SmartInsights.com Elevator Pitch:
"Many businesses are doing digital marketing, but don't have a digital marketing strategy or plan - SmartInsights.com provides templates, guides and courses to help businesses create and implement digital strategies."
Dave Chaffey is a digital marketing consultant and author of 5 bestselling books on Digital Marketing and Ecommerce. Way back in 2004, he was recognised by the Chartered Institute of Marketing as one of 50 marketing ‘gurus’ worldwide who have shaped the future of Marketing based on his advice on Digital Marketing.
Today he shares his advice and that from other experts through SmartInsights.com, a startup subscription service offering digital marketing strategy advice. In this interview he shares what he has learned during the launch and development of his own startup.
Hi Dave and welcome to InspiredStartups.com! When did you realise you wanted to launch your own digital marketing consulting service to help other businesses maximise their online presence? What motivated you to start your own business?
"Well, it wasn’t a ‘lightbulb moment’ Rado, more of an evolution. I had been writing my own blog at DaveChaffey.com
to alert readers to the latest developments in online marketing since 2004 since it’s around three years between updates and that’s a long time in digital marketing! The books have continued – I’ve just updated to the 6th editions, but the blog grew too so I was getting hundreds of thousands of visits a month (mainly thanks to SEO). I figured it would be interesting to develop and grow a subscription business which would be more up-to-date and give more detailed actionable advice than is possible in a book."
If you were going to pitch SmartInsights.com to someone in a short elevator ride, what would you say?
"It’s vital for online startups to differentiate, to have a clear offering, so we have thought a fair bit about our messaging hierarchy. Our focus is on helping businesses develop online marketing strategies and plans plus using Google Analytics since we had found in research that many businesses find this hard, but know they should be better at planning and want to develop roadmaps to improve results.
We summarise our proposition with the strapline “Plan, Manage, Optimise”. We provide downloadable templates, guides and online courses to help our Expert members create plans and best practice advice on improving results from the key online marketing techniques like search, content, social and email marketing. The idea is that Expert (Pro) members can use a “do-it-yourself” approach to develop their own plans and get recommendations without the cost of hiring experienced consultants."
What were the things that you had to consider when taking the leap to start your own business? What were some of the things that had held you back up to that point?
"I’m quite averse to risk and have a family to support so that had to be considered. I was fortunate that I continued to train, consult and teach while launching the site. I have gradually reduced these activities, so that I mainly focus on the site now, but with some in-house training for Smart Insights Expert members."
Could you describe the transition from working for someone else to building your own business? What were the early challenges you had to face?
"Well, I was fortunate to be working independently before, but we certainly had common challenges of other startups. Choosing a brand name and domain name is painful – we had lots of more interesting and probably better names than Smart Insights, but they were taken! As with other startups, we had limited budget which meant we had to think of low-cost and no-cost methods of getting known. I redirected much of the traffic from my blog to give us an initial boost, but Google didn’t really recognise us as a trusted domain for 6 months since we had bought an existing domain which didn’t, so the SEO benefits of our content sharing didn’t really kick-in for a long time. My co-founders, Stuart Miller and Dan Bosomworth were also working full-time at an agency at the time, indeed Dan still does, so putting the time into planning was difficult with other more pressing priorities."
Building a solid team is a vital cornerstone of startup success. Yet, finding good people, especially the right co-founder is really difficult. Where did you find the top talent for Smartinsights.com and what is your experience in building a winning team?
"I was fortunate to hook up with Stu and Dan since we had a good complementary skillset with Stu focusing on tech development of the platform and Dan developing quality content and infographics that helped positioned us and spread the word as they were shared widely. Dan and I had worked on other projects and companies for a few years already.
A business like our succeeds and grows based on the quality of its content, so I worked hard to assemble a team of top quality contributors who could write both for the blog and the paid member content. We now have over 25 core Expert commentators who share their experiences about their specialist area of digital marketing from SEO to Strategy. It’s important to reward contributors with credit and cash, so we do invest a lot of our subscription revenue into writers and of course the platform since the user experience to access the content is important too. We also have many “Guest experts” who contribute advice too.
I feel privileged to have shared so much advice on digital marketing from people across different types of companies and industries. If you’re reading this and interested in sharing your experiences through a guest post about a case study of your startup or your digital marketing expertise, do get in touch!"
How did you utilise you digital marketing expertise to raise the awareness of your startup, driving traffic to SmartInsights.com and converting visitors to customers paying for your content? Any tips other startups could learn from you?
"SEO has been important marketing tool for us, we now attract over a quarter of million unique visitors each month (nearly six hundred thousand page views) with around three quarters of visits from organic search. I have helped businesses with SEO since the nineties and around 6 years ago wrote the first best practice guide on SEO for Econsultancy, which was well regarded, I think. So it’s been interesting to put this knowledge into practice.
I have also consulted with many businesses on applying Google Analytics to add persuasive site design and conversion rate optimisation, so we have also applied these best practices and run regular tests using Google Content Experiments. As an example I had resisted pop-ups for many years to encourage basic member subscription, but they work well (increasing conversion rates by around 40% even when we have worked hard to increase conversion rates already)."
And how did you build a community of digital marketing expert members (spanning across 50 countries) helping each other via SmartInsights.com?
"Dan was keen that we created a community of members for these reasons and I agreed, so around three years ago we created Smart Insights Answers
where our community of members can ask and answer questions. We also grown a group of 12,000 on LinkedIn focusing on Digital Marketing Optimisation for the same reason. The community helps ‘stickiness’ and ‘SEO’, but is a useful source of feedback and insight on our membership offering too since members can tell us about techniques they would like to learn more about."
Do you recall the moment when you were getting the first SmartInsights.com customers? Tell us about this moment.
"Yes, I do remember, it should have been exciting, but was a moment of disappointment instead! We had built up a sizeable audience of tens of thousands of Basic members when we launched our paid Expert membership proposition around 3 years ago. So when you “open for business” you expect immediate results. We did get a couple of sales on the first day, but it was less than we expected. We have found using our Kissmetrics analytics that on average it can take over 50 days for conversion since membership is a considered purchase with authorisation by colleagues required and Basic members like to try our free templates first. That said, this is only an average, some Expert members have an immediate need and convert on the first day or within the first week, so conversion communications have to allow for both long and short timescales for conversion."
What do you think are the most important do's and don'ts in terms of a digital marketing strategy for startups?
Well, for me, having a strategy is the most important, many don’t, otherwise you will be ‘chasing your tail’ and all the latest fads, yet it’s the fundamentals that count. I recently recommended 10 fundamentals of digital marketing in this slideshare:
Based on your extensive experience working with online startups what do you think are the top mistakes in starting an online business?
Getting visibility is tough, that’s for sure. You hear a lot of “gurus” hyping up the opportunity, encouraging people to create online startups and they will focus on developing a service or store, but having the idea and implementing it is the easy part. It’s getting visibility which is the most difficult!
Although our business has succeeded through combining search, content and social media marketing it’s difficult in many industry sectors since the competition to gain awareness is tough. Paid media won’t be an option for most online startups initially, since it’s so expensive because of competition and many business are paying more than is realistic at a cost per acquisition (CPA) level.
So, the main mistake I see is not being realistic about where the visits are going to come from. In the dotcom era there was a “build it and they will come” mentality and we still see this, in most case the proposition itself is not shareworthy!"
What do you think is one of the most effective digital marketing strategies? What should startups learn from this?
To gain visibility you have to invest to grow awareness through creative use of online and offline PR and viral marketing. I always advise businesses to focus here. Social media has a role to play, but it’s not simply a case of adding social sharing buttons to the site or blog. You must have something amazing to share. The challenge is that this is hit and miss. Networking to create complementary partnerships is a cost-effective technique for low-cost too, but requires hard work.
Can you tell whether a startup will sink or swim based on its digital marketing plan? What would be your tips?
"Success doesn’t come from the act of creating a plan, rather it’s the strategies you select to make the most of the investment in your time since generally you wont have budget for media investment.
A digital marketing plan will help you define your focus to reach awareness, for example in online PR or SEO as discussed above. It also helps ensure the service, the proposition you create is focused on your audience by really getting to understand who they are and how you can help them through their pain points through defining what we call the Online Value Proposition (OVP) in the textbooks – it’s relevant to both online and traditional multichannel business.
The Smart Insights RACE Digital Marketing Planning Framework
is designed to ensure business make the best use of all the rich online marketing techniques available across the customer lifecycle from Reach, InterAct, Convert to Sale to longer-term engagement."
Connection is at the heart of digital marketing and particularly the use of social media. What are the most important things for a startup to consider in how it uses social media in its early days?
"I think it’s important for startups to remember that social media won’t give a shortcut to success. It requires a lot of hard work, in particular to create content and share ideas that are truly shareable. Once you have an audience then you can use social media almost as a broadcast channel to alert followers to content or offers. But in the beginning you are growing your network one person at a time. So it’s important these individuals are influential. This is where selecting and working with partners who are more influential than you is important. But to do this you will likely need to email, phone and be persistent to setup partnerships that work."
SmartInsights.com is a great resource of digital marketing for any business to learn best practices for their online presence. Are there any other online resources, Twitter influencers, blogs, webinars or podcasts that you would also recommend to every entrepreneur trying to stay ahead of the digital game?
"Thank you for your kind comments Rado! For learning about other startup marketing techniques I enjoy a Mixergy
which is similar to InspiredStartups.com
in that it’s for entrepreneurs sharing their stories – I’m sure many of your readers know it, but if not…
For digital marketing developments there are the obvious choices like Marketing Land
or The Next Web
. They and similar sites almost have too much information, so we summarise what marketers REALLY need to know.
There is also a less well-known, but great weekly email update Who's Blogging What
which selects the best from across a range of influencers.
Apart from this, unlike our competitors, we like to recommend other resources across all of our hub pages for all the main digital marketing techniques.
Finally, what online trends do you predict for 2015? Do you foresee any new emerging startup opportunities in the online space in the near future?
"Each year, we ask our members about what they think will be the most important trends for the year ahead. This year content marketing is again seen as the best online marketing technique for getting results. I have written up some thoughts on new technologies for managing online marketing in post covering online marketing trends for 2015
Three words to describe yourself Dave?
"Strategic, Analytical, Sharing. My passion is still helping business understand the best options for using online marketing from the ever-increasing choice available."
Where can our startup audience find you online?
"Thank you for the questions Rado! I think I have mentioned Smart Insights too much, but if anyone has follow-up questions, feel free to connect with me over LinkedIn or follow me on Twitter
Thanks Dave for sharing your startup story with us and for giving our startup audience some great tips on how to improve their online presence and digital marketing strategy. We wish you and your SmartInsights.com team great achievements on your exciting entrepreneurial journey!
ARE YOU INTO STARTUPS? DID YOU GET INSPIRED?
Why don't you share your startup experience with other entrepreneurs in the comments below:
Do you have a digital marketing strategy for your startup in place?
Online visibility is vital for startup success. What's worked for your startup and what hasn't?
What are your favourite digital marketing resources online?