Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Evolution of Fast Pitch

As mentioned in a prior post, Fast Pitch is celebrating its 5th birthday this month. Technically however, what most people don't realize is that Fast Pitch is also closing in on it's 8th birthday in September. Wait... What?
Prior to becoming an online social network, Fast Pitch was a sole-proprietorship (owned by yours truly). For nearly three years I hosted and promoted networking events around the country from 2003 - 2006. Then, after becoming burned out with the event business and facilitating events for close to 10,000 people from Miami to Los Angeles and everywhere in between, Fast Pitch changed directions and became what it is today... an online social network for small business professionals.
On behalf of the 5th (and upcoming 8th) birthdays, I thought I'd take a stroll back in time and post some screen shots that demonstrate the evolution of the Fast Pitch homepage over these eight years. Enjoy.

(October 2003 - Fast Pitch announces the first of 200+ networking events from 2003-2005. Unfortunately, many of the images on the archived page no longer exist)

(January 2006 - Fast Pitch begins offering online networking events using a proprietary web based system to host and manage events remotely. These events spawn the birth of the Fast Pitch Profile).

(March 2006 - Fast Pitch begins to use the profile to help people be found on Google)

(June 2006 - The Fast Pitch Online Business Network goes Live! Members can now connect to one another and post a variety of content to their profile.)

(December 2006 - A newer version of our logo makes it's first appearance)

(June 2007 - We're growing and adding more features)

(June 2008 - A new logo and a more serious layout)

(December 2008 - The homepage begins to take the shape of today's Fast Pitch)

(January 2010 - Present)


Bill

Friday, July 22, 2011

LinkedOut?

BREAKING NEWS: CEO at over-valued social network attacks competitors social network.
Did anyone else see the comment made by LinkedIn CEO, Jeffrey Weiner earlier this week when asked about the potential of Google+? If you missed it, here was his answer:
"Nobody has any free time. Unlike social platforms and TV, which can coexist, you don't see people using Twitter while they're using Facebook, or using Facebook while they're using LinkedIn. Now you introduce Google+... where am I going to spend that next minute or hour of my discretionary time? I have no more time."
Wow. Sounds like someone struck a nerve! I'm guessing this is why...
Google+ is about to put a serious dent in LinkedIn's over-valued, under-used professional network.
LinkedIn has bet its future on eyeballs (i.e. selling ads). If impressions and engagement time per user on LinkedIn decline as a result of people becoming more interested in Google+ (regardless of whether that interest is social or business)... LinkedIn's ad revenues will decline... followed eventually by their overpriced stock. The potential stickiness of Google+ directly impacts LinkedIn's ad supported business model by becoming a one-stop-shop (which already includes business tools such as Gmail, Google Docs, Calendar, Maps, Places, Picassa, etc...).
Now, in Weiner's defense what he did say is factually correct. People's discretionary time is becoming more and more limited when it comes to using social networks. Additionally, from a business perspective I personally believe that people are beginning to question the value of networks that over promise and under-deliver (How many of you have actually gotten results from using LinkedIn? What about Facebook Ads?). Bottom line, in the world of professional (social) networking... if you can't deliver tangible results, people will move on. LinkedIn in my opinion, has made the mistake of failing to add value to their platform for the average user.
I personally think Google+ has Facebook in its cross-hairs... but does anyone think that LinkedIn isn't in that scope as well? How long will it take for Google+ to add a simple resume feature, making LinkedIn all but irrelevant at some point. My guess is about 10 minutes of coding time. That's how long it took us. :)
Don't get me wrong, as the owner of a professional network myself, I understand where Weiner is coming from. The success of Google+ can also be seen as an indictment of Fast Pitch. However, I can honestly say I'm not nearly as insecure about the prospects of Google+ becoming a Fast Pitch killer. For one, I'm already battle tested. We've been fighting this 'discretionary time' fight with Facebook, LinkedIn, Myspace for nearly five years now. And guess what... "I'm still standing, huh!" (in my best Tony Montana voice). Come to think of it, didn't we outlast Myspace?
Part of the reason I'm confident in Fast Pitch is that we've always positioned ourselves differently than other networks. Rather than trying to be everything to everyone... We're a tool that focuses on a niche market that compliments those other networks. For example:
1. People You Know vs. People You Don't Know
By tapping into their existing user base of 300M Gmail users, the majority of the connections being made on Google+ are with people you already know (people you've already communicated with inside of Gmail). This is a clear difference from the Fast Pitch approach where the focus is all about connecting you to people you do not already know. For small business owners who are interested in generating targeted, localized leads by connecting to other small business owners in specific industries, etc... Fast Pitch is the 'community' for doing this.
2. Creating Content vs. Sharing Content
Google+ does a nice job of allowing you to quickly share content from other sources. However, Google+ doesn't necessarily give you a platform for creating original content. One of the ways Fast Pitch will continue to attract users is with our intuitive press release feature - that allows you to create your own highly professional press release (for free) which can then be shared with other audiences on platforms like Google+!
3. Spam vs. Email Marketing
Have you ever tried to send more than 500 messages per day using Gmail? You can't. I'm guessing Google+ will be no different. Fast Pitch provides an alternative option (Fast Pitch MAIL) - a tool that allows our members to do large scale email marketing. Email Marketing is critical for small businesses. Google could care less.
4. One Size Fits All vs. Niche
Have you ever tried using LinkedIn, Google+ or Facebook to search for other small business owners in your area who are interested in networking? It's not easy. Fast Pitch is a niche professional network designed by small business owners for small business owners. For most small business owners, one size doesn't fit all.
4. Professional SEO
We're very good at getting ALL of your professional content (profile, press, etc.) ranked high on Google... and we do it entirely in a business context. When people come across your press release, it links to your professional profile on Fast Pitch, which links to your blog, your other press, etc... People have no other choice than to form a more serious opinion about you. With Google+, my guess is that your public profile will be what it is... a combination of social vs. business. Which isn't always a good thing.
In short, LinkedIn's problem going forward is that they took their eye off the ball and stopped innovating around 2008. Beyond the functionality they offer for recruitment (who's hiring?), they've given the average user very little reason to spend significant time on their network. Particularly the amount of time it takes to convince major advertisers to spend the kind of dollars LinkedIn investors require for the stock price to continue to go up.
When you add it all up, Weiner has plenty of reason to be insecure. Or maybe he's just having a bad week because one of his underwriters just downgraded his stock.

Bill

Thursday, July 21, 2011

1 Million Emails!

Today, our new Fast Pitch MAIL tool delivered it's 1 millionth email. That's an impressive milestone considering we just went live with the feature a little over 1 month ago. Currently Fast Pitch MAIL has a few hundred Fast Pitch members actively using the tool - which allows you to Create, Send and Track your own email marketing campaigns for free as part of your Platinum Membership on Fast Pitch.
The response to the product from members has been nothing short of positive. Below are some of the testimonials we've already received:
  1. "Fast Pitch MAIL is a very intuitive product even for new email marketers like myself."

  2. "Fast Pitch MAIL is free with my membership? Time to cancel my account with ____Contact!"

  3. "The support team did a great job helping me create my first campaign. Everything from importing my lists to creating my newsletter template."
Now what will be really cool is... 1 Billion Emails!
Muahahahahahah!
Bill

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

NEWsletters

This week many of you should begin receiving at least one (if not more) micro newsletters from Fast Pitch. The new micro newsletters focus on a specific feature offered on the Fast Pitch network. Which newsletter(s) you receive is largely dependent upon what you have been doing on our network over the past few months. For example, if you've signed up to use our Fast Pitch MAIL tool, you should be receiving an e-newsletter that currently offers some basic tips for how to create an effective email marketing newsletter for your business.

Unlike the more general newsletter you have been receiving over the years, these micro newsletters are meant to be concise and informational in nature. We're tapping into our collective experience here at Fast Pitch headquarters each week and passing that knowledge on to you free of charge!

In addition to these new micro newsletters, we will continue to send out our traditional weekly newsletter which provides you with the typical headline announcing a new feature or promotion as well as localized content highlighting new members in your region, relevant press releases, events, and more.

Lastly, if you are a Platinum Member and have an interest in becoming a 'Guest Author' on any of our newsletters, email us at info@fastpitchnetworking.com. We're always interested in providing quality content in return for the exposure it can bring you!


Bill

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Survey Says...

Earlier this week we ran an informal survey to many of our newest members (as of May 2010) to learn more about their business as well as their initial impression of Fast Pitch. Surprisingly, over 300 of you responded... giving us a large enough sample size to report our findings. Below are some of the highlights from the survey (with more to follow).
Summary: In short, most of you are small business owners with limited marketing budgets who rely primarily on word-of-mouth marketing. As a result, you tend to have a strong interest in using Fast Pitch to make new connections (i.e. network) with other members. Additionally, it appears that we (Fast Pitch) may need to take a closer look at our overall navigation to improve your level of engagement with our network.
1. I recently created a profile on Fast Pitch because...
  • 37% I am interested in Networking
  • 25% I was referred by a trusted colleague
  • 22% I am interested in using the Marketing tools
  • 10% I am not sure why I joined
2. Since creating my profile I have logged into Fast Pitch ___ times.
  • 31% < 3 times
  • 29% 4-10 times
  • 11% 11-20 times
  • 29% 20+ times
3. Navigating Fast Pitch is...
  • 40% Very Simple
  • 44% A Little Confusing
  • 15% Very Confusing
4. Which is your favorite feature?
  • 17% Free Email Marketing Tool
  • 23% Free Press Release Service
  • 31% Unlimited Networking
  • 5% Higher Ranking on Fast Pitch
  • 10% Higher Ranking on Google
  • 14% Other
5. What is the primary way you market your business?
  • 37% Word of Mouth
  • 22% Email Marketing
  • 3% Direct Mail
  • 11% Other Social Media (i.e. Facebook)
  • 8% Direct Sales (call center)
  • 19% Other
6. What is your monthly marketing budget?
  • 65% < $500
  • 12% $500 - $1,000
  • 13% $1,000 - $5,000
  • 10% $5,000+
Thank you to everyone who took the time to respond to the survey request. As always, we appreciate your feedback.

Bill

Monday, July 11, 2011

Fast Pitch Turns 5!

This month, Fast Pitch officially turns five years old.
Unlike years past, this particular 'birthday' is bittersweet as many small businesses (our primary clientele) have struggled to stay afloat during some challenging economic times. Although we're excited to have made it to year five (most small businesses fail within the first two years) we're conscious of the fact that many of you are trying to figure out how to make it to month five.
Much like many large businesses and governments around the world, you too are looking for ways to cut costs and 'keep the lights on'. We're aware of this... which is why we've decided to extend our $49 Annual Platinum Membership Special for another month. Although it's our birthday, we've decided to extend the gift to you!
Consider what a $49 Annual Membership means:
For less than $5 per month (there's that number '5' again)... we've estimated that you will save your business $500+ per month ($6,000 per year). For example, did you know that prior to joining Fast Pitch, most Fast Pitch Platinum members used to spend...
  1. $50 per month on email marketing (e.g. Constant Contact)
  2. $300 per month on SEO with a local SEO firm
  3. $200 per month on press distribution (e.g. PR Web)
  4. $50 per month for online networking (e.g. LinkedIn)
Now, with a Fast Pitch Platinum Membership thousands of businesses around the world are saving hundreds of dollars each month by using our one-stop-shop to do all of these things (and more) for less than $5.
Help us... Help your business... reach its next birthday!
Become a Platinum Member and start saving.

Visit: http://www.fastpitchnetworking.com
Oh, and congratulations to the Fast Pitch staff... and to all of our members who have been with us since 2006! Here's to the next five years...

Bill

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

We're in Florida Trend! (again)

Thank you to Florida Trend Magazine for giving Fast Pitch a nice little plug in the July 2011 issue.

Now, put us on the cover and I'll tell you everything you want to know! :)

Bill