How to kick start an online site with a trial period

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This blog talks about paid websites, and how to get them kick started. It is based on my own experience licensing my marketing and sales materials to a funded online publishing firm that specializes in this kind of work. The site in question is listed in my bio —

We just launched the site, albeit in an early form. The CEO of the company that developed the site has extensive experience launching paid subscription content sites, and I’ve learned a lot from him about how to kick start new sites. Here are some initial lessons:

1. Perfection is your enemy. Launch the site when it is “good enough.” Then get as many people as you can to the site, capture their experience, and improve the site. We already have a slew of significant changes planned within the month, changes that will allow us to charge a lot more for the program.

2. Set up a way to get merciless, ruthless feedback from users. Friends and family tend to say, “Nice job! Looks great! We are very proud of you!” People you don’t know say, “This won’t work. You need to do this right away…” It hurts, but it is essential to have that feedback loop and improve from there.

3. Never stop testing. The company is testing numerous details of the site, especially pricing, different looks and feels, different functionality, and different primary benefits. They are optimizing the customer experience in a systematic, almost scientific way.

4. Do not offer FREE beta tests, but rather a discount trial period to paying early adopters. We discovered that free beta tests don’t work. Yes, consumer software companies offer free beta tests to software developers and super-users. But that’s not our audience. We need to get feedback from small business owners who are likely to be real customers — people who see enough value in the site to pay for it and use it. We found that, with free tests, we get lots of students (not our market), people without credit cards (definitely not our market), and “tire kickers” who would never actually pay money for a service but love to explore free stuff (again, definitely not our market). But with paid beta tests (which, incidentally, companies like IBM and CSC use when testing out new technologies), we get customers with some skin in the game.

So the company set up a trial period at a low introductory price (1/3 what initial research showed that the target market was willing to pay). In addition, I agreed to give away my marketing manual for free (a $195 value) and provide one-on-one support to people as an incentive (and a way to get candid feedback from people). And finally, these “early adopters” will get to see how the site evolves over time, a benefit to some but not all of them (those interested in web development).

I’ll keep you posted on the results. So far, in just a week, we’ve received outstanding response from people — despite our having tested the site over and over again, and tried to optimize the user experience. We’ve reached them via my list, the company’s list, and by asking our vendors to send out offers to their customer list.

If you are a web developer who markets online products, the above guidelines are a great way to kick start your online site. They offer a way to get rapid feedback from real customers beyond friends and family, and to develop a base of users.

(BTW, yesterday, I tried to make this offer to Sitepoint readers, but the blog was deemed to self-promotional, rightly so. Hopefull this one is more educational and appropriate, and I appreciate the editorial staff’s guidance. At the same time, and I think I’m allowed to say this, the newly launched continues to recruit paying trial users who are small businesspeople. If you know anyone who wants to get clients fast and is willing to pay a trial price, have them get in touch with me at and I’ll set them up with the benefits noted above. WARNING: SITE NOT YET OPTIMIZED FOR FIREFOX/MOZILLA BUT WILL BE SOON: I know — heresy.)

Andrew NeitlichAndrew Neitlich
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