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What I learnt in 2018 while running Feature Upvote


#1

There hasn’t been much activity here lately, so I’m posting my “year in review” post here instead of on my blog. Hopefully it will provoke some discussion.

(If you are newish to this forum, Feature Upvote is my B2B SaaS product that offers feature request tracking.)

First, a chart. Here’s our MRR growth for the year, with the dollar amounts hidden (gotta keep some things private!)

On average MRR this year has grown at about 20% per month. Admittedly, this was from a low start. I’m expecting growth to slow down soon to a more sustainable rate.

This might be the only time I’ll publicly post Feature Upvote’s MRR chart, partly because it is unlikely to ever look this good again. :slight_smile:

I learnt what our target market is

Our target market is product managers.

Last year I was targeting small software companies. At MicroConf Europe in late 2017 a fellow software business owner told me my target market should be product managers. It turns out he knows what he is talking about.

Over the course of 2018, we achieved that all-important “product/market fit”. We did this by changing our targeting to product managers.

I learnt that LinkedIn has value for B2B products

A good LinkedIn company profile gives credibility.

Until this year I didn’t really understand the value of LinkedIn. Then came an email from a potential customer (who happens to be a product manager):

I like your product a lot. However I’m having trouble selling the solution to our management compared to UserVoice … LinkedIn says there is only 1 employee at the company and that the company is 9 months old.

This helped me discover that potential customers often do their “CYA” research via LinkedIn.

So I improved our LinkedIn profile, dispelling potential doubts and describing the history of my company, which has been running since 2008.

Was this worthwhile? Yes. LinkedIn shows me who visits our profile. Many of our paying customers visit our LinkedIn profile before signing up.

I learnt not to do guest blog posts

Because I’m too reluctant to do the necessary cold emailing.

My major marketing strategy for the first half of 2018 was to contribute guest posts to a range of blogs. I managed only to write three posts for two blogs, and in both cases I know the owners of the blogs. (Thanks @andy and @ian!)

When it comes to contacting people I don’t know, I have a reluctance I find hard to overcome. Deep down I’m an introverted developer who is happiest when writing code all day.

For six months my todo list had a task I kept postponing: “reach out to blogs targeted to our market”. Finally I accepted I was never going to do it.

I learnt to hire a content specialist

For the last few months a freelance content specialist has been working with us (hi @smokingpun!). It has made an enormous difference. I recommend this as a very good use of your marketing budget.

I strongly believe that creating lots of good content is an ideal marketing strategy for most early stage software products. Content makes the all-important god we call “Google Search Results Page One” happy. Content tells website visitors whether your product is for them. Content convinces them to try your product, and to buy your product. Content assuages doubts and imparts confidence.

Problem was, I was struggling to keep creating good content. So I asked a specialist to help. And help she did. Most of what you now read on our site has been written and rewritten by our content specialist. Much of the rewritten content is based on customer feedback and surveys.

I learnt we have a lot of competitors

For some reason, friends love to tell me when they discover a competitor of ours. It seems every month I hear of yet another competitor.

Each time this happens I feel despondent and wonder if there is any hope for the product. Then I remind myself that:

  • the presence of competitors helps to validate the market.
  • my competitors probably have the same feelings of doubt and despondency when they hear of us.
  • we should focus on what customers say to us and not what our competitors are doing, nor how many competitors we have.

Launching a SaaS can be done by almost anyone with software development skills and using close to zero funds. Therefore the number of competitors for any proven SaaS product will keep rising. That’s a reality I try to accept.


#2

Hi @SteveMcLeod

Congrats on a bumper year! Looks like you made some good progress.

Im interested in your comments around guest posting and great content. I’ve been making some slow progress on the SEO front. It takes basically two things to get to Page one of Google (as far as I can see):

  1. Long & Good content
  2. DoFollow backlinks to said content

Without guest posting, how do you build links to this content?


#3

Thanks Steve for this writeup. I can certanly relate with introvert and “reluctant to cold call” issues. Unfortunately my product is highly technical (queuing systems) and content for it realistically can be written only by a developer. That rules out hiring marketing generalist for that role.
Linkedin thing surprised me, although I didn’t put company profile there, only my own. Maybe it’s better to have nothing if it’s a small 1-2 person company? Although we have on About us page on our site that it’s a 2 person company and nobody commented on that so far.

My new thing for 2018 was sponsoring a conference (RabbitMQ summit) for the first time. However I didn’t go there, so just relied on organizers to put few links here and there, give some licenses, and briefly mention it. I guess it could be super useful for outgoing person to be there and network a lot, but that’s just not me. I don’t think this passive sponsorship was worth it, but can’t be 100% sure. That month was average in terms of site visits and sales. But the month after (December) was much better but I have no idea if it’s related to this sponsorship or not.

That leads me to another point. I’m selling this software since 2005 and I still don’t know where customers come from! Oh, I do have google analytics, search console, spend some money on Adwords and check its stats, but there are no clear answers. Part of problem is B2B software is usually bought by accounting/purchasing departments so you can’t connect it to person who originally found it. But another problem is there are not that many orders per month and some random fluctuactions can swing sales in both directions without me doing anything. That really makes this a rollercoaster, not only financially but emotionally as well. Also, I can’t tell if any marketing experiment was worth it. I guess it’s about time I make some Saas for a change.


#4

Congrats on the success!

A question and a suggestion.

Question: how/where did you find your content specialist and how much are you paying?

Suggestion: I hear you about reaching to other people being psychologically hard.

I’ve never done that but it seems like a task you could outsource to those virtual personal assistants people are talking about (https://www.zirtual.com ?).

Give them a list of people to contact and have them contact them on your behalf and handle the psychic burden of rejections. If someone bites, they would forward the details to you.


#5

I don’t really. Maybe I should… :slight_smile:

I’m no SEO expert, but I’d add a third point to your list: longevity. I notice that, if a page has good content, it does seem to be rewarded by Google for having been around for a long time.


#6

A good content person can take your drafts and make them much better to read and also improve SEO, even if they aren’t a domain specialist.

Maybe it’s better to have nothing [on LinkedIn] if it’s a small 1-2 person company?

Good point. I think it is okay to have a LinkedIn profile if you have a good explanation as to why you are small. Being in business since 2005 is a good explanation! It suggests you are not likely to close down suddenly in a few months time.

On our own About page (https://featureupvote.com/aboutus/) we’ve explained that staying small is a choice we made.

My new thing for 2018 was sponsoring a conference

This is something I’m considering for the future. Thanks for sharing your experience. I’d love to hear more if you continue doing it and work out a good strategy. I’m suspect being at the conference you are sponsoring in person would be a big plus, but I understand about it just not being you.

We did sponsor a conference (an un-conference, I think they called it) in May 2018 by giving them a free subscription. The conference attendees used Feature Upvote to vote on which presentation they most wanted to see. This helped schedule talks to suitably-sized rooms. It is impossible to tell if we got any business from this. I feel like it was a good thing to do, but I just can’t tell.

I’m selling this software since 2005 and I still don’t know where customers come from!

I appreciate hearing this, because I feel exactly the same, and I thought it was just a problem I had.


#7

Congrats on the success!

Thanks!

how/where did you find your content specialist and how much are you paying?

I found my content specialist on this very forum. She posted about her content strategy book at just the time I realised I needed help in this area, so I enquired about her availability. I’d rather not publicly share what I pay. :slight_smile:

you could outsource to those virtual personal assistants people are talking about … have them handle the psychic burden of rejections.

Good suggestion. Thanks. I’ll look into this.


#8

I’ve got an idea, but too late - after the conference, to give all attendees a 30% or even 50% discount coupon. That would help with tracking, and maybe push some of them to purchase. I wasn’t even looking for a direct profit, my goal was more to increase exposure. Maybe next time.

You’re quite right that marketing specialist would improve my content, especially since I’m not a native speaker. I also considered creating some youtube videos. And that’s where professional help would be even more useful. When I say considered I mean I thought about for a year, without doing anything. It’s always more appealing to go back to programming, a feeling probably familiar to others here. Let’s see if it changes by the end of 2019 :slight_smile:


#9

First of all, congratulations on the success and godspeed for 2019!

I’ve turned the process on its head for me because of that same anxiety.
I write a great article first, then look at websites that are a good fit for it, then edit it some more (e.g. include links to other pages on their site) and then send it over for review.
It takes the stress away for me because I know they will get value from it and my reaching out to them is in their best interest.

100% success rate.

Do you track how well the content does?
How many visitors does it pick up? Any Google rankings?
Does the content convert?


#10

Yes, for each article, we’re trying to track visitors, conversions, and Google rankings for specific keywords.

Does the content convert? Some does, some doesn’t - yet. We’re frequently tweaking existing pages to improve SEO, readability, and the copy. It is nice watching the articles gradually rank better in Google search results.