Marketing channels, and how to think about marketing your WordPress business

Having the right marketing channels for your WordPress business is the difference between having a thriving WordPress business, and a struggling one.

You can make a great product or service, but if you’re not able to effectively get it in front of people who need and will pay for it, that’s not too much use. Despite all the hours that go into making a great product, having it thrive or not can be decided by choosing – or not choosing – the right marketing channels.

Thus, you must have the right set of marketing channels. You must be able to connect your offering with potential customers who can and will pay you.

But what are marketing channels? What constitutes a “channel”? How do you pick the right channels? This post gets into all of this! We’ll show you the channel-based marketing philosophy, and aim to give you a clear framework on how to think about marketing your WordPress business.

 Let’s talk about marketing channels

Marketing channels are categories of marketing activities. This part isn’t complicated: there are around twenty channels which cover the vast majority of marketing work.

Here’s a sample of five of these channels. These apply to every industry, not just WordPress products:

  1. Content marketing
  2. Paid search ads
  3. Sponsoring conferences (like WordCamps!)
  4. PR stunts!
  5. TV ads

You get the idea: these are broad categories, and some are more appropriate to certain markets than others (you almost certainly, for example, by TV ads to market your WordPress business unless you’re Automattic, in which case test it carefully).

There are a handful of go-to channels for WordPress businesses. Sponsoring, attending, or speaking at WordCamps is a good one for getting started. Content marketing and affiliates can be good fits for the right kinds of products. Partnerships, community building, and SEO can be good too.

You get the idea: these are all marketing channels. Let’s now talk about how this channel-based philosophy of marketing works in practice.

Why the channel-based philosophy works so well

The channel-based philosophy of marketing works so well for two reasons:

  1. It forces you to test and find out what works.
  2. It forces you to focus on what works, and abandon everything else.

You start off by brainstorming and identifying three, four, or five possible marketing channels. The channels I mentioned above would certainly be a good start, but given getting the channels working is so valuable, you may wish to get a professional opinion. Ellipsis does this, and we’d be happy to help – get in touch.

Identifying and testing your marketing channels

However you go about getting your initial channels, the process from then onwards is the same:

  1. You identify your possible channels, doing small tests to see if they work.What constitutes “small tests” depends on which channel you’re trying: paid search ads get results very quickly, so one month might be sufficient. Content marketing can take longer, so you might need to stick with it for three months. An industry newsletter – like MasterWP – might need three months to see if the idea works, and then another nine months to see if it can get good traction.Screenshot of the MasterWP websiteWhichever channels you look at, you must set success criteria and a timeframe before you start. Once underway make sure you can track the results from each channel – for example by using UTM codes – and make sure you stick to the channel for the duration of the test. By the end, you should have a good idea of what can work and what can’t. One or two working channels is a perfectly good outcome here.
  2. Once you have one or two working channels, you just focus on these.When it’s clear what’s going to work, double down on what works. Just focus on the one or two marketing channels if you’re just getting started, or three, four, or five if you’re further down the line.You want as few marketing channels as possible, and each channel working as hard for you as it can. This means really focusing on doing everything to maximise your channels!
  3. Only when a channel is working and “full” do you then turn your attention to new channels.You find your new channels by testing out a couple of ideas again! And, you say no to everything which doesn’t fit in the channels you’re focusing on. This latter part is especially important, as I’ll touch on again in a moment.

This makes for an incredibly efficient marketing strategy! You find what works, and then only focus on those things that work, getting as much value as possible out of them. If a channel wanes or is at maximum capacity, then you can turn to new channels. That’s it. You don’t do anything else.

The channel philosophy makes it easy to say no

Furthermore, the value of being forced to focus on a working marketing channel shouldn’t be underestimated: once you do start getting customers, marketing opportunities will start springing up. You’ll be asked to sponsor content, conferences, and all sorts. A lot of WordPress business owners I speak to have a really difficult time choosing between these opportunities:

  • What constitutes a good opportunity?
  • Should you copy what other people are doing?
  • What sounds like a good idea, and what is a good idea?

With the channel-based marketing philosophy, it’s easy to filter these opportunities: if something fits with the channel you’re focusing on, do it. If not, don’t do it.

The philosophy is also extremely elegant for us when working with clients: it lets the Ellipsis team build a focused marketing strategy from scratch if that’s what the client needs, it lets us tweak and fit into an existing strategy, or it lets us take care of one channel for clients who already have other parts in place. This works for WordPress businesses of literally all sizes, from startup plugins, to the very biggest SaaS companies. It also intuitively makes sense, so you can certainly get a barebones version of this running for your WordPress business.

Quick case study: Envira Gallery’s marketing channels

Here’s a quick example of this in action, from a WordPress product we have no affiliation with: Envira Gallery. This is a gallery plugin for WordPress which was acquired for multi-million dollars in late 2017. In an interview with The Plugin Economy, owner Nathan Singh mentions the following:

Our continued success has been a healthy mix of Facebook retargeting, laser focused content marketing, industry affiliate relationships, and listening to our customers by delivering updates that matter to them. If you haven’t yet, send surveys to understand what they want.

Screenshot of the Envira Gallery website

We’re taking “build a great product” as a given, so if we take that out we see a three-channel marketing strategy:

  1. Facebook retargeting
  2. Content marketing
  3. Affiliates

You might even argue that this is a two-channel marketing strategy, with the Facebook retargeting merely increasing the effectiveness of channels the other two channels, which are the ones bringing people to the site.

Envira Gallery is a multi million dollar business, and it’s using two marketing channels; this shows you it really is true that you want as few marketing channels as possible, and you want to get them working as efficiently as possible.

Now you’re ready to choose your marketing channels!

Having the right marketing channels for your WordPress business is the difference between having a thriving WordPress business, and a struggling one. This post has shown you how to make use of the channel-based marketing philosophy to build a winning marketing strategy.

It’s conceptually very simple, and that’s part of the beauty: you want to test a couple of channels, choose the one or two that work, and then just focus on them.

There is, of course, more to building a winning marketing strategy than saying “let’s do content marketing”; there are plenty of ways of doing content marketing. Some of these will be good and some of these won’t; you do have to be specific. Note how, for example, Nathan Singh referred to “laser focused content marketing” above. And, whilst this is a simple process, it’s an open-ended one; you always want to be on the look out for new possibilities.

I’ll endeavour to get more into building out winning marketing strategies in a later post. If you can’t wait for that, or if you want an expert opinion from the start, then get in touch with Ellipsis, and we’ll be happy to look into this for you. We do this as the initial work for the vast majority of our clients, and have an excellent track record of uncovering a winning way forwards.

I’ve turned on comments for any queries: ask below, or tweet me! Thanks for reading, and enjoy your winning marketing strategy.

Deep work in practice for remote teams

Nearly two years ago I wrote how I was doing Deep Work in practice as a remote worker. The post discussed the “Deep Work” idea that you should focus hard, on hard things, for a long time in order to yield the best results.

The idea comes from Cal Newport, a Computer Science Professor, and is something he expands on in his book of the same name. Here’s the idea in Cal’s words:

Deep work is cognitively demanding activities that leverage our training to generate rare and valuable results, and that push our abilities to continually improve… . Deep work results in improvement of the value of your work output… and an increase in the total quantity of valuable output you produce.

The post clearly struck a nerve, “going viral”: it hit the front page of Hacker News, had a thousand plus shares on Twitter and Facebook, and fifty thousand or so visitors.

undraw_digital_nomad_9kgl

In the two years since writing this I’ve continued to heavily subscribe to the Deep Workthesis, and as I’ve transitioned first from freelancer to running my digital marketing agency Ellipsis I now run a small team and have been able to build a company culture that revolves around Deep Work, deep focus, and giving everyone the space to do their best work.

This post is about working deeply in a remote team: about the why, about the how, and about the benefits.

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Traction by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares: book notes and comments

Photo of the Traction book coverI read Traction, a classic startup marketing book, at the start of this year. I’d previously seen and loosely embraced some of its ideas, but have happily fully embraced its thinking and marketing philosophy with Ellipsis since. It’s pretty simple, but really good.

There are already a ton of book summaries and notes on the internet, so this isn’t my attempt to do that; instead I want to pick out the parts I found especially interesting, and add my own analysis.

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What I’m Doing Right Now: June 2018

It is actually sunny outside ☕️ 

I’m writing this in the lovely British sunshine (it’s actually sunny, honest ☀️), outside at my favourite coffee shop.

Whenever I sit here, I think about what I wanted to be doing when I decided to work for myself roughly three years ago, whilst on a backpacking trip through the Balkans and Turkey.

This is roughly, I think, the dream: I’m running a remote web-based business and can work whenever, and wherever. I get to shape the business into the job that want, and have the space to explore other passions and projects.

This story was the precis to a couple of conversations I had at WordCamp Europe two weeks ago, and whilst it is accurate, it’s also misleading; running a business is hard, working remote is hard, and creating the space to explore other passions is also hard. There are good days and bad days, as with anything.

I find quarter-based goal setting really helpful: it’s a long enough time frame to be ambitious in scope, but short enough that I can be realistic about commiting fully and confident my thinking won’t have changed dramatically. I tie this in with weekly goals and a weekly review I do – from another coffee shop, obviously – where I can tie the micro and macro pictures together, and pick up on anything amiss.

I’ve felt recently that something has been amiss, and I’ve put my finger on more open-ended thinking and writing as the answer. I’m doing a lot of creative work for Ellipsis, genuinely pushing the boundaries with new approaches for clients, but this is firmly in the digital marketing category. Ellipsis is a digital marketing agency so this is obviously important, but I also need to be thinking sharply and critically to be at my best.

I’m thus keen to write more, and this post aims to serve as an introduction to doing so. I’m anxious about publicly commiting to a timeframe or regularlity, but I’d be very pleased to have a post a week or so. I’d like to explore more of the topics I’m interested in and develop and push my thinking in these areas. Under this banner we’ve got:

  • Running/growing a digital marketing agency.
  • Doing good, creative deep work.
  • Building an ethical business, and issues around this.
  • Reading and sharing/developing new ideas.

I don’t have specifics posts or an SEO strategy in mind; the primary aim of this writing is for me to develop and share ideas. If other people like the content (the Deep Work post above hit the front page of Hacker News #humblebrag) then that’s an added bonus. There should also be space here for non-work bits and sharing photos, which I’mkeen to do ever-more of.

So; this is for me to develop ideas, share ideas, and think more. If you’re reading – thank you – and I look forward to writing to you again soon.

The Future of Work is Scary

This evening I’ve got the pleasure of speaking at WordUp Brighton’s October Meetup, about “The future of work is scary: Deep Work in the WordPress economy”.

This should be a fun talk! It’s a topic I think is really important, and am very interested. Here are some links and resources pulled out from the slides:

  • Deep Work by Cal Newport. The authority on this stuff!
  • Unsubscribe by Jocelyn K Glei. A really practical book about similar ideas to Deep Work.
  • The Organised Mind by Daniel Levitin. A research-based book that explains how you think.
  • Pomodoro Technique (do this in 50 or 75 or 100 minute chunks instead of 25).
  • Focus for Mac, or Timewarp for Chrome for blocking distracting sites.
  • Messenger.com is a great way of getting Facebook chat without the distracting features bolted-on.

And, of course, here are the slides:

A tale of two product launches: WordCamps Brighton and Bucharest

I recently had the great pleasure of speaking at WordCamp Brighton, and tomorrow will be speaking at WordCamp Bucharest. My first time at both, and a real treat!

I wanted to make my slides and useful links easily accessible, which is what this post is. You’ll find both below:

Must reads on online product launches:

These are all good, but read them with your “survivorship bias” goggles on: you’re hearing about the handful of product launches which worked, and not the ones which didn’t. This is hard, and may take you a couple of goes to get right, but that’s really okay.

I really hope you found the talk and these links valuable. We can be friends on Twitter if you like, I’d recommend taking a look at my weekly newsletter for WordPress professionals, and I’m taking on some work at the moment, so do get in touch.

Exploring a purchasing decision: “Double Your Freelancing”

I’ve just purchased Brennan Dunn’s “Double Your Freelancing” course, as it’s a) on sale today (urgency!) and b) solves a problem I’m interested in at the mo. My thought process for making a purchasing decision was very interesting. Couple of notes, which I thought were worth sharing:

1. I’ve been subscribed to Brennan’s list for a long time, but only today considered purchasing. Before, his course hasn’t solved a problem I needed; now it does. A one-day urgency sale, with a single reminder email was enough to prompt me to buy.

2. The sales page was very good, but I skimmed a lot of it. I only read it properly when I was pretty sure I wanted to buy. So, making sure sales pages are skimmable is important.

3. There was so much social proof on the page I didn’t look for independent reviews. Social proof from people whose names I recognised was very powerful.

4. I presumed I wanted the most expensive tier – and even added it to my cart – but then looked at what was in the cheap tier. I realised I didn’t actually want or need any of the things in the more expensive tier, and saying “you don’t get free updates” seemed like a technical nightmare. On purchasing, turns out that hunch was right, and there are free updates. Thus – adding real value to a more expensive tier is key.

5. I was surprisingly price-insensitive. With a discount code, I was happy to pay the $200 for the top tier, on the justification I only need to take away a couple of things for it to be worth it. Quite possibly I would have used that logic right up to $400 or $500.

Brennan does around $80k/month in sales, so he obviously has this down. Interesting nonetheless to work out how I decided to buy this course, caveats on what’s weak in the sales process, and how one can avoid them going forwards.

How to read a totally reasonable number of books in 2017

I read twenty eight books in 2016, the most I’ve ever read in a year. I’d aimed for thirty, but given in 2015 I only managed twelve, I’m pleased with the results.

As the new year has come around I’ve seen my social feeds fill up with “I’m going to read more in 2017” and “how to read more in 2017” and, to be perfectly frank, a lot of these articles are total bullshit.

Two headlines showed up recently that illustrate my point:

  • Tim Ferriss’s Guide to Reading 3 Books Every Week, No Matter How Busy You Are
  • Why I read a book a day (and why you should too): the law of 33%

I’ll link these at the bottom for the curious. These are obviously preposterous: if you are busy and don’t read anything you’re not going to read one book in a week, let alone three, and the literally awful TED talk on “a book a day” advocates only reading the first and last pages of a book and calling it quits.

Reading books a lot is seen as an authoritative thing to do, and and a lot of “hey it’s a new year” articles quote Warren Buffet saying “I just sit in my office and read all day” (obviously a gross exaggeration), set unreasonable expectations and offer ridiculous “tactics” and “secrets”.

What should you do if you’d like to read some more books this year, but you also have other things to do and would just like to settle for a reasonable number? Twenty or thirty books this year, perhaps?

Well, I read a totally reasonable number of books in 2016 and I’ll do the same in 2017. I’d like to share the totally reasonable things I did in order to read more.

A good reading list is essential to making this work

A quality reading list is a very good place to start. It’s much easier to read when what you’re reading is interesting.

What should be on your reading list depends on what you want to get out of this; most of my reading is motivated by the lofty aims of wanting to be a better informed citizen and seeking knowledge that will help me in work and life. To this end, I tend to read non-fiction, with a particular interest in political economy, thoughtful business books and psychology.

You may, however, prefer fiction or other genres and that’s totally cool! Read whatever interests you: there’s no right or wrong way of doing this.

Filling your reading lists with quality books is an interesting challenge. I have a number of useful rules:

  • Recommendations from people you respect are the best starting point. Collecting recommendations is a great place to start!
  • Best seller lists aren’t very useful. They’re easily and frequently manipulated, especially on Amazon, and a lot of best selling books just aren’t very good.
  • Don’t spend too long looking at reviews, but if a book has fewer than four stars on Amazon or Goodreads, it’s probably not very good.
  • Don’t purchase right away: come back in a couple of days and decide then if you really want to sink several hours you’ll never get back into reading a title.
  • Spend a bit of time doing some research to see if you’ll like a title: who’s the author; what’s the book about; what are other people saying about this.

I like to keep a big Amazon wishlist that makes up my reading list. I might not buy the book on Amazon, but it’s just a case of deleting the item once you’ve read it. I also like to use Goodreads to keep track of what I’ve actually read: the app makes it easy to add books to your “currently reading” and “completed” list, and you’ll even get a convenient year-total tally of books read.

One final note on choosing what to read: don’t get too stuck on the total book count for the year. If you’re focussed on this too much you’ll find yourself reading lots of short, easy books with massive fonts. Very long books can be very rewarding; last year I read a 1,000 page book on Keynes with Bible-style paper and tiny margins. It counted as one book, but could have been five regular sized books. Delving very deep into one topic was, however, immensely rewarding, and I’m looking forward to doing it again. Don’t avoid these gems.

To read books you need to make time for reading books

This is the secret sauce, the secret life hacks! In order to read books in 2017, you just need to spend time reading books. Indeed, this is something many “life hack” style articles try and compromise on. It’s not possible: you’ve just got to put the time in.

You have plenty of time to read. You simply choose to spend it on other things… You can never find time. You can only allocate time. – Nat Eliason

Most of my reading gets done at the weekend with a nice cup of coffee, or after I’ve finished work. I don’t tend to read just before going to sleep, cause that keeps my brain whirring when I want it to calm down and sleep.

I’d recommend having two distinctly different books on the go at any one time: one that’s easy to read and one that’s hard. The former can be your page turner when you’re tired after work and the latter can be for when you can focus more intensely. I don’t like reading any more than two at the same time, but if it works for you then great.

Initially I struggled to concentrate for prolonged periods on “hard” books. I still do, but I’ve gotten better at it. Various scientific research shows simply practicing concentrating and immersing yourself in a task will allow you to concentrate for longer periods, so this makes sense, but I’ve also learned not to try and read the difficult stuff when fatigued. There are also other benefits to be had: I’ve no idea if it’s related, but I’ve generally got better at deep work and long periods of concentration since starting to read more.

Remembering things from books

This is an interesting one: how do you remember what you’ve learned? This obviously applies primarily to non-fiction, so if fiction is your jam you can safely skip this part.

I tend to just keep a highlighter to hand and mark next to anything I find especially interesting. I’ll also mark the top of the page so my note can be easily found later. From there the intention is to copy notes into Evernote and organise into categories and topics, but in practice this doesn’t happen a lot. I tend to read physical books; if you primarily read on a Kindle this becomes a whole lot easier.

Still, we can all aspire! I like Nat Eliason’s take on this: even just copying out your notes and never looking at them again is going to help you remember your notes in the long term.

Ryan Holiday's notecard system looks really cool but must be a real pain to actually do. http://ryanholiday.net/the-notecard-system-the-key-for-remembering-organizing-and-using-everything-you-read/

Ryan Holiday’s notecard system looks really cool but must be a real pain to actually do. 

I also like the idea of writing notes out on hundreds of notecards (mainly cause it looks cool), but given I struggle with the basic Evernote version of this, I think we can write this off as impractical. Maybe one for the future.

Some sort of system for remembering is important. It does add on to your reading time, but the marginal value of that time is huge. You might spend three hours reading a three hundred page book, but add on an extra half hour to make your notes and you’ll remember what you’ve read much more clearly.

Being moderately good at this is fine

I hope you’ll find these thoughts on reading more actually useful, and if you’re trying to read more you’ll put some of these into practice and see the benefits.

By no means am I an expert in this, but that’s precisely the point. For most people being an “expert reader” is not the goal: being moderately good at reading and trying to read a reasonable number of books a year is a much more useful approach.

If you’re interested, here’s the list of what I read in 2016. Particular highlights were:

You can take those as my recommendations but, as we know, do your own research and don’t just take my word for it.

I am, after all, only moderately good at this – but I’m also very happy with that.

 

P.S. Here’s the a book a day video if you really really want to waste some time. The Tim Ferriss article mentioned is slightly less bad: it’s a serialised write-up of a Quora answer he gave which makes some interesting points, but the title is still ridiculous.

What I’ve done/what have I done 2016: freelancing full time

It’s always a pleasure to present the annual year in review “what I’ve done/what have I done” blog post, now in its fourth year (read 2013, 2014 and 2015). I think we can all agree the moderately amusing title has stood the test of time well.

This has been a big year. A lot has happened and I’m in a very different place compared to twelve months ago (you can also read this literally). At the end of 2015 I was a full time student in my final year at the University of Warwick and I’m now a full time self-employed freelancer, living in my own legit flat and not falling down student housing.

Self employment and the freedoms associated with it are something I’ve been coveting for a long time, so feels good to be starting on that journey.

We’re going to tackle this in terms of “things that went well”, “things that didn’t go well” and “things that went fine”. We’ll jump around a lot and miss other things out to keep it interesting — and make sure there’s a nice mix between learning points for you and self-indulgent nostalgia for me.

Things that went well: I work for myself now

I’ve been freelancing for a number of years now but 2016 was when I took this full time. I’ve had an idea this is what I wanted to do more or less since I found out it was a possible job I could have. I like being able to choose what I work on, when I work, the entrepreneurial freedom and getting to keep 100% of the fruits of my labours.

I started full time in September and it’s been pretty good. Revenue is good. Having an existing network and some clients already was a huge help and I was able to leverage that network to get me started and get to a point where I now have nearly all of me work time allocated.

I am, however, running into some of the challenges of growing a freelance business: when you sell your time for money, what do you do when you run out of time? How do you grow the business in a way that doesn’t just involve working more?

Furthermore, on serious reflection I think it’s generous to say this “went well”. Freelancing is hard. The most difficult thing to deal with has been the need to do the best possible work all the time. If I had a graduate job and I was working at the same level as an average employee I’d be a great success, but when doing client work my work needs to be the best the whole time. That’s tough, and it’s still something I’m working on.

On balance, I think we’ll call it fine.

Things that went well: travel! Japan!

Between graduating and my first day at the home office I spent a month exploring Japan with my girlfriend. This is the third year in a row I’ve taken a month in the Summer to go travelling and I’ve got huge gratitude for the privileged position I’m in that lets me do that.

As always, this was an ultralight backpacking affair. One month, one small backpack (23l), no other luggage.

Japan was beautiful. It took me a week or so to get settled, but once I started understanding the culture better we had a wonderful time. Highlights included climbing Mount Fuji (we climbed overnight to get the sunrise, which was horrible but the view was literally incredible), being the only foreigners in a small town at a rural festival and Myajima, a beautiful tiny island we went to cause I saw a photo on Reddit and liked it.

Here are a couple of photos from the trip:

The downside of travelling light is I only took the camera’s kit lens, which is versatile and very light but not a great piece of gear. The next big trip we have planned in #newzealand2018 where I’ll be taking more camera gear.

Things that didn’t go well: personal projects

A year ago I was taking writing BlogBettr seriously and writing a decent article every week. Unfortunately, it wasn’t really gaining any traction and I was running out of things to say when blogging about blogging.

In March I put the blog on hiatus and eventually called time on my third attempt at launching the site. I do still think blogs about blogging don’t tend to be very good and there’s space for someone to come in and do it a lot better, but the content needs to be really really good and, to be perfectly honest, there’s only so much you can say about it.

The good thing to come out of this was I pivoted BlogBettr onto this blog, bringing the email list and most of the same WordPress theme over. Since I started writing every week and publishing Digital Essentials in September, growth here has been very good. Still lots to work on, but all the metrics are headed in the right direction.

Another personal project I worked on this year was MasterWP. I’ve co-authored this with Ben Gillbanks and it’s gone okay but not great. We launched a free WordPress user → WordPress power user course in September and got a great amount of interest, but failed to follow that up with a decent sales pitch for a fully-featured premium version. We’ve now pivoted towards a monthly subscription model, which has been going okay but needs a lot of work. This is a work in progress that needs improvement next year.

Things that went well: productivity

My thinking on productivity has also changed markedly in the last year, and as it’s been a recurring theme in previous years, I’d like to touch on it again. I don’t like “habits” or “hacks” for productivity any more: instead I’ve become a convert to Deep Work and time blocking. I’ll now schedule on my calendar x hours of work on a single task and get to work. I also schedule ample breaks to try and ensure all the time scheduled can be used productively.

The shift away from something like the Pomodoro Technique, which I previously swore by, I think is indicative of the nature of the work I’m now doing: when there were dozens of book chapters and journal articles to read and analyse for weekly seminars the Pomodoro Technique works a charm.

I’ve enjoyed Nat Eliason’s writing on this recently.

Things that didn’t go well: what is work/life balance?

My work/life balance is a work in progress and was something I wanted to fix but haven’t.

One of the great freedoms of working for yourself is you get to choose when you work and what you work on. At least, allegedly. This was something I was warned about: the freedom to work whenever you like often leads to pressure to work the whole time.

The struggle here is there’s great precarity about work. You are not guaranteed any given paycheque (and indeed, don’t really have a paycheque). Here’s the key bit: the precarity around freelance work incentivises taking on more work. After all, when you don’t know how much you’re going to make next month, it makes a lot of sense to try and make as much as possible this month just in case.

I think (and hope) this is a problem exacerbated by having only just started out: I’m working with new clients and don’t know which projects will become repeat work. As I establish better client relationships the precarity should fade and I’ll be able to have a much better idea of what work I’ll have for months at a time.

As a student I worked incredibly long hours, in my first month of freelancing I rediscovered The Joy of Weekends, but two months later I’m working evenings and weekends again. This is something to fix for 2017.

Assorted and miscellaneous things that went well

There are a couple of things that happened this year that are worth a mention but not worth dwelling on:

  • Graduated 🎓
  • Moved out of student accommodation (boo) and into my first Proper Flat (hooray!).
  • Got one of my friends elected to Warwick SU.
  • Spoke at WordCamp London 2016.
  • Met some incredible new people.
  • Run more than ever.
  • Read the most books I’ve ever read in a year (more on this soon).
  • Grown up a lot.

I also want to briefly say hi to 2016 as the year in which literally all my political predictions were wrong and the unspeakably unfathomable happened.

Out getting out the vote in Leamington Spa on polling day.

I’m pleased I at least tried to do my bit for the EU referendum, but like many young people (including a lot of my friends), I’m concerned about what the future holds both in terms of Brexit and the rightward shift in political feeling across the Western world. The situation in Syria currently is also deeply distressing The only prediction I’m prepared to make these days is 2016 was bad but things could plausibly get a lot worse in 2017.

What’s in store for next year?

Alright, so what’s in store for next year? There are couple of things I want to specifically target:

  • Grow my freelance business, including product revenue. Not wholly sure what this looks like, but keen to work it out.
  • Switch off from work more and reinstate the weekend.
  • Attend more conferences.
  • Spend more time with family and friends.
  • Learn more! Get back in the reading habit.
  • Generally improve quality of life and happiness.

I always love reading other people’s year-in-review posts, so if this inspires you to do the same let me know on Twitter

2016 was fine if not good. Here’s to a better 2017.

Coupon codes are a terrible idea! It’s time to re-evaluate your marketing.

Whether you celebrate Thanksgiving or not, it’s impossible to miss the massive frenzy of “black friday” and “cyber monday” discounts and deals that first started appearing a week ago and are disappearing as this post goes out.

Here’s something to ponder if you’re running a business: coupon codes are a terrible idea.

I mean this in two ways:

  1. Seasonal discounts are a terrible idea.
  2. Coupon codes are the worst way of doing discounts.

If you’ve just run a Thanksgiving sale, it may be time to rethink this for the New Year. I appreciate this probably isn’t what you want to hear, but whilst there are some exceptions (and we’ll come to them later), hear me out on this.

Seasonal discounts are a terrible idea

“Discounts punish your pre-existing customers and train future customers not to by until you have a discount.”Sean McCabe

I’m not a fan of discounts. They tell people who’ve already bought from you “you should have waited for a discount” and potential customers “don’t bother buying until we have a discount”.

Thinking of it like this shows discounts to be disincentivising purchases, the very opposite of what they’re supposed to be doing.

Here’s a quick case study: last week I purchased a bunch of Mac software. I thought it was a bit expensive at full price and the purchase was desirable but not urgent, so I just waited until the Black Friday sales I could see from Googling happen every year.

There is space for doing discounts within this framework, and this is more or less the only space I think they’re worth doing: launch discounts to reward early customers that are never repeated.

Launch discounts are an effective way of creating urgency and driving early sales, but for these to work the launch discount price needs to be the best price you ever offer. Those early adopters need to be rewarded by having the best possible price, not mocked/punished by seeing a lower price in six months when you run out of marketing ideas.

You could argue launch discounts are just a temporary lower price and there’s no discount at all, but the semantics are mostly irrelevant. The important point is when you do discounts you’re telling current customers if they’d waited they could have had a lower price and future customers to wait for a discount before purchasing. You’re disincentivising purchases.

Coupon codes are the worst way of doing discounts

The second line of my argument is coupon codes are the worst way of doing discounts.

Here’s why:

  1. I’m buying something from your shop.
  2. I decide what I want and add it to my basket.
  3. I go to pay. I’m ready to buy.
  4. I see a box for a coupon code. I don’t have one!
  5. I search for a discount and click an affiliate link to reveal a discount.
  6. I add the coupon code and purchase, with a 20% saving made.

You should never offer discounts once a customer has made a purchasing decision. Discounts should be used to ensure a purchasing decision is made, but offering them after that decision is just throwing money away.

By showing a coupon code box at the checkout, you’re telling customers who have already decided to buy that they can get a discount when they were literally about to purchase at full price. It’s not just me saying this btw.

When you offer the option to enter coupon codes at checkout, a decent proportion of your customers will now proceed to Google your site + discount and pocket whatever discount they can find.

What’s more, most sites collating coupons will then demand you click an affiliate link to reveal the discount – so you suddenly lose the x% on the coupon code and x% in affiliate payout. This could quite easily be 50%+ of the original price, lost totally unnecessarily.

You see what I mean when I say coupon codes are a terrible idea?

The solution here, if you are going to do discounts, is to do discounts without coupon codes. Append a query to your site’s URL instead, so the discount is only available to customers specifically coming from the place the discount was intended for. SellwithWP has details on how to do this with EDD and here’s how to do it with WooCommerce.

Other mooted solutions include conditionally displaying a coupon box, but the URL method is easier to implement. How you do this doesn’t really matter, what’s more important is you are doing something to hide the coupon box.

There are exceptions to this

And I’m not just saying this so friends reading this won’t think I’m being too much of a dick about it. There are some scenarios where discounts make sense and some ways of doing discounts better if you really want to do them.

The type of product is important. Are you selling a commoditised product or a luxury one? You can probably make a strong argument that commoditised products – where price is one of the main competition points – need discounts to keep sales up and customers expect to see occasional discounts. I’m not going to make such an argument, but I can see it could make sense. You cannot, however, make such an argument for luxury products.

You can avoid problems by keeping discounts quiet. Discounts disincentivise purchases as future customers can see lower prices are available and they should wait. If there’s no way of future customers finding your discounts, there’s no §disincentive. In practice this might mean offering exclusive discounts to your email list or perhaps to current customers on an additional purchase.

Note this rules out running big promotional discounts and posting to your blog or social media; I still maintain these are a bad idea.

Truly seasonal discounts are probably okay. I get I’m British and don’t really understand Thanksgiving. If you really want to do a Thanksgiving sale and be part of the community and all that, you can do, but make sure they’re truly seasonal sales and not run with the regularity that future customers can just wait for the next sale before purchasing.

You can mitigate some of the problems with coupon codes. If you really want to keep your coupon codes available to everyone, there are some things you can do to mitigate the problem:

  1. Keep tight control over what codes are available. Make sure “finished” codes expire and sites can’t collate dozens of possibly working coupons.
  2. Only offer codes to new customers, or for SaSS products for the first x months. This makes sure coupons work as lead generation.
  3. Dominate the search results for your own coupons. This is my favourite! Avoid paying out affiliate fees by making sure customers come to your site when they search for coupon codes. This is as simple as making a page on your site with a list of available coupon codes. Namecheap does this really well, as do WPZOOM.

Of course, the easiest way to avoid problems with coupon codes is simply not to use them 😉

I maintain coupon codes are rubbish

My thesis here is strong. Coupons tell potential customers “wait until we do a sale” and current customers “you should have waited for a sale”. Furthermore, the coupon box at checkout throws away a huge chunk of revenue in discounts and affiliate fees to customers who were just about to buy at full price.

If you really want to do discounts, there are ways of doing them better, but for most products I just don’t see the value.

So, in sum: coupon codes are a terrible idea.

P.S. If you’re reading this, nodding along and thinking you should change your marketing strategy but don’t know how… drop me an email.