opinion

Finding the Right Road to Success

Finding the Right Road to Success
A.J. Hall

Last month, I wrote about collaboration, surrounding yourself with good people and top-tier service providers and having an alliance group.

In past articles, I have written about the “7 Ps”: Prior Proper Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance.

Elevated X just entered its 11th year. We are still evolving, still developing and still growing. Our longevity is not without a good amount of failure.

Elevated X just entered its 11th year. We are still evolving, still developing and still growing. Our longevity is not without a good amount of failure. We’ve made mistakes. We’ve spent lots of money on things like publicity — all with zero return.

We’ve invested in development of things only to realize afterwards that we were a few years too early. We hired the wrong people, didn’t fire them as soon as we should have and later ended up spending twice as much time and money redoing what we had paid them to do.

Through our failures came ultimate successes, even though they all came at a hefty price. In the hopes of saving you some of the same hardships on your road to success, I will share some of the steps we take to maximize our chances of success and minimize our risk by using the “7 Ps” principal.

Step 1) We define what it is we are looking to do.

For us this is often a very general but also focused objective or “thing.” Right now, we are working on adding a series of updated responsive web site themes that will be free to all our uses, so at the start, we simply defined our project as “Add Free Themes.”

For a new paysite, this statement might look something like, “Build a niche paysite offering memberships, streaming video rentals, pay-per-downloads.” For an established site it might look like, “Modernize website, add pay-per-view and webcam revenue streams.”

Step 2) We clarify what the above “thing” will encompass.

For our free themes, this meant deciding that they will all be responsive designs, that each theme would be different while still allowing it to be plug-and-play for our users (not require settings changes), and that we would offer five different themes to start.

For the above paysite examples, this step would include defining a preferred niche or potential niches for the site, deciding on the content style and most basic features of the site and perhaps setting a preliminary ballpark target budget or at least a maximum budget.

Step 3) We do some research.

For us this means just looking around and talking to people. We review feedback we’ve gotten from existing customers, support tickets, emails from prospective pre-sale customers and talk to any applicable service providers we can glean insight from.

In the case of themes, we considered this direct correspondence, looked at a few dozen of the most popular paysites along with design company portfolios and finally, talked to a couple adult design company owners about common design requests, complaints and the like.

For a paysite, this would be the information gathering and competitive analysis stage. Which sites are the biggest in your niche? What will it take to go up against them? What content quality and how much do you need? What are your design needs? What features does your site need to compete? What will your marketing needs be? Have we talked to everyone we need to in order to determine that this idea isn’t business suicide? Is there anything we’ve overlooked or that may catch us by surprise and derail things?

Step 4) We use this information to begin planning.

We start by making two lists: Things we can do ourselves and things we need to hire people to help with.

Once we know what we need help with, we begin sourcing those things. For themes, my skillset allowed me to do the initial designs myself but we needed a designer who could polish them and who also had the coding skills needed to make them into functional responsive coded pages for our Elevated X CMS templates and add Javascript or AJAX for sliders and scrollers and any jazzed-up stuff we wanted.

This narrowed it down to two trusted sources and we got quotes for cost and delivery time and made a decision based on what made the most sense.

For a paysite, new or old, this might include looking for paysite management CMS software to run the website that has most if not all of the features identified above. It might mean looking for a payment processing company who can handle both memberships and pay per view and/or who also has existing features to support things like webcam show billing. It often also includes looking for a web-hosting company and a designer and obtaining quotes and opening a dialogue with every potential vendor to narrow down who is the best fit in each area.

Step 5) We start with mock-ups.

We never just go at something. In the past, maybe, but not anymore. We start with a mock-up, be it a big wall of text and bulleted lists that we pass around to help shape our “thing” or an actual visual mock-up in crude HTML or Photoshop. This can range from a simple wire-frame or line drawing to (in the case of themes) something that resembled a completed rough design.

In the case of a paysite, this is often a text-based wish list or a list of must-haves and items that can be compromised on, along with a list of example paysites or designs and either a close target design example or graphical mock-up.

If content is included, this is where having a test shoot or samples from possible content providers enter the picture to help shape the direction things will take.

Step 6) We get organized and define steps.

We have our resources chosen be it software, hosting, billing, content providers, designers, builders, marketers, and so on. We have our content and features and design narrowed down and have our lists and mock-ups.

Next, we break things into steps. For our theme project it was simple, all we needed to do was send a design company our mock-ups and pay their deposit.

For a paysite, this step is where most of the up-front spending happens and when the order of things is defined. Process of elimination typically sorts out this order. Has enough content been purchased or produced or does that need to happen first? If there’s content already but not web hosting, hosting needs to be secured before software can be purchased and building can begin.

Sometimes design can be done concurrently during the build process and other times it relies on the rest of the site being completed first. Often payment processors can’t review a site for compliance until it’s close to complete or appears ready to accept customers but sometimes for testing purposes, this needs to happen weeks prior to launch. These things need to be accounted for and steps laid out so there’s a clear path to follow.

Step 7) We work.

This step is self-explanatory. We do the work, whatever the work may be. In our case, much of the work consisted of sitting back and waiting (and anxiously pestering the design company) and giving them feedback as they progressed.

For a paysite this may include filling in the blanks of the site by adding content, writing descriptions, SEO based titles, keyword tags and working on the “guts” of the site, overseeing production or web staff or as in our case, sitting back and waiting while the people you’ve paid and put your faith in do their work.

Step 8) We review, test and collect feedback.

We never just release something; rather, we sit on it for a while in some form. This might be one or multiple rounds of internal quality control, showing it to a few select clients, or an open beta period where select Elevated X software users, or in some cases all users are welcome to use something while we fine-tune.

This is where feedback is obtained before blowing the one shot there is at an official launch or heavy initial promotion.

By not being too hasty or getting over-anxious at this time, despite how tempting it is, we ensure that what we offer is well-received.

Step 9) We go live.

This is where we cross our fingers, pop the champagne and brace ourselves for success or failure.

Never launch on a Thursday or Friday. You always want to go live at a time when any staff you may rely on is already available and planning to work, not when they’ll be off for the evening or already beginning the weekend.

For us, we always soft-launch everything. This means that by the time anyone sees an Elevated X press release, whatever we’re announcing has likely been out for a period of weeks or even months and already in use by a fair number of our customers.

We don’t rush to promote, pay for advertising or over-hype something until we’ve polished it and it’s already proven well received by users.

Some paysites can benefit from a blitz or even a sustained series of heavy marketing efforts while others do better with doing a little at a time until they are ready to reach critical mass. Often budget and ROI dictate these things but I have never seen anyone risk too much or end up too deep in the hole with a slower approach.

Step 10) We do follow up work.

We might call this the maintenance phase but really, we are never complacent for very long. We are always listening to client feedback, seeing what others are doing and aside from seasonal ebb-and-flow, we don’t stagnate very much and paysite owners shouldn’t either.

AJ Hall is a 16-year adult industry veteran, winner of the 2016 XBIZ Tech Leadership Award and CEO of Elevated X Inc., a provider of popular adult site CMS software. Hall has spoken at industry trade shows and written for several trade publications. Elevated X software powers more than 2,000 leading adult sites, has been nominated for more than a dozen industry awards and won XBIZ Awards for the years 2012, 2014 and 2015 for Software Company of the Year.

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