Three Quick Tips for Growing Your Online Business

Since Simple Focus has taken over Pulse, we’ve grown over 50% in customer base and almost doubled in revenue. Here’s what we did to make that happen.

When we bought Pulse in October of 2013, it had been a flat business for three years. I knew the previous owners personally and knew they hadn’t neglected Pulse, but they weren’t actively building new features, either. For them, Pulse was a steady income stream, but they were busy with other things.

What’s incredible, and why we were so excited about Pulse, is that the business was still finding new users every month, enough to replace those who were closing their accounts. In SaaS parlance, when churn (the percentage of customers closing accounts) matches paid signups, the result is a flat business.

In any business, the simplest way to grow is to give customers a good experience. One of the biggest components to user experience is speed. Below, I’ll talk about three things we did in our first year, all focused on speed, to revitalize Pulse.

We have miles to go, but the little improvements we’ve made so far have made a measurable impact.

Faster, Consistent, Thoughtful Customer Service

Whether we get a customer support ticket or a sales enquiry, we take the time to write back a thoughtful response—and we respond quickly. Phase 1 was to respond consistently within one business day, and we do that. Phase 2, which we’re working on now, is to respond to every ticket within half a day. Phase 3, our ultimate goal, is to respond within an hour (preferable within minutes).

In addition to the turnaround time for tickets, when we took over Pulse and reviewed the customer support history, we saw a lot of replies that didn’t make the customers feel warm and fuzzy. For example, customers often write in with a feature request we don’t plan on implementing. Previously, the request may have been ignored entirely, or a typical response would have been, “Thanks for the suggestion, but we do not plan on implementing Feature X.” And with regards to bug reports, a previous response might have been, “Sorry for the trouble. Things are back to normal now. Email us again if you have any other problems.”

However, now our responses are more thorough:

“Hi Sally, Our hosting company just had a half hour incident that brought us down (they had to replace some failed hardware), but it’s over now. We are working with them to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Try now, it should be back to normal. I’m really sorry for the headache. Is there anything else I can help you with?” When the situation warrants it, we also proactively offer up an account credit.

The key here is that we’re just being a little more specific (mentioning failed hardware) and thoughtful (sorry for the headache).

Pagespeed and Stability

One of our main areas of investment in our first year of business wasn’t in redesigning Pulse, though Simple Focus is known for our visual design. While we do want to update the look of the app to feel more contemporary, and it’s in the roadmap, it’s not a higher priority than the app’s stability.

Our biggest user experience hurdle with Pulse when we took it over was that it had a lot of errors and would go down periodically. We dug in our heels, hired a performance expert to consult with us, and stopped the errors (while making the app load faster). If we look at when Pulse started growing fastest over the last year, it’s when we implemented these fixes.

Faster-Loading Marketing Site

We redesigned our marketing site to be mobile-friendly and load faster. We know from the work we do consulting with our clients on lead-gen, conversions and eCommerce, that speed has a strong correlation to conversion rate. So, we made sure the marketing site was fast. Right now, the marketing site reaches document-complete around two seconds and is fully loaded around seven seconds (on IE10, Cable, according to WebPagetest). There’s plenty of room for improvement, but it’s way faster than it was.

Onward

Stay tuned as we begin to work on smaller, more incremental improvements to Pulse and begin to invest in marketing and sales, while continuing to stay focused on improving speed. And even though we’ve almost doubled revenue in the first year of owning Pulse, I’ve always believed that you should have a solid product before you mash the pedal for growth, and over the last year with Pulse, that’s what we’ve focused on.

With these speed problems at bay, we can start working on the fun stuff like more modern interactions and a cleaner design. But we’ll always keep speed and performance at the top of the list.