How to build a business in 20 minutes

So you have a brilliant idea for a company. As fast as inspiration may have struck, you’re likely just as quickly deflated by the laundry list of to-do’s to get your baby launched. But what if launching a startup didn’t have to be so labor intensive? What if you could if you could literally go from conception to live in a month, a week, or even 20 lightning fast minutes? The key here is to reconstruct your idea of what it takes to get a business off the ground. Sure, you can raise funds, hire a team, code your vision from scratch, and do things the old-fashioned way. Or you can take a queue from some very innovative folks and utilize existing technologies to bring your vision to the world.

Need a little inspiration? Keep reading. In the time it takes you to finish this article, your next startup could be live.

Case Study: Product Hunt

Product Hunt founder Ryan Hoover started with the first fundamental necessity for an uber fast startup; a simple idea. He wanted to create a community of product specialists to share information about new and exciting goods. Rather than build the community from the ground up, which require a ridiculous amount of code, Ryan opted to use existing tools instead.

In just 20 minutes time, he set up a group on link-sharing tool LinkyDink. He now has over 4,000 active users who voraciously consume his product suggestions each week. Understanding he had a hit on his hands, he has sinced pressed forward with a website, and expanded Product Hunt’s reach considerably.

Don’t Reinvent the Internet

The lesson here is also simple: utilize the myriad of sites, tools, and platforms that brilliant folks have already gone through the trouble of creating. It’s amazing how many companies spend scads of time and money building tools that already exist. Focus on what makes your idea unique, and vow to only spend time building and fine-tuning that specific attribute.

Efficiency Tools That Don’t Break the Bank

To further your inspiration, we’ve listed a few crucial tools that entrepreneurs without big budgets should definitely have in their arsenal. These may not be solely responsible for launching your new big idea, but they will help you get things off the ground without needing to raise a single penny.

1) Write a Wow-Worthy Business Plan in a Snap

Enloop is a snazzy tool that helps budding business owners create beautiful business plans. This program walks folks through the entire process, including financial forecasts and all the gory details. The “free and easy” model has limited features for a single business plan, and this is all you need to get things going.

2) Reach Your Audience with MailChimp

MailChimp, a well-known and much loved email sending tool, is free for folks who only send a handful of emails each month. This is essential for getting your newsletters off the ground – you don’t have to pay for their fabulous feature set until you’ve hit the big time and are sending up a storm. Email is still a crucial way to keep your audience engaged, and you can trigger lots of revenue generators through them too. There are other services like Campaign Monitor, but Mailchimp is free for users with lists under a certain number.

3) Find the Help you Need on Odesk

Sites like Odesk are essential for entrepreneurs who can’t afford to build permanent teams. Odesk is a community of freelancers around the world; you’ll find someone for just about any role you need to fill. You can hire folks by project or on an ongoing basis, and the community feedback system helps to minimize the interview process.

4) Make Things Pretty with Gimp

Photoshop is an expensive, feature-intensive design tool for artsy types. For the rest of us, there’s Gimp. Gimp has just the right amount of features you’ll need to polish up images for your design perfectly. Best of all, it’s free.

5) Visual Project Management

You likely don’t have time for intensive project management tools that require a full-time manager just to maintain. If this is the case, fall in love with Trello (we even use it here at Flippa.) Trello makes managing the details of a project easy-peasy, and it’s extremely intuitive and visual. It only has a handful of features, but that’s just perfect for a team moving at light speed.

Or You Could Just Go Shopping

Don’t forget that the fastest way to launch a new business could be a virtual stroll through Flippa’s marketplace. If you have a desire to launch an ecommerce store, as an example, it’s incredibly wise to see if there’s a store out there for sale that reflects your passion. By choosing this route, you’re live the moment you close the deal; or at least very close to it. All you need to do is fine tune and kick into marketing mode.

Regardless of which route you choose, the lesson is clear; startups don’t have to take years to launch anymore. Every idea has an expedited road to execution. If you have a shoestring budget and a penchant for impatience, let those factors work in your favor. You can always go big when the profits start rolling in. Just get your idea out there; your public is waiting.

Thanks to Craig for the photo

How My New Blog Design Increased Email Subscriptions by 500%

Most bloggers are obsessed with conversion rates. They monitor their analytics, continually adjust copy and fiddle with design in a bid to convert more of their readers into email subscribers.

I’ve never really been one of those people. I happily floated through the first two and a half years of my blogging life without concerning myself too much about conversion rates.€“ I just enjoyed what I did.

But a few months ago, I made a conscious decision to make my blog better integrated. I made some key decisions about the purpose of the blog and how it could best help people. These decisions led to a total re-launch with a new design, manifesto, and community forums.

But more importantly for the purposes of this post, my decisions led to an enormous leap forward both in terms of email conversions and overall engagement. Read on to discover how.

The Background

It was early summer when I finally decided that I wanted to re-design my blog, Leaving Work Behind. I had big aspirations for the site but I felt that the current design didn’t reflect where I wanted it to be and€“ my message wasn’t well presented.

I wanted people to hit my site and immediately know what it was all about, but that wasn’t happening. Furthermore, I decided that my number one priority was to get people to sign up by email.

I had deliberated about this in the past, but I came to the decision that the best way that I can help people is by email. As a blogger, it’s the only way I can send people prescribed information in a suitable order. So that was the decision that I made: I was going to put email front and center.

Beyond that, I wanted to give people further opportunities to engage€“ through social media, the forums, and comments. I wanted to make it as easy as possible for them to do this.

Once I’d figured out what I wanted, I started designing. That’s the right way round to do things.  Don’t start designing until you know exactly what you want to achieve, not just in terms of aesthetics, but also in regards to the overall purpose of your site. It doesn’t make any sense to stumble blindly into things. Instead, you should identify your goals and work to align your design decisions with those priorities.

The Results

I launched my newly-redesigned site on November 4th. The impact was immediate.

I was getting great feedback from my readers in the comments section, but that’s not all. My email subscriptions had taken a huge leap as well. It hasn’t slowed down much since.

In the ten days leading up to the launch I attracted just 39 new email subscribers. In the ten days after, I attracted 195, which is€“ an increase of 500%.

New LWB Subscribers

This wasn’t due to a huge spike in traffic.€“ In fact, the re-launch didn’t attract an inordinate amount of new visitors. While traffic in that period did increase by 44%, the net email conversion rate increase still increased by a factor of 350%.

But that’s not all. The community forums got off to a great start and is going strong so far. One of my fears is that the forum would fall flat, but that has not been the case (touch wood!).

Furthermore, commenting has been as regular as ever and my Facebook and Twitter accounts have continued to grow at a healthy rate, even though I focus less on promoting them in the new design.

So how did I make this all happen? Let’s take a closer look at the key elements of my design (and content) that brought around this result.

Color Scheme

In my opinion, one of the keys to the new design’s success is the color scheme. Take a look:

So, what’s going on here? There are two €œaccent colors:€ blue and green. Their roles are well-defined: blue is used to attract attention, green is used for calls to action.

The aim is to pull people’s eyes to specific parts of the page, then draw their attention even closer to the bright green calls to action.

You will notice that the colors are used relatively sparingly throughout the design; only in the places that I most want people to explore:

  • The feature box
  • My About page
  • My information product and resources page
  • Other email signup forms

Email Signup Opportunities

Speaking of email signups, as I’ve already said, increasing email subscribers was the major focus of my new design. I wanted to see what I could do to increase my email conversion rate, and it turns out that I succeeded in boosting it considerably.

Here are the areas where visitors are given an opportunity to sign up:

  • The homepage feature box
  • The sidebar
  • The footer
  • Within posts and pages
  • When commenting
  • When they try to leave the site (using the excellent OptinMonster plugin)

That seems like a lot at first glance and€“ and it is! But, so long as you’re not being obnoxious and spammy about it, I think that it is hard to under-emphasize email.

In fact, I plan to do even more work to highlight my email signups. Here are some additional areas that I am planning on incorporating signups in:

  • Post footers (I’m currently still ironing out the kinks on this)
  • The community homepage
  • Within the community registration process

I have made it almost impossible for any visitor to come to the site without seeing at least one or two email subscription opportunities. Basically, you can’t go far without being invited to subscribe. However, I try to make it as non-invasive as possible.€“ I try to keep that balance between encouraging people to sign up but not pissing them off.

My usage of OptinMonster is a good example of this. Most pop up plugins serve up their pop up when you first hit the page, which I find infuriating. But I use OptinMonster so that the pop up only appears when people go to leave the page (i.e. when they move the cursor outside of the browser window). This means that they won’t get rudely interrupted by a pop up while they’re exploring a page on my site. This plugin has been an excellent contributor to my email list so far, converting at 1.35% alone. I’ll be sure to split test it to improve that conversion rate.

Tying It All Together

I’ve already said that email subscriptions were my number one priority with the new design. However, I couldn’t ignore the likes of social media, nor do I want to discourage people from joining the forums.

With that in mind, once I have secured an email subscriber, the next thing I want to do is give them the opportunity to join the Leaving Work Behind community in other areas.

First, when people have subscribed, they are redirected to this page, complete with clear social media calls to action. Beyond simply orienting recently signed up readers, this page carries the potential to multiply my readership by encouraging social media engagement.

Moving on, the second email autoresponder they get asks them to like Leaving Work Behind on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, and join the forums.

The third email includes links to all three again. Remember that people are unpredictable. Just because someone didn’t engage with me on social media after the first try doesn’t mean that they won’t do so if prompted again. Some people are wary, careless, or just plain busy, which is why it works for me to reach out a second time.

But that’s not all. I also utilize an awesome WordPress plugin to redirect first-time commenters to this page, within which they are given another opportunity to join the forums or follow me on social media. It makes sense to do this, since commenters are more engaged than your average reader.

The Art of Prioritization

I think that I have managed to create a website that encourages email subscriptions, but doesn’t do so in an overbearing manner. It also manages to promote other means of following, but only when doing so does not overshadow my main objective. I centered my strategy on my goals, and I remembered that my readers are people, too.

So far, the results have been highly encouraging and I am delighted with the outcome.

There are, no doubt, ways in which I can improve upon what I’ve done and I’ll certainly be looking to do so in the future. Few people (or websites) are perfect, so I do my best to always be on the look out for improvements.

With that in mind, I’d love to get your feedback in the comments section. What do you think about the new design and its efficacy? Do you have any suggestions for improvement? Let us know in the comments section below!

PS. Did you know we currently have 50 % off domain listings? Start your auction right now.

Photo credit: Steve Jurvetson

A Daily Podcast and a Blog. How the Heck Does John Lee Dumas Do It?

Every web entrepreneur loves John Lee Dumas—or at least that’s how it seems to us.

John’s EntrepreneurOnFire.com blog hosts a seven-day-a-week podcast, in which he personally interviews entrepreneurs and experts from all over the web. He also publishes a blog, produces ebooks and other resources, and manages the passionate, inspired and inspiring Fire Nation Elite community.

It’s exhausting just to think about! What the heck is his secret? This week, I got the chance to find out in a quick Q&A session with the man himself.

John, you’ve interviewed more than 300 entrepreneurs. You produce a weekly podcast, you’ve created a dedicated EntrepreneurOnFire app, and you also create ebooks and other resources for your followers. Where on Earth do you find the time?!

I am an extremely efficient person, and I’m a big believer in the idea that “the task will expand to the time allotted”. Therefore, I allot my time wisely and make the most of what I’ve got!

An example is my batching method for the podcast. With a seven-day-a-week podcast, some might think that I’m literally on the line with a new Entrepreneur every single day recording one more episode. Truth be told, I have about 30 episodes scheduled out in LibSyn right now. That’s because every Monday I do eight interviews, starting at 8am, and ending at 5pm.

I then spend the rest of my Monday night editing every one of those episodes. Come Tuesday, my week is free of the “episode portion” of the business so I can concentrate on the other things you’ve mentioned like ebooks, social media, Fire Nation Elite (my elite mastermind group) and other resources.

Wow, that really is efficient! I know you also have a team, which must help with that too. Can you tell us a bit about them and what they do?

I currently have one Virtual Assistant working for me from the Philippines, who I found through Chris Ducker’s VirtualStaffFinder. She’s awesome. I pretty much delegate anything to her that is a repetitive task. So, she does a lot of the scheduling for our social media posts, helps me create the skeleton for my show notes pages, and creates things like the pretty links for every guest’s page on the site.

I also have a partner in the business, Kate Erickson, who is the Content and Community Manager for EntrepreneurOnFire. She writes our blog, creates all of our content for the website (our giveaways, for example), manages our marketing campaigns/CRM and is the lead on Fire Nation Elite, our mastermind group. She’s also my girlfriend, so finding her was pretty easy!

Aha! Well, it sounds like you’ve got a pretty smooth-running team there. I’m getting the impression that process is really important to your ability to get things done, but also to the quality of your output. Is that true?

Yes, it’s absolutely important in terms of getting everything done. Without the batching of the interviews, for example, I wouldn’t be able to accomplish all that I do.

But just because I batch doesn’t mean I slack on quality—that’s number one for me.

I’ve ensured that I have the best possible set up with the best possible audio, and I do every edit myself. Quality is very important to me. The process supports my goals in that it affords me the time during the rest of the week to get other important stuff done for the business, like creating resources and products for my audience.

Well, let’s talk about audience. Your business is pretty heavily niche-focused. How important do you feel it is to have deep experience within one niche in your success?

Niching is so important—it’s required. If you don’t know exactly who you’re speaking to, then you’re speaking to no one.

I think that dedicating yourself to becoming better at what you do every day is the most important thing—always be ready to learn. When I started EntrepreneurOnFire I didn’t know how to conduct an interview. I didn’t even know how to record a podcast. It was through my relentless dedication to, and passion for the process that both interviewing and podcasting have become skills of mine.

So I think it’s more about the depth of your skill (knowing exactly what you want to be known for, and dominating that) rather than breadth.

Wow, it’s difficult to believe that you started out without knowing how to interview people, or how to create a podcast. What’s been your biggest challenge in growing your business to the point it’s at now?

I think for me, the biggest challenge is maintaining quality while continuing to scale. I mentioned earlier than quality is very, very important to me, and so it’s definitely been a challenge to continue to bring myself back to that when there are opportunities all around me that I could go after. I will not go after those opportunities at the cost of quality.

I’ve overcome that by hiring amazing people to help me. I wouldn’t be where I am right now without their help.

That’s a great point. Is there any other advice you’d give to someone building a web business?

Just start. You can’t let fear and doubt keep you from following your passions. It doesn’t matter if your product or your website or your podcast isn’t perfect—you have to get it out there. You can correct course, pivot, improve along the way, but if you never start, then you’ll get nowhere.

Want to read more about how amazing people manage to get so much done? Read our interview with affiliate extraordinaire Rae Hoffman

7 Tips for a better work life balance when running a small business

7 Tips for a better work life balance when running a small business

When was your last vacation? I mean a real, email-free, no-phonecalls vacation. If you’re like most people I know, you can’t quite remember. This is why I like today’s post, by David Bakke. It’s a reminder that entrepreneurship is about balance (not extremes), and that having a better work life balance can improve productivity and happiness. 

Running a small business is tough. With the flexibility of creating your own schedule and being your own boss, comes big responsibility. But not only are you responsible to your business, you are also responsible to yourself. If you don’t pay attention to balancing personal life with work, your health, relationships, and finances can seriously suffer.

A friend of mine found this out the hard way. She owns a lively coffee house, but in the beginning, she worked 12 hour days and didn’t take a single day off. She was ultimately forced to take a break when her husband threatened divorce unless she start devoting time to their family. Extreme, perhaps, but it got her attention. By prioritizing balance, learning to delegate responsibilities, and better managing her time, she got her personal life back on track.

If you’ve been burning the candle at both ends lately – or wish to avoid that trap – read on for seven tips that can help restore balance to your life.

1. Create a Schedule

Once you start your own business, you won’t have a boss to report to, and can work whenever you want. However, I made the transition to small business ownership several years ago, and my organization suffered significantly at first due to my ineffective management of time. By setting a schedule, I became more efficient, and now know when it’s okay to unplug for the day. To create a schedule, use Gmail’s Calendar. Or, if you don’t have a Gmail account, use the free software WinCalendar (available for download via CNET) or the calendar feature in Microsoft Office Outlook.

2. Commit to Breaks

You may feel guilty by doing so, but taking breaks is important. Trying to get work done when you’re not at your best can waste valuable time.

3. Focus on Personal Health

If your business is Internet-based, you may find that finding time to exercise is more difficult than ever before. Get a gym membership or exercise at home to improve your health and increase your chances of succeeding. Running a small business requires long work days, but by exercising sufficiently, you’ll sleep better each night and wake up each morning with a clear head so you can better tackle the challenges of the day.

4. Improve Your Personal Finances

Is credit card debt nagging at you? Are you struggling to pay monthly bills? If so, these nuisances can impede your ability to fund your new endeavor. It can become more difficult to concentrate on running your venture, in addition to putting unnecessary pressure on yourself to succeed. Get yourself on a personal budget and pay off your debts. By doing so, stepping away from your business to allow for more personal time becomes easier.

5. Improve Your Diet

If your day is filled with quick stops at fast food restaurants because you don’t think you have the time to eat healthier food, you’re not doing yourself any good. Take the time to switch to a diet based on homemade dishes consisting of more fruits and vegetables, and look for a farmers’ market in your area to buy fresh, organic produce for cheap. You’ll save money and potentially decrease your medical bills.

6. Get Out More

If you’re running your operation solo, loneliness or even depression can seep into your life. To prevent this, make an effort to strengthen your relationships with family or friends, or go out and make new ones. Volunteer your time, and keep an eye out for social organizations in your area. As you meet new people, try to keep business topics out of the conversation so that you may give yourself the mental break you deserve.

7. Find a Mentor

If you find yourself working too much or too little, seek a mentor. Check with family or friends for recommendations, or post your request on your LinkedIn profile. Your local chamber of commerce may be able to help too. A mentor can assist with virtually every facet of your small business, including juggling your operation with your personal life. Finding someone who’s been there and done that can cut down on the time it takes you to achieve the right balance.

Final Thoughts

According to a small business survey conducted by U.S. Bank, 45% of respondents said “their business is their life, and their life is their business.” Don’t be one of those people – always be sure to include some “me” time during every single work day. Even if it’s just watching some TV, even mindless entertainment can be an effective way to unwind and refresh. Or, pick up a good book – and not a small business self-help book. Select an author that you like and read their work.

What additional tips can you suggest to balance small business ownership and personal time?

Photo Credit: happykiddo

David is an online marketer, author, and blogger for the popular personal finance and business resource  Money Crashers.

How to guest post: A three step guide to getting your guest blogs accepted

Note: Ashwin’s guest post pitch cracked me up. He has some great tips on landing a guest blogging spot. Interested in doing the same? Read on: we’re always looking for talented contributors to the Flippa blog, and you’ll now know exactly how to submit a post.

This post was written by Ashwin Ramesh, you can follow him on Twitter. Ashwin is the Chief Hustler at Guest Post Labs

Not that I feel particularly proud, but most of my guest blogging opportunities (unless it’s someone I know already) come from what some would deem as “cyber stalking”.

I’m going to be showing you how I landed this guest post on Flippa by reaching out to the right person and show you how you can do the same thing.

STEP #1 – Identify the blog that you want a guest post from

Before you even go about stalking your way to success, it’s important to first identify blogs or websites where you’re going to get maximum bang for your article.

I typically ask myself these questions:

a. What is a website or a company that is most aligned to my target customer base?
b. Who is an authority blog in my industry?
c. Which is the most socially active company or website in my industry?

Answering these questions will give you some easy targets to go after. But, if nothing else works, you can always go the grunt route and use the guest blogging query generator.

STEP #2 – Start looking at sources to stalk from

A. Facebook Graph Search

Facebook Graph Search is an exceptional way to find the right connect in the website that you’re looking to get a guest post from.

For instance, while I was looking to get a guest post up on Flippa, I did a Facebook graph search for “people who work at Flippa”.

That gave me a few options:

Facebook Graph Search Guest Blogging

The most relevant among these options seemed like Ophelie who was a marketing lead, and I knew whom I had to reach out to in order to get a shot at contributing my content to the Flippa blog.

 

B. LinkedIn

While Facebook Graph Search is an excellent way to find the right contacts, it may not be successful for you all the time.

When Facebook fails, I typically head over to LinkedIn. The interesting thing about LinkedIn is that, it’s a great tool for you to “identify” the right people, but not so great for you to contact them.

So, taking the example of Flippa again:

LinkedIn Guest Posting

I find a similar “connect” at Flippa (Ophelie, again) who’s relevant to what I’m about to pitch. But, LinkedIn is hit or a miss since I can’t really reach out to them unless they add me back as a contact.

C. Google

I like Google because it aggregates a lot of different sources – many a time, it may just work for you to enter “marketing + company name” to find a list of people that work in the marketing department of a company.

If you’re feeling it, you could even try more elaborate combinations like:

“marketing manager + company name”
“content manager + company name”

STEP #3 – Finding an email for a contact

If you find your right connect via Facebook, you’re in luck, since Facebook allows you to message anyone without them having to be in your friend’s list. But, there is still that oddball chance that your Facebook messages may get flagged as spam and never reach the intended recipient.

Under these circumstances, if you know a contact’s name but need to find their email address, the best tool to use would be Rapportive.

Install the Rapportive addon for Gmail and, once done, add different combinations of the first and last name of your contact in the “to” box in the Gmail compose box and wait until Rapportive gives you a hit.

Rapportive Guest Posting

Some combinations you can use are:

[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]

Now that you know how to find the right person to pitch – go ahead and bounce your ideas off them; you’re bound to get a nod of approval for at least one of them.

What do you think? Would you use these tips to submit a blog post to your favorite blogs? And who is on your guest blogging hit-list?

What is dropshipping? Get someone else to do the work

What is dropshipping? Get someone else to do the work

If you run an ecommerce business, or are thinking of diving into the online merchant space, you owe it to yourself to learn the ins and outs of dropshipping. Dropshipping is a product fulfillment method that enables ecommerce sites to avoid stocking the items they sell. Instead, when a customer makes a purchase, the business then buys the item or items from a third party, which ships directly to the consumer. In other words, fulfilment is handled by a third-party supplier.

This means your team will never actually handle the goods your customers receive. Dropshipping is a controversial and complicated process, but it can absolutely be the perfect solution for your business if executed correctly. Intrigued? Check out this comprehensive guide to dropshipping by Shopify, creators one of the biggest and best ecommerce platforms.

Dropshipping is currently very popular in the online sales space, and for good reason. As the guide explores in detail, dropshipping requires less startup capital for your business, far less overhead, ease of scalability, and the opportunity to offer a wide array of products. On the other hand, it’s much more challenging to hit high margins, as you are in essence a middle-man. You’re also relying on a third party to provide accurate and on-time shipping to your customers, which can be tricky business indeed.

Shopify’s guide features all kinds of additional information on dropshipping, including advice on the best products for this ecommerce method, tips on finding and working with suppliers, a checklist for starting a dropship-focused business, and loads more valuable details.

Have you had any experience with dropshipping, positive or negative? Let us know your thoughts!