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5 ways I have wasted my time while building my company

Jan 25, 2016

Towards the end of last year I was doing a few interviews as part of promotion for Secret Sauce Conference, the conference series I run, and was asked a few times by press (and also occasionally after I give talks by attendees): “What would you do differently if you were to start over?” or “What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?”.

Because of hindsight bias and the negative impacts of regretting previous actions, I don’t really have many answers for these questions, “You can only join the dots looking back,” as Steve Jobs used to say. Having said that, I appreciate the point of this question is to find helpful advice for others. So here are five things I regret:

1. Travelling to real-life meetings

Easily the biggest time-waster on this list. From day one of building Planet Ivy right through to fairly recently, weeks of a year have been wasted. Even with validated leads (of people to sell to or to invest in you) the amount of time you put in vs reward is shockingly low. That’s not to say you shouldn’t meet powerful people or those with strong networks, but for the most part, Skype does the job just fine.

I’ve closed deals worth thousands and avoided wasted time in hundreds of “getting to know you” meetings. Put it this way: You have a mid-morning meeting. They can either come to your office/have it via Skype or you can travel to meet them somewhere.

If you travel to meet them, it’ll take you 15 minutes to get ready from home/close down whatever it was you were working from in the office. Then let’s say 30-45 minutes to get there and meet them. You have the meeting for an hour, then another 30-45 minutes back. By the time you get back it’s lunchtime so you’ve basically wasted the morning and into the early afternoon.

Option B goes like this: one minute before the meeting starts, you walk to the meeting room/turn on Skype, and are back at work five minutes after the meeting ends. Multiply that by 20 meetings a month and you’ll see some serious hours lost (or saved).

2. Networking

Brilliant on day one when you’re learning how to pitch and speak about your company to strangers, but pretty soon after this, unless you’re looking to sign up the people you’re networking with to buy/use your product, a complete waste of time.

Randomly wandering around the room hoping to meet a potential customer/get an intro to an investor is an insane use of resources. What happens if you meet someone in a completely unrelated field? You’re probably going to talk to them for 15 minutes out of politeness. You rack up about 12 of these conversations (out of a room of 100 people) then it’s time to go home, even less if someone is giving a talk. A little while back I was at St. James’ Palace helping hype social media for an event with some of the richest and most powerful people in the country. I found out who was attending before and tweeted some of them, but in the hour before the event started there were only so many people I could squeeze in talking to. Even in that dream context, I could do little to affect major results.

There are enough tools out there to reach out to the people you really want to meet (VoilaNorbert to find emails, Discover.ly to see who you have in common to reach out for a warm intro, etc) as well as the epic usefulness of Facebook groups in your area/niche (go find them, they’re incredible). You should be at these networking events, but with one change (see below).

 
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3. Not doing public speaking before

If you’re at an event, you should be the one speaking. You have everyone’s rapt attention, can show expertise and will get people asking to work with/help you, rather than the other way around.

I can’t stress enough how important this is if you’re selling something, or are a contractor/freelancer/run an agency. Most business will come from referrals, but when you’re starting out, you have no customers to refer you.

4. Not getting out to America soon enough

If you’re not lucky enough to be living in the States, do whatever it takes to get out here.

More investors, customers, customers with bigger budgets, bigger total addressable market, more advanced startup ecosystem. Do I need to say anything else?

I can’t find the exact quote (and apologies if it was someone else) but Y-Combinator’s Paul Graham once said something like: “If you wanted to get into the fashion industry, you wouldn’t say ‘Hey, I’m going to move to the 6th biggest fashion city in America!’ You would move to New York, LA, or maybe Chicago … anything else would be ridiculous.”

5. Not executing fast enough

This is in the “No-one thinks they’re doing it, but most founders do it” category.

Things get discussed in meetings, fear ultimately holds you back, and you stay the course which normally doesn’t work. Particularly if you have investors and a team around you, it often feels like you can’t just rip up the rulebook and head off in a new direction/try new things. You can, of course.

Three experiments a week is a good number to aim for (hat tip to Sean Ellis for this idea). I’ve been using this model to try out three new growth hacking techniques for the last month, and have had some real breakthroughs using this technique.

I’m sure I’ll have another set of time wasting activities in five years, but saving time by not doing the above makes me feel good, until I learn more.

 
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Want me to help you grow your social media channels/startup/company? Read this

Jan 9, 2016

Some of y’all will know that I help startups acquire users. My company helps funded startups with a clear target market reach out to and capture the attention of people who will love what they’re doing. Our prices start from £1800 a month. Email me here if interested. We’re aware not all early-staged companies can afford that (or maybe you just want to grow your personal brand) so we have created the following packages so that you can increase your visibility quickly for an affordable price. So here we go:

1. Twitter and Instagram: overnight popularity packages

Posting on social media only works when you have an audience to broadcast to.

You could be sending the perfect post at the perfect time, but if you have no-one to see your posts, how would you ever know? Whether you want to grow your personal brand, company, or brand new startup, we’ll find the people on social media who will love what you’re doing, growing your engagement and followers in a matter of days. Your followers will be the types of people you are looking to reach.

New visitors to your social pages will see social proof that you are someone who matters. Any company with less than 500 followers on Twitter tends to look very weak when a competitor has more. Also, on Twitter, we can reach out to all new followers for you, increasing your engagement and clicks to your website or app.

Costs:

Twitter: One month’s subscription= £1000 ($1,500 USD) per 2,500 followers.

Instagram: One month’s subscription= £1000 (£1,500 USD) per 1,500 followers.

Email us if you have any questions or would like to order.


2. Startup “Starter pack”

If you’re new to launching a startup/company, it can be bafflingly confusing to work out what you need to do to get your product a strong foundation to start building traction on. We’ve created a package to give you strong credibility and visibility from day one. A one-time purchase guarantees you:

  • An SEO audit of your company website
  • 20-40 SEO dofollow backlinks from reputable sites including the likes of Digital Trends, Launching Next, and All Top Startups (useful SEO backlinks which will help you rank for terms/get your site seen)
  • Listings on startup directories where early adopters hang out, including Reddit. This will also create SEO backlinks to help you get found via Google.
  • 500 visitors to a piece of your content or to your homepage from our tech-focused influencer network of 175,000 followers
  • 1st 500 Twitter followers on your company Twitter account
  • 1st 500 Instagram followers on your company Instagram account
  • Have your website checked for spelling errors

The Startup Starter pack is £1000 ($1500 USD), for a limited time only.

Email us if you have any questions or would like to order.

3. Full automation of social media channels

Serious about social media but can’t afford to outsource? Learn how to fully automate your Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr management. We can teach you how to organically grow your account faster than you’d believe, with relevant, engaged followers, on multiple platforms. We designed this package as we noticed many entrepreneurs and creative people couldn’t afford our other packages, but saw the value in having a strong following online, making their social media activity worthwhile.

Intensive two-hour training course: £400

Email us if you have any questions or would like to order.

vincent dignan

Grow your company faster using growth hacking- come to my American tour to find out how

Jan 5, 2016

Want explosive growth? It happens every single day to the fastest-growing companies in the world. Let me show you some of the techniques they’ve used, that you can use on your company and/or social media accounts. I’m coming to America for February and March and I’ll be giving my growth hacking talk, which was voted best talk at SXSW V2V 2015 in Las Vegas the last time I was over. You should come! Full dates below. here’s what you’ll learn:

1. An introduction to the “hacker mindset” and how you can use it to quadruple your companies growth
2. A step-by-step on how to rapidly grow your social media communities and get free traffic/users/feedback from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Also, how to build a cheap, powerful marketing stack
3. Outlining a perfect pre-launch strategy to gather emails so you have users on day one
4. A brief outline of how to hack PR coverage, and some tactics to quickly boost your SEO
5. An overview of the most up-to-date tactics and software to enable efficient email marketing, sales, and productivity
6. At my “how to be rich and internet famous” talk, you’ll also learn how to master sales and personal branding
Read what other people, who have seen this talk recently, have been saying about it at: Http://bitly.com/2016talks

Dates:

 

 

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS

29th Feb – “How to get rich and internet famous” GA Boston GET TICKETS HERE

1st Mar – “Growth hack your Content Marketing Strategy” GA Boston GET TICKETS HERE

DENVER, COLORADO

3rd Mar – Galvanize – GET TICKETS HERE

BOULDER, COLORADO

4th Mar – GET TICKETS HERE

DALLAS, TEXAS

7th Mar – Genius Den – GET TICKETS HERE

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

8th Mar – (Lunch & Learn) – WeWork members only GET TICKETS HERE

8th Mar – Growth Hack Your Content Marketing – GA Chicago GET TICKETS HERE

 

AUSTIN, TEXAS (SXSW)

11th March – Capital Factory, 2pm GET TICKETS HERE

13th March – GA @ AT&T Center (Social Media Workshop) GET TICKETS HERE

Monday 14th March – TBC

SAN FRANCISCO

Tuesday 15th March – Rocket space GET TICKETS HERE

SEATTLE

17th Mar – Growth Hacking – Startup Hall GET TICKETS HERE

VANCOUVER, CANADA – To be announced

TORONTO, CANADA – To be announced

MONTREAL, CANADA – To be announced

 

Past Dates on this tour:

AUSTIN, TEXAS

Mon Feb 1st – Capital Factory – AUSTIN TX. GET TICKETS HERE
Wen 3rd – WeWork – AUSTIN TX. GET TICKETS HERE
Thur 4th Feb – “Growth Hack Your Content Marketing” – AUSTIN TX. GET TICKETS HERE

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA

Monday 8th February – Cross Campus, Santa Monica GET TICKETS HERE

Tuesday 9th February – Cross Campus, Pasadena GET TICKETS HERE

Wednesday 10th UCLA (Email me for location etc)

Thursday 11th February “Growth Hack Your Content Marketing” – Santa Monica GET TICKETS HERE

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA

Monday 15th February – WeWork Transbay GET TICKETS HERE

Wed 17th February “Growth Hack your Content Marketing – GA-SF (225 Bush) GET TICKETS HERE

Thurs 18th February Galvanize “Growth Hack your Content Marketing” (Classroom) GET TICKETS HERE

NEW YORK

Mon 22nd Feb – Noble Desktop, 594 Broadway GET TICKETS HERE

Tues 23rd Feb – Techstars NYC, 1407 Broadway GET TICKETS HERE

Wens 24th Feb – Noble Desktop, 594 Broadway GET TICKETS HERE

Thurs 25th Feb – Spark Labs, 833 Broadway GET TICKETS HERE

90hrs

Run your own company? Burnout is a good thing

Jan 2, 2016

When I give a speech at a corporate event, I often ask those in attendance, ‘Do you know how to tell if you’re doing the job?’ As heads start whispering back and forth, I provide these clue​s​: ‘If you’re up at 3 A.M. every night talking into a tape recorder and writing notes on scraps of paper, have a knot in your stomach and a rash on your skin, are losing sleep and losing touch with your wife and kids, have no appetite or sense of humour, and feel that everything might turn out wrong, then you’re probably doing the job”Bill Walsh

 

​I’ve been close to or at the point of burnout for the last few weeks putting together the next installation of Secret Sauce Conference while working on my various other projects (like I said in a recent tweet “Good luck to everyone in 2016 not working on their projects over Christmas). Being this close to burning out excites me, as all the major breakthroughs I’ve had in the last couple of years have come when I’m at this point. Some thoughts on burnout:​

Most entrepreneurs never hit the point of burnout. Go to a meetup and observe London’s startup scene getting stuck into the free booze. Would you invest in their company?

Burnout is a rare phenomenon because virtually no-one works hard enough to achieve it. Everyone wants to be the next Steve Jobs, but would you work 90-hour weeks like his time (pretty much) did, eventually getting sweatshirts made to commemorate this feat.

You don’t have time/energy to get drunk if you’re an entrepreneur. You don’t have time/energy to see friends, but you should schedule to see your family once a month.

You can probably have a relationship (if you’re in one already) if they’re very understanding. You probably can’t create a healthy (new) relationship while building a new company/agency. Use Tinder.

Nuance is how you win. I could tell you every growth hacking secret in the world and it wouldn’t matter unless you were committed to tweaking, testing, and understanding why things work, and how you can affect it for your specific purposes.

Likewise, you’ll only discover the “Secret sauce” that makes your company better than everyone else after a LOT of experimenting. Read this.

 
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When you start to feel burned out, you’re probably very near to a major breakthrough. Part of the reason my talks are so successful is they appear to show how shortcuts can help you win quicker. They do, but you still need to work from the moment you wake up until the moment you go back to sleep (you’ll probably have to take one nap a day also) in order to be successful.

When you’re burned out, you have a voice in your head which will tell you “I just cannot do anymore work.” Now we’re getting somewhere! At this point you’ll examine everything you do to see what can be gotten rid of e.g. low paying clients/unnecessary work/anything else that takes up more time that it should (remember what I said earlier about getting drunk?).

Now you’ll focus on the really important stuff, or you may take a new direction completely. Maybe you’ll do a personal development course, or hire a coach. Only by giving it everything do we realise what we need to do.

Read Next: My content marketing journey 2016, part one: It started as a mistake

Caveat: You need to stay relatively fit (Regular exercises of sit-ups/push-ups/planking do the job for me, while cycling to all meetings in Central London) whilst working every minute of the day or you don’t get the upsides of burnout I’m talking about here (healthy body=healthy mind). Don’t ask me why this is true, it just is.

Burnout is one of the byproducts of investing in yourself. The interest tends to accumulate later than you think, in unexpected and awesome ways.

Caveat #2: You can’t aim to be burned out. It’ll just hit you one day. You can work towards it by giving yourself the best possible chance to be in peak condition to work on your project: Give up caffeine and alcohol. Say no to distractions. Don’t watch entire seasons on Netflix. Eat the same good foods each day so you don’t have food comas/energy slumps. Cutout all distraction (working from home is very under-rated, or an environment with as little distraction as problem (i.e. co-working spaces and coffee shops suck for this reason). Stop having meetings face to face (Skype will do in 99% of cases.) If you’re working near to burnout on your startup, investors will come to you. If you run an agency, do everything on Skype, only leaving your house/office to do public speaking (which you should get good at).

If you put all of the above in place, it will show when you speak to anyone about what you do for a living. It will show in the work you do. People will wonder how you achieve what you have. And the answer is almost always: You were on the verge of burning out for days, weeks, months, but carried on anyway.

The very definition of entrepreneurship is often stated as  “living a few years of your life like most people won’t, so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t”. Burnout can’t and shouldn’t last forever, but it’s going to get you far nearer to where you want to be. Do you agree? Let me know in the comments 😘

 
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Should you use fake users on your app?

Jan 2, 2016

I met or spoke with hundreds of startup founders last year. In coffeeshops at SXSW, mentoring at accelerators like London Business School, MassChallenge and IncuBus, and after giving talks around the world. If they sought out my advice and were building an app (e.g. dating) or social community, I would always ask “Are you going to create fake profiles?”. This is a very telling question. Implicit in that question are the following questions:

  • Have you studied the way many other platforms like Reddit and TheStreet.com started out, creating thousands of fake profiles and creating comments/content etc for about the first six months?
  • Are you prepared to get stuck in and hustle?
  • Do you have a winning at all costs attitude?
  • Are you prepared to carry out potential high-return strategies even if you’re not sure they’ll work?

Entrepreneurs love to post memes about the hustle, but when it comes to the above, how many want to follow through and do things that may make them deep uncomfortable, but could bring massive returns? I’m by no means saying every company in that mould should do this, or that this is a substitute for a great product/value proposition. Nor am I saying this should be the only or main strategy. Tinder’s strategy of manually signing up sororities and then frat houses on the same campus meant all humans matched on day one of their app (awesome). But it’s worrying when you hear a startup founder not doing something and presuming their users will love them for it.

 
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Users want activity on a platform. 90% of people who download an app will never use it after the first week. The fix to that is to have an AMAZING on boarding experience. If you join an app/community and it’s a ghost town, why would you ever return? As an extension of this, if you have smart coders who can build bots, you can then start to brainstorm how to duplicate such strategies on other platforms where your target audience is currently (i.e. Airbnb auto-posting their apartment to Craigslist, where people were searching for apartments). Some examples:

  1. I’m on a new dating app talking to my ideal match (in my case, attractive girls)- I talk to lots of them but don’t manage to cement a date, so keep trying for a few weeks OR I sign up, no-one in my local area/to talk to, so I head back to Tinder or Happn and never use your app again.
  2. I’m on a new social network for entrepreneurs. Every day there is fresh content for me to read, and I’m amazed that every comment I write gets replied to at least twice within 30 minutes (as behind the scenes the founder is getting a notification on his smartphone and replying instantly from 2 or 3 fake accounts) OR I see the same content on the front page 3 days running, and abandon it and go back to Reddit, soon unsubscribing to your emails trying to get me back to the graveyard that is your website.
  3. I find a marketplace for selling my consultancy services over video chat. I sign up and get lots of replies interested in using my services, but don’t actually close a deal-most tell me they want it in a month and to email them then, so I make a note in my diary OR I sign up, get no enquiries and literally forget the site even exists within a week. (i.e. the founders are making fake enquiries).

Of course, while the above interactions happen, (say over a period of 4-8 weeks), you’re building up the REAL users through various channels, so soon the real blends into the fake and you can take a step back from being chained to your laptop to reply to everything as it comes in, and let the real users talk to each other.

READ NEXT: Running your own company? Burnout is a good thing

It always amazes me how few people know the tactics all of the big companies used, piggybacking off other platforms, grabbing users every quick and dirty way they can. Don’t see them as above you- they were where you were once, and they hustled using tactics like the above. You’re already likely shutting out the possibility of time with your partner, a stable job, and time with your friends to run your company, so why not go all the way?

I find parents are the BEST people to pitch my new startup ideas to. If they can’t understand it, you can’t pitch it. And in reference to fake users, let me throw a scenario at you: It’s christmas day 2016. They ask you how your business is coming along (with the implicit notion that it’s going to fail and you should get a proper job, as parents do). You can say one of two things:

  • Well it hasn’t progressed too much and we might have to shut it down, but we have been ethical, unlike some of our competitors. I might need to borrow some money soon also.

OR

  • Yeah, we’ve had to do some…crazy things, but it’s going really well! Thousands of users, raised a huge chunk of money…

Push through the fear. If you feel it in your stomach that this would work for your company, you know what you have to do 💁. See the world as it really is, not how you’d like it to be. Finally, check this out:

fakeinternet

 
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My content marketing journey 2016, part one: It started as a mistake

Jan 2, 2016

It started as a mistake.

I was looking for the bathroom at a rock-themed nightclub in Central London. I pushed absent mindedly through the wrong door and found myself in a band’s backstage room. It was something straight out of Almost Famous- guys with long hair and sunglasses laid out everywhere, a few girls in the corner, and a table full of alcohol. Everyone looked my way as I entered. “Are you guys a band?” I enquired. “Yeah, we’re The Doors” came the reply, and the room erupted in laughter. (Note: they were a Doors cover band). I said “Cool, I love the doors” (I didn’t really love The Doors). They offered me a drink and I got chatting to the blonde sitting by the drinks table. She told me she was an editor of a national newspaper, and asked me if I wanted to write for her. I told her I’d never thought about writing but everyone in my primary school thought I’d be a journalist when I was older (which was true). Two weeks later I was reviewing Lost Prophets at Brixton Academy, and I got to see them for free! And so begun my music writing career. In that period of my life I watched showgirls whip each other with Marilyn Manson and Dita Von Teese, got shouted at by Linsey Lohan, hanging out with My Chemical Romance (picture above is with MCR singer Gerard Way) and drank champagne with Groove Armada as they came offstage at a music festival in Finland. It was awesome.

My big break arrived after about 18 months of writing: I managed to get a work experience slot at legendary rock publication Kerrang! I opened mail, picked competition winners, filled excels, then worked up the courage to ask for an audition to write for them. I put everything I had into the assignments and turned in my best writing and…they turned me down. I didn’t quite know what to do next. I carried on writing about bands but couldn’t quite make that jump to being a writer. I reviewed a major music festival for a national newspaper and got some unexpected feedback from the festival promoter, via my editor: Tell that writer we will never let him review our festival again. (I mentioned how bad the sound was on one of the stages, unaware that review tickets were not there to criticise such things).

I did other things with my life for a few years, but when Planet Ivy was born in 2012, my experience with Kerrang! accidentally touched on a problem a lot of young people had: It was really hard to make the jump from “wanting to be a writer” and being a writer. In return for their articles, Planet Ivy would train and improve writers, and give them a platform bigger than any beginner writer’s blog to be seen on. Many of the Planet Ivy writers progressed to being full-time writers at pretty much every publication you can think of. We had a meetup and one of our former writers turned up in a tie. We were like “wtf dude?” and he told us he was now at The Daily Telegraph, which makes even the writers dress formally. He was beaming from an article he had written for them that got over 5 million page views in a single day. We were becoming that bridge that writers travelled on their journey to success.

After Planet Ivy hit a million visitors a month, content remained a key thread in my life, from second content site Screen Robot, to the creation of my content marketing agency, Magnific, right through to the content I oversee on social media which brings traffic to the clients I work with.

So with that in mind, I’m going to do an experiment in transparency in 2016. I’m going to start blogging (here on vincentdignan.com, and on other sites) and record each month how I did, including my stats where possible, something which others who want to blog may find useful. Also, I give talks on content marketing, so I figure I better practice what I preach 🌝. I only have one goal: to write and publish 52 articles in 2016. I don’t have any traffic or social share goals in mind, but will be tracking on this blog how I get on, not least so that anyone reading this will have a loose template they can follow if they want to blog, and are unsure of where to start/how to get traffic to their site. Below is my analytics for my personal website (vincentdignan.com, the one you’re…on right now). I’ve never pushed my personal website in any way, so as you’ll see, visitors are basically non-existent:

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The top post is my application for a new job (I’m hiring, spread the word!). My “blog” received a paltry 62 visits, and the “top article” received a comical 25 page views in the last month. So we can take it as red that I’m basically starting from zero. If anyone reading this wants to start this journey and start blogging with me hit me up in the comments and let’s go on this journey together!

 
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I’ll go into more detail in the next post on my methods, but here’s a ten-part loose plan of my first month you can follow if you want to start a blogging journey too:

  1. Come up with 25 titles that sound juicy.
  2. Store them in a Trello file
  3. Find time to pick out the best ones and write them up. Many writers like to do this first thing in the morning but I find after 10pm is the right time for me.
  4. Think about your audience, i.e. they need to get value from every post you write. It doesn’t always have to be “actionable tips for improving Instagram”, but make it good (If you can’t make it good, make it entertaining and people might not notice). As ever, don’t be business guy, and remember the golden rule of writing: Never write something that someone else has said before.
  5. Start writing. Aim to guest blog (in my case, I’ll hit up people from my personal connections) but if not post it on your own blog. There are a multitude of reasons why this is a good idea.
  6. Have a buffer of articles ready. I feel like I’m cheating on my 2016 journey by revealing I have six articles written already, but it’s a great strategy. You can also send these titles to people you want to guest blog for, and be like: “Any of these take your fancy?”. Way stronger then “Can I blog for you?”. Everyone you’re talking to will want to know “Will this article get clicks? The only thing that matters.
  7. If you’re feeling self-conscious or afraid you can’t do it, remember the following:
    – It only really takes 30 minutes to write a blog post (You can afford the time)
    – You only get better by writing lots
    – If you write one amazing blog post and four stinkers, people only remember the good one, and will say you have a great blog once you’ve written that one great article
  8. So now you have the article. Getting traffic/distribution of articles is a problem no-one has really solved yet, but here’s what I’ll be doing this month:
    – Creating a medium account, and posting to LinkedIn, Facebook etc. In 2015 you have to go where the eyeballs are, so be on as many platforms as possible.
    – Setting up timed tweets and Facebook posts every time I finish an article to run for the entire month (i.e. releasing the same article multiple times)
    – Sending links to articles to influential people, and at new people who follow me, rather than typing out “Thanks for following me” 100 million times until my fingers bleed
  9. Putting articles in my email newsletter. I’m not selling anything so I’m going to try just putting entire articles in the body of the email to save people having to click to read it. This will mean less traffic, but is a better user experience for the reader (in my opinion).
  10. There isn’t a number ten, but I wanted a round number.

Thanks for reading, if you have any questions about any of the above let me know in the comments. If you’re in London and want to come to my content marketing workshop, there’s information here.

My next live sessions in London are my brand new talk on sales and personal branding on the 6th of January, and my updated growth hacking talk January 7th. Peace!

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READ NEXT: Should you use fake users on your app?

 
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