If someone were to ask me what are some quick things to do as an ISV that won’t take too much time I would tell them the five following things;
1) Create a Google Sitemaps Account
You don’t even have to create a sitemap, although doing that is very easy. All you have to do is add, and verify, your web site with Google’s Sitemap program. The information you get about your web site is simply amazing!
Here are some quick screen shots and descriptions of some of the information you get;
1) See Exactly Where Your Web Site Appears In Search Engines
2) Find Out Why Your Web Site Is Not Appearing In Google
3) Control How Often Google Scans Your Web Site
4) See Exactly How Many Web Sites Link To You
This service is absolutely free and the information you get will help you improve your search engine rankings, find out who is talking about your web site/products, and locate broken links or HTML errors in your web site.
2) Create A Google Analytics Account
If you do not have a Google Analytics account, you don’t know what you are missing! It’s not just the details it provides, but how it lets you easily compare data against previous dates. The best part comes when you link it with your payment system. You can see how much money, on average each visit gets you separated by country, region, city, source, etc… to name just a few. So for example, if you know new visitors from Toronto bring you on average $0.34/visit, that gives you a good estimation for your Google adwords campaigns. Many payment processors will easily link up your data including eSellerate. If you use PayPal, I have never used them, but I’ve heard good things about e-junkie. They take care of a lot of things including sending payment details to your Google Analytics account.
3) Buy A Really Nice Stock Icon Set
My favorites, for Mac OS X, are from Icon Drawer. You can also try Icon Buffet, and of course Icon Factory. Stock Icons are always good to have around and add a level of professionalism to your web site and products.
4) Buy A Psychology Textbook
From motivation, to time management, to understanding how people react to different kinds of advertising, an Introductory Psychology textbook will cover all the topics that all those self-help gurus and marketing know-it-alls pretend to know about. From somebody who has spent a fair amount of money and time reading books upon books of “advice”, a Psychology textbook will cover it all, complete with actual, real-life studies instead of personal opinions and misinterpretations. Many are available from
5) Take One Big, Huge, Gigantic Risk – Without Asking
Ever get an idea that you think is really great, only to be shot down by friends or colleagues you ask for advice? This time, don’t ask, just do it! I always get the impression in various newsgroups, mailing-lists, and forums that developers have these great ideas and than when they ask whether or not they should do it, they get conflicting advice from other developers. Sometimes their ideas are trivial like adding an online forum, some are much bigger and take longer to implement. Maybe it’s an advertising opportunity or exhibiting at a trade show. I say just do it! Maybe it works out, maybe it doesn’t. Naivety is your best friend.
Bill Gates talks about Vista, what he envisions for the future of computing and how Vista was beta tested.
As 2006 comes to a close, we would like to wish all of our current users, future users, and any other blog readers Happy Holidays and a great New Year.
Looking back we are very pleased on the direction TryBeta is taking and look forward to a great year in 2007.
Although we have been limiting sign ups to TryBeta, it is growing steadily and we are getting great feedback from our current members. We have a lot of great things planned on 2007, so check back soon for some great announcements.
For the past year or so I have been reader of Shareware Promotion’s Software Marketing blog. Although I have never used their services, the content and information that Dave Collins writes about has always been very interesting and extremely useful.
Recently he has stopped posting to his blog and instead moved all of his future content, and insight, to a monthly newsletter. I have been a subscriber of his newsletter for a few months now and can highly recommend it to any software developer.
The newsletter talks a lot about Google adwords, search engine optimization, and general marketing advice.
What caught my attention in last months issue was not necessarily what he spoke about, but how he used his advice in the article he wrote. The article was about seeing the world through the eyes of your customers. Knowing what they need and delivering it to them, without the extra fluff. When you can identify what your customers need, and what problem you are solving, you won’t have to overwhelm them with so much information about every feature or service you offer.
The newsletter is free, so there is no reason why you shouldn’t be a subscriber.
Forget what you may have learnt about accounting, your business does not have any costs. All you have are potential investments.
Any amount of money it takes to run your business has to be viewed as an investment, not a cost. It does not cost you to have Google Ads, post software on download.com, have a payment processor, or pay for web hosting. These are all the investments it takes to run a business and grow your money.
Expenses and costs are scary things especially for the small microISV. It’s extremely scary to take the first $500 you make and put it into a PR campaign, or spend $300 of your money on professionally designed icons. If you view these as costs, it makes it that much harder to actually get the nerve to spend the money.
Instead, look at everything you do as an investment. Firstly, for most microISVs, a major investment is in your payment processor. The reason is because when you give your payment processor 8%-15% of all sales, you have essentially made them a minority partner. However, without them, well, you just wouldn’t be making any money. So, in taking this into consideration, do they make a good minority partner? Are they worth the investment you have put into them?
Secondly, every dollar you spend must be viewed in terms of how much additional money it will generate for you. Put a value on everything your investment earns, from relationships, to good will, to any future opportunity you have just opened up.
If you truly believe you have a great product, you should not be afraid to continually invest your own money into it. Even borrow money in order to magnify your returns with other people’s cash.
Here is how to evaluate how and where to spend your money.
Quantify all possible investment decisions
How much your Google ads return is easy to see. However, how do you track how much professional icons will generate, or professionally written documentation? You can’t! You can only estimate based on what each outcome will mean to your company. Use your best guess taking into consideration your competition, the reputation you would like to build, and the tastes of your target market. Assign an actual value to everything you do.
How much money can you possible make?
With each investment you are considering, what is the best, worst and most probable outcome? If you put one dollar into Google adwords, what is the most amount of money you can make, the least amount, and the most likely amount?
If you could in no way make more than the risk free rate, (ie the rate offered by short term t-bills/GIC’s), don’t bother. Your money is better spent elsewhere.
Don’t forget about long-term payoffs. Many people are very risk averse. If its not a sure thing it can get real scary. Think long-term! Investing in a good customer support system means easier management and better customer relationships for years to come. How much is that worth to you?
Remember the indirect consequences as well. How will buying an ad in a magazine payoff in addition to sales? You get to build a relationship with the magazine so they will possibly review your software, and you build credibility in the eyes of your customers for your company.
Always evaluate what else is out there. Competition improves prices and offerings. You don’t buy a mortgage from the first bank you go to. You shop around just like you should when finding any potential investment for your company. What magazine will provide the best rate of return? Even if one is not directly your target market, what would it mean if you were seen in that magazine?
You have so many options and you must get creative. Multiple ads in smaller magazines may be more profitable then one ad in a large magazine.
Keep track of ROI
Keep track of all your investment returns. Write down what you spent and for what. Then, write down how much it has returned in dollars, as well as keep notes on any non quantifiable returns.
Practice on old investments
How have previous investments paid off? How has upgrading the RAM on your computer improved your productivity? How has buying a new customer support help desk improved your response time, and in turn improved your customer retention?
It makes no sense, for any serious business to continually invest in itself if investments in other companies will provide greater future returns. Keep looking for great ways to grow your money through great investments. If you can’t, there are thousands of companies that can find a good use for your cash!
Our savings are tied up in mutual funds and invested in other companies we’ve probably never heard of. If you truly believe in your company, where are you putting your savings?*
*don’t forget to diversify:)
When you are just starting out, getting picked up by search engines is not always so easy. Last year Google announced a sitemaps program where web site owners could submit a list of web pages, as well information about each page, to Google, which can help them index your web pages. It didn’t guarantee a listing in Google, but it could help a lot.
Over the last year they have been adding new features that give web developers more information about how their web site is represented in Google, including statistics on commonly searched terms related to the web site and any errors the Google spider encounters while crawling your site.
TechCrunch posted that yesterday, Yahoo and Microsoft announced that they will be supporting the sitemaps protocol and any other search engine can choose to support it as well. This is really good news for microISVs who have been trying to get noticed by these three search engines. My experience has shown that adding a sitemap is very beneficial and really easy to do. There is no reason why you should not have one.
I think as time goes on, the sitemaps program will be expanded with new features and more opportunities for web site owners to let search engines know about the content on their web site.
As the developer of a sitemaps generator, if you are a Mac user and want to make a sitemap for your web site you can download RAGE Google Sitemap Automator. If you are currently a member of TryBeta, just send me an email and I will send you a free license until the end of the week.
Over the past month and a half we have had Early Adopters post their software and test the web site. We just wanted to say thank you and outline some of the features and fixes we have implemented thanks to their feedback.
We have fixed a few bugs and added some usability enhancements including;
1) Problems with uploading icons for products in PNG format
2) Removing the need to select a product from a popup menu to view its feedback or list of testers when there is only one product
3) Allowing developers to quickly change the feedback type if the downloader incorrectly chose the wrong type. This helps with keeping track of bug reports
4) Improving the messaging system
We have also added a few new features which include;
1) Selecting topics to watch and be sent new replies by email after submitting a feedback item or a reply
2) Quickly adding a beta release to a current beta cycle
And many more smaller features and enhancements.
So what does this now mean for the rest of the users eager to take a sneak peak at TryBeta? We are working on adding the final promotional items including a tour and a few more help resources.
Very soon after this we will be accepting a limited number of beta tester and developers to start joining the web site. If you would like to take part in early testing, apply for the Early Adopters program now.
As microISVs, especially those who are just starting out, we have one big advantage over large corporations. This advantage gives us the ability to develop and release applications that would take larger companies much longer. This advantage allows us to take risks that larger companies can not even consider. This advantage is so great that used properly, it allows us to accomplish things that no other company can. This advantage is our naiveity. Our ability to try new things, take risks, and learn more because, well, we just don’t know any better.
We can decide today to try something new simply because we can. We don’t have to worry what our boss thinks or what it will mean 5 years down the road. Our lack of experience and, in some cases, lack of knowledge about certain things pushes us to try new things without considering all of the consequences.
Large public companies have to evaluate all projects and ensure their rate of return is as much, or more, than their investors are expecting. For example, if you have purchased stock in Google you are paying 60 times their current earnings (as of the time of this post according to yahoo finance) for each share. This means you are expecting huge growth in their profits which will eventually be distributed to you in dividends or increases in the stock price. The only way to ensure growth in dividends and their stock price is by continually increasing their rate of return on their investments and making more money. Why else would you pay so much to own a share of Google? Now, how would you feel if Google announced today that instead of putting their money in creating new products, they will be putting it all into a savings account and earn 3%/year in interest? Or they decided they will go to vegas and put their 10.43 billion dollars in cash on double 0? Of course these are extreme circumstances, but the fact is that these large companies have a measure they must meet, and they better be pretty certain they can meet and surpass these expectations. You won’t see many companies take a large amount of risk without evaluating possible outcomes.
We as microISVs can use this to our advantage. We can be the ones who launch a simple site that sells each pixel for one dollar. We can decide that we will release a utility that lets users share files without concern for legal issues (not to say that this would be a good decision). We can decide that today we will try something new and so what if it fails. If it succeeds, WOW!
This does not mean that companies do not make bad decisions or try stupid ideas. What this means is that companies are required, by their investors, to provide a return on investment that will continue to attract these investors. In order to so, they must be careful to analyze everything they do.
When I released my first application I had never spoken to another developer. I had no mailing list. I hosted my web site on one of those free domain web sites. I didn’t do any market research on whether or not this product was something people needed. I didn’t even do any real beta testing (though it was a public beta). I just built it because it was fun and posted it on some software listing sites.
Seven years later I have a successful software company and am getting ready to launch an invaluable service for software developers. Looking back, I would never have released the product as it was knowing what I know now, or how much work would have to be put in to get to where I am now.
How far has your naivety taken you, and where will it lead you next?
I am very pleased to announce that some of the very first TryBeta.com Early Adopters are signing up and receiving feedback from beta testers for their products.
Although only a limited number of users currently have access to the web site, some developers are finding beta testers and receiving feedback.
We hope to continue inviting software developers to the web site who will get an early start in beta testing their products. If you would like to try the web site, please use the Early Adopters application.