 by issuing a handful of invitations to designers to use the platform, and they each received invitations to give to friends. By October 2010, they had 40,000 users and started organising user meet-ups to help fans build real-world relationships. Founder Ben Silbermann often tells the story about how he had trouble raising money from VCs because his initial growth curve wasn't steep enough.   It wasn't until January 2012, more than two years after they launched, that Pinterest became airborne, and in August 2012 they lifted the need to have an invitation to join.   We're still in the early stages of building our fan community at Posse. Of the strategies we've tried, two have been powerful:   Advisor program:   We advertise on free student job boards all over the world for “advisors” to intern from home for our start-up. These advisors commit to completing two activities a week for a four-week program and at the end we provide them with a letter for their résumé.   The activities include running user experience tests, writing up product feedback, recruiting friends to join Posse, promoting Posse to retailers in their area, distributing stickers for store windows and creating a blog about the best places in their town.   We run the program every four weeks and aim to have 120 advisors participate. We've now run it six times and improve it each time. This has been an incredibly effective, low cost way for us to build communities of engaged evangelists and seed new geographies for Posse.   The advisors themselves love the program, they report that they learn a lot, use the reference letter to gain entry to places in university courses, and many ask to stay involved with Posse as brand ambassadors.   Our blog:   We post two to three blogs every day featuring the favourite places of well-known people or lists of the best places to do X in a town.   For example, check out this blog post featuring Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore's favourite places to eat and drink. It's very easy to ask a chef, fashion designer, musician, actor or politician for a list of their favourite places to visit in their hometown; people love to share their recommendations.   Our community manager, Justine, writes up the blogs and encourages the person who's being featured to share it on Facebook and Twitter (which they usually do, often to hundreds of thousands of followers). She also reaches out to each of the featured stores and they all post and tweet the link. Everyone is looking for content to post to social media, and the blog generates a huge amount of traffic for Posse.   3. Aligning yourself with another brand   I've found this to be the most effective way to accelerate desirable growth. In 2004, we had spent two years building Evermore's community, one by one.   There was good momentum, but they were not a national name. However, everyone was aware of a new show on Channel Ten called The OC. It was edgy, young, cool and loved by the right crowd of teenage girls and sophisticated young women.   I also noticed that Channel Ten hammered the promos in every ad break. I called their switchboard and asked reception: “Who makes the promos for The OC?”   Eventually, I reached their producer, introduced myself, described Evermore, and said I'd courier a CD of the song straight away (no emailing MP3s then!). Later that same afternoon, he called me back, said he loved the track and would use it as the theme to the promo that would start playing during the final of Big Brother that Sunday.     Channel Ten continued to play Evermore's song It's too late as the theme for The OC trailers for another month. Thousands of new people signed up to our website every day. The OC had captured the imagination of a huge audience.   They emotionally connected with the characters and the sentiment of the show. The brand alignment worked for us because of that emotional connection. The audience transferred their feelings for the show to Evermore, so by association we were a hit too. No one remembers which song was the theme of Dancing with the Stars or The Rugby World Cup, even though they received the same level of exposure.   I haven't seen start-ups use brand partnerships in the same way, but it must be possible. I'm working on a couple of opportunities for Posse right now; I'll tell you if one of them comes off!   Finding the right first 10,000 fans takes careful thought, hard work and patience. There are few examples of bands or companies with longevity that took off overnight without some kind of granular community strategy. We're always looking for new ways to engage our users and turn them into evangelists.   If anyone else knows stories of how others have succeeded in music or in tech, or if you'd like to share your own ideas please add them as comments below. I'd love to hear them!

Facebook announces small business accelerator program

7:39AM | Tuesday, 16 July

Australian and New Zealand-based start-ups and small businesses can now apply to take part in social media giant Facebook’s small business accelerator program.   Twelve businesses will be selected to take part in a two-day workshop on how businesses can use Facebook to grow.   They will receive credits towards their Facebook use and three months of ongoing support from the Facebook team.   Nick Bowditch, manager of small business for Australia and New Zealand at Facebook, says in a statement the large number of Australians using Facebook meant businesses with a strong presence on the platform could take part in these conversations.   “Many small businesses are doing great things on Facebook and we are committed in helping them continue to unlock the opportunities open to them,” Bowditch said.   The Sensis 2013 Yellow Social Media Report in May found more Australian small businesses have a social media presence than ever before, but are still far behind the number of consumers on social networks.   The report found 30% of Australian small businesses and 47% of medium-sized businesses have an online presence, well below the 65% of Australians overall who use sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.   “This shows all SMEs need to make use of digital opportunities, even if it’s just being there,” Sensis executive general manager of digital partnerships and innovation Kelly Brough said at the time.   Bowditch says the Facebook Small Business Accelerator Program will see the company work with 12 businesses and support them by “fast-tracking their path to success on Facebook”.   “ We look forward to receiving submissions from businesses of all different types from across Australia and New Zealand, and working with the 12 selected businesses to help them maximise their efforts on Facebook,” he says.   According to Facebook, there are 16 million small businesses around the world using Facebook Pages.   Bowditch told StartupSmart they were looking for companies who understood the need to have a social media presence.    “The program is open to all small businesses located in Australia and New Zealand with a Facebook Page. Businesses that will stand out are those that know enough about social media to know that they should have a presence and are looking to take their social media savvy to the next level,” Bowditch says.   Applications close August 12. Winners will be announced 19 August.   You can apply here.

Australian social selling app for the younger generation ready to take on eBay

7:16PM | Sunday, 14 July

A 20-year-old entrepreneur has launched an online sales app targeted at the new generation of online shoppers and integrated with social media.   Stephen Chapman, founder of the social selling app Facebuy, told StartupSmart the way Gen Y was selling and buying online has changed.   “This is a younger generation targeted tool because eBay has been around for a long time and my generation isn’t looking at eBay, that’s for our parents,” Chapman says.   He says the app focuses on fashion, concert tickets and textbooks first, as these are the items young people are selling online via Twitter and Facebook.   “We’ve created a centralised place to sell these items that feeds straight through Twitter and Facebook, so your friends can comment and promote it,” Chapman says.   Launched two weeks ago, the app has been downloaded over 500 times, has 300 registered users and 150 items have been uploaded.   “That conversion rate is pretty good. It’s definitely working and we can see potential,” Chapman says. “We’re focusing on a customer-reach model rather than revenue, while we’re still tweaking it.”   The app is free to download and users can also list their items for free. For each sale, Facebuy takes a $2 fee and 1.5% of the price plus 30c goes to PayPal.   Chapman says they’ll be focusing on recruiting eBay sellers in the next few weeks, especially those who have listed more than 400 items and have good customer feedback.   “We’re going to show them it’s a cheaper, quicker, younger and trendier way to sell online, that doesn’t carve their bottom line up,” he says, adding the idea was sparked by his frustration having the pay listing fees on eBay.   With a brand similar to Facebook and eBay as its main competitor, Chapman is staying focused on his point of difference.   “Yeah, the big giants always want to sue anyone to stop them starting up. I looked into it and I’ve trademarked the word Facebuy in Australian markets, and there was no issue,” Chapman says, adding it’s using the Facebook API (application programming interface), so Facebook knows it exist.   “But these big giants are faceless. They can’t have a personality or personal story attached to their brand like I can. We can be more agile and add new categories, and tweak as we go.”   Chapman says his focus is on developing the customer base in Australia, and seeking funding and mentoring to expand internationally.   “China and Hong Kong will be big for us. Maybe not them selling to each other, but a lot of power sellers on eBay of cheaper products come from there,” Chapman says.   Facebuy is also one of 250 entrants in the Million Pound Startup competition, which is run by London-based start-up incubator Digital Shoreditch.

Six ways time-poor entrepreneurs can get more mileage from content marketing

7:31PM | Sunday, 14 July

Content marketing is being hailed as the holy grail for marketers and start-ups everywhere.   But what we often overlook is that it’s hard work and time-consuming, so it’s easy to see why time-poor entrepreneurs simply don’t get around to it.   That’s why there’s an easier way to reap the benefits of content marketing without needing to do all the grunt work yourself. Here are six tips:   1. YouTube interview   Too busy to dream up your own content? One of the oldest tricks in the book, and still one of the best, is to interview someone. Some people use this technique to build entire careers and they never have to create their own content!   If you’re in person, use your smartphone to record it – there’s no technology excuses anymore. If you’re not in the same location, you can use Skype for free and Skype Call Recorder for $20 to record it. Then use a low-cost online service like Elance or Fiverr and get someone to convert it to a YouTube video. Or use iMovie if you want to do it yourself.   2. Use the audio version as a podcast   You can also just take an audio version of your interview and embed it on your website as a podcast for people to listen to.   3. Get a transcription for your blog   Take the YouTube URL of the interview and use a tool called Speechpad to transcribe it for you.   From $1 per minute of audio, this sure beats hitting play and rewind and typing it all up yourself. You can spend that time running your business or lining up the next interview.   4. Take a handful of transcriptions and turn it into an eBook   You’ve already got all the content you need to release an eBook and you don’t need to pick up a pen (or open your laptop). Compile four or so video interview transcripts and shoot it off to your designer on Elance or Odesk to whip it into a PDF eBook.   Some of the bestselling books of all time are just interviews. This format means you’re the author, but your guests have provided all the content – perfect for us time-poor entrepreneurs!   5. Email the top five insights to your subscribers   You wouldn’t usually send 40 pages of content via an email but why not send the ‘eBook highlights’ via email and attach the entire eBook for people who want to read the whole thing?   6. Do the final 1% of sharing it around   My final tip is to remember that the “easy wins” occur after you hit publish (which is when most people think their job is done). It takes minimal extra effort to post your content on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest and Instagram once it’s live.   And the biggest goldmine of all is LinkedIn groups. Share your valuable content in the appropriate LinkedIn groups you’re a member of and interact with the readers who are kind enough to leave a comment.   It’s no secret that it’s hard work running a business and hard to do good content marketing, but leverage your time and use these tips and it gets easier. Feel free to download this free editorial calendar template to help keep yourself on track too!

Stay lean as you climb to the top

7:56AM | Friday, 5 July

This article was first published on April 11, 2012.   One of the things that struck me about Facebook’s $US1 billion takeover of photo app maker Instagram was just how few people the company had – just 13 full time employees, who will share in a bonus pool of $US 100 million as a result of the deal.   Now, Instagram is just two years old, so the fact it has just 13 employees isn’t remarkable. But when a business is worth $US 1 billion, it will generally have many times this number of employees. You could host the Instagram Christmas party in a phone box!   Instagram has stayed lean by focusing very tightly on its core function – creating a great app. Most of its staff are engineers and the business development side of the company was slower to start. This is underlined by the fact it is still not profitable.   The company’s founders say they have not been “lean” for the sake of it. Instead, they have focused on being nimble – that is, keeping up with technological changes and growth. And they’ve hired according to this mission.   Tech start-ups are different of course – many of you would need to hire business development or sales people much earlier than Instagram has needed to, just to keep the doors open.   But the way the Instagram has focused very tightly on the its core mission – and built its team around this – is impressive.   Get it done – today!

Set up login notifications on Facebook

7:33AM | Monday, 1 July

Facebook allows you to set up login notifications, which tell you when your account has been accessed from a computer you don't use regularly. It can be a life-saver if your account is being accessed by someone you don't know.   To do so, head to the Security Settings page, then access the "login notifications" tab. There, you can choose to receive email and text message notifications.

Around the world in 80 trademarks: Why start-ups need to know their trademark rights

6:48AM | Wednesday, 26 June

Intellectual property lawyers have called on small businesses to properly register their trademarks, after an American blogger claimed his brand was swiped by a global human resources firm.   Turner Barr owns and operates a travel blog called Around the World in 80 Jobs, on which he documents his adventures trying out lots of different jobs in different parts of the world.   In April, Swiss-based Adecco ran a contest giving 10 individuals the chance to travel around the world trying different jobs, and called the campaign 'Around the World in 80 Jobs', a term they then trademarked.   Barr claims the campaign bears a striking likeness to his own online persona, and says the multinational firm made no efforts to contact him about using the name.   "I'm no longer even the first thing that comes up when you Google my brand name," Barr wrote on his website.   "I've turned down work opportunities and put on hold any future travel job plans to deal with lawyers, long distance phone calls, corporate executives and other such nonsense — all along feeling misled and patronized. This situation has been extremely confusing for not only myself, but also for participants in the company's marketing campaign who message me thinking that I am part of the company.   "With hard work I strived, and almost succeeded, in creating my dream job. I feel like my dream job has been taken from me in order for some company to promise it to others for corporate marketing gain."   Following a large social media backlash, Adecco removed a video marketing the campaign that Barr said featured a paid actor with a likeness to him, and issued an apology on its Facebook page:   "We deeply regret if we hurt Turner Barr. This was never our intention when we set up our 'Around the World in 80 Jobs' contest. We clearly see that Turner is an inspiration to many people. We feel there should be more of such initiatives that inspire people to live their dreams and achieve their ambitions. Unfortunately, we moved forward with a name and contest that clearly upset Turner and his community. We sincerely apologize for that mistake."   At this point, Adecco said on Saturday, Barr and the company have yet to reach a satisfactory conclusion to their disagreement.   Intellectual property and trademarks lawyer Michael Buck says in both Australia and the United States, there are common law rights to the usage of trademark. If a business or entity has been using a slogan for a long time, it can oppose others trademarking that term.   However, there are clear benefits to formally registering a trademark, he says.   "It's the only naming regime that actually gives you proprietary rights to the name for a particular good and services, and it's an automatic defence to allegations of trademark infringement," Buck says.   "And if someone wants to buy your company or enter into a distribution deal with you, it's going to be very important to them to know you have a trademark registration. Otherwise, someone else could set themselves up and profit from your brand."   Trademarks, Buck cautions, do not cover all uses of a term. They only cover the use of a trademark in one industry or area. Trademarks that cover more areas of usage require extra trademark applications, which cost more.   If a business utilises the services of an attorney to register trademarks, in Australia it normally costs around $1200 per trademark application.   "Something to remember is that a business name registration is no guarantee you have a right to use the trademark," Buck adds. "You can get a business name registered, but without a trademark, you can still run into trouble."

THE NEWS WRAP: Holden threatens to end Australian production over pay dispute

6:16PM | Tuesday, 18 June

Holden managing director Mike Devereux has threatened to end car production in Australia if employees at its Adelaide plant fail to accept a pay cut.   The secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union's vehicles division, Dave Smith, blames Tony Abbott, claiming the announcement “smacks of the Coalition behind the scenes”.   However, according to Devereux, it costs Holden parent company General Motors $3750 more to build a car in Australia than overseas, with $2000 of the total due to labour costs.   “Australia is among the most expensive places to build cars anywhere on the planet. Our geographic isolation, the cost of sourcing local components and our high labour rates mean we pay a significant premium to manufacture cars here compared to importing,” Devereux says.   Facebook hits a million active advertisers   Facebook has reached a new milestone, with the social media giant claiming that a million active advertisers globally have used its service in the past 28 days.   “Most small business owners start off as Facebook users, then migrate to become page owners, and from there migrate to become advertisers,” says Facebook director of small business Dan Levy.   According to market research firm eMarketing, small advertisers in the US spent around $US32 billion on online advertising during 2012.   Pacific Brands reveals international expansion and omni-channel retailing plans   Pacific Brands chief executive John Pollaers has cited product innovation, international expansion and a move into omni-channel retailing as key future moves for his company’s Bonds and Berlei brands.   “We will deliver higher impact innovation in the core categories but we'll also look to expand into other categories and then we'll start – not rush at – laying down some of the ground work for the development of an international footprint over time,” Pollaers.   “[Outlet stores are] an avenue for the distribution of brands that haven't traditionally been at wholesale distribution. We're able to… expand our broader customer base and because we don't have any legacy retail infrastructure we're able to move to a streamlined multi-channel structure straight away.”   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 0.92% to 15,319.15. The Aussie dollar is down to US94.81 cents.

Why your ‘why’ matters when you start-up a business

6:27AM | Thursday, 13 June

Do you know why you are in business? What is your driving motivation?   There has never been a better time to start up a business. However, without a solid “why” in place, your resolve may falter and your dream may come to abrupt end.   Everybody’s ‘why’ is completely unique, but there are some ‘whys’ that have been proven to cause a business to fail, and fail spectacularly.   So, I thought it might be helpful to highlight a few of the more common ones:   You want to make easy money   If making easy money is the thing driving your business idea, then the entrepreneurial life is probably not for you. Establishing a business is not easy. It takes hard work and tenacity.   If you don’t have a “never say die” attitude, one day something will happen that will send your house of cards toppling down. If money is your ‘why’, what is going to sustain you when times are tough? Even in a successful business, it can take a few years to turn a decent profit.   You want to capitalise on a trend   It happens a lot in the business world. Someone invents the latest, coolest must-have item and within days there are knock-offs a plenty. This isn’t just happening with mass produced products. It’s happening with whole business concepts and movements.   An interesting case study is the Etsy phenomenon. Etsy, an online eCommerce community for handmade crafts and vintage items, has grown into a multi-million dollar enterprise.   Their ‘why’ was primarily driven by an environmental and anti-consumerist ideal and that is the ‘why’ that has spawned the incredibly diverse handmade craft industry that has flourished on Etsy and other handmade market websites.   However, since Facebook Business Pages were launched, many home based craft businesses have hung out their shingles, not because they want to change the world, produce more environmentally conscious products, or encourage people to repurpose old things, but because they want to make easy money.   While there are many talented artists and creative entrepreneurs in the online space who are driven by strong ideals, there are also many people flogging poor quality craft items and, dare I say it, mass-produced handmade items (if you are producing items in such large numbers that you could be working on a factory floor, it’s mass produced IMO), simply to make an extra buck.   I used to make handmade décor and accessories and sell them at markets. I loved doing it and I even made some money out of it, but, in the end, I stopped making stuff because I felt like I was working on an assembly line, and it just wasn’t fun anymore. You want to be famous for something (anything will do)   In the age of The Law of Attraction, attracting fame and fortune has become a trendy dream.   I realise it’s a dream that has been around forever and a day, but these days, it feels like fortune hunters are everywhere! There is a whole industry around training people how to become famous, and how to lever their celebrity to create wealth. The problem is that many are not driven by anything more than the idea of living the lifestyle of the rich and famous.   When your ‘why’ lacks substance, ideals or true passion, the chances of actually attaining that millionaire lifestyle are slim to none because, when the road gets rocky, you may easily lose your way.   Nevertheless, living the dream is a popular motivation these days and there are some talented and noteworthy pied pipers proclaiming to lead thousands (and their thousands of dollars) into the promised land of luxury and fame.   The social media marketing frontier has attracted many would-be entrepreneurs with the promise of inexpensive marketing and easy money, but as social marketing has matured, and fortune hunters have come and gone, those who have survived and thrived have had a strong sense of their ‘why’.   Your ‘why’ is your reason for starting up in the first place, your intrinsic motivation. Your ‘why’ fuels your passion and ensures you stay focused, even when the road to business success is a tad bumpy.   What is your ‘why’? Why not share below in the comments?   This article is an excerpt from Cas McCullough’s forthcoming book: Your brilliant uncareer: How to ditch the corporate ladder for life.

Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest? Which social media platform is right for my business?

6:55AM | Monday, 3 June

One of the biggest challenges small businesses face with social media is finding the time to actually using it. Most businesses never get around to developing a full social media strategy, opting to use just one platform (usually Facebook) or none at all.   Last week’s release of the annual Sensis Social Media Report revealed that just 30% of small businesses have a social media presence. Of this group, 88% are using Facebook.   (For a detailed review into how SMEs are using social media based on this research, read this article published on StartupSmart last week.)   With 95% of Australian social media users on Facebook, it’s a no-brainer that your business should have a presence here. It’s not even a nice-to-have anymore; it’s a huge opportunity missed if you don’t have a Facebook Page, especially if your business does B2C selling.   But there’s so much more to the social media landscape than just Facebook.   The following table taken from the report shows the breakdown of social media sites used in Australia by gender and age.     Quite often, Twitter is seen as the next priority channel after Facebook. But with 20% of all social media users on LinkedIn, this channel is clearly overlooked. All businesses – small and large – should be set-up on LinkedIn with a Company Page.   A Company Page allows you to post updates on behalf of the business, raise awareness of your brand, develop a follower community and showcase your products and services. For an added cost, you can also set up a Careers Tab on your Company Page for recruitment purposes.   OK, so I’ve said that pretty much all businesses should have a Facebook Page and a LinkedIn Company Page.   Now, what else? This really depends on your target market.   Instagram: This photo-sharing platform is hugely popular with 16% of all social media users uploading and adding filters to their photos of food, sunrises and selfies. The site is most popular with the under 30s, with a whopping 41% of 14-19 year olds using it. If this is your target market and your business has a visual element (think fashion, food and travel), then Instagram should definitely be considered a part of your social media marketing mix.   Twitter: 15% of social media users are on Twitter, with more males (19%) than females (12%). The site is popular across a broad demographic between 20 and 64 year olds. However, the most popular age group is 40-49. Twitter is definitely worth considering for a wider range of target markets, especially males in their forties. Given the short life of a tweet, it’s only worth pursuing if you have lots of regular content to share.   Google+: With 15% of all social media users claiming to be on Google+ it’s certainly not a social media network to sneeze at. However, with it’s largest demographic being the over 65 group (32%), I have to wonder whether our seniors had confused Google+ with the Google search engine.   According to the report, this channel is not worth pursing if your target market is under 30 years old, though it has a respectable 18% of social media users in its community between the ages of 30-49.   Pinterest: Last year’s social media superstar Pinterest has the lowest numbers with an average of 7% of social media users pinning. However, these numbers have been rapidly growing since the site first launched in 2010 and is largely dominated by the fairer sex (11% of females to just 1% males).   If your business has anything to do with weddings (think flowers, bonbonniere, decorations, etc), fashion or home décor, then Pinterest is a must for you.   What’s great about this insight is if you know your target market well, you are able to start building a strategy based on their social media habits and behaviour.   What social media channels do you use for your business?

Three Sydney entrepreneurs off to Silicon Valley after winning coding competition

5:58PM | Monday, 27 May

Three tech entrepreneurs are into the international AngelHack Accelerator program and off to Silicon Valley later this year after the personalised digital postcode app they built in a 24-hour coding competition took out top honours in Sydney this weekend.   Andy Longworth, Jethro Batts, and David Boulton won the AngelHack competition with their app Hate You Cards, which allows users to take photos of themselves and turn them into joke text messages and emails to send to their friends.   More than 90 people attended AngelHack Sydney with organisers estimating the crowd was 55% developers, 8% designers and 37 % business people. They formed 22 teams, and many were at the Fishburners co-working hub all night.   The event was judged by Alfred Lo from Optus Innov8, Robert Love from PWC Digital, Gary Visontay at Sydney Seed Fund, Seb Eckersley-Maslin at Blue Chilli, and Willix Hallim at Freelancer.com.   Danila Davidson, one of the coordinators of the event, told StartupSmart this year’s win was a deviation from previous years.   “We want teams to create something that is ready to use after 24 hours. So it’s best to focus on a real problem that can be solved with an app that you can actually build in 24 hours,” Davidson says. “Hate You Cards wasn’t problem-focused, but it’s innovative and fun, and would work well with existing platforms.”   AngelHack Sydney is part of the international AngelHack program, which runs in over 30 countries. It was launched in San Francisco in recognition of the challenge of finding founders for new projects.   “It’s a really, really important issue that we all talk about all the time, how hard it is to find a tech funder. We also talk about how hard it is to find and recruit good coders. So we run these events to empower coders, to connect business owners to coders and to get good coders in front of the best tech founders in San Francisco.”   Winners Longworth, Batts and Boulton are to start the 12-week AngelHack Accelerator program soon in preparation for their trip to Silicon Valley. They will receive a $1100 stipend to fly to San Francisco for 10 weeks of mentoring and introductions to incubators and investors. They’re also provided with 10 days of accommodation with a series of events, with conferences and connections to follow.   The AngelHack team provide this in exchange for a 2% stake in the companies they are supporting. The program is sponsored by Amazon Web Services, PayPal Developer, Facebook, Google Developers and Tropo.   Previous winners include crowd funding platform WeFunder and cloud file security system Airpost.

Be proud of your budgetary discipline

5:06AM | Monday, 13 May

This article first appeared on November 20th, 2012.   Recently, I managed to shock a few people over lunch by telling the tale of when I haggled with a salesperson over the price of a fare back from the airport.   “Sure, that young sales rep should have taken more personal responsibility. But haggling over the couple of dollars difference between a two-hour ticket and a SkyBus? Sorry to say, but that’s just being a scrooge,” they say.   A scrooge? As a kid, while other kids were busy watching He-Man, Old Taskmaster stuck up a bedroom wall poster of Scrooge McDuck. Hand drawn on reused paper too. Being called a scrooge is an honour!   Of course, long-time Taskmaster readers will know how much fun cost-cutting competitions at work can be. And who wants to pay for a vicuñacino when an instant coffee does the same job? Especially when that instant coffee comes in a bulk container you bought from CostCo.   Some people seek to persecute the financially prudent amongst us who are inclined towards saving over spending. “Miser. Cheapskate. Skinflint. Moneygrubber. Penny-pincher, Tightwad. Cheap,” they say.   What these spendthrifts need to understand is that when you’re building a business funded by someone else’s hard-earned savings, a little budgetary care doesn’t go astray.   If you succeed in doing what Instagram’s founders did earlier this year – sell a lean start-up with 13 staff to Facebook for $US1 billion – it’s you, rather than the big spenders, who’ll be laughing in the end.   So don’t be shy about cutting your costs or saving your money. Instead, show some (fiscally disciplined) pride!   Get it done – today!

Facebook eyes more start-ups as mobile ad revenue soars

5:41AM | Thursday, 2 May

Mobile platforms accounted for 30% of Facebook’s advertising revenue for the first quarter, according to new figures, as the social media giant to snaps up a number of mobile-based start-ups.   According to Facebook’s latest earnings results, approximately $375 million of the company’s $1.25 billion in advertising revenue came from mobile ads in the first quarter.   In the previous quarter, Facebook made 23%, or $305.9 million, from mobile advertisements. That represents a 22.5% quarter-over-quarter increase in mobile advertising revenue.   The company saw its first-quarter profit soar 58% from a year ago to $217 million.   Monthly active users rose 23% on a year ago to 1.11 billion, including 751 million who accessed the platform via mobile.   Here’s a few of the mobile start-ups set to drive Facebook’s revenue even higher.   Parse   Just a few days ago, Facebook acquired mobile development tool start-up Parse for a reported $85 million.   Parse, based in San Francisco, was founded in 2011 by Y Combinator graduates Ilya Sukhar, James Yu and Kevin Lacker, who raised about $7 million in funding.   According to Facebook, the acquisition of Parse will make it easier for developers to build mobile apps with Facebook Platform.   “We want to enable developers to rapidly build apps that span mobile platforms and devices,” company spokesperson Douglas Purdy wrote in a post on Facebook’s developer blog.   “Parse makes this possible by allowing developers to work with native objects that provide backend services for data storage, notifications, user management and more.   “This removes the need to manage servers and a complex infrastructure, so you can simply focus on building great user experiences.”   Osmeta   Last month, Facebook acquired Mountain View-based mobile software start-up Osmeta, which has also been around since 2011. It was founded by Amit Singh and Mark Smith.   Osmeta describes itself as a 19-person engineering team consisting of “world-renowned hackers and highly accomplished researchers” capable of “herculean” software engineering.   Neither Osmeta nor Facebook have commented on the acquisition, so it’s hard to know what Facebook’s motives are.   However, Osmeta is yet to launch a commercial product, suggesting the deal is primarily a talent buyout as Facebook looks to strengthen its mobile presence.   Karma   In May last year, following its disappointing IPO, Facebook acquired San Francisco-based start-up Karma, which lets users send gifts to their friends from their smartphones.   Founded by Lee Linden and Ben Lewis, the Karma app allows users to browse through a virtual storefront. Karma has partnered with providers such as Spotify, so the gift range is impressive.   Once the user has found a gift, they can create a virtual card and send the gift to the recipient via text, email or a message on their Facebook wall.   The app’s Facebook integration is a key part of its appeal. Karma reads through messages on users’ Facebook walls and alerts them to specific events for which they might want to buy a gift.   “This acquisition combines Karma’s passion and innovative mobile app with Facebook’s platform to help people connect and share in new and meaningful ways,” Facebook said.

Technology inflation is here: How creativity is caught in the breeze of the cloud

4:29AM | Friday, 26 April

Sir Ken Robinson talks about the idea of academic inflation much like the process of economic inflation.   I agree with him 100% here – if you don’t know what I am talking about and have been living under a rock for the past six years, I suggest you watch the following video:   {qtube:=iG9CE55wbtY}   Now that you’re on track with my train of thought and you’ve had a bit of a laugh, I want to explain why I think cloud technology is also in a state of inflation.   After my recent research and general discussions with a creative colleague of mine, Ben Seydel, I have realised quite quickly that cloud technology is indeed inflating. So much so that good ideas are failing simply because someone else got to the next floor by taking the lift rather than the stairs.   If you still don’t know what I’m talking about, have a look into Found. This amazing app has recently been acquired by YouSendIt. It is one really impressive piece of software used by millions that allows you to connect to all of your cloud storage centres and sync them into one beautiful interface.   “It’s very evident that we’re moving to a more ‘cloud-nostic’ world. Our industry has placed a huge burden on users to manage their cloud data – effectively isolating it across a growing number of proprietary platforms,” said YouSendIt CEO Brad Garlinghouse.   “Found enables YouSendIt to realize an exciting vision, where users can access and manage the information they’re looking for, no matter where it's stored.”   The ‘cloud-nostic’ future   Found is just one example of technology inflation.   Other examples include Marketo and PromoJam (dedicated social media tools) that, let’s face it, wouldn’t be around if not for Mark Zuckerberg (he really started this social media boom with Facebook in my opinion).   Please don’t let me lead you to believe that I think this is a bad thing by any means. It creates more jobs, more cool products, a more connected community and more creativity. Technology inflation creates creativity – what a beautiful way to put it.   All of these tech-inflated products that I’ve been discussing have one thing in common – they are all cloud-based. Now if you have an internet connection and a web browser you’re good to go – if you don’t believe me ask yourself why Google has released the Chromebook.   The Chromebook is simply a fast loading computer with a browser. Google has obviously seen their future through a crystal globe and to be honest, I really don’t blame them. Nearly everything that I do on my computer I do through a web browser. I have even recently moved to Office 365 (sorry Google – not discounting you but I just like the Microsoft suite).   The next web   There’s a website called The Next Web and literally all it’s about is what’s next on the internet. It’s essentially a news site for the internet.   Technically, they should be predicting what I am about to, regarding the web/tech/cloud inflation that we are currently seeing. I think the next big thing on the web will fall somewhere between what Windows tried to do, pulling all of your information together, and how Facebook sorts “what you really want to see”.   A stream of friends, colleagues, news, emails, texts, and anything you can imagine – simply manipulated in the most effective way for the end user. At the moment there is too much information – automatically sorting and sifting everything cloud, from the important to the unimportant is where I believe the next amazing piece of future tech will lay.   Remember, though, I had the idea first.   If you would like to discuss the above I can be contacted at  john@cloudbasemedia.com.au If you would like to transform your business’ current online profile take CloudBaseMedia’s 100 Day Challenge today. No risk, endless gains!

How we analysed competitors to design our product

4:57AM | Wednesday, 24 April

Last week I experienced my first taste of controversy in this arena. I contrasted Posse to Foursquare in an interview with Fast Company, who ran it as a feature with the headline 'What Foursquare would look like if it had been founded by a woman'.   The article sparked a barrage of comments and tweets arguing why Foursquare is or isn't a good product for women and how Posse shapes up. It's the first time we've been so publicly compared to a competitor; the experience was both flattering and scary – a tiny Australian start-up set against a US industry heavyweight.   Posse is not a revolutionary idea; many competitors are trying to solve the same problem as we are. And being first in line to seek a solution to a problem isn't always best.   I found this recent Techcrunch article interesting: it points out that almost all of the nine tech companies that have exited for more than $1 billion in the past four years haven't created a new product category. Rather, they have developed in areas where the existing solution isn't up to snuff. Facebook provided a better experience than MySpace or Friendster, and Zappos just sold shoes in a better way with better service. We designed Posse because we felt the existing solutions weren't working for us.   Now that we've officially launched in the US, it's natural that we'll be compared to competitors. In my blog today, I wanted to reflect on the process we used to design our product and how we took inspiration and ideas from others, like Foursquare and Yelp.   1. Define the problem and the audience   We started with a hunch that some people preferred recommendations from friends to reviews from strangers on Yelp or TripAdvisor. We also thought that the process of asking for recommendations from friends through email, SMS or Facebook was cumbersome and inefficient.   We set up an initial 10 focus groups to test our theory and asked questions like, 'Describe the last time you were in a new place looking for a restaurant or hairdresser. What did you do first?'   The most common answers followed a pattern of, 'tried to contact a friend who knows the area,' then, 'couldn't get hold of them so ran a Google search or checked Yelp'. We also asked group participants to recommend places to each other on the spot, so we could understand exactly why they enjoyed sharing recommendations.   Not everyone had a problem with this. Some were happy to use Google or Yelp to find places. The people who were dissatisfied tended to be like us: slightly fussier urban types who wanted to visit the best bars, restaurants, fitness centres, hairdressers and so on. They needed recommendations from friends and almost panicked at the thought of going somewhere cold.   We continued the interview cycle until we identified four audience definers: gender, age, behaviors, and 'preferences'. By this I mean, what they sought in recommendations from friends and why they enjoyed giving recommendations to friends.   Three of the four audience segments turned out to be female, so while we didn't design Posse just for females, we expected that the majority of users would be women. This may appear cold and calculating: breaking down users into audience segments, then designing features and artwork to appeal to those users. It certainly helped us understand who would want to use our product and why they'd use it instead of the competition.   2. Who has previously tried to solve the problem? Why did they succeed or fail?   For this exercise, we mapped out every platform, past or present that had tried to solve social search. Yelp and Trip Advisor obtained lots of reviews and great data but failed to get a high enough proportion of their users writing reviews to show what your friends think of places.   Both sites seemed littered with irate customers writing negative reviews. These upset the merchants, and many users we interviewed were skeptical about who was writing the reviews. Apps like Stamped and Fondu emerged to solve the social recommendation problem, but appeared to fail because not enough people were making recommendations to sustain long-term engagement.   The only platform we could find that had managed to crack the problem of persuading lots of socially connected people to give it content was Foursquare. To understand how, we interviewed 100 Foursquare users.   We invited friends who used the platform and put up posters around our office building offering to pay anyone who used Foursquare $50 for an interview. I wanted to know what was so compelling about checking in on Foursquare.   We found that the overwhelming number of people who responded to our ads were male (+80%) and I was amazed when they described how they used the product. One guy told us about how he drove out of his way home every day to check-in at a supermarket where he was the Mayor. Others said they would check-in to places that they didn't even visit as they walked past. They were addicted and didn't understand why.   As I struggled to make sense of check-in addiction, I couldn't help but notice the parallel between what these guys described and the behaviour of my small male chihuahua 'Steve' who dragged me to random posts, marking that he'd been there more than other dogs.   Many women using Foursquare wanted to secure recommendations from friends for the best bars and cafes but found it frustrating that the most popular places around them were subway stations, people's offices or alleyways. They also didn't like 'checking in', broadcasting where they were, and were irked by random guys asking to be friends with them.   I'm not saying that Foursquare, Yelp, Trip Advisor and many other local discovery platforms aren't great products that are loved by lots of users. Foursquare in particular was revolutionary in the way they use game mechanics and design to make participation in their platform fun: Posse and many others since have taken inspiration from these ideas to develop other products.   I'm just saying, this is a process we went through: analysing the competition to design what will hopefully be a better product for a certain part of the market that doesn't seem to be well served by the existing players.   Story continues on page 2. Please click below. Above: Steve the dog. 3. Designing the principles behind our solution   Once we'd defined our problem, our audience, and analysed the competition, we created a list of principles. These principles underpinned the product for which the platform we designed would work.   They included statements like:   >Our audience make recommendations to signal social status.   >Our audience like to collect and display their favorite things (Pinterest/Wanelo).   >Our product category is so competitive that our product must be delightful and fun so people want to share it with friends.   >Our audience doesn't want to earn currency for making recommendations but love recognition with authentic unexpected gifts from their favorite retailers.   There were many others.   4. Designing the product   With these principles in place, we set about designing the actual product. It all came together surprisingly quickly. The whole team took part in daily product design and we brought in lots of outside help for fresh perspectives on ideas.   This whole process of defining the problem and audience, analysing the competition, designing our product principles and then the product took around four months and involved more than 200 outside interviews before the first line of code was written.   It's something I didn't do the first time around when I built a site for selling music tickets. While we're constantly evolving and coming up with new feature ideas and design improvements, the fundamental strategy behind the product is solid and hasn't changed.   Execution is the next big challenge and we're getting better at that too. We're still a tiny team with an early product that doesn't really stack up against the competition yet.   Who knows if we'll make it? We're giving it our best shot.   I know most people who read this blog are in the process of starting a company. I think that an in-depth analysis of the competition is vital, without fearing to enter a product category because of the big incumbents there already. We've found it helpful to take inspiration and learn from the successful trailblazers in our field, and if others do the same then we'll all end up with better products as a result.