Value Proposition: Innovu

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m participating in the Praxis internship program. As a part of that, I’m creating value propositions for potential employers, under the theory that they’re not hiring me because of some vague skills list I have, they’re hiring me for what specific things I can do for them.

The first company I chose to do a value proposition for is Innovu. Essentially, they collect and analyze data related to benefits and risk programs (such as employee healthcare and workers’ compensation), so that businesses can make sure that they can create the best possible programs for their employees and avoid fines from accidental non-compliance with Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) regulations. Here’s where they talk about that.

As I was sifting through their website initially, though, I had a difficult time figuring out what exactly it was that they did. The first thing you see on their homepage is a giant picture of something unrelated to their product coupled with some words about benefits and risk programs, and a link. The link took me to a page that presumed I already knew what they were doing. Overall, their marketing copy was very vague everywhere, and my basic understanding after I’d been on their site for half an hour was “something involving healthcare?” Now, this is at least partially because I don’t know their industry, but still: I decided their marketing copy could be improved, not only to better pitch their product, but to better explain it.

The best explanation I found was on the page linked above, which you find if you get onto their homepage and, instead of clicking either of the links in their neat little scroll bar, you actually scroll down past the screen-filling image, then scroll even further past the three links to their different solutions (which will all take you to pages filled with vague copy), then click on the “Read More” link after the heading “Data Transparency In Benefit And Retirement Plans”.

On top of the unintelligible marketing copy, there were a large swath of images on the website which, though they had been recolored to match the color scheme, didn’t reflect the product at all. There were random pictures of strangely-cropped bar charts, blurred streetlights, collections of hazy colored dots and lines, and one picture of some peoples’ arms. They didn’t help explain what problem their business was solving, they didn’t complement the already-unclear text they were associated with. They basically existed for no reason other than to make the website look modern, because modern websites are supposed to include lots of images.

As I explored further into the site, I started finding some genuinely good marketing copy, but it was buried in strange places. Further, on their careers page (where I also happened to find out that they were looking for a JavaScript developer, a skill I have, though not to the level they want: they wanted two years’ professional experience and knowledge of full stack development), I noticed a very nice slideshow with that explained its points will and contained images that worked well with the text. This stood in stark contrast to the rest of the website, what with its vague text and mostly-unrelated images.

All of this brought me to the realization that they probably had an awesome web developer who had just been given very little in the way of images or marketing copy to go on, and thus had done the best they could with what they had. After that, I presumed, they had continued to build the site, around what they already had. It was probably on somebody’s to-do list to fix the marketing copy and images on the main parts of the site.

Taking things off businesses’ to-do lists is always a great thing to do, so I decided to use that as the meat of my value prop. I wouldn’t have a terribly strong case as a JavaScript developer alone, but if I combined it with a demonstration of my ability to diagnose business problems and my drive to fix those problems, I could have a unique and nice value prop where I could create value for them from day 1.

Here’s my current value prop. I’m planning on adding some images and doing some nice formatting in InDesign so it’s more visually appealing!

How to Write a Value Proposition

How much do you like getting things you want for free? Probably a lot.

A value proposition makes a business owner want to hire you by giving them something they want for free.

It’s really that simple. And it’s the best way of getting a job, because it’s the best way of getting an employer to like you.

Most people don’t write value props because they’re not willing to put in the necessary work. But there are still some people who are willing to put in the work, but since they don’t write good value props, they don’t get to.

I really can’t fix the former problem—that’s a self-motivation issue—but I can help fix the latter. So here goes.

A good value prop is clear and concise. Most value propositions are emailed, and busy business owners or hiring managers have negative eleven minutes to answer email. Make answering yours easy. Write short sentences and short paragraphs. Don’t include too many parentheticals. Be specific and direct, and don’t use the passive voice.

And for the sake of all that is beautiful in the universe, don’t make typos. Typos in any professional email don’t say “I’m not a writer.” They say “I don’t give a shit about you.” The Grammarly app is good at catching most spelling and grammar mistakes (though I’ve noticed it has a bit of a hard time recognizing the grammatical correctness of general nouns).

On top of making your writing style clear, make your actual points just as clear. You want a job, right? Say so. After you’re done making your value prop, say something like Charlie Hoehn did: “In exchange for these things, I hope that you’d consider taking me on as an intern (real-world or virtual). I would love to help you out on future projects. Let me know what you think, and I look forward to hearing from you.” Be this clear and direct about everything you say.

It doesn’t make the recipient feel defensive. One of the key principles of sales is that you never want your prospect to feel Not-OK in any way. So when you write a value prop, never say that their existing product sucks (even if it objectively does). It could have been designed by the owner’s son. Instead of saying it sucks, say it could be better.

Overall, your attitude about your recipient should be positive, and that includes your attitude toward their current product.

It has a clear demonstration of, well, value. Say exactly what you’re going to do for them. “You’re not utilizing Facebook ads for marketing, I can run an ad campaign.” “You’re not marketing on Craigslist, I can do that for you.” “You don’t have a personalized website, I can code it for you.” Whatever it is that you can do for them, spell it out.

It shows projects, not credentials. For them to take you seriously, you’re going to need to demonstrate that you can do what you say you can. But tell me, if you’re a business owner and you want to know whether I can really code a good website for you, which of these would you prefer to see?

“I have many years of experience with web programming (including detailed knowledge of the inner workings of HTML, CSS, PHP, JavaScript, and SQL) as well as web design, and I’ve both designed and built a number of websites previously, including a website for a non-profit called Speset.”

“I built the Speset website using PHP and CSS. The mailing list I added using MailChimp currently has over 100 subscribers, with no marketing besides the existence of the website.”

The former tells you what I can do. The latter shows you. It is always better to show instead of telling. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and in the same way, a project is worth a thousand sentences.

You should only tell them something if they can’t feasibly know it just by looking at the project. (Ex. my details about the number of subs to the mailing list and the languages I used to program the website.)

It has a very small and specific ask. Remember, these people are crazy busy. Don’t ask them to think of ways they could use your help. Come up with ways you could help them, then tell them about those ways.

Overall, a good value prop makes it easy for the recipient to say yes. When you’re writing anything, says Isaac Morehouse, founder of Praxis, “you want to make it as easy as possible for your readers to do what you want them to do. Whether it’s understanding an idea, whether it’s taking a specific action, whether it’s emailing you back, make it easy for them.”

Value Proposition Example

Here’s a value prop I wrote to the board of directors at my local skating club (the Pittsburgh Figure Skating Club, or PFSC). Their website is pretty atrocious, so I wrote about how I could improve it.

Dear Pittsburgh Figure Skating Club Board members,

My family and I have been members of the PFSC for many years, and I frequent your website for information about club news and events. I’ve noticed two ways in which your website could be improved to better provide its services.

First, your current WordPress theme isn’t optimal for your website. The PFSC color scheme is black and gold, as anyone can see if they go to Skate Pittsburgh, but the website’s color scheme is primarily mint green and dark blue.

I would fix this by either modifying your existing WordPress blog or by creating a brand-new website for you from scratch. I’ve created several blogs using WordPress, including the one on my personal website. Additionally, I’ve designed and developed several websites, such as Speset and Ellis Wyatt.

Second, while the site contains a wide variety of interesting and useful content, it could be better organized. For example, the landing page contains information about the club’s history, recent news, and congratulations.

I would rewrite and/or reorganize your content so your visitors could navigate your site better. For example, I would reorganize the content on your landing page into several separate pages, then write a cohesive introduction for your landing page that welcomes both potential and current club members.

Throughout this process, I would involve you in my design decisions so I can make sure you end up with a website you love.

Lastly, I would be happy to provide you with a significant discount on my normal rates, since I’d like to help the club.

Let me know! I look forward to hearing from you.

– Jenya Lestina

This may not be the perfect value prop, but that’s the point. It’s not perfect, but it’s good. And once it is good, put it out there. One published sentence is worth ten novels sitting on your hard drive.