Twinkle Twinkle Little Party is a party blog that works with brands like Starbucks and TinyPrints, and has been featured on Style Me Pretty and 100 Layer Cake (to name but two). Blogger Andressa Hara’s secrets to success leverage social media and her own stunning styled shoots.
Bloggers who make a living from their blogs walk a delicate line between delivering engaging, original content to their audiences – and serving their advertisers. Go too far in one direction, and you look like a shill. Go too far the other way, and you’re back to applying for a 9-to-5 job.
Andressa Hara has successfully transitioned from event planner to event designer and full-time blogger at Twinkle Twinkle Little Party (TTLP). If you’ve ever tried to pay bills by blogging, you’ll understand just what a challenging transition that is. But it’s one she felt compelled to make in order to fulfill her creative vision.
“When I was building my event planning portfolio, I used to invite several vendors to collaborate with me. They would provide all the party décor and food necessary for the shoot, and I’d use a photographer as well.”
For Andressa, that was giving over a lot of creative control. Each styled shoot was the result of the team’s vision, rather than her own.
I found that I am happiest when I plan, design and execute my own vision from beginning to end. So I chose to rebrand from being an event planner to being a brand stylist only.
“Once I rebranded and became a party stylist/blogger, I was able to establish my own style and stick with it. I started to incorporate more DIY ideas rather than having vendors to provide everything. I also started to take my own pictures.
“Now I create content that is easy to recreate: parties my audience can get ideas from to host their own events rather than hiring someone to do it for them.” Andressa says that producing styled shoots for her readers has become her biggest passion, and her strongest content for building her business and brand.
When she agrees to a brand partnership, her audience – real people planning real parties – come first. If what she does helps them to throw an unforgettable, joyful event, she’s done her job well.
“When a brand contacts TTLP to promote a new product they are launching, we will only work on the campaign if the product is a good fit for our blog. Since TTLP is a party blog, I will only promote products that can be easily incorporated into celebrations.”
Her work has been featured on Style Me Pretty, Oh Lovely Day, 100 Layer Cake and Hostess with the Mostess, as well as nationwide magazines and brands like Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Nestle, Kate Aspen, Tiny Prints and Shutterfly.
Ever wonder how reality TV shows find their event planners? Want to know how to turn your Instagram page into a brand-building, client attracting portfolio? How’d you like to get in on the secret of creating a powerful first impression with your website’s home page alone? Elle Anderson of Elle A Events covers all of this and more.
Seven years ago, while living in Hawaii, Elle Anderson had her life flash before her eyes – she’d been in a car accident that landed her in the hospital. Until then, she hadn’t really asked herself what she truly wanted to do with her life. She already had a number of event coordinating, venue management and marketing jobs under her belt, but it wasn’t until that exact moment that she realized event production was what she felt called to do.
“I knew it was the culmination of my experience. It pulled all the pieces together. I wanted to create once-in-a-lifetime experiences for people.”
Unforgettable moments. When life flashes before your eyes, those moments are what stay with you.
Fast-forward to today where Elle A Events is a fast growing event production company with an accomplished team of creative professionals. They do everything.
“I get to be involved in so much more than one aspect of the event. This was why production for me was a bigger calling. I love being able to do custom fabrications and unique detailed touches; that’s the side of production you see. Planners and designers think of the ideas, but the people who put them into place are on the production side.”
Elle’s company has grown fast in the last six years in a way that could almost only happen in Los Angeles – by being on reality TV. Her television appearances may have been the catalyst for some of her success, but it’s not the only reason – her incredibly smart marketing strategies and business philosophy all contribute to her success today.
Our conversation with Elle ranged from how she first began marketing her business on Yelp, to how she found herself as the wedding planner for several reality TV shows, and how her marketing strategy and branding has evolved along the way.
She explains how she did it all, and why at the end of the day, it’s integrity that’s really the most important factor for growing your business (although a carefully curated Instagram page helps).
Floral designers Alicia and Adam Rico focus on just two ways to reach the brides who’ll love their style. They use print media as a springboard to grow their audience and a carefully curated Instagram page to nurture brides-to-be. The unintended consequence: travel opportunities.
When Alicia Rico and her husband Adam Rico first began their floral design business, Alicia had one goal – get into Martha Stewart Weddings magazine. It’s not easy. Weddings featured in Martha Stewart’s magazine have to be submitted long before they happen, and if chosen, an entire Martha Stewart design, planning and photography team help the happy couple with every facet of their big day – planning just the right look, choosing linens and lighting, even picking the perfect dress. For brides who adore Martha Stewart’s signature style of pale hues and vases overflowing with soft pink petals, it’s a dream come true.
But as Alicia’s business, Bows + Arrows Flowers was just getting off the ground, she didn’t have a bride-to-be in her back pocket. She did have photos of a recent wedding for which she’d designed floral arrangements. On a chance, she submitted them to the editors.
The editors loved them.
“It was of a wedding we did in the desert, which is a very different style than Martha Stewart magazine usually publishes. And we submitted it after it was done, and they still agreed to feature it. That was a huge moment.”
It didn’t take Alicia and Adam long to see their work from another wedding land on the cover of the magazine, checking off her next goal.
While it certainly helps to build your brand by aligning with one of the biggest wedding publications in the country, Alicia and Adam don’t rely solely on print media or even wedding blogs to get in front of their ideal audience of blossom-loving brides. Their success is a combination of understanding their ideal client really well, staying true to their brand, and building a truly impressive following on Instagram that not only lands them clients, but literally sends them around the world.
Here the Ricos share their journey from art students to Martha Stewart-approved floral designers (and occasional wedding designers), and give tips on how you can improve engagement, increase followers, and get clients on Instagram.
Customer journey maps have the potential to be the best tool your marketing department has – or a colossal waste of time. There are plenty of articles out there that will tell you how to build a customer journey map in “3 easy steps.” Those don’t work, at least not by our standards.
If your customer journey map isn’t moving you towards more conversions and awesome retention rates, it’s a waste of paper.
The way most people do customer journey maps looks like this: Bring your ‘best and brightest’ into a room for three hours, play “this is who we think our buyer personas are,” “this is what we think they’re feeling,” and follow it up with “these are where our touchpoints are.” In other words, it’s “brainstorming” with insufficient research. You’re not creating a map, you’re having an office party. And the customer journey map is the party game.
Do I sound harsh? Good. Because customer journey maps done wrong really burns my biscuits.
They have so much potential to be useful.
Actionable. Energizing. Even inspiring.
But to be truly useful, you have to approach them from the foundation of research, grounded in real, verifiable customer data. And that’s the step too many people miss, because it’s just not as much fun.
Forget fun – this is marketing strategy.
When a customer journey map does its job, it becomes a tool that lets you (and your marketing team) visualize your relationship with your target customer from first eyes-meeting-across-a-crowded-room encounter to mutually fulfilling partnership.
It shows the most likely places to meet your target, what they need there (depending on which stage of the sales funnel they’re in), what they get there currently, and where mismatches in expectations and desired outcomes may be losing them.
If this sounds like I’m describing more than just a customer journey map, you’re absolutely right.
“a customer journey map is merely an illustration or diagram of all the places (touchpoints) your customers come into contact with your company online or off.”
To make your journey map actionable, it can’t be merely an illustration of touchpoints. It has to illuminate the relationship, in its entirety. It has to pay attention to not only where prospects are, but what they need – and how to give that outcome to them in a way that moves them closer to your desired destination.
This journey map will become your visual cheat-sheet to understanding your customer on a deep, meaningful, actionable level.
Image source: Image created by Yasmine Sedky (@yazsedky) for Nichole.
Improving communication between customer success and product teams involves more than creating a Slack channel, or implementing any number of systems that – on the surface – facilitate communication.
You have to give them reasons to want to communicate.
Teams tend to be insular. Data tends to get siloed. And to really bridge those gaps, there needs to be an understanding of what other teams have to offer.
Customer Success’ purpose is to ensure customers reach their ideal outcomes with the product. To do their jobs, they track a tremendous amount of user data, setting up alerts when user actions indicate the potential for churn, observing where customers fall off of onboarding or use, collecting voice of customer data on what they want and what they may not be getting.
Basically, they have all the information Product needs to do their work better.
The challenge for Customer Success is to show Product managers how their information can help Product reach their goals faster and better – and do so in language Product folks can understand. Because there is a language gap. Customer Success tends to be more touchy-feely; they’re all about creating “delight.” Product teams are all about creating… the product.
I’m not saying there aren’t wildly creative verbally-inclined Product managers with crystals on their desks, I’m just saying that bullet points with metrics are generally appreciated.
Actionable steps to improve communication between Customer Success and Product Management:
Tell Product what you have to offer. You can create a customer-centric priority list of what changes are likely to have the most impact (Dev teams typically like to do the biggest impact, easiest-to-implement fixes first).You can work together to find metrics to measure the success of proposed product improvements, changes and additions.
Give’m a break. When customer support tickets reach Product Dev, it takes away valuable time from the work they’re doing to make products better. As Customer Success, if you can proactively predict the most common issues your customers have, and address them through DIY and FAQ content, it will lighten the load of support tickets that make it to the Dev desk.
Pre-organize and think through feature requests. Dev can become a dumping ground for everyone’s “bright” ideas, and it seems like all problems become feature requests. Customer Success can help prioritize features according to which will solve pain points and bridge success gaps for their target audience. This isn’t to say that Product should take its marching orders from Customer Success – not at all. Rather that it should be a collaborative effort to prioritize projects based on user impact, effort required, and company priorities.
Essentially, we’re all working towards the same goal: Delivering the outcome that is the reason the customer bought your product in the first place. Customer Success can help Product Dev bridge that gap by sharing their understanding of what the customer wants – and sharing the successes experienced by delighted customers.
Taking Instagram photos is my hobby. In this series, I post a few photos on Friday that I recently took. This series features The Nervous Girls — “feminist message gets to ride a wave of empowering, shoegazing post-punk sounds.”
If you’re charting customer success milestones into your user flow and/or onboarding processes, congratulations! You are way ahead of those who don’t. But before I can offer the panacea statement “You’re doing everything right!” – there’s one step you might be missing.
It’s easy to miss, because it’s counter-intuitive.
It’s counter-intuitive, because, being the very good CSM that you are, you’ve done ALLTHERESEARCH on your target customer. You know what they want to do and need to get done with your product. And you are building milestones into your product to keep them on track.
But here’s the missing link.
It’s easy to assume that time to first value is the same as time to first milestone.
And understanding the difference is very… well… valuable.
We’re talking dollars and cents, make-or-break your company valuable.
First, a couple of definitions for the newly initiated:
Your Milestones: Typical milestones include trial period, sale, onboarding, product usage, upsell opportunity, renewal, etc. These are your milestones – the things you’d like your customers to accomplish so your product is successful. These are not your customer’s milestones.
Customer Success Milestones: The steps a customer has to take in order to reach their desired outcome. (Lincoln Murphy’s definition.) You can also think of them as the little successes along the way to reaching the customer’s ultimate success.
Time to first value (TTFV): Time to first value is how much time it takes for the customer to get real, tangible value from using your product. And this is “value” by their definition, not yours. This first value is probably going to be related to your value proposition – that promise that got your customers in the door in the first place.
The onboarding process, in particular, is where we really win or lose customers – and the surest way to win them is to show them value. In The Most Important SaaS Metric Nobody Talks About, RRE ventures connects the dots between the value proposition and time to first value in a nice, concise way:
“Onboarding should emphasize and reinforce the value prop that drove the user to your product in the first place. Sign-up should be frictionless and deployment should be self-service to the point where the customer is up and running in minutes and, most importantly, getting value from your product a few moments right after.”
A few moments isn’t much time to deliver value, and if your product simply can’t manage that – you’re not alone.
Lincoln Murphy has been noodling over the idea of time to first value for a while – and I particularly like what he has to say about including “quick wins” in the onboarding process. Quick wins don’t have to happen within the first “20 minutes” like the RRE Ventures article suggests, but they do need to happen fast enough to prove that your product is worth the time/money investment before the customer loses interest (or patience).
Reaching that first value quickly is easier in simpler SaaS products. But what if you have a complicated product, one which does a lot of things and has a steeper learning curve? I asked Lincoln Murphy, Founder of Sixteen Ventures to weigh in on time to first value, and what the TTFV process looks like for a more complicated product.
Time to First Value (TTFV) Podcast ft. Lincoln Murphy
Lincoln on Time to First Value
Since there’s some confusion over value versus milestones, Lincoln clears that up first.
I like TTFV because it forces us to think about value; milestones can quickly devolve into the typical inward-focused CX of just trying to get a customer to do what we want, not what they need to do.
The purpose of milestones is to get the customer closer to finding value – I might have to go through several milestones to reach first value. If a milestone isn’t value-based – if it’s not moving the customer toward their Desired Outcome – it isn’t a milestone. Or it isn’t a milestone in the context of Customer Success.
Also remember that “first value” may be actual value delivered (or received, depending upon your POV) or it could be when the value potential is first recognized by the customer outside of their interactions with sales and marketing.
More complex products often take awhile for value to be truly recognized, so the value potential is what we focus on initially.
Lincoln on First Value when it’s Complicated
Onboarding design is usually about prompting the new customer to complete “setup” tasks and/or learning how to use the product.
It’s a bit like creating a new character when you want to play your computer game – you pick a name, do some cosmetic surgery on the face, choose a species (I know I’m not the only RPG gamer here). The best games make that part fun too, because they know that fun is their customer’s desired outcome. It’s not that different for SaaS products, but with SaaS products – especially those adopted by teams and businesses, you also have to manage expectations.
Setting up the system is part of getting to first value, but you need to be prescriptive and manage expectations with them along the way, meaning you really have to understand what first value actually is [for the customer] and design a process to get them there quickly.
Structure begets trust.
The more we can help our customer set things up and manage expectations on their end, so they can plan for it accordingly, the more they’ll trust us. Often it’s the unknown that causes our customers to lose confidence in us.
The unknown is problematic because it’s confusing, hard to plan around. Sometimes, onboarding processes are even confusing on purpose.
For most vendors, the onboarding process is a total black box, at least throughout the sales process, and only then does it become more apparent that it’s… not actually that great.
You see this when vendors try to hide the details of onboarding from their customers until it’s too late for customers to back out. We need to be open, prescriptive and structured with our customers.
That said, very often, the setup, implementation, data seeding, integrations, etc., aren’t necessary to getting the customer to first value. That’s a huge idea, because vendors often don’t understand what initial value is for the customer. They think that in order for a customer to get value they have to have everything set up. The customer has to have all the implementations and integrations complete.
The reality is that’s not true.
It may be true for the customer to get ultimate value, but that’s not first value. The critical piece here is understanding the difference.
Back to my role-playing games – sometimes the setup is more fun than the game. That’s doing it right. ie. finding the first value insta-fast. But in the serious world of SaaS, product development and sales folks are so concentrated on full adoption, that they miss opportunities to identify other, in-between ways in which their customers can get closer to their ideal outcomes.
Most vendors have an idea of value for their customers and that idea usually greatly varies from the idea of value that their customers have for themselves. The vendors’ idea of value is often full adoption, full breadth and depth. Customers must use all the seats and every feature or they can’t be successful, but your customers tend to have something else in mind. They have a business outcome that they need to achieve and that may not require what *you* think success really is.
The question is: do you care about what your customer sees as success? Or do you care about what you see as success?
You have to make a decision. If it’s all about you, all about that full depth and breadth of use, that’s fine, but know that’s not the same as your customer’s definition of success.
And that’s going to be a problem.
So how do we dig deeper and find out what first values to target?
We need to ask what is their ultimate business outcome and what would first value actually be?
Is it when they first get some real tangible value, or is it the first time, outside of sales and marketing, that they see the potential for value in their relationship with us? Figure out which one it is and that’s your onboarding goal.
Now we have to engineer a process to get them to that point.
Here’s the deal: We have this ultimate business outcome, and to get there we have to achieve these smaller outcomes along the way – an initial outcome followed by logical milestones.
If they don’t achieve those first few milestones, their ultimate goals don’t really matter because they won’t get there. This is why we see so much churn and non-renewal attributed to early lifecycle issues.
It’s your job as the vendor to know what that initial outcome is and help them achieve that in the appropriate way, and you have to know what those milestones are on the way to the next logical outcome.
But because software vendors often invest millions and millions into features, they want to shove those features on customers as quickly as possible instead of understanding what the customer needs and just giving them that.
Instead, vendors tend to overwhelm their customers with too much stuff – features, tasks, integrations, enhancements, training, whatever – and the customer never gets any real value because they’re never really onboarded.
And how does timing work in this onboarding process? It’s not tied to the typical 30 days – that’s for sure!
I see a lot of vendors tie their onboarding to some artificial time frame, usually 30 days. And they say, “Well, they’ve been a customer for 30 days, check that box, they’re onboard now.” So even though they have an onboarding process, they have some arbitrary time frame, they overwhelm the customer, and then they say after that 30 days, the customer is onboard.
This makes no sense.
Then, of course, the customer complains they’re not getting any value and the vendor blames them for not finding value from this – obviously – super valuable product. There’s a mentality that has to change here.
Treat time to first value as a goal.
Every customer achieves success in their own timeline. We have to set a goal for them. We would like our customers, or at least a specific customer segment, to achieve first value either by getting actual value from their relationship with us, or, for the first time, see that real value potential in the product.
We want them to achieve that milestone in 30 days, but that’s a number we made up. It might take them 3 days, or three months. We might have to intervene, or it might be fine. It’s a goal. And we want to make sure that, if things aren’t fine, we intervene before those 30 days are up and get them back on track.
Instead of saying we have a complex product, we should start viewing it as a complex customer relationship. If they have a more complex goal, we’re going to have to work with them in various ways to help them achieve that goal. It’s not a complex product – the product is there to facilitate success through this relationship. It’s a different way to look at things.
But at the end of the day, you need to know what the ultimate value is, and you need to know what first value is, so you can design and engineer a process to meet them where they are and get them to that first value.
What other people are saying about TTV
Of course, Lincoln isn’t the only one talking about time to first value. Here’s what other SaaS industry insiders are saying.
“This is surprisingly tricky to define, because on the surface it would simply be “the amount of time it takes for someone to experience value from your product,” but HOW MUCH value is necessary for you to officially call it “finished”? Ideally, you provide some value in your product’s very first experience, but if that was also equal to all of the value someone COULD EVER get out of your product, you probably don’t have much of a product at all. Instead of coming up with a rule of thumb for when it’s “enough value to count”, I would instead focus on something like “value per minute”, wherein you focus on delivering more and more value more and more efficiently, kind of like this concept in video game design.
Of course, the people who NEVER receive value will skew that ratio way down, but, well… that’s sort of the point!”
“Are you familiar with the character Walsh on Firefly and how he uses the word “Shiny?” When I’m thinking about this in my own head, I think Time-To-Shiny. You’re looking for a combination of both a) delight and b) either demonstrably improving someone’s life or credibly demonstrating that you have the capability of doing so. Twilio, for example, has among the best Time-To-Shiny of any complicated, development-heavy software product you’ll ever use. You can credibly promise a massive improvement in folks lives as soon as their phone rings in response to code they have written; Twilio can have that happening in ~30 seconds or so for a new user if they’re being guided; perhaps ~5 minutes or so if they’re a motivated self-starter. How to improve it? One, figure out a way to track it obsessively. Two, cheat like a mofo; ruthlessly defer as much as possible about the full experience until AFTER you have achieved that one moment of concentrated joy. Exact tactics for doing this depend a lot on the product at issue; often they involve (e.g.) having fake data pre-loaded in accounts so that someone doesn’t have to do weeks of data entry prior to seeing any improvement in their lives, scripted onboarding experiences, etc.”
“Studying survival analysis taught me a great rule of thumb for this. The highest likelihood of TTV is always the moment after signing up. This is when the user is active, it’s only downhill from there. Having realized this, I’ve guided the team to really focus on onboarding well. Incorporating UX research is invaluable to get customers to TTV faster. TTV is a curve. Some reach it in seconds, other years or even never. I think of it in terms of influencing a curve rather than a discrete point. The key is using statistics to measure TTV, but qualitative UX research to guide the improvements.”
How are you building value into your product or onboarding process? Leave a comment – I’d love to hear from you!
If your SaaS company hasn’t leapt on board the Customer Success train yet, it’s likely due to “focusing on other things,” or “we don’t have the budget for that right now.” But prioritizing Customer Success pays big dividends in returning revenue – so much so that it’s gaining the reputation as the ultimate growth hack. That’s not hype – Customer Success is how SaaS businesses raise retention rates and increase referrals while paving the road for cross-sells and upsells.
If you’re focusing most of your resources on acquisition, you’re missing out on one of the greatest growth engines at your disposal.
“Customer success is where 90% of the revenue is,” – Jason Lemkin, venture capitalist and founder of SaaStr
Acquisition may get the ball rolling, but retention is where the big money is. Big, sustainable money that costs less and less to make. And, this alchemy only works when customers achieve the successes with the product or service that they’d hoped for upon signing up.
Are highly likely to consider additional products and services
Serve as enthusiastic brand advocates that reduce the Cost to Acquire new customers (CAC)
That last point, customer evangelism (aka. brand advocacy), is the most significant benefit of Customer Success and the one that leads to spending less on acquisition efforts, while acquiring more customers.
When your company understands what success means to your customers, then ensures they receive what they need to achieve it, those customers respond – on Facebook, on Twitter, on Yelp, on Linkedin, and in person. They become not just your fans, but your best salespeople, helping your company grow.
But how do you start a customer success program from scratch?
First, let’s start with what customer success really is, because any time a term becomes a “buzzword” it tends to lose its original meaning.