How to Use Surveys to Build Backlinks

Here is a guest post from a partner in the UK outlining some tips for using surveys to generate interesting blog content. Read below for this great technique that will generate traffic and backlinks through cooperation with local media.

Surveys are probably my favourite method of link building. I like them for the quantity of links it brings in as well as the quality. First of all, think of an interesting topic within your niche, put together the questions you want to ask people, and then find the people you want to ask.

Although it can be pricey finding a decent enough sample of people (1000+), there are a couple of ways around it. Spend a little bit of money promoting the survey on Facebook and offer a prize draw entry for one of the participants. You can also make use of your mailing list if you have one. Failing this, you can go out in the streets and ask people who walk past. It might be hassle but it’s better than spending thousands on a survey provider.

Once you have the results, think about the spin you want to put on it, and then create a piece of content around it. In my experience, it’s not enough just publishing the results – they have to tell a story. For example, if you asked 1,000 dog owners which dog food product they use the most, instead of publishing content that reads “1,000 dog owners survey”, I would look to see which product is the most popular and use it as a title – “37% of dog owners prefer Bakers to any other dog food brand”. With that, you’re more likely to acquire a link from a big business.

Another piece of advice around surveys would be to see what’s going on in terms of news in your niche at the present time. For instance, I was working on a campaign for FreeOfficeFinder and we were going through the biggest news event in a generation in the UK (EU referendum). Although FreeOfficeFinder is not a political website, they had a database of thousands of office workers who they could quickly ask their opinion on the upcoming vote.

Be as specific as possible with the survey. If you ask two or three basic questions, the chances of your survey being newsworthy are reduced. As you can see with the Brexit survey, there was only one question asked, but the intention of the survey was to split the results into areas of the country, which provided us with something newsworthy to present to websites.


Even though your survey is finished and the content is on your site, your job isn’t done. Any link builder will tell you that the whole “if you build good content you will gain links” advice is a myth. Without outreach, you will not get links. With a survey, I split my outreach between newspapers, journalists and bloggers in the niche the survey is in.

When it’s a local survey, the local press is usually very interested in hearing what it’s about, but I’ve found that nationally, it can be extremely difficult to get the press to listen. Instead of just emailing the Newsdesk, phone them up. Find a number of related articles on news websites and use social media to contact the authors.

When sending your outreach emails, you need to remember that journalists and bloggers are busy people. It’s important that you keep your contact short and sweet. Put all your main points in a bullet list and make sure the most important point is clear when they open their email.

From my survey and outreaching efforts, the Brexit survey was mentioned in a national newspaper. Sadly this wasn’t a link but it was free publicity and it let to more people visiting the site and a few links were created from it.

With all the tips and advice, you’re ready to go. Not every survey is a success, but if you do them properly, there’s a good chance you’ll bring in some excellent links to your website.

Sales skills critical for growing startup revenue

A recent post from Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) describes 9 important qualities that all sales people should have. Sales skills are absolutely critical to the success of a startup. A product alone does not generate revenue. All companies require some sort of talented sales force in order to survive. Unfortunately, most entrepreneurs that I encounter are hesitant to perform sales. The fact is that all founders are required to perform sales roles. Below, I highlight three sales skills that most of my startups clients fail to recognize, but are fundamental to closing deals and growing revenue.

Adopt an adviser mindset

A significant misconception is that salespeople are equated to used car salesmen; pushy, sleazy, dishonest, and entirely self-interested. This could not be further from the truth. Modern, quality sales is about selling the reputations of the salesperson and their company, as much as its products. Sales involves learning deeply about customers. Understand the goals and challenges for both their company and their department. Be honest and knowledgeable about your products and their benefits.

Once the salesperson understands their customer, they should focus on how their products can create benefit for the customer. Explain how the products solved similar problems for other customers. Share testimonials or case studies that articulate the benefit the products deliver using quantifiable values (e.g. dollars saved, hours of labour reduced). Using real-world evidence will go a long way to both educate the customer and inspire confidence in the quality of both the selling company and its products.

Call high

When selling high-value products or doing B2B sales, it is crucial to address the key decision maker directly. Most individuals at a customer organization that a startup interacts with during the sales process do not have budget authority to make a purchase. In order to purchase a product, a key decision maker, or budget holder, must approve the purchase. The issue arises when startups do not understand their customer’s organization and focus their sales process solely on lower-level employees. Spending too much time interacting with individuals at this level may not lead to a sale, which will delay or prevent a startup from capturing revenue.

The solution is to identify the appropriate person in the target customer organization who has the authority to make the purchase. The startup must seek and engage this person during the sales process to close the deal. A startup should not neglect the lower-level employees at the customer organization they initially engage with. They may be powerful influencers or saboteurs to the budget holder. Win their support first, then move up the decision chain. Closing the deal by having allies from the customer will be much easier.

Ask for a next step

Most high-value B2B sales are not closed in a single call. In fact, the higher the value being traded, the longer the sales process and the higher the number of engagements between the salesperson and customer are required. Therefore, salespeople should prepare for scheduling multiple interactions with their customer and avoid finishing an interaction without some agreed next step between them and the client.

Subsequent interactions could range from sending a simple follow-up email with additional product information, to preparing and sharing a draft quote. This is also a good opportunity to arrange a meeting with a more senior budget-holder or key decision-maker. The point is that both parties know what the next step is, and the salesperson makes a commitment to try and move the sale forward. Never lose a sale because of a forgetful or busy customer!

Moving forward on the path to revenue

Sales should not be thought of as a talent that only a subset of the population is born with. Sales skills can be learned and developed over time. Startup teams without significant sales experience therefore should invest significant time in developing critical sales skills in their founding teams.

Startups should focus on identifying the appropriate decision-makers and budget-holders in the customer’s organization and work to engage them directly. Once the startup has the attention of the appropriate party, they should summarize what they have learned about the customer from previous engagement with lower-level workers, and present their product in context of their business to demonstrate the value product provides. After the pitch, reach an agreement with the client on future follow-up engagement to close the sale.

The sooner the startup can master these sales skills and begin earning repeating, growing revenue, the more likely it will be able to attract investment and transform into a thriving enterprise.

Deploy code using git

It is common amongst developers to deploy code using git. However, I have never done this before. I am (generally) familiar with git and source code management concepts, but using git for a deployment is something I always wanted to do. BitBucket (and I expect other repo services) allow users to add a deployment key to their repo. This key is read-only, so you can be confident when you upload it to your remote host, no malicious user can use it to modify your code.

These instructions are written for BitBucket (which is the remote repo that I use), but should apply in a general sense to all remote repos.

Generate a new public/private key pair

$ ssh-keygen -t rsa

Be sure to set a passphrase, for maximum security. After all, you will be uploading the private key to a 3rd party, so make sure a passphrase is required so anyone who accesses your key cannot access your code.

Upload public key to BitBucket as deployment key

Navigate to your repo on the BitBucket website. Under Navigation in the left-side bar, click Settings, Deployment keys. Click the Add key button, and follow the prompts.

BitBucket menu showing where to find 'Deployment keys' setting

Copy private key to host

$ scp ~/.ssh/deployment-key hostname:~/.ssh/deployment-key

Configure ssh identity on host

Edit the ~/.ssh/config file on the host, using vi/vim/nano/emacs/whatever is available to configure ssh to use the private key when authenticating git requests with BitBucket.

Add the following line:

IdentityFile ~/.ssh/deployment-key

Set permissions for private key on host

When I tried to clone my repo, Git on my host alerted me to a security concern that the private key had excessive privileges. Run the following command to ensure that the private key is only accessible to your user:

chmod 600 ~/.ssh/deployment-key

Clone repository

git clone local-directory-name

Note these instructions assume you want to deploy the master branch. If you want a different branch, then add the -b branch-name flag to the clone command.

That’s it! Once the repo is cloned, you can simply run git pull to grab the updates in BitBucket. Follow these instructions each time you wish to deploy code using git.

SOLVED FaceTime camera on Thunderbolt Display does not work

Ran into an issue this evening trying to use my FaceTime camera via my Thunderbolt Display. After launching the video conference software and connecting to the call, camera would not share any video. It simply showed a black screen.

Some quick Googling revealed the answer. Run this command in your terminal:

$ sudo killall VDCAssistant

Then restart your video conference software (FaceTime, Skype, whatever). Your camera should begin sharing video right away.

Putting ‘Minimum’ in Minimum Viable Product

Many startups struggle with the concept of a minimum viable product (also known as an MVP). A number of clients that I work with believe that they need to have a perfectly functional and polished product before they show it to anyone. As a result, they will spend countless hours and significant amounts of money developing and refining their product without any input from a customer. In many cases, these entrepreneurs end up building something that nobody wants, and as a result, their startup collapses due to poor sales.

Instead, entrepreneurs need to think about what truly constitutes a minimum viable product. An early stage startup must focus on iterating their product quickly while spending as little cash as possible. The idea is to experiment as much possible, as quickly as possible. An entrepreneur must ask himself or herself, “What are the 5 most important ideas to be tested in a minimum viable product?” and “How can I test these ideas with spending the least amount of money and time?”.

The development from minimum viable product to commercial product is a progression. For initial experimentation, startups can receive significant value from a simple hand-drawn wireframe of their software or model of their physical product. After receiving feedback from customers, startups can upgrade from a sketch to a functioning prototype, or what I like to call the ‘garage prototype’, meaning an ugly but operating digital or physical product that may have exposed wires or buggy code. Again, after receiving customer feedback on this version, a startup can develop a more refined version.

Mike Kitchen, from WealthSimple, gives a great talk on how to build, and iterate, your MVP. Notice how WealthSimple began with a minimum viable product of a basic Excel spreadsheet that was used to gather feedback from a small group of users. Using that feedback, Mike improved his product, added more features, then sought more feedback from a larger group of users. As a result, WealthSimple built a very successful startup built upon real customer needs without over-engineering the product.

The Calgary Startup Ecosystem

The Calgary startup ecosystem consists of a large collection of government agencies, non-profits, incubators, and accelerators that provide various support and resources to start-ups. I feel a major challenge with the entrepreneurs in Calgary, particularly the early-phase ones, is that they find it difficult to find these ecosystem players and understand how they can benefit their startup.

To remedy this, below is a list of various participants in the Calgary startup ecosystem.

First, I will recommend that all entrepreneurs start with the Alberta Innovators Network (; a web portal with links to nearly all of the public and private startup support organizations.


Calgary Economic Development

Calgary Economic Development

Responsible for developing and executing Calgary’s 10 year economic strategy.

Sustainable Development Technology Canada

Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC)

Promotes sustainable development technology and startups in Canada. Focuses on startups solving problems related to climate change, air technology, clean water, and soil.


Startup Calgary

Startup Calgary

Serving early-phase startups from idea to MVP. Creates and maintains a community of startups and entrepreneurs. Seeking to connect people together to create ‘sparks’ of innovation in Calgary.

The A100


A group of C-level tech entrepreneurs and founders who seek to inspire and support the next generation of technology entrepreneurs in Alberta.

Innovate Calgary

Innovate Calgary

Serving clients at all stages between idea and investment-ready. Innovate Calgary offers applied education programs, mentorship opportunities, bespoke consultation services, intellectual property management, and a co-working space. The company operates closely with the University of Calgary and serves researchers, students, and community clients.

TEC Edmonton

TEC Edmonton

Joint organization between the City of Edmonton and the University of Alberta. Offering various educational and consultation services for early and mid-phase entrepreneurs. TEC Edmonton serves clients from all industries, but operates an accelerator for health technology startups, in partnership with AHS.


District Ventures

District Ventures

An accelerator lead by Arlene Dickinson for consumer packaged goods, such as food and beverage. Manages a $40m venture fund. Connects its client companies with retailers and distributors.

Zone Startups Calgary

Zone Startups

A collaboration between GE and Ryerson Futures. Focuses on startups in the energy, clean tech, smart cities, power, and internet of things (IoT) spaces. Includes a $8-10m seed fund for clients.

SOLVED Time Machine volume not mounting in OSX

I use an external USB drive to store my Time Machine backups, as most people do. The drive is split into two partitions; one for  Time Machine, the other for general data. Every few weeks/months, OSX will no longer mount the Time Machine volume. The volume appears in Disk Utility, but greyed out. The Mount option in Disk Utility is also greyed out. Overall, it appears that OSX can detect and identify the volume, but does not present any option for actually mounting it (at least through the GUI)…

The issue is caused because my Time Machine volume is encrypted. Encrypting your Time Machine backups prevents malicious people who gains access to the backup image will be unable to view the data (or at least it will take them quite a long time to break the encryption). The encryption option is available through the Time Machine area in System Preferences, and is highly recommended.

For whatever reason, OSX ‘forgets’ how to decrypt the volume in order to mount it. The solution is pretty straightforward, but will require use of terminal.

To find the UUID of the encrypted Time Machine volume, execute this command in a terminal:

$ diskutil cs list

Within the results returned, find the UUID of the logical volume used for Time Machine. Look for the LV Name field that matches the name of your Time Machine drive.

To unlock the volume, execute this command in a terminal:

$ diskutil cs unlockVolume UUID -passphrase PASSPHRASE

where PASSPHRASE is the password/key for the volume.

If this command executes successfully, OSX will unlock and mount the volume. You can then resume Time Machine backups as normal.

The Importance of Product Design

Customers love products with great design. A product may work great and provide real customer benefit, but will struggle to gain momentum and marketing ‘buzz’ if it looks unappealing. Therefore, the design of a product (or service) is just as important as its functionality and the value it provides to a customer. In fact, many customers presently expect products to be just as beautiful to look at much as they are reliable and functional.

Over the past two decades, companies such as Apple and Tesla have used product design to create competitive advantage. Furthermore, these companies discovered that customers are willing to pay a premium for a more attractive product. For example, compare two canister vacuum cleaners; a Dirt Devil and a Dyson. Without looking at the specifications of each, it can be agreed that both products perform a similar function (floor cleaning) and are constructed from similar materials (plastic). The significant difference is the design and attractiveness between the products. The Dirt Devil resembles a standard modern canister vacuum. The Dyson, however, looks like something used on a spacecraft. The standard two rear wheels are replaced by a single orb. The filter was crafted to mimic a jet turbine. Clearly, the Dyson team spent significant time crafting the look of the product.

The effect of product design is reflected in the price difference between the two vacuums. The Dyson ($599) is priced approximately CAD $400 more than the Dirt Devil (CAD $199). Of course, Dyson may have some higher internal costs, however one can expect that a retail price difference of 200% provides Dyson a much healthier margin than Dirt Devil.

Read this article from Entrepreneur magazine to learn more about how product design affects the emotion of the customer, and can either persuade (or dissuade) someone from purchasing a product.

Don’t Waste Time Choosing a Programming Language for your Software Startup

A client recently asked me for some technology advice regarding his startup. His team is developing software for physiotherapy patients and was curious on whether switching from MySQL to a no-SQL database (MongoDB) would be advantageous. Their development team is intelligent and capable of learning, but had no previous experience with both Mongo and no-SQL databases. The advice I provided to them is the same that I have told countless startups asking such technology questions:

Early phase software startups should build their product using whatever language their team has the most experience with.

The early days of a software startup, or any startup, is about Customer Development. The focus should not be the technical or performance elements of the product. Instead, software founders must find potential customers, understand their needs, and get feedback on their product. Founders must then use this feedback to modify the product based on what customers tell them. The key to success is speed of iterations; the faster the technical team can modify the product, the quicker the team can engage customers so that even more feedback can be given on the changes.

Using a language, framework, or libraries that the team is unfamiliar with means they will spend more time learning rather than building. In this situation, making a high number of pivots in a short period of time will be impossible. The impact will be costly delays in time-to-market, preventing the team from getting the customer feedback necessary for success.

Once some initial sales/beta testers/traction is achieved, the team should only then discuss the chosen technology platform, looking at other relevant factors such as security, performance, reliability, scalability, and cost.

So, stick to what you know best at first, and re-evaluate once you’ve captured some customers.

Avoiding ‘permission denied’ errors when running find command

Spotlight in OSX is not good for finding files on your Mac. It will return things like documents, videos, and songs, but the tool is not useful for finding things like basic text files in non-user directories. Enter the find CLI command.

When find tries to enter a directory the current user does not have access to, it will return a error like find: /.Trashes: Permission denied. These error can quickly take up all the space on your terminal screen, making valid results difficult to see. One can get around this by executing find using sudo, but why elevate privilege when you don’t need to?

The solution is to run the command with the -print option. Using this option, the command can be instructed to toss out all the error messages in stderr by directing them to /dev/null.

An example to run a case-insensitive search for items with iTunes in their name:
$ find / -iname iTunes -print 2>/dev/null