12th May 2021
5 mistakes to avoid in your SaaS startup
Welcome to the next instalment of our SaaS FAQ series, where we comb the internet’s start-up communities to bring you the best and most insightful answers from fellow founders and their tried-and-tested methods (with a sprinkling of our own know-how).
Many of you are looking for guidance on the same issues; idea validation, pricing structures, landing pages, development resources or even just an encouraging boost that sees you over the next hurdle. We’ve addressed many of the topics you’ll see here on our own blog, but sometimes it’s worth hearing out approaches that differ from your own to get a broader perspective.
This is a recurring theme in any start-up community; a bootstrapped founder with a hot new idea, but with no-one to sell it to. Respondents often ask if the idea was properly validated before the founder started building out their vision, and for many the answer is yes – but that hasn’t necessarily materialised into concrete sales.
The best answers break down different approaches tailored to different products. The key distinction here is between high-and-low purchase consumers. If your selling a product on, say, a £5 monthly subscription model, it will need to be an automated sales funnel if your business has any chance of scaling long-term.
On user on reddit summed up the distinction particularly well:
“Unless your product is very expensive… the term “leads” is already the wrong approach.
Lead implies a manual process where every sale you ever land has been hand touched and interacted with, its not sustainable.”reddit user u/L_VDH
That said, your first ten clients will be people who you have had to make a personal connection with to at least demo your product. Hopefully you will have found a fairly sizeable list of potential candidates for outreach as part of your validation process – if not, then this should become your first priority.
That initial handful of users can prove invaluable to shaping the direction of your SaaS product and its features. Many replies describe how integrating the feedback of early adopters was crucial in keeping their customers’ pain points in focus during development.
“It is rarely possible to find the first SaaS clients by running ad campaigns or optimizing landing pages.
That’s because typically those first 10 clients validate and redefine what you are actually selling and this defines your marketing message. Before you have them, you have only your own idea about possible clients.”reddit user u/tanninenco
Ultimately, there is a substantial element of grind involved, especially in securing those first few willing participants. Most respondents typically describe building their consumer base from the ground up with cold calls and email marketing.
“For my SaaS, it was 5 months from starting out to landing our customers. For context, I had to do about 30-50 demos with fake mock-ups to land those first ten customers who were actually willing to pay.
Before that, we did a couple dozen user interviews with false signals (e.g. “Yeah, I’d use that”) but it wasn’t until we integrated with Slack in Oct 2015 that people were actually willing to pay for our product.”reddit user u/AndyGCook
The point at which your customer base ‘takes off’ will be different for every SaaS venture. The best way to increase your chances of success is to be adaptable in the early stages. Don’t invest too heavily in strategies that aren’t working – instead, pivot to new approaches until you find one that gets traction. As the evergreen Thomas Edison quote goes; ‘I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.’
Making your first landing page is as exciting as it is intimidating, and many founders agonise over how to give their product the best possible start in life. After all, it’s where you’ll be directing potential customers, and it will be the first tangible thing they’ll have to get a measure of you and your ambition.
Last year, Olly Meakings launched Roast My Landing Page, which he pitched as a service to start-ups of varying scale and quickly found a large audience for his 20-minute breakdowns and analysis. After auditing 200 landing pages, Olly published his top-line feedback, which you can read more of on his Twitter thread.
Like much of the advice above, Olly’s conclusions often circle back to a customer-led approach. This means putting the needs and pain points of the end consumer at the front of everything; including branding, UI/UX, scale, pricing etc.
This then informs a lot of the design and copywriting issues that he flagged on a number of pages. Focusing your landing page on one goal is a must, especially for smaller operations that need a laser-focus to give back value from their limited resources.
Then there’s the issue of accessibility, which applies to both navigation as well as copy.
“About 1 in 8 landing pages I read, I couldn’t comprehend on first read-through.
Fix it: Avoid technical terms and acronyms, and write in plain language. Remember you’re talking to a human, even if they are a B2B buyer. Ask yourself if a 12 year old could understand your landing page.”Olly Meakings, founder Roast My Landing Page
Then he points to the language itself, and how a ‘benefits-based’ approach is proven to yield higher engagement. This also applies to CTAs, which must have a ‘context’ around them so that the user knows exactly what they’re signing up for, and what will be required of them to be able to benefit from it.
“So many pages used large blocks of text to explain something that could be more clearly and powerfully demonstrated in a simple product shot, table, visual, example, demo, illustration or abstraction.
Show, don’t tell.”Olly Meakings, founder Roast My Landing Page
A good landing page is one that takes your ambition and translates it to be relevant to your target audience. You won’t be able to get this right unless you put in the time needed to properly research your audience to the point where you can see the world through their eyes. Failing that, just get them to talk to you – you’d be surprised how easily people will discuss their professional experiences and irritants with someone who’s happy to listen.
Running a content plan as part of your marketing strategy is often recommended by the start-up coaching industry, and there’s a good reason for it. In a world where everyone is fighting for your attention online, it can be hard to break through. User-generated content that tells a personal story has the best chance of getting engagement if you haven’t got that ad money to spend.
That said, it’s a time-consuming process, and writing engaging prose that people will want to read isn’t for everyone – so it’s a good job that there are other options!
Many founders have made a success of running DIY YouTube setups to document their journey, or produced similar content for Instagram or Twitter to put a face to their business and draw people in. Not everyone that follows you will become a customer, but those that will convert are a lot more likely to find you if there are people organically sharing or otherwise engaging with you online.
This sort of content is different again from content that chases an SEO ranking, a distinction laid out here by one reddit user –
“This is a pet peeve of mine, but I separate ‘blogging’ as in ‘blogging about random things that may be related to your SaaS’ and ‘developing really focused SEO pieces on topic clusters for your SaaS.'”reddit user u/mbuckbee
If content isn’t your thing, you can still get your website or landing page ranked on Google. Having well-written, accurate and concise documentation to explain the functionality of your product can serve this purpose. As a baseline, the more information you put on your site, the more Google has to work with as it crawls your pages to figure out what searches you belong under. Just make sure that you don’t put this as a massive information dump somewhere on your landing page that could put people off.
ConveyThis founder Alex Buran does a good job of limiting expectations of overnight success when it comes to a content strategy:
“The [product] usage has grown gradually over time, but some SEO techniques have paid off: content marketing, social media, email marketing, SEO engineering (free online tools to capture leads and backlinks).
This is all aimed at the long term success. No overnight jumps, unfortunately. Everything was incremental.”Alex Buran, founder ConveyThis
With this in mind, the best way forward is to devise a content strategy that you can maintain alongside the other demands of launching your SaaS. Even if it’s just a monthly blogpost or quarterly vlog catch-up, it will gradually build up steam. It’s also important to put a human face to your business – it’s far easier to dismiss something that feels impersonal.
Hopefully you’ve got some take-aways from our trawl through the SaaS community – and if not, stay tuned! Your next hurdle might be covered in the next instalment of our SaaS founder FAQ series…
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