Buckle in there, buddy, this one’s long. (And if you run, or want to run, any kind of business — absolute gold.)

If you’ve been reading this blog, you probably know a little bit about Noko Time Tracking, our SaaS. Well.

We recently hit the Plateau of Doom

That’s a plateau I only recently discovered the hard way, where your growth rate and your churn rate intersect and you find yourself running off a cliff and kicking air, Wile E Coyote-style.

Of course, I say “I discovered” — but tons of experts already knew it was there, had written & spoke about it, etc., etc. The info was all out there for me to find, but I hadn’t (til I needed it). Just call me Columbus, “discovering” a continent already inhabited and civilized, the residents shaking their heads at my ignorant surprise. #embarrassing

Anyway, we hit that PoD with Noko in the last 5-6 months. Our Revenue hasn’t been growing, really; it’s up one month and down another:


Our number of Paying Accounts, on the other hand, had actually been declining. Curse you, static growth and non-static churn!

This came as a surprise

Really, it did. I own every analytics tool out there, and we use them all, but they’re all so opaque it wasn’t at all clear what was going on (or why). So, we were surprised. Then freaked out. Then we started buckling down and implementing our recovery plan a couple months ago, which I’ll detail for you in a moment.

“Surprise” seems to be the theme, because there was another surprising thing that I discovered only yesterday, when I was doing research.

As it turns out…we’re going to hit $1,000,000 in lifetime revenue from Noko alone, inside of 3 months.

Yes, right after we discover that we’re not growing, we’re shrinking. The irony did not escape me.

But back to the main story!

As soon as we saw that we were losing more customers than we were gaining, thanks to the nature of the “viral” (*cough*notreally*cough*) nature of churn, we rolled up our sleeves. What was our obvious solution? Ship some delicious content marketing! So we ran a content campaign that we had used before to great effect.

*Crickets* It didn’t move the needle at all. New content? Nope, nada.

That’s was the horrifying moment when I realized that what got us HERE, wouldn’t get us THERE.

We’d always had a leaky boat — a high-ish churn rate — but we were growing so well, it didn’t matter. Until now. Now it wasn’t just stepping on our groove, it was doing the Charleston all over it. That set me scrambling.

The levers, the priorities

So, when you’re trying to grow, there are only 3 levers you can push and pull:

  1. Earn more per customer.
  2. Get more customers.
  3. Keep more customers you already have.

For us, in specific, that turned into a set of goals/outcomes:

  1. Raise prices
  2. Convert more trials to paid
  3. Retain more already-paying customers
  4. Convert more visitors to trials
  5. Get more visitors

With those specific yet vague goals in hand, I began my research. I talked to friends. (Thanks, Patrick McKenzie and Brennan Dunn!) Read blog posts. Bought courses and books. Then acted.

STEP ONE: Raise prices

Raising prices for new customers was easy — we did that right away. Our LifeTime Value (LTV) and revenue started to clamber upwards, without any other changes. PHEW!

STEP TWO: Convert more trials to paid

We found that our conversion rate from trials was very good if people entered just 5 time entries; not so hot if they didn’t (and MANY didn’t). So, we:

  1. Designed & implemented an interactive onboarding guide for new trial customers
  2. Wrote and shipped a series of automated lifecycle emails

Over a couple months, preliminary numbers seem to indicate that our LTV nearly doubled. We had our highest-billing month ever, by 15%. Yay! But that doesn’t mean we’re sitting on our butts.

STEP THREE: Retain more customers

Now this is truly the most ongoing process, but we started by:

  1. Blogging more about things relevant to our customers, & emailing it to them
  2. Making funny videos and screencasts, to illuminate “hidden” features and solve common problems
  3. Prioritizing major new features that would A) reduce confusion, and B) serve our best customers first

STEP FOUR: Convert more visitors to trial

Our old landing page converted like crap, but it didn’t really matter…until recently. To convert more visitors to a trial, we:

  1. Wrote a new, pain-focused, long copy sales page (see it here)
  2. Cut extra pages entirely — no tour, no extra pricing page, etc.
  3. Focused on teams exclusively (our best customers) (Want to see the old, terribad page? Here it is. Looks pretty, don’t it? But pretty don’t convert.)

Noko landing pages old vs new

The results?

Our new page’s only been up 1 week so we don’t have statistical significance just yet, but it’s looking good so far!

What’s REALLY exciting is that the plan mix has changed. Before, 80%+ of new trials were for the lowest plan. Now, it’s fallen to 33%. Even if no other vectors improve at all, this will drive EPIC growth for us.

STEP FIVE: Get more visitors

Ah, traffic: the easiest to obsess over, the least important.

We never got all that much traffic, 700-1000 visits a day mostly. And that’s PLENTY…if all other things are working. Which they weren’t, but hopefully they will be, soon. So we are working on traffic dead last. We have some sketch plans for our steps, here, but this email is already too long! :)

HIDDEN STEP SIX: Learn & test stuff

You might be surprised that we didn’t start out by split-testing. Why? Our old landing page was crap I didn’t want to polish. And my strategy worked — our new landing page a good, SOLID basis to improve upon.

Bottom line: It’s a whole new game.

We chugged along great for 4 years, no major changes. This is a revolution compared to the way we’ve always done things…and it had to be. The Plateau forced our hand, shook up our lazy laurel-sitting butts. And I know that, if we can conquer the Plateau of Doom, we’ll be stronger than ever before. So, I’m not complaining :)

Are you stuck on the Plateau? Here’s how to bust out

A reminder, for when when you find that your churn is chewing up what growth you have — your prioritizes are:

  1. Raise prices
  2. Convert more trials to paid
  3. Retain more already-paying customers
  4. Convert more visitors to trials
  5. Get more visitors

I’ll be writing in more detail about the steps, as we take them, and what happens as the data rolls in. So stay tuned for crispy crunchy detail!

That’s it!

I hope my growth roadmap mega-braindump was useful to you. Stay tuned for the fine details and specifics :)

Thoughts? Questions? I’ve closed comments on my blog, but I LOVE tweets… so say hi: @amyhoy.

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