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What I Learned in the First 90 Days of the Social Community Space That I’m Stupid Enough to Share
This story begins like any other. The girl is reading a book. The girl is deeply inspired by the book. A girl and a boy enter headfirst into a highly competitive social community space. Well, I’m that girl. Now fast forward 10 months from when I first picked up this book and my partner and I are 90 days into our first social community.
I present to you what I learned in the first 90 days of the social community, and I must be stupid enough to share. These lessons are not intended to reflect the teachings of everyone in this room. They are certainly personal to my experience and in some cases may be completely unique. Regardless, these are the lessons I’ve learned and observations I’ve made over the course of 90 days on this journey. While some may consider it silly to share such teachings (and so early), I share with anyone and everyone who has the desire to follow their dreams in the social community space or who has already delved into it.
Your theme song and mantra will change dramatically… Like any other entrepreneurial team, my partner and I had a theme song that represented our mantra. Before the launch (which was exactly 13 days late because there were a million other lessons I could write a book about) and a few weeks after the launch, we rocked Rage Against The Machine’s “Renegades of Funk” … Nope. try as you might, you can’t stop us now! Well, the days go by and the struggle to find your audience takes its toll on the psyche. A self-made mantra of “Breakthrough before collapse” keeps us going these days.
The guy who wrote the book will just try to sell you something… The book I read (which shall remain untitled) preached all about the emerging social community space. It taught, inspired, encouraged and even invited the reader to contact the author (himself an angel investor) with ideas. Well, that’s exactly what we did and we were quickly given an offer (easy to refuse) that was more like a consulting contract with a ridiculous fee for this and that to pitch our idea to investors. This lesson was truly the saddest of all.
Activities are the most important thing you will never have time to do all the time… My partner and I chose a high maintenance concept that requires tedious daily activities to continuously create and manage custom games and contests. If we’re not around, the WISEOZ.com world won’t be able to spin and the members will get angry. We discovered very early on that operations will always come well ahead of strategy and growth. It’s an unfortunate but true reality for a self-funded company like we are.
MySpace is a common wasteland of marketing opportunities… As boring and primitive as it is, MySpace marketing is a strategy for us and many others. We created a MySpace (and Facebook and Twitter) page for WISEOZ.com at the suggestion of some of our well-informed members. Little did we know how trolling through millions of MySpace pages and groups to find new members was actually a marketing strategy and not all that bad. You can spend hour after hour searching for MySpace users based on their interests, demographics, and any other personal information they reveal, and it will only cost you time. This is a tiring but addictive activity that generates new members every now and then which eventually leads to more and more new members through word of mouth. Not a bad marketing strategy if you have a zero dollar budget and a good stomach for bad web pages.
The devil is in the details, and by that we mean customer service… In addition to our day-to-day operations, we’ve managed to excel in our customer service. It was probably born out of the new entrepreneur syndrome (similar to the new mother syndrome in that you just can’t put your baby down), but it has evolved into a kind of customer-driven customer service. Over the past 90 days, we’ve gotten to know several of our members personally, their dogs, their children, their accomplishments, their struggles, and more. We listen well and respond even better. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see us in the chat room for most of the day answering member requests for this and that special feature in real time. First and foremost, to keep our existing members happy and engaged. No matter how cool your gadgets are or how fancy your widgets are, your social community is only as good as your least satisfied member. In general, knowing your demographics is one thing, but knowing your members is quite another.
When the going gets tough, friends and family are nowhere to be found… My partner and I don’t have a large network of friends, nor do we have large families, but we have enough to potentially offer a huge amount of support . Unfortunately, this has not been the case in our case. We have members from Seattle to Australia who will give WISEOZ talks and walk WISEOZ walks completely uninvited, but we don’t have a single family or friend who takes the time to join our community and show their support. It might be a more personal experience, and I might get struck by lightning walking out the front door this morning, but it’s still true, and it might apply to others in a similar position. It’s a strange phenomenon that the people closest to you can sometimes be your worst supporters.
The signs show up, but you’ll never really know what they really mean… My partner and I were thrilled when FairyGodMom, our first payer, arrived just 2 weeks after launch. She didn’t bring dancing mice or a pumpkin trainer, but she came anyway. Then, just over 2 months after launch, lightning struck my house (where else do you put your data center if you’re self-funded) and cut off our connection to the world. The site was down for about 20 hours, members were panicking and we were trying to read the signs. We are still trying to read the signs.
Not all clicks are created equal… In the first few weeks after launch, we tried the Google AdWords freshman program. In some cases, we paid more than $10 per click. With a daily budget of $10, it’s frustrating when one click only puts a dent in your bounce rate. Soon after, we stopped Google AdWords and found our bounce rate dropped from a whopping 60% to a respectable 15%. With paid advertising out of the question, we have resorted to heavy reliance on word of mouth and homegrown viral marketing techniques. It’s a slow climb, but progress is being made every day.
This social community business isn’t that social at all… Call us naive, but we went out looking for a mentor. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time. We learned about other sites our members frequented and built relationships with them. We saw synergies all around (maybe they were stars in our eyes) and know that the market is big and broad enough to provide such synergies. Unfortunately, we quickly discovered that those with investors ran the furthest and the furthest, the fastest. We have yet to find a competitor confident enough to consider a mutually beneficial or mentoring relationship. This is the part of the social community space that is not so social at all. After all, your website statistics will tell you that you are small, but your competitors will make you feel much smaller and insignificant.
My partner and I take these lessons into our next 90 days in the social community space with heavy hearts, thicker skin, and bloodshot eyes. For those facing similar circumstances, we hope that we have offered some insights that can help your business, or make you much better off compared to it, and my article made you finally realize it.
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