If you’ve been around here for awhile, you know that I run a network of Crime Stoppers websites at YourCrimeSite.com and have since 2008. I thought I’d write a little about some #fails of my little “startup” tonight, mostly because I need to get them out of my head, but also because it seems like we don’t hear enough about the screwups along the way to success.
1. I should have done it all the way as soon as I realized I had something.
Instead, I put it aside until “one day” when I would have time to do something great with it… or worse, until I believed I really could. When I started, I didn’t know anything about startups, or MVP’s, or stuff like that. I was just building a few websites in the most efficient way I knew how. Looking back, I could fill up a true pitch deck with the scribbles and scribbles of notebooks where I wrote about what I thought this network could become. Though really, who cares about pitch decks and MVP’s and that? I’ve got a product with customers and I have to either fix it and win with it, forget it or sell it. I think I’d like to do the first still.
In 2014, I have a part time contract with a company for 20 hours week which will allow me the freedom to spend my other 15-20 working hours on YourCrimeSite.com without feeling like I HAVE to take on additional clients. This will be the first time I feel like I have real TIME to focus on YourCrimeSite.
2. I should have fixed things as I went instead of waiting for them to pile up.
Putting it on the backburner over the years has put the network in a situation where, though things still work, I realize now that there are a few little band aids here and there. Things that should be standard across the network aren’t. Theming isn’t pixel perfect. Features that every site should have are only active on a few. Updates aren’t made throughout. A few conflicts exist that are preventing some customers from doing the things they want to do. We built the network on shared hosting which isn’t working very well at all now. Besides that, I’ve never gotten around to properly marketing it – which is the stuff I should probably be doing the most of, because it’s what I’m best at and understand best for my startup. Lots of people can straighten up my network (though I’d have to PAY them to do it obviously), but I keep the vision for what it is and why customers should buy into it.
We are migrating to WP Engine in late Dec. 2013, then I’ll stage the network and fix these issues. Once those are finished, I can turn my attention back to the marketing of the network (bc I have a marketing plan completed).
3. I should have gotten help for the routine tasks right away so I could focus on marketing and lead development (even if I wasn’t DOING the development myself somehow).
While our core product is the website itself, we offer an add on of actually posting client’s content. For half our customers, they utilize this service, and need their content posted within 6-12 hours of sending it. At first, I could do this myself. As time went on and I involved myself with other projects and clients not related to THIS project at all, I could not get to these updates as quickly as that. I should have IMMEDIATELY hired someone to post those updates instead of waiting as long as I have. That same person could have been responding to support emails (at least, fielding them, if not resolving them entirely – they’re never anything very complicated because almost without exception, all the clients do it post text with a featured image, gallery or video).
We’re hiring this person the first of January. I’ve gotten several applications – some from friends, some from people with experience in marketing, some with experience in criminal justice. I need to advertise in a few more places still to get more applicants, perhaps, though I know we have at least three quality candidates.
4. I should have documented EVERYTHING.
If I had $5 for every time one of my existing clients asked me how to do x, and then asked me again, I’d have $60 a year per client. Or, I could throw the answer into a Knowledgebase and have the help I should have hired in #3 reply to the email where they ask for that thing AGAIN and point them to the knowledgebase. I don’t know what I was thinking, building a turn-key thing that is in fact, not turn key at all. I can’t step out of it or it will break, and clients can’t just do it all themselves because there are no instructions anywhere. Total fail.
The new network on WPEngine has a knowledgebase, categorized FAQ, and a ticket support system (previously, any question at all was sent by email, and over time, all of our customers have ended up with all THREE of my email addresses (personal, company, and YourCrimeSite), so I often receive three emails for each email, though I’ve asked them to only email the appropriate email. The ticket support system should alleviate that and allow us to open and close specific requests, as well as see response times. I will spend a good part of my time in January working on onboarding documentation for new customers.
It IS possible that I will lose my existing customers when it’s time for them to renew this year. I am not certain, but I think if I don’t shore up these issues, I will. As one of them said this week (paraphrasing), “I still think you’re the best option out there and I don’t want to look elsewhere, but we’ve got to see some movement on these issues or we will have to.” I wondered to myself today, “IF I lose these customers, does that mean I’ve lost it all?” And I think the answer is no. I know what I need to do to fix things, and I’m working on it. Version Two. Rebuild. Start Again.
It’s hard for me because I KNOW that IF EXECUTED WELL, I have the very best publishing platform for the anti-crime community. I know that if I quit, or fail, they won’t get what they need. So, I won’t quit but instead, I’ll keep learning and making adjustments as I go.