3 Businesses Shrunk To The Size Of A Shipping Container

The bigger the footprint of your business, the more you have to pay for rent/lease, right?

What if you could downsize your business to the size of a shipping container?

In the last 3 days I’ve come across 3 businesses that have done just that.

#1: A drum school in the back of a small truck

I had just dropped my boys off at their primary school and came across a small truck in the staff parking lot.

I peeked inside and met Phil Upton.

Phil teaches school kids the drums out of his truck which is set up with 3 electric drum kits.

He can teach up to 3 students at a time.

He serves schools throughout Tauranga for weekly lessons.

He bought the business off the previous owner, rebranded, got the truck signwritten, did some promotion, and tripled his business in a few months.

The kids love it because they get out of class sometimes to practice.

The parents love it because they don’t have to drive their kids anywhere outside of school hours.

And Phil loves it because he’s doing what he does best – teaching kids how to play.

Everybody wins.

#2. A e-bike hire business in a shipping container

Continue reading “3 Businesses Shrunk To The Size Of A Shipping Container”

Vanilla Essence or Vanilla Extract? Which One Has Actual Vanilla In It?

I found out the answer to this question last night at BayCourt Tauranga, from Jennifer Boggiss who is the CE of Heilala Vanilla. She told her story for an audience of about 200 of us.

Jennifer Boggiss pictured on right with one of her Tongan-based team members

She spoke very well with just the right amount of humour and stories.

Here are my notes on what I learned from her talk.

Firstly, Heilala is the name of the national flower of Tonga. It is pronounced “hey-la-la”. Continue reading “Vanilla Essence or Vanilla Extract? Which One Has Actual Vanilla In It?”

Should You Quit Your Job And Start A Home Based Business? 8 Pros and 12 Cons To Help You Decide

Yesterday I was reading through one of my old journals from 3 years ago when I faced exactly this decision.

In the journal I found my list of Pros and Cons that I had written to help me decide.

Maybe they could help you to?


  1. I’m ready. I’ve had my 3 years of experience. I’m learning more in my own time than at work
    [for a few months I had been getting up at 6am and reading business books at a rate of 1.5 per week]
  2. I’ll learn more, I’ll be more productive, I’ll get things done in shorter time frames because I’ll be working for myself & my clients rather than half heartedly working for someone else for about $20/hour
  3. I’ll accelerate my growth and learning whether I succeed or fail just by trying
  4. This recession could mean that what I’m selling [website design and marketing advice] is more valuable, and businesses may want to outsource more
  5. If I survive the recession, when the boom comes I’ll have it made
  6. With zero income we could still survive for 10 months by drawing on our revolving home loan overdraft
  7. I’ll have the freedom to take time off for myself or for my family any time I choose
  8. I don’t have to spend another cent to get started. I have my computer and my brain.


  1. It is scarey giving up steady $46k/annum income
    [It turned out I earned that in my first year anyway, and doubled in the year after]
  2. The risk of failure. If it doesn’t work, my self esteem will be crushed
  3. I’ve always thought of working alone at home would be lonely but now I know it won’t be because communication and interaction will be a big part of what I do every day
  4. Risk of less income (or no income) for my little family
    [my wife was 6 months pregnant with our first child at the time]
  5. It would scare the hell out of my wife
  6. Spending too much time with my wife might be hard on our marriage
  7. I’ll be putting enormous pressure and stress on myself, marriage and my wife
  8. The recession could mean hard times for me, harder to sell what I’m offering
  9. We are in a recession, I should be greatfull that I have a job at all… Shall I wait 2 or 3 more years and then give it a go? Hell no!
  10. I might have to work longer & harder hours, not less (especially at the start)
    [It turned out that working on my own projects was actually fun and didn’t feel like work]
  11. Very stressful for my Dad because he’ll have to pay the mortgage if I fail
  12. No paid sick days. No paid holidays.

I went for it, and it’s been great!

What’s Your Favourite?

My favourite is Pro #8. 🙂

What’s your favourite?

Are you facing this decision now? Or do you think you might in the future? Tell your story.

The Most Direct Direct Mail I’ve Ever Directed

The Story

The client owns a website that lists all the 100+ thermal hot pools around New Zealand. They wanted to upgrade the 36 commercial hot pools from the free listing (every hot pools was entitled to one of these), to the Premium listing which provided greater detail and made the hot pool more attractive to prospective customers.

The first step was to call all 36 commercial hot pools around the country to:

  1. Determine who the decision maker was
  2. To confirm contact details
  3. To tell them to expect the letter in the mail soon

All the letters were sent out at once, and the following week follow-up calls were made to close the sale.

Download Direct Mail Sample (43Kb .pdf)The Solution

I wrote a 11 page document (3000 words) with the following features:

  1. Attention grabbing image on 1st page: “Imagine this sign out on your driveway: We’re Sorry, due to unprecedented demand, “name-of-their-pool” is full to overflowing. Please try again tomorrow.”
  2. Highly personalised: 43 instances of personalisation including their first name mentioned 16 times!
  3. Sent in an A4 envelope (flat) but with handwritten address so it looked official and important
  4. Content that told an compelling story that focused on what the hot pool owner gets out of the deal
  5. A limited time offer: “Respond before 5pm Friday”, + a limited number of customers “Only 10 positions available”
  6. 3 packages to choose from with ascending prices and value

The Result

  • 9 of the 10 available spots were filled

How I Almost Got Fired Because My Direct Mail Worked Too Well

The Story

A recruitment company I was working for wanted to reach out to Human Resources managers to tell them about their online recruitment solution.

We had purchased a list of 560 HR manager names and addresses from Veda Advantage, and needed a letter that would “cut through the clutter”, because this would be the first time that any of these people would have been exposed to our brand.

We were also conscious that this group of people are very busy, and probably suffering from information overload, so anything that wasn’t personalised or interesting would be thrown in the trash immediately.

The Objective

  • To write a letter to “cut through the clutter” and gets to the decision makers desk

The Solution

I wrote a 2 page document (660 words) with the following features:

  1. Attention grabing headline: “Internal Memo: Re: Congratulations to <<recipients first name>> who just got a huge payrise!”
  2. Highly personalised: 39 instances of personalisation including their first name mentioned 21 times!
  3. Easy and fast for admin to stuff envelopes: Name and Address positioned to fit a pre-paid window envelope so no cheap-and-nasty looking self-adhesive address labels were required
  4. Designed for low-cost in-house printing: Using simple colours and classic letter design
  5. Content that told an interesting story (it was all about the recipient after all!)

The Result:

3 phone calls from some very angry executives. They complained that their secretaries had passed these letters directly to them to read because they hadn’t realised it was advertising.

(Secretaries are well trained to ensure promotional material of this type doesn’t make it to their bosses in-tray, so it is no surprise that the executives were very annoyed that their system had failed on this occassion, and were blaming us for being too clever.)

1 stated that they had “black listed” us and would never use our services. And another threatened to get their lawyers involved! (Thankfully, they didn’t carry out their threat).


My boss wasn’t very happy, and had to make several apologies to these companies.

And I thought I was in danger of getting fired for a while.

But at the end of the day, the campaign achieved its objective: Get the attention of these time-starved professionals, and give our product a chance.

So I thought it was a huge success!

If your product or service doesn’t get noticed at all, you’ve got no chance. After all, as Oscar Wilde said: “There is only one thing worse than being talked about and that is NOT being talked about.”

And for the record, we did get lots of positive feedback saying from other HR pro’s, saying that they appreciated the cleverness of the campaign (and yeah, it generated new business for us too).

How I Completely Redeveloped an Education Brands Marketing to Increase Enrolment and Drive Down Student Acquisition Cost

The Story

The client was offering a high quality education product but didn’t have the resources in-house to market and package it well.

Problem areas identified included:

  • A single webpage about the product hosted on an unrelated website
  • Confusing brand name, logo, and other imagery
  • Poorly formated promotional material
  • Unattractive, hard-to-navigate, error-ridden intranet for enrolled students
  • Poorly performing advertising

Steps I took to fix these problem areas:

  1. Constructed a business and marketing plan by answering questions such as:
    • Who is the target market?
    • What do they want?
    • What do we have to offer them?
    • Why would they choose us over a competitor?
    • What questions do they want answered before they will committ?
    • What kinds of advertising would reach them?
  2. Renamed the product with a simple, descriptive name
  3. Created logo
  4. Built an independent website for the product and optimised it for search engines (and later, redeveloped the student intranet)
  5. Wrote completely fresh content for the website with a focus on the target market: prospective students
  6. Wrote a long copy print advertisement (200 words)
  7. Tested several variations of the print advertisement over a 6 month period to determine the best headline, body copy, and call to action
  8. Tested various advertising mediums such as radio, daily newspapers, community newspapers, internet advertising (google adwords)
  9. Measured the response. Made incremental improvements.

The Results

150% increase in Enrolments over time:

78% Decrease in Cost Per Enquiry over time:

Could your business benefit from results like these? It’s time to hire your own marketing department (but at a fraction of the cost)

Contact us today or book a free 45min consultation now

How We Created a Highly Targeted and Inexpensive Direct Mail Campaign and Achieved a Response Rate of 5.3%

The Story

The client was about to build a new pier that would contain space for 2 restaurants/bars/cafes.

We decided early on that the best bet would be to advertise locally because we knew that many of the owners of these restaurants/bars/cafe’s own several establishments and may have intentions to add to their portfolio or be open to re-locating to somewhere higher profile.

Objective: To motivate restaurant owners in the Tauranga area to consider moving premises to the yet-to-be-built Pier development

The 5 Step Approach (that I always use)

  1. Generate a list of ideas how to communicate with this audience
  2. Select the method that offered the best opportunity for Return on Investment
  3. Develop the creative as required
  4. Deliver the creative to the audience
  5. Measure the results

Download creative samples for this Direct Mail campaign (201 Kb .pdf)The 3 Reasons Why We Chose Direct Mail in This Case:

  1. Easy access to a list of addresses (I simply copy and pasted address details for 120+ restaurants/bars/cafes from the YellowPages.co.nz directory)
  2. Ability to customise the letter for each recipient so it appears the letter was personally written just for them (its easy to ignore a letter that says “Dear Sir/Madaam”, but it’s hard to ignore one that bears your name, and in this example, the name of your restuarant)
  3. Easy connection between MS Word and MS Excel by using “Mail Merge” to pump out the finished documents


It is common for Direct Mail campaigs to generate about 1% response rate. This campaign achieved 5.3% response rate.

Could your business benefit from results like these? It’s time to hire your own marketing department (but at a fraction of the cost)

Is Honesty Really The Best Policy? Honest Marketing Even When The Truth Hurts – A Case Study

I just helped put together a “customer satisfaction survey” for a client.

(P.S. I used Open Source survey software – Lime Survey.  I use open source, free software whenever I can to save money for my clients.  But I don’t put up with crap. If it’s free and good quality, then I’ll use it. If it’s free and crap quality, I won’t. It’s that simple)

Here are the 4 challenges I faced, and how I overcame them:

  • Challenge #1: Generate A High Response Rate
  • Challenge #2: Rewrite The Questions In A Way That Motivated The Respondents To Answer Them
  • Challenge #3: Generate High Quality Responses That We Can Do Something With
  • Challenge #4: Decide How To Publish The Results That Serves Our Goals For Both Current Students And Prospective Students

Challenge #1: Generate A High Response Rate

Don’t you hate it when you put blood sweat and tears into a customer survey (or any other marketing campaign at all for that matter), only to get a few responses back?

I sure do. What a waste of time.

For this customer satisfaction survey, we sent out 280 invitations and got 179 responses. That’s a response rate of  63.8%.

Do you think that’s good? I sure do.

Part of the reason for such great results might be because this group of people is particularly willing to help improve the programme.

But here are 3 more ways I helped boost that response rate:

Radio Buttons Example

The survey was easy, fast and short:

  • Easy: Only a couple of closely related questions on each page. Every question was optional so there were no annoying pop-up boxes of errors when they tried to go to the next page.
  • Fast: I used radio buttons wherever I could, so the respondents could have their say with just a click.   And for the free-text fields, the size of the text-box indicated how short or long we wanted their answers to be
  • Short: A progress bar at the top let them know how much long the survey was. I kept the questions to a minimum. We didn’t really need their contact details “just in case” so we didn’t burden them by asking for that information.


Plus, I used my word-smithing skills to ensure the respondents that their responses weren’t going to end up in a report that gets glanced at once and then ends up on a shelf somewhere to gather dust (subtle techniques that I won’t describe here).

Challenge #2: Rewrite The Questions In A Way That Motivated The Respondents To Answer Them

Seems obvious doesn’t it?

But have you ever been suckered into participating in a survey that doesn’t seem to care about your motivation?

Have you quit half way through in disgust (because of the time you’d wasted up to that point), or blundered through (paying little attention to the quality of your answers) simply because you didn’t want the entire session to be a complete waste?

I bet you have.

Here’s an example of how I rewrote a question to motivate the respondents to answer it:

Old Question: “Rate the following out of five: ‘The programme has helped me develop my knowledge, skills and attitudes’  1 2 3 4 5”

New Question: “Apart from learning about Management, how else has the programme helped you? (Eg confidence, knowledge). What have you done since joining the programme that you would not have considered before? (Eg applying for that Management role). Tell us your story.”

You might be thinking “that question is huge, no one will bother to read it, let alone answer it!”.

Well, if you thought that, you’re dead wrong.

143 responded to that question (a whopping 79.9% of the respondents).  The average response was 42 words (6000 words in total).

And we got a huge amount of very quotable responses and an invaluable insight into why people choose the programme.

Challenge #3: Generate High Quality Responses That We Can Do Something With

Why spend so much time and effort conducting a customer satisfaction survey and then let the responses get dusty on a shelf somewhere?

This was our opportunity to ask our customers what changes we should make to the way we operate. But first, we had to ask questions in such a way that management would know exactly what needed to be done when those results came in.

We met that challenge by providing an appropriate combination of quick response questions and long answer questions and stimulated thinking and a high level of response.

Interestingly, in previous paper based versions of this survey, the responses to the long answer questions were short.  In this online version, responses were much bigger and of much higher quality.  Many were 300 words+ for a single answer (that would be over a page if it was hand-written).

It was a lot for us to read, but full of very useful information.

Challenge #4: Decide How To Publish The Results That Serves Our Goals For Both Current Students And Prospective Students

How did we serve both our current students and prospective students?

We published many of the results online so that when current students come accross them, they can see that we listen carefully to what they have to say.  And for prospective students, they see unedited testimonials regarding the quality of the programme.

Is Honesty Really The Best Policy?

The first few paragraphs of the webpage for the survey results is shown in the screenshot below:


As you can see, we started with the bad news “what our students have told us to work on” which talked about spelling mistakes, poor grammer, punctuation and formatting in the course materials.

Why did we do this? 3 Reasons:

  1. This level of honesty is rare. It get’s peoples attention. Normally, when survey results as released to the public, they are edited and the unpleasant bits are either removed or watered down.
  2. It provides contrast to the rest of the page which is a list of 230 positive comments that students made about the programme
  3. It has positive effects on both target groups. Current students know that we listen to them.  Prospective students see that we listen to current students and they trust us because we don’t hide the truth, and therefore they are more likely to join us as students

May I help you put together a satisfaction survey or market research project like this?

Talk to me, by email, or phone (07) 575 8799.


Sheldon Nesdale.

How I Launched a Small Online Business for $29 Which Several Newspapers Including the NZ Herald Interviewed Me About So They Could Run Stories On It

The Story

You have probably heard that a good way to learn is to read, but the best way to learn is to do.

I agree.

And so in June 2005, I decided to put together everything I had been learning at university about marketing, advertising, public relations, graphic design, and programming. So I built NZHotPools.co.nz.

  • It generates 250+ unique visitors every day from all over the world
  • It is #1 for several common phrases on Google.co.nz
  • It earns me some passive income from sponsoring commercial hot pools and adwords

The Objective: To spread the word about my new NZ Hot Pools website, and not spend a cent

I achieved this objective in two ways:

  1. By researching how to build a search engine friendly website so Google would send me tons of free traffic
  2. By generating press attention (for free)

I received a huge amount of free advertising for it when I launched it.

I had articles in the NZ Herald, the Waikato Times and the Rotorua Daily Post. The link that NZ Herald provided on their website generated 1500 visitors in a single day!

Lesson Learnt: Newspaper journalists are always looking for content for their newspapers

  • So the lesson is: don’t pay for advertising/editorial, just package your product/brand into a newsworthy story.
  • Phone the newspapers you want to be in (don’t just send a press release and hope for the best), ask to talk to the journalist in charge of that section, and tell them the best parts of your idea in 30 seconds
  • Focus on the local angle.
    • For example when I called the Daily Post in Rotorua I told the journalist how I grew up in Rotorua and was always going to hot pools and that’s when I built the website.
    • For the Waikato Times I told the journalist how I was loving Waikato University and building this site put everything I was learning together and how it was a shame their weren’t many hot pools in the area.
    • It’s the law of proximity: “The closer the story is to the reader, the more interesting it is”. So that’s why you need a local angle.
    • The NZ Herald picked up the story from one of the regional papers. The article in the paper that day was pretty small, but the link they put on the website generated a huge amount of traffic and publicity for my website

Could your business benefit from results like these? It’s time to hire your own marketing department (but at a fraction of the cost)