On Life Balance, On Marketing Success with Positive Reviews and Good Customer Service, On Moving to a Stable Business Phase

I have been very bad at writing on my blog; it's been a very long time. I think over the past year a shift has happened in my life, where I've focused less on starting our business and more on maintaining it and focusing on life balance. I've been through the iterations of what works, and what doesn't, in marketing and applied these where I could. We have evolved into a very steady flow of app income and also contract work income. We've found a good balance of work and family/personal time as well. I've become immersed in the martial arts and focusing on the feeling of well-being. Our whole family (all five of us) are doing karate and we feel good, having a family-focused activity, having developed important friendships, having become healthier, plus the endorphins are bar none. The schedule also helps us keep us in a routine. This blog post is rather disjointed, but I wanted to share with you how reviews have increased our sales, and how we've achieved a new, comfortable phase of our business.

A Lot of Good Reviews Makes a Difference in Sales

I've finally found, quite by accident, a marketing method that actually works: A lot of positive reviews. I mean, a lot. We usually get a just a handful of reviews in general, mostly 5 stars. But that wasn't enough, so we've found. When I say a lot now, we have over 100 on the current release. There are a few not-so-good ones, sometimes where a quick email to us would have instead satisfied the customer, but now those few do not upset our apple cart. In the past, we would get one devastating review and that was the end of it. (See my past post on that subject.) For a smaller developer, like ourselves, a drop in sales meant an increase in contract time, which meant we couldn't address any customer concerns the way we would like. So in reality, a snarky review is counteractive—it won't help either party.

Now, I stress that I did NOT buy these reviews, nor did I invite all my friends to write them. The only thing we did is request them from within the app. Purely by chance, our algorithm for requesting reviews increased in frequency in our last update. It may have even been a bit of a bug. Or in reality, we were doing it wrong before. In the past, we were timid about requesting the review. Requests only happened on visits to a certain page, which most likely didn't happen as much as they could. It was hard to get the right balance, plus very hard to even verify when the review requests were happening, as it depended on time and usage.

This time around, the review request comes up after a few days of use after the update, but if the customer taps “remind me later” that reminding frequency has increased. What makes this work is, if the customer is satisfied with the app, they will go out and review it and the frequent prompts just allows them to remember to review it and do so on their time (by tapping remind me later again and again until they are ready). If the prompt becomes annoying, they can always tap “No, thanks” and we're done. And they are probably not going to take the time to go out and find their way to the review page to report their annoyance. So this method tends to garner more positive than negative reviews.

Good Customer Service Leads to Important Word of Mouth

In addition to the review prompts, we still have very easy ways to contact us—we have a contact us/help section right inside the app—and lots of customers utilize this method. Or, you can find our website and fill out our contact form there. I haven't measured which one is used more, but I have a feel that it's pretty even. The other thing that is a complete MUST is to write back your customers within 1-2 business days. Even if it's just to thank them for a suggestion or to say you're working on it. If they sound panicked, write back as soon as possible. Everyone just wants to know that you care (which we do) and get a real person in contact with them. I've turned around so many frustrations with this quick response time and I really believe word of mouth is the end all of marketing a good product.

The good reviews have really made a difference in our sales. It may also be affecting our ranking, as rumor is that Apple's search algorithm includes a review element. I'm unsure if a new update, that resets the reviews, will affect that factor; we'll have to see. The increase in sales has made this summer less stressful, as we work diligently on a very hard feature update. We've had more time to work on it as we can focus more time on it, not having to supplement our income with contract work as much.

Next Business Phase, Consistency

In addition to the increase, we are seeing consistency in our sales for the first time. And in our income. We are approaching 10 years in business and this past year has been great. We can finally meet all our obligations, including our estimated taxes. In the past, we lived off our home equity, then we lived off our income, but used the equity to pay taxes (income and property) and cover highs and lows. This year we can cover everything (maybe I'm just better at estimating?). Next year our goal is to start paying down the business debt more aggressively.

The reason I'm sharing this part of the business cycle is that we are not all going to have an app “hit” but we can all work on a plan to address one thing at a time. Set little goals at a time. First work towards making income, while having an alternative source to cover living expenses where you come short. Then work to build that income and cover all expenses on that income. Find the right balance of app sales and contract work. This took us about two years. Then set the next goal—live off the income and start paying down debt. Of course, allocate time and money to enjoy life as well—if you wait to pay down the debt, your kids will have grown and you won't have spent the time you worked so hard to get, as an entrepreneur. As our kids grow, we are already seeing our influence in how they approach learning and risk taking. My son has decided to self-teach himself Javascript. My daughter has been running her own Minecraft server and is looking to learn to write her own mods. My youngest daughter is on the cusp of programming as well—but first she's teaching herself to read. It's all a start of programming with a passion--what a great way to spend their spare time!

We've taken ten years to get here, but that is mostly due to the changing mobile space—as we started out as Palm developers. But in the last 4+ years as iOS devs, we've had the option to really work our plan and develop our business, moving through the cycles and getting to the point of success. It's been a combination of hard work, flexibility, and risk management, so we don't end up living in our car. We feel we've arrived at a comfortable place and now it's time to grow.

Thank You!

We thank our customers who have taken the time to provide us with positive reviews, or to contact us if they've felt frustrated, so we can help. Without this two way communication, we feel our business would not be in the place it is right now. We are passionate about what we do and we are thankful we have the time to spend on our business and on our family. It's not all about the money, but the quality of life and how you spend your time. Balance.