19: Navigating The Unknown

Aaron and Darren share how things look for them personally and for their businesses during COVID-19 so far. Repetitive days, mind shifts, small wins, hard decisions, layoffs and opportunity.

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00:10 Aaron Weiche: Episode 19. Navigating the Unknown.

00:16 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.

00:43 Aaron: Welcome to the SaaS Venture podcast. I'm Aaron.

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

00:47 Aaron: And the way we usually start our episodes is just by catching up. What's going on? What's happened lately? 

00:56 Darren: Yeah, what's going on, Aaron? What's going on? 

01:00 Aaron: Well, it seems like we're all... Have been doing the same thing for quite a number of weeks now. And it's interesting, until COVID-19 and everything else, anytime someone would post the Bill Murray Groundhog's Day meme on Facebook, or Twitter, or something else, I just never gave it much thought. And, literally, the last... I would say for me the last 10 days, I absolutely feel that way. Like it is such a lather, rinse, repeat of the same day with such little variance, it's wild.

01:34 Darren: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I don't know. My days are a little bit all over the place actually. I just keep working on different things and I'm getting pulled in many different directions right now. Things are changing quite a bit actually for me, I feel. Yeah. Things have been really up in the air and I feel a little scattered.

01:51 Aaron: Well, I will take some of your variance. I don't know if it's my attitude, or my outlook, or whatever else, but it definitely doesn't feel like enough variance for me. And I think some of it is just other things that I enjoy, like conferences, and things like that, all shut off. Sports, right? It's baseball season and every night I love sitting down with my Minnesota Twins on in the background, and happily writing a blog post, working on a contract, whatever that might be, just getting some small things done while I'm watching baseball, and that diversion of sports for me, isn't there, and that leaves a big hole.

02:38 Darren: Apparently, there is a huge surge in Marble Runs sports. [chuckle] Have you seen this? They've got a big table and you're watching the marbles race through a track. Massive surge in viewership there.

02:52 Aaron: Can you bet on it? 

02:54 Darren: Probably, yeah. Bet on the white marble.

02:58 Aaron: I need those small sources of joy.

03:00 Darren: You can start watching that while you're doing contracts and stuff.

03:03 Aaron: Yeah? 

03:04 Darren: Yeah.

03:05 Aaron: Interesting, just as we were talking before and prepped some notes, we definitely have some things to walk through, but I think a great place to start is both of us being remote and to some extent work-from-home. Me not so much really work-from-home, but with having a separate office, but has it felt that much different for you? Family life, at home life, what's that been like for you Darren? 

03:31 Darren: Oh, yeah. It's kind of weird really. Because there is the sense that we're not going out anymore, and so a bit of isolation. But it doesn't feel that different to me. I've run a remote company since 2005, I've worked from home since 2005, and so our entire way of working... The way that I work is completely the same. No changes here. The only thing is, I see the Sun a little bit less right now. I'm just in the house and not going outside really. We're not even going for walks really, because Jill and Violet, my wife and daughter, have had mild symptoms, so we're supposed to be really isolated. I've been getting out into the backyard lately, but basically, from a work perspective, it didn't change much for us because we're 100% remote. We've always been that way. How about you? 

04:27 Aaron: Yeah, same for myself personally and the GatherUp team. I've only been remote the last five and a half... Almost six years now, but long enough to forget the days of commuting, and in-office, and everything else. So that shift wasn't that hard, where for the rest of our company, which I should drop in I guess really quick just because I'm trying to get good at my references. 

Our group of products that Alpine Software Group had purchased that are Aramark tech that we used to call ASG MarTech, we actually rolled out a full brand for. So now it's called Traject. Traject includes the seven companies, SocialTools, Cyfe, Authority Labs, ourselves, Grade.us, we're all under this Traject umbrella. So we launched that just prior to everything with COVID-19 taking off. And I need to make that note before I start saying things, 'cause I'm trying to get good in being part of re-brands myself. Re-training yourself on how you refer to things.

05:28 Darren: For sure.

05:29 Aaron: So, for the Traject team, there's about 60-70% of the team as an overall that's all in-office and located outside of Seattle in Bellevue. And so it was interesting to watch. That first week, especially, was a struggle for them in moving from a centralized office to remote work and many of them have not been doing it right, they're working from the kitchen table and things like that, and especially with having others at home, if your spouse works, they might be just 10 feet away, and they're working remote, right? And it's like... I don't have any of those problems, my wife stopped working last year, it's a little different at my house, I have four kids that are home all the time now, ages 4 to 16.

06:15 Darren: Yeah. She's working. Oh, she's working hard. [chuckle]

06:19 Aaron: Oh my gosh. And they've done fabulous with leaving me alone, and they know if the office doors are shut, to cool it with dad. And luckily, in the last two weeks, their distance learning e-school has fired up, and so that occupies anywhere from two to six hours of their day depending upon what's going on and everything else. So, yeah, same as you, I feel really lucky that things haven't changed that much. But, yeah, the same... My 10-year-old daughter just said to me last night like, "Dad, every like hour or so, I'm gonna come get you and just make you go outside for five minutes." She's like, "You're in that hole all day." And I was like, "Yeah, you're right. That would probably be a healthy thing."

06:56 Darren: Once an hour though, that'd be tough. I don't know, how about every two hours? 

07:00 Aaron: [chuckle] I'm gonna try to appease the troops. If they have a suggestion for me at this point I'm just gonna take it because, yeah, I feel for them and all the small things that they're missing out. My kids all love school, but man, they are just missing friends, and socialization, everything else.

07:19 Darren: Oh, man. So much, yeah. I used to have a pretty closed-door policy with my office when Violet comes home from school and stuff the office is closed, you don't come in. But now it's like, she wants to come and say hi to me, I'm gonna stop whatever I'm doing, just take some time to chat with her, "Oh, what are you working on? What are you playing with these days?" And you just hear her stories and just spend that time, because she doesn't have any other social interaction. Gosh, neither do I, so it's like, "Yeah, go ahead, interrupt me anytime, come on in and we'll have a little chat for a few minutes and then I'll get back to work." I think it's the way it has to be right now.

07:56 Aaron: For sure. My kids have siblings to play with. They're very blessed, they have a lot to do. We're not in a traditional neighborhood, it's a little more spread out, so there's a couple of acres for them to be outside and play on without getting into some of those things and whatever else, so I'm more fortunate than not on a lot of things. I think the biggest emotional toll on me is just, for however long now? 12 years, 15 years, everything for me professionally has been growth, success, constantly going up, right? You still have your small struggles and dark weeks, or months, and whatever else, but really, the overall momentum is always forward. 

And I've never been a part of something like this where that momentum has been pulled back and you go from this growth mindset to a survival and circle the wagons to some extent. And I think that's been the hardest part on my mood.

08:52 Darren: Yeah, it's a real shift from, "Okay, we've gotta build all this stuff and do all these things and keep growing forward," to like, "Oh wow. What do we have to do to protect at this point?" So, yeah, that survival mode instinct has kicked in and, yeah, it's tough to have that shift, and it doesn't feel good. All that growth always feels good and that push for success, but, yeah, it feels bad to be like, "I'm gonna make these tough decisions now."

09:21 Aaron: Yeah. And still trying to find the success within it. I was listening to the last weekend local podcast on LocalU and I think Blumenthal coined a term of "sur-thrival". So it's like, how do you find ways to thrive in surviving? 

09:37 Darren: Yeah. Totally.

09:38 Aaron: I instantly grabbed on to that and I was like, "Yeah, that's a great way to refer to it. I totally agree."

09:43 Darren: Yeah, and I'm seeing it actually, I'm seeing lots of opportunities in my business to thrive a little bit. And so we're trying to put in some defensive moves just to make sure that we can ride it out and some offensive moves. And so, I don't know, I'm feeling okay about it. The dust is starting to settle from the first few weeks of it really getting crazy and just starting to settle into this new way of how we're gonna operate, this new economy, and identifying the markets that are opportunities.

10:14 Aaron: Yeah, for sure. And I agree with you, it's like there's a first big tidal wave where there was a lot more panic, less information, nothing had really been settled into, and I feel like this week, I feel like that wave has come, crashed, and it's now pulled back out. I think there's gonna be more waves, maybe not as big or aggressive, but it is starting to get a little different and a little more than norm.

10:42 Darren: Yeah, and it's kinda like... That's happening for me, I have that feeling that, okay, well, those first few weeks I was just scrambling trying to figure out, "Okay, what the hell are we gonna do?" And I couldn't really focus on all of the regular operations. I was busy filling out government relief applications and sorting out all this kind of stuff. And so, I feel like, while that's happening for me, it's also happening for every other business in the world, where we're starting to kinda, "Okay, the dust is settling, now let's get back to business." It's like, what does the new business look like? What does the new way of operating look like? 

And all those businesses are gonna start coming out of the woodwork again and the economy will pick up. Sales have been super quiet, but we're starting to see more leads come in now as people are looking at alternatives to whatever else they're using.

11:33 Aaron: Yeah. You just stated about five different things I wanna break down. One thing that you kind of mentioned, I know from you and I, we've both been talking professionally, we've also talked as friends during this, just 'cause you need that support in those outlets, but I know you've had to make some hard decisions around your business, and Whitespark, and some employee moves. What has that been and what does that look like? 

12:01 Darren: Yeah. So once this all came out and we started realizing what a massive impact it's gonna have on the economy, we had to look at our expenses. Where are our expenses, what can we cut? So the first thing of course was to just take an axe to my credit card statement and be like, "What can I cross off here? What due is absolutely not essential? So we did some major cuts there. It's kind of crazy, I cut like $5,000 in monthly expenses off my credit card. And after I did it, I was like, "Well, dang, why didn't I do that a year ago?" It's just like so much.

12:30 Aaron: You weren't forced to.

12:32 Darren: Yeah, I wasn't forced to. It's like you kinda get into this. "Okay, well, finances are good, and yeah, those services are pretty good, but are they that essential?" And so I was able to do some pretty good cuts there. And then of course the next most major expense for our company... We don't have an office, we don't have a lot of overhead, it's really labor. So there were a couple of layoffs. 

One was on the development side, another one was on our GMB management team. We were actually in a pretty good growth mode with the GMB management team, where we were bringing on about 10 to 15 new clients every single month. And so we had just crossed that threshold where we're like, "Okay, well, we need to get someone hired and trained in order to meet that growing demand." And so we had just hired somebody and she had taken on a handful of clients right when this hit. And so we knew that that one was gonna start backing off, we were actually gonna start losing clients, so we had to make a lay-off there.

13:38 Darren: It's really sad. She was amazing. We'd love to hire her back as soon as we can. So, once we can, we would love to hire her back. So a couple of layoffs and then another thing is that the government of Canada introduced what's called a work-sharing program. I think they always had it, but they loosened up some of their guidelines around it and made it easier to get into it. So we reduced hours with the team across the whole Canadian team and just to the point where they could still maintain all of their health benefits. So they still get all their health benefits, they reduce their hours by about 37%, and then the government work-sharing program tops that up for them. So it actually doesn't have a huge impact on them, it shouldn't be too bad, but it results in pretty significant payroll savings for the company. 

So all of those things are the defensive moves to make sure that we're shoring up some resources in the bank, because honestly, Whitespark has been in this growth mode where we've been running the line, where certainly we've been profitable, but it's not like we had millions in the bank or even hundreds of thousands in the bank.

14:50 Darren: We were always like, "Okay, once we have enough more revenue, we hire somebody else," we'd have more expenses, we'd expand our servers. As a Bootstrap company, I think that's just what you do, you continue to grow your resources and your ability to build faster as you get more revenue. And so that's certainly what we're doing. So we didn't have this huge cushion. So my defensive measures were to try and create a little bit of that cushion, so it was tough. What was it like for you? 

15:23 Aaron: Yeah. Well, one, I commend you, because those are hard decisions and just so many decisions in this are all about the balance between short-term and long-term effects. You make difficult short-term decisions to survive long term. And it's so important, I and we, the company, have definitely benefited from being part of a larger org within this. So, let's just say, as I commented to you, if GatherUp hadn't sold and we were still all by ourselves, I will say we had cash reserves for three months of zero income and 100% of our burn rate to be able to pay bills. We had done a good job of always investing our growth, but we always looked at... We definitely put money away when we were doing well within our growth and created a little bit more margin to have... Whether it was something like this, a crisis, economic downturn, or an opportunity where we were like, "Oh, if there is a small product, or a small team, we can purchase... " Or whatever else we wanted, to have at least a little bit of cash on hand.

16:36 Aaron: But even within that, if it was just me and running the company, we would have made similar moves to what you did. There probably would have been... Obviously, the first thing is analyze every cost, cut everything out that isn't necessary, but then, just with about any company, bodies are your most significant expense. And, yeah, we probably would've at least had to make one, two, possibly even three moves, depending upon how we saw it, just to ensure that everything else was in the best position possible to survive at least a three-month if not a six-month economic winter of what we're just starting to get into.

17:18 Darren: That timing, it's so unknown. That's the big thing, is this uncertainty, right? It's like, okay, we're seeing some drops, it's not that significant, but who knows, maybe in three months the US economy is gonna be so shut down because of this virus that we're in huge trouble. So if there's no spending happening anywhere, then some of the services and software that we provide will certainly get cut, and so it's trying to make sure that you can weather the storm. And that's what I think we've been trying to do. And it's nice that you're in that position. The timing actually of the acquisition really worked out in your benefit, certainly for the founders, and also, I think, just having that huge strong umbrella above you that can help protect from some of this, is really a nice place to be.

18:10 Aaron: Yeah, no, who would have known? No way to tell, but yes, this scenario, it just shows you how much timing is a part of everything in life. So many different angles with it. But, overall, I really feel like Traject has done an awesome job. 

One is very early communicated the position of the company, the financial health of the company, and that they were already in talks with... We've talked before... There was a couple of layers between the very top level of the company down into the group we belong to. So immediately, there was strong communication, hit upon things that people would be most concerned about, and delivered a lot of good messaging there. And really, overall, the company just kept reinforcing, people first. This is tricky. Take care of yourself first. We want you to be emotionally and physically healthy, that comes first. If you're taking care of that, then we'll get at working and keeping the company healthy and all that kind of stuff.

19:12 Darren: Right. For sure.

19:14 Aaron: We basically have weekly AMAs with the exec team with Traject. So people are able to ask, "What's changing? Do you see anything different? What other decisions have you made?" So, just a really quick and easy way for whatever is a concern for people to hear that, and also for others, instead of those happening one-to-one in an email to the CEO or whatever else, everybody's able to hear it asked out loud and hear the answer to it, which I think...

19:28 Darren: I love that. Oh, man, I'm gonna do that. I've been doing a weekly call with my team, but I always have a weekly call anyways, where I try to communicate the current health of the company, what's been happening in the company, what we're seeing in terms of our revenue and our different lines of business. So try to communicate that and be clear about that, but the AMA thing is a really good thing. I often get questions after the call, like people will just ping me on Slack, and I think it'd be really helpful for everyone to have that, and just, "Okay, that's the end of my spiel, now let's get into the AMA portion of the call." So I really like that idea and I think I'm gonna open that up for Monday's call.

20:18 Aaron: Yeah, no, I think it makes people feel more comfortable. Everybody hears the same questions and the same answers, which is also great. And then lastly, they just put together a really good prioritization on, "This is what we're doing first. This is what we're doing second. This is what we're doing third," so the same things that we've just discussed on reducing expenses, different allocations, looking at this. And at the bottom of their list is, if these things don't work based on where things are at, then we potentially look at a percentage of salary cut across the board. And then, if that didn't work, then yeah, we'd have to look at the elimination of some positions. 

But the great thing, I think, it lays out is, one, it helps people understand the playbook that they're operating off of, which allows everyone to buy into the strategy. Two, it really helps them understand, there's a whole bunch of things before that comes on the table, and the thing I keep preaching to our team is, the thing to be grateful for right now is you have some control over this. We have our jobs, we have our personal income, and doing productive work is such a healthy thing right now.

21:27 Darren: For sure.

21:28 Aaron: Yeah. And a great distraction, and do what you can to not be paralyzed, or inundated, or overwhelmed, by all of this that's there, and focus on your work, because being successful with what you are doing is gonna contribute to the survival and some success inside of this, and making it to the other side. So when you get into that high level of like, what can you control and what can't you control, well, we can't control the economy and what happens to our customers businesses in full, and all of those kind of things, but we can control how well are we doing at our job, are we doing the right things that are needed to survive right now? 

Are we doing everything we can to help our customers so we're contributing to their survival? Those are all positives that I've personally worked hard to remind our team. Like, "Be grateful for that and let that gratefulness, and what you have, be the passion into what you're doing right now, in a difficult time for some to find that motivation."

22:26 Darren: Yeah, totally. There's so much value in that. When I have a a really productive day in the office, you feel good about it, right? So it's a nice thing that people can lean on when things seem so bad. Being able to take your mind off of the struggles of the world and the stress of the uncertainty of what's gonna happen with this virus, and all the health concerns, and being able to just put your head into some work for a while and get that sense of accomplishment. I find a lot of value in that and I think it's a great thing to communicate to the team.

22:58 Aaron: Yeah, you're exactly right. I've said multiple times in communication with stuff where we've elevated something very small and then pushed it out to everyone on our weekly stand-up or Slack, or both, whatever, is like, "No win is too small right now. Celebrate the smallest thing like it is a Super Bowl championship right now, because it's so important for the psyche and for your emotional well-being professionally," right? 

23:26 Darren: Yeah, definitely. Yeah, yeah, it's great stuff. I'm gonna work on implementing some of that with my weekly calls too.

23:33 Aaron: Nice.

23:34 Darren: Yeah.

23:35 Aaron: The next thing, I think, for us, the big shift almost immediately was just really realizing and I think all companies, especially SaaS, is in this boat right now, it's like, retention is absolutely the name of the game right now. Just as you said. And the same for us, leads, sales opportunities, whatever else, are like, I don't think they're even 10% of what they were in January, February, and early March.

24:01 Darren: Right. That's amazing. I would say, if I had to guess in terms of leads for us, it's probably down only maybe 50%. Yeah. So our leads are actually still pretty solid. We're actually seeing quite a few people looking at cutting ongoing recurring citation services. So, let's say we're using Yext or Moz Local, or some of these other services, they are looking at our one-time offering and saying, "This is a much better way to go for citation management." So we're actually seeing pretty decent leads there, and then our software leads are... I'd say they're down about 50%.

24:43 Aaron: Yeah. Do you feel like some of those people are looking like, "Okay, I want something around this service, but I want a more cost-effective solution?" And is Whitespark that compared to those. So you're gonna see some trickle down from those.

24:54 Darren: I think it's exactly what I'm seeing, and I think also, on the software side, we're quite reasonably priced, and so I feel like a lot of people that are with more expensive solutions are looking to us. Or let's say they had to cut a $3000 a month SEO engagement with a good firm, and so they're like, "Okay, we're gonna take this in-house and now our marketing director has to manage some of this," and they're like, "Okay, local search software," and then we come up. And so I think that's where we're starting to see some of this. It's like people cutting expenses elsewhere and then finding us 'cause we are generally more cost-effective.

25:33 Aaron: Yeah, that's awesome. I think that can be a big win. A forced changeover. Just the same as you analyze your credit card and like, "Why am I paying for this," or "What can I do," right? When people are doing that, and then you are positioned that way, that can definitely be a great migration from competitors to you at this time, which is awesome for you.

25:57 Darren: Yeah. So we're actually... As part of our offensive moves, is we're putting up some landing pages that are specifically around that and we'll start marketing those.

26:05 Aaron: Excellent. Yeah. With that stuff I always think of... I used to... Back in the day when... Building and running, maintaining websites, has worked with a lot of banks, and they would do a lot of campaigns on switching. Just like, "Here's what it's like to switch your checking account from Wells Fargo to us as a community bank."

26:22 Darren: Oh, man, that's a great idea.

26:26 Aaron: Yeah, just really laying it all out. So they're able to see like, "Hey, here's what's different, here's how we handle it, here's what we need." And just making it so that the consumer felt really comfortable with like, "Oh, this switch happens a lot. It happened so much. It's all laid out. And here's the majority of my questions. I feel really good about contacting them to do this."

26:28 Darren: Yeah, I see the same thing in the cellphone companies. Telecom stuff. And so, yeah, I'll definitely look to that for inspiration for how to position those landing pages and those marketing messages.

26:45 Aaron: Yeah. What was really interesting to me when you see... And just the way SaaS and recurring revenue works, March was still our best month in the history of the company. Every...

26:58 Darren: That's amazing.

27:06 Aaron: Yeah, minus one, two, three months over the last six years, it's like up into the right every single month. You know that predictable revenue, it compounds everything else, that's why so many people love software as a service. And so, with everything that's gone on, new clients early in the month, we signed a big deal midway through the month, there's still all these positive things going on, and most of the customers, some canceled, and others, we've been working with ways to help them with their accounts, but that stuff won't kick in until April. 

And just as you and I were talking before, it's like, I can already see from our predictive revenue tools that our April billing will be about 6% to 7% down from our March billing. And getting back into the psyche and whatever, I was like, "I've watched that number go up." The months where it didn't grow, it was maybe a quarter percent that it went backward, or almost even, but never even a full percentage point, and all things considered, a 6%-7% drop and considering a lot of that, is just paused billing. I think that's somewhat of a positive signal at this point after this first wave of crashing.

28:29 Darren: Totally, yeah. Absolutely. I feel the same way, it's like, "Man, the losses are not that bad." And so my confidence grows every week, where I look at the numbers and I'm like, "Okay, I think this is gonna be okay." My confidence is growing but then I'm also a little... I don't wanna be overly confident because there's still so much uncertainty. It could get really bad in the next couple of months. So I don't wanna be overly confident, but I'm starting to feel like, "Okay, well, if we all settle in and this is the way it is, then there's still certainly some thrive opportunities." How can we thrive in this situation? And if we tap into those, certainly we're gonna see some losses, but how much of that can we recover with new initiatives? 

29:14 Aaron: Exactly. I kinda look at it, as I mentioned earlier, baseball is a favorite sport of mine, right? It's like a baseball game and we're pretty much in the second inning right now. There's a lot of game left to be played, but it's underway, we're out there, a couple of things have already happened, and for us in these first couple of innings, the biggest thing around that retention is, we changed our cancel process. So instead of just being able to go... Hit "Cancel", drop a quick... We ask, "Alright, tell us why you're cancelling," and getting a little bit of info. 

We changed that to, you hit "Cancel", now you get a pop-up that says, "Hey, just so you're aware, with COVID-19 and everything going on, we get it, let's have a conversation and let's figure out how to keep you on board with us. Whether it's a reduction in billing, we need to pause your billing for a month." But we put a bunch of things in place and then we built that framework for our customer success team so that they could manage it, where they weren't coming to me and saying, "Alright, here's what this customer wants. They want 10% off this month," or whatever else.

30:16 Aaron: We gave them a framework so that they could make those offers, handle those decisions, and take care of it right in the moment with the customers. So it really felt a win for them, win for our customer, win for the business, especially if we kept them from cancelling just to say like, "Oh, great, yeah, I'm a restaurant, or I'm an agency that serves restaurants and hotels. I just went to zero income, but I still wanna retain this data, 'cause they're gonna need this when they come back, what can we do with it?"

30:45 Darren: Yeah, that's really smart. Yeah, actually, we put some measures like that in place too, and then we talked to your team about it, and got some more ideas, and it's so valuable. I think that is one of the big lessons for any of our listeners that are also doing SaaS, if you haven't put something like that in place, get that up immediately. Some kind of retention recovery program, right? 

31:09 Aaron: Yea. 'Cause, yeah, the cancels are just likely gone. It's so much harder to get them... Say things recover in three months, getting them to physically come back, sign up, even if you market to them, send them messages, they've already... They've mentally divorced the situation. But if you're able to reduce billing or even pause a month or two of billing, then when it comes back, then it's like, "Okay, great, things are back, close to normal, are you good? Let's turn billing back on." Just so much easier of a process, and you need to do that when you're dropping or pausing revenue like that, you need more of an instant on when things return, instead of having to work a marketing program around it.

31:49 Darren: Yeah. We actually had some reductions on our support team too, and our support is still as... It's certainly seen a drop in tickets, but it's still fairly active. And so I didn't wanna overwhelm my support team by having them talk to everybody that wants to cancel, 'cause there's a lot of them, obviously, they're coming in. And so we did the same kind of thing, but it's completely automated. 

So when you hit to cancel now, it gives you an option to be like, "Well, here are a couple of options for you. One, if you wanna keep everything still active, and still be able to use the software, we know things are tough," it's like, boom, "Here's a discount for you, you can get that discount." And so people could choose that option and continue to operate, or they can just choose the pause option, which means we'll stop actively doing anything in your account, we turn off all of the functionality, but we'll preserve your historical data, so that when you're ready to come back in, you can just press one button and turn it back on. 

So people get to choose themselves on the checkout and that's been helpful for sure. We're seeing a few people take us up on that option.

33:02 Aaron: And I don't know if any of my CS team ever listens to this podcast, but I do wanna give them a shoutout. They have been doing an amazing job of taking care of GatherUp customers, and helping, and that's not easy right now for them either, right? Instead of solving technical issues, or usability issues, and things like that, you're talking to people who, they're fearful, they're losing their business, they're in a panic situation. And you're trying to calm them, do your job, and keep the business that you're running maintainable. 

So, really, a commendable job, a very tricky spot for them in their role right now for sure, and I super appreciate it. They have handled the lion share. I've handled 2% of the conversations that they've handled and they're killing it.

33:05 Darren: I can attest to that. As a customer, we had... One of our large customers and reputation builder looked to cancel, and so that conversation happened with us and your GatherUp customer support team, and, man, they're awesome. They did an awesome job, really helpful, many ideas. And the real thing that comes across is that, what can we do to help? You can just really feel it. They're just... It's not about trying to save the money from the account, it's about, "Okay, well, what can we do to help here," and just really being helpful. And you feel it and it feels good. Yeah, I think they're doing an awesome job.

34:29 Aaron: That's good. I think we have a lot of genuine care in our culture. I've always appreciated that about our team. So that's awesome to hear come through. Alright, lastly, let's end on something, I guess, a little more positive, some of the things that we're doing right now. What are you doing, Darren, as far as within marketing, within sales? I know you mentioned a couple of things right now, but how are you working this to find some success and get some new business inside of everything? 

34:58 Darren: Yeah, for sure. We have a few initiatives that are about to launch. One is what we're calling... One of our big competitors that people look to us as an alternative is Yext. People have a subscription with Yext, they're paying for a monthly fee, or an annual fee, to just have their citation sitting in a database doing nothing, right? And so we have... We're about to launch what we call a Yext replacement service. And so, "If you're currently with Yext, here's how you could switch to us." And so it's exactly what you were talking about with the banks. We have a landing page specific for it, we have a custom package for it, and so that we're planning to launch next week actually. And so that's one of the big offensive moves that will keep our revenue on the citation team rolling. 

We actually haven't seen huge drops over there. A little bit, but not too bad. And so I think that this service... We actually are predicting some growth and we already have two potential new hires lined up in case we see some growth there from the launch of this service. Which would be great, it'll offset other areas of the business, right? So that's one of the big ones.

36:08 Aaron: That's awesome.

36:09 Darren: Yeah. Yext replacement service I think it's overdue. We've been thinking about it for a long time, and so we're pulling the trigger on that one and trying to get that up as soon as possible. Another huge one is, our biggest recurring software is our local citation finder. It's basically what we've built our business on. And that software honestly hasn't had a line of code added to it since probably 2015. We have not touched the thing, it's ridiculous. We've partly not touched it because it's been in this sort of complete overhaul redesign, re-development phase forever. We're actually shooting for a launch in 10 days. The 27th. April 27th, Monday April 27th, we're trying to finalize the final pieces of marketing, and polish, and we're pushing that out the door. And, oh my God, it's unbelievably better. And it's actually one of these weird pieces of software that over the period since this COVID thing happened, we haven't seen... I look at it on a daily basis and it's like, six new sign-ups, five cancellations. The next day will be like, seven new sign-ups, eight cancellations.

37:27 Darren: And so it's holding fairly steady, and I feel like once we launch the new version of this, massive retention, because the software is just so much better. People are canceling not necessarily because of COVID, but they cancel because the software is like... It did the job for them, but it's pretty weak and it doesn't have a lot of reason to stay subscribed. The new version provides ongoing value in a way that's so much better than what the old version did, and it's a delight to use, it's fast, it feels great, it looks great, and just delivers so much more value. So I think we have the retention, but massive marketing push. 

There are so many people that are familiar with that software and have been using it for years, we have a huge opportunity to get our name out there and push the marketing for that. There's probably a hundred blog posts out there that reference the local citation finder. All the outreach to them, we can mention to them, "Hey, we got this new version. I've set you up with a free trial account, check it out." So I think we're gonna have a massive blast of additional marketing value, which of course will bring people to citation finder, but once they're there, they see all the other stuff we do too. So I think those two offensive moves are huge.

38:43 Darren: And then on the Google My Business Management service, that's a great service that we're seeing fantastic growth, and I was really excited about where it was going. We've certainly seen it cut back, probably lost about 20 to 30 percent of our clients over there, but I did some talks in the fall for auto dealers where I crawled every Google My Business listing in all of Canada for auto dealers, and I broke it down. How many are using Google posts, how many are using... Have filled out the services fields, how many are using products? All these different features. 

And then I presented those stats, and then I talk about, "Well, wow, no one is doing this, it's a massive opportunity, here's how auto dealers can take advantage of that." And then, of course, I think that data which we're about to publish, for auto dealers, it's not a great time to be targeting auto dealers, but we're re-running that crawl for accountants, and lawyers, home services, all these businesses that are still continuing to operate, we're gonna re-run that with those marketing initiatives, so that we can get in front of those audiences and present our Google My Business Management service. 'Cause that management service is actually really reasonably priced.

39:53 Darren: It's 349 a month. And so, for a lot of businesses that are cutting bigger expenses, it's one of those ones where they can come to us for a much lower cost. They're offsetting their cost, taking off that huge bill off their credit card, replacing it with this and still seeing great value in their marketing. So those are the things that we're looking at and cautiously optimistic that we'll be able to even potentially thrive over the coming months.

40:19 Aaron: Yeah. No, that's great. And to some extent the same backbone of what we're trying to do. One, I've seen, you put out some tweets and sharing some visuals on the updated local citation finder. What a great way, build some excitement before it even happens.

40:37 Darren: Yeah, a little bit of... Yeah.

40:38 Aaron: Yeah. Love doing that stuff. Big believer in just doing your work out in the open or looking at your product as an aquarium and everybody can see in. I think those are great things. But I think the core of where you're getting is having things to talk about. If the only thing you have to talk about is, "We need sales," that's a boring conversation that nobody wants to listen to. Kinda like how you and I joked before this started. You made the statement that you have COVID blindness because every email that comes in says COVID on it. [chuckle]

41:10 Darren: Oh my God. "A new message from our CEO." It's like, "Oh my God, I don't wanna hear what your CEO has to say about how, yes, you're still operational. I'm sure you are, 'cause everyone is, and thanks for the info."

41:22 Aaron: Yeah. Yeah, no, totally. I'm with you on that. But, yeah, what we've looked at is the overall... Again, back to retention, is like, how do we help customers? One initiative that I launched is, I wrote out in a couple of hours, I created a spreadsheet and wrote down 120 blog topics. And then I took it to our team in our stand up and said, "Everybody pick at least two of these to write on in the next few minutes."

41:47 Darren: That's impressive brainstorming, man.

41:51 Aaron: [chuckle] I'm never short on ideas, only time to execute. So it brought it to everyone where usually it's like Mike and I blog and then we have a product and content marketer. She blogs a little bit, a lot more on feature releases. So we've gone from a once a week, once every two weeks post, to three posts a week for the last three weeks now. And it's been great.

42:14 Darren: Yeah, smart.

42:15 Aaron: And more social chatter, more things to come in, more things to talk about. And also, internally, I find... People already, it's great gratification for them to put work into it, put it together, and then have it published. And instead of sharing on their LinkedIn or their Facebook like, "Hey, here's what Aaron wrote, or here is our company blog," now it's like, "Here's what I wrote," right? And there's pride and accomplishment behind that. And so, I really feel like it's been a great movement. It's interesting, it's created a lot more work for me, 'cause I'm basically editing and finding really good visuals, and all that kind of stuff, but I love it. 

The post is at least half-written, if not more, by the time I'm able to get into it, so that's been a really big plus. And I'm always kind of a slogan or a catch-phrase guy. And so, internally, we've just really rallied around like, "Mentions are your best marketing and inbound is the best outbound right now." So, yeah. And going with those, content, then we have the... We're doing the local search Ask Me Anything webinar with you and Joy Hawkins on April 23rd. We already have a hundred and some registered for that. So I'm pumped about that. Traject has been great.

43:30 Aaron: If you're a paid GatherUp customer, you can use our social product, Cyfe which is Reporting, or Authority Labs for free for 90 days. So we're offering access to other tools as well. So it's given us a lot to talk about, write about, be out there with, and, yeah, it's helped. 

It's like, our agency leads are down probably about 25-30% of volume of what they were, and then our multi-locations are really far down, that's the one that's below 10%. And they were just trying to, "Alright, what are the industries that are doing okay right now?" Certain areas of logistics, that's doing well. Grocery, pharmacy, things like that, they're doing well. So we're doing some light outbound with those, but much more we re-calibrated around... I just kinda put together a strategy of the the three Rs. And it's like, research and know the prospect super well. Reach out as a friend, a colleague, ask questions, how it's going for them, what are they seeing, things like that. And your goal is to build a relationship. So instead of trying to slam them into a demo, all you're trying to do is get a conversation going.

44:43 Darren: Yeah, and try to solve their problem. What is the thing that they're struggling with, why are they even considering you, and then understanding what their challenges are and seeing if you can help them with that. That's all people want.

44:56 Aaron: Yep, for sure. So we've just been hitting on that and we're starting to see progress. It's like, we're seeing the uptick in traffic to the blog, we're seeing more social chatter, we're seeing some of these other things. And these things are there a little slower. 

It's not gonna be next day success, but I really feel like if things cycle down another level, that's when this stuff is gonna kick in for us, and it's gonna keep us where we're at, and then at even kill, and we're also... We're not pissing people off by trying to shove sales and demo requests, and everything else, in their inbox, doing cold outreach at a time where nobody has mental bandwidth for that.

45:36 Darren: And, man, I cannot believe the uptick in terrible cold outreach emails I've been getting in my inbox. And so, it's like, "Gosh, people are extra sensitive to it right now. Do not be taking that strategy, it will not pay off for you."

45:51 Aaron: Yep. I don't even read my sales pitches right now. It's just...

45:56 Darren: Forget it.

45:57 Aaron: Yeah. Not even to see what they're saying. It's just such a hard delete, right? 

46:01 Darren: Of course, yeah. It's the worst time to be pitching. If your company was built off of outbound, man, that was not a good move. Right now you need to be an inbound-based company.

46:14 Aaron: Yeah, for sure. I agree. Alright. Well, I think we've ran a gamut of things, and I'm hopeful the next time we record it's not Groundhog's Day and we're talking the same things. [chuckle]

46:25 Darren: Yeah. Well, it'll be interesting to talk again in a few weeks and see where we've landed. There may be some of these proactive moves. We'll see how they're paying off, and see where things are at.

46:37 Aaron: For sure.

46:38 Darren: Yeah.

46:39 Aaron: Great to catch up, Darren. Glad things are going as well as they can for you guys. I'm excited to see the launch of the local citation finder, and I think you set it up perfectly, it sounds like it's gonna launch in about two weeks. [chuckle]

46:54 Darren: You know what? It's even less. 10 days now.

46:58 Aaron: Oh, I like this.

46:58 Darren: Yeah. I've shortened my two weeks to 10 days.

47:03 Aaron: See, we're always evolving and improving, that's what I like about talking to you.

47:07 Darren: Yeah. Alright, cool, great talking to you Aaron.

47:11 Aaron: Yeah, you too. Hey, everyone, wishing you guys are well in personal lives, emotionally, fighting for your business, all those other things. Many of you are so gracious. You reached out on Twitter, have sent encouraging emails on our episodes, and they're helpful and everything else. If you have anything going on in this time that this is sparked that you have a question on, or you wanna know how we're operating, or even wanna share some of yours, please feel free to reach out to Darren and I, we're really easy to get a hold of, either from our website or on Twitter. So go ahead and reach out to us, we'd love to cover any of that on our upcoming episodes.

47:47 Darren: Yeah, even if you just wanna chat via DMs on Twitter, or something, and you've got some questions, happy to talk and see if there's anything I can do to help.

47:57 Aaron: For sure. You're a good guy.

47:58 Darren: Alright.

48:00 Aaron: Alright. Take care, Darren, and we'll talk to you soon, and thanks everyone for listening.

48:04 Darren: Thanks, everyone. Bye.


Creators and Guests

Aaron Weiche
Aaron Weiche
I'm the Co-founder and CEO of Leadferno, a business messaging app. Leadferno creates delightful connections at speed through SMS and messaging platforms centralized in one app to close more leads faster. I designed my first website in 1998 and never looked back. I have co-founded and been in executive roles in multiple digital marketing agencies and SaaS companies. I speak frequenty at conferences of all types on digital marketing, customer experience, mobile and local SEO. I'm part of Local University and a founding board member of MnSearch. Outside of work I'm a sports fan, love Nebraska college football, Minnesota Twins baseball, snowboarding, boating, BBQ and anything with my 4 kids and amazing wife. I live to the west of Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Darren Shaw
Darren Shaw
I'm the founder and president of Whitespark, a local search company with software and services that help businesses improve their rankings in Google. I started developing websites back in 1996 during my first year of university. I failed plenty of courses because I was skipping class to work on my HTML, CSS, and Javascript projects in the lab. Fortunately, people wanted to pay me to build websites, and in 2005 I started Whitespark as a web design and development company. In 2010 we stopped doing web development projects so we could focus on local search, and we launched our first SaaS software, the Local Citation Finder. We now offer multiple SaaS applications and services. When I'm not speaking at conferences, researching the latest in local search, or designing the next best local search application, I like to spend time travelling, skiiing, and dining with my wife and daughter in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
19: Navigating The Unknown
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