So let me start by giving a breakdown of how things work in the industry. Often times someone learns Inbound Marketing online or through organizations like Hubspot or SEOmoz or other sites. What happens is eventually these people start their own "inbound marketing" firm or it could be someone inside a firm learns this stuff and becomes an "inbound marketing expert". Either way things often break down the same way.
So these companies start going after "inbound marketing" business/clients. There are two directions here: either they're 100% committed and start doing all this stuff for their own company; or they just try to sell it to another company first and try it out.
The later is a recipe for failure in my opinion for two reasons. The first is because you do not see the value in what you are selling or you would be doing it yourself (at all costs). Second, it is much harder to sell something you do not have hands on experience in. And as a bonus we'll throw in a third reason, because you have no proven track record. You do not know if this truly works which makes you selfish and eventually the client will sniff you out and fire you and not become a decent evangelist.
Ok, no back to the story. So the other Inbound Marketers… do inbound marketing for themselves and start to get pretty good at it and see success in their own organization. This helps them get more and more clients. Where is the downside to this right? You're doing a ton of inbound, now, some on your own company and some for other clients and industries. This all gives you a great level of success. Or does it?
Well I'm always looking for new ways to improve what I do for our clients and for my own business, but there is one problem. I do not have a testing ground to work on. Typically the Inbound Marketing "firm website" becomes the testing ground, right? Because as I mentioned earlier you do not want to be testing things on the client's site to learn on their dime. Sometimes you do not want to take big risks on your own site either since this is a business. So what are the options?
Well 6 or 7 months ago I started the Sound Convictions Music Resource Website. This site was built to explore the world of "inbound NETWORKING" an idea that was thought up by two smart guys Pete Caputa and Rick Roberge. Anyhow, I'm not going to get into inbound networking right now, but I want to review how this side project lead to a great testing ground.
Sound Convictions is a music site so it is focused on B2C and B2B. This is not overly important, but I'll tell you why I shared this. One of the goals of Sound Convictions was to become a music resource for people passionate about music and who are open to exploring different genres and spaces in the music world. So in order to build a testing ground beyond your company website try to go after something you are passionate about. Obviously to make this work you need to look at it as if it was a business and had similar business goals - getting found, engaging with clients and prospects, converting visitors into leads, and maybe even a way to pay for itself, or make a profit, etc, etc.
The point here is this… to truly test things you need commitment this. It has to be something you do for a long time in order to see trends from your tests. This is why I'd recommend something you are passionate about because you will stick with it and your passion will come through in the content. So set up a site for this new project, define the prospects and what they are interested in (people like yourself who love XYZ), then deliver content and offers that appeal to them. Then over time run tests that would be hard or risky to do on your own site or a client's site.
Ok so most inbound marketing companies struggle with getting above a certain level of success. I think it is partly due to the inability to test things or the unwillingness or fear of testing things. So get yourself a wordpress site or pay for a hubspot site focused on an outside passion and see where it goes. I've had a hard time getting over 3000 visitors to the Brandwise site after three+ years. The demo Sound Convictions music site allowed me to try so new things and it hit over 6000 visits on the third month. This also jumped Brandwise traffic up to over 4K because of the test from the other site. Granted 6K was a fluke (from a test/luck) and previous traffic was 175 in month two. Obviously maintaining traffic above 6K the following month was going to be hard. I did however learn some new things that I never would have tried before. So month 4 dropped to 1500 visits and down to 1000 by the next month. Then the following month we hit 2500 and it looks as though we are going to go over 3K this month and potentially up to 4K. Both clients and Brandwise have gained from these tests.
So how have we created some of this success? Testing all kinds of things. I've tested many things some work many don't, but we keep on trying. I will tell you this. If we get the site to cross 3k to 4K this month this is pretty successful in 6 to 7 months time. How many companies hit 4K in monthly traffic? How many inbound marketers hit these numbers? I'd bet the numbers are small. Granted there are a few successful ones doing 10K+ a month, but usually they are bigger firms. Now you may be asking yourself isn't this taking away from what I should be doing on my business? Well the answer is no. Not if you are doing this as a hobby on the nights and weekends.
I have learned more in 6 months of testing different things through Sound Convictions than I would have learned doing the regular things on this site or my client's sites. In the end both Brandwise and our customers benefit from this. I am now able to help them use some tried and trued practices that actually work. I'd try to keep it on the platform you're using when you work with your customers for this very reason. I'm betting if we continue some of the tests we are running now, we may be able to hit 6K+ again and consistently within the next 6 months. If we can continue this type of growth and can replicate it for our customers, I'd think they'd be happy. The same goes for you inbound marketers reading this.
Try something outside of your comfort zone. You may also be surprised at how many conversations this new site stirs up bringing you real business (sales) conversations revolving around whatever it is you are passionate about. Don't we all want to do business with people we like? This is a great bonding point if serious business people also like this hobby/passion.
I'm betting is you try creating a site for yourself (businesses and inbound marketers) and you use it as a testing ground you will greatly improve your skills and knowledge from new tests you may not want to do on your business site. I hope this helps and if you need more info on this, either review the Sound Convictions site, or set up a call and let's talk about it.