Marketing online vs. "manual" sales

I’ve been working on my business, Snip Salon Software, since January 2011, between three and a half and four years. I have 8 customers, which I frankly find pathetic.

A mentor has recently helped me make some improvements to my online sales funnel, which include a) an Olark chat where about one prospect a week chats with me and b) a low-commitment opt-in on my home page that has collected a couple dozen emails over the course of a few months. Those things have been very helpful, and I’ve even go as far as to say they breathed new life into the business and my motivation. But…

I recently went back and re-read Paul Graham’s Do Things That Don’t Scale. It got me to thinking about the fact that 7 out of my 8 customers are local hair salons that I sold “manually”, by visiting their salons in person and establishing a relationship. Only one salon so far has become a customer via my online sales funnel.

So I’m wondering if it might be smarter for me just to go out and do the door-to-door sales again until I get enough customers to have, say, $1000/month in revenue (that would be 20 total customers), and then I could re-invest that revenue into PPC, trade magazine ads, direct mail, etc.

OR this: I had to visit well over 100 salons to get 3 customers, and the remaining 5 customers were referrals, plus the one guy who found me online. Visiting, re-visiting and calling those 100 salons was time-consuming and probably cost a lot in gas. So taking that into account, maybe it would be smart for me to do a small direct mail campaign targeted at salons in my geographic area. Interested salons could raise their hands and I could sell them in person so I’m only ever talking to pre-qualified prospects.

Basically, two weeks ago I thought I had everything figured out and I have solid plan and now I feel like an absolute beginner again and I have no idea what I should do. Any advice would be appreciated.

By the way, I know one obvious thing worth doing would be to build a better website. I’m planning to once I can afford to hire a designer. I’m apparently completely incapable of creating a good-looking site on my own, even with the help of ThemeForest, etc. So that one’s on my radar already.

A couple of off-the-cuff impressions… (I don’t know this market; just guessing here.)

  • The “free instant demo” submit button looks like a call-to-action (I
    clicked it thinking I’d go watch a demo video, or be taken to a
    signup page. I was confused and then realized it was the submit for a
    form, and totally misread that the first time.)

  • A better design (even
    a paid theme with some basic stock photography) would probably help
    like you said. I lot of hair people tend to also be creative types,
    so that would appeal.

  • You should be able to get beyond your local
    market with this. I don’t think you’ll need to do door-to-door, but
    you’ll definitely need to do some direct outreach. (No reason not to
    start locally as it gives you a personal connection, but don’t feel
    like you can only sell it locally.)

What do you know about the people who are paying customers vs. the others you talked with? Any commonalities? (size of the shop, years in business, age of proprietor, tech-savvyness of proprietor). Maybe there’s something in there that can help you dial in your direct outreach efforts & save you some time.

Any idea why only 3 of the 100 salons became customers? Are you solving a problem they have? Are you solving it better than how they solve it now?

Also, I think you have the right content on the home page, but you need to break it up visually. It’s a LOT to read, especially to get to the (very important) social proof / testimonial stuff at the bottom. 3 columns maybe? Rotating top image with quotes from customers?

Do you feel like you have enough site traffic, that opt-ins/signups should be higher?

Sure, you could have a nicer design, including more “show” to go with the “tell,” but if your conversion rate is reasonable then that may not be the main issue. I appreciate aesthetically-pleasing sites, but they aren’t necessarily “sites that sell.”

Thanks for the thoughtful responses, guys.

Good point about the demo CTA. In order to quell that confusion and still continue to capture contact info, maybe I could just have a big “Free Instant Demo” button with an opt-in pop-up.

As far as paying customers vs. others go, I don’t know that there have been enough yet (3) to draw any commonalities. But I can tell you just anecdotally that medium-sized salons (between 3 and 15 stylists) who operate on a commission basis as opposed to chair-rental salons (basically, salons with employees vs. independent contractors) seem to be the kinds of salons that are interested in the product. The pain they want to solve is the hassle of 10 different stylists all stepping on each others’ toes in the paper appointment book with different handwriting, and the annoyance of all these stylists texting and calling the owner with scheduling questions.

@aeden I think the reason for only 3 out of 100+ is that there are salons that won’t want scheduling software EVER, there are salons that might want it at some point but not NOW, and then there are salons that are either actively looking right now or at least open to being talked into the idea. The chances of finding the latter case is of course mostly a probability thing; only a certain percentage of salons are going to fall into that category. That’s one reason, but I’ve also had a number of cases where my product didn’t do everything they needed. One guy wanted QuickBooks integrations. Almost all the requests have been one-offs. I’ve even gone so far as to build features just for specific prospects, but interestingly, not a single one of those prospects ended up getting on board. Wanting special features seems to be kind of a “tell” for a non-serious prospect.

To answer the question of whether I’m solving a problem they have, and better than how they solve it now, absolutely. Salon owners and stylists are well aware of the pain/hassle/confusion of pen-and-paper scheduling. They also see themselves as being seen as unprofessional by clients if they don’t use the computer. So using my product is way better than using pen and paper, and most people seem to get that, especially younger stylists. “I can just see my appointments on my phone??? That would be sooooooo nice.” I think the trick is just to find the salons that a) aren’t so tech-averse that they don’t ever want software and b) haven’t gone out on their own and found a competing product yet.

@perceptec My opt-in rate is less than 1%, and yes, I think it should be higher. I also only get a few hundred uniques a month, and a lot of that traffic is unqualified - other programmers checking out the site and that kind of thing.

To me it actually seems totally crazy. I can’t offer my visitors ANYTHING that would get me a conversion rate higher than 1%? I don’t give a shit what exactly I’m offering them in exchange for their name and email. I can’t think of ANYTHING in the WORLD that would entice people to opt in at a rate higher than 1%? Come on!

Most of my traffic is unqualified, but I turned on Google AdWords and Facebook ads, and about 30 clicks between the two of those hasn’t even gotten me a single opt-in. Not a single opt-in! You would think my opt-in form must be fucking broken or something. According to my tests it’s not. I’m actually really frustrated by this, and totally confused.

That’s what I was wondering–do you think that’s enough traffic to draw a conclusion either way? It seems like you’re judging your efforts–and yourself–too harshly. (If it matters, I think what you’re doing is impressive, and exactly what successful businesspeople do: “hustle.”)

I think an expert would look at those numbers alone and say you need to work on getting more people into your funnel, before they’ve even seen your message.

The content addresses someone who’s already looking to buy. If that isn’t working (and I’m still not sure that it isn’t, based on the small sample size), then isn’t the next step usually to figure out what you can give away? (Articles, tools, reports, consultations, candy are generally recommended.)

If you were giving away free money then you’d have almost everybody. There must be something between “buy my software” and “take this free money” that can interest more visitors, if your current message truly isn’t working.

It seems like you’re judging your efforts–and yourself–too harshly. (If it matters, I think what you’re doing is impressive, and exactly what successful businesspeople do: “hustle.”)

Thanks! I appreciate that.

If that isn’t working (and I’m still not sure that it isn’t, based on the small sample size), then isn’t the next step usually to figure out what you can give away?

I do have a free guide to choosing salon software, and one of my mentors actually did suggest to me that I bundle that into the demo opt-in. Maybe it’s time that I implement that.

There must be something between “buy my software” and “take this free money” that can interest more visitors, if your current message truly isn’t working.

That’s true, and I suppose it doesn’t have to be something I myself create. I can something like a book or video or a chance to win trade show tickets or something like that that I could offer.

By the way, have none of you entered your name and email address into my opt-in form?

My opt-ins have not budged in over a week, which is not normal. I’m starting to wonder if something is genuinely broken, but somehow not for me.

Hi Jason. I sell a product that pretty much competes directly with you but still happy to offer my advice.

  1. Getting a good looking website shouldn’t be hard. I pretty much just went to a site like this one and got a template and customised it to my needs. You can create nice banners using sites like

  2. I have started recently doing PPC ads which I never previously did and found they work well. I think with good optimisation I can get a new customer by spending $100-150 which is pretty good I think. Unlikely yours is the only one they saw today though, and they are comparing them all so you really need to highlight your value proposition compared to the others.

I’ll be honest, for my salon software I probably only had about 3 clients for the first year. It took me a good two years of ongoing development to get all the features I felt I needed to compete. A feature arms race is probably not the best thing to do but as a developer it’s what I know best. Only really recently do I feel like when people sign up for my software they are not going to reject it based on lack of a feature, the minimal viable product took about 2000 hours to develop! So rather than get into a feature arms race decide what makes your software unique and focus on that.

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@jasonswett - I didn’t sign up for the opt-in. I started to, but bailed when I got the form error. I agree with @perceptec that you’re being too hard on yourself at the moment. Traffic at your current levels is unpredictable, and 1% seems a reasonable figure to me. I do think if you update the opt-in form visually and include your free guide, you’ll see an uptick.

If you want to do some simple analysis on it now, add some code to the opt-in button so you can track number of clicks, and compare number of clicks vs. number of signups after a couple of weeks. That’ll tell you whether you have a problem with your form.


These are my ideas – some are based on experience, others are just shots in the dark!

  1. A better design would probably help. This doesn’t have to cost much or be hard to build. For example, this is a SquareSpace website for a small beauty salon:
  2. I’d put any social proof/testimonials much closer to the top of the website.
  3. Are you sure your tone is right for your customers? You describe them as people who hate computers and are definitely NOT dummies that are stuck in the stone age. However, if you say to someone “you’re not a dummy or stuck in the stone age” you may leave them with the impression that you secretly think they are! It’s also quite a strong statement to lead with '“I Need Scheduling Software But I Hate Computers”. I have more experience with beauty salons, but in my experience most staff have smart phones, use desktops or laptops regularly and their customers are definitely tech savvy (a survey I did overturned my preconceptions!). I’m sure your customers don’t necessary like scheduling software, but to not like computers at all these days is a very broad statement.
  4. This may be a bit counter-intuitive, but I found the fact that you were trying so hard to give me a guarantee a bit off-putting! The $100 gift card felt like overkill and made me think that you were really desperate for business!
  5. I think I’d want to know more about what your software does, how it can benefit me and why it’s specifically better than other salon software from your website – before giving you my email or getting in touch.
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Hmm, those are good thoughts. I could probably stand to revisit some of those things and make some adjustments. Thanks for the input.