Susan asks this question via the Request Line:

“Should I pay people for referrals? I have a fairly new coaching practice and I’m not sure what the best way is to get people to refer other clients to me. I have a few clients so far but I always feel awkward asking them for referrals and I was thinking that offering something like a commission might be a way to get them motivated. Help?”

Good questions, Susan. Let’s see what we can do.

Paying people for referrals seems like a simple idea on the surface, but it has a few tricky factors you have to take into consideration. Most of this has to do with the general vibe of business you’re trying to build, but we’ll also need to look at a few more practical issues.

Let us do so now!

1) Are you trying to foster a personal relationship with your clients, or is this relatively faceless?

If you’re running a relatively personal business – and by personal we mean people get close to YOU and not just the thing you do, incentivizing referrals has the potential to blur the lines between client and coach.

So if you’re a life coach or a marital/relationship coach, and your relationship with your clients tends to become so close that it borders on friendship, closing a call with “By the way, if you want to refer clients to me, I’ll pay you $200 in cold, hard cash for each one” may make things a little weird between the two (three?) of you. It’s a little hard for clients to bare their souls after that one. It might be a better idea to just ask for referrals gratis.

But if you’re much less personal – say, a golf coach or a voice coach, and people are coming to you strictly for a technical service, you’re probably staying on the shallow end of things most of the time. You have more leeway creating an incentivized program in this case.

2) Will these people ever meet each other?

If your relationship with clients is highly personal, or referrals might be to very close friends, incentivizing may create weirdness as well. It shakes the trust level of the friends’ relationship.

Imagine that Jill tells her best friend Jane to go to her voice coach, because he’s really good. Jane goes to the coach, likes her first session, and then gets told at the end, “By the way, we have a referral program and you’ll get $50 for each person you refer to us.” You might expect Jane an Jill’s relationship to go a little distant after that one.

Now, on the other hand, Jill might tell Jane up front that she’s declined her coach’s offer of a payout and not to be weirded out when she hears about the incentive. Many people do this as a matter of principle, so if that’s the case there will be no weirdness.

If your clients don’t have much of a chance of meeting each other, or don’t have much of a personal relationship, this isn’t that big an issue. If I told my postal carrier about my dentist, who has an incentivized referral program, it’s not like things are going to be awkward over the holidays. So your mileage will vary here.

3) Does it stand a chance of impacting your professional credibility?

Some professions or brands rely on a certain high-end cachet to get clients in the first place, and incentivized referral programs can work against them here. This is why you generally dont’ see lawyers offering incentive programs. It just has a weird feel to it. Shouldn’t they have enough clients without having to pay for referrals?

Whether they do or not isn’t relevant. When there’s enough professional authority at stake, the existence of incentivized referrals has the potential to make an operation look smaller or less powerful than it is.

Now, this doesn’t necessarily apply to authority if it’s not in the “cachet” category. If my dentist or chiropractor or golf coach pays for referrals, I don’t think they’re any less competent. But a golf coach is often looked at as a “technical” coach, and a life coach (or lawyer!) is often looked at as a hallowed expert on a pedestal. And it’s weird realizing people on a pedestal are handing out kickbacks.

4) Will this affect the way current customers or clients think about you?

When it all comes down to it, a lot of the impact of incentivization comes down to how much clients or customers care about you in the first place. My cell phone company solicits me to refer customers all the time. “Get $20 off of your next bill for every customer you send us!” My yoga studio does the same. “Up to 1 month free for every friend you refer!”

This doesn’t affect the way I view them. They don’t know me from Adam, and I can say the same for the people who run their companies. So I know it’s all business. I could die in a gutter for all they care. So they can incentivize as much as they want, and it doesn’t affect the way I think of them, or how I imagine they think of me.

The tricky part here is when you’re providing professional services like coaching. If you were my life coach, and I was dutifully paying you $200 an hour for your services, all is right with the world. But if along the line you’re cutting $400 checks to me every month, the dynamic can start getting weird.

If you’re incentivizing with free services, it can also get thorny. If I’m paying you $200 an hour for life coaching, I pay you, and you coach me, and again, all is right with the world. But if I’ve banked three free sessions via referrals, every time I call you I know in the back of your mind you’re not getting paid for those calls. I wonder if it affects the quality of the session. I begin to doubt. And that might affect the relationship.

Now, that’s just me. And I’m not everybody. But it stands to reason that there are enough people like me to make this worth thinking about.

Thanks for a great question, Susan.


To ask your question, visit the Request Line.

Naomi writes more things like this in The Letter. Get it for free today. (It also comes with free marketing courses. You can’t move for free here.)

About the author: Naomi Dunford started IttyBiz in 2006. In her free time, she likes to… ha! Free time. You’re adorable. Learn more about her here and catch up with her on Twitter or Facebook.

Success generally happens after this part
A few weeks ago a client brought us two domain names and asked which one he should choose.

Both names were perfectly fine – one was a little more geared towards SEO keywords, and the other leaned towards being better for personal branding.

Which one to choose? What choice would give better results?

The answer is: It kind of doesn’t matter.

People’s first tendency – and I mean all people, not “those stupid ones who are nothing like you and me” – is to overestimate the importance of a single decision. We like to believe in the power of fate and how one specific choice determines how everything else plays out.

It’s the same thinking that makes people say “Damn, I should have invested in Apple 20 years ago.” As if that one decision would have made the rest of their lives wonderful and okay and perfect.

(They usually forget that 20 years ago, they were sitting in a dentist’s waiting room reading Wired magazine and agreeing with the “Apple is Dead” cover story. But I digress.)

One choice does not determine your destiny.

When it comes to how things turn out for your ittybiz, your life, your kids, whatever, what matters most is the choices you make after you make any one particular decision.

In other words, your domain name doesn’t matter that much. 99% of your business success is going to be a result of all the decisions you make after you register it. There’s no magic in the name. There’s magic in the marketing, and the brand development, and the product offerings, and the customer service, and all the other things you do to actually build your business.

One choice can certainly affect your destiny – if you choose to start a faceless resource website as opposed to a personality brand, you’re setting yourself up for one of two very different trajectories.

But one is not more likely to be successful than the other. Trader Joe’s is a supermarket with a whole lot of personality. Publix is not. They both seem to have grown pretty well despite the difference. *

One choice can affect your destiny, but it doesn’t come remotely close to determining it.

When you should believe in magic, and when you shouldn’t.

If there’s anything we see a lot of with clients, it’s the belief that a single “correct” choice will give them enough leverage and power to cement their chances of success. Not guarantee it necessarily, but at least give them a foundation of safety.

It’s not surprising. That’s also human nature. There’s a reason the expression “Looking for Mr. Right” is an expression that everyone’s heard of. We like to believe that there is a safe decision that will make everything okay, just like magic.

That kind of magic doesn’t exist. Never has, never will. You’ll go farther if you stop believing in it.

But there is a different kind of magic. It’s a magic that happens when you get completely behind what you’re doing and hustle to make it happen. When you decide that you’re going to brave the hard parts of your business and figure it out as you go along instead of sitting around Looking for Mr. Right Marketing Decision.

The magic is in the hustle. The desire to keep going. The ability to take risks, and stay within your own values, and decide that you’re going to make this thing work.

But the operative word there is work. Not magic. The magic comes as a result of the work.

99% of your success will come from what you do next, not from what you do now.

We get asked a lot about whether this business or that business is the best one to go into or whether this product or that product is the one that should come out next.

The answer, again, is it doesn’t matter that much.

What matters is what you put into your business, or your products, or your growth strategies. And that hasn’t happened yet, because that’s all going to happen next.

Apple didn’t grow because the name was catchy. It was ridiculous. It didn’t grow because Steve Jobs was magical. He got booted out of his own company decades ago. It grew because Steve and a lot of other people decided to keep hammering at it and doing the thing that needed to be done next. And next. And next. Whether things were going right, or whether they were going horribly wrong.

Your business is like that piece of workout equipment that you bought off of a commercial that one time. Was it the right choice? Should you have bought the treadmill instead?

It depends on what you choose to do with it.

Remember that next time you’re feeling stuck at a crossroads.

* Please remember that I’m a Canadian trying to use American brands, so for all I know, the CEO of Trader Joe’s has just been taken down for insider trading and the heiress to the Publix empire has been adopted by Bill Gates. They’re just examples.

About the author: Naomi Dunford started IttyBiz in 2006. In her free time, she likes to… ha! Free time. You’re adorable. Learn more about her here and catch up with her on Twitter or Facebook.

How We Launch, Part 9!

Is that a light at the end of the tunnel? Indeed it is.

We have reached the very last part in our behind-the-scenes series on some of our biggest launches, and we’re capping it off with something a little more real-time.

So, we’ve told you about eight of our big launches.

We told you why and how we made our decisions, what our deciding factors were, and how the behind-the-scenes played out.

What are we doing today?  Today, we’re going to do the same with the launch of our BIG LAUNCH class. The one you’re seeing right now.

From start to finish, we’re going to tell you how we ran this entire promotion – and what you can learn from how we did it.

Let’s begin.

So, how did this class (and launch) come to be?

Rewind back to December of last year.

About two months prior, we finally stopped putting off making this class. We’d thought about it for what, four years now?  And we hadn’t done it.

Here’s why:  The primary difficulty in teaching launch is the fact that there is NOT a formula to it. Yes, you can certainly package one specific launch process and call it a formula, but that has two problems.

  • One, it’s generally applicable to only one real process. (Four videos and a sales page!) What if you don’t want to make four videos? What if you’re not launching a digital product? What if you’re not launching a product at all, but something other than that? What if you’re not a copy or tech wizard who can roll that specific process out?
  • Two, any formula that “works” will be copied so often that it’s quickly formulaic. (And obsolete.) Remember how the words “awesome” and “rockstar” actually caught people’s attention, and now they’re ridiculed? Yeah. That’s what happens when everyone wants to join the bandwagon.

The thing about launch is that to do it right – to make a launch actually perform very, very well – you don’t just have to know what to do.

You have to know how to think about launch, how to think about getting and sustaining attention, how to think about product positioning, copywriting, customer experience and psychographics, and a lot of other stuff. Teaching people how to think like a marketer takes time and a fine hand.

And that’s big. So when we pulled the trigger, we figured we’d call the class BIG LAUNCH. It’s Big. It’s about Launch. And hopefully, it’ll get our students their biggest launches yet. (See what we did there?)

How we structured the offer.

Because launch is such a big topic, we decided to break the offer into very specific chunks (12 monthly Class Packs) to achieve specific launch objectives. Here’s what we did and why we did it.

  • The program starts off with 3 months of core classes – the basic “Everything you need to know to run a very good launch.” This way people who have launches coming up soon can tweak and fix their launch plans and know they’ve got all their bases covered. People new to launch get their core training fast, and more advanced people learn the nuances that make their current launches better.
  • We always want to make sure our classes start out with immediately useful or actionable information so that people can see material results. Even in long-term programs people have near-term needs. Making sure those get addressed is just good for business.
  • We spread the rest of the class content – the parts that take a very well-structured launch and make it even bigger –throughout the year in monthly Class Packs. This way there would always be something to look forward to, and so that the information would be digestible (we hear a lot about “too much information all at once” as an issue for a lot of people). We called these installments “Launch Multipliers” to separate them from the core content so there would be no confusion.
  • We also wrapped “Office Hours” into the offer, because a major part of what customers say they want is the ability to ask questions based on what they’ve learned. Just as with our very first product, SEO School, having after-purchase support is a big draw in an offer.

When you’re creating an offer, it’s extremely helpful to think of all the reasons people would “almost buy” but hesitate, and adjust your offer to take that hesitation away.

Here’s how we ran our (pre!) pre-launch.

As we’ve said before, launches are primarily about a sustained period of attention. Once you’ve got that attention, you can do whatever you want with it. You can have promotional webinars. You can have “answering your questions” teleseminars. You can give away free samples.

We decided that in this case, since we were selling such a teaching-heavy class, we should go with teaching-heavy launch content.

But if you’re going to have that much teaching, you’ve got to get people in the space where they can learn, give them a context to use all that teaching in. So we did five pieces at the beginning that warmed people up to shifting into learning mode and looking to the year ahead.

These five pieces were titled:

We also sent email roundups to people as we were coming out with this pre-launch content so that:

  • a) our list could notice we were coming out with a lot of content,
  • b) they had some time to get used to a higher frequency of emails, and
  • c) they got used to clicking on links that we sent them.

(Hint: People always ask us how to improve click-through. One of the easiest ways to do that is to put some of your best content out on your blog and then send emails with links to them. Your people will get used to clicking on things only to find something very good at the end, which is only good news for you. And them, come to that.)

So first, we ran five pieces to get people ready to learn. Focus on their goals, their aspirations, the obstacles that have stood in the way for them so far. This is warmup.

Here’s something we also threw in to the mix well ahead of time:

For the past few months, we’ve been releasing free samples of BIG LAUNCH by the way of “Freebie Fridays”.  The idea here was to begin exposing the list – and all the new people who have come on since January of last year – to the fact that this class exists.  If you haven’t seen them, here they are:

  1. Getting Great Testimonials
  2. Training People To Be Trained By You
  3. Clear, Not Clever Titling
  4. Using Transitions To Boost Sales Page Conversion
  5. Increasing Click Through Rate On Launch Emails
  6. Hand Upsells That Can Boost Your Numbers
  7. Advanced Tips for Getting Endorsements
  8. Reclaiming Non-Buyers After Your Launch
  9. Using High Value Samples To Push Sales Higher
  10. Successfully Running A Freebie Launch

Each Freebie Friday had an audio component as well as a written version, so people could begin to familiarize themselves with the actual content of the class in the way that it was going to be delivered.  We capped out at 10 free samples, which represented almost 10% of the 108 “Launch Multipliers” that are included in BIG LAUNCH.

Basically, we wanted people to be able to tell WAY in advance whether or not this class was going to be their cup of tea.  For those whose answer was “yes”, this meant they’d have something to get excited about for several months preceding the launch.

Here’s how we ran our pre-launch.

We followed the original five pieces of content with seven more pieces that answered common questions about launch. We were now past the warming up stage (that pre-pre-launch above) and now into the “let’s get people thinking about the topic that we’re creating a class about.”

Pre-launch content should always be directly related to the thing you’re selling – whether it’s prepping people for the offer itself, or just getting them thinking about the specific topic – so that when you go full out with your launch there’s not a disconnect of context.

What we did here is survey a pretty large subset of our past clients, customers and supporters and get their questions about launch – the nagging questions that they were wondering about every time they were considering running their own launches.

And we took those results and pulled seven of the most frequent questions and answered them on our blog. We kept the question format and released these seven pieces:

So pre-launch was seven pieces on highly specific tactical questions. It’s hard to talk about big concepts or strategies when people have open loops in their minds – it’s hard to learn something strategic when you’re struggling so much with something simple and tactical. So we made sure to answer seven really common questions in sufficient depth to make people not confused anymore.

Once they weren’t so confused anymore, and there weren’t so many spinning records in their minds, we started talking about launch strategy. We ran 9 pieces (including this one) detailing our strategies behind our various successful launches.

Here’s how we ran our launch once the cart opened.

Ok, so now we’ve had:

  • 5 pieces of warmup content,
  • 7 pieces of pre-launch content,
  • 10 free samples from the class, and
  • 9 pieces of actual launch content.

Think about that for a second. That’s a LOT of content – more than we’ve ever delivered before. (And that includes last year’s release of BIG LAUNCH.)

We’ve run eight videos in a row before, we’ve run seven straight days of email lessons before, but this launch essentially has thirty-one full pieces of content in it.

We haven’t tallied the final numbers for word count, but assuming 2,500 words per piece, we’ve got almost 80,000 words going out to our list to support this launch. This is a bit extreme (even for us) but since we’re releasing a class called BIG LAUNCH, well, it should probably be big.

So over the last week and a half we’ve put out eight detailed case studies on how we’ve run our biggest launches, with this one you’re reading right now being the ninth.

How do people respond to that much content?

One of the metrics you want to watch during a launch is your open rates and click-throughs (Assuming you’re using an email list to carry your launch communications.)

So far, our open rate is holding nice and steady, which is a good sign.

If your open rate drops considerably during a launch, that’s not a good sign. This usually happens for two reasons:

  1. Your content is honestly not that great (or isn’t relevant), and people are less likely to open your emails as time goes on. Because, well, would you?
  2. Your emails start to become repetitive. Basically the same “Hey, this is for sale” and “Hey this thing is still on sale” emails don’t merit the kind of open rate that new and interesting content can. If all you’re doing is saying the same thing, that’s not going to keep sustained attention.

(This second point doesn’t necessarily apply to your “one day left” or “last day” emails. Your open rate for those will drop like a stone because generally, the subject “Last day for X” only gets opened by people who are really considering X. So don’t sweat it when you see your open rate drop right at the end of the launch.)

Ideally, you want your open rate to stay as stable as possible throughout your launch. Having it get higher would be great, however, that’s not usually what happens unless your subject lines improve over the course of your emails.

Because our launch content is teaching-heavy, there is a “reason why” to open each and every one of them, so that’s helping support the stable open rate we’re seeing during this launch. (This is the sustained attention we talked about at the beginning.)

So what do we learn from all this?

Last year, this strategy led to our single biggest launch to date, by far.

But for this year, we don’t know, because the launch isn’t over yet as of the time we’re writing this post.

Generally speaking, we make more than half of our sales on the last day, and the last day is yet to come.

We’ve had a lot of people who are in the class right now already send us their intake questionnaires (About 50% send them in within a week of registering.)

There’s been a lot of great feedback so far, and the questionnaires are showing a variety of businesses – from people making $150,000 a year with an existing product and looking to bring it up to $350,000, to people selling a new line of skin care products, to people launching a new coaching practice from scratch. It’s really exciting to see the variety.

But how did this launch go?

Well, it hasn’t gone yet, so we won’t know until it’s done. That’s part of the fun of launch. :)

In the meantime, if you’d like to consider joining us for BIG LAUNCH, click here to see the details.

Registration closes at midnight on Thursday, so hustle, people.

Naomi writes more things like this in The Letter. Get it for free today. (It also comes with free marketing courses. You can’t move for free here.)

About the author: Naomi Dunford started IttyBiz in 2006. In her free time, she likes to… ha! Free time. You’re adorable. Learn more about her here and catch up with her on Twitter or Facebook.