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Beat the odds at crowdfunding with a reusable process from Will Russell

In this episode you'll learn the secrets to running successful crowdfunding campaigns. We'll walk through a complete system that runs from validation to audience building and the ultimate pre-sale launch on Kickstarter.

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Interview Bio

Will Russell - Russell Marketing

Will Russell has been running successful pre-launch campaigns on KickoffLabs for years to build an audience for his clients Kickstarter and Indigogo campaigns. 

Three years ago Will started his own agency (RussellMarketing) that specializes in managing these crowdfunding launches for companies, has grown to 7 employees, and helped their clients raise millions of dollars.

Key Takaways

The Process Outline

Step One: Market Research

"You need to understand your positioning, audience, and the competative nature of the space."

Step Two: Build an Audience and Test on KickoffLabs

"KickoffLabs is great here for A/B testing messages on Landing Pages."

Step Three: Audience Engagement With a Viral Boost

"When we bring folks in as leads we can allow them to participate in a referral campaign where they can share with their freinds. That gives us the bennefit of bringing more traffic to the page, more eyeballs on the product, and growing the audience even further."

Step Four: Convert Your Audience

When you launch your actual pre-sale the audience you've built up in steps two and three are invaluable. With them you can drive instant traffic to a new pre-sale campaign in order to get on the trending charts.

Step Five: Optimize & Scale

"You are probably going to spend 20% of your total raise on your marketing. It's a good rule of thumb."

Full Transcript

Josh Ledgard: Welcome to KickoffLabs On Growth. I am Josh Ledgard from KickoffLabs. And we're going to use this podcast to share advice on growing sustainable businesses through the stories of our customers, our team and anyone else with something to teach us. In this episode I'm going to share my interview with Will Russell from Russellmarketing.co.

Josh Ledgard: Will started his own agency three years ago that specializes in managing crowd funding launches for companies. They've grown to seven employees and helped their clients raise millions of dollars in the process. We'll go step by step through the system they've developed, how they use KickoffLabs, and important lessons like how you get people to sign up and share your campaign before you've even launched the presale.

Josh Ledgard: If you enjoy this episode, write us a review on iTunes or your podcasting service of choice. Enjoy the show.

Josh Ledgard: All right. We are live and on air with Will Russell from Will Russell Marketing. I want to say thanks for being here Will.

Will Russell: Yeah. Thank you for having me.

Josh Ledgard: And the first thing I'd like to say is congratulations. When I was looking at some recent top campaigns at KickoffLabs, your account name kept coming up. You seem to have found a process for repeatable success when it comes to getting leads for your clients. And I definitely want to get into that today. But before we dig into the process and how you and your company, your agency, works for your clients, I want to get a little bit more information on you. So can you tell people a bit about your background and where you're coming from in this journey?

Will Russell: Sure. I started, it was a freelancing business at the time which is about three years ago now. That was Will Russell Marketing. And then about a year and a half ago it transitioned from a freelancing business to more of a digital agency which is now the name Russell Marketing. We specialize in product launch marketing so we help companies launch their products. Usually products. Sometimes events. Sometimes the business themselves. I've been marketing for over a decade, about a decade now.

Josh Ledgard: Have you always been a freelancer?

Will Russell: No, I decided ... I was working in a non-profit space actually for a few years. And I quit that job to start my own freelancing business and as I said that's kind of developed now. And I think part of what we'll talk about today is what that development looks like a systems process. But now we are a more formal agency with seven of us on board. And as I say, the services have fluctuated a little bit as our systems progressed from all sorts of different kinds of marketing where now we focus specifically on crowd launch marketing.

Josh Ledgard: That's amazing. So you've grown this agency in the past three years. It started out with being just you three years ago?

Will Russell: Yeah, it was just me, yeah.

Josh Ledgard: And now you've got seven people working for your agency helping clients?

Will Russell: Correct, yeah.

Josh Ledgard: That's a great story. I'm sure a lot of people running, who are freelancing would love to know. So what's, before you get into specific clients, what's been the key for your finding clients and kind of growing? Is it the fact that you've specialized in this niche? Or what are you doing to find new clients to keep the growth coming in?

Will Russell: Specializing super important in my opinion. Originally I wasn't positioning myself as a product launch marketing. That's something that's developed. But at the time when I decided to quit my job and start my own mini freelancing business, I did spend a lot of time thinking about what I would specialize in. I read a lot that generalization was tough. That it's tough to differentiate yourself when you're planning to offer everything. And a lot of the full service agencies, they do offer from social to paid ads to email marketing to web development. And I can't wear that many hats.

In order to find clients you have to have credibility. It's a lot easier to get credibility when you're focusing on just a couple of the services than trying to get credibility across 10 different marketing services.

Will Russell: So at the time I had to make a decision on what I wanted to focus on. And that was, I think, a very big decision in allowing the business to progress. And allowing the business to find clients early on. In order to find clients you have to have credibility. It's a lot easier to get credibility when you're focusing on just a couple of the services than trying to get credibility across 10 different marketing services. So that allowed me to focus on what I think I'm good at at the time and what I was specifically good at as a freelancer. And allowed me to collect quickly credibility and case studies around those particular services. When then helped me find more clients.

Will Russell: And as time's gone on, Russell Marketing has a lot of business partnerships. We work on very specific marketing niche. But that's part of a product launch. The same clients need many other services. We have ... All of our clients need video content for example. But we don't do video. So we work with a lot of videography agencies who we can then refer our clients to. And they will do the same for us. So those kind of relationships have served us very well over the years now.

Josh Ledgard: That's great. And clicking through your site, you seem to ... It seems like you also specialize in clients that are doing physical products, right? It seems like there's a lot of physical products on Indiegogo and Kickstarter?

Will Russell: Yeah, we do tend to work solely with physical products. They're just easier, to be honest. And when we're deciding which kind of clients work with our systems, and they're the hardware, they physical products, tend to get better results and so those are the product we tend to work with more often than not.

Josh Ledgard: And I see on your site you've got an outline of your five step system and process. But I'm wondering if you can go a little bit deeper maybe, if you could pick a recent client or a case study you've gotten that you want to walk through. And just kind of talk us through their recent journey. So from how you got started with them, how you started generating leads, to building out the campaign, to the successful ... It looks like you've got a few companies where they've hit a quarter million dollars on Kickstarter revenues through the successful Kickstarter campaign. I'll leave it to you if you want to pick a client? Or if you just want to kind of generalize it. But it looks like you've got some great case studies you could talk about.

Will Russell: Yeah, we do have a very specific system that we implement that we work with for all clients. It obviously needs tweaking in certain areas, the positioning for one product would different to positioning for another one. But it's always going to be the five step system we found to be very replicable, scalable, and we can bring as essentially a product, even though we're a service-based business, we can bring it as a product. And our process has templates, content, creative, and that product is really what we're delivering to the client.

Will Russell: So to give an example, there's a five-step process in this entire customer journey that you see in the website. The first is market research and strategy. And that's one, as soon as you've onboarded your client, we're working with them on their positioning, the audience, and the nature of the space, and building our plan of action for them on how we're going to launch their product or event or whatever it is that we're bring to the public.

Will Russell: The second and third step of that system are audience acquisition and audience engagement. And they work during the pre-launch phase. A pre-launch phase is the build up to the actual launch of the product. This is where something like KickoffLabs comes in. So the audience acquisition is obviously about building up an audience, prospective audience, for customers. And then the engagement phase of that is engaging those potential customers and making sure that when you do go live with your product they're excited. They're going to get a credit card out, they're going to buy something from you.

Will Russell: The way something like KickoffLabs will come into play there is it's a great A/B testing platform. So we can make sure we're acquiring leads in an affordable and effective way. We run a lot of A/B tests on the platform to bring the cost per lead down for example, increase the landing page conversion rates, stuff like that. And then from an engagement standpoint, KickoffLabs is useful in the referral functionality. So when we bring folks in as leads, we can then allow them to participate in a referral campaign where they can share with their friends. And that give us the additional benefit of obviously bringing more traffic to the page, bring more eyeballs to the product, and building that audience even further.

Will Russell: Then steps four and five of our system, they happen once a product is live, once you can actually purchase the product. There's audience conversion and then five is scale and optimize.

Josh Ledgard: So this would be when they're live on Kickstarter, for example.

Will Russell: Yeah Kickstarter, Indiegogo. We do a lot of regular website product launches too. And whenever the customer is unable to actually make a purchase of some sort. And we're converting, working and using ad emails to convert all these audiences we've built pre-launch. And then scaling that as much as we can. So bringing a thousand customers early on. Can we make it 5,000 during that launch period. And so that system overall, as you say, is working pretty well in that it's replicable. We can take that system, we can use it in a lots of different use cases and move everyone essentially through the same customer journey from our perspective.

Josh Ledgard: Can you come up, for each of these steps or for the first one. Let's go back to the market research and product strategy. I can see you've done a campaign for a product called Sheets and Giggles. So there's obviously a lot of competition in the bedding space. So what do you learn during that phase for a company like them. You say, oh man, you've got so much competition. How do you help them come up with this launch strategy and this customer acquisition in such a crowed space?

Will Russell: There's two main things we're trying to understand in that phase from our perspective as the marketing team. We try ... We want to know who are the audiences we should be targeting? So that's going to come from, we have questionnaires that the clients will answer to give their perspective on who they want to target. And then we'll map and kind of cross-reference that information with what we see. We use, for example, Facebook audience insights tools that identify what does Facebook say this demographic looks like? How does that compare to what the clients think that demographic looks like?

Will Russell: So that's how we're building out an audience. And then the second thing we're looking at is how to position the product.

Josh Ledgard: If you could pause there for a second. I like this concept. So what you're doing is you're asking the client and saying where do you think your audience is, and what kind of people do you think your audience. And then you're going to a tool like Facebook audiences and using that to validate what the client told you and saying hey, this is what we're seeing about this audience. Does this match then what you're expecting?

Will Russell: Yeah, exactly. And to be honest, often it doesn't. Often there is a bit of a gap there that we need to bridge. That's what the data's for. One of the biggest things we'll often see is people thinking they know what they want. Thinking they know who they should target. Thinking they know how they should speak to the customer, and the reality of the thing is actually quite different. So we want to set that expectation, make that clear very early on. And if the client is wrong, we need to make them clear on that. If they're right, then great, we can build on that with confidence.

Josh Ledgard: Okay now let's go back to, forward to again to step two. The audience acquisition. And so you said this is where KickoffLabs comes in handy for being, helping with the A/B testing and the lead generation and then the engagement with the referrals. But backing up a step, that all requires that you're getting some traffic to the campaign that's hosted on KickoffLabs at that point. And so where in this process are your driving traffic and how are you driving traffic for the typical customer you have?

Will Russell: The vast majority's going to come from Facebook or Instagram advertising. That's going to be the vast majority of our traffic. We find that those ad platforms are the best for driving affordable and targeted traffic. And generally it's a way to do it very, very quickly. When we're doing a product launch, we don't want to prepare for six months driving prospective customers to a landing page because they'll forget by the time the launch comes around. So we need to be able to scale very, very quickly. And those app platforms allow you to do that.

Will Russell: What we also rely on is the referral component within KickoffLabs, and that's really key in terms of how people respond to that. Sometimes the product isn't suited. Sometimes people just don't want to participate in that. But when we see it work well, we can see upwards of 40%, 45% of the leads we bring in coming from the referral engine. I would say on the average we look for a benchmark in our launches of anything up to 10% of signups from referrals. But sometimes if you have something that really resonates, Sheets and Giggles resonated well, then that can be a real bonus in bringing in a really affordable group of prospective customers.

Josh Ledgard: Yeah, those are great numbers. I mean it's great to hear that that's working. Have you been able to figure out in your estimate for your clients what are examples of things or product categories or maybe there's patters where the referral marketing piece works better than others?

Will Russell: Firstly I would say that there's got to be a good incentive there. And that sounds like obviously it's common sense, but giving away a tee shirt or something that doesn't really relate to the product, isn't going to work. So when we ... If we're going to run a referral project within KickoffLabs, we have to feel good about the offerings the client can provide for that. Like, for example, with hardware products, you often have accessories. So you can offer the accessories as incentives for referrals. Or you can give the product away as an incentive for referrals.

Josh Ledgard: So give me an example of a hardware product and an accessory campaign that would work well.

Will Russell: For example, okay, well here's an example. There's one called Zigo we recently launched. And that was a wireless headset. And one of the incentives we can drive to push people to take further action once they're onboard, are things like engravings. So you can engrave the product. The first hundred products can be engraved. It's pretty easy for them to do, especially in a pre-order stage. It's also a nice little bonus for the user. If they're interested in the product, and they're interested helping a company launch which is what a lot of crowd funding is, then that ownership and that feeling of responsibility towards that particular product or that particular brand, would be rewarded and shown through something like having a special engraving. You're going to be one of 100 people in the world to ever have an engraving on yours.

Will Russell: So I would point to activities like that or ... Zigo also had the option for a wireless headset for under water. And so they make accessories for swimmers, for example, like goggles or caps or things like that which are targeted to that particular audience. In general, though, I would say older women are much more likely to refer. So ultimately if you have a product that's targeting maybe young adult men, I think however good your referral incentive is, you're going to have a harder time getting people to use it than if you're targeting 40 year old women.

Josh Ledgard: That's a great set of insights. So what I heard, and this validates what we see as well at KickoffLabs, which is if you're going to get referrals there has to be a good incentive, which is what I heard you say. The incentive is ideally as directly tied to the product as possible. Meaning, if you're giving away ... If it's a product that's ... If it's a electronic piece it's an accessory for the product that complements the product or something that has unique value on the product, being like an inscription or a special service.

Josh Ledgard: But doing things, where I see people failing is they'll do things like they'll do the sway piece of it. And they'll say, well, you can get a tee shirt with our logo on it for 20 referrals. And I always have to tell people, I don't think people are going to get 20 friends to sign up for a tee shirt. You know, I can't get five friends of mine to go to the same place for brunch. I'm not going to get 20 to go for a tee shirt. But I could get three people to go up for an inscription or something.

Will Russell: I tell you, something people also would notice is how small a percentile is of people that actually do share, right? So the amount of people that are going to share with 10 people is so minute as a percentage. I think off the top of my head we see numbers like 2.5% percent share with multiple friends. Tiny, tiny numbers. So we try and make sure there's always an option to share with just one person. So we always reward people for just one share. Because anyone can almost share with one person. A lot of people won't. But having that first kind of reward, if you show it to one person you get X, that helps us increase the actual number of people that are participating in such a referral contest.

Josh Ledgard: That's a great best practice as well. So I'll often tell people to set a referral number at one or two and just have something that feels achievable. And that there's really two ends of the spectrum of people sharing. There's your influencers who are that .01 percent or something of your audience that are going to get 10 to 100 more people to sign up. And then there's the average person which, with their following and their friends, can maybe get one to two people to sign up. And so that's a great best practice to have a reward that feels achievable at the one or two level for people.

Josh Ledgard: What parts of the process for you guys proves the most challenging. I know that's a difficult question. Is it the stage of the referrals, is it the conversion to the paid part, is it the research? Where do you find the biggest challenges for people setting up these campaigns, in the process?

Will Russell: I think the biggest challenge for anyone, whether they're aware of it at the time or not, is going to be assessing the purchase intent of prospective customers. So someone who's never done this before, and he's using a platform like KickoffLabs to bring in leads, they might not know what the benchmarks that you'd be looking for are to indicate these leads really count, they're really interested or they're really not very interested. And then what that means from an actual conversion standpoint. How many of these leads are going to converted?

Will Russell: And if you're someone like us who's done many, many, many of these campaigns, we know what those benchmarks are. But there's still ... Until you actually ask someone to buy a product at a certain price point, it's hard to really put your flag down just to say these guys will convert or they won't. So I think for anyone, the biggest challenge we face in every campaign in making sure that we're keeping as close an eye as possible on what is the intent being shown by these leads and are they going to take the action we want to ultimately?

Josh Ledgard: Yeah, I agree. It's hard to always know, no matter how many people you get. And people ask me this all the time, is they'll ask me for their campaign, what percentage of people of these leads that I'm getting on KickoffLabs are going to buy my product? And I have to tell them it's ranged. When I've done interviews with customers, because before I was doing this podcast I'd just talk to a lot of customers, I'd hear numbers anywhere from a two percent conversion rate after 30 days up to, I've had some people tell me it's 20 percent of people have bought it. And it seems very dependent on the price point and the market that they're after. So there's not a great answer for them in that case.

Will Russell: Yeah, no, there's not a great answer for them in that case. I always turn it back to them and say, well, at what conversion rate do you need it to be? Because they should have an idea of what the cost is going to be, of a transaction value when a customer buys. If they're using paid sources in any way to drive traffic to their page, they know how much that's costing them. And they know how much a lead is costing them. So I think, I try to turn it back to them and say well, what do you need it to be? And as an advertising agency with a lot of experience we can tell them whether we think that's possible or not. And that usually helps us identify who we're going to work with and who we're not going to work with.

Josh Ledgard: Yeah, I think it's ultimately important, especially in your case, to make sure the clients have realistic expectations. When somebody comes and says "We need a 40% conversation rate" that's where I'd have to say "Well I think you need more help than what we can provide these days." Great. So you've given a lot of great advice and a lot of best practices. We have a lot of customers who are interested in pre-selling, pre-launching, physical products like you have. What are ... What's one or two pieces of advice that maybe we haven't touched on that you give to your clients or that you think is important for people to hear who are trying to run campaigns similar to the ones that you guys are running successfully? Aside for hiring you? Everybody should go to Russellmarketing.co and see if there's [crosstalk 00:23:18] their campaign. So aside from hiring you guys, what are the biggest pieces of advice you would give them?

Will Russell: I think people skip a lot of the preparation and people imagine a lot of their effort will help them succeed. If you're launching just a regular eCommerce store then that may be true. But if you're launching something from a pre-order standpoint, and you're really looking to get a big, make a splash, a launch, that's not going to happen without a lot of preparation. And so I would say, 80% perhaps of your budget, if you're preparing your marketing budget, should probably go towards before you even go live. Before the point of the sale. That's the kind of focused investment you should be putting on the preparation, the pre-launch phase which I think people skip over. They don't want to spend that time or money. It's a bigger risk. I get that. But if you're launching, especially on crowd=funding, and you don't start strong, you're going to fail. So the focus on pre-launch is something that really can't be emphasized enough.

Will Russell: And along with that, I guess I would say I don't think people are often prepared for the investment that it would take. When you're looking at using paid advertising as a channel, or when you're looking at implementing a proper kind of lead collection funnel like using a tool like KickoffLabs, there's the investment to make those leads come in and run those ads and hire those experts, is high. And it's ... And people look at crowd-funding and launch campaigns and they see these ones that are reaching millions of dollars. And there's no pretending those campaigns are investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in their marketing. Maybe in 2015 or 2014 you had people who invested 10K and ended up raising half a million because that was the nature of that space.

Will Russell: But now if you're launching a product, you really need to put your investment in because there's just so much competition. There are so many platforms where people are looking. And so you're going to have to be prepared to spend that money in order to make that money. And as a rule of thumb which might be useful, when we have pre-order clients, we tell them you're probably going to spend about 20% of your total raise on your marketing. So if someone comes to us and says hey, we want to make $100,000, I'll say okay, you're probably going to end up spending about 20K on marketing. And that's a good rule of thumb both ways. If people come to us and say hey Will, we've got 20K to spend, what do you think is going to happen with that? Then I can say well, I think you can probably make six figures, just about six figures with that kind of budget. So that's a good rule of thumb I think people can make use of.

Josh Ledgard: That's great advice. And it's also I think true that people have a view of these campaigns that they see and I think it's just human nature. You look at things and you assume the grass is always super green. And you look at a campaign that gets half a million or a million dollars, and it always looks kind of organic. And no one looks at it and says, well, was that all organic? Or were they spending $20,000, $40,000 on PR, on marketing, on advertising to drive that forum. And I think the answer is typically, especially now like you say, it's always that they're spending a lot of effort on the back end. Whether that's their own sweat equity in building out an audience and influencers or it's their own marketing dollars going directly into the advertising, especially for that last case.

Will Russell: Yep, yep.

Josh Ledgard: I know we're nearing and end. Do you have a couple more minutes to go through a fast five series of questions?

Will Russell: Sure.

Josh Ledgard: All right. So, for you, how do you get into the work zone? Where you're just feeling productive?

Will Russell: Google calendar. I plan out everything in my calendar. And therefore I have no choice but to be in the work zone because it's there waiting for me. I think that's the best way.

Josh Ledgard: So you're a slave to your own calendar then.

Will Russell: Slave to my calendar at the moment, yeah.

Josh Ledgard: Perfect. Favorite vacation destination?

Will Russell: Costa Rica.

Josh Ledgard: Why do you love it?

Will Russell: My girlfriend's from Costa Rica and so we spend quite a lot of time down there. And they have a good ... There's lot's of great beaches there. They have a great mentality in those beach areas. It's also a very accommodating, a very friendly country. And it's easy to get ... We're based in Brooklyn so a flight down to Costa Rica is nice and easy. You can go for a weekend. So all in all it's a good spot to be in.

Josh Ledgard: Sounds amazing. So your favorite podcast?

Will Russell: Apart from KickoffLabs.

Josh Ledgard: Apart from the yet un-launched podcast that by the time people hear this it will be launched. But apart from that, yeah.

Will Russell: Well I don't listen... Actually I'm going through a phase of not listening to podcasts that much. But one I used to listen to very religiously was the Tim Ferriss podcast. He was someone I listened to for a long time. And I always enjoyed whatever he had to say. But to be honest I think there's a lot to New York so I focused more ... Actually I've tried to get back more into reading than listening to things. So I don't listen to podcasts as much as I used to.

Josh Ledgard: Okay so I'll switch the next question up then and ask the best book you've read recently.

Will Russell: The best book I've read recently I think is pertinent to this conversation is one called Built to Sell by a guy called John Warrillow. And that book gave me a lot of great insights on how to build a scalable, sustainable, business. It's called Built to Sell so obviously the idea is that you're preparing a business that's valuable to someone else. But I think one of the lessons it teaches is that, by doing that process, you're actually building a business that's very valuable to yourself. It's just about removing yourself from the business and having a builder system that works for you. And so I would say Build to Sell.

Josh Ledgard: I'll have to check that out. So someone you look up to personal or business-wise?

Will Russell: That's a good question. Someone I look up to, I think in a ... I shouldn't always, but is Elon Musk. I know he has a lot of his pitfalls and he does a lot of stupid stuff and I think he works too hard and he doesn't really have that much of a balance in his life. However, the audacity he has to have done what he's done and launch the businesses he's launched and the risks he's taken into his businesses. I just think he's got a lot of admirable traits. So I often think of Elon Musk when I'm thinking about who could I learn from.

Josh Ledgard: I think that's a great answer and I think I would agree. Despite some of his faults, there's not doubting the audacity and his sincerity in his business and his goals that he has.

Josh Ledgard: All right well, I think that we're a little bit over time. So I want to thank you again for coming on and sharing part of your story and how you're helping your clients grow and the system you've got for doing these pre-launches. If anybody listening to this is interested, you can go to Russellmarketing.co to learn more about these services. And that link will be in the show notes as well so people can check them out. They've consistently run, for the last few years, very well-performing KickoffLabs campaigns on our service for doing the lead generation, the referral marketing for pre-launches. And so, I know that the system they have and the people they've got working there are doing a great job for their clients. And so I would recommend them to anybody looking to do this type of campaign.

Josh Ledgard: Anyway, thanks again for being on today. And I hope you have a great rest of your day.

Will Russell: Thanks so much Josh. Thank you. Bye bye.

Josh Ledgard: All right. Another episode in the can, as it were. I hope I've got that terminology correct. I think I do. I just want to say that, if you've enjoyed this or even if you haven't enjoyed it, you can write us a review on iTunes. And I'd love it if you sent me an email at josh@kickofflabs.com. You'll be sure to get a reply and I'd just love to hear what you think of the show and how we can improve. Have a great day.

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