11: Marketing Your Bootrapped SaaS

Marketing your SaaS offering is a massive need for success. Darren and Aaron dive in to how they have developed marketing strategies over the years, with both focusing on inbound marketing, content, SEO and speaking events.

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[Intro music]

00:11 Aaron Weiche: Episode 11, Marketing your bootstrapped SaaS.

00:16 Show intro: Welcome to the SaaS Venture podcast. Sharing the adventure of leading and growing a bootstrap SaaS company. Hear the experiences, challenges, wins and losses shared in each episode from Aaron Weiche of GatherUp and Darren Shaw of Whitespark. Let's go.

[music]

00:42 Aaron Weiche: Welcome to the SaaS Venture podcast. I'm Aaron.

00:46 Darren Shaw: And I'm Darren.

00:47 AW: After a nearly month hiatus and a failed podcast attempt, Darren we are back hopefully in the groove of things and can return to a more normal schedule of recording.

01:00 DS: Yes, that was quite disappointing at MozCon. We thought we were gonna get a nice podcast recorded while we were in person. That was gonna be really exciting, but so many technical difficulties, that was quite frustrating.

01:14 AW: Yes. Mark us down as being complete newbies in live in-person podcast recordings. We made a lot of attempt and just ended up failing, and let's just put that behind us. There's bound to be a failure along any journey, right?

01:32 DS: I thought we did it though, and I thought it was a success, but then I guess we didn't get the file, I think it was all network problems and stuff. It was too bad.

01:42 AW: Yep. No glory to be had at the end of it but... With that we've had literally about four to five weeks since we've talked at length and since we've recorded an episode. What's been going on with you in that time? How have you been living these last days of summer?

02:02 DS: Well, I did go on a family vacation which was amazing. We went to Nova Scotia, we'd never been out East before and it was magical, it was just such a nice, relaxing vacation. We typically vacation in big cities and then we pack our days with going to all the museums and sites, and we've got lunch, breakfast, and dinner planned every single day at all the different places we wanna eat at. Whereas this was just like a we went to a rural type cottages in Nova Scotia just by the ocean and just hung out and it was relaxing and it was awesome. And we loved it so much, we're probably gonna re-book again for next year.

02:44 AW: Nice, sounds like a winner.

02:45 DS: It was great, yeah. It was good. And so, I guess, on the business side, so much going on always at Whitespark. We launched a new landing page for our Google My Business Management Service. It's got better screenshots, and we've kinda tweaked the copy a little bit, talked a little bit about some of the benefits a bit more, and it definitely seems to be converting better. So we're seeing those orders trickle in and our team is getting a little bit stretched thin. So we're gonna do some hiring this week. I have an interview set up tomorrow, so we'll keep building that team and that service, I'm excited about that.

We're also transitioning our citation building team, so we've been working with OptiLocal for, I don't know, seven years now, as our citation building partner, and so we're bringing that all in-house now, so it'll all be managed by our in-house team led by Nyagoslav Zhekov, citation expert extraordinaire. We are about to launch some major improvements for our Rank Tracker, those are finally finished. I had a call with Jessie, our marketing lead today about how we're gonna promote the launch of these new features, so I'm excited about that.

04:00 AW: What are... Real quickly, what are some of the improvements to the rank tracking tool?

04:05 DS: Yes. The Rank Tracker new features are the, basically we wanted to add screenshots. So it's the stagnant that lots of people have been asking for. So we started this, "Okay, we're gonna add screenshots to the Rank Tracker." And once we started getting in there, we found all these other things that we wanted to fix and do and change and improve, and so it's been a fairly significant overhaul, but it's not a significant release. Like the big announcement is, "Oh, now you can do screen... You'll get a screenshot of every search result page." But there's a whole bunch of stuff behind the scenes that we rewrote, reworked, made it more efficient, made it actually accurate. And once you get in and you discover actually, our visibility score is totally wrong. [chuckle]

04:48 DS: We started fixing a whole bunch of things and the release has a bunch of bug fixes, user interface improvements, and the screenshots. And so, I'm pumped about that, that is coming down the pipeline right away and I'm gonna do some videos. This is another thing we've never done on the landing page, I wanna have this overview video where I show people what's awesome in the tool and why it's great, and it's something that I've always meant to do and I've been holding off because I know there's a few problems with our production version of Rank Tracker, so once we flip switch on this one, I'm gonna make these videos and update all of our marketing too.

05:24 AW: That's awesome, and you are great at those videos from the other video work I've seen you do. That's definitely a hole for us, so good for you, and yeah, that'll be great, that sounds awesome.

05:38 DS: Yeah, I'm excited about that. And man, so we're building this one, like a whole new account system with Stripe and all the ordering pages will be done, all the subscriptions authentication, this whole thing's being built, and then it's meant to really facilitate our citation services. Right now when people order, they have to send a spreadsheet of their location info, and then we do the job and we send them the spreadsheet back. It is so 1998 janky, crappy unprofessional stuff, it's bugged me forever. So we're building what we call the location manager where you can add all of your locations, and that's pretty much built and done. And when you place an order now, it just... You select which location from our location manager you want us to do work on, and then everything is just nice, and in the platform.

But in the process we decided we're gonna... Well, allow it to sync with GMB, and so we did that. And honestly, my part-time student developer was like, "Oh this GMB API is great." And the dude has already built Google post scheduling, Google Q&A monitoring, Google review management, he's built Google photo management, so we actually have a full GMB management platform that we're about to launch too. So all of that stuff is coming together so nicely, and I'm excited about that.

06:53 AW: Isn't it amazing when you have a good API, good documentation? Although my team might argue how good most of Google's APIs are.

07:02 DS: Right yeah.

07:02 AW: But when you have those things, and then you have someone ambitious to do those, it is it can just be a free for all.

07:09 DS: Yeah, and it's really the feature releases are coming fast and furious. And so I'm like, "Alright, sweet, this platform is looking so beautiful". And I've got Nick working on the user interface and the design of it. And this analogy I have that I'm really excited, I can't wait to launch this. It's like, you remember back in the day when everybody used Skype as their internal chat system? We did anyways.

07:34 AW: Yeah.

07:34 DS: We used Skype, and we had groups in Skype, and then Slack came around and it just felt so much better, it had a more modern interface, it had a great feel that you could do fun things in it. This is the analogy I feel about what we're about to launch. And I could not be more pumped about it, because it just... It's a dream to use and it makes me really happy. So I can't wait to put that out the door.

08:00 AW: Nice. Yeah, you have a lot of good vibes going on, you got... I like that, I like that momentum. Maybe we should talk less frequently.

08:07 DS: Yeah, good vibes all rounds. Good stuff. Yeah, the future is looking bright, just gotta get this stuff launched. How are you? What's going on?

08:16 AW: Oh man, it's all going on, which is a fabulous thing. I've obviously spent a lot of my time with our newly... Our two new outbound sales team hires. So, you do all this work to find the right people and interview and get them on board. And then comes especially when you're someone who sells and you've been doing a lot of it just by the seat of your pants. And now you realize how much more I need to structure things, right? I realized it even before they were hired and started working on a lot of those pieces but just so much into getting organized for training, and building out better processes and, down to the smallest details and how to have better organization.

So just, a ton into that, and you mix in the... Lately, I've been on probably every other week travel schedule, so in the office for a week, then on the road for a week. So, not only all your meetings are compartmentalized into one week when you're actually back and in the office, for calls and demos, and your own sales calls, and then all your sales training and those things as well. So definitely really intense when I am back and able to be fully present on more day-to-day things and training with them. But it's all been great. The uptake for them has been really solid. One has already closed a deal. The other one has one out for electronic signature right now.

09:51 DS: Nice.

09:52 AW: Hopefully it shows up soon. Yeah, so both of them closing deals in their first month of being with us. But yeah, it's a lot of work and you start to realize a lot of holes and gaps when you're starting to try to systematize a lot of things and create processes and repeatable processes. And then I also, where one part of it is really awesome that two reps at once, and so you're training them both at once. And you can double up on so many of those things, not only with me but as they spend time with others in the company. But then you just start seeing just... It's no different than when you have two kids. And how different each of your kids are.

10:31 DS: Right.

10:32 AW: You start to see like, "Alright, here's how I'm gonna have to manage them differently. Here's their pros, here's what's great, and then here's where an area of challenge or area of opportunity and growth."

10:42 DS: Yeah.

10:42 AW: And I need to actually personally address that with them. So now it's starting to split out a little bit where it's like, "Alright I have some work to do in specific areas. It's not all just like, everything's doubled up at once. No worries, it's a two for one." So.

10:55 DS: Sure. You didn't quite get the two-for-one.

[laughter]

10:58 AW: No, I didn't get the same exact person. Maybe you need to hire twins, when you hire. [chuckle]

11:02 DS: Exactly. All your new sales hires will be twins going forward.

11:07 AW: Yeah. But all really great things. But the hard part has just been tough, when you are somebody, right? I have 100 things going on at once. I still find a way to keep 99 of them usually going. But then when you have to slow down, stop, and turn it into process and documentation and those things, you really have to focus and it takes up a lot of time, but then you see what the benefits are too. So it's a really good reminder.

11:29 DS: Yeah.

11:31 AW: Based on our early success with that we're hiring another CS lead for our customer success team. We're starting to see our on-boardings ramp up with more and more deals being signed, and we've already identified how critical that is to success with our platform.

11:48 DS: Yeah, we gotta get into that.

11:50 AW: Yeah. So with that we're actually... As much as we have ever, we're hiring ahead on this which by the time they get on board, it won't be ahead then, but usually about the time this person is gonna end up starting that's when we would have usually said, "Oh man, we could really use someone else." So we are four to six weeks ahead which is... You'll take those small wins, right?

12:16 DS: Absolutely, yeah, we're trying to do that with our new GMB management service hire. So, I know what the capacity is of the team, but I'm also projecting based off of how many orders are coming in, and based off of the potential that an agency might say like, "Hey, we have 20 clients on board." So that's why it's like, "We better hire now, even though we don't need that person immediately we're gonna bring them on and get that person started. So that by the time we do get a little slammed we have the resources in place to manage it."

12:46 AW: Yeah, for sure, and it's... We're trying to get better at predictable hiring and understanding numbers and capacities and things like that. We still have a long way to go but yeah, when you get kind of these nights, it's like I didn't have to have six people tell me this is breaking us. We were able to see like, "Oh pretty soon they will say that. So let's do something about it."

13:11 DS: Great. Nice.

13:12 AW: Yeah, really good. Product-wise, we launched a really big feature, we've been pretty launch heavy this summer but our last really big one within the last month is our Insights Report. It, in essence, is Natural Language Processing, so using some machine learning and AI, all the buzz words. It's powered by IBM Watson. And it's really designed to take... If someone writes three or four sentences around a review, we're now breaking it out into specific keywords in the context of those keywords, the sentiment of those keywords, and give people a broader view. 'Cause if you have a four-star review, that three things were awesome, but here's the one thing that held me back, businesses really need to understand when that happens as a whole or what does that look like and what are those, the food is great. The place was great. The pricing was great but the service really could have been better. The service wasn't exceptional, and helping them figure those out.

14:17 DS: I got a little demo at MozCon and it looks really great. I love the visual where you can see the big green bubbles are like, "This is where we're good.", and the red bubbles are a "This is where we need to improve." So it's really smart. Quick glance at where you're doing well and what you're not, and it's amazing you can pull that out of the review content. I love it. It's a great feature.

14:38 AW: Yep, it's been really exciting. And just as you noted, we also... We took some product approaches too where we wanted it to be a visual feature. And so we really looked at shapes, colors, layout, things like that, how do we make this something that is really visually pleasing and informative because so much of our content or data just its rows, tables, percentages, things like that. So we wanted to be able to bring some of that appeal to it as well. And when we outlined it, there's already a lot of tools doing natural language processing, doing sentiment analysis and we just kind of took a little bit deeper stab at it.

The main thing we're trying to do with it is showcase what's the impact and understanding, when people are talking about this, this is what leads to your strong performances that raise your review average, and when they talk about this, this is what weighs you down and brings your review average down. So not just individually looking at terms, it does that as well, it outlines that, but we really wanted to show you what's having positive impact and what's having negative impact on your average experience for a customer.

15:50 DS: Yeah. It's a really good feature. It's a great sales tool for you as well. So when you get in those conversations, you can show that feature and it's the kind of thing that will really click with prospects where they'd be like, "Oh we need that," That's awesome.

16:03 AW: Yeah. Yeah. Especially with larger locations 'cause we can index hundreds or thousands of Google reviews, and already show them how people look at this without them even having to work with us, day one.

16:15 DS: Amazing. Yeah, totally great. Pour it all in and then...

16:18 AW: Great resource.

16:19 DS: Yeah.

16:20 AW: Yep. And then from, as I mentioned the buzzword marketing side, some of those things you do have to look at and there's all kinds of jokes around the software world that you'll get bought or people will pay you money if you have the buzzwords of AI or anything else but you do have to check those boxes. And as I always look at it, there's features you build around utility that you help do things, automate things, whatever else, and then you have this second layer of features that is more about what can we teach you, how can we help you think, how can we help you make a decision. And that's where this one falls into. And it was maybe our first or second, depending on how you look at some other things, foray into that starts to really... Let's simplify some thinking for you and point out some things you might not be aware of.

17:10 DS: Yep, well it's a great feature. Congrats on that launch, yeah.

17:13 AW: Yeah. Cool. And then planning hard, we have our North American Team Summit, so I think the North American team size is 14 now. We have that in the end of September. We bring everyone into Minneapolis and then we head about three hours north up to a resort. Fall is a beautiful time here and we spend four concentrated days together between company-sharing and having everybody on the same page since we're all remote, allowing everyone to interact and get to know each other better. Brainstorming exercises, future planning and then a lot of fun. When you get to eat every meal together. We've done things like escape rooms and boat rides and things like that. It really is... I don't know, I might re-brand it as "Camp GatherUp", but it's really a good time and everyone looks forward to it, so that's a lot of fun to plan that.

18:09 DS: Yeah, it sounds wonderful. I wanna do stuff like that with my team, of course, but now it's not the time. We're in build mode. Once we're in the night sales mode that you're in, then we'll get there.

18:20 AW: Yep. And it took us... To have that full out one last year was our very first one. We've had bits and pieces of ones, and when our team was really small, we had one that basically included everyone and that was all of five of us getting together. But yeah, to reach these bigger numbers and to bring everyone together from all across North America's... From our team there is definitely exciting.

18:46 DS: Awesome.

18:46 AW: And then lastly, where we tried to record our podcast live and failed, but MozCon was just a fantastic event for us. The number, the amount of exposure, the number of leads, the energy, all of those things were just incredibly fabulous for us, we'll still see. I just had one of my new sales team ping me and they just said another demo where you set well passed a dozen demos. We probably had about 80 very qualified leads. We've signed one or two deals. I have another couple that are in like legal or in approval process. So, just highly valuable, highly profitable for us. It was just a fantastic event that we still have a lot of energy and momentum going from that almost basically a month ago now.

19:41 DS: Amazing. Huge congrats, that's awesome because, yeah, I totally feel that. When we did MozCon, it's just this great conference and it's so nice that there's only eight other vendors there, so you really get this great attention, and they put the snacks right down there where the vendors are, so all the vendors are, or all the attendees are having a snack and then checking out what kind of stuff you got going on. So yeah, it really drives a lot of people.

20:09 AW: Absolutely. And with that, let's segment in, that's what we wanted to talk about being at a conference in any capacity whether it's a sponsor, a booth speaking whatever else is all part of the marketing and that's what we wanted to talk about today was marketing for your SaaS company. And this one too, I see a lot of when I'm on Facebook groups or Slack groups of SaaS companies, marketing is obviously a very large topic because so many of us feel like we understand how to build a product. We don't always know the right things to build and what whatever else but that the most challenging thing is how do you find users, how do you let them know that your product exists and that you're out there solving a problem and you have what they need with it, so marketing such an important piece. And interesting enough, we might not have too much variants in what you and I talk about today because I would say we are both from the school of a massive inbound marketing focus for both Whitespark and GatherUp.

21:15 DS: Yeah, we really are, and I don't know if we're just a little bit lucky when I think about, let's say if I were to SaaS starting out right now, it would be really hard to get to where both of us are and I think you would probably be smart to explore paid rather than just inbound or you obviously wanna do both. But in order to kick-start, you might wanna start doing some paid stuff right off the bat like we have the advantage of being in early, early writers, speakers, about local search, and so we've sort of already built up an audience before we even had really good products.

21:53 AW: Yeah, absolutely, I point to the fact all the time with having Mike Blumenthal, as one of our co-founders. Yeah, he already had and there's all kinds of marketing that will talk to you if you already have someone that has a community or you have representation or contact in that community, you need to leverage that big time. And our early success, we still have trailing success off that, we owe so much of that to Mike and his reputation and the thousands of articles he wrote before he ever even was part of launching our product.

22:26 DS: Yeah, basically, your product launched with immediate trust. It was like, "Oh, Mike Blumenthal is behind this. This has gotta be a good product." Because he is such a well-respected luminary in local search. So it's like you have immediate credibility with the product. And so that was huge for you guys, for sure.

22:46 AW: So what is it from you at a high level? We can break down into some of the specific pieces of what goes into inbound marketing but, why do you feel that inbound marketing is your A-game and how you built Whitespark?

23:01 DS: Yeah, I think we've been fortunate, we were early writers about citations, specifically. I think what had happened was we created a local citation finder, and then I really wanted to learn everything about citations and I just started writing about it, doing research projects on it, so I was lucky to contribute, to collaborate with David Mihm on some early research that go put up on Moz and then I got to do a community speaking spot at Moz about some of that research. And so it just, inbound became the natural channel because I was passionate about learning about it, researching it, and writing about it.

And so I guess that kind of is inbound is content marketing, you're creating something that is a new that will attract a lot of attention particularly around all the SEO agencies, they're like, "Well how does this work?" And so when you're trying to answer those questions, if it's research-based questions, then it can drive a lot of eyeballs and those eyeballs will then eventually look at your products and services. So that's kind of how it evolved for me. How about you?

24:11 AW: I've just always been positioned towards sharing what I'm doing. This podcast is even no different. I've always looked to expose what I'm doing and early on I should go back and try to pinpoint a day but like pretty early adopter of blogging and sharing what the company was doing, and I always equated to it of more calling it like perception-based marketing. Are you creating your perception of what your company is doing and what your company can do, and the benefits your customers are getting out of it. And I found that really important back when I was running digital marketing agencies to share, here is not only the websites were creating, but here's the process. This might be a hand sketch or a wireframe and sharing that visually or sharing those processes. And to me it really led to then when buyers were looking to find someone to design or build their website that they're like, "Well, we understand your process really well. We saw things in some of your blog content that we hadn't had the last time we did our website and that looked really, really appealing."

25:23 AW: So I think so many of those wins like led me towards like, you just need to find the right ways to amplify what you're doing, how you can help, how you're thinking. And I get paid is that, and in more of an instant format but I don't know, I just had personally kind of always gravitated towards more of content marketing and organic search and things like that. Because there's also part of paid that if you really have your stuff together, it can be an incredible flywheel. But I always felt like I was missing too many pieces on just the exacts of certain things to get it. Whether it's keywords and phrases that you're bidding on and bid management, landing pages, the funnel, like all of those things. It just felt almost daunting. Sometimes it's like, "Oh if I have any one of these six things wrong in the funnel, it's gonna bork what the outcome is and I'm wasting money then."

26:23 DS: Yeah, I think one comparison I often have in my head between inbound and paid marketing, is that inbound comes with this baked in credibility and trust whereas paid doesn't. It's almost like, if you tell someone that you're really awesome and you should work with us, that's a lot different than someone else saying it. And so when you are putting out content, really good content that everyone is sharing and everyone's talking about, then you have a lot more credibility than just putting out an ad. If you just put out an ad that it says we're the best, but then if you have a whole bunch of other people saying, "Oh, this company is really good, they know what they're talking about. They've shown that they really understand this space." Then that's what inbound marketing can do. Inbound creates a lot more word of mouth too because there's just a ton of sharing. No one is gonna go and share your ad, but people will share a really great content. And so, it's just so much more valuable I think than focusing on an ad. And of course it costs less. It costs a lot less. People I know of, lawyers that are spending 100 grand a month on Google Ads. It can be so expensive.

27:36 AW: Yeah. No, totally. So with what does content marketing look like for you guys? Do you have a formalized strategy that someone own it there? Is it just when people have things they then write them and share them? What does that look like at Whitespark?

27:53 DS: So, yeah, no, we do not have a formalized strategy. We are blessed to have a recurring massive content amplifier called the local search ranking factors. So, a huge thanks again to David Mihm for letting me take that over. It's a big one that tends to drive a lot of credibility for Whitespark. I do a lot of my, for example, one of the thing that actually drive this, I'll commit to going go speak at a conference, and then I'm like, "Oh crap, I better figure out what I'm gonna talk about." So I always try to do original research where I can. And so the conference obligations often drive something new for me, where I'll rack my brain and be like, "Well, what would be interesting to people?" And so, then I'll put together some new research. Like our recent success would have been my MozCon case study.

28:43 DS: So, I think that drove a lot of interest and a lot of new eyes to Whitespark. And then when they're there then they start looking at, "Well what else does Whitespark do?" So, it's not formalized and then a lot of our content just comes out of everyday work. It came up a lot recently about Google suspensions. So Google listing is getting suspended and Allie has been researching it and putting some time on it. So Allie we're like, "Well, we should make a blogpost out of this." So Allie puts together a blog post. So a lot of it is just driven by what's going on in the company. It's not really formalized, it's not strategized. Jessie does a pretty good job of nagging us. She's like, "Hey, we need some more content. Who's got something? What can we put out next. It's been too quiet around here." So she does a good job of prodding us. But other than that, there's no strategy. Do you guys have any strategy or it's just like you have an idea and then you do it. How does it work at GatherUp?

29:42 AW: Yeah, so we've tried to evolve our strategy just a little bit more than having no strategy. One piece of that was last year, roughly about a year ago, we hired a content and product marketer specifically that we basically told her you own all the words now. So she's across a number of things, releasing or write, user guide posts and feature release post and a number of things like that.

And we've really tried to go the route of like, "Alright, we have enough to say about the product. We obviously get thought-leadership articles from Mike and myself." A number of different types, and learn anything else. Now it's like, "Alright, we should be having something going to our blog every week, in one way, shape, form or another." So that type of repetition we've really gone after it. And we've had a lot more discussions on creating things that sometimes, "What can we do that it's a little more evergreen." Like month ago we compiled a post that we're continually adding to of 100 plus online review statistics.

30:54 DS: Sure. Yeah, that's a great one.

30:56 AW: Yeah, as a new one, I just sent a link today that had three new stats around healthcare and online reviews, and we'll add that. So that'll be a growing piece. We're starting to see some of the organic search pay back for that with people talking about it, being mentioned for it, being the source of research in their articles. So we're evolving a little bit more with that. Some of the areas I think we're still really challenged is, we write a lot of content that's for everyone. And I think if we could niche down a little bit more and say, just how we look at it. We've written maybe two articles all time on our blog that are strictly just for digital marketing agencies, and we really should be doing one a month in my mind because that's a good part of our customer base. And, or specifically writing something like, "Alright, this is just for restaurants," or, "This is just for home service companies," and we're starting to get a little bit better with that. But you have this feeling like, "Oh, if I write it, it needs to be applicable for everybody and you have to get comfortable with." No, I want this to be a really great piece for a specific audience. And then down the road, I will write something else equally great for another specific audience that we serve.

32:10 DS: Or even the same kind of content, so the content could be like what restaurants need to think about around reviews and you've got all the statistics around restaurants, you could pull data that's a restaurant-specific and then you've got this sort of template you can now use for insurance agents, or for plumbers, whatever.

32:30 AW: Yeah and that's one thing even just outside of blog content, we're trying to create some more static landing pages for each industry. We have five or six industries that we work really well, and we really understand everything else and so we need, we're in the process of creating content. So, it is specifically like, "Here's how GatherUp helps restaurants. Here's how GatherUp helps insurance and finance industry. Here's how GatherUp help self-storage." So more speaking their language, detailing the benefits to them and how the features roll up into making those benefits happen is something we're trying to get better at. We're trying to have a lot more micro-conversations and being very specific and having a lot of intent with what we're putting out there.

33:17 DS: Yeah, I've always thought about doing that industry-specific stuff, too. And I don't think that our current software offerings lend themselves to that very well, but with what we're building, I really see how we can focus content around specific niches, to speak to how our software is good for those specific industries. I'm looking forward to having that with our new platform.

33:41 AW: Yeah. It's hard for me, but when I boil down to, here's the thought I arrive at is, no matter what if I write something and it gets 1000 page views in the first month of it being up there. Like that's great, but then do they actually translate into working with us or becoming customers? And I think when you niche it down, there's more of an opportunity that it might only be 100 that read it, but based on how impactful it is for them and how detailed you can get and the examples you can give them, you take them so high up that trust curve where maybe five of them then become a customer. And to me it's writing more about those, it's always that battle where it's like the exposure feels great. The links feel great. The mentions, social media mentions and tweets and posts feel great, but the end of the day if it doesn't move that bottom of the funnel and add to more customers, then is it really as impactful as you feel it is?

34:42 DS: Yeah, that actually really lends to one marketing thing that I have planned for this fall, that I think is gonna be my new go-to. I'm speaking at three different auto-dealer conferences this fall, so I've got one in September, and two in October. And so, there's a huge benefit there. One of them is, if I go in a SEO conference, this is where I do most of my speaking. A lot of those people I'm speaking to are my competitors. Some of them are gonna use our software, 'cause we have agency-based software, but on some of the service side of things they look at me as a competitor not really a potential vendor, but when I go to an auto-dealer conference, then everyone in the audience is potentially my customer and so that's a great credibility there. The beautiful thing is, I can generate one slide deck, and use that for multiple industry-specific conferences. There isn't that high bar where you have to bring this mind blowing new research every time you go and speak.

35:46 DS: Then I'm gonna take that same concept and spin it too like, "Okay, well I've got this really successful talk that I've given to auto-dealers, I wanna take the exact same thing and now rework it, my screenshots and everything for dentists or lawyers, and so I can go and do all these industry-specific conferences. So I'm thinking I'm going to say no to some of the big conferences, like some of the SEO specific ones, and a lot more yeses and even pitching for industry-specific ones, and that's also where I think these sort of industry-specific landing pages could come in. If I had these landing pages, that could be super valuable.

36:23 AW: Yeah. Also I think you're on to something very smart there and I will be interested to hear how that goes but I think it will yield you very good results. It's a human format of what we're talking about. I'm being focused to that persona in content marketing. You're doing it through conferences and speaking. So totally awesome.

36:46 DS: Yeah, I'm excited and I'll let you know how it goes. We'll have another podcast episode and chat about it.

36:49 AW: Nice. One thing I think we both do really well, that I think a lot of people overlook from time to time is, surfacing research and data. So you have the local search ranking factors, that's a really big piece. We've done all kinds of different either using Google surveys and asking specific questions and finding out how people view online reviews and do they trust them and how often do they write them and things like that. When you spend the time and the money to create those to me, those just have endless payback. When others are writing articles about it, they cite your stats and your data so often so, you get mentions. We just had another mention in a Moz article last week and the research was maybe from at least a year or two years ago, but it continues to produce links, produce mentions in real time for something that has been out there quite a while, just because you can become the de facto research for it.

37:48 DS: Stats and data, it's huge. It's a really great, it's like the snowball effect right. Now that Whitespark is built up. We can release something and it has this great effect where a huge spread happens from it. I think it might be hard if you're just starting out, but maybe not. Did you see the Fresh Chalk thing that came out? So that Adam guy did that thing, where he analyzed, I think it was...

38:14 AW: 150,000 I think.

38:16 DS: Small businesses. Yeah, he looked at their websites, and he compared their websites' metrics with their rankings, and then he did this great research around it. And that is like a case study of how you could do something, research-based, and absolutely blow it out of the water in terms of getting some... I had never heard of Fresh Chalk before. I didn't... I knew nothing about it. And so now he's on the map. And it's a... That actually is an opportunity for any SaaS that's... Even if they're brand new, if they do something, and they put in the work, then it... I think it could... It's gonna reap the rewards for Fresh Chalk forever. It's huge. That was a massive marketing move with that resource.

39:00 AW: Yeah. No, I actually met up, when I was in Seattle, with Liz Pearce, who is one of the co-founders, and the CEO of Fresh Chalk. So it does help put those things on the map. That was part of me ending up connecting with her. So, yeah, I mean, don't ever look past what you're creating, and when you're the one that compiles it together, and you make it easy for someone else to absorb it, read it, and then use it the way that they need to, you're gonna get benefits out of it. Mentions, links, referrals, top-of-mind, brand awareness, right?

39:32 DS: Yep.

39:32 AW: All of those.

39:33 DS: Shares from big industry people. Yeah, we've gotten tons of shares. Like everyone was sharing that content around.

39:39 AW: Yeah. One other thing that I've always liked, that you did, that you pulled together, and maybe you can tell me if you feel it actually has an impact, but you guys at Whitespark created a topical email called The Local Pulse, and every day you send out an aggregation of articles from many of the different resources in local SEO, and everything else, and there can be anywhere from three to 10 articles linked in there, on a daily basis. And it's a great way to bring that into my inbox. If you check it, I have a pretty good open rate. But it makes me aware of those articles, and then Whitespark is the one that's done the hard work in bringing this together.

40:18 DS: Sure.

40:19 AW: Have you seen benefits of this over time, in line with what you hoped for, or how do you view that strategically, in tech?

40:26 DS: Yeah, email market is a whole huge marketing thing that we didn't really get into yet, but yeah, so the Local Pulse is this funny thing, it's like I had this idea, and I wanted it just for me. Well, that any time these 12 blogs that I care about in local search post something, I wanna get notified about it, right? And so I figured out that I could build this thing with MailChimp that automatically aggregates the RSS feeds of all of the blogs, and then produces this email. And actually, for a first little while I just had it going to me, and I was like, "Oh, should I let other people subscribe to this?" And so I opened it up, and I let other people subscribe to it. We have about 1500 people on that email list. And so the outcome is... I have no idea, because, honestly, it's this thing... [chuckle] It's funny, because I saw you put that in our notes for today's call, and I immediately sent a message to Jessie, being like, "Hey, can you add a banner to this email?" [chuckle] 'cause we have never used it to be promotional in any way.

41:32 DS: But there's a perfect little spot for it, where we could just use that to highlight the latest things that we're doing. I think it's mostly agencies that would be on that list. And so we're gonna now use it to show, put a little banner for our white label agency program for our new GMB management service. Why have we not done that before? So, maybe I'll have some numbers for you later, see if that converts at all. But it's a pretty good resource. We've never really used it to be promotional, we've just provided it as a friendly service, but I think it's the kind of thing that could potentially drive some extra business. And so we're gonna drop a little banner in there, and see if it drives any conversions.

42:14 AW: Nice. And I think that's always a great way to start a relationship, because you've created something that is just giving to them.

42:20 DS: Yeah.

42:20 AW: I think it just paints you in the right light, so that, well, down the road, when you do get at least some type of a promotional, or a sales call-to-action in it, it won't even rub them the wrong way, because they're already appreciative of... You've simplified something, and you efficiently give them value. So that won't do anything, rather than... Right? If the only thing you were doing is emailing them everyday trying to ask them to buy from you, that obviously has a much different outcome.

42:46 DS: Yeah, totally. And I think, actually, we might get some decent conversions through this. And we certainly wouldn't be salesy about it, we'd just be like, "Hey, we also have this service. Here are your latest Local Search posts... And oh, by the way, Whitespark has this service." And that's all there is to it.

43:01 AW: Yeah. Totally. Another aspect, you and I both do a lot of... Or we try to maximize this at our companies, is being a featured guest on a podcast, or a webinar. Talk to me about your approach with some of those, and the advantages you feel that are with that, and how you... Are you doing anything to try to get more of them, or even though you've had other members of your team recently being part of them, that I think that's fabulous.

43:30 DS: Yeah, I think they're really great opportunities when they come up. I don't seek them out. I guess, well, I'm fortunate to be in a position where they come to me, and they ask me to be a guest on these things, but they are in-the-bag wonderful opportunities to get in front of a new audience, because usually they're really easy. They're just... It's just a Q&A type of thing, right? They're asking you questions, you answer the questions, and as long as you don't look like a total idiot, then sometimes that can expose your company to new people that didn't know about you before.

And if you come across as knowledgeable, then that might encourage them to come and look you up, and see... "Oh, well, what does this guy do?" "Oh, well, he's got this company Whitespark. What does Whitespark do?" And then that can lead to business, I suppose. But, yeah, the webinars are fantastic, when they come up, same with podcasts, being invited to be guests on these things, that really... It really does stem from being a speaker. So being a public speaker at a lot of these events is what will drive these invites, basically, that's always been the way for me. Is anyone on webinars that doesn't speak at events? It's pretty rare, I think.

44:39 AW: Yeah, and then I think that comes from then the host, or the person putting together knows, "Alright, I'm gonna get great content. This person has stage/mic presence. They're known. So others will come to the podcast because one of the two or three or four guests on like a webinar roundtable, they'll all bring their own spheres of people that come to it". So, yeah, so it's like mutually beneficial, right, to both the host and the guest.

45:10 DS: Yeah, and actually, that's interesting. And you think about your personal influence, and so building up your following on Twitter, on Instagram, or whatever it is... In the SEO space, it's mostly Twitter, probably the same in most SaaS spaces, but it's certainly beneficial to build that up and to... Like I don't do it consciously. I'm not out there, "Ooh, I'd better tweet so I get more followers." I'm just... I'm trying to share stuff that I think is interesting and valuable, and just because I think it's interesting and valuable. Like I'm not doing it as this thing, but certainly it creates some benefit. So when someone is looking for someone to join their webinar, it probably helps that I have 16,000 followers on Twitter because they know that I'll probably tweet about it and then those people will... It might drive more people to the webinar. So it's certainly valuable to build up your personal following.

46:05 AW: Totally. And a last main topic regarding marketing that we have time for is kind of where we kicked off this conversation but... Around conferences, right? Both you and I have cut our teeth over the years and risen through the ranks to some extent, right? Like I've written articles in the past on public speaking, and one of my main pieces of advice for people is like just start. My first one was literally a room of 20 people at a local chamber of commerce, and... But it allowed me to start talking in public. It allowed me to see what do people care about, what questions did they ask afterwards. I recorded it. What could I break down that I could do better or be more engaged in or tell the story better. Yeah, so it's like that was, I don't know, 15 years ago now. So it's like what have you seen right through your own journey on that and what's the reason why you continue to do it even though you're evolving maybe who your audiences are? 

47:08 DS: Yeah, do you remember what my first sort of big talk was, Aaron? 

47:12 AW: I think you mentioned that it was when you helped bring Local U to Edmonton.

47:16 DS: Yeah, but there's an even greater story behind that because Ed Reese forgot his passport and he couldn't come, and so I ended up... Like the very first talk I gave at that Edmonton Local U was your presentation. It was your like, "How does Google search work?" And all I had was the damn slides until I was trying to give this presentation. It's basically my first talk ever in front of an audience and I'm like, "And here's a picture of a spider. I don't know what Aaron was planning to say here, but maybe something about web crawlers and this is how web crawlers work." And so I basically just stumbled through it and it was a pretty scary first experience of getting up to speak when they weren't even your own slides. It was like this last minute thing. I was like, "Okay, I'll do it," and...

48:08 AW: Yes. No, that would be horrible. I remember... So SMX Advanced was right after that and I was speaking at SMX Advanced, and I had on my SpyderTrap jacket out in Seattle and somebody's like, "Oh, hey. Aren't you the guy who just didn't have a passport and you couldn't speak in Edmonton," and I was like, "What?" And then I found out the whole thing and I was like, "No, man, that was Ed Reese," and then Darren used my presentation. I wasn't even supposed to be a part of it, like I somehow got wrangled in as the bad guy who couldn't enter the country legally even though I was never on the agenda. So oh, that's rough. That's a tough first speaking I did.

48:47 DS: It was pretty tough, but you know maybe it was a good idea to just start out really hard, and then the rest of them became much easier after that.

48:53 AW: There you go. Only up from there.

48:56 DS: Exactly. So I did have my own talk and that was wonderful, and I honestly, in the local search space, Local U is a great opportunity because if you bring a Local U event to your city and you do all the legwork to get all of the people, you know to help bring in attendees and sell tickets, then you generally get a speaking spot. And so it's a pretty great place to start. I would say I got my start actually just teaching little courses back when I was in the university. I got the opportunity to teach courses on Adobe Dreamweaver, like how to make websites.

49:34 DS: It was Fireworks as well. It was like this little graphic design thing and I did a Photoshop class. And so that was really helpful to speak to a really small audience. It would be like 10-15 people in a workshop and I would teach them how to use the software, and so that's kind of where I got my start with being in front of a small audience. But there's also like little meetups where you could go and meet up with other web developers or SCOs in your city, and you could give a little presentation to 10 people. That's an awesome way to get started with that. And then of course, then you pitch. So once you kind of get the opportunity to speak a bit more, then you'll pitch at smaller conferences and work your way up to bigger conferences. It's... I, honestly, I cannot imagine where Whitespark would be today if I didn't get the opportunity and put some effort into becoming a speaker that... It's been huge for us in terms of marketing, just massive.

50:26 AW: Yep. Yep. No, I agree. And even personally, it's created so many new friends, networking opportunities, partnerships on down the line if you are, and I get everyone is different, introvert, extrovert, what their comfort levels are.

50:43 DS: Sure, for sure.

50:43 AW: Public speaking can be a massive fear for a lot of people.

50:47 DS: Yep.

50:48 AW: But if you can, it just does pay a lot of great dividends. And one thing too that I would share with everyone is if you get the opportunity to do it, think how can you build in a call to action or a next step for people, right, and not a like, "Hey, buy our software," but, "Hey, I presented the high level of this research, like the full research is now in a blog post on our site. Here's where you can... "

51:12 DS: Totally. Yeah.

51:13 AW: And I think... I feel like you do a good job of that or finding something that continues the conversation that... Or even if you're speaking at an event, and then... That's where we're more evolving to, is we wanna speak and we wanna find out, can we have a booth there, or let's bring a salesperson there anyway so that they can be the... Have an opportunity to close or find out who's interested in it, because sometimes just the talk alone, yes, it'll generate exposure and buzz and get you out there, but if you don't have some type of mechanism to push it down the sales funnel or to get more out of it, you're definitely wasting the momentum that you're building with it.

51:52 DS: Yeah, that's actually a big part of my marketing plan for these auto dealer conferences, right? So I'm presenting this research where I'm gathering all of this data on auto dealers across Canada. These are all Canadian-based conferences. And so then I'm gonna present like, these are the statistics for auto dealers in Canada on using these different features, and this is why you wanna be using, this is how you wanna be using them, and... So I was only able to talk about this for 20, 30 minutes, and then we're gonna have a great resource on our website that I'll send people to at the end of it. So it's exactly what you just said, that's my plan for these auto dealer conferences.

52:26 AW: Yep. Now, no different than the pages on your website, you gotta have some type of a call to action or next step very visible. Make sure you have it in your talks, right. Not a salesy frontal "buy now or I don't like you," but something that progresses them the next step into your reunion.

52:46 DS: Absolutely.

52:47 AW: So we've talked a lot here, and that's what happens when we have so much downtime in between...

52:54 DS: It's been like, yeah, six weeks? 

52:54 AW: Yeah, and closing with one question, what's a marketing strategy or tactic that you haven't gotten to yet that you really feel like, oh, this is something I need to accomplish before 2019 is over? 

53:09 DS: The big one for me is, last year I did this series, I called it the Whitespark Weekly, where I would make a little video of me talking about one small aspect of local search. And they were meant to be under 10 minutes, it was just me with a webcam doing a screen share showing a thing. And those were huge for us. Honestly, I saw very significant uptick in our business at that time, and there was a lot of sharing of our content and it was on such a weekly basis. Those were really massive for us and it's a marketing thing I can't wait to get back to. But my to-do list is so damn big, and every week goes by I'm like, "Dang it, I really wanna get another one of those videos done," but it's really hard for me to find the time, so I'm trying to figure out how I can block off some time and get back to doing those regular videos. Because the thing about that is like, I can get on a stage and speak to 200, 300, 400 people, but these videos, they can reach a much larger audience. And so doing that stuff on a regular basis can really build our exposure, and so I wanna get back into doing those videos. That's the biggest thing for me. It's the biggest marketing thing on my mind, especially as we start launching our platform and all of that stuff. It's gonna be great for us.

54:30 AW: Sounds like you gotta leverage some prioritization there, Shaw.

54:33 DS: I really do. I'm working on new calendaring systems and trying to figure out how to block off my time, yeah. How about you, what's your big thing that you wanna make sure that you're taking care of on the marketing space before the end of 2019? 

54:47 AW: Yeah, I'm almost embarrassed about this, but retargeting. In today's day and age, you need to be doing it, and it's just something... We've had small discussions and talked about it, but have not launched it, and it's ridiculous in the landscape of what's going on out there not to lay that trail as people move on past you to put reminders in front of them to come back and check you out and to re-affirm the value prop and all those other things. So yeah, by far and away...

[overlapping conversation]

55:19 AW: Yeah, we need to get retargeting going before the end of the year. That is an absolute low-hanging fruit in today's marketing mix that sadly is just rotten fruit on the ground for us right now.

55:31 DS: Oh, that's a great analogy. Yeah, totally. Same here, there's rotten apples all over Whitespark from not doing retargeting. So can I pick two? I wanna add that one to my list too.

55:42 AW: Yeah, go ahead.

55:43 DS: Retargeting, gotta do it.

55:44 AW: Yep, go ahead. You can have two, and let's hold each other accountable and let's get it done before the year ends.

55:49 DS: End of 2019, okay, good deal. You are gonna see my Whitespark Weekly videos start up before the end of 2019. I'm gonna commit to that.

55:57 AW: Alright, make it happen.

55:57 DS: Yep.

55:58 AW: Alright, well, I think that's a wrap as we push an hour of time here for this episode. Thanks everyone for listening. I also wanna send a shout-out... Bunch of people at MozCon came up... I also received texts lately from people asking questions, so thanks to people like Noah Lerner... Will Scott said he binged all 10 of our episodes and they had some questions for me...

56:22 DS: Thanks, Will.

56:22 AW: On sales team and sales comp, yeah. So thanks, you guys, for reaching out. Continue to do so, you can tweet us any questions or topics you'd like covered. Hopefully none of you got worried that we were abandoning this after 10 episodes with the recent month of darkness. We'll get back on track and keep coming at you.

56:44 DS: Yep, looking forward to it.

56:45 AW: Alright, well, thanks everyone, and have a fabulous rest of your weeks until we talk to you again.

56:58 DS: See ya.

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The Saas Venture Podcast from Aaron Weiche and Darren Shaw