This week’s volunteer for my Site Review Monday post is Scott Carpenter, driving force behind of Growthbase Pty Ltd, a micro-ISV based in Brisbane, Australia
InvoicePlace is an online service for creating, sending and tracking invoices, bills and receipts in any of 78 currencies used in 17 countries for contractors, consultants, freelancers and small businesses. The URL for the site is: http://invoiceplace.com

The USP:
(The Unique Selling Proposition a.k.a “the elevator pitch” should be the first thing the visitor sees, communicates the value of the product and must immediately be relevant to the visitor.)
While many of the right elements are in place for this micro-ISV web service site, the USP is not one of them. Here’s the body of InvoicePlace’s home page (excluding the top menu and the bottom demo info, which I’ll cover in a minute):
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Great international signage – but where’s the USP? In three parts, just under the graphics: “Struggling with invoice writing?”, “Sick of one size fits all?” and “Need a simple and professional online billing system?”
These are questions you may want to answer, but they’re not a USP. By contrast, here’s what Blinksale, one of InvoicePlace’s competitors has up:
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Blinksale’s USP is front, center, big and bold (“The easiest way to send invoices online”) with the added credibility of a testimonial right next to it.
InvoicePlace has lots of good material for a USP, but right now it’s buried. Here’s a couple of possible USPs:
“Get paid faster by billing your customers from any computer and move business from quotes to invoices and invoices to receipts with one click.”
“Easily manage your invoicing and billing online the right way in your country and get paid faster with InvoicePlace.”
“Manage your international quotes, invoices, and receipts with a globalized online billing system.”
If the above USPs sound like they could be for two different products, that’s the number one issue for InvoicePlace: is it a tool for small companies doing business internationally who need to issue quotes, invoices and receipts properly in a host of countries or is it a simple online billing system for small companies to bill/invoice correctly their national customers in any one of (presently) 17 countries?
Besides being the guiding light to prospective customers, your USP is your guiding beacon to defining your core market segment and how you will market and sell to that market segment.
Put another way, is InvoicePlace’s core market small companies in say Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. who need a system that’s both easy to use and can handle foreign currencies and other countries? Or is InvoicePlace offering a country specific service that is extremely easy to use, follows global best business practices and is ready to use in Canada, New Zealand, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, India, Malaysia and Romania to name just a few?
The really good news is that whether you’re target market segment is the small percentage of small companies in a few countries who are flummoxed by international billing requirements or small businesses in a whole range of countries who need locale-specific tools instead American software, take it or leave it, either will work. But you have to start with one, not both.
Features and Benefits:
The lack of a specific USP means that the features are more a laundry list than benefits designed to catch the eye – and the dollar – of the core market segment. There are some gems in the rough here that could really sell the product (“Ideal for international business. Issue invoices in one of 78 different currencies.”, “Create a tax invoice in three simple steps. Convert quotes into invoices, and invoices into receipts with one click.”) but they are features. Prospective customers buy benefits – benefits as far as they are concerned. They don’t care about features unless they need a specific featue (e.g. multiple currencies) that is of benefit to them.
Credibility Markers.
InvoicePlace, in it’s enthusiasm and excitement about having a cool, very easy product makes a very big mistake when it comes to pricing. It’s free: “Upgrade to invoiceplacefree online billing that puts you back in control.” This statement rings alarm bells in any business person’s mind! In fact, if there’s just one piece of advice Scott takes in this Review is lose the free and lose it quick.
Well, what about all those Web 2.0 sites that offer free accounts? Shouldn’t you? Again, have a look at blinksale:
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Blinksale make it very clear that you can open a free account and send 3 invoices a month with it. But if you want to send more than 3, expect to spend money. Spending money is a good thing if you are in business!
Simply put, free = scam to anybody who runs their own business, where ever they are in the world. Now there’s an innocent explanation for this, if you go to sign up: “Do you need to create invoices for more than three customers? Paid subscriptions are coming soon.” But I doubt more than 1 in five legitimate prospective customers get that far.
So what’s a micro-ISV to do? Call it a beta of course! Stick a beta label on the home page, get an actual sign up form in place ASAP, waive billing while in beta and move on. You should also put up on your signup page your various plans and what features (that exist currently) apply.
(An aside to all micro-ISVs: Of course you don’t have everything in place day one! Build a clear path between your USP, your call for action (in this case signing up) and your supporting info, and then build on it. The truth is, if you need to plan to spend a good 20% of your time after you go public just updating and honing your primary marketing tool – your web site.)
Visuals:
To its credit, InvoicePlace has both a fairly good still demo and very good interactive demo. While there are quibbles I could offer on both, the big problem with these demos are I almost missed them because they’re almost below the fold:
Here’s what I first saw when I got to InvoicePlace in IE7 this morning:
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A nice clean layout, with a big fat bottom bar saying in effect, stop here. Here’s what the full page looks like:
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Opps! Me bad, but in this business, prospective customers don’t make mistakes, you do. By convention, the further down the page, the less important it is. Your demo, tour and sign up are important. A simple fix would be to reduce in height the top Logo/Menu bar, move (and shorten and change the background to another color) the demo/tour/sign up bar up under the menu bar.
The Blog:
Scott’s got the start of a good blog here, with customer spotlights (everybody like free publicity), product updates and other things that are interesting. The only issue I see is that as much as I love micro-ISV blogs, your blog should not be the first item in your menu – 3rd or 4th would be better – and demote the RSS subscribe button to the blog. That’s where most people who use RSS would expect it (Having an RSS feed for your site is an up and coming practice, but that not this.)
Conclusion:
From what I see, InvoicePlace has a very strong feature set that would really appeal to Australian/U.K./NZ/Canadian small businesses that need a way to bill easily and bill internationally. Or, InvoicePlace could go the route of applying best global billing practices localized and ready to go via a set of localized landing pages and more internationalization of the site.
Either will work. Maybe even both. But Scott has to pick one, define a USP for that market segment, buttress it with benefits InvoicePlace provides and back up those benefits with testimonials and the rest.
The other urgent to-do for Scott, in my opinion, is to get a simple signup form and pricing structure up and then if he wants to hold off making money, “beta-ize” the site for now.
Given that the service is really easy to use, there’s a market need out there and plenty of iterations, posts and marketing, Scott, with just a bit more work, has got the makings of a winning micro-ISV product in InvoicePlace.
[tags]Site Review Monday, micro-ISV, InvoicePlace[/tags]

3 Comments

  1. Scott – I like the idea of a 30-second demo that you put on your site. It’s short enough that people will actually click it, but long enough to give an overview of the product. Do you find that more people click the video or the product tour?

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