How I ‘hack’ excellence with 1 simple trick

As a solo founder I need to do a lot myself and the nature of my business means I’ll get measured against companies that are a lot bigger, have often multiple millions in funding and teams of tens if not hundreds of people.

Specifically, in my business I do everything other than coding which includes

  • Design (and I’m not a designer)
  • Produce all of our content (videos, podcasts, blog posts, auto responders, ebooks, infographics, guest posts etc etc)
  • Marketing (site, paid traffic testing, content marketing etc)
  • Product (my coders code but I tell them specifically what to code and how to do it every minute of the day to ensure we end up with a good product)
  • Website maintenance (most of what gets done on the website short of specific coding stuff that I can’t handle)

Obviously my background building websites for people helps with this but there’s one thing that I do and have always done to make sure that what I produce is at the highest quality level despite my skill or lack of it.

It’s the same thing I do when someone asks me to give them feedback on their site or their content.

And it’s the only reason I as a solo founder can have a site, product, content and everything else that is anywhere near close to on par with the best in the business (which it has to be to get noticed).

Here it is.

I benchmark off the best and I don’t stop until what I have is on par or as close as I can get to on par with what they do.

Here are some examples.


When I write a blog post, I know that people in my target audience can either spend time reading my post or they can go over to Kiss Metrics, Unbounce, Content Marketing Institute, Hubspot etc and consume something amazing.

So this is where I benchmark my content. It’s not possible for me to produce big epic content at the scale of Kiss Metrics or Hubspot (and if you are reading this it may not be possible for you either). But it is possible to produce content to their level of quality. It will take me longer than it takes them but it can be done.

So at least I know that when I do produce a blog post, it will be a worthy alternative for busy people who only want to consume the best (the type of people I want in my audience).


The Informly Practical Guides were inspired by Kiss Metrics’ marketing guides

Here are just a few things I’ve done with my content as a result of studying the best in the business:

Most of these posts took me ages to put together but I benchmark them against the best and now at least I know that when I put something like that together, people will read it because it’s on par with everything else they can get for free.

Don’t forget how much amazing content is out there for free. If you have less resources like me then just do less but make sure the quality is comparable.


I’m no conversion expert in fact I have only really started to understand conversions recently (which is a bit embarrassing to say given I ran a web agency for 6 years). Now I benchmark my site off the best in the business to ensure that when people come to my site, I capture them in the best way possible without compromising my own thoughts on how people should experience my site (I don’t interrupt them with pop ups).

  • I learnt from Peep from ConversionXL that scroll opt ins convert better than fixed opt ins (my conversions went through the roof after installing Dreamgrow scroll triggered box).
  • I benchmarked my blog design off sites like Kiss Metrics & Unbounce (notice my homepage with excerpt, pretty image, social proof / tweet boxes etc) lots of space with no unnecessary sidebar widgets
  • I noticed Hubspot gives you a different opt in depending on what content you are reading and started doing the same which has boosted my conversions.
  • I saw Jake Hower and James Schramko using landing pages and experimented with the same recently achieving a 40% opt in rate on my landing page from a guest post compared with a 1-3% standard conversion rate. How did I create the landing page? I got it for free from the Marketing Show and used it pretty much as is.

This free landing page converted at 10 times my normal guest post visitors

Sometimes it’s just a case of opening your eyes. Pick a company who are doing amazing at whatever you are trying to improve and benchmark off that.


Design is near and dear to my heart. I am what you might call a design tragic. I’m not a designer and can’t use photoshop to save myself. But I also can’t afford a good designer so this is where I really need to pay a lot of attention to what others do. I invariably fall short but I’m confident that the result is 10x what it would be if I wasn’t paying close attention.

Here are some ways I’ve improved our design by benchmarking off others.

  • I only use flat graphics. A lot of cheap designs use lots of bevels and drop shadows. If you don’t know what you are doing you’ll make your stuff look cheap very quickly.
  • I don’t have a logo. While others are stressing out about their logo running design competitions etc I’m looking at what the great design companies do – even google – no logo just their company name written in nice text. Problem solved, simple wins every time.
  • I use lots of icons. Always flat, simple. Never bevelled, shadow or gel look. They make things look professional and there are hundreds of free icon collections that can make your stuff look amazing (see links section down below for some great free resources.
  • I make sure everything is pixel perfect. Look at any well designed sites, and the details are perfect. Fireworks is excellent at working out when things are pixel perfect (Photoshop isn’t). If something is 1 pixel out I request my developers change it. I’ve had instances where I’ve taken a few hours, requested things be changed 5-10 times until it’s perfect even when things are just 1 or 2 pixels out. The difference is noticeable if you have this obsession for perfection.
  • I always either use screenshots, my own original graphics, custom illustrations or very high quality stock images (rare). Cheap stock images will kill a design. How many amazing websites do you see crappy stock photos on? answer = none. BTW here is the illustration service I use (see below).
  • I try to use lots of space – check out amazing design, lots of space.
  • Simple wins every time – if you don’t need it remove it.

I get custom illustrations cheap and they look a thousand times more professional than crappy stock photos.

Once you start looking at great design like the ones I’ve mentioned here you’ll constantly punish yourself for not being good enough. And that will drive the quality of your work up immeasurably.

Big content / ebooks etc

Writing blog posts is one thing but doing bigger content like opt in bribes like ebooks, auto responders etc is different. If someone is going to give away their email address, and then recommend the resource to others then it has to be great.

Again compare yourself with the best:

  • Bluewire media have long been an inspiration to me. Look at how beautiful their design is, download their fee downloads which are content rich and gorgeous in design. I have benchmarked my ebooks and downloads off them as far back as my first ebook I wrote 2 years ago (see here on my old blog)
  • If you are into content marketing like me then Hubspot is the gold standard. Their content is amazing, their ebooks (75 I believe) are beautiful, full of amazing graphics, lots of white space, of course extremely useful content. They are the benchmark I constantly strive to emulate. I will be releasing the first ebook for Informly soon and I will be aiming for it to be as good as their advanced blog marketing ebook. If it’s not I’ll scrap it and come back the next day and try again.
  • I’ve developed 3 different infographics (see here), looking at them now I know I can do better but I do strive to make them as good as the Kiss Metrics ones. Again I follow the design notes above and use what I already have (icons, existing infographic elements etc).
  • The main opt ins on my site at the moment are email courses (see here). The reason? That’s what Copy Blogger does with it’s Internet Marketing for Smart people course.

I know you want to be creative and blaze new trails – I get that bug too. But there are amazing companies who spend millions of dollars each year testing and refining this stuff and just opening your eyes to what they are doing will increase the quality of what you do immeasurably.

You can apply this philosophy to anything. Whatever you want to be good at in business choose your benchmark organisation and aim to do things as well as they do. It will be hard. You will be pushing shit uphill. And you will inevitably fail at replicating their quality. But you will be further forward than you would be if you didn’t try.

Free or cheap design resources

Content Marketing benchmarks







 What inspires you?

Let me know in the comments below.


Dan Norris is a co-founder at WP Curve and a passionate entrepreneur with an obsession for content marketing.

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