Today marks a milestone is the short history of The HOTH, hitting 10,000 users (actually a few hundred above that now!).
We’ve learned a bunch of lessons along the way and I want to share some of the most important (and unusual) ones with you.
I’m going to show you:
- How to light the fire from within to WIN
- How to be profitable from Day 1
- How to stand out above the competition
- How to make your business run on autopilot
- Why inevitable failure is your friend
- How to grow your business when you’re stuck
- …And much more…
This will give you a peek behind the scenes of how we work and how we’ve grown. A case study if you will.
But this post isn’t about us, it’s about you. It’s all about how you can apply these easy lessons to YOUR business so you can get your first 10,000 users, or customers, or signups, and hopefully hundreds of thousands more!
FYI, I know. This post is a monstrosity. Hopefully a very valuable monstrosity.
So what I did is I broke down all these 10 core lessons into an actionable checklist that you can use for your own business. Just show us some social love below to get the action guide & bonus resources!
OK HOTHKateers, grab your beverage of choice, sit back, and let’s dig into it.
1. Light the fire from within to WIN
You must have a PURPOSE, or a big “why” which will help guide you with decisions, give you energy, and help you get through the crappy times of the entrepreneurial roller coaster.
If you don’t know what you why is, make it up. Think bigger. You can always tweak or modify it later.
The HOTH’s purpose is much more than to sell links. Our purpose is to move the world a little closer to being perfect.
That may sound grandiose, but there are billions of dollars spent every year trying to get small businesses to work. And many fail. Most fail. And in our little niche, we want to help make small businesses to succeed, by the way of SEO.
It’s our mission to grow as big as possible, because the more we grow, the more we can help. (And it’s probably the same for YOU too). The more solutions and products we can come out with. The better information we can give to our customers.
We’ve been able to bring on some of the best SEOs in the industry to help craft our products and information, and it just keeps getting better and better.
When we wake up in the morning, we wake up with the purpose of creating exactly that. That kind of mentality will light a fire under your ass to go out there and get ’em.
I think that any business that has something valuable to give the world can have a very similar purpose. If you have something that can help someone else, it’s your moral duty to do everything you possibly can to get that to as many people that need it. There are people that need what you have to offer. You should give it to them.
TLDR: Find your purpose. Let that light your fire to work every day.
2. Be profitable from day 1
In a lean startup, you test your assumptions before you spend money and time on them. This prevents you from wasting tons of money and time on projects that won’t pan out. The lean startup mentality is what we did out of necessity.
Over the course of the last few years it became very apparent that making a practical, business solution that already had a defined market was very beneficial to our success.
This sounds obvious, but apparently it’s not.
Thousands of startups die every day because they are trying to become the “next-big-thing geo-located-coupon-picture-sharing-for-pitbull-lovers-app” and just don’t have a market for it, while other people are successfully becoming millionaires running regular-ol plumbing businesses.
Not as sexy, but it makes money… and that’s the goal right?
It’s a natural instinct of first time entrepreneurs to get an *AMAZING* idea, contract a software developer, get a website, get business cards, set up an office, etc before selling their first widget.
The problem is, that’s not when a business is actually created. A business is actually created when someone pays you money.
So instead, start by making your first sale.
You don’t even need a website.
Example: Our first sale was from a Wickedfire thread. TheHOTH.com wasn’t even registered. The original HOTH was literally run off an excel spreadsheet and dropbox for about the first year. We had no office and worked off our laptops from our home. We made lots of money with free tools when we had to.
“We were lean, not due to hipness or savvy, but out of necessity. We couldn’t afford NOT to be lean. Our minimum viable product was a terribly made, 1-shot YouTube video. Our version 1 website was a Google form.” -Alex Pyatetsky (Co-Founder of the HOTH)
We’re not alone in running lean either. Here are some examples:
- I know ballers that have multi-six figure businesses and their website STILL isn’t done. And they sell freaking ONLINE MARKETING SERVICES. They do it from a free Skype account.
- My friend David Kadavy doesn’t even take the time to make landing pages.
- Noah Kagan’s website shows the inside (and many times unusual) story of how many businesses got their first 3 customers at http://www.howigotmyfirst3customers.com
(We now have 2 offices in Florida, a whole dev team, and all the bells and whistles that you could want, but that all came much later!)
TLDR: Best way to start a business if you’re new is to make a sale first. You don’t need anything other than a phone or a simple, cheap ad and a payment button. Create a business that solves a real problem, that real people have. Make it sexy with branding or your angle.
3. Take risks and learn from them
It’s said that nothing good comes from fear.
You can calculate all day long, but sometimes you have to take a risk. That may be hiring your first employee, or spending your first $100 on Facebook ads, or taking the dive to build out your backend with your developer.
Crushing your fears is the engine of growth. There are times that I’ve been frozen to do something even though I knew it was what we needed.
As I look back at some of the things that I was originally hesitant to do (launch new products, doubling up our ad spend, etc), those are the things that significantly catapulted us into the next phase.
And it turns out, 90% of the stuff that I was worrying about NEVER happened.
TLDR: Crush your fears and take risks. That is the engine of growth.
4. Beat the competition without spending extra money on ads
In today’s energy and attention sucking world, you have to be different to stand out and be noticed. In fact the more different you are, the better.
The HOTH was considerably different than anything on the market at the time. Most internet marketing companies fell into a few categories:
- Some shady dudes outside of the US with low response rates (where are my reports??)
- High level boring agency dudes “E Marketing Online Inc” type stuff (Do you guys make results or just say gibberish industry speak?)
- Somebody that knows somebody that knows how to do that internet thing (My neighbor’s brother’s cousin’s son made a website once I think)
When a big red HOTH monster hits you in the face with his club of awesomeness, a cool, laid back attitude blasting funky jams and playing super mario kart at Pubcon, how can you miss that?
That little monster, who was designed for <$100 by someone online, became the face of a multi-million dollar company. That made us stand out from the rest of the swoosh logo, no-face companies that piled on in droves. If you find someone on your team that is hilarious, super positive, and bursting with ideas, put them on your branding team and give them control of your social media. People buy from people they like. You need to be liked! The style and charisma in the company came from Dax.
Zappos does it with their incredible customer service. Apple does it with their amazing design. Subway turned a fast food restaurant into a diet company.
There’s a way for everyone to stand out, it just takes a little creativity!
TLDR: Do something different to stand out. That could be a logo, putting your face on something in a faceless market, a new attitude, a down-to-earth sales process, a new angle on your product, anything other than the status quo!
5. Make your business run on autopilot
Want to know the pre-requisite to really growing a business?
Tell me if this sounds like you…
I happen to run into a lot of successful business owners that tell me “Everything is going great, business is awesome” and they actually are killing it. Making lots of sales, doing cool things…
But when I ask about their day-to-day, they tell me they are dying, they are pulling their hair out each and every day, putting out fires and just trying to keep up with their head barely above water.
That is because many business owners ARE the business. They have the whole thing in their head and the lifeblood of the business is dependent on them.
That needs to be fixed, because that is one of the main reasons why most small businesses don’t succeed.
If you want to ever scale a business, and make tons of cash, it’s imperative that operations run smooth like a baby’s bottom.
Since I had an unavoidable neurosis for making sure all problems were solved as well as my detest for anything that was not clean and organized (I’m a freak haha), we developed an extremely streamlined system, totally automated (even with 10+ real humans working on a single project) so much so that I don’t even look at production anymore.
How do you do this?
You need your whole system mapped out, broken down into steps, trainings, and checklists.
At the HOTH, we developed training protocols, checklists, diagrams for customer flows and production flows. When we had to scale, we already had the systems in place for that.
You also couldn’t buy anything custom from us because it would mess up our production flow. We turned down a lot of money for this, but in the end probably saved us a billion dollars in headaches.
After you have it mapped out, you can automate even further with software.
When we had the opportunity, we brought on our first dev, Tyron Foston (the man, who is also hilarious) who is the WIZARD behind our entire production. He took our fisher-price spreadsheet duct-tape production process and turned it into the really automated powerhouse that it has become. This allowed us to really scale without problems, even with a very heavily human powered process.
In the inevitable case that something goes wrong, our kick ass support is there to fix, help, answer questions and basically just make you smile.
By developing these kinds of systems in your business, it will allow you to scale, stop pulling your hair out, and get to work on what you really want to (actually growing the business).
TLDR: Take operations seriously. Read the E-Myth or Built To Sell if you feel like you’re putting out too many fires.
6. Make your first big jump in sales
The job of the owner of the company is to grow the company. There is a time in the initial growth where the CEO outgrows the 1-to-1 outreach / sales support role and it’s time to bring on someone to do sales.
We brought on our first account manager, Greg, right before we went to SXSW and man was that a difference. When you can say “Just give us a call and our account manager Greg will take care of you,” it changes your vision for the company, as well as your ability to act on the ideas you KNOW need implemented.
On top of that, if you ever want to scale, you must also define not only your production process, but your sales process. This is a test of that. Once you hire one person for sales, you can hire 2 since you have the process. Scale up from there.
TLDR: Once you have your sales process defined, you need to give up the reigns to your first salesperson.
7. Why inevitable failure is your friend
You will no doubt run into failure. In the beginning we even cut it close a number of times when we weren’t even sure if we would get paychecks, but we kept fighting through it.
Know this will come, and when it does, focus on remembering your purpose, what you are learning, and how you can grow from it. Many times it’s a blessing in disguise.
Example: Since we bootstrapped the business, we couldn’t hire a dev right away, so we used some duct-tape type of system with dropbox and an excel spreadsheet to manage orders. This grew to be painful as it started to become way to big to manage 40 writers out of some small little cells, put together 40 invoices from different emails at different times into a paypal mass pay file etc.
The good thing was that we were able to be very flexible, change the system, modify the process as we learned more and refined it. When it came time for the dev, I was able to craft a perfect process / system that was well thought-out and thoroughly tested instead of burning through 10’s of thousands of dollars in wasted dev time re-writing the system.
TLDR: Appreciate the hard times for the learning. Remember your purpose. That will make you grow and become resilient.
8. Get the best ideas for new products
Your customers will give you (freely) the business breakthroughs that you could not come up with on your own. All you have to do is ask them.
Every year we’ve done a simple survey which has produced some of the greatest insights and revenue generating successes that we’ve ever attempted. We learned who our best customer was, and we continued to build things for them and to attract them.
Just a chance to speak with the customers gave us the bulk buyer upload tool, the customer dashboard, HOTH Plus, and more.
Do a customer survey and talk to your customers as much as you can. This will make you a better salesperson, marketer, and business.
The other thing that we really try to do is make ourselves available. This used to be basically unheard of with flaky suppliers and no telephone numbers. We were (and still are!) real people, that really responded.
You could call us. You could email support. You can hit reply on the auto-responder emails. And we would keep talking until we answered everything and took care of you.
TLDR: Talk to your customers via any way you can. Run surveys, gain insights, give people what they want.
9. Grow your business when you’re stuck
It’s easy to get stuck and not know where to go next, but when you put tracking on everything, your issues become clear.
You can make money without knowing your numbers. But I would argue you don’t really have a business until you really know your numbers.
Once you know how much it costs on avg to get a lead, and then how much that lead is worth over time, then you can really scale.
On the other hand, if you don’t know your numbers, you can easily throw away tons of money in the burning trashcan called paid ads.
If you find a time when you don’t really know what to do, you don’t have to despair. You can ask someone. I’ve personally bought $1000s of dollars worth of courses, books, and materials to learn how to do each facet of the business better. From operations to Facebook ads, to new product creation, email marketing and more.
You can also ask for advice from veterans from a site like clarity.fm. You can search for someone who has already achieved what you want to, book a call and get advice. It’s fantastic.
TLDR: Find out how much it would cost you to get a lead (email) from whatever advertising source. Track that value of 1-3-6-12 month timeline with software like Improvely. Then scale up, and start ballin’. If you don’t know how to get to where you want to go, ask someone who has already done it and pay them.
10. Focus your working hours on stuff that aligns with your goals
Your working hours need to be spent on actions that get you closer to your actual goals.
For instance, if you goal is to increase sales, then you need to spend your working hours during the day on things that are directly in line with marketing and sales.
Things that should be consuming your time:
- Writing new sales letters
- Building an autoresponder
- Setting up new advertising
- Creating a follow up system for your sales team
Things that you should NOT be working on:
- Working in production
- Listening to Bob complain about his lawn mower
- Fixing small details with production
- Designing Logos
TLDR: You must schedule time every day to work on the actions that get you closer to that specific goal, and when that time comes do it.
These 10 things have had major impacts on our success and I can’t wait to write our 50k user article (should be in the next year).
The thing is, information is only good if it’s actionable, so I’ve turned this post into a set of actions and resources that you can download by just sharing the love below.
If you have any questions, leave them in the comments! We’d love to hear from you.
COO @ The HOTH
Clayton Johnson is the CMO of The HOTH SEO company. He has over 8+ years experience in the SEO industry and has spoken at events like SEJ Summit. The HOTH has been featured in Inc 5000, Forbes, SMX, Pubcon, Content Marketing World, Affiliate Summit, Brighton and more.