By: Gwen Murray | VP of Marketing | Earth Class Mail
Published July 30, 2020
For 30 years, Desire Street Ministries has provided spiritual and community support to under-resourced neighborhoods. Founded in the 9th Ward of New Orleans to work directly with the community, the nonprofit, now headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, expanded its mission to coaching and caring for ministry leaders across the south. With modernized operations and a remote workforce, Desire Street Ministries helps leaders develop thriving, sustainable urban ministries.
In early 2020, Desire Street Ministries began preparing to reduce their overhead costs. One way they did so was to move from a large office with steadily increasing rent to a more affordable Atlanta coworking location that caters to nonprofits. To make the move, they had to make some operational changes that would ensure their team could work as remotely as possible.
“We had an antiquated server in the closet running Windows 2008 and clunky solutions,” says James Gadsby, COO and Development Director of Desire Street Ministries. “Over the past few years, we migrated all our platforms to the cloud and upgraded our technologies. We were looking for more ways to automate administrative tasks, especially those with labor-intensive processes. We would rather our team be working with our leaders and supporting our donors instead of scanning checks and batching them for deposit.”
The Desire Street Ministries team also had anxiety about how moving offices would impact their mail processing. “We’ve moved once since I’ve been on staff, and another time about five years prior to that,” says Gadsby. “With every move, the mail change process has always been a challenge.” They wanted a mail solution that would remove the possibility of difficult office moves in the future.
The problem at large
While much of our lives are digital, small regional nonprofits still send and receive a lot of postal mail—in particular, donation checks. Many nonprofits send out paper newsletters or appeal letters with return envelopes enclosed. Those checks in the mail often make up a significant portion of their operating budget and must be carefully cataloged and deposited. If a nonprofit doesn’t have regular access to its mail, delays in depositing checks can mean a disruption to the organization’s ability to continue its work.
Organizations, including Desire Street Ministries, scan the envelope and the check whenever they receive a donation so they can refer to the record when they’re sending out tax letters to donors. These details are important—if someone writes a check on December 31st, but the postmark on the envelope is January 2, the tax benefits do not count until the next year.
The staff time required to carefully scan and keep track of mail, including scanning and depositing all of the checks, can take a big chunk out of a small organization’s resources. The work, though tedious, needs to happen, so nonprofits often look for ways to improve the process.
Nonprofits, like many businesses, are also attempting to modernize their processes and create more opportunities for remote work. They experience the same pressures from employees that want work-life flexibility, and they experience the same benefits from creating efficiencies and technical redundancies in their processes.
Desire Street Ministries looked at numerous options to automate their postal mail and check depositing. “Earth Class Mail had the full suite of solutions that could help us achieve both automation to remove manual tasks and support for a remote workforce. It was the best choice with the deepest and greatest breadth of offerings,” says Gadsby.
Moreover, Earth Class Mail also had the integrations Desire Street Ministries needed to hit the ground running. Gadsby had already brought the nonprofit fully digital in terms of document storage. He shared, “That integration with Dropbox just made it much simpler.”
Automatic check processing was also a huge selling point for Gadsby. The nonprofit originally planned to use Earth Class Mail for mail processing and then use a bank lockbox process for checks—where checks are sent to a lockbox at a bank, and the bank processes the deposits. As they started evaluating solutions, Gadsby saw that Earth Class Mail offered automatic check deposits as well. “The fact that it was bundled together made it a strategic decision for us.”
Gadsby began testing the Earth Class Mail solution in January 2020 by including the address on some return envelopes in appeal letters. “We loved it from the beginning,” he says. “Our plan was to ramp up the process slowly through the spring. But on March 13th [when COVID-19 social distancing began in the Atlanta area], we went fully remote and updated our address everywhere as fast as we could.”
Gadsby was able to assure donors that Desire Street Ministries would continue getting its mail, including donation checks, while the team worked remotely. “It’s been a tremendous lifesaver for us,” he says, “to keep all this process flowing and not miss a beat.”
“Having all of our platforms in the cloud, including our physical mail, and having deposits done for us has enabled us to continue getting the necessary funding to keep our operations going,” says Gadsby. “Otherwise, there would have been all this anxiety of trying to figure out how we were going to handle everything that was happening.”
For Desire Street Ministries, timing has been everything. Taking their postal mail digital was part of their operational improvement plan for 2020, but it became critically important once the COVID-19 crisis began. “The key thing for us,” says Gadsby “has been continuity of our operation without disruption. Our Board of Directors is thrilled with our ability to keep the organization going without missing a beat. We have access to what we need. It’s more cost-effective for us. It’s freed up our staff to be more efficient and focused on our core mission, not dealing with time-consuming administrative tasks.”
After signing up, Gadsby was impressed by the onboarding process, which involved a call with an Earth Class Mail representative. “She answered all our questions, helped us with configuration settings, and did real-time setup,” says Gadsby. “It was enormously helpful.”
Gadsby also really appreciates that as the COVID-19 situation evolves, he doesn’t feel rushed to get staff back in the office or unnecessarily jeopardize employee safety. “We have all the solutions that we need in the cloud and digitally so people can continue doing their work from home safely.”
By: Gwen Murray | VP of Marketing | Earth Class Mail
Published April 16, 2020
Visionary Law Group is a worker’s compensation firm that’s found a steady path to success by heavily investing in creating a world-class experience for their clients. Chris Lyle and Ethan Pease strove to create a practice that gave clients more information and personal contact than the other larger firms.
Over the last three years, the California-based firm rapidly grew and took on a number of new clients. They wanted the growth, but started having difficulty keeping up with timeconsuming administrative tasks like keeping up with the mail. Crucial information constantly arrived at the office. They had to open and catalog countless discovery documents, medical records, case mail, opposing counsel correspondence, certified deposition records, and multimedia files.
They knew it would be easier to work with digitized and searchable documents, but the partners didn’t have the time to scan their own mail and documents and still maintain the custom service they wanted to provide. It all became unmanageable. Visionary Law Group is a worker’s compensation firm that’s found a steady path to success by heavily investing in creating a world-class experience for their clients. Chris Lyle and Ethan Pease strove to create a practice that gave clients more information and personal contact than the other larger firms.
“Our pain point was eating up time and value – we would rather be in court than opening and scanning paperwork.”
CHRIS LYLE, PARTNER AT VISIONARY LAW GROUP
The Problem at Large
Despite the spread of digital documents and e-signatures, the legal profession remains a paper-heavy industry.
According to Clio’s 2018 Legal Trends Report, lawyers can spend up to 6 hours a day—a whopping 70 percent of their time—on administrative tasks.
Documents contain critical pieces of information that need to be easily discoverable. This leads law firms to spend countless hours and dollars on in house scanning and digitization. Even large firms are wasting resources and money on in-house mail processing solutions, like a mailroom or in-house scanning services.
This makes it hard to spend time on meaningful work successfully closing cases, catering to clients, or finding new billable opportunities. Virtual lawyers and individuals do not have the resources or time to be spending on the manual handling of mail. Important documents are being mailed to attorneys and law firms that need to be handled with time sensitivity and easily accessed.
Partners Chris Lyle and Ethan Pease realized they wanted a solution that would handle managing their mail from intake to digitization. After some research, they landed on Earth Class Mail’s fully digital mailroom for lawyers.
Earth Class Mail follows HIPAA standards to ensure that the firm’s critical medical records are securely received, digitized, and stored. Visionary Law Group also enjoys having Earth Class Mail pull records, documents, and other important data points from CDs and USBs sent through the mail. Additionally, Visionary Law Group can deposit any mailed checks directly to their bank account from the Earth Class Mail inbox. Earth Class Mail also has transparency related to price and features.
Earth Class Mail now handles all of the paper documents and postal mail the partners receive at one of the 80+ virtual addresses the service offers. Their mail is now received, scanned and uploaded to Earth Class Mail’s user interface for easy access and sharing.
Results, ROI, and future plans
Visionary Law Group was able to scale and grow its business with Earth Class Mail aiding in reducing administrative costs. Earth Class Mail has aided in ⅓ of the efficiency in growing their business.
“More and more documents came in and we were able to grow and scale because of Earth Class Mail.”
CHRIS LYLE, PARTNER AT VISIONARY LAW GROUP
Visionary Law Group LLP is nestled in beautiful Southern California and aids individuals in Workers Compensation law.
Throughout Visionary Law Groups 3 year history, they have helped clients recover over $50 Million in a total of 350 cases.
A package at your door doesn’t raise many eyebrows these days. Heck, the UPS guy in my neighborhood already knows where I leave my returns and where to drop off my wife’s HauteLook box – a rather frequent occurrence, might I add.
Lest we forget, that wasn’t always the case. Travel back to the 19th century and that package at your door is much less likely to contain a Three Wolf Moon shirt, and much more likely to feature a…kidney?
At least that was the case for George Lusk one evening in October, 1888, when he recieved a package on his London doorstep. Expertly wrapped, I presume, it included half of a human kidney.
Umm… return to sender please.
Much like your Amazon Prime order, the box included a packing slip. This one was different though, bloodier. It was a letter from Jack the Ripper.
Lusk, a local builder, was the chairman of a group of volunteers known as the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee.
They patrolled the streets equipped with a police whistle and a stick, leaving no bustle unruffled, searching for the person responsible for murdering London’s ladies of the night.
The kidney, preserved in wine, was half eaten and apparently “very nise” (sic). The letter, sent “From Hell”, is riddled with spelling and grammatical errors like these.
Despite many pop culture representations, evidence suggests Mr. Ripper was neither highly educated nor a skilled surgeon.
History and Hollywood don’t always align. Ahem, Alexander.
No, this is the writing of an uneducated lunatic! Or, wait…
Those misspellings seem a little too sophisticated. An uneducated writer probably wouldn’t have included the silent “k” in “knif” or the “h” in “whil,” an indication that perhaps the author was trying to misdirect authorities.
Investigators had received many letters claiming to be from Mr. Ripper, though most were considered attempts at dark humor.
What made this letter different, more convincing, was that Catherine Eddowes – London’s most recent victim – had been found down a kidney. Coincidence?
Well, maybe. It could’ve been a journalist, trying to milk a sensational story – although the source of the Kidney is still disconcerting.
It could have been medical students playing a prank. To them, yanking out a kidney is just in a day’s work.
Still, many believe this to be the only authentic letter sent by Mr. Ripper. And this isn’t a dead case, either. Amateur and professional sleuths worldwide have devoted countless hours studying and analyzing this case.
As recently as 2014, DNA evidence had been studied by scientists tracking down historical leads. The world still wants to know.
Or do we? I don’t, really.
I like the murkiness, the unfinished, trailing tendrils of if’s and therefore’s. It’s exciting to have a pantaloons clad, high tea’ing, kidney snatcher that evaded police and the best efforts of the public.
I don’t want an actual face for Jack the Ripper. I prefer the face I’ve created myself, a tall, lanky dude with a long face. Kind of Lincolnesque, but with a dash of pig farmer, you know?
I couldn’t think of anything more disappointing than finding out Jack the Ripper was really a stout, pathetic little guy with orange hair and mommy issues.
Then again, truth can often be stranger than fiction. Scarier too, perhaps.
Each of those tools contains important information about each customer, their accounts, history, pending support requests, and the like.
We noticed that our own team members were switching between Chargify and Zendesk dozens, if not hundreds, of times everyday.
We also observed that the primary reason for switching to Chargify’s web UI was to view read-only data within Chargify’s platform. That is, they were just looking at customer information, not taking any billing related actions.
That observation led us to a very natural and, it seems now, obvious hypothesis:
If we eliminate the need to switch between Zendesk and Chargify, then our team members would be more productive and be able to provide better service to customers.
A tool to create and scaffold a new blank project.
A tool to lint and validate the code that you write for your project.
A tool to package your application code in a zip file that will be uploaded, unzipped, and installed within your Zendesk account.
Zendesk supports a third-party app marketplace where you can find and install public applications; some free and some paid.
Zendesk supports installation of private apps without going through the marketplace.
With these observations in mind we created a goal for the experience of our app:
Whenever a Zendesk agent is viewing a customer profile or ticket, we want to use the email address associated with that customer or ticket to display customer and subscription records from within Chargify.
After some research we discovered that a single email address can be associated with more than one Chargify customer record, and each Chargify customer record can be associated with more than one subscription.
This discovery drove the decision to include two views:
A customer search results view, and
A customer detail view.
Using the “app.activated” event emitted by the Zendesk application framework we attempt to load the customer search results view first.
During the creation of this view we use Zendesk’s Data API to fetch the customer’s email if we are looking at a customer profile view in Zendesk, or the requester’s email if we are looking at a ticket.
When all this data is available we update the customer detail view to display the data.In order to facilitate these API calls to Chargify our Zendesk application needs to know two pieces of unique information:
The subdomain associated with our Chargify account
The API key associated with our Chargify account
Fortunately, the Zendesk framework provides a way to ensure we can gather and securely store that information during installation.
In the unlikely event that the app begins running and that information has not been set, the app will display a third settings view with instructions on adding that information via the Zendesk API.
Another hat tip to Zendesk here as they have made the installation and management of third-party apps very simple and straightforward.
The process involves:
Downloading the zip file of the latest binaries
Uploading the zip file
Accepting some terms and conditions
Providing subdomain and API key
That’s basically it! Be sure to read the documentation on the project page for a more granular walkthrough.
Additionally, if you need to update your subdomain or API key, you are welcome to do so via the API or a point and click interface provided by the Zendesk App management tool.
Once installed the app will appear in a new pane to the right of a Zendesk user profile view and Zendesk ticket view.
We mentioned previously that this project was designed as a minimum viable product, and that’s what we’ve delivered here. While our team is really enjoying the current version, there is plenty of room for improvement.
Here’s a short list of immediate opportunities that we see:
Add client side caching to reduce API traffic to Chargify’s API
Add nested detail views for things like Subscription Statements, Subscription Invoices, etc
Add some update operations to push data into Chargify’s API
In our last post we learned that people will potentially pay to file their health care claim forms online, enough to support a business at least. Wahoo!
Now we build everything, right? Absolutely not. Hold your horses, buckaroo, and put that hammer down.
The data told us that a good number of people want this problem solved, and will pay enough to make it worthwhile for us. Now we need to make sure a real product can be built to support this business.
In other words, I want to know: Is our core idea technically possible?
WARNING – PLEASE don’t skip validating if a product and service can actually be built to solve the core problem. I made this mistake a few times in the past, and wasted months and years of time and money as a result.
ClaimSender.com requires a few things to work, some business related, some technical
Business items to confirm:
We need to make sure that insurance companies will accept our claim forms when we fax them in.
Since we’ll be storing health information, we need to make sure our hosting is compliant and affordable.
Our app will fax in claim forms, and that process needs to be HIPAA compliant and affordable.
Technical items to confirm:
The main value proposition of the product is speed and convenience, so we need to collect information from user, and write it onto an existing claim form – then deliver it as a complete PDF.
We will also need to collect a digital signature from the end user, then write it onto an existing claim form PDF.
Let’s walk through these issues one by one, and answer them with the least amount of time and cost.
Issue: Will insurance companies accept faxed in claim forms with a digitally-created signature?
So I called up my healthcare company and asked if I could fax my claim form in. They said yes, and gave me their fax number.
With that in hand, I headed over to HelloFax.com. I uploaded the claim form PDF, filled in the claim info, and signed electronically.
I faxed the form in and held my breath. Ok, I didn’t hold my breath, because claims can take 7 days to make it through the insurance companies’ claims department.
A few days after faxing my claim in I logged into my email and saw a “New claim processed” email from my insurance company. Boom! Success. Total cost? $0. Time spent? 20 minutes.
To make sure the digital signature would count as a legal signature, I pinged Earth Class Mail’s Chairman, Jonathan Siegel. He founded RightSignature, an electronic signature company, so he knows the space well. He gave a big thumbs up.
If you don’t know any experts in the space, UpCounsel.com can serve as a good resource. VALIDATE.
On to the next issue…
Issue: Do cost effective HIPAA web hosting solutions exist?
Storing people’s health information requires the utmost security and care. This requires ClaimSender be HIPAA compliant. I won’t bore you with the details of HIPAA compliance.
In general it means you follow a bunch of strict guideliness on storing and transmitting health information.
A few hours of web searching turned up a few options, including HealthCareBlocks.com, which isn’t too expensive. That works, on to the next issue.
Issue: Can we find a HIPAA compliant fax API?
ClaimSender will fax in healthcare claim forms. Healthcare claim forms contain a lot of of sensitive personal information. We need to make sure our fax provider sends this information securely.
A few more hours of web searching revealed a few candidates, including Phaxio.com. After some back and forth with their excellent support crew, they confirmed their service can pass HIPAA muster when set up correctly.
Their pricing pleases too, so consider this answer a “yes”.
Issue: Can we collect information from users, and write it onto an existing claim form PDF?
I wrote code in a former life, and still fancy myself a developer. A “pretend” coder if you will. Real developers won’t call my code pretty, but I can code enough to test a concept.
To answer this question, I wrote a simple ruby script (I love rails) to see if I could write fields onto a PDF. I tried a few different ruby gems, and landed on the prawn and combine_pdf gem.
I kept the script as simple as possible, just coding enough to confirm I could place text onto an existing PDF. After an hour or so, my script gave me the “yes” I hoped for.
Before we move on, notice what I didn’t do…. I skipped creating a new rails project. I left data design for a later day. I bypassed everything except validating my core question.
My natural tendency is to start building the end app at this stage. After years of learning the hard way, I finally learned to focus on just answering the core question.
Issue: Can we collect a digital signature from the end user and write it onto an existing claim form PDF?
This question proved beyond my meager coding skills. To answer it, I created a small project on Upwork. Upwork runs a freelancer marketplace, and provides a great tool for one off tasks.
They have a ton of developers, which made getting this question answered quick and cheap (< $50).
Do research before posting your project so you can specify as much detail as possible. For our project, I made sure I captured our key requirements before posting the job on upwork:
I knew the solution should use prawn and/or combine_pdf for the PDF manipulation.
A little research led me to this github project to accept the end user’s signature – https://github.com/szimek/signature_pad.
Using what I learned above, I wrote a specific job description with as much detail as possible.
I prefer to post my small projects as a set fee, instead of hourly. That gives me confidence on how much I will pay.
After posting our project, I read the reviews and explored the work history of any applicants.
I can’t stress this enough – READ THE REVIEWS.
If someone doesn’t have reviews yet, proceed with caution. I like working with individual developers instead of companies. I find I pay less and get stuff done faster.
I often ask applicants to write a tiny bit of code using the language & tools asked for in the job to make sure they know what they’re doing.
This also shows you how responsive they are, and how they communicate. Make this something tiny, so you don’t waste their time. I posted my project, chose a freelancer a day later, and within a few hours he delivered validation that things would work.
Boom! That makes us five for five on our questions.
Now what? How can we find out if people will really buy this? Great question. Let’s dive into that with our next post.
Simply put, a demand test is an experiment you run to see if there is anyone in the market for your product or service.
It can take many shapes, but for our purposes we focused on setting up a simple lead funnel by buying ads on Google AdWords and pointing those users to a landing page with a lead form.
This type of test is great because:
You can simply buy exposure to users likely to be interested in your product, very inexpensively. That means you don’t need to organically build an audience and you don’t need to have a product, just a pitch.
You can use the landing pages to funnel users through the various value points of your product, from a high-level pitch down to pricing. That means you can gain insights into what exactly is drawing people in or turning them away.
Most importantly, it’s really easy to setup. A focus group or even a basic functioning product are way more expensive and time consuming.
Step 3 – Did Any Customers Show Up?
Congratulations! If you’ve made it this far, you ran some ads to a landing page. Now let’s dig in to the results.
To refresh your memory, we want to answer a few simple questions to better understand if our business idea will be a success:
Question: How many potential customers exist looking for a solution to this problem?
Answer: Ad impressions
Question: How well does your business solve the problem for potential customers?
Answer: Ad click-through-rate (CTR)
Question: How many potential customers can you get to your front door?
Answer: Ad clicks
Question: How many potential customers are interested in pricing for your product?
Answer: Landing page CTR
Question: How many potential customers indicated they would pay you money?
Answer: Pricing button clicks
Question: How many potential customers are ready to buy now?
Answer: Email leads collected
Question: Can your business be profitable? How profitable?
Answer: The metrics from your demand test will help build an initial forecast
Let’s dive into our data to see what it tells us.
The very first question is probably the most important, how many potential customers exist looking for an answer to this problem?
In our test this data is easily accessible, and there’s good news for the future of ClaimSender. Google AdWords shows that there are thousands of daily searches related to healthcare claim forms.
We dig in a bit more and find that our $50/day budget produced 48 clicks/day, with an average CPC of $1.08 (this data is for one day, but it’s representative of the other days in our test).
Our limited keyword test produced a solid number of impressions. A bunch more search volume likely exists for a few reasons:
We set our daily budget at $50, and hit that somewhat early in the day.
Adwords budget alerts told us we could double our budget to get double the clicks at the same cost per click.
We can expand our keyword set to include other health care companies and more niche terms.
This is good news. It means we have plenty of room to grow through paid acquisition.
A quick trip to Google Trends tells us there’s perhaps at least double the volume if we include other healthcare companies besides United and Aetna.
Adding Cigna alone would produce a lot more volume, and a bevy of others exist – Humana, Centene, HealthNet, WellCare, Molina, Magellan, etc.
So the answer to our question is: “enough to keep learning”. No red flags on this step, let’s keep moving.
How well does your business solve the problem for potential customers?
I’ve seen click through rates from 0.01% up to 8% for AdWords campaigns. Our ads clocked in at a robust ~2.9%, a great result for a first attempt.
Hitting nearly 3% on our initial go shows that our ads appealed to people searching for a remedy to their health care claim filing pain.
We struck a nerve!
You can always improve on your first attempt, so the answer here is two strong thumbs up.
How many potential customers can you get to your front door?
Don’t sugarcoat this number. Is it enough to support a business if we convert a reasonable percentage of tire-kickers into customers?
Our ads delivered ~50 clicks per day.
However, our budget and keyword set constrained us. If we cranked our budget up and expanded our keyword set to include other healthcare companies, we could likely make that 50 turn into 150-200 per day.
Pencil in a conversion rate of 0.5% – 2% (some rule of thumb averages, your mileage may vary) and you have your likely customers per day.
If we get 200 interested people to the site, and convert a handful to paying customers, will that be enough to build a business? Perhaps, but let’s cover that in the spreadsheet section. Stay tuned.
How many potential customers showed interest in seeing how much your service cost?
Here’s what they saw after clicking an ad and landing at http://try.claimsender.com/
26.67% clicked the “Get Started” button, one-in-four is not bad at all.
How many potential customers indicated they would pay you money?
As the saying goes, “the proof is in the pudding” and it’s pudding time. We’ll measure this by looking at two things:
Unique users clicking on one of the sign up buttons
The specific sign up button they clicked
These actions tell us the person showed interest in signing up, but you can’t count your money yet. The best thing to do here is to apply a reasonable conversion percentage to calculate signups.
More importantly, looking at which pricing plans people clicked on tells you a bit about what they would pay.
Using the data from Unbounce, we can see that 24% of people that hit the pricing page clicked one of our pricing buttons. Nice!
Diving into Google Analytics to look at the events reveals which pricing tiers prospects clicked on. Most clicked on our free plan (some free will convert to paid when they hit usage limits), a few clicked on the $29/mo option, and one clicked on the $9/mo plan.
The clicks on the paid plans are encouraging. The data lacks enough volume to be valid, but even this amount of data is enough to show that we have something worth further investigation.
How many potential customers are ready to buy now?
These prospects display the strongest interest in your product. Three of the nine people who clicked on the pricing buttons left their contact info for us. Not bad at all.
Even better, it gives you a list of prospects to email so you can rack up some easy signups when you launch.
One thing did surprise me – two of the leads were from 10-25 person healthcare companies. Perhaps there’s a business-to-business product here?
Can your business be profitable? How profitable?
Time to break out the spreadsheets. I’ve created a simplistic one here for you to look at. Our example is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) based business that charges people a recurring fee per month.
For this type of business, we want to model the following numbers:
What we plan to spend on ads
How many customers we can acquire for that cost
How much each customer pays us per month
How many customers leave us each month
The resulting numbers give you the money you’ll be left with to pay for everything else. Those things include every other cost of running the business – per unit costs (if any), all provider costs (hosting, email, rent, software, support tools, etc.), taxes, compensation . . . you get the idea.
By playing with the assumptions in the spreadsheet, we get a sense of how profitable the business can be, and what it takes to make it so.
If we use monthly ad spend of $1,500, a CPC of $1, 1% conversion, an average of $12 per month per customer, and 3% churn, we break even in month 10 and generate a positive $337 in month 12.
If we use monthly ad spend of $6,000, a CPC of $1, 1.5% conversion, and 2% churn, we break even in month 5 and generate a positive $7,563 in month 12.
Results vary DRAMATICALLY with changes to each of those numbers. It’s impossible to know what they will be at this point, but we can use this template to get a sense of what’s possible, and what it will take to make that happen.
Let’s Drop Everything and Build Our Site! Right Now!
No Larry, hold your horses. It’s not time to build yet. Stay strong, and FIGHT THE URGE TO BUILD, BUILD, BUILD. Let me repeat myself, DO NOT BUILD ANYTHING YET.
Let’s dig into the data to deduce our most intelligent next step
Here’s what we learned:
We can buy plenty of clicks at a reasonable cost.
A lot more keywords, forms, categories (dental, vision, pharmacy) and providers exist than we tested.
The strong CTR on the homepage and pricing buttons show demand lurks, ready to turn into signups.
That’s a solid foundation to build on. Let’s make an action item to research how much more search volume exists, and note that optimization can improve our conversion rates significantly over time with testing.
Our financial model gives us a sense of how big this can be. On the low end it appears to deliver a few thousand dollars a month after many months of ramping up.
A more generous interpretation of AdWords demand and conversion rates gives us a nice solo lifestyle business.
Getting leads from small healthcare companies surprised me. Perhaps these types of companies need a solution? Mark down another research item.
This data told us that a good number of people want this problem solved, and will pay enough to make it worthwhile for us to solve.
To paraphrase my good friend and investor in Earth Class Mail, Jonathan Siegel, “the best investments have little risk and high return”.
If we channel our inner Jonathan, what questions do we need to ask to reduce the risk and build confidence in a profitable business?
I want to know:
Is our core idea technically possible?
Is our core idea legally possible?
Will people really buy this? For real? For really real?
How can I get those questions answered most simply?
That’s it for today, but stay tuned for our next post where we dive into the questions above.
You’re minding your own business when BAM, the-best-idea-ever-created slams into your brain. You’ve got it! You’re rich! Step 1 is the idea. Congratulations, you’ve reached the point almost everyone on earth has.
I hate to break it to you, but your idea is worth a lukewarm cup of coffee. Now let’s talk about what to do with that idea.
Before we jump into the how, you’re probably wondering what grand inspiration slammed into our heads. Well…
I loathe how insurance companies force you to print out their forms, write out every detail in pen, sign them, and mail (gasp!) their claim forms to get reimbursed.
Do you like health and dental insurance companies? I don’t. I rank them right up there with putrid cabbage and elevator farts.
Hmm…I wonder if they make that process painful on purpose? I harbor a sneaking suspicion that they make it just annoying enough so a certain number of people won’t file claims.
Do I have proof? Nope. Am I annoyed enough for my inner developer to want to build an app and stick it to them? You bet!
Here’s my idea: a website that makes it super easy to submit your medical and dental claims online.
Why print out the form, fill it out by hand, stuff it in an envelope, find a stamp, and drop it in the mailbox? That’s a huge hassle.
Often you can’t find stamps, your printer’s out of ink, or you decide to watch Turd Ferguson videos on Hulu instead, and as a result you never file your claims.
What if you could enter your information just once, and make a few clicks to file new claims? I’m betting you would file your claims faster, file more of them, and appreciate it when you get reimbursed faster.
Wait, it gets better. Did you know that most insurance companies accept claims by fax? Perfect, because we can send faxes online so you can submit your claim forms immediately, nothing to mail.
So that’s the idea, let’s fix insurance claims and make people’s lives better.
Finding The First Customers
Enough about us, let’s get back to you. What do you do right after your idea hits? Do NOT do any of the following (I am guilty of all):
Start building anything
File a patent
Spend weeks talking to potential partners
Write a business plan and begin courting investors
No no no, do not do anything on that list. You’re wasting time and indulging yourself if you do.
Instead, your sole mission is to find out if customers will pay you for what you’re offering.
Setting Up Your Test
The ONLY way to find out if your idea has any demand is to let potential customers tell you. The fastest, cheapest, and easiest way I know to do that is to throw up a landing page, point some ads to it, and see how prospects respond.
Go online and do some research
You want to answer a few questions in this step:
How many people search on terms related to your idea (i.e. market size)?
How many of those people can you convince to visit your page (i.e. does your product solve the problem)?
How much do you have to spend to get them to visit your page (i.e. what will it cost to acquire leads)?
How many of them convert (i.e. show interest by submitting their contact info)?
This isn’t an exact science, but it gives you enough data to get a sense of the interest and appetite for your idea.
Once you’re logged in to the account, navigate to Tools > Keyword Planner. Think of every possible search term people could type into Google. Better yet, do a couple searches yourself and see what comes up in the auto-complete recommendations for even more ideas.
Once you have your search terms set go to the “Get search volume data and trends” section in the Keyword Planner, then drop in all those search terms and submit. Here’s our example:
Take a look at the projected search volumes and suggested bids. Keep brainstorming to clean up the terms until you get a good set that maximizes searches, and minimizes your suggested bids.
I recommend forcing yourself to modify your list at least 5 times. Try ultra specific terms. Try wacky terms. The point is, keep trying until you get a good set of terms.
If you can’t find a grouping of search terms that generates at least a few hundred searches per month, you may want to stop and reconsider. It is important to note that the volume in here is not exact, and usually underestimates searches by some multiple.
Building a landing page
Great, you’ve done some research and there is demand. Don’t go measuring for blinds in your new mansion yet! Your next step is creating a landing page for your idea.
You need to be able to sell your idea in one page. Distill everything you imagine it being down to a single value proposition that you can verbalize simply and succinctly.
If you can’t explain it easily, you can’t sell it easily.
Get a domain name that prospects will believe. Services like InstantDomainSearch.com can help you find a reasonable domain for your idea. We aren’t affiliated in any way, they just have a great product.
Don’t stress about the exact domain at this point, just grab something reasonable. Whatever you do, DO NOT buy an expensive domain yet.
Find an available one and shell out the $12. WARNING – I recommend you register your domain somewhere other than Google Domains, as you’ll need domain forwarding to setup the page properly. I tend to use GoDaddy and NameCheap a lot.
Sign up for a free trial at Unbounce.com, choose a responsive template, and whip up your masterpiece of a landing page. Channel your inner Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross and sell, sell, sell!
I recommend creating two separate pages: 1) a primary landing page, and 2) a pricing page. The aim with this strategy is to test both low-friction demand, and early-adopter demand in one experiment.
The primary landing page should be the main sales page, and what you’re looking for here is how many visitors click through to the pricing page. You can track that directly in Unbounce, and the results are considered your low-friction demand as these visitors show interest when the barrier to learn more is low.
On the pricing page, you will want to embed a lead form that collects visitor information. This is how you measure the early-adopter demand since they are willing to give you contact information, with a higher level of friction it’s likely these leads could become customers.
A few tips:
Your page should pass the “eye test” – meaning a regular joe should be reasonably convinced it’s for a real company. It’s not a high bar to clear.
Force yourself to set pricing. This gives two benefits: 1) it forces you to think of what to charge, and 2) it gives you more valid results.
Ask a few people to look at your landing pages and explain their interpretation of the product to you. This will put a check on your messaging and help you catch any glaring issues that you’ve become numb to.
Make sure your root domain and subdomain work, or Google may not let your ads run.
Google may ask you to put a business address on your landing page. Luckily, I know just the company to recommend for that.
Done is better than perfect. The point is to test your idea with real people vs. obsessing over minutia.
Once your landing page gets to the “it’s not completely horrible” state, STOP working on it.
Now that you’re armed with a good terms list and shiny new landing page it’s time to create some ads!
Go back to that search terms list you built and save your keywords to a new campaign. Set your default bid and daily budget, create a new ad group and click “Create new ads for your ad group“.
Bids, budgets, and AdWords campaign structure are a nuanced field with no shortage of opinions on the topic. This is not an AdWords tutorial, but AdWords is one of the best documented platforms on the planet so there are plenty of resources.
You will want to let your ads run for at least a week to allow for any day-of-week fluctuations, so set your daily budget appropriately. Make sure you understand how AdWords budgets work too.
Channel your inner Don Draper and whip up some ads! Create at least a handful, trying out different headlines and different ad text. You want to find out the terms and hooks your target audience responds to.
A great place to start for this is to look at ads from competitors on similar terms. If your idea is so unique that there’s no ad competition, search for terms that will bring up ads for big brands and see how they do it.
Save your ads and wait for Google to approve everything.
Verify Tracking and Wait
While Google takes its time approving your ads, run through your landing page and make sure all of your tracking works. You may have done this already, but do it now if you haven’t. Make sure the following works:
Unbounce visit & conversion tracking (go to your live page, click the CTAs, submit some leads)
Unbounce lead tracking (submit some leads)
Once you’ve confirmed that all the tracking works, sit back and be patient. In our next post we’ll talk about how to evaluate the data and what to do next. For now grab a coffee, pull up a chair, and watch the show!
Building a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) business, just like many other B2B verticals, is all about leads. Yes, Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR) is the central measure for a business like ours, but it’s a lagging indicator and can be a red herring when used to predict future growth.
Here’s an example. You’ve been tracking two key performance indicators (KPI) for your business, MRR and Lead Volume. Let’s say you look at the last 6 months of MRR and it’s totally flat. It would be reasonable to assume that next month will be flat too.
Now let’s say you take a look at leads, and they jumped 50% from last month. If you know how long it will take you to get through those leads, and how many leads convert to sales, you can estimate that impact to your business in terms of MRR growth.
Same goes if your lead volume went down, or stayed steady. What’s most important is, if you start looking at leads as the growth indicator instead of MRR then you can build strategy around lead generation that ties directly back to MRR growth.
Get a 15 minute crash course from the B2B Growth Show with James Carbary. Listen to Mike Beck, Head of Growth & Marketing at Earth Class Mail, talk about getting started with Twitter and Facebook lead generation campaigns.
Facebook and Twitter are often overlooked by small B2B businesses, from a paid advertising perspective.
It could be because they assume these networks are mostly recreational or because, at least in our experience, they aren’t particularly effective at generating revenue directly.
What’s really important to understand, especially for experienced PPC operators, is that the advertising model is very different.
Advertisers on networks like AdWords, Bing and the like generate the majority of their results from ads in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).
SERPs are easy to target because someone goes into their browser and searches for something very specific, thereby providing the advertiser with a clear and explicit intent for ad targeting.
Here’s a specific example for “po box in washington” on Google. We know exactly what the user is looking for and what to write in the ad.
On Facebook and Twitter, you are not targeting search intent.
Rather you are finding cohorts of users that are likely to be interested in your product. You then have to tailor messaging, including visuals, that resonate with the audience and convince them to take a step that they had no explicit intention of taking.
It’s a lot like display advertising, but on steroids. Lot’s of steroids, like the kind that would even make the Russian olympic program say, “Wow, that’s a lot of f***ing steroids”!
To figure this out you’re going to need to setup some tracking. Both Facebook and Twitter offer proprietary tracking pixels that will collect data on the visitors to your site and group them into cohorts that you can define.
We wanted to know:
All visitors to the site
Visitors that submitted a lead form
Visitors that purchased
If you don’t have resources, or just have limited technical skills, then start with “all visitors”. This will be valuable regardless.
Segmenting the visitors by how far they made it in the funnel was important to us for targeting purposes, but it’s not critical to get started with this.
Who are our current customers?
This is exactly what it sounds like. We pulled a very large CSV file of all of our current and even canceled customers. We then segmented that list by customer status, again for targeting purposes, and pulled out the emails and phone numbers.
Those two identifiers are all you need, and frankly email is enough most of the time. It’s much more likely to be matched to an account than a phone number is. If you have both then use them, if not then just the email will work fine.
Who are the influencers in our niche?
We already have a good pulse on the industry, but there aren’t a ton of people excited to talk about virtual mail. A much sexier and equally aligned niche is startup and SMB digital marketing.
You might think, “why does that matter”? Well, Mr. Question McQuestionFace, you can actually target fans and followers of other profiles on these networks!
If you don’t know who the influencers are, you can cheat a little with a tool like BuzzSumo. Search a topic that’s relevant, then dig in to the top sharers for the most popular content.
There’s a free trial, so if you plan ahead you can get all you need without any added expense.
Who’s engaging with our ads on other networks?
If you’re already running PPC ads on AdWords, Bing and the like then you have data to lean on. We’re not going to deep dive into website analytics for this, sorry that’s for another series.
Simply put, we used Google Analytics and applied segmentation to our audience demographics so that we could see what the PPC visitors looked like from that perspective.
You can do this with pretty much any website tracking application on the market, Google Analytics is the most popular and it’s free.
We figured out very quickly that our audience leaned heavily Male, older, and within a more affluent income bracket. We also learned some things about their interest and affinity categories that helped later on in targeting.
We looked at the best performing PPC ads, the best email campaign messaging, and the top landing pages on our site.
Here are a couple of easy tactics you can use if you feel like you have nothing to start from:
Survey your existing customers. Just ask them “How would you describe our service to a friend?”, or “Can you explain the value you get from our product?”. Make sure to offer an incentive if you want a good sample set, and stick to open-ended questions.
Search on Google for keywords related to your business and click on the ads. This will give you insight into what advertisers are using in their ads and, more importantly, on landing pages.
Nailing down the imagery
More important than the marketing copy are the visuals you choose. We know, from past surveys and feedback, that we have two primary demographics: 1) nomadic professionals, and 2) SMBs that hate dealing with paper mail.
To start, we narrowed down two images that we felt represented the main value proposition to each segment. Then we added in a few stock photos we already had laying around from previous design work.
To start, two images and several variations of copy are plenty to test for your first run. You will need to create more as you optimize campaigns and if you have stock photos you can repurpose, even better.
Another great feature of these networks is that you don’t need a ton of design work for the ads since you have plenty of space to write copy around the visual.
Below is one of our ads with just a stock photo and marketing copy.
You will very quickly see which images perform better than others, and the difference is usually clear. However, you want to remain data driven so you should rely on testing for statistical significance in your results.
Ads and targeting are half the battle, you will need to optimize the other half as well. You can have fantastic ad performance and terrible conversion because your landing pages are being neglected.
Now, the beauty of these networks is that you don’t necessarily need to start with landing pages at all. Native lead collection means you just have to figure out audience and messaging to start.
A few big differences between native lead forms on these networks:
Lead forms collect email addresses only. They are high quality though, because a lead can only submit the email on their account.
You pay per lead, so impression volume is irrelevant from a cost perspective – especially in the beginning.
Depending on the audience type you select, your reach may be throttled by Twitter until they collect enough data on campaign relevance.
Lead forms have many fields, and are totally customizable.
You pay cost-per-mille (CPM), so if you get a ton of impressions it will cost you even if you don’t get leads.
The full reach of your audience is available immediately, assuming your budget allows for it.
Optimizing your landing page can be pretty easy
Honestly, we’re not making light of a difficult task here. We use Unbounce, it’s a powerful tool that lets us test outside of the walls of our main site.
They also have built-in responsive templates, dynamic text substitution, and a lot of cool integrations. If you are really trying to bootstrap, then you can always just create a custom page on your blog with WordPress or whatever your blog service is.
The least work, but least flexible, is to choose an existing landing page that works well with the messaging in your ads.
Most importantly, you want to preserve context from the ad to the page. The tone should be the same, the fonts should be the same, imagery should be related, and the page should really extend the ad’s message while closing with a strong call-to-action (CTA).
In the beginning, with lower volume, you want to test big changes to see if there is meaningful impact. Changing one line of copy, or the text on a CTA button isn’t likely to yield significant results (remember, we’re looking for statistical significance with our optimization).
We had three very specific pages we wanted to test: short form, long sales letter, and video supported.
As you can tell each page is very different in layout and focus, but they all tie-in to the ads that are being served. You don’t need to be this aggressive, but the more effort you put in the more reward you get out.
The first step in setting up your campaigns, on both networks, is going to be your audience. You will want to upload CSVs of your existing customers and any other prospect contact information you have.
Make sure that the tracking you implemented for remarketing is working, and that the audience is large enough to market to. For low traffic sites, this may take a while so you are going to lean on building new audiences in the beginning.
Why existing customer lists are valuable
You can use existing customers for a few really beneficial purposes:
A list of active customers can be used to create Lookalike audiences of similar users for targeting.
A list of canceled customers can be used to try to win them back with special offers.
The combined lists can be used to exclude these users from seeing your ads, and potentially wasting money.
The same goes for users in your tracking cohorts, not only can you retarget them, but you can create Lookalike audiences from those users as well.
On Facebook specifically the Lookalike audiences are really large, no less than 2 million potential users. That’s way to big, so this is where all of that other data comes in handy.
You will want to narrow that by using demographic data. In our case we excluded gender, geo, and age groups. Similarly, you will want to narrow by interest and affinity data where it makes sense.
An example audience might look something like this: Lookalikes of our current customers, Male, 25-55 years old, on the West coast of the U.S., that also like Tim Ferriss.
You will want to narrow, within reason, to an audience that is less than 100,000 in potential reach to start. This will be easier on Twitter than Facebook. It’s a unique challenge, because you don’t want to accidentally filter out a big cohort of good prospects.
If you’re skipping the landing page
Your next step is the imagery and copy for the lead generation ad. Take what you worked on and set a couple of variations of each visual.
You should test:
Promotional messaging and special offers
Different CTA language, like: Free Trial, Learn More, Buy Now
On Facebook, you should have multiple variations of the form with more or less fields
For those using a landing page
The most important thing you can do here is to make sure you are collecting data. Without it your efforts aren’t valuable.
If you’re not using a landing page service like Unbounce, then add UTM tracking parameters to all of your links. Set a proper tracking taxonomy so you can dig into campaigns later and know what is going on.
If you’re using Unbounce, integrate all of the tracking pixels directly. They have great help content on this, so it’s actually pretty easy. Similarly, here is what you should be testing on any landing page:
You’ve got all of your assets in place, now it’s time to see it work. You will need to spend some money, and in the beginning it may feel like you aren’t seeing results.
Give. It. Time.
This is a process, and optimization takes time. Pull data from your campaigns regularly, not just in the canned reports but that actual raw CSV files and segment it yourself.
You will learn things you never new you could learn. Take that knowledge, and build new campaigns. Then learn some more.
A safe budget expectation is at least $1000 to learn something from your first run and hopefully collect leads. It will take some multiple of that to optimize the campaigns further, find new audiences, and grow the channel.
This process helped us cut our lead cost by 50%, and in some cases generates leads at one-fifth the cost of what we expect to pay. You can do it too.