At the beginning of 2019, we set out our “NorthIQ Goals for 2019”, which we work on during the January 1 – December 31 Calendar year, we’ve been doing this for the last three years, and in the next few days we’ll start in on our 2020 goals. Before we start with new goals though, it’s important to look at where we’ve been, and what we’ve done.
This year we worked on creating meaningful and measurable goals that would get us where we wanted to be. We didn’t put out a bunch of unrealistic “Grow the business by Eleventy Eight Billion Percentage Points”, instead we found some specific key metrics, and we worked on improving those.
Our main goals were to find more clients, use our own tools, invest in the business, and refine our tools.
Each one of these goals would create a number of add-on results, and overall we did really well with those goals. Some of our goals changed over the course of the year as we learned new things. While we planned on releasing 26 blog posts on NorthIQ, we pivoted instead to create content on pillar pages that would help us get found by people looking for what we do. Conversely we created even more content on Manage Comics, and we’ve positioned ourselves for some very cool things this year.
Here is a review of our goals from 2018.
Find more clients
Our goal was to find more clients, specifically in London and the surrounding area. Working with new clients exposes us to new things every time, and we’ve become better because of the unique challenges that each new client has.
Manage Comics added 18 new stores in 2019.
NorthIQ worked with 5 new companies in 2020
We decided against more micro-sites in 2019, and we’ll likely look at some different content for 2020.
Overall, finding more clients was a great success, and it is something that we’ll focus even more on in 2020.
Use our own tools
We wanted to start using our own tools in 2019, specifically we wanted to get better with how we use Sharpspring for NorthIQ and Manage Comics.
We really started using Sharpspring in 2019, we’ve created a series of different nurturing systems, and we’ve got something really cool on deck that we want to start marketing which will be integral to our plans in 2020.
Continue content marketing
Our goal in 2019 was to create 26 blog posts on both NorthIQ and Manage Comics (52 blog posts in total).
We did much less content marketing for NorthIQ in 2019, with only 10 new posts created. However we went really deep on pillar pages for specific aspects of our business. We have five significant pillar pages (plus a capstone page about all of our Digital Marketing services), these pages were 1500-4000 words each, and they’ve helped us significantly with our SEO efforts. We’ll be continuing on in this vein, with 10-12 blog posts over the year, and a few more significant pieces like these. I would also like to do some guest posting on other sites, such as Tech Alliance locally, and other sites that will get our name out there.
Over on Manage Comics, we posted 48 blog posts (which includes 12 product updates). We created a new series called “Managing Your Shop”, which was picked up by Bleeding Cool, where four different articles were posted.
This was great, and we’ll be sending things to Bleeding Cool as well as a few other industry specific blogs/websites in the new year.
Invest in the business
Our goal here was to move Manage Comics forward significantly by building out the Point of Sale system. We created the specs, and got some ideas behind what would make it better, but we didn’t execute on this.
The goal was kind of vague, and while we invested in the business in other ways (paying for some content marketing, buying different courses for ourselves, and even investing in an SEO Audit to find out opportunities to improve), we failed in the big picture.
While we invested in Manage Comics in 2019, we need to do a better job of this in 2020.
We have a couple of projects in mind for this coming year, and we’ll be investing in both Manage Comics and our special NorthIQ project in 2020.
Refine our Tools
Our goal was to improve our communication with clients, and make our own work loads more manageable by leveraging better tools and creating new workflows for our incoming work.
We totally revamped how we manage incoming requests, and things are much better than they were before. We now have a dedicated help desk account, and project management software currently accounts for 20% of our monthly non-payroll expenses (mind you, we keep our monthly expenses pretty low). Since we changed over to Help Scout, we’ve found managing day-to-day requests is so much easier, and we don’t lose requests anymore.
The Look Back on 2019
In some ways 2019 was very successful, but we still want more. While we got some processes nailed down this year, it still feels like a lot of the things we do require manual effort, and usually significantly more than we expect. In the first week of January we’ll be doing a deep dive into 2020 to figure out exactly where we want to go, and exactly how we want to get there.
2020 will be the 3rd anniversary of NorthIQ as a corporation, but I’ve been at it for 5 years in 2020. I’m always simultaneously amazed at where we are, and anxious about where we should be whenever I look at the company as a whole.
Mark Manson’s popular book “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***” is marketed as a “A dose of raw, refreshing, honest truth that is sorely lacking today”, it doesn’t literally mean to not give any F*’s, it’s just a ballsy way of repeating other self help books like “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff”.
A caveat before we get started, I know that neither of these books is about shortcuts, in fact they’re about helping people see the big picture, and understanding what is important, and what isn’t. They’re also about living your best life, your authentic self, and generally being true to yourself. These are all good things.
The scary part about messages like that is that some people have taken this to mean that you can just do a surface level skim coat and call it “good enough”. If I shouldn’t sweat the small stuff, why do you care that the thumbnail for your news story grabs the right part of the image?
Sometimes we need to give a F***, sometimes we need to give all of the F***’s, and borrow a cup of F***’s from a neighbour to add some extra F***’s to your awesome sauce, otherwise you’ll just end up with a big lump of “adequate sauce”.
Hey, maybe adequate sauce is exactly what you need on your Corporate Chain Pizza of life.
Then again, maybe you need to give a f***.
What is the “Subtle art of giving a F***”?
The Subtle Art of Giving a F*** is more than just “sweating the small stuff” and in fact it’s a lot about big picture thinking, and how small details add up to the big picture.
Let’s start with a website. You can tell within 30 seconds of looking at a website how the company is going to treat you.
How does it look? Is the site old and tired, or is it fairly modern?
Does the navigation make sense?
Is it obvious what you should do? Is it simple to find the thing you’re looking for?
Is it easy to get in touch with them?
When you want to get in touch with them, do they require a whole bunch of seemingly irrelevant information?
Sometimes it’s the little things. Maybe they have a really intricate logo, but the thing is so small that it loses all context – it was likely designed for print, not for a 300px phone screen, where 87% of your potential customers initiate their first contact. Maybe it’s the fact that a captcha form takes seven attempts to get through.
You can tell very quickly when thought hasn’t been given to who is using the website, and what they’re doing with it.
When the basics are taken care of, then the difference is in how an experience can delight you. The little things can take something from 90% or “good enough” to 125% – “Wow, this is great”
Sometimes it’s about doing something that only you will care about.
The other day I spent over an hour on a single image for a blog post. The post itself probably took me another hour. I doubt anyone will even notice the difference between my picture and the default. The post was – How to Survive the Retail Paradigm Shift over on my Manage Comics blog.
For those of you wondering, I went in and added actual comic books to the book covers, so that the picture was actually reflective of the source material. This may not seem like a huge deal, but it felt important to me at the time. It was fun, I flexed some Photoshop muscles I don’t normally use, and it lends some extra context to the post.
It’s also the kind of thing that a detail oriented person might notice, and since this particular post was going in front of hundreds of thousands of eyes that’s the kind of detail that matters.
For that post I also recorded a video, it took me 14 minutes to record the video, and another three revisions of the thumbnail image to make sure it was exactly right.
In the first version, I realized that at certain screen sizes, the sides were being cut off, so I resized the caption and moved the logo a bit. However reading it I realized that the title needed some juice to make it more relevant, so I revised it again. Each revision only took a few minutes, but they were important.
In short, I did sweat the small stuff, and I gave a F***.
Don’t miss the forest for the trees
The little things gave me a sense of accomplishment. However, I worked on the things that I thought would make an impact, I did things quickly and efficiently, and I only worked on these little things after I had the big picture covered.
The video I did was recorded quickly, and without fuss. The idea behind the videos I am making right now is that I want to do things that have a low barrier to entry, that don’t take me a ton of time, but that can hit an adjacent audience to the text.
I recorded the video twice, the first time I hemmed and hawed quite a bit, but the second time I managed to get through the entire thing with only one minor screw up (I couldn’t remember the name “Geek Easy” no matter how hard I tried). Now I could have done a quick edit and fixed that up, but after watching it, I liked the raw energy of the unedited video.
What was important was that I got it up, that it enhanced the original post, and that it didn’t take a whole ton of time to do.
I’m a big fan of the term “Appropriate Effort”, meaning that you don’t spend a ton of time on things you know very few people will ever see, but you do put a lot of effort into the details on things that many people would see. I can’t imagine myself spending an hour on a graphic for a blog post just for Manage Comics, but when I’m going to draw in a much bigger audience, it makes a ton of sense.
Cover the big picture, make sure your message is consistent.
Don’t kill yourself over the little details that aren’t important.
In the summer of 2015, I finally made good on a promise I had made myself a long time ago and set out to start a brand new venture. This time I’d “do it right”, as opposed to all of the other times I had started a business, and I would focus on doing the things that I do best. Right from the beginning, NorthIQ was the culmination of everything that I had done before, and we wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for everything that had prepared us for where we are today.
On one hand, four years seems like a long time, but it feels like just yesterday that I was walking out the doors of my “sure thing”, and venturing off into the unknown. I founded NorthIQ as a sole proprietorship on August 13th, 2015, but I wouldn’t really get started for another three weeks.
Four years ago I knew one thing, I was going to rebuild All New Comics, and I would start working on Manage Comics. Other than that though, I didn’t have a clue what would be next. By November we were ready to launch Manage Comics, and All New Comics was ready to re-launch. I had a few little jobs in there, a couple of websites, I taught myself a ton about WordPress, and I started using Divi to build websites.
In October 2015, Craig Oliphant and I set out to build a complete product in one week. We succeeded in that challenge, and delivered the incredibly poorly titled – Kickstart Guide to Small Business Marketing – which we have seriously tweaked, modified, and revised this into a project called “Dude Where’s my Sales” which we will be launching wide next week.
That same week, we had a chance meeting with a company that would become my longest recurring client – Timber Block. We were hired to basically save their website, revise their SEO strategy, and improve their lead generation. I learned so much on that job, first working with Salesforce, and then later migrating them over to Hubspot. I relied on Craig to really help me out in this period, and everything we did in this first year months is the foundation for the business we have today.
When I left my previous job I thought I would build a business revamping websites. It’s grown to become mainly about lead generation. Even our SaaS – Manage Comics – has a huge lead generation component that has allowed it to grow to where it is today.
The things I didn’t know could fill a book, from simple things like accounting and reconciliation to complex things like onboarding and offboarding employees. The things I can do today are vastly different as well. I had never logged in to Salesforce in my career, but within a month of leaving my job I was logging into Salesforce daily. I have now implemented marketing automation solutions like Hubspot multiple times, and we’re a certified partner with Sharpspring. I’ve dug deeper into scary server side command line commands than I ever thought possible, and I know how to make a website sing and dance!
A ton of thanks goes out to Peter from All New Comics for that initial job that let me leave a very comfortable career and have a four-month runway of work. I also need to thank Craig, Sean Robinson, Taras Zubyak, Brent Potter, Nate Robinson, Mark Tauschek, Gord Harrison, Ryan McFadden and of course my wife Charlene for the help, leads, encouragement, and just generally being good people to bounce things off of.
The problem with goals is that they’re not rooted in the reality of the moment, they’re rooted in the perfect future that lies ahead. We’ve done a lot to mitigate this by setting specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound goals, and we check in on them four times a year (every quarter).
These are the goals that will define the next six months (through the end of June 2019) for NorthIQ.
Find more clients
We have figured out three niches that we can help significantly. Home builders, solar companies and technology companies. Through Manage Comics we can also significantly help Comic Stores. We should focus on those companies that we can best help.
Home Builders are being addressed with our Home Builder Demo website, our Solar Companies clients need a Demo Website, as do the Technology companies that we are targeting. We also have demo websites created for Comic Stores, and we need to link these to the current Manage Comics pages.
Link Comics Microsites to Manage Comics by February 22, 2019 – COMPLETE
Create Solar Company micro-site by March 8, 2019
Create Technology Company micro-site by March 15, 2019
Use our own tools
We’ve been selling Sharpspring for about 6 months now, and we’ve done some great things with it, but we haven’t fully set up our own automation pages. We need to solve that problem quickly. Our goal right now is to get an Onboarding system in place for Manage Comics stores when they sign up, and put all existing stores through it over the next month.
Build demo campaign for Homes contacts by February 22, 2019 – COMPLETE
Build onboarding for Manage Comics stores by February 28, 2019
Build demo campaign for Solar contacts by March 15, 2019
Build demo campaign for Technology contacts by March 22, 2019
Continue content marketing
Content Marketing was the best thing we did in 2017, and we continued with it in 2018. Being seen as “thought leaders” is really important in our space, and showing the smart things that we do helps to explain to others what it is we do, and more importantly HOW we do what we do.
26 blog posts in 2019 (2 posts a month) for NorthIQ
26 blog posts in 2019 (2 posts a month) for Manage Comics
Invest in the business
We need to put some money into Manage Comics and help it to really pull ahead of the competition. We’re planning some POS incorporation with Square – which will put us in league with other players, but that will take a significant investment.
Have POS specs completed by March 29 2019
Have funding in place for POS work by April 19, 2019
Begin working on POS project by May 1, 2019
Refine our Tools
We started out with just Basecamp for project management, but we’ve added some Jira tools to the arsenal. We need to refine, and revise what tools we use and how we use them. Basecamp is incredibly simple, but we may need some extra tools in order to hit our next milestones.
Get Help desk running by March 30.
Determine triage and routing rules for new requests by March 30.
Service Level Agreements for all new work that is incoming. New work should not take priority over already prioritized and planned work by March 30.
At the beginning of 2018 we set out The NorthIQ Goals for 2018. Our business has a June year end, which means we technically were in 2019 by July…but for the purposes of the blog we consider January 1 – December 31 2018 to be the calendar year.
We set a number of goals to hit, and for the most part we did quite well, but we didn’t achieve all of our goals…and part of that might have been that we were being too aggressive, while some of it can be due to the fact that as a fairly new business we are still figuring out how to optimally do things. Our philosophy so far has been to build things, refine them, and then figure out how to do them repeatedly. We’re doing a great job at building and refining, we’re now in the phase where we need to repeat them.
Craig and I have both worked for companies that dogmatically stuck to unrealistic, aggressive goals. Sticking to goals despite logic dictating that they no longer make sense demotivated us, and didn’t encourage us to do our best work. In a number of cases we actually did the wrong thing in order to hit an unrealistic target to please “the powers that be”. One of the things we’ve decided with NorthIQ is that we would do the right thing even if it goes against our business goals.
A good example came in the summer when we realized that in order to hit our goal of 52 blog posts in a year, we would have to post things that we weren’t convinced were good. We chose instead to put the blog on hiatus for a month to build up a good backlog of posts, and we finished the year out strong with some of our best posts. (more…)
In the fall of 2015, Craig was looking to get a promotion at work. He had worked hard, he had been in the company for nearly a decade, and he had fundamentally changed the way that marketing was done in the organization. When he was denied a promotion, he realized that he needed to take matters into his own hands. He sat down with Brian for a week and created a product called “The Kickstart Guide to Marketing”. This post outlined that process, and launched a brand new product called How to Create a Free Marketing Automation System.
In 2018 we launched “Hot Buzz”, and in our first episode we talked about effective ways of measuring your website. For the follow up blog post, we went in depth on what you should be measuring, and how you know that your website is effective.
In 2018 we changed the focus of our business. We realized the thing that we do better than anyone else is find new leads and nurture them to sales ready status. To do this, we use a formula that we call the 3i formula, and in this blog post we broke it down in depth.
As we got more comfortable with our value proposition, we started noticing patterns with our clients. Not everybody needs a marketing automation system, but there are very clear markers when you do. This blog post outlined five signs that will give you some pretty big indicators that you need to invest in some marketing automation.
Our marketing automation systems work like magic, but they need content. We looked at what we were doing with our real life clients and how the journey maps out. Our biggest insight is that our automation systems are an engine, and content is the fuel to that engine. Making sure that the content fits the buyer’s journey, and continually answers questions makes the entire system better.
In 2018 we launched “Hot Buzz”, which is our show about marketing and chicken wings. Through the four episodes of our first year we talked with a number of different people about a variety of things. Every episode got a little bit better, but we think our fourth one was the best one so far.
My personal favourite post of 2018 was the announcement that we are featured in London Inc. Earlier in the year Craig told me to go “Make a Ruckus”, so I reached out to a number of local news outlets. Now that we have this one piece under our belt, I’m going to continue reaching out to other news outlets to get even more coverage for the cool things that we are doing.