In 2014, a viral video depicted a scene that would have been hilarious, if it hadn’t been so sobering. It started with bystanders attempting to save a winter sledder, who had broken through the ice of a California lake. The rescue was so badly botched, that in the end, 11 more people had to be pulled from the freezing water.
Have you ever seen this kind of thing happen to a business? I have.
If you’re like many businesses, you may feel like you are constantly treading water in a freezing lake. You’re just a few moments from going under, but there’s hope. All you have to do is get a solid online marketing campaign up and your business will be saved, right?
Online marketing certainly has the potential to save your company, but if you invest in the wrong channel, your marketing spend will be less like a life jacket and more like a cannon on your bootstraps. But unlike sledders swimming in an icy lake, many companies can’t tell whether their marketing efforts are pulling them to shore or pulling them under.
Fortunately, if you’re wondering whether or not a particular marketing channel is helping or hurting your business, I’ve got three words for you: Contribution margin ratio.
Crunch the numbers
Ok, I’ll admit those are probably not the three sexiest words I’ve ever strung together. They’re accounting words, and it’s unlikely that you were drawn to business by the glowing prospect of crunching numbers. But what if I told you a little number crunching could save your business? Trust me, it could.
Luckily, the equation for calculating contribution margin is a cinch.
In accounting terms, contribution margin ratio (CMR) equals sales divided by variable costs. In plainer language, it’s what you made from sales divided by how much you spent on marketing and fulfillment.
Calculating Contribution Margin Ratio
Essentially, variable costs are company expenses that increase as sales increase. There are certain costs that come with fulfilling a sale – things like manufacturing, packaging and shipping. These are your variable costs.
On the other hand, as you spend more on marketing, the more sales you make, at least theoretically.
Unfortunately, if your marketing stinks, then you won’t generate enough revenue from sales to make the investment worthwhile. So how do you know whether a particular marketing channel is helping or hurting your business? Well, let’s calculate a CMR for your marketing.
Marketing Contribution Margin Ratio
So, if you spend $1,000 on marketing, and make $500 in sales, your marketing CMR is 0.5. If you spend $1,000 and make $10,000, your CMR is 10.
Obviously, bigger is better, but how big is big enough?
In my experience, a CMR of three is enough to break even. Above a three, you’re making money. Below it, you’re losing money.
Related: Target Your Market… Or Die
What does this look like in real life?
In case this is all seems a little abstract, let’s see how this works for a hypothetical business. For example, pretend you started a small business a few years back giving aerial tours of the Grand Canyon.
Your plane seats one passenger, and you charge $150 per flight. You haven’t done much marketing, but you have a steady flow of about 20 ticket sales per month from talking to people yourself (direct sales), loyal repeat customers and word-of-mouth referrals.
You’re making $3,000 a month before you factor in your expenses.
Unfortunately, each flight costs you $75 in airplane fuel, wear and tear and other flight costs. That leaves you with $1,500 in profit.
That might be a nice little business, but your costs don’t stop there. You also spend about $2,000 a month on your airstrip mortgage, office utilities and plane maintenance. We call these fixed costs because you have to pay them whether or not you’re making sales.
The long and short of it is: You’re in the hole $500 every month. Or, in other words, your business is sinking.
Now what? You don’t have the money to buy a bigger plane, and you’ll lose the customers you have if you increase your prices. However, you discover that you’re missing out on a lot of sales because most tourists plan their trips online before they travel, and you don’t have an online presence.
In an effort to get your business moving in the right direction, you decide to try online marketing – listings on travel websites, pay-per-click ads and promotional email campaigns.
The only question is, how effective does your marketing have to be to break even?
1X Contribution Margin Ratio
What if you made one $150 sale for every $150 you spent on marketing? That’s break-even, right?
Remember all those fixed and variable costs that were eating up your profit margin in the first place? If you spend as much as you make, you’ll never make any headway against your $500 deficit. Your marketing CMR may be 1X, but you end up losing money on every sale in fulfillment costs ($75, to be precise).
Take a look:
2X Contribution Margin Ratio
What about a 2X contribution margin ratio? If you spend only $75 on marketing to make a $150 sale, you’ll offset your fulfillment costs, right? That’s true, but you still won’t be making any progress against that $500 deficit in your budget from your fixed costs.
3X Contribution Margin Ratio
But what if your marketing was even more efficient? What if you spent $50 on marketing to produce a $150 sale? At a 3X CMR, you finally start to break even as long as you can get at least 20 sales from your online marketing efforts.
Even after you hit a 3X multiple though, it’s still slow going. Your marketing is sustainable, but you can’t really grow your business on this sort of margin. After all, you can probably only make around 40 flights in a given month, which just gets you to your break even point.
4X Contribution Margin Ratio
If you really want to make a profit on your campaigns, you need to get them to produce at least a $4 in revenue for every $1 you spend on advertising.
Now you’re breaking even after 14 sales. If you make 40 flights in a month, you only have to pay for marketing and fulfillment on six flights. At $37.50 of profit per flight, you make $225 per month. All of a sudden, your online marketing is starting to make a lot more sense.
5X Contribution Margin Ratio
Once you hit a 5X contribution margin, you are finally in a good position to start using your online marketing to actually grow your business. You break even at about 11 sales, which means that your last nine sales net you $405 in profit each month.
With that kind of profitability in hand, you may be able to take out a loan, and get a bigger plane, allowing you to book two to four times as many tickets. Your expenses might go up a bit, but if you can fill between 80 and 160 seats a month, you are in a good position to really start making some money.
Here’s the moral of the story
Is this whole contribution margin ratio thing starting to make sense? Good. Let’s boil all that math down into a simple rule of thumb.
- If your marketing CMR is three or below, rethink your marketing. You’re probably losing money.
- At a 4X CMR, your marketing is turning a profit.
- If your marketing CMR is five or higher, you can use online marketing to grow your company.
This is how to up your marketing CMR.
By now you’re probably thinking, “Great, I want a big CMR, but in your story you just arbitrarily upped the CMR. How do I do that in real life?”
Good question. In fact, that’s a question I’ve devoted my career to answering.
The specific answer varies by business, but most companies struggle to reach a 4-5X contribution margin ratio for one reason: They spend their online marketing budget in the wrong places.
Take AdWords, for example. The average AdWords account wastes 76 percent of its budget on search terms that never produce conversions, let alone sales. So if your AdWords campaigns are running at a 3X multiple, the easiest way to get to a 5X or better multiple is to stop wasting money on the wrong keywords.
For example, we’ve had clients triple their sales by simply taking their wasted ad spend and redirecting it into more effective campaigns. As a result, these companies have grown by leaps and bounds and made millions in profit.
Can you imagine what going from a 2-3X CMR to a 6-9X CMR would do for your business?
Find your current CMR
Calculating your marketing CMR is actually fairly easy. You just need to know the following.
- How many sales your online marketing has produced.
- The average customer lifetime value (LTV) of your online marketing sales (for help figuring this out, click here).
- How much you’ve spent on online marketing.
Then it’s right back to the equation from the beginning of the post.
Plug the number you get into my rule of thumb, and you’ll have a good feel for how effective your marketing is.
Here’s the takeaways
Over my career, I’ve met, talked and worked with thousands of entrepreneurs and business owners. Without fail, the success or failure of these companies revolved around their CMR.
Below 3X, companies struggle and die. At 3X, they survive, but just barely. Only the companies that reach a 4X or better CMR thrive. It’s a simple rule of thumb, but an effective one.
So, if you want your online marketing efforts to keep your business afloat, they must be driving at least $3 in revenue for every dollar you spend. Otherwise, your company probably won’t survive.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
Implementing 2 Advanced Google AdWords Strategies
Find out how Dynamic Search Ads and Call-Only Campaigns can give you that competitive edge you need on Google AdWords.
Let’s explore two advanced Google AdWords campaign types: Dynamic Search Ads and Call-Only campaigns. Give these two campaign types a try. They’ll let you squeeze even more from your AdWords account.
Dynamic search ads (DSAS)
Dynamic search ads are magical keys to reaching your customers. And the best part? Using them is easy once you master the setup.
What Are DSAs?
Google knows it’s hard to keep your campaigns perfectly in sync with your website. If you have an e-commerce site with thousands of products changing regularly, it’s a chore to be constantly creating new keywords, new ad groups and new ads inside your AdWords account.
DSAs were created to fill this gap. They let you show ads to excellent prospects who might be searching for items you sell on your site even if you don’t have a corresponding keyword for them in your account.
Why should you set up a DSA?
As long as you set a low cost-per-click, dynamic search ads typically have a decent CPA and provide additional relevant traffic. They’re also great for research as you get to uncover new search terms that people are using to find your site. (You can use this intelligence after the fact to add new keywords to your account.)
Let’s say you’ve just started selling wrought-iron fire pits on your e-commerce site but you don’t have the keywords for them yet in your AdWords account. A new prospect – we’ll call her Kim – is currently online searching for this by name. Kim types it in verbatim: “wrought iron fire pits.”
If you have a DSA campaign set up, you’re in luck: Google instantly recognises that you sell these but don’t yet have keywords for the purpose. Thankfully, you don’t miss a beat with Kim – Google shows her your Dynamic ad, then she clicks, comes to your website and makes a purchase.
How do they work?
It starts with Google regularly scanning your website and keeping an index of all its pages. When you’re starting out, you can choose to point Google to your entire site – we recommend this for your first DSA campaign – although later on you can target specific categories within your site.
Google knows what keywords are in your account and, more importantly, what keywords are not there. This means they can make accurate judgments about when to step in and show your DSA ads.
When setting up DSAs, Google creates the headline and you write the description. They choose the final URL and you set the bid.
Here’s how to set up a DSA:
- Create a new campaign. One of the options you’ll see is to create a DSA campaign. We suggest not using that as it would limit your options further along. Instead, create a new Search campaign with “all features.” Your plan will be to only use DSAs inside that campaign.
- You’ll need at least one ad group to hold your DSAs, and one is typically enough if you’re just starting out.
- You still want to be split-testing, even though Google chooses your headline for you. So, create two different DSA ads with different body copy in each.
- Choose the target. Start with the “all webpages” default. Save the advanced targeting for later.
- Add in ad extensions just as you would for a regular campaign.
Ongoing management of your DSA
Review your data. Keep an eye on the search queries Google chooses, particularly in the first few days. This lets you add any new negative keywords that you don’t want your ads shown for. And it’s a good way to identify and add new keywords you hadn’t yet thought of for other functioning campaigns. (You can add these new keywords as negatives in your DSA campaign, which forces that keyword traffic over to new campaigns in your account. Your DSA campaigns won’t be affected.)
These allow you to create search ads where Google shows your phone number rather than a headline. As such, they only show on mobile devices capable of making calls.
A person clicks on your ad, which starts the process of calling your business directly from their mobile, rather than taking them to your site.
Why use call-only?
Call-only campaigns force people to call your phone number rather than visit your site. If generating more phone calls is high priority for your business, call-only campaigns are worth testing.
How to set up call-only campaigns
Setup is simple. You can create a new campaign from scratch or just copy your existing search campaigns and change the ad type. Replace regular ads with call-only ads.
Tip: Google wants to see individual ad groups with a reasonable number of impressions at the ad group level. So a small number of ad groups with more keywords in each one – generating more impressions per ad group – will work better for call-only campaigns.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com
The 5 Characteristics Of Social Media Websites That Go Viral
There is no formula for a site that goes viral but you can see what’s missing from those that don’t.
With the advent of the web 2.0 comes a shift from simple and bland web pages to dynamic and interactive web platforms. It is now possible to create a social media site that does not only attract new businesses, but also foster relationships and create opportunities for other people.
The possibilities are endless and the barrier to entry is becoming ever thinner that one has no other choice than to key in to the new phase. Or rather, the new craze.
Every day, we see another social media site popup with the claim to become the new Facebook or the new Instagram. Even more, we are bombarded with jargon such as likes, comments, shares and viral content – words previously that never had any significance in the grand scheme of things.
But internet entrepreneurs are not giving up on the dream to create their own social networks using newer ideas and strategies. According to get2growth, there are about 472 million entrepreneurs worldwide running 305 million start-ups annually, out of which 1.35 million are internet based.
Some of these entrepreneurs, who run social media networks, have found that the proven path to success is to have an intuitive idea plugged into a quick go-to-market strategy. Nevertheless, most importantly, finding the sweet spot between what’s important for the customer and what intrigues them is an important trigger for virility.
That is why the easiest way to create a social media website or forum today is to create a platform that is positioned to go viral. So, how do you go about that? This article provides some useful tips.
1Know what’s important to the users
What the user needs is the first consideration when you want to create a social media website that goes viral. Without fulfilling this need, there will be no need to create an online community in the first place.
That is why the first question to ask is, why should people use your site instead of the other available platforms? How do you create a unique social media site so that users will always have a reason to come back?
Think of it this way: Will a user become so excited about a feature or tool on your site that they encourage their friends to use it too? Or will your site help the user connect with their friends in a way other social networks do not?
If you can find the things that are important to the users and create your site around those things, then you would have a community that others will really want to be a part of.
2Integrate features that encourage interactions
Online interactions are the fuel on which online communities thrive. The desire to interact is why there will are forums and social networking sites, so it’s important that you integrate features that foster interactions and encourage users to create exciting content.
A good way to do this is to use a platform that provides powerful tools for creating beautiful social networks. Here you have two options: Use white-label social network creators; Ready-to-go solution like Ning; or build-it-yourself frameworks like Django (Python) or CakePHP (PHP).
The most important features to consider are the site layout, community building options (such as forums, pages and groups), call-to-actions, and the site navigation. The plan is to intuitively provide users the freedom to choose how they want to interact.
3Provide powerful visual and creative tools
Users make the rules when it comes to what is shared or recommended online, so it’s wise that social networking sites provide the tools to encourage required users’ behaviours.
For example, users tend to spend more time on sites that encourage some creative activity. If that activity produces a visual result and the option to share, the user will be more likely to share it with a friend.
A survey published on Adweek revealed that users are more engaged on Instagram than on Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter. Instagram is cozy. This lends credence to the claim that visuals and creative tools can help keep social network users engaged and even more willing to recommend content.
As you may know, Instagram allows more visuals than all the other platforms, with users sharing full-size landscape and portrait photos that may fill the whole of a viewers screen. This gives more content visibility and increase in user engagement and sharing, which is no surprise seeing the immense growth recorded by the platform even before it was acquired by Facebook.
4Push notification is a must-have
Creating a social media site that goes viral requires keeping users updated on the activities happening in their network. You never know which notification about something a user cares about will trigger an engaging discussion with potential to go viral.
Push notification provides real-time access to content on devices, especially mobile, and encourages return visits and more on-site activity, which are useful metrics for the growth of social media sites and any other site type for that matter.
Not incidentally, users tend to value push notifications more when the content delivered is useful. According to this survey, 70 percent of users were happy to enable push notifications on their favorite apps. This reportedly doubled click through rates when compared to email notifications and a higher response rate compared to when notification was not deployed.
Activities such as these improve the chances of making a social network go viral and quickly increase user growth.
5Create the set-up with “shareability” in mind
Building a successful social network requires that the end is considered right from the beginning. All functionalities must be planned according to the user behaviors anticipated. A social network set up to go viral will therefore, have to consider shareability right from the beginning.
The site setup should include layouts that allow users to easily access, interact, and share content. Features such as sharing buttons, call-to-actions, tagging, image size, and site layout can encourage sharing among groups and help position content in places where they are more visible.
The better user-interface, the easier it is for users to navigate through the site and access more useful content, which increases user engagement and shareability. However, do not forget to analyse and measure your social activity – the Holy Grail of engagement.
So, what plans do you have?
Creating a social media site that goes viral is never an easy task, but if you know what you are doing from the beginning and have a workable plan, you should be able to find some success.
You just need to come up with a strong idea that your users believe in. Something like a unique selling proposition that actually feels a need for the majority of users.
A simple change in the way a user report a story, tag photos or share their passion can be enough to make your social network the rave of the moment. But you need to have a unique plan to take you from zero to hero.
So, what is your plan?
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
How To Talk Your Way To Success With Podcasts
Podcasting is taking the world by storm. Not only can it be extremely profitable, but it can be a great way to grow and market your business.
The rise of the average Joe
Some of the most successful podcasts in the world were created by relative unknowns.
Tim Ferriss’s 2007 book The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich was a phenomenon. The self-help/business book spent more than four years on the New York Time’s bestseller list and has been translated into
35 languages. To date, around 1,3 million copies have been sold. It’s fair to say that every author on the planet would be happy with this sort of success. When it comes to book publishing, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Now compare the success of The 4-Hour Workweek with that of Ferriss’s podcast, The Tim Ferris Show. At the end of 2016, the show reached 100-million downloads, meaning that since the creation of the show, individual episodes have been downloaded more than 100-million times through iTunes and other podcasting channels.
Ferriss hadn’t anticipated that level of success. In fact, he started podcasting on a whim, just to see what the response would be.
“I was burned out after The 4-Hour Chef, which was nearly 700 pages, and I wanted a casual but creative break from big projects,” says Ferriss on his blog. “Since I enjoyed being interviewed by Joe Rogan, Marc Maron, Nerdist, and other podcasting heavies who really move the needle, I decided to try long-form audio for six episodes. If I didn’t enjoy it, I would throw in the towel and walk.
“My rationale: Worst-case scenario, the experience would help me improve my interviewing, which would help later book projects. This is a great example of what Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, would call ‘systems’ (win even if you lose) thinking.”
So, he saw it as a win-win. Even if the response wasn’t great, it would have been a worthwhile experience. Ferriss also applied one of his regular approaches to podcasting, asking himself: What would this look like if it was easy? Some popular podcasts, like Freakonomics Radio, for example, are highly produced and have a strong narrative structure.
Ferriss knew that he was most likely to stick with it if he made it as easy as possible to do. So, instead of a complex podcast that required a script and heavy editing, he opted for a freeform conversational structure. He simply turned on the microphone, and started talking to people.
Monetising a podcast
Even though podcasts are generally free to download, they can create a nice revenue stream. But, as is often the case in the digital sphere, it’s a numbers game. You need some real traction before the money starts to roll in. Like banner ads, podcasts work on a CPM (cost per impression) model. Popular podcasts have sponsors who pay for a pre-roll message/ad at the start of the podcast. A typical figure is $18 (R234) per 1 000 downloads for a 15-second spot, or $25 (R325) for a 60-second message. Many podcasts have more than one sponsor, so you could make more per 1 000 downloads. Also, as the popularity of a podcast increases, the CPM rate also goes up.
“Premium podcasts tend to charge between $25 and $100 CPM. By ‘premium’, I mean high-converting, single-host, iTunes top-50 podcasts,” says Ferriss.
So, if your CPM is $50 and you’re getting 100 000 downloads, you multiply 50 with 100 to get an income of $5 000 (R65 000) per sponsor per episode.
Tim Ferriss could be making millions a year from his podcast alone, but he chooses not to monetise too aggressively.
“If I wanted to fully monetise the show at my current rates, I could make between $2 million and $4 million per year, depending on how many episodes and spots I offer. So why only ‘if I wanted to fully monetise?’ Because ‘fully monetising’ — bleeding the stone for all it’s worth — is nearly always a mistake, in my opinion,” says Ferriss.
“I want to convert casual listeners into die-hard, fervent listeners, and I want to convert casual sponsors into die-hard, fervent sponsors. This requires two things: Playing the long game, and strategically leaving some chips on the table. As a mentor once told me: ‘You can shear a sheep many times, but you can skin him only once.’”
Indeed, if you want to create a successful podcast, it’s important not to try and monetise too early.
“Novice podcasters (which I was) and bloggers get too distracted in nascent stages with monetisation,” says Ferriss. “In the first three to nine months, you should be honing your craft and putting out increasingly better work. Option A: You can waste 30% to 50% of your time to persuade a few small sponsors to commit early and stall at 30 000 downloads per episode because you’re neglecting creative. Option B: You can play the long game, wait six to twelve months until you have a critical mass, then you get to 300 000 downloads per episode and make 10x per episode with much larger brands. If you can afford it, don’t be in a rush. Haste makes waste. In this case, it can make the difference between $50 000 per year and $1 million per year. To reiterate a phrase more often used for blogging: Good content is the best SEO.”
Of course, you could argue that a self-help guru like Ferriss has a much easier time launching a podcast than your Average Joe, and he certainly has an existing audience, but he believes that anyone can start a great podcast. Being a ‘famous’ person doesn’t guarantee success, and some of the biggest podcasts around were created by relative unknowns.
“Coming to the party with a pre-existing audience isn’t enough. Celebrities, YouTube icons, and bestselling authors start podcasts every week that get abandoned three weeks later,” says Ferriss.
“Like everyone else, at one point, I had zero readers and zero listeners. We all start out naked and afraid. Then your mom starts checking out your stuff, or perhaps a few friends give a mercy-listen, and the fragile snowball grows from there.”
Creating your own podcast
Starting a podcast is relatively simple and cheap. All you really need is a microphone, a guest and an iTunes account. As mentioned earlier, it’s better to start small, gain momentum, and then think about monetisation down the line.
“Upload at least two or three pre-recorded episodes when you launch your podcast. This appears to help with iTunes ranking, which — like bestseller lists — can be self-propagating. The higher you rank, the more people see you, the higher you continue to rank,” says Ferriss.
He also recommends that you keep things simple. “Most would-be blockbuster podcasters quit because they get overwhelmed with gear and editing. I decided to record and publish entire conversations (minimising post-production), not solely highlights. I also use a tremendously simple gear set-up and favoured Skype interviews for the first 20 or so interviews, as the process is easier to handle when you can look at questions and prep notes in Evernote or a notebook.
“As Tony Robbins would say: Complexity is the enemy of execution. You do not need concert hall-quality audio. Most people will be listening in the subway or car anyway, and they’ll forgive you if recordings are rough around the edges. Audio engineers will never be fully satisfied with your audio, but 99,9% of listeners will be happy if you’re intelligible and loud enough.”
Other ways of making money
The CPM/sponsorship model is not the only way to make money with podcasting. You are, of course, also free to approach companies about sponsorship outside the CPM model. If you’ve got a podcast that will align well with a specific brand, you could approach the company about funding the show.
You could also ask your audience to sponsor the show. Neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris has a popular podcast called Waking Up, which is created entirely through audience contributions. Harris doesn’t believe in the CPM model, since he thinks it can sometimes seem a bit greedy and also forces listeners to sit through a lot of ads.
The popular Joe Rogan Experience podcast typically has around 12 minutes of ads, while The Tim Ferriss Show usually has about six minutes of ads. Harris has no ads, but does ask his listeners for donations. Of course, only a fraction of listeners will ever decide to pay for the content you create, but if you have enough listeners (Harris has around 800 000 every week), a relatively small number is enough to make it worthwhile.
You can ask for donations through your own website, or through a service like Patreon, which is an American Internet-based membership platform that provides business tools for creators to run a subscription content service.
You should also keep in mind that a podcast can be a smart investment, even if you make no money from it whatsoever. A podcast can be a great way to position yourself as an expert or thought leader in a particular industry. So, instead of trying to monetise your podcast directly, you can use it as a form of content marketing to promote your products and services. Importantly, though, you should not be too aggressive in your marketing. If the podcast feels like nothing more than an extended ad for your business, listeners will be put off. Instead, focus on creating great content that will drive people to your online channels.
A podcast can also be a great networking tool. You might not be able to get a meeting with a successful CEO, but you could invite him or her onto your popular podcast. Once that relationship has been created, talking business becomes easier. You could also offer your podcast to customers as a platform to discuss their own business successes and challenges. Regardless of how you choose to utilise the medium, podcasting provides an excellent opportunity to speak directly to an audience that no entrepreneur should ignore. EM
“Like everyone else, at one point, I had zero readers and zero listeners. We all start out naked and afraid. — Tim Ferriss
Did you know?
Podcasts are the single fastest growing medium in the world.
The rise of Gimlet Media
Gimlet Media in the US was created a few years ago specifically as a podcasting company. Gimlet’s first season of its first podcast show, Startup, follows the launch of the company. It’s a warts-and-all look at how the company tried to secure funding, find offices and hire staff. If you want to get into podcasting, it’s definitely worth a listen.
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