Professional Networking is Not Just Good For Business

A few months ago I joined a professional networking group in my town.  My husband and I are still relatively new to this area and so I joined to meet people as much as for business reasons.

I have never belonged to one of these groups before.  I thought it would be similar to Chamber of Commerce networking events I attended years ago with my prior company.  It’s nothing like that (which is great because I hated them).  Those people you meet once, get their business card and never hear from them again.  This group, on the other hand, meets regularly every week, and you really start to feel a kinship with each other.

This particular group is what’s known as an exclusive referral group.  The members (only one per business type is allowed) are expected to refer business to each other based on their contacts.  So if you are an auto mechanic and one of your customers happens to mention that her daughter just got engaged, you should be able to refer her to your group’s caterer, photographer, real estate agent, travel agent, etc.  You essentially become a salesperson for each of the other members of your group.  It’s a pretty simple formula.

My ability to be a productive member of this group meets with two challenges.  First of all my customers are not your typical sales leads.  It is hard to explain to the group the type of referrals that are valuable to me and to Grouvia.  (BTW – each person has 45 seconds each week to stand up and tell the group what they do and who would be a good referral for them.)  Although a few people have mentioned that Grouvia might help their <whatever> group, I have not gotten any solid referrals yet.

My second challenge is that since I work out of my home office 99% of the time, I don’t meet a lot of people who talk to me about their needs.  Grouvia does not have many users yet, so I don’t have a lot of regular contact with my customers like other businesses do.

However, I keep going to the meetings every week, in the hopes that one of these days things will click between this group and me.  I’ve met some very nice people, and some are even becoming my friends.  It gets me out of the house — I force myself to dress up a little and put some makeup on, instead of just throwing on jeans and a sweatshirt and a pair of slippers.

Another benefit?  Being an entrepreneur is a lonely job, and this helps me feel less lonely.

So the bottom line is that even though I have not seen any tangible business benefit yet, there is definitely a personal benefit, which is equally valuable.

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2010: Grouvia’s Golden Year

The Year 2010 has arrived, and not a moment too soon.  I was so over the last decade.

This is a milestone year for me.  This year represents my 50th year on this planet, and I intend to make the most of it.

Grouvia will come alive this year.  I spent almost all of 2009 working on planning, building, and worrying about it, which I admit was way too much time.  Now it’s showtime.  This thing has to make it or break it by the end of June or I’m going to start implementing Plan B.

My stepson graduates from college this year.  Fly little birdie, fly!!!  That means now we get to start paying off the debt, instead of just racking it up.  Woo hoo!  At least we get a trip to Miami out of it.

My husband’s 50th birthday is also this year, and he’s bugging me to go somewhere fun for our combined birthdays.  We are hoping to somehow find the $ to take a trip to Spain.  We are taking donations — please email me if you wish to contribute.

I’m going to run my first half-marathon in May.  Holy cow that is a scary thought.  But even if I have to walk half of it I’m going to do it.

Obviously the big one for me (and for this blog) is Grouvia.  This project has been in the planning stages since 2006.  We gave ourselves five years to “make it big” but I believe that it needs to be successful before it can grow.

What do I mean by “successful”?  People like it, use it, find it valuable, and tell their friends.  Nobody hates it or thinks it’s stupid.  As long as I know that by the end of June, I know we’ll be golden.  Then I’ll have 18 months to monetize it and market the hell out of it.  Good plan right?  Yeah.

Yup, 2010 is an important year.  And I’m ready for it.

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Usability is Still King

As I mentioned in my last post, I have come up for air and started picking up the marketing tasks I abandoned last month.  I decided to take a look at Grouvia’s Google Analytics numbers, and I noticed we are getting a high bounce rate on some of the marketing pages.

The marketing copy was originally developed based on what we were trying to deliver with Grouvia.  The initial surveys we did back in the beginning gave us insight into what people are looking for, and our initial feature set was based on that.  So the development of the marketing copy was based on feature-needs, not necessarily real-life needs.

There’s a lot more behind this of course, but I don’t have the time or desire to write a novel-length blog post, nor would you have time to read it, so you’ll have to trust me that a lot of thought and planning went into all this.  But there’s only so much you can do without a huge pile of money to do market research.

In an effort to root out what was causing the high bounce-rate, I asked a colleague unfamiliar with Grouvia to spend an hour with me so I could virtually observe her as she went through the web site.  We started on the home page while she pretended she was a user looking for a place to manage her neighborhood homeowners association (HOA), of which she is President.

We talked through each of the pages she thought she might visit during her evaluation, and she told me everything that came to mind, both good and bad, without reservation or bias.  She was great at this, I could not have chosen a better person to do this with me at this point.

The exercise both opened my eyes and confirmed what I thought — it’s time to re-write the copy.

Now for an interesting twist:  last week I posted a job opening on oDesk for candidates with SEO/SEM expertise to help me improve the search engine rankings of Grouvia.  (I mentioned I was going to do in last week’s post.)

One candidate wrote to me saying she would not be able to apply for the position because she was booked until February, but she was nice enough to spend some time looking at the Grouvia site, and giving me her opinion of the content, as well as some tips on how to find a good SEO person to hire.

I was very impressed by, and grateful for, this gift.  What she said resonated with me, especially one thing in particular:  “Your sites [sic] content is currently on a very advanced reader understanding level and unless you are only trying to appeal to the college graduate, you may want to tone that down some.”

Well knock me over with a feather.  So.  Like.  Duh.

Fast forward to the pseudo-usability test with my colleague (who just so happens to be a Ph.D and probably in a  stratospheric reading comprehension level.)  I mentioned the candidate’s comments and she said she’d heard that you should always write your copy for an eighth-grader.

Oh sure.  Like I know how to talk to an eighth grader, much less write marketing copy for one.

I think I’ll need to delay my SEO tasks until I rewrite the web site copy.  Or maybe I need an SEO expert who can also write at an eighth grade level and then we will accomplish two things at once.

Either way, I’m rediscovering that marketing is still way more fun than programming.

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How to Increase Adoption Rates

I wrote the headline for this article hoping that it would inspire me somehow.

The signups for Grouvia Beta have been slower than I had hoped.  If I sit down and think about all the reasons this could be, here’s the list I come up with.

  1. Hello?  It’s Christmas/Hannukah/Kwanzaa, and people are distracted by many other obligations.  How many times have you said “I’ll do that after the holidays” in the past two weeks?
  2. The month-long break I took from marketing to do design and programming was a bad move.
  3. People can’t see Grouvia’s value from reading the marketing materials or looking at the web site’s front pages.
  4. People don’t trust beta software.
  5. People are wary of brands they’ve never heard of.
  6. The SEO for the site is bad and we’re not getting in front of our target audience.

This list is not in any particular order.  But it seems to logically break down into things I can (3, 5, & 6) and can’t (1, 2, & 4) do something about.  So let’s just ignore the latter ones and focus on the former.

People can’t see Grouvia’s value.

Starting next week I will review all of Grouvia’s marketing content that exists out on the Internet (or as much of it as I can find).

I’ll look at everything from the Groove blog posts to the emails I send out and the status updates on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. I’ll make an attempt to look at it critically and take notes about anything that someone might not understand or care about.

Also, I’ll try to find someone to sit down with me and just walk through the web site and help me figure out where the communications need improvement.

People are wary of brands they don’t know.

I’ve heard that people won’t recognize your brand name until they’ve seen it at least seven times.

Someone told me recently that they advertised their product on Facebook and wrote the ad in such a way that people wouldn’t click on it.  When I first heard it I thought it was stupid.

But the point here is that if nobody clicks on your ad you don’t pay anything.  So without much effort I could throw together a Facebook ad without a call to action, just to start getting the Grouvia brand some cheap exposure. OK, so maybe it’s not so stupid after all.

The SEO is bad.

I did some Google AdWords testing a couple months ago with decent results.  I wrote about it in a blog post at the time.  I decided after a few weeks to put it on hold because although people were clicking the ad they weren’t signing up.

I decided back then that it was just too soon to advertise, because technically Grouvia didn’t even exist yet.  It’s possible that it’s still too soon to advertise.  I won’t know until I do another test.

An alternative approach is to try to improve Grouvia’s organic search rankings.  I may need to pay somebody to do this.  I don’t have the knowledge and I think it will take a good deal of time for me to learn how to do it and then craft and execute a plan.

So I think the bottom line is that both of these approaches (paid vs. organic search results) take either too much time or money.  The unfortunate result is that this particular item falls to the bottom of the list for now.

I’ll do it after the holidays.

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Beta Success!

Last week we launched the new beta site for Grouvia.com.

It was a thrill and a relief. This is a major milestone for Grouvia and it was only a month late.

There are 170 bugs in the application right now.  And that’s down from about 400 a month ago, so it’s actually not as bad as it sounds.  Only 19 of them are considered “major” and that’s just my personal assessment of their severity.  The vast majority of them are typos, layout issues, alignment problems, and missing “nice to have” features.

So if you haven’t looked at grouvia lately (or at all), please go take a look.  I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

I have made one huge sacrifice in the past month about which I am more than a little concerned.  I have completely let our marketing efforts go.  I have barely eked out these blog posts, and have done no posts to the Grouvia Groove blog.  I have stopped reading/commenting on other blogs, I have stopped reading/commenting on LinkedIn discussions, I have stopped all tweeting.  Basically the Grouvia marketing efforts are now in disaster mode.

I’m not sure if I have made the right choices, but I do feel that the quality of Grouvia was too important to let slip.  So I have spent the last month testing, documenting bugs, retesting fixes, and doing my own light coding of the user interface.  I think these efforts have paid off, because Grouvia looks a thousand times better than it did last month, but at what cost I am not sure.  I may not know for a while, if ever, what price Grouvia will pay for this.

I still have some cleanup work to do over the weekend, and then I can leave the developers alone for a while so they can implement the rest of the missing features.  They believe we can have the entire project wrapped up by the end of January.  I am cautiously optimistic but I’m not holding my breath.  There have been too many disappointments on this project so far to believe that sunny days will always shine on us.

But today it’s sunny, and I intend to enjoy it.

Happy Thanksgiving

No post this week.  I’m taking the week off in honor of… um… the turkey that was beheaded on camera behind Sarah Palin in an interview last year after she and Sen. McCain lost the election.  Ew.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Development Issues Delay Launch

I hate to say it but we missed our first launch deadline and won’t be launching for a couple more weeks.

The issue has been development but – as much as I would like to – I can’t place 100% blame on the developers.

Grouvia has a lot of bugs and I refuse to launch a sub-part product. I know I only get one chance with my target audience and the level of quality I want just isn’t there yet.

Grouvia has a lot of bugs and the developers haven’t been able to fix them.  They’ll say it’s fixed, we retest… and it’s not fixed.  Worse, we retest these elusive bug fixes and we find more bugs.

Granted, the vast majority of the bugs are minor.  The major bugs have been fixed, or fixed to the point where the remaining issue is tolerable enough to be downgraded.

But there are still too many bugs for us to launch.

I’ve concluded that the best explanation for the development problems are communications issues compounded by language.  I do believe these developers have the experience and skills to do the work.  However, many things point to communication issues as the main reason we are having the problems we’re having…

  • Often the implementation of a particular feature does not meet the requirements.  Actually it’s not often, it’s usually.
  • Details are missed.  A feature will be implemented but the nuances and logic details aren’t there.  For example, the private events were implemented without any way to invite participants.  It was in the requirements, but they didn’t put it in.  Details are not just nice-to-have.
  • The developers make assumptions instead of asking questions.  If they don’t fully understand something, they will make their own decision about how something should work, instead of asking for clarification.
  • The technology is driving the features.  If the developer finds that the technology does not support the feature properly, he will change the feature to match the technology.  For example, the messaging feature was changed to match the abilities of the standard Drupal messaging module. This isn’t what we wanted.

I know that many developers work like this.  I have been in this field long enough to have seen this before, lots of times.  But I’ve always been in a corporate environment where I can call a 2-day-long meeting in a conference room somewhere with American-English speaking developers, analysts, testers, and team leaders and hash out the details.

I don’t have that luxury now.  These developers are halfway across the world and our meetings take place over an unreliable Skype connection at 7:00 in the morning.  We have a daily 2-hour window to work together, sometimes a little more if they agree to work late or if I can get up earlier.

But I’m also paying about a third (maybe less?) of what I would have paid for an American company to do the project.  You get what you pay for.  I knew that going in.

Delaying the Beta launch was disappointing but it was the right thing to do and I know we will have a better product because of the delay. I’ll keep you posted.

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