There was plenty of news and activity affecting Australia’s start-ups over the past 12 months, as the sector absorbed political strife in the Labor Party, an election that saw the return of the Coalition and attempts by Apple to trademark “startup”. It was also an interesting year for work trends, with the rise of online outsourcing and the expansion of co-working spaces around the country. As dull as it might sound, tax policy was also on the radar of readers, especially consultation around potential changes to employee share schemes, which could have a significant impact on the way start-ups can remunerate early staff and attract the best talent. All of which points to a busy 2014. Politics The election voters had long been waiting for to toss the Labor Party out of office finally arrived on September 7. There was plenty of interest in what the major parties would offer the start-up sector and small business. But ultimately, it was what the Coalition was offering that won over voters, although for start-ups, the impact was initially unclear. But before the election, readers were also entranced by the internal warring in the Labor Party, with the attempt to topple Julia Gillard that never was in March before Kevin Rudd finally secured the numbers to return as prime minister – albeit for a short time to “save the furniture” and soften the electoral drubbing the party suffered. Policy Employee share schemes and how the rules around them might be changed to support start-ups was a major issue that generated plenty of discussion during the year. That discussion is likely to continue into 2014 as the Coalition government, which in opposition had said it would consider making changes, awaits the results of a consultation process. Debate over the $1000 threshold on when the GST should apply on goods bought online from overseas retailers also arose, as Australians continued to embrace internet shopping. Questions have been raised whether lowering the threshold would do anything to influence the behaviour of shoppers. Australia’s fiscal position changed throughout the year, with promises that the budget would return to surplus giving way to huge deficits. What this year’s budget meant for new and small businesses drew readers’ attention, but with the change in government and the warnings of budget cuts to come, it’s unclear how the small business sector will fare in the coming years. How we work Freelancing, outsourcing, job matching and share work spaces all featured prominently throughout the year, reflecting the changing nature of work. Websites connecting freelancers to jobs around the world became more prominent, especially with the successful sharemarket listing of Australian-based Freelancer.com. As their popularity rises, the need to stand out from the crowd also becomes more important, making ‘tips’ stories on how to do just that popular. Sharing workspaces with others away from home or out of a corporate office environment also became popular, with like-minded people coming together to work and share ideas. Other top stories: Apple – Apple’s application to IP Australia to trademark “startup” sparked a storm of angry comments on StartupSmart. The application has had an adverse finding against it but the case could return after Apple was allowed to defer acceptance of the report. Investment funding – Artesian Ventures announced a $100 million fund to invest in other investment funds with the aim of investing in 1000 start-ups. MailChimp blocked – Numerous businesses use MailChimp to deliver material to the email inboxes of their subscribers. So there was plenty of concern when it emerged the service was having problems delivering to certain domain names. The issue has since been rectified. Sumo loss – Australian entrepreneur James Miller, who co-founded food franchise Sumo Salad before turning his attention to the re-launch of old Sydney pubs, died of a suspected accidental drug overdose.
Businesses relying on MailChimp to deliver their marketing and sales emails are caught up in a battle between online service providers that could mean their emails are only reaching a fraction of their intended audience. In an email to StartupSmart’s publisher Private Media, MailChimp confirmed it had been experiencing domain name server issues with .au based domains. “After investigation, we are aware that TTP Wholesale, one of Australia's service providers, does have some sort of block in place against our DNS servers,” the email says. “Since this block was discovered, we have been proactively working with this provider specifically to get our DNS IPs unblocked, and trying to provide as much assistance to them to demonstrate how these blocks are in turn affecting their customers.” MailChimp says they are already working with the company involved, adding the best thing Australian users can do is reach out to their hosting company to explain how the blocks are affecting their businesses. TTP Wholesale is owned by Net Registry. Net Registry chief executive Larry Bloch told StartupSmart that the issue could only be solved by MailChimp, as MailChimp has been added to CASA CBL, an independently maintained “real time black lists” (RTBL) based in China. Bloch says Net Registry’s ISPs won’t deliver mail from servers listed on RTBLs. The servers on the RTBLs are those which have sent emails that have been marked by users as spam. “What we do, as mail providers do around the world, we just respect those lists. If someone gets listed, we refuse to receive emails from that service provider. MailChimp sends out a lot of emails, but will occasionally, knowingly or unknowingly, have users who are sending spam through their system.” Bloch says they are unable to ignore these lists, as they are a key part of a community approach to beating spam that has been very effective. “We support hundreds and thousands of mail users on our systems. We have an anti-spam regime in place to protect our users, and one of the key planks is independently maintained lists of blacklisted mail senders,” Bloch says, adding MailChimp would be able to fix this issue, as it’s one it must face often with many users. “When that happens, it filters through global networks. So the problem is ultimately one for MailChimp, they must have this all the time,” Bloch says. Fi Bendall, director of digital strategy and marketing agency Bendalls Group, described the MailChimp blocks as a nightmare for small businesses. “I don’t want to overstate it, but this is really a bit of a mini-crisis,” Bendall says. “MailChimp is hugely popular, everyone is using it now.” Bendall says the ISP companies involved and MailChimp need to stop passing the buck and solve the problem as quickly as possible. “This is a real problem. If your newsletter gets stuffed up, you’ll probably need to find another solution quickly,” Bendall says, adding many small business owners would struggle to learn a new system. UPDATE: MailChimp told StartupSmart via Twitter that this issue has been resolved. They’ve also posted a comment below. For an update on this story, click here.
Small business staple service MailChimp, a newsletter-sending service, has published a blog detailing their quest to personalise their users so they can serve (and market to) them better. In the post, they detail their five-step approach to developing their “user persona research”, and some of the outcomes. This included first asking their stakeholders about who they thought MailChimp’s customers were, and modelling their ideal customer based on the three words they kept hearing: Smart, self-reliant and techie. They then grouped their customers into industries, contacted people from the main industries and interviewed them, analysed their findings and presented it back to the MailChimp team, creating posters of their key client types. Small business consultant and mentor Nikki White says this process can be useful for all business owners. “You can’t do any successful marketing if you don’t know who you’re talking to and how they talk,” White says. White advises business owners to start off by imagining their target client and jotting down what they do, what they read, what they eat and drink, what social media platforms they use, who they’re following on Twitter, and what kind of industries they would work in. She says the make-or-break marketing questions come next. “Ask yourself, what does that person feel before they come to me? You need to know what their pain is and identify with that. Dig down on that quite deeply so you can get to the bottom of it,” White says. “Then you ask yourself how you want these customers to feel after they’ve bought your product or service?” White says this final feeling is what you sell your product with, but you need to know the customer’s pain too. “In your marketing, you dip them into the pain and show them how they’ll feel once they’re your customer. The impact you’ll have is the thing you need to communicate in your marketing,” White says. Similar to the MailChimp strategy, White says business owners need to go beyond just their understanding and ask clients what they want and think about a product or service. “If you have clients already, good trusted ones, ask them for feedback on what do you do well, what do you like about the service,” White says. “You can do this through SurveyMonkey (a free online survey software) or do it over coffee. But when you give people the chance to do it anonymously, you’ll probably find they give you more honest feedback.” White says creating customer avatars or posters with keywords around them like MailChimp did is a great way to stay focused. She adds business owners should remember their clients, but also tap into their own feelings. “Small business owners usually have products they know the pain for because we’ve been through it and we’re excited about our business because it fixes it. You’ve been your client,” White says. “We can be so desperate to get new clients, we forget to listen to our clients. But if we worked out what they really want, and we can meet that, they’d be all over us because we get it.”
Bigcommerce was created after the two founders met in an online chat room. Four years on, the Aussie eCommerce start-up has secured $35 million in venture capital funding, built offices in Sydney and Texas and attracted 30,000 customers. Here, co-founder Eddie Machaalani passes on his top tips on customer profiling. Most marketing plans fail because they don’t focus on anyone and try to attract everyone. As a result, companies are selling products that customers don't want. Sadly, most customers aren't at the centre of the feedback loop. Sadder still, most customers will tell you what they want if you just ask. In the first instalment of this series http://www.startupsmart.com.au/strategy/the-seven-marketing-steps-that-landed-us-with-30000-clients/201303119130.html my colleague and co-CEO Mitchell Harper presented a seven-step marketing plan that can almost certainly double your sales in 12 months and get you on your way to seven figures in revenue. Those steps were: Create your typical customer profile Position your products to appeal to your ideal customer Spread the word to people who fit your typical customer profile Wow them immediately after buying Follow up with lots of free, useful stuff Ask for a (video) testimonial Repeat steps 3-6 infinitely The first step of the plan: Create your typical customer profile Obviously, this works best when you already have a few dozen customers, because you’ll be surveying your existing client base (no matter how small) to understand future buyers better. Understand that this doesn’t have to be a costly process. There are free tools such as Google Docs and MailChimp that let you create a survey and mass email it easily and affordably. Let’s say you sell customised sports apparel. Get into the heads of your customers with a survey that gives you information to help build a typical profile of someone who is likely to buy from you. Useful information includes: Sex Age range Salary Marital status Job Hobbies How did they find you? Why did they buy from you? What problem did your product help them solve? Would they recommend you to a friend? And so on. The results of this survey will let you literally write a profile of your typical customer. I mean really write it out. For example: “John is 29 years old, has brown hair, green eyes, weighs 197 pounds and is 5 foot 11 inches tall. He lives in Melbourne with his wife and works in an office all day. He loves to watch the game with his buddies on weekends and found our website via a referral from a friend at work.” “He bought from us because of our large selection of products, has recommended us to at least one friend and was happy with his purchase so would buy from us again. He also loves video games, playing poker and has a high school education.” That makes your next step easier: Position your products to appeal to your typical customer Put yourself in John's shoes. Ask yourself, "If I were John, what would grab my attention and make me either sign up for information or buy something, instead of closing my web browser?" Some ideas: An email newsletter about his favourite AFL team with little-known facts about players. A free shipping coupon that he can use on his first order. Photos or videos of other customers (who look and sound like John) wearing your product. Remember, your goal is to become relatable to John. Anything and everything you write or display on your website, in your emails — any communication — must feel like it's speaking directly to him. You’re building a personal rapport with John (even though he’s a profile of a typical customer). That’s crucial, because people buy from people they know, like or respect. Next time, we look at how to spread the word to people who fit your customer profile with some proven guerrilla marketing tactics.
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We're massive fans of email marketing.