Stever Robbins is a serial entrepreneur who has been involved with the internet since its earliest days. Having served as an initial team member of ten startups, co-founded FTP Software, held the position of COO of Building Blocks Interactive and CEO of JobTacToe.com, and earned his MBA from Harvard Business School, he also knows a thing or two about launching a successful business.
Stever has experience with large audiences, having:
- Published two books (It Takes a lot More Than Attitude… To Lead a Stellar Organization and Get-it-Done Guy’s 9 Steps To Work Less and Do More)
- Launched and maintained the Get-It-Done-Guy podcast (a top-ranking podcast in iTunes' business category that has been downloaded nearly 20 million times)
- Delivered countless speeches, including a TEDx talk
- Been interviewed by numerous outlets, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, ABC, MSNBC, and Fox
Though you can learn a lot about productivity and what it takes to start a successful business through the Get-It-Done-Guy podcast and the various materials available on Stever's website, we asked him to share additional advice with us- specifically with regard to launching an online venture. Below are his top tips, summarized from a Summer 2013 phone interview.
How Social Doesn't Equal Success
When asked what business tactics have changed most since he first started doing business online, Stever pointed out the popularity of social media.
While it is hard to read online business guides without being hammered over the head with tips about building a presence on Facebook and Twitter, Stever feels that the results one gets from engaging in social activity as a business are far from stellar, and expects there to be a backlash against excessive social involvement in the future.
Why Stever is not impressed with the use of social media to drive sales:
- To his knowledge, Stever has yet to drive a sale through his activity on Twitter, though he is active on the platform, has well over 8,000 followers, and certainly knows what he is doing
- Very few of his colleagues (mostly in the coaching / consulting / publishing field) who carefully track the ROI of their social activity see positive payback
- Though his podcast is incredibly successful (and personally rewarding), it does not drive sales; people who listen to his podcast are looking for quick, free advice
Selecting Tactics that Lead to Actual Results
- Online ads
- Social media
- Blogging / content-based marketing
- Affiliate programs
What Stever does not recommend is continuing to use every promotional channel over time. The point of trying everything is to see (through careful attention to metrics) which channels actually lead to a positive return on your investment. Channels that yield a positive ROI deserve continued attention; channels that don't move the needle should be dropped.
Does this mean we should drop off of Facebook entirely? No; it is good to have a presence on Facebook and Twitter, however it is important to minimize time spent on any site that doesn't make a measurable difference (and considering that Facebook pages reach only 3-7% of their fans, your Facebook page probably isn't raking in that much cash).
Stever warns professionals about the false feeling of productivity one gets from being very engaged online. One can devote all of one's time to chatting with followers on Facebook and Twitter, but if one is not actually making a profit from those activities, that time is wasted.
Understanding the Pitfalls of Content Marketing
In addition to testing out different promotional channels, Stever advocates carefully considering the types of communications a customer would want from your business.
He uses his electrical company as an example. They send him regular newsletters, but why would he want a newsletter from his electrical company? Utilities, much like many other businesses, garner appreciation through effective service and minimal interruption. One would probably be most satisfied with one's electrical company if it were possible to go for several weeks at a time without even remembering it existed.
Why, then, is Stever's electrical company spending valuable time and resources crafting regular newsletters?
Stever points out that content marketing is very popular as a marketing tactic these days- but he also points out that the vast majority of its advocates are salaried employees. Their livelihoods are not contingent on their content marketing efforts' ability to yield a positive ROI. Independent professionals do not have such luxuries. While having great content out there might serve to boost your credentials, do not expect it to pay your electrical bill.
Crafting Content and Messages that are Succinct and Compelling
Not sure what sort of communication your customer would want? When in doubt: keep it short; make it compelling.
While in the earlier days of the internet, good communications were distinguished by their excellent grammar and adequate, accurate explanations, Stever has found that the most successful communications today are in sound bite form.
People do not read. They do not read emails. They do not read posts. It is a miracle if you can get someone to read more than 300 words.
Because this is the case, Stever recommends:
- Focusing on succinct explanations
- Creating short, descriptive, and compelling email headers (they have to describe exactly what the email is about and give the reader a reason to want to open it)
- Crafting articles and messages that are easy to scan
- Including so much value in the first 200-300 words that the reader has a compelling reason to continue (heck, it's ideal if your wording does not go beyond that amount at all)
Sound bites may be less accurate, but using them may be the only way you will catch the attention of a modern internet user.
Focusing on How You're Found
Throughout his interview, Stever emphasized the importance of spending time on tasks that actually create value (be it in the form of new viewers/readers/customers/clients or something of value to others).
A key element of this involves understanding how your work or business is found. While Stever enjoys wide coverage through his books, podcast, speeches, and interviews with major media outlets, the vast majority of his business as a coach comes through personal references.
The sooner you understand how most people find you, the more you can optimize your position within that channel. If people find you through personal references, do more in-person networking. If most people find your work via search, consider creating more search-friendly content similar to that which already drives traffic to your site.
As tempting as unique content marketing tactics and social media campaigns may be, they will do you no good (and ultimately deplete your precious time and money) if your target customer is not interested in interacting with you through those channels.