3 Reasons You should be Thinking about Content Marketing

If you’re interested in marketing anything online, whether its yourself, your blog, or a product/service, you may have stumbled across the term content marketing. And for those of you who haven’t, boy are you in for a treat. Content Marketing, as defined by Wikipedia is any marketing that involves the creation and sharing of media and publishing content in order to acquire customers. Content Marketing as defined by Markus Robinson is, creating useful sharable content with a focus on building trust and rallying a community together around a subject, person, product, or service. Or better yet, Content Marketing is creating and sharing content with a deliberate and measurable goal. Most of us, whether we know it or not, have been creating great content for years and haven’t capitalized on it. Whether the medium is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or via a blog, the only difference between the content we’re creating now and content marketing is intent.

So why should you care? I hope this list helps you get the point:

1. Customers Want to Buy not be Sold
There’s a big difference between being sold something and buying something. That difference largely comes down to two words… education and trust. When you’re knowledgeable about the product and/or trust the person selling it you’re more likely to purchase a product and feel good about the purchase.

2. You can have a community of customers before you have a product to sell
Imagine you had a blog devoted to food. Eating food, cooking food, trading recipes etc. You’re not a professional chef by any stretch of the imagination, but you’ve been able to build a large and loyal community of readers who love your content. You then decide to create an e-book dedicated to some of your favorite recipes and sell it to your community. You also ask your community to help spread the word by sharing your content with their friends. Without knowing it you’ve built a community of highly engaged potential customers well before you even had a product to sell.

3. Content Marketing is Inexpensive

Using the same cook book analogy, lets look at the alternative. Imagine you’ve graduated top of the class from the best culinary school in the country. You’ve worked at some of the top restaurants in NYC and decided to create a book of all your favorite recipes and market it online. What are your options? You could hire a PR firm and try to get press. You could higher a marketing team and litter the internet with intrusive display ads. You could even use other traditional marketing tactics and techniques and you may gain an audience, but at what cost?

Some Stats
According to the Roper Public Affairs, 80% of business decision makers prefer to get company information in a series of articles versus an advertisement. 70% say content marketing makes them feel closer to the sponsoring company, while 60% say that company content helps them make better product decisions.

The Bottom Line
Content marketing is rooted in education and trust. Instead of “pitching” your products or services, you can simply deliver information that makes your audience more intelligent and more engaged. The essence of content marketing is the belief that if a person or business delivers consistent, ongoing valuable information to an audience, they will ultimately reward them with their dollars and loyalty. So, regardless of what type of marketing tactics you use, content marketing should be part of your process.

Think Like a Product Manager Too (Video)

Video of my 2014 Keynote Speech from this year’s Blogging While Brown is up. Check it out and let me know what you think. You can download the presentation here. Feel free to leave comments and spread the word.

2014 Blogging While Brown Technology Keynote Markus Robinson -Think Like a Product Manager Too

2014 Blogging While Brown Keynote

I was blessed with yet another opportunity to be the Technology Keynote Speaker at this year’s Blogging While Brown (2014). My presentation was entitled “Think Like a Product Manager Too”. To be completely honest, I had been racking my brain about this presentation for quite some time. It was not because I wasn’t confident speaking on technology, but instead, I’ve learned that the more products I build, the more I’ve realize that the technology is a whole lot less important than understanding your customer and your product.

Markus Robinson

Markus Robinson 2014 Keynote

The way I see it, it doesn’t really matter what language your application is written in, which CMS your blog is hosted on, or which technology stack you choose to run your services on, instead, your focus should be on making sure that your product has a market (product market fit), and that your audience/customers know, understand, and most importantly love your product. Ultimately, your customers don’t know and really don’t care about your technology.

So, with that said, I decided to shift the focus of this year’s presentation away from technology to discuss the techniques I’ve used to attract, and activate the right audience with just a little time and effort.

So, without further adieu,

Download the Slides

Download my 2014 Blogging While Brown Presentation

.

10 Books Every Entrepreneur MUST Read

Any entrepreneur worth their salt, will tell you that there’s no entrepreneurship class that can prepare you for business better than starting your own business;  and I’ve had the opportunity to learn first-hand by creating and working for some very successful entrepreneurial ventures. I’ve also had the opportunity to learn second-hand from the successes and failures of the entrepreneurs in my family. My maternal grandmother built and ran a very successful nursery, that’s still serving the community long after her death. I’ve also watched as my father would leave his day job to do taxes and help small businesses manage their finances. Most recently I’ve had the pleasure of helping and watching as my oldest brother took an idea and turned it into a successful startup that just closed a $1.7M round of funding. With that said, my advice for any new entrepreneur is to start working towards your business ASAP, find a mentor that’s been “through the ropes” that you can ask for advice, and finally open up your favorite e-reader or audio device and check out some of my favorite books on entrepreneurship.

1.Rework by Jason Fried

I’ve been a huge fan of the crew at 37 Signals (David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried) since 2006. I’m an avid reader of their blog Signal vs. Noise, and when word got around in 2010 that they were releasing a book, I was excited. Rework, challenged everything I thought I knew about starting a business. Its core philosophy is shut up and start working. Stop wasting time with business plans, searching for investors, and matching your competitors feature for feature. Instead build half the product, work smarter not harder, and stop wasting time with toxic meetings.

2. Good to Great by Jim Collins

This book, may just be the best business book I’ve ever read. In Good to Great, Jim Collins et’al studied over five years, the histories of twenty-eight companies. to discover the key determinants of “greatness”, and why some companies make the leap and others don’t. Some of the findings include:

  • Level 5 Leaders: The research team was shocked to discover the type of leadership required to achieve greatness.
  • The Hedgehog Concept: (Simplicity within the Three Circles): To go from good to great requires transcending the curse of competence.
  • A Culture of Discipline: When you combine a culture of discipline with an ethic of entrepreneurship, you get the magical alchemy of great results. Technology Accelerators: Good-to-great companies think differently about the role of technology.
  • The Flywheel and the Doom Loop: Those who launch radical change programs and wrenching restructurings will almost certainly fail to make the leap.

3. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

In 2005, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team was required reading for all leaders at my job at the time. I wasn’t officially leadership then, but I decided to read the book anyway, and I’m so glad I did. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is a fictional story following Kathryn Petersen, the new CEO of Decision Tech, as she  faces the ultimate leadership crisisUniting a team in such disarray that it threatens to bring down the entire company.

4. David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers, Blink, and The Tipping Point, wrote  what I believe may be his best book ever. David and Goliath challenges how we think about obstacles and disadvantages, by using a collective of stories including the Bible story of the little shepherd boy David and his eventual  defeat of the “unbeatable” warrior Goliath to illustrate how David and Goliath’s size and combat experience, was in fact the reason why David was able to defeat Goliath.

5. Book Yourself Solid by Michael Port

Michael Port’s Book Yourself Solid, teaches you the strategies, techniques, and skills necessary to get more clients and increase profits. The book uses a mixture of verbal and written exercises to help you discover the keys to developing a strong marketing plan and brand image. I’m more than 3/4 of the way through the book and the exercises have already opened my eyes to some of the pitfall in my business strategies.

6. The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman

At one point I thought that and MBA gave entrepreneurs an advantage in creating a successful business, and though it may help, I’ve talked to many entrepreneurs who told me that actually starting a business is a better use of my time, effort, and money. So when I heard about the Personal MBA, I figured I would read it to help fill some of the business knowledge gaps. The Personal MBA explains concepts such as:

  • The Iron Law of the Market: Why every business is limited by the size and quality of the market it attempts to serve-and how to find large, hungry markets.
  • The 12 Forms of Value: Products and services are only two of the twelve ways you can create value for your customers.
  • The Pricing Uncertainty Principle: All prices are malleable. Raising your prices is the best way to dramatically increase profitability – if you know how to support the price you’re asking.
  • 4 Methods to Increase Revenue: There are only four ways a business can bring in more money. Do you know what they are?

7. Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh

Delivering Happiness is written by Tony Hsieh, the influential CEO of Zappos, the billion dollar online shoe retailer. In it Hsieh discusses how he created the revolutionary Zappos’ corporate culture. Hsieh details many of the unique practices at Zappos, such as their philosophy of allocating marketing money into the customer experience, the importance of Zappos’s Core Values. Culture is essential to attracting, managing, and retaining a high performing workforce.

8. Next Generation Leader by Andy Stanley

Pastor Andy Stanley of North Point Church is one of the world’s foremost  leaders in developing Church leaders. In Next Generation Leader, Pastor Stanley shares material from his leadership training sessions, developed to address essential leadership qualities such as character, clarity, courage, and competency. This book is not only for church leadership, but I’ve applied all of the learnings in the book to developing myself as a leader.

9. Unlabel: Selling You Without Selling Out by Marc Ecko

If you’re not familiar with Marc Ecko or the multi-million dollar Ecko Unltd. clothing brand then you need to crawl out from under that rock you’ve been living under for the last 20 years. In Unlabel, Ecko, chronicles struggle building the brand, and discusses the conflict he faced balancing staying creative while acquiring business savvy. This is a fun and education read.

10. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

Lean Startup is more than just a book, its a revolution that’s sprouted other  books, businesses, meetup groups, conferences, and countless blogs. In Lean Startup, Ries offers, businesses of all sizes, a way to test their business visions continuously and adapt and adjust based on the data they acquire . Inspired by lessons from lean manufacturing, Lean Startup relies on “validated learning,” rapid scientific experimentation, as well as a number of counter-intuitive practices that shorten product development cycles, measure actual progress without resorting to vanity metrics, and learn what customers really want.   Hope this was helpful. Feel free to share your favorites.

Concluding the 14 Day App Challenge and 3 of My Biggest Mistakes

My 14 day app challenge ended almost 14 days ago, and I’m just getting around to blogging about the journey, sorry :(. I promise, I haven’t made any structural changes in over 14 days, but I have done some user testing which led to some copy and minor design changes on the splash page. In this post I will try to summarize some of the web apps features, but even more importantly I will try outline the biggest mistakes I made during this challenge.

Here’s what I got:

The name of the app is Cheerful. Cheerful, simply put, is a responsive web application that allows non-profit organizations to accept and track donations both online and offline.

The Problem I’m Attempting to Solve:

Something as simple as e-giving for non-profits, in 2013 is still relegated to a few very expensive applications and PayPal. The expensive applications are bloated, have a terrible end user experience and are in most cases very difficult to setup (some even requiring setup fees). PayPal, which by far still seems to be the market leader in this industry, requires you to maintain a separate bank account, has limited reporting features, doesn’t allow categorized donations, and has a very disjointed user experience.

The Solution

Non-profit organizations come to cheerfulapp.com,  create an account and instantly start collecting donations by linking to or embedding code into their website. Simple right? Donors can opt into reoccurring donations and will be sent an email receipt after every successful and non-successful transaction.
Donations are reported using cool graphs showing overall total giving for a seven day period. Organizations can see a specific donor’s giving report, and donors can be grouped together and tracked as well. Cheerful also tracks offline giving. This allows organizations to manually record and track the who, when, and how much for all donations made. There’s other features like SSL encryption, emailed reports, and a bunch of stuff that I don’t want to waste this blog discussing, instead I want to walk you through three of the biggest mistakes I made when building Cheerful.

1. Too Many Features
One of the biggest hopes when building this application under the constraints of the 14 day app challenge was that it would limit feature creep. Boy was I wrong! Instead the 14 day app challenge quickly became more about my coding prowess and less about filling a need and creating a great product.

I started building with 10 prioritized features in mind. My though was that I would start with a prioritized wish list of features, push as hard as I can to build each one, and see where I landed. The problem with that was that: 1) it makes the assumption that I know which features are the most important and 2) it  increases the amount of features I would have to support out of the gate, 3) I doesn’t allow me time to really  polish the most important feature. Instead, I should have started with one main feature, allowing users to donate online, and a splash page outlining that one feature (no pricing).

2. Wasted Time on Pricing and Signup Page
I spent way too much time trying outline my core features and even more time trying to figure out how to charge for them. This was a complete waste of time. First off, I’m not sure which features are the most important, so there’s really no way for me to associate a value for each. Instead, my focus should have been on building out that one feature, and giving it away to a few organizations (no more than you can truly support). I should have leverage these users to  answer those most critical questions about features, design, and usage via emails and user testing.

3. Should Have Blogged While Building
Looking back I should have been blogging while I built this application. My biggest mistakes became the most evident when I started putting this post together. Writing as you build your application would have done three very important things: 1)allowed me to verbalize each feature, hopefully allowing me to draw the conclusion that I was biting off too much. 2) it would have allowed me to post this as soon as I completed the challenge instead of letting life get in the way  3) I could have leveraged the small but intelligent and engaged community I’ve built here to help me find the right organization to help me flesh out this application, and hopefully answer some of these questions.

Next Steps
Taking what I’ve learned during the past few weeks, I will be spending the next few days honing in on what I believe is the sites most important features, and creating a simple landing page that outlines them (no pricing). I will then to find a few (I’m thinking 2) organizations to beta test the application for me. And I promise to blog through my progress.

How I use Trello to Stay Organized

The hardest thing to do when building a product in 14 days is staying organized. This is especially difficult when you lack organization skills, and suffer from product ADD. So to help me stay on task I’ve chosen Trello. Trello is an online “board” that simply allows you to drag and drop tasks into the columns you specify. I use it as a very simplified version of a Kanban board. Sure there’s hundreds of agile development tools that are more robust and feature rich: Pivotal Tracker, Assembla, Basecamp, just to name a few, but I’ve found that the simplicity of Trello is just enough to keep me on task while not distracting me with yet another tool.

How I use Trello:

I don’t do a whole lot of planning prior to coding. This is especially tough when you’ve given yourself a 14 day deadline. But luckily, over time, I’ve learned what components and parts are needed for building a sites. Trello is a great tool for planning sprints, but in this case (and in most cases) I only use it to remind myself of the priorities and help me remember where I left off. So here’s I how I have my Trello Board broken up.

Commit App Roadmap | Trello

My board is broken up into 4 lists. To Do, Doing, Done, Bugs.

  • To do – Includes the cards that I haven’t done yet. They’re normally sorted in priority order with the highest priority cards at the top.
  • Doing – Includes the card that I’m currently working. You can only work on one task at a time so, in my case there’s only one card in my todo list as any given time. I sometimes switch between tasks before they’re completed, but I’m never working on two or more task at the same time, so what I try to do is is use Trello’s labeling feature to color cards (usually yellow) that I’m currently working on but haven’t yet completed.
  • Done – Includes the cards that have been completed.
  • Bugs – Includes that cards of bugs found.

Seasoned developers are probably asking where’s your QA/Testing column? To which I would say, shut up and mind your business (just kindling). I’m continually testing as I develop, but as one person / one resource development arm you have to do your best to be as thorough as possible, and be nimble enough to quickly respond and fix bugs as the sprout up. Thus the bug column.

How I create cards:

Some development shops spend days sometime weeks, planning. This time is usually spent building user stories or use cases with acceptance criterion, wire frames based on these user stories, visual designs based on the wireframes and then tasks based on everything. But like I mentioned before, “ain’t nobody got time for that”. So what I do is the abridge version. I jump right into creating a list of task and prioritizing them. This usually takes about 30 – 40 minutes depending on the complexity of the of the project, and the process usually looks like me with a Latte and my feet on my desk asking myself what are the most important features needed for launch? Once I have the key features in mind, I create the supporting cards. My cards are usually structure just like my controllers and look a little like this.

Card Examples:

CRUD Members:

Attributes

  • Email
  • First Name
  • Last name
  • Password
  • Rights

CRUD Organization

Attributes

  • Organization Name
  • EIN
  • Subdomain

*CRUD = Create, Read (View), Update, and Delete
*Attributes = the fields I need to capture.

I told you my cards were really broad but this helps me keep my focus on the feature and not on the task. It also helps me from spending too much time moving cards around in Trello.

Hope this was helpful. Feel free to share your thoughts and how you plan.

 


 

(Video) 2013 Blogging While Brown Keynote

You may recall I had the esteem pleasure of keynoting the 2013 Blogging While Brown. Newsone.com had amazing coverage of the event. Check out my keynote speech and the wrap up!

Speech

Wrap-up


The Web App Challenge: Launch in 14 Days

The last three  years has been a world-wind adventure both personally and professionally. I quit my stable safe job, started consulting, had my first child, landed some amazing clients, help create some amazing products, and now lead an amazing team of developers at Interactive One (in that order). Needless to say, I’ve had a crash course in time life management, product design, development, and marketing. Now, for the first time in about 3 years I finally feel like I’ve got my bearings. I’ve done a really good job balancing my personal and professional responsibilities, while still finding time to volunteer. With that said, its high time for me to get outside of my box and push myself to the limit, and that’s where The Web App Challenge comes in.

I guess I could slowly develop a product with no pressure, over the next few months, but one of the most important lessons I’ve learned over the past 3 years is there’s no better motivation to execute than a tight deadline. So, I’m taking a page from Nathan Barry’s Web App Challenge, and a little motivation/inspiration from Drew Wilson, and Josh Long’s book Execute, and declaring to the world that I’m launching something in 14 days.

Here are the restrictions of the challenge:

  • Back-end code 100% developed by me 🙂
  • $100 launch budget (for advertising, design, 3rd party APIs, and server costs – Amazon AWS)
  • Can only work on the project during the weekend and after work (7:00PM).
  • Needs to be launch ready with at least one client in 14 days!

Sounds impossible…. right? Well, here’s what I have working in my favor, that  I think will make things a little easier :

  • I already have a fully fleshed out idea. My thoughts are to build a product for something I know well. 
  • I’ve already got a name, so that should take some of the pressure off.
  • I’m using the same stack that I’ve been using for the past 7 years (PHP, Code Igniter, MYSQL).
  • I’m allowed to recycle old  libraries. (For user registration,  authentication, and caching).
  • Allowed to leverage APIs where possible.

I will be completely transparent, chronicling the process, here on my blog, with special bonus materials coming to the wonderful people subscribed to my newsletter.

Wish me luck and lets get it!!


Blogging While Brown 2013 Recap

I was honored with the chance to keynote this year’s Blogging While Brown Conference this past Saturday (June 22nd). My presentation entitled “Data Driven Blogging: Treat your blog like a product”, (hopefully) inspired bloggers to stop focusing on gaining traffic, and start focusing on activating users.

For those who don’t know the background; my business partner and good friend Angela Benton and I keynoted the first ever Blogging While Brown Conference back in 2008 (which in internet years was 20+ years ago). Our presentation entitled:  “The Ultimate Blogging Experience”, highlighted the platforms, widgets/plugins, designs, layouts, and SEO tips to help enhance your blog. The timing of this presentaion was epic! In 2008, not a whole lot of bloggers were thinking along the lines of SEO, social networks, and design and layout. Fast forward to 2013, where plugins are plentiful, templates are easy to find, everyone’s writing about blogging tips, and everybody and their mommas (literally) have Twitter and Facebook accounts.

So, when Gina Mccauley, the founder of the Blogging While Brown Conference, asked me to speak on the technical components of blogging and social media, I got a little nervous. My concern, was that most bloggers either already knew, or could easily find the hottest technical tools for their CMS. I then thought that maybe I should just geek out, and discuss hosting providers, cloud services like AWS and Joyent, server technologies to increase speed like using Memcached, Redis, page caching and CDNs. But, then as I started outlining it, I almost put myself to sleep. Not to mention there’s a pretty good chance that quite a few bloggers are using shared blogging platforms like WordPress.com and Blogger to power their sites, and the last thing I wanted to do was leave anyone out of this presentation (after all I was the keynote).

So, it hit me, one of the biggest problems I see with bloggers is that there’s so much focus on traffic, and driving impressions for advertisers, that we’ve forgotten the real reason why advertisers started pursuing bloggers in the first place…. COMMUNITY. So, as I started researching tools and techniques, I figured why not equate the lessons I’ve learned building products, to blogging. I mean, after all blogs are products.

Without giving the whole presentation away, some of the key highlights are to focus on the AARRR Dave McClure’s Startup Metrics for Pirates:

  • Acquisition
  • Activation
  • Retention
  • Revenue (I eliminated the Revenue Part in my presentation.)
  • Referral

Like McClure, I asked bloggers to focus the lion’s share of their time Activating users. For those who didn’t see the presentation, and aren’t familiar, activation simply means getting users to “join” your site. “Joining” could be anything from adding their email address for your newsletters, liking your brand on Facebook, or following your brand on Twitter. I asked bloggers to use the analytics tools in this presentation to determine which activation route to go down. Example: if you’re “winning” (winning = activating more users) on Facebook, double down on Facebook. Same goes for Twitter. One of the most effective acquisition tools for me has been email (I call email the forgotten app).

The tools and techniques shared in the presentation focused largely on plugins and analytics like Mixpanel and Optimizely to help determine the activation route, and simple plugins that would entice users to activate.

Check out the full presentation below or on slide share.

If you’re interested in any other bonus materials including video tutorials using some of the products mentioned in this presentation, subscribe to my newsletter.

 

;

Server Configuration via Salt

As a developer, solving problems is at my core. My newest project was no exception. I inherited a fairly sophisticated AWS infrustructure with a mixture of machines each with its own independent level of services and applications. After budget contraints forced us to part ways with our Sys Ops team, it became my job, as lead developer to maintain and scale this growing infrastructure.

One of the most tedious and time consuming issues with maintaining your own infrastructure beyond troubleshooting when stuff  breaks, is user management, and adding new servers to your expanding stack. This is especially true in a company that’s growing and working with multiple vendors.

So what’s the solution?…Automate!

Enter Salt. Salt is a Python based server automation application that allows a central machine (Salt Master), to talk to manage any machine running the client (Salt Minion) via easy to read scripts (Salt States). Machines can be assigned roles via Salt Grains in the Salt Minion config file (ex web server, MYSQL server, Redis), and software installation, maintenance, and configuration can be targeted based on these grains. Salt also has a plethrea of built in grains that allow you to target servers by things like: OS, hostname, previously installed software, and hardware components like RAM and CPU just to name a few.

Salt, out of the box, has modules for  most major software applications,  and gives you in depth command functionality like the ability to add MYSQL users, add and drop tables, and flush in Redis.

Their documentation is really easy to read, and their Salt States’s GitHub page has a bunch of easy examples to follow.