Close
Close

The Only Blog Post Idea List You’ll Ever Need

This guest post is by Stephen Pepper of Youth Workin’ It.

There are so many articles out there on how you can come up with new blog post ideas, but do any of the suggestions actually work?

We started our youth work blog in September 2011 and have posted six days a week ever since, so we’ve had to come up with over 200 posts related to youth work so far. Needless to say, it’s been tricky coming up with this many ideas.

I’ve read all kinds of different suggestions on how to overcome blogger’s block, but each person’s experience is different. Here are 20 techniques we’ve used to help counter blogger’s block.

  1. Embarrassing stories: Think back to moments of your life when you were really embarrassed. Use that situation to craft a post relating to your niche—there’s a good chance it’ll entertain readers (as did our post on how being asked to rate the first time with your wife out of 10 on a BBC gameshow watched by millions can relate to youth work).
  2. Choose subjects for each day of the week: This has probably been my single most helpful way of deciding what to write. Each day from Monday to Saturday has its own category—Mondays are for posts on youth work activities, Tuesdays are youth work Q&A, Wednesdays are program administration, and so on. This means our focus can be more defined each day, rather than having to come up with a random topic every time we write. You can do this even if you only blog once a week—the first week of the month could always be based on one subject, the second week on another, and so on.
  3. Use special days as inspiration: Use special days and public holidays as post idea prompts. For example, we have a Spotlight on Youth series where we focus on a certain young person based on certain public holidays. For example, we wrote about the former child soldier Ishmael Beah on Veteran’s Day. On National Pirate Day, write your post in Pirate language. National Pancake Day? Work your post around that.
  4. Cell posts: Can you divide your posts into two, like a cell divides? You might start writing a post and realize that you’re starting to talk about two different things. For example, we recently started wrote a series about parents’ involvement in your youth work. When working on a post about unsupportive parents, we realized there were actually two types of unsupportive parents—one who’s unsupportive of their child, and one who’s unsupportive of the work you’re doing with their child. These are completely different issues, so we were able to get two days’ worth of posts out of one original idea.
  5. Change of scenery: Changing your location can have a big impact on your creativity. We’d started getting stale with our idea creation recently, so we went and sat on Virginia Beach for an hour to come up with future topics. After an hour, we had over 100 new blog posts ideas.
  6. Write for sub-niches: Youth work has a number of specialized areas—urban, rural, faith-based, LGBT, gangs, foster care, mental health, sexual health, young offenders, etc. There’s a good chance that whatever niche you’re in has many similar sub-niches. Make a list and use it to inspire further ideas.
  7. Use Google Analytics: Take a look at the keyword searches that are bringing people to your site, as this will give you a great idea of what information people are looking for. You may think that the fact that they’ve arrived at your site means you’ve already written about what they’re searching for, but that’s not always the case. We did a series on preparing young people for job interviews (including what they should wear), but we’ve had many people arrive at that post having searched for what youth workers should wear to job interviews. It’s a completely different topic, but we can now create a number of posts about youth worker interviews.
  8. Likes: What do you love in your niche? Why are you blogging about it? What was your favorite moment relating to your niche? These questions can all be turned into posts for your blog.
  9. Dislikes: Similarly, what do you hate about your niche? What practices wind you up? Let these frustrations become passionate posts.
  10. Consider opposites: By looking at an issue from opposite directions, you can get two new blog post ideas. For example, we recently gave advice on how to come up with good youth group names, but also wrote a subsequent post on how to avoid a lame youth group name.
  11. Be inspired by social media: On Twitter, are there any hashtags specific to your niche? Keep an eye on these as they’ll give you a good idea of questions people may want answered. On Facebook, are people leaving comments on your page that you could address in a blog post?
  12. Solicit guest posts: Try to build up a bank of guest post submissions from other bloggers. These can then be used when you’re feeling dry of ideas.
  13. Search research: Use Google’s keyword tool to discover what people are looking for, as opposed to what you think they’re looking for. This is also where your sub-niches can also come into play. For us, instead of searching for “youth work,” researching a sub-niche like “youth retreat” uncovered a number of keyword searches like “youth retreat themes,” “youth retreat ideas,” “youth retreat games,” etc.
  14. Compilations of your own posts: Introduce your readers to some of your most popular posts by making a compilation list. If you’ve covered a number of sub-niches, you could even have a series of compilations based on each of those sub-niches.
  15. Compilations of other bloggers’ posts: If you want to become an authority in your niche, you’ll need to read other blogs relating to the same niche. Show them some love by creating a compilation of the best posts you’ve read recently and linking to them.
  16. Take training … and share it: Have you had specific training relating to your niche? My wife (the better half of Youth Workin’ It) has an MA in youth work and community development. She’s therefore able to share her learning from her Master’s to youth workers who don’t have that qualification.
  17. Consider current affairs: Are there any popular news stories not directly related to your niche that you could write about by giving your niche’s take? For example, after watching the Stop Kony video, we provided a youth work session plan idea based on the Stop Kony campaign, as well as an opinion piece on whether youth groups should support the campaign.
  18. Use other people’s ideas: Don’t plagiarize other people’s blog posts. Yet there’s nothing wrong with taking their idea and improving on it, or offering a different opinion.
  19. Explain jargon: Are there phrases in your niche that wouldn’t make sense to an outsider—or even an insider? Write a series of posts explaining words or phrases that would be jargon for most of the population.
  20. Run competitions: Are you selling ebooks or any other resources? Hold a competition where readers get the opportunity to win a copy of one of your books. This is not only an easy post idea, but also provides another opportunity to promote your resources.

There are 20 items in this list. What tips can you add to build on these? We’d love to hear them in the comments!

Stephen Pepper is insurance administrator by day, youth worker & blogger by night. He and his wife run Youth Workin’ It, which includes a youth work blog and have started producing their own youth work resources to help youth workers worldwide.

Creating Products Week: The Launch Countdown

Theme Week (1)

Darren says: It’s been a big week here at ProBlogger as we’ve worked through a series of posts exploring the topic of monetizing blogs through creating products.

I hope you’ve found it helpful and feel equipped to create your next product.

Today in a final instalment from Shayne and myself (we do have one more post in the series tomorrow though), we look at what to do when you’ve finished your product and move into launching it.

Without this final piece to the puzzle, we just have a great product – but nobody ever buys it. I hope you find this useful!

At a recent Problogger Event, I presented a session on how to launch product in the style of a ‘countdown’.

As it’s product week, and you’ve already prepared, picked, and constructed your product, it’s time to launch. So, today I’m sharing the countdown with you.

10. Practice Makes Perfect

I always suggest you do a mini-product launch on someone else’s product as an affiliate before you do your own.

Find a good affiliate product and revolve your practice launch around it.

You’ll learn a lot from doing this including:

  • what strategies are more effective than others
  • how much time you’ll need
  • how responsive your audience is

If you want to be a bit strategic, pick the product of someone who’s experienced and successful with their own launches. Reach out to them and let them know what you plan to do and ask if they have any advice – they’re likely to give you some pointers that you can then fold into your own launch.

Darren says: Shayne is spot on with this tip. In 2009 when I launched my first eBooks I had never launched a product of my own before but thankfully I had already done a number of promotions of other people’s products as an affiliate.

For example: on dPS two months before I launched our first Portrait eBook, I did a campaign for another site’s photography eBook. I chose to promote an eBook on a different topic so as not to cannibalise my own sale. I arranged for a discount for my readers with the other site owner, and then ran a simple two week promotion that went like this:

  • I emailed my list with details of the discount I’d arranged
  • I blogged about the eBook discount (and shared the post on social media)
  • I followed up a few days later with a blog post reviewing the eBook and reminding people about the discount (and shared the review on social media)
  • 48 hours before the discount ran out I emailed my list again letting them know and also sharing the review I’d written

By doing this launch, I made some money from my affiliate commissions – but the real ‘profit’ in the exercise was that I learned more about how to run a launch for my own products.

I learned what marketing worked and didn’t work with my audience, I learned about writing sales copy, I learned a bit about the price point my readers would buy at, etc.


9. Pick a date

You need to set a date and try your best to stick to it.

Pick a date that works for you, but also your readers (think about things like holidays, seasonal activities and events that might take their attention away from your launch). Also, think about the time of day and choose one where most of your readers will be online (we tend to launch as our audience in the US are getting to work).

If you’re someone who needs some accountability for motivation, let you readers know the date ahead of time. This way if you don’t hit it, you’ll be disappointing them as well as yourself!

8. Lock your product down

When you go into launch mode, you need to shut off product creation mode.

Your product is done and finished and cannot change unless something drastic happens.

You need to stick to this, because if you are continually tempted to go back and change your product, your launch will suffer or worse – not ever happen at all.

It’s time to stop thinking about your product and sell what you have.

7. Know your ‘Angle’

With all my launches I like to pick the ‘angle’ I’ll take in my marketing nice and early.

By ‘angle’, I mean the one key point that I will emphasise in marketing the product throughout every part of the campaign.

Your angle should be a benefit (not a feature), and ideally it will encompass your unique selling point that we identified when you first decided to create this particular product.

Darren says: This is something worth spending some time on.

Every time we launch a product, this is one of the key things that Shayne and I debate and experiment with in the lead up to a launch.

Sometimes the angle comes to us really early and easily, but many times it only finally clicks as we start writing our sales copy – and only then after we’ve written a number of versions of it!

One tip that I’ve found helpful when looking for the angle to take is to think about how you can test it with your readers beforehand.

I’ve been known to ask questions on our Facebook page or Twitter to try to get inside the heads of my readers. I’ve also run polls on the blog at times that test two alternative ideas to see what connects most with readers.

Also sometimes the ‘angle’ comes simply by brainstorming with friends. For example when I launched our Travel Photography Ebook, I emailed a few friends for feedback on the sales copy that I’d written. Jonathan Fields came back with the suggestion that I think about that feeling of regret that people get when they come home from a trip and realise their photos don’t live up to the experience they had.

That idea led to the ‘angle’ I was looking for, and ultimately to the line that I used in every piece of marketing ‘Taking a Trip? You’ve Got One Chance To Get Your Pictures Right…’

Angle travel

Once I had the angle sorted, the rest of the sales copy flowed.  At the time, this eBook became the biggest seller we’d ever had.


6. Make a Plan

I’m not a super-detailed planning guy, I like to go with things as they come more often than not. However, I do make exceptions with new product launches.

Detail down all the things you need to do with your launch.

Your emails, your blog post, any advertising you might activate, guest posts you might do on other people’s blogs, affiliate communications, etc.

A launch that goes to plan is a busy time. A launch that hits it out of the park, or doesn’t go well, can be crazy time.

A plan will give you comfort.

Darren says: For me a ‘plan’ comes in two parts. Firstly there’s all the detailed things that need to be done. These logistical things might include setting up the shopping cart, writing sales copy, emailing affiliates, etc.

The other part of it is thinking about the ‘flow’ or ‘sequence’ of marketing communications you want to do.

Thinking ahead of time about the sequence is worth doing because it means you’ll create a launch that takes your readers on a journey and which creates momentum – rather than just sending out random sales communications.

When you do a launch it can be a real buzz and you can easily get very caught up in the moment and start communicating with your readers A LOT – too much, in fact.

Here’s a launch sequence that I put together for the Travel Photography eBook that I mentioned above:

Product launch

This was only my fourth eBook, so the launch was quite simple. We’ve now evolved the process quite a lot, but you can see here that ahead of time I’d planned to take my readers on a bit of a journey.

I started off by surveying/polling my readers about their experiences with travel photography (I did this in a poll in a post in which I hinted there was an eBook on the topic to come). This warmed up my readers and also helped me to get inside their heads on the topic (which helped shape the sales copy).

I then featured two guest posts on the blog from the author of the eBook. This again got my readers thinking about the topic and more familiar with the author.

The launch post and sales email (which went up simultaneously) on the blog gave information on the product and mentioned the fast action special (a discount).

Next they got their normal weekly newsletter – which mentioned the eBook gently.

Through all this time there were a number of social media updates (on launch day there were a few but on other days no more than one a day).

Then I ran an interview with the author as a blog post – again to show who he was and show off some of his photography.

Then was another mention in our newsletter (not a hard sales email).

Then we did a blog post and final email telling readers that there was 48 hours left to take advantage of the early bird special.

This was a three-week launch. Readers got two sales emails and blog posts, but a variety of other less sales content as well.

Our launches today typically go for four weeks now, and we generally email 3-4 times in that period – but again we design the sequence to add value to readers and take readers on a bit of a journey.


5. Ready your Army and your Audience

Before you launch, you should start to get both your audience and your network ready.

You’ve hopefully been building them long before the launch to get them ready for what is to follow.

Give then sneak peeks, play some games, get them excited.

The general rule of thumb is give as much information to get them familiar with the product, but not enough as to allow them to make a decision on if they will buy it or not.

4. Make sure it’s Sellable

I encourage you to make sure your ability to both collect money and fulfil the product is rock-solid.

There is nothing more frustrating to me than having a reader who wants to give me money, and due to a technical break down, can’t. Worse still – they have given me their money and I am not living up to my side of the bargain and delivering the product!

So buy your own product: test it on mobile, on different browsers, and using all the payment options you have available. Involve others in this process too as they might find other issues than you.

3. Activate Tracking

Make sure you can track everything that’s happening on your product pages.

Get Ecommerce tracking enabled in Google Analytics, at a bare minimum.

This will feel like work for no reason at the start, but when you launch, and you’re trying to figure out what’s happening you’ll be glad you did.

You also might want to make sure you can quickly run some a/b tests if you need to change things up and that you can update your sales page at a moment notice.

Your launch will unfold in real time and delays will cost $$.

2. Put the writing on the Wall

Now it’s time to focus on your sales copy.

You’ve got your angle set above and you now need to start pushing that into copy for your sales page, blog posts, emails, affiliate communication, social messaging and advertising.

This is the one thing I’ll allow you to be a perfectionist with. Make sure you spend a good amount of time writing, editing and proofing everything.

Darren Says: While we don’t have the space in this post to go into depth on writing sales copy, Shayne has written a couple of great posts on the topic that I highly recommend you check out:

Also note that Shayne’s Blogger’s Guide to Online Marketing has more information on this topic including a number of sales page templates and example sales copy emails.

My last note on sales copy is that you’ll get better at writing it the more you practice. My first attempts at sales pages were pretty simple and not overly successful. As a result I involved others in the process of editing and shaping them – but in time you DO improve and you also begin to see what readers do and don’t respond to.


1. Get a green light from someone else

When I’m launching, I’ll tend to run someone else through what I’m planning to do for my launch. I get them to eyeball the sales page, do a quick test transaction, and collect feedback along they way. When they say “I think you’re good to go”, that’s when I hit the button.

Blastoff!

It’s time to launch and it’s all happening. You make your sales page live, and it’s all real. I tend to do some mild social sharing first (before sending an email or pushing out a blog post), in hopes of getting that first validating sale through, but once I have that, I pull the trigger on everything else.

Expect a whole raft of emotions, expect a sleepless night before, and a late night on the day. But get ready to have some fun, and of course, a whole heap of sales!

T + 1: Going into orbit

You’ve launched and it’s a great feat but it’s only just the beginning.

You should be thinking in terms of a “launch month”, not just launch day, and have a whole raft of activity planned to support your longer launch.

Darren has shared above some behind-the-scenes activity of a Digital Photography School launch that should give you some insight into what we do.

T + 2: Course Correct if need be

When you launch one of three things is going to happen:

  1. It’s going to go crazily well, and you’ll be over the moon
  2. It’s going to go just as you expected, you stick to the plan, and are happy with the result
  3. It’s going to go horribly wrong, and it’s at this point you need to decide if you should give up, or pivot your launch to a new ‘angle’ to help it get some more cut through with your readers

For #3, I’ve been in both situations where we’ve either stopped a launch in the first week because we’ve missed the mark (and it was never going to change), as well as adjusted the messaging and completely kick started the launch again.

I personally hope it’s #1 for everyone, but if you do find yourself in trouble, you need to be prepared to do something about it.

So that’s my countdown to launch, I hope you enjoyed it as well as all my other posts for launch week

Keep on shipping!

Darren says: There’s nothing like launching a product to give you a roller coaster experience of different emotions and diverse set of challenges and experiences.

I try to go into a launch confident but holding loosely to expectations. The reality is that some work well, others exceed your expectations and others flop.

If you go in holding too tightly to your expectations you could be setting yourself up for a fall and then you’re not in a great place to ‘pivot’ as Shayne suggests.

If things don’t look like they’re going to plan I highly recommend giving things at least a few hours (if not 24 hours) to settle (unless you’ve made some huge mistake that you can fix).

I find giving things 24 hours means you can do some analysis of why things might not be working, some testing of the different elements of your sales process (checking if sales pages are loading, shopping carts are working etc) and also hopefully you’ll get some reader feedback too.

If you don’t get feedback – seek it out. Email some readers, get advice from friends or other trusted bloggers.

The other factor to keep in mind is that once you’ve got your product created you’ve created an income stream that hopefully will grow in time over the long tail. While you may not have had a huge rush of sales at launch hopefully you can continue to see sales for many months and years to come!

Lastly – if your product does go well, this is a great time to start thinking about your next steps (and potentially next products).

Pay particular attention to how your readers are reacting to the product. What do they like that you could perhaps build upon for next time? What do they keep asking for or say is missing that you could do as a followup product or add to it to make it better?

Numerous times we’ve seen something in launching one product that triggers an idea for our next one – so don’t get so immersed in your launch that you lose site of the bigger picture!

Update: Read the Next Post in this series: Making Products Happen: Getting Your Ideas off the Ground

Creating Products Week: How to Create Products for Your Blog

Theme Week (1)

Darren  says: Today is part 4 in our ‘creating products’ week here at ProBlogger and now that we’ve done a lot of the ground work and decided on what product to create, we’re moving onto the all-important challenge of actually creating the product that we want to sell on our blog.

This is a huge topic and one that we can’t possibly go into great detail on, as it really does depend upon what kind of product you want to make – but below Shayne gives a great insight on how we do it at ProBlogger.

As usual – I’ll chime in with my perspective along the way.

When I suggested this as a post topic to the ProBlogger team for product, I perhaps underestimated the true breadth of what I was saying. The reality is, to give you all the detail you’d need as a blogger to create a product of your own, it would be multiple books’ worth!

So what I’ll do today is give a bit of a behind-the-scenes look at the ProBlogger product-building machine – so you can then adjust what we do for your own specific circumstances.

I’m also going to assume that you’ve read both what to do before you create a product and what product should I create so we can focus purely on the construction side of things.

Think About ‘Selling’ First

When we agree on building a specific product (it might be an eBook, a service (like our SnapnDeals site), a private community (like ProBlogger.com, or even an event), the very first thing we do is: ‘sell it‘.

By ‘sell it’ I don’t mean to our readers, but sell it to ourselves.

This can either be in a team discussion or more formally in what I call a ‘sell sheet‘ – a document that contains all the vital information around the product (drawing on a lot of what you would have done in yesterday’s post).

The reason I like to sell first, build later is sometimes you can get so swept up in the romance of an idea that the practicalities and benefit to your readers get lost in the excitement.

Darren says: Today when we create a product, we go through a more intentional process as a team of ‘selling’ the idea to ourselves as a team.

However, for my first eBooks I didn’t have a team and the ‘sell’ was largely an internal dialogue that I had in my mind.

I remember for my first photography eBook I had three topics that I was considering creating an eBook on. I was tossing up between eBooks on landscapes, portraits ,and something more general on techniques.

I took myself through some of the things that Shayne talked about in yesterday’s post to help me narrow down on the one I’d choose, but also as part of that process, began to think about ‘benefits’ of each eBook and how I’d sell them.

I listed each of these on paper and found by doing so I not only worked out which one I thought we’d sell more of – but by listing how I’d sell the eBook, I was then able to go and write something that would fit those benefits (i.e.: doing this improved the product).

I didn’t know it but in many ways I created the ‘sell sheet’ that Shayne talks about above.

Learn more about how to create a ‘sell sheet’ in this video. It’s a short excerpt of a webinar that Shayne and I ran for ProBlogger.com members last week on the topic of creating and selling eBooks. The full webinar goes into more detail but I thought this little section might help you work out what to put in your sell sheet.


Planning

Once we’ve created our ‘sell sheet’ we lock in a date for launch.

These dates are not just chosen to be when the product is ready – we also take into consideration other factors such as what else that’s happening on the site content wise, what else is happening in the wider business and other seasonal factors. We typcially allow for 4-6 months for creating an eBook and much longer for things like the ProBlogger community.

One of us, depending on the type product we’re developing, will then start to plan out how to create the product.

We don’t over-formalize this process, but rather focus more upon identifying:

  • the key stages of product creation
  • the resources well need
  • the costs we’ll incur

We know that having a plan is important, but also that plans change so we don’t want to be too regimented.

If you’re building your first product, you might not actually know all the different stages. That’s when I’d be going and looking for advice. Find a mentor or mentor group that’s got experiences with these types of products. Pull a favour with someone you know that’s some a similar thing before. Get them to go through all the critical steps and be making lots of notes.

Doing this might create more questions than answers, but a least now you know the questions!

Darren says: Our planning process today is more complex today than when I first started. For example when we create an eBook Jasmin (who manages all the production) will map out key dates and deadlines for all our different processes.

So ahead of time we know when the eBook outline will be completed, when the writing needs to be complete, when the content will be handed over to our designer, when we need to have a title and cover concept finalised, when we need to start creating sales pages, when we need review copies for affiliates, etc.

Having these dates in place even before we start creating the product is really important. We have multiple eBooks at different stages of production at any one time (plus other projects and events on the go) so without timelines like this projects stall.

For my first eBooks, I didn’t have quite so formal a process but I still created a basic timeline and listed out the things I’d need to complete. I also listed the things I’d need to research (eg. shopping carts), the help I’d need to find (a designer) and the skills I’d need to learn that I didn’t yet have (e.g. writing a sales page).

My list was basic and written on a notepad next to my computer. I had to add a lot to it as I went but by at least having something in front of me each day I kept momentum going.


Outlining Your Product

Once you feel comfortable with the plan, it’s time to start outlining your product in more detail.

If it’s an eBook, it will be your table of contents, if it is an e-course outline, the structure and modules, if it’s a community or service, start to map out and wireframe all the different sections and moving parts of the site.

Think of it like drawing up the plans to a house you’re about to build yourself, or hire someone to build it for you.

Now it’s time to build. This is either going to be yourself or you’ll give the green light to someone else.

If it’s yourself, you need to allocate some time. It might be a specific day you allocate, or one hour a morning, or you might be lucky and be able to just bunker down for a few weeks at a time to write.

Figure out an approach that you’re most likely to stick to, and make sure you block out that time in your diary. Once you have done that, it’s up to you to stick to it.

Whilst in creation mode, you should continually check in with your ‘sell sheet’, to make sure you’re still driving towards solving the same problem you set out to, but don’t let it slow your progress. We’ll have time to review later — just keep building and building.

When you get about halfway through the writing or building stages, if you’re anything like me you’ll get a case of the mid-build blues.

You’ll probably start to feel fatigued, disillusioned, distracted, and will wonder if anyone is going to buy what you’re creating.

This is the stage that a lot of great products die – and that’s a real shame.

When you feel those emotions creeping in, I want you to dig deep, find any motivation or inspiration you can, and keep going! Just push to that 60,70, 80% completion mark and you’ll feel closer to the end.

When it’s done you’ll be thankful you did!

From Darren: I won’t lie to you here… some of my least favourite moments in the last 12 years have happened midway through creating products.

The reality is that it is hard work to build something like this, and that to get it done, you need to find a way to focus and be disciplined (something that this blogger with a very short attention span and little will power struggles with).

For me it meant asking those around me to keep me accountable, setting aside time to focus (I’ve been known to lock myself in motel rooms for weekends) and setting myself little rewards for meeting milestones.

The other challenge that I often face mid-product creation is that of fear and doubt. How will people perceive what I’m creating? Will anyone buy it? Is it any good? Am I wasting my time?

I’ve written here about some of how I deal with these fears and doubts.

Lastly, try to keep the WHY of what you’re doing in focus (see yesterday’s post for more on why WHY is so important).


Polish Your Product

Just when you think you are finished… that’s when I can give you the bad news… you’re not!

It’s time to polish.

This is the final 5% that can really make your product stand up.

At this point you need to switch your mind from make mode to review mode, and I’m sure you’ll come up with a few small changes that will make things better.

Involve some of your friends, family or even some of your readers in this review process and you’ll significantly improve your product.

Listen to the feedback you get from and act on what you hear, but be aware that there is a trap.

The key is to remember that you’re ‘polishing’ not ‘perfecting’. There’s no such thing as a perfect product – you need to let that idea go.

There will be always things that you want to change and add to theoretically make things better. It will be never-ending and I can tell you with 100% certainty, you’ll never make a single dollar if you don’t finish your product, so loose ends or not — ALWAYS BE SHIPPING!

Darren says: I think most people fall into one of two categories when they’re at this point.

The first group ‘finish’ creating and never want to look at their product again. The result is they do little reviewing/polishing and ship products that could be better.

The second group spend so much time polishing and perfecting that they either don’t ship anything because the product is never ready or they end up with a product that is over engineered.

Identifying ahead of time which group you’re in and coming up with strategies to combat your weakness is important.

If you’re in the first group (like me) involving others in the review and polish can be helpful. Also blocking out time for this important task is important before you rush off to your next idea.

If you’re in the second group setting a deadline for shipping can be important too. There has to be a point where you stop!

My last advice for this stage is to echo what Shayne says about involving others. If you’ve authored your product yourself you are probably too close to it to be objective and will miss obvious errors and deficiencies – so whether it is by paying others for editing/proof reading or by giving a small group of readers free access in return for feedback – get others’ feedback before you launch your product.


Outsourcing

A special note for those using suppliers to create your product: for a lot of you, the biggest resource you’ll use will be yourself. However, technical services you might create, or online courses and communities, might involve a wider team.

Your choices on who works on your project can have a huge bearing on the end result. Don’t just pick someone at random, or the cheapest resource you can find.

Make sure they understand exactly what you are trying to achieve, make sure they have the skills and experience to deliver what you want, and make sure they have the commitment to see it to the end.

At the end of the day it’s your name attached to the product not theirs, so choosing the right person is so important.

Be Proud

Above all – be proud of what you create.

Even if the product isn’t as commercially successfully as you hoped it to be know that by creating it you’ve achieved something only a small number of people will in their lives.

For that, you get a hat tip from me!

Creating Products Week: Which Product Should I Create?

Theme Week (1)

Darren says: Today Shayne Tilley continues our series on creating products for your blog by examining the important question of “what product should you create?”

This is a question I know many ProBlogger readers are pondering because I get asked it many times.

  • “Should I create an eBook, a course, a membership area or something else?”
  • “What topic should I create a product around?”

If you’re asking questions like these – Shayne’s advice in this post is for you.

As I did in yesterday’s post – I’m going to chime in with my perspective too.

Maybe it’s just me, but my take on this question is the second-biggest decision you’ll make as a blogger. Second only to “what should I blog about?”. So if you’ve been stressing about the answer – congratulations, you’re normal!

Whilst I’ve been involved with hundreds of products in my career, it’s still something I debate in my own head and with those whom I work. It’s a debate well worth having.

In this post I’m going to share with you the process I go through when answering this question, whether it be in my head or with others.

This process is a culmination of both my personal experiences and my learnings from amazing entrepreneurs such as Darren, Matt Mickiewich, Mark Harbottle, and others you’ve probably never heard of.

I’ll in no way say this is a process that guarantees success, but hopefully it gives you a way forward as you answer this question yourself. Just keep in mind that every blogger has different circumstances, audiences, topics, and goals – and at the end of the day you’ll need to answer the question for yourself.

So let’s get started.

Not What… But Why

The first thing we are going to do is not decide what we’re going to build, but instead we’re going to define why – and it’s a two-part why.

Your Why

The first is answering why YOU want to create this product.

What is your motivation?

The answer can be money and for a lot of you it will be, but it needs to run deeper.

The motivation for money, and at this stage theoretical money, will lessen as you are working on your product at 2am on a Sunday.  When you realise that it’s going to take twice as long and cost twice as much as you thought starting out, there needs to be more of an incentive.

I really encourage you to watch Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle video to understand exactly what that means.

Let me share what I mean with a simple illustration.

Question: Why am I writing this post on a sunny Saturday afternoon and not outside doing something else?

Answer: Because the thought that this post could inspire someone to create their own great product in some small way that might change the trajectory of their live in a positive way forever, is much more rewarding to me than anything I could be doing outside.

So I write…

I want you to be able to in some way be able to describe in someway your own personal why.

Darren says: It’s been a while since I watched that Simon Sinek video – thanks for the nudge to do so again Shayne, it was a great reminder to do a little self analysis of my own ‘why’.

A personal example: Five years ago when we started the Australian ProBlogger event, I did so with a very clear ‘why’. I wanted to encourage, inspire and equip Aussie bloggers to do amazing things with their blogs.

I’ve told the story numerous times so won’t rehash it here – but my goal with the event was pretty single-minded and profit was the last thing on my mind. My vision was pretty clear and so when I began to share that dream with a few others, I was able to quickly communicate it. I found that in doing so, the idea caught hold of others.

I really believe that knowing the ‘why’ helped us create an event that has grown each year. 

Knowing the why keeps driving me forward (even when it gets tough). 

Knowing the why has helped me attract a core team together who work for the same purpose.

Knowing the why has helped us communicate what the event is about to attendees.

Knowing the why shapes the ‘what’ of what we actually DO at the event.

Your Customer’s Why

The second “why” you’ll want to think through is: why would your customers buy your product? Ask that with supplementary questions of who are they, and what are their problems?

And it’s time to pull out the pen and paper, or the spreadsheet.

What are the problems your readers have?

I want you to list as many of the problems your readers have as you possibly can.

In yesterday’s post I shared with you the necessity to understand your readers, and this is where the benefits of that start to play out.

Don’t leap to the solution. I repeat: don’t leap to the solution.

At this stage you are just researching, not creating path of action.  We will get to that, I promise.

List all your readers’ problems, big and small.

For example for a blog about lawns (a silly example for illustrative purposes):

My readers all have lawns, they are all proud of their lawns. Which is not a surprise as that’s what I blog about. With spring on the way, without some care and attention, these lawns are going to get out of control very quickly. When I surveyed my readers, lawn mowing was their number-one concern.

Problem:  My lawn needs to be mown so I can still be proud of it.

The readers of the lawn lovers blog probably have some others.

- I need to get rid of weeds

- I need to keep my lawn vibrant and healthy

- I want to have a lawn, but not sure where to start

You should, with a little effort, be able to come up with more than 20 problems your readers have. There’s never been a blog I haven’t been able to identify a lot more for.

When you are thinking about problems, it’s often easy to focus on the practical, or ‘issues’ your readers have. But don’t forget that people also like to be entertained (their problem might be being bored). They like listing to stories and admiring creativity (their problem might be that they lack inspiration).

From Darren: One of the key teaching points in many of the keynotes that I deliver is to become hyper-aware of problems (both your own and those of others). I truly believe that this awareness of the problems of others puts you in the perfect position to serve others, and create the #1 ingredient to a successful business – usefulness.

I’ve previously suggested 11 ways to identify reader problems in this post in the ProBlogger archives

Not only will these methods help you create product ideas but also they’ll help you come up with blog post ideas too!

Solutions

So now we’ve got problems, let’s see if we can solve them!

The next step is to think about possible solutions that might exist for each of those problems. Let’s go with the lawm mowing problem.

Solution: I can mow my own lawn

Solution: I can get someone else to mow my lawn

Both are viable and both would solve the problem 100%. There is always multiple solutions to the same problem, you just need to think it through.

We’ve solved it! Or have we?

So we’ve got a couple of solutions to the great lawn mowing problem of my readers. This is essentially a DIY or done-for-you.  From that, we then identify some of the barriers to activating the DIY solution.

Barrier: I don’t own a lawn mower

Barrier: I don’t know how to use a lawn mower

Barrier: I have a lawn mower, but it’s broken

Okay, now your probably starting to see product opportunities.  What could I do to remove those barriers to the DIY lawn mower problem. Let’s go with the I don’t own a lawn mower.  Another problem!

Solution: Well, you could buy one!

Barrier: I don’t know which one to buy

Barrier: I don’t know where I can buy one

Barrier: I don’t have any money

Keep going…

Problem: I don’t know which one to buy

Solution: A guide, some advice or training one how to buy a lawn mower.

We have a product idea!

So then it’s simple. Rinse and repeate.

What you have done is taken the problems of your readers, drilled them down into smaller ones by understanding barriers, and then drilling them down until we have a narrow and very specific potential solution to the problem.

I’ve on purpose solved my problem with an educational outcome, however some will be action-based (for example: another solution might be to sell them a lawnmower), some will be service-based (for example: a directory of lawn mowing services) and some will be training- and educational-based.

Regardless of the type, they will be all required and valued by someone.

Take each problem in your list and begin to drill down to find solutions by identifying barriers and smaller problems until you have a list of product ideas.

At this stage you’ll have a long list of potential products. When you actually look at this on paper (or spreadsheet), is it any wonder you were not sure which product to build?

Darren says: I hope you see some of the power of this technique. Rather than simply trying to brainstorm product ideas, what Shayne is suggesting is much more about coming at product ideas from the perspective of your potential customer.

Brainstorming their problems in this way will not only help you to come up with a product idea (it should probably help you come up with several viable ones), but by doing this you’ll also be in a much better position to write and launch that product also as you’ll have a better understanding of what questions the product should answer and what will motivate people to buy it!

Cull and Focus

It’s now time to cull and focus.

You can now grab the red pen, or be at the ready on the delete key, and start working from the top, removing any products that are simply not possible, or not something you are interested in doing.

For example, as a blogger you’re probably not interested in selling mowers directly, so that’s gone.

You will find, if you’ve spent time on the above exercise, that you’ll strike through a lot , if not a majority of the solutions. That’s okay, but don’t delete them, put them on the someday/maybe pile because when you are thinking about your next product your circumstances might have changed.

Let’s assume that you’ve got three legitimate product ideas. For this little lawn blogger, it’s all the information products.

  1. Information and training on how to buy a mower
  2. Information on how to keep my mower in tip-top shape
  3. Information on how to use a lawn mower effectively

Our next step is to look at the potential and viability of each of those products – we can do that a few ways.

How many?

You need to determine (and a best guess is okay) how many people would want these products?

You won’t sell it to all of them, but you use it as a comparison.  We know that only people wanting to buy a mower might want training on how to buy one, people with a mower and people buying one might want to know how to maintain it, as well as how to use it.

So we know, that there is a bigger market for products 2 and 3.

How much?

The counterbalance to this is: what value do people put on you solving that problem for them (thus how much are they willing to pay you)?

If you are about to buy a mower, you are about to spend a lot of money, so your readers might put a higher value on that.  Where as using a mower is pretty easy to figure out so not a great value is put on solving that.

Take the market size and multiple it buy the value, and you’ll have a total potential value on each of those products and rank them in order.

Let’s say for our little mowing project it’s now

  1. Information on how to use a lawn mower
  2. Information and training on how to buy a mower
  3. Information on how to keep my mower in tip top shape
Darren says: Feeling like you need to mow your lawn yet? I do!

My key advice on this ‘culling of ideas’ section is that doing this exercise the first time is usually the hardest. By doing this work now you’ll hopefully come up with multiple ideas that could well set your product creation strategy for the next year or so.

You’ll also find that by doing this process once fully the first time that you’ll find it actually becomes more intuitive and a natural part of your business. 

As you become used to doing this analysis, you’ll start to get more of a gut feel as to which type of products will work and which wont with your audience.

Analyse the Competition

We now know that our ‘how to use a lawn mower product’ is viable – now it’s time to look sideways at our competition.

For our lawn mowing example, we should now start looking at the products that exist that teach people how to use a lawn mower.

Take note of these product’s features, format, benefits, cost, size everything you can about them.

If there is no competition for the project, great!  It’s unlikely, but you’ve got a real opportunity on your hands.

If there is competition for each of your product ideas, starting at your number-one product, start detailing why your product would be unique.

Simply answer the “I would buy my product over theirs because ….“.

One of three things will happen:

  1. You can’t define anything to distinguish your product. In this case you probably need to move on.
  2. You have a unique point of difference, but it’s not a strong one.  You probably need to move on.
  3. You’ll have a unique approach to this product that people will love.

We are close to having a decision on a product.  We now just need to define it a little more.

The only remaining products in our lawn moving project is:

  1. Information and training on how to buy a mower

Form and Features

The final step is to define what form and features this product will have.

With information and training it can be:

  • Digital (eBook, video series, blended course, content)
  • Physical (book, training manual, dvd)
  • Face-to-face (training program)

Defining this part is tricky, as it’s going to come down to what your reader prefers, what you are able to deliver, and what might already exist in the market.

As a result it’s very much a question answered by the words ‘it depends’, and the answer will be different for each person reading this article.

The Pros and Cons of eBooks, Video and Courses

I do know a lot of ProBlogger readers will be unsure from a digital information product standpoint what approach to take, so let me share my perspective on that.

 1. eBooks

Pros:

  • Cheapest
  • Quick to market
  • Simple delivery and formatting
  • No huge technology burdens
  • Easy to sell yourself of leverage open marketplaces
  • Easy to update
  • -Online or offline

Cons:

  • Limited on price
  • Some things are hard to teach in pictures and words
  • Not everyone is a reader
  • Very easy to be shared and harder to control copyright wise

 2. Video or video series

Pros

  • Modern and very visual (you can show and tell)
  • Great for those that are not writers
  • Tools these days are making production much easier
  • A much more personal experience
  • Online or off-line

Cons

  • Fulfilment overheads and technical challenges
  • Harder to update an maintain content
  • Not all of your readers can deal with the technology (yet)
  • You’ll need gear and software (and knowhow) to make it stand out

 3. Courses

Pros

  • Best of both wolds – words, pictures and videos when needed
  • Two way communitation – Q&A’s forums etc
  • Emerging open marketplaces
  • Seems to be the way of the future

Cons

  • Biggest initial setup time requirement
  • Fulfilment overheads and technical challenges
  • Harder to update an maintain content
  • Not everyone can deal with the technology (yet)
  • You’ll need gear and software (and knowhow) to make it stand out
  • Difficult to run on autopilot (you need to be involved ongoing).

Again, let me be clear there is no blanket right or wrong choice with this. It’s about making a decision that you are comfortable with.

Darren says: obviously I’ve focused most of my efforts on eBooks over the past few years. My reasoning for doing so at the time was partly that it was the most achievable for me to create an eBook, but also that at the time (five years ago) I felt that it was probably the most accessible format for most of my readers at Digital Photography School.

I would advise that if you’re creating your first product that you don’t bite off more than you can chew. Unless you’ve got some cash to splash on getting lots of help to create your product, beginning with something achievable is probably the best starting place.

The Takeaway:

Reading through this post might feel quite intense and perhaps a little over-the-top for a little product creation project.

But when I put it in these simple steps I hope it doesn’t seem that way.

  1. Define your own motives for creating a product
  2. Define your customers and the problems they have
  3. Define solutions for those problems
  4. Define your unique point of difference in the market
  5. Discover if the size of the market will make it worth the investment
  6. Define what form your product will take

See it’s not that hard!

Final Thoughts on Choosing Which Product to Create:

A few final thoughts before we move onto actually building your product (which we’ll cover tomorrow):

The product that delivers to its promise wins, not the one with the most features.

You don’t need to be first to market to own it. Google wasn’t the first search engine on the internet, but it was the best.

If you believe in more than just the money, it will carry you much further.

What worked for them won’t always be the thing that works for you.

Products that teach you how to create products that teach others how to create products … is not a product.

Don’t always think as a blogger you need to create information products. Services and tools can be much more valuable over a longer term that books eBooks and courses.

That’s it for today! Tomorrow we get to build some stuff.

UPDATE: Read the next post in this series -> How to Create Products for Your Blog.

Creating Products Week: Before You Even Think About Creating Products, Think About This

Theme Week (1)

Darren Says: Today were continuing our creating productsweek here at ProBlogger by looking at some of the areas of groundwork you might need to do before or while creating a product. Our Marketing/Product Guru Shaynes written this post but Ill chime in along the way with some thoughts too.Over to you, Shayne.

As you explore your different monetization options as a blogger, products will no doubt come on the agenda. We’ve shared lots of stories here on ProBlogger about how products have really transformed all our blogs.Whilst these sorts of stories are encouraging, inspiring, and motivating, the truth is that a lot of work went in long before we launched our first product, which played a significant role in their success.Today I want to share with you some of the things you should be doing right now, before you even begin to think about what product you should create, that will help set you up for the sorts of results we’ve seen here on ProBlogger and dPS.

Pre-Product Idea:

1. Get the momentum moving in the right direction

If you’re thinking about creating a product because your traffic and readership has stalled, or even heading in the southerly direction, then it’s probably the wrong time to be launching new products. There are exceptions to this, but for information products (eBooks/courses), it’s important to have some momentum on your blog.

Products are great at capitalizing and helping build momentum – but they’re not usually great for creating momentum from a standing start. This is particularly important for bloggers, as visitors and engagement are the lifeblood of your blog.

Don’t get confused between a stall in revenue to that of visitors and engagement, as changes to earnings might not be linked to the true health and sentiment towards your blog.

If you’re not seeing upward pointing analytics graphs, even moderate ones, then focus on turning that around before you start creating new products.

Darren says: One of the keys to the success of my first eBook – 31 Days to Build a Better Blog – was that the launch came off the back of doing a month-long series of posts on the same topic as the eBook. While it might seem strange that an eBook that was largely repurposed recent blog posts sold so well when they’d all just been on the blog, it was that month of posts and interaction with readers that generated a lot of momentum. Readers had just received 31 posts of high value, there was lots of goodwill and community on the site, and I think the healthy sales reflected this.

2. Create fans as well as readers

I’ve worked with sites that receive millions upon millions of visitors every month, have email lists in the hundreds of thousands, and massive social media followings.

But that doesn’t mean they’ll sell more products than someone with an audience size only 10% of the big guys’.  Why is this? It is because engagement and trust play a massive role in the decision making process of someone buying your product.

If the majority of your readership arrives, looks at your post and then heads off somewhere else, then chances are  good they are going to ignore you when you launch your product, and an advertising strategy might be better for you.

If you’ve got real fans who will not only listen to what you are offering, but also share it with others, then you are in good shape for launch.

So if you want to launch product, make sure you have your own share of fans.

I would recommend you looking at 31 Days to Build a Better Blog for some insight on how you can transform the relationship you have with your audience –  there are some great community-building exercises you can implement right away.

Darren says: Have you ever pre-ordered a book, music, or product without actually having it in your hands to see if it is something you’d really like? If you have, it is more often than not the result of you being a fanboy/girl of a brand or person.I’ve had this same experience with our eBooks where people have told me that they’ve bought them without a great deal of thought because they trusted me or had been helped by me in the past. Creating this ‘fan-like’ connection takes time. It also is usually the result of consistently helping readers in some tangible way. Be generous, genuine, and always put your readers first.

3.  Build your list 

Now this should just go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. You need to build your list.

You need to build an email list and serve those who subscribe to it well so when it comes time to launch your product then they’ll actually read your email.  You need to build your social lists, so your followers/fans on social will take notice.  Again it’s not the number that counts, rather it is how they feel about you.

A list will give you the biggest leg up (aside from a several-million-dollar marketing budget) when your announce your new product to the world.

You probably should have started this a long time ago, so if you’re still sitting on the fence, then hop to it!

Darren says: I can’t echo Shayne’s thoughts enough on this point. Last time I did the analysis of where sales of our eBooks came from I found that more than 90% of our sales came from emails that we sent to our readers.Please digest that.If we didn’t have an email list our sales would be 10% of what they are. 

While I totally get all the excuses people give for not building and being useful with an email list (it takes work, it is a slow build, it feels like ‘old technology’), the reality is that if you’re not using it, you’re going to be leaving sales on the table.

Read more about how I use email newsletters to drive traffic and make money

4.  Extend your network

I’m the type of person that goes to a conference and sits in the corner listening, but with the shield of protection that is “me playing with my phone” always up.

I wish it wasn’t the case, as when it comes to launching your product, you need a network.

You need people you can go to for help and advice with your product, you need people with an audience to help launch your product, you need people to help with any media strategy with your launch.

So summon the courage to  meet some new people and extend your network as far as you can.  I know it’s hard, but it helps and is worth the effort.

Darren says: If you’re anything like me you’re probably hyperventilating a little after Shayne telling you to get out of your comfort zone like this. I’m an introvert and self promotion and networking does not come easy to me – but he’s right.Luckily for us shy types this doesn’t have to mean lots of face-to-face meetings and phone calls (although they can help) but can be achieved with email, social media and other internet technologies. The key is to put yourself out there and get to know others in your niche.

5. Earn a reputation 

I’m not talking here about a bad reputation, I’m talking here about being known for something – and in the context of what you are sharing on your blog.

You could be known as the person that tells it how it is, as the experimenter, the crash test dummy, as you the sympathetic ear, as the angry man, etc.

You can also have a reputation for sitting on one side of the fence. The Apple guy, the Canon chick, and so on.

I don’t care what it is, but ensure you are known for something beyond your name and the name of your blog, as it will make people excited that your product is not just another puff piece, it’s been created by the ultimate person so it’s gotta be good!

Darren says: the power of this one surprised me a little. When Chris Garrett and I authored the first edition of the ProBlogger hard cover book back in 2008, I noticed a strange trend.  When people reviewed it, the most common word that people used to describe me was ‘nice’. Time and time again reviews mentioned that I was one of the ‘nicest bloggers’ going around.At first I wasn’t so sure about it – don’t nice guys always finish last? – but I realised that it had actually become part of my brand and as Shayne says – it was what I was known for.

6. Research and learn

You will learn a lot by doing, I assure you of that. More importantly, what you’ll learn are the nuances of your particular product and audience.

Before you start your product journey, start first by looking at your competitors. What products  they have, how they launched them, how are they priced, how well they do they seem to sell?

Keep reading blogs like ProBlogger so you can follow stories about the launch, or join a community like ours so you can ask questions in a private environment.

Spend a month or two ensuring you’re smarter than anyone else when it comes to products and launches.

Don’t just make it all up as you go along!  (just bits of it…)

Darren says: This was an area I didn’t pay a heap of attention to with my first couple of eBook launches. It was partly that there were not many others doing eBooks in my niches at the time, but also partly because the actual product creation process was quite overwhelming.However, I think I’d have probably launched my first eBooks differently by spending a little more time in research mode. The key for me here is not to copy what others are doing but to learn from it, and also look for opportunities to differentiate yourself from the field.For example – is everyone in your niche doing short and lightweight $5 eBooks? Maybe there’s an opportunity to become known as blogger who does more in-depth premium quality eBooks or even courses?

7. Define your REAL strengths and weaknesses

As I get older this seems to get easier, but as a bulletproof teenager I thought I could do anything and if I admitted a weakness it was just giving my competition something to  prey on!

But by understanding and admitting what your real strengths are, you are able to focus and unleash them in your products. Knowing your weaknesses means you know what you can’t offer and what you might need to get help on so they don’t hold you back.

If technology is not a strength, get help or partner with someone who is. If you are more of a visionary sort than someone with attention to detail, then make sure you have checks and balances in place to deal with that.

Don’t live in denial about what you’re good and bad at.  If you do, it will show in your product and the people that might buy it.

Darren says: For me this has two levels to it – both as a product creator and in the launching on it.Firstly – when I wrote my first photography eBook I did so feeling acutely aware that I was not a professional photographer. I’ve always been an avid amateur photographer and know enough to help beginners but in writing that first eBook wanted to beef it up a little. As a result I had a pro photographer give it a technical edit to add a little depth to it, but also commissioned a chapter of it to be written by a more technical writer. I also added a section with interviews from pro photographers. By doing all of this, I felt I produced a much more helpful product.

Secondly – when it came to launching my first products, I was very aware that I’d never done such a launch before. I knew nothing about shopping carts, creating sales pages, merchant facilities, affiliate programs, etc.

As a result, I sought the advice of numerous people to help me get my first launches right. Shayne was one of those who helped me particularly with sales page and sales emails but there were others who helped along the way too (for example it was Brian Clark from Copyblogger who helped me name my first photography eBook).

By seeking the advice of others, I know for a fact that my eBooks sold more copies. I also learned a lot so that when my next launches came I was more confident and had more skills to bring.

8. Understand your readers

You might thing you know your readers pretty well based on your interactions on social media, or the comments they may leave, but I challenge you to go a little deeper.  For every comment you get on your posts, there are 100 or 1000 people who are reading and not saying anything.  It’s a great assumption to make that they think in the same way as the commenter.

I encourage you to reach out and understand your readers even more. Survey as many as you can and ask them to tell you a little more about themselves. Pick some at random and have a conversation with them. I guarantee the results will surprise you.

There’s more than one reason to go this extra step. Having this deeper insight into your readers not only gives you a much better platform to decide on which product to create, it also gives you some clarity around what you should be posting about as well.

Darren says: The more you know your readers, the better position you’ll be in to create products that they actually want and need. You’ll choose better topics, create the right type of products, price them better, market them better and all in all everyone will be better off (both you and your reader).Further reading: how to create a reader profile (and why they’re important), and why knowing your readers is incredibly powerful

9. Think about the consequences

Creating a product is not easy. It’s just not. They all take time, they create emotional stress, and most of them take money (even small amounts).

Even sites like SnapnDeals, that we started in a weekend, is still something we put work into every week.

You will read all about the upside, the money, the stardom from people and their their products, but you’ll hear very little about the blood sweat and tears that went into them.  If you’re not ready to put the effort in then do something else until you are.

When you’re ready to commit to the work, then you’re ready to start creating products.

It’s just a matter now of which one! But you’ll have to wait to find out about that until tomorrow :)

Darren says: Don’t underestimate the work that will be involved in creating a product for your blog. Like Shayne says – it’ll take a lot of work. My advice is to try to block out time to do it.For some people that means blocking out a little time each day until it’s done (that’s how I did my first eBooks), but for others it may mean blocking out larger slabs of time to knock off a lot at once (for example with the writing of my hard cover book I locked myself in a motel room for three days to get one of the bigger sections complete). Don’t underestimate the work…however… don’t underestimate the upsides either. 

Having a product to sell gives you something that has the potential to add a whole new income stream for your business – indefinitely.

Also – if you never try… you’ll never know.

UPDATE: Read the next post in this series -> Which Product Should I Create?.

Spend 10 Minutes Doing This Every Day and You Could Transform Your Blogging

Today I want to suggest an exercise that has the potential to improve your blogging profoundly if you build it into your daily routine.

Look at another blog

Image by zev

Image by zev

OK – this may not sound that profound – most of us read other blogs every day but it doesn’t revolutionise what we do – but stick with me for a second while I explain HOW to do it in a way that could have a big impact.

Here’s what I do every day

I choose a blog and then spend 5-10 minutes reviewing it. My aim is not to ‘consume’ it as a reader…. but rather to review it with the view of learning about blogging.

What I’ve found is that my spending 5-10 minutes every day looking at another blog in this way that I learn so much! In fact I’ve learned so much over the last few months that last week in my team meetings I’ve introduced the idea of us doing this as a group – each week we’ll review a blog to see what we can learn.

The objective is not to do these reviews to copy what others are doing – but rather I find in looking at other blogs I often find inspiration and insight for my own blogs. The learnings cover a wide range of areas – from design, to product ideas, to content, to increasing engagement, to use of social media, to marketing etc.

Let me dive a little deeper into how I do it:

Choosing a Blog to Review

I review a blog every week day so over a year I’m potentially reviewing 260 blogs so I don’t have a single criteria for choosing which blog I’ll review.

When I started doing this a few months ago I started doing it mainly with photography blogs (those in my own niche) but I’ve since moved outside my niche too. While it is great to know what competitors in your niche are doing there’s a much to learn by going beyond it too.

Not only do I mix up the niche but I’m also trying to mix up the size of the blog. There’s a lot to learn from the biggest blogs who have lots of readers, staff, developers, professional designs etc – but you can learn a lot from medium and smaller blogs too.

Also I like to keep my eye open for those blogs that are up and coming – those that seem to burst onto the scene quickly – because these blogs are often doing something new or innovative.

Lastly I like to try to mix up the style of blogs. While I mainly focus upon creating ‘how to’ content blogs I also regularly review blogs that focus more upon ‘news’, ‘reviews’, ‘personal’, ‘opinion’, ‘entertainment’ etc.

So if you’re just starting to do daily reviews – do start with blogs in your niche – but mix it up too, and you’ll discover a lot that you can apply in your own blogging.

Tips on Conducting Your Review

I don’t have a set routine for reviewing the blogs that I look at, but there are a number of things that I tend to do.

I usually start by viewing the blog on my desktop computer which has a nice, wide, 27-inch display. However I also try to view the blog on my iPad and phone which is often quite illuminating from a design viewpoint.

I generally will start by reviewing the front page of the blog and pay particular attention to my first impression and feelings about the site (first impressions are often lasting ones), but will always dig around deeper into the site and review ‘posts’ (both recent and those in the archives) and also any ‘pages’ (about page, advertising page, contact page, etc).

Questions to Ask As You Review

There are a variety of areas that you can review when looking at another blog. I tend to break things down into the following areas and find myself asking questions like those that follow.

Note: I don’t ask all of these questions every time I do a review – but I hope by presenting them you’ll get a feel for what directions you can explore.

Content

  • what voice/s are they writing in?
  • what is their posting frequency?
  • how long are the posts that they write?
  • what type of posts are they majoring on (information, inspiration, engagement, news, opinion, etc)?
  • what style and medium of posts are they using (lists, imagery, video, podcasts, etc)?
  • what blend of original vs curated content are they using?
  • what topics/categories are they majoring on?
  • what type of headlines/titles formulas do they use?
  • do they use multiple authors/guest posters or a single writer?

Community

  • how do they engage readers?
  • what calls to action do they use and what is being responded to?
  • what type of posts get the most comments, shares, likes?
  • do they use tools like polls, surveys, quizzes or other engagement triggers?
  • what social media sites are they using and how they using them for engagement/community building?
  • do they have a newsletter – how do they incentivise signups? What type of content do they send?
  • how much do the writers of the blog engage in comments?
  • do they have a dedicated community area? (forum, membership etc)?
  • do they have ‘discussion’ posts or ‘assignments’ or ‘projects/challenges’ that give readers something to DO?

Finding Readers

  • where do they seem to be putting most of their energy in terms of generating readership (social, guest posting, media etc)?
  • which social media sites are they primarily using for outreach and what are they doing their?
  • what type of content seems to be being shared the most on their site?
  • how do they try to ‘hook’ new readers once they’ve arrived (newsletter, social, RSS etc)?
  • what type of reader is this blog attracting?
  • how does the blog rank on Alexa? What does Alexa say about sources of traffic, type of reader that the blog has?

Monetization

  • how are they monetizing?
  • if advertising, what advertisers are they working with directly?
  • are they using an ad network like AdSense?
  • how many ads are they showing per page?
  • where are they positioning ads on their pages?
  • what size ads do they offer advertisers?
  • do they have an advertiser page? Do they publish their rates, traffic or other interesting information on it? Do they have a media kit? What is their main selling point to advertisers?
  • if selling products – what type of products seem tot be selling the most?
  • what can you learn from the way they market their products?
  • what affiliate programs/products are they promoting?
  • do they offer premium paid content or community areas on their blog?
  • do they have a disclaimer/privacy page? What can you learn from it about how they monetize?

Design/Tech

  • what layout do they use?
  • what navigation/menu items do they have?
  • what first impressions does their design give? What is the first thing they seem to be calling people to DO when arriving?
  • have they used a designer or blog template for their blog?
  • how do they communicate what their blog is about (do they have a tag line)?
  • how are they using their front page? Is it a traditional blog format, portal or something else?
  • what do they have in their sidebar?
  • do they have a ‘hello bar’ at the top of their site? What are they using it for?
  • what do they put in ‘hot zones’ on the blog (above the fold), below posts, etc?
  • what type of blogging tool do they seem to use?
  • what can you observe about their approach to SEO?
  • what kind of commenting technology do they use?
  • what widgets and tools do they have that make the reader experience more interesting?
  • how do they use images in posts?
  • what’s their logo like?
  • what colours are they using in their design?
  • how do they highlight ‘social proof’ in their design?
  • do they have an app?
  • is their design responsive to mobile/tablets?
  • do they use any techniques to increase page views?

Email/Newsletter

  • do they have an email newsletter?
  • if so – how are they driving people to signup? Popups, forms, hello bar etc?
  • are they incentivising signups with something free?
  • signup for the newsletter and watch what kinds of emails they send. Is it an auto responder or more timely broadcasts?

Social Media

  • what social media accounts do they promote on their blog?
  • how are they promoting their social media accounts?
  • are there social media mediums that they are ignoring?
  • which type of social media seems most active/important to them?
  • where are they getting most engagement?
  • how often are they updating their accounts? what times of day seem to get most engagement?
  • what techniques are they using on social that seem to get most engagement and build community?
  • what techniques are they using on social to drive traffic?
  • what techniques are they using with social to monetize?
  • what feedback is this blog getting from readers on social? What are they known for (both positive and negative)?

Other Questions to Ponder

  • are there opportunities to network or partner with this blog/blogger?
  • do they accept guest posts – could you write with them?
  • do they have products that you could promote as an affiliate?
  • do you have a product that they could promote as an affiliate?
  • if they are in your niche – what ‘gaps’ in their content could you be filling in your own blog?
  • what are they doing poorly that might provide you with an opportunity to have a competitive advantage?
  • what are they doing well that you’re not doing to the best of your ability?

What would you add?

The above list is not something I systematically work through for every blog that I look at – rather it is the type of questions I find myself asking as I review a blog and might be useful as a starting point for you to work from.

I’m sure there are other areas you could dig into further and I’d love to hear your suggestions in comments below.

Learn From The Actions of Others

Let me finish by coming back to the motivation for doing blog reviews like this.

What I’m NOT suggesting is that you review other blogs to simply steal other peoples ideas and replicate what they do.

What I AM suggesting is that you will learn a heap by looking at how others blog.

It might sounds odd coming from a guy writing a blog about blogging but I think you’ll actually learn as much – if not more – by doing the above exercise each day than by filling your RSS reader full of blog tips blogs. There’s only so much theory you need to hear – much more can be learned by watching people practice their craft.

A side note about Blogs about Blogging: The reality is that most ‘blog tips blogs’ are written by bloggers whose most successful blog is a ‘blog tips blog’. While this doesn’t discount them as people to listen to, it’s worth keeping in mind as you ponder their teaching and calls to purchase what they sell.

It also strikes me that the vast majority of successful bloggers going around are quietly going about building amazing blogs and not broadcasting their tips and learnings. Their focus is building their blogs – not teaching others how to blog. While it’d be great to get inside their heads the great thing is that almost everything they do is live on their blogs for all to see – hence the opportunity in spending time learning by watching what they do.

My Challenge to You

For the next week, review a blog every day. It need not include every question above – but put aside 10 or so minutes each day over the next week to look at another blog and see what you can learn.

I dare you! It could just be the most valuable 70 minutes of blogging learning you ever have!

If you take the challenge, I’d love to hear in comments below what you learn!

The 3 Ingredients in Our Best Selling eBook Titles


Over the last few days in Facebook groups I participate in, I’ve seen a number of people ask for advice on coming up with titles for new eBooks, courses and books.

Below is a combination of a few pieces of advice I gave in response to the topic:

Coming up with titles for our eBooks on Digital Photography School is always something that takes our team considerable time and debate.

There’s no right way to to create a title and many factors come into play but there are generally three main ingredients that I try to include in titles of eBooks:

1. Clearly Communicate What the Book is About

This is pretty obvious, but it can be tempting at times to come up with a title that is a little more cryptic. I’ve found that the clearer you are about the topic, the better (this also helps with after-sale customer service – you’ll get a lot less complaints if people know exactly what they’re buying).

2. Include a Tangible Benefit

I didn’t always do this but have noticed that our best selling eBooks tend to have one. A good example of this is the ProBlogger eBook – 31 Days to Build a Better Blog.

Do this, and you’ll get this – show the people who are pondering whether they will buy your product what they’ll get as a result of doing so. What’s in it for them?

Sometimes putting the benefit in the title is tricky, particularly if you’re looking to create a short title. In this case, we would usually create a sub-title that we prominently display.

For example, our landscape Photography eBook is ‘Living Landscapes: A Guide to Stunning Landscape Photography‘. The benefit or result is (stunning landscape photography).

So as you’re creating your product, make a list of the needs/problems/challenges that your readers face that your product solves. You may come up with multiple benefits but choose the biggest one (one that readers have at the top of their minds and that the product solves), and use that in the title.

Keep the other benefits that you’ve brainstormed handy because they will be very useful when you’re writing your sales material for the eBook.

3. If Possible Say Something Aspirational that Touches Emotion

This is not something we always do, but particularly for our Photography eBooks, we know that as we’re talking about photography (which is an aspirational topic), that when we use words that evoke some kind of emotion that we generally get a better response from readers.

Note: there’s a fine line here between manipulation and hype, and doing this well.

The example of our ‘Living Landscapes’ eBook mentioned above is a good one. ‘Living Landscapes’ communicates something about what we’re trying to do with the eBook – i.e. help readers to bring the landscapes that they photography to life.

Also in the sub-title we use ‘Stunning Landscape Photography’ rather than just ‘Landscape Photography’. The addition of an adjective not only communicates our objective with the eBook to readers, but also gets them dreaming a little about the things that our eBook will help them to unlock.

You’ll also see if you dig into the sales copy on dPS eBooks, that many of our sales pages also use this more aspirational language in how we sell our products.

Another example of this is Transcending Travel: A Guide to Captivating Travel Photography which at the time we published it was our fastest selling eBook.

You can see in the title alone the same kind of formula. You can tell what it is about (Travel Photography), there’s a clear tangible benefit and words like ‘Transcending’ and ‘Captivating’ are aspirational.

Look at the sales page and again you can see that the copy starts by aiming to touch the ‘heart’ – getting readers to think about the feeling that we all know of getting home from a trip to find that the images we’ve taken don’t capture the true spirit of our time away.

Two Last Tips on Creating Great Titles for Products:

While the above three ingredients are things that we try to get into our eBook titles, it is important to re-emphasise that there is no right way to do this.

Our approach has worked for us with our readership, but I know others take different approaches (and I’d love to hear yours below).

The two last tips I’d give also come out of our experience:

1. Test and Watch How Your Readers Respond

Not all of our titles have worked, and there have been times when we’ve used titles that I had doubts about that worked surprisingly well!

The key is to experiment and see how your readers respond. There are a variety of ways of doing this including:

  • watching how readers respond to titles of blog posts – over time you’ll see some posts get read more than others and that certain words/topics/title formulas seem to resonate more than others
  • test how people respond to social media updates – tweet a link to a blog post you’ve written with two alternative titles for the link and see which works best
  • watching open rates of emails that you send your email subscribers – in the lead up to a product launch send an email to your list pointing them to a blog post on the topic and test different subject lines
  • As your readers which title they’d be most interested in reading – we’ve done this a couple of times on Facebook with readers, showing them two covers of eBooks and asking which they like more

2. Involve Others in the Process

I learned with my very first photography eBook how powerful it was to involve others in the coming up with titles and sales copy.

I was close to launching my first eBook with the simple title ‘Portrait Photography’ when I shot Brian Clark from CopyBlogger an email asking his advice. He came back with the title ‘The Essential Guide to Portrait Photography’.

The title was much stronger and the eBook sold very well.

While not everyone might have access to email one of the best blogging copywriters around (Brian is brilliant) even tossing a title around with friends, family, colleagues and other bloggers will help you to hone your title.

These days we spend days tossing around title ideas as a team before deciding upon one and I think doing so has helped a lot. You’ll also find that as you talk it through the marketing of the product will also become easier as you’ll get more clarity about the benefits of your product and how it will help readers.

2014 Reboot: Find Motivation and Inspiration to Blog Better This Year

We are mining ProBlogger content this week for super-useful information to kick-start your blogging year with gusto. Today we go all the way back to the early days of ProBlogger.net, where Darren encouraged us to put our best effort into our blogs, showing us how to find motivation and interest in the most inspiring of places.

This post “Declaring War on Blogging Apathy” was part of a series that originally appeared in 2005.

It’s time to talk about something that has the potential to KILL your blog….

Apathy.

A blogger can have the best strategic plan in the world but if they have no motivation, passion or drive for their blogging it will almost always amount to nothing at all. One of the keys to the success I’ve managed to have as a ProBlogger is that I’ve taken a long term approach to my blogging which calls for constant work over 2.5 years (so far).

Whilst there have been times where my spirit has been low and the drudgery of researching, writing, networking and dreaming has threatened to put a stop to what I do – I’ve continually pushed myself to find new and creative ways to beat down the blog killer of Apathy. I’ve seen other bloggers not been able to break through this and as a result their blogs today either don’t exist or have become something like the ghost towns of the Western Movie with breezes blowing around the tumbleweed of comment spam and out of date content.

So I’ve decided it’s time to declare war on Blog Apathy and want to share a number of the things that have helped me keep my motivation up in blogging. Feel free to add your own experience and tips in comments.

• Start a Series - it gets hard to constantly come up with new topics to blog about each day so why not pick a larger topic to break down over a week or so. I find that once I’ve got a topic to work on I often get the creative juices flowing – a series can fast track the process. The past few days have definitely lifted my own interest in ProBlogger (not that it was too low) – simply because I’ve been in ‘series mode’.

• Invite questions from your readers - get your readers involved in your blog by setting the agenda for you to write about over the next few weeks of your blogging. Once again this is about stimulating ideas for topics.

• Revisit old Posts - if your archives are anything like mine they are full of posts and articles that you’ve put hours of work into. Keep in mind that many of your newer readers would not have read your old posts and so from time to time it might be worth either reposting old posts, updating old posts or simply bouncing off old posts and continuing old streams of thought.

• Redesign - I always find a fresh coat of paint can really lift a room, a haircut can improve a mood and a blog redesign can get the creative juices flowing again. Tweak it, adapt it or completely redesign it – either way you might just inject a little more energy into something that’s grown tired and find that you’ve got more energy for your blogging.

• Write Posts Ahead of Time - this won’t help you now if you’re in apathy mode – but if you’re not and currently have some energy consider writing a few extra posts that are non time specific to keep for a rainy/apathetic day. When you’re inspired write more so that when you’re not you don’t have to.

• Keep an Idea Journal - this is similar to the previous point but just involves keeping a list of possible post ideas you could write on at a later uninspired point in time. It might include just titles of posts or even a few points that you could write about. I’m constantly jotting down ideas for posts or series and even new blogs all day everyday. Take your journal with you everywhere you go so that if inspiration strikes you can capture it.

• Develop a Posting Schedule - it’s amazing what you can produce if you give yourself a deadline. Whilst for some people the idea of schedules and plans might have the opposite effect – for many of us they help keep us going. My posting goal is 25-35 posts per day – knowing what I’m aiming for helps keep me on track. Whether you’ve got a goal of 2 daily posts, or 500 monthly posts some goals can help get your blogging into gear.

• Get a Guest Blogger - put a little new blood into your blog by inviting someone else to join you in posting either while you take a short break to rejuvenate or to blog alongside you. I’ve recently added a few bloggers to a handful of my blogs and have really enjoyed both the pressure that it’s taken off me but also the energy and fresh ideas that they’ve brought.

• Read other’s blogs - sometimes its easy to become so focused upon blogging that we forget to interact with other bloggers. I remember a few months ago realizing that I rarely really read other blogs any more (apart from those I scanned each day for useful information to blog about). Get back to basics and actually read other blogs – you might just find that in doing so you rediscover the reason you started your own blog in the first place. In addition to that you’ll probably find yourself stimulated to bounce off their blogs with your own.

• Interact with other bloggers - connected to the last point I also find it very useful to not only read the work of others but to converse with them. I regularly chat via instant messaging or phone with other bloggers – in doing so we encourage and inspire each other to break through the dry times. So leave a comment somewhere, start an IM conversation, send an email – talk to someone. Don’t let blogging become an insular lonely thing – rather take advantage of the relational aspects of blogging.

• Meme it Up - another way to get yourself a little more interested in and energised by your blog is to start some sort of Meme. Run a competition, start a blogging project, add a quiz or survey – do something fun, creative and interactive to get other bloggers involved in what you’re doing. To be honest this is why I started the 31 Days to Building a Better Blog project - seeing the wonderful response from readers has definitely lifted my blogging spirits this week.

• Subscribe to a new Source of Information - sometimes it’s easy to get into a rut when you feel like you’re just seeing the same sorts of information on your blogs topic over and over again. So subscribe to some new keywords on Google News Alerts or Topix RSS feeds or find some new blogs to follow. If you put fresh content and ideas into your head hopefully some fresh content will come out.

• Short Posts - if you don’t have much to say – don’t say much. Keep your posts short and to the point. Even if they don’t feel profound to you, just the act of posting something might loosen the blogging creativity within you. Short posts can actually be incredibly effective communication tools also so it might just add something special to your blog.

• New Stimuli - one of the best ways to get your creativity levels up is to expose yourself to new stuff. Buy a book, watch a movie, meet someone new, go for a walk, spend time with your family, listen to some music – get out of your normal daily rhythm and expose yourself to some new sights, sounds, tastes, touches and smells. Remember that what you put into your life has a direct baring on what comes out.

• Just Write - it’s amazing what comes when you just start writing sometimes. Some of my bests posts emerged out of really dry patches when I forced myself to sit and write. The first few paragraphs might end up being scrapped – but if you keep writing you’ll eventually hit gold.

• Get a Coach - I’ve talked a few times here recently about how I’ve found myself a business coach. Whilst the two of us don’t catch up heaps these days – every hour I spend with him is invaluable. He forces me to take a step back from what I do and look at the big picture, he keeps me accountable to the direction I’ve previously set, he asks the hard questions and he encourages me when I’m in a slump. The great thing about him is that he has a very limited understanding of blogging and sees things from quite a different perspective. So get a coach or a blogging partner (you can coach each other). You might consider paying someone to do it or just find another blogger/friend/business person/family member to fill the role. Give them permission to ask questions and give you a kick in the pants if you need it.

• Take a Break - as many people have said in the comments of previous posts in this series – taking a break is often just what a blogger needs. We all need a holiday from time to time so I suggest bloggers build into their yearly rhythm extended periods of non blogging as well as shorter ones on a weekly and even daily basis. I would suggest that if you’re taking a break that you set an end time and date for it – this is important for a couple of reasons, firstly it gives your readers a sense of where you are and when you’ll be back (I find it frustrating as a reader when a blogger disappears for an extended period without warning) and secondly it puts a boundary at the end of you break which will help you to start up again.

I’m sure between us we can come up with many other strategies for breaking the back of blog apathy – I’m interested to hear the suggestions and experiences of others in comments below.

2014 Reboot: Finally Finding Time to Blog

We are mining ProBlogger content this week for super-useful information to kick-start your blogging year with gusto. Today we tackle a common topic – time. Who has it and how can we get it? Darren shows us seven ways to finally carve it out.

This post “7 Tips for Busy Bloggers on Finding Time to Blog” first appeared in April 2013.

Last week I tweeted a question asking my Problogger followers to share the biggest challenge that they face as a blogger.

Around 50 replies came back and a couple of themes emerged – the biggest one centred around ‘Time’.

Time to blog

Finding time to blog is something that all bloggers struggle with. Whether you are just starting out and blogging as a hobby, blogging as a part time job while juggling work, home, and a social life or even blogging as a full time business amidst other demands such as up-keeping of social media accounts, responding to comments and emails etc. - finding time to write is a consistent challenge.

This issue is so prevalent, we actually published an eBook on the topic last year - BlogWise: How to Do More with Less (featuring 9 busy but productive bloggers such as Leo Babauta, Gretchen Rubin, Brian Clark, Heather Armstrong and more).

7 Tips for Busy Bloggers on Finding Time to Blog

I’m someone who periodically struggles with the challenges of being productive in limited timeframes. Over the last 10 years of blogging, I guess I’ve settled into something of a workflow and routine. What follows is a collection of reflections on what I’m learning.

I hope something in it connects with where you’re at!

1. It Starts with Life Priorities

I feel a bit like a parent saying this but the truth is, time management is a lot to do with priorities. 

It’s important to take time out to identify what is truly important to you, as this is a starting point for working out how you should spend your time.

If blogging is important to you, the first step in finding time to do it is to name it as a priority.

Of course ‘naming’ it as important is only half the battle. For many people there is a HUGE gap between what they say is important and how they actually spend their time.

One of the most confronting exercises I’ve ever done, when it comes to time management, was when (as a young adult) I was challenged write a list of my priorities. I then had to track how I used each 15 minute block of time over a week.

At the end of the week I tallied up the different activities and was amazed to discover how much time I was spending on things that did not feature in my priorities list, and how little I spent on the things I’d named as my priorities.

My list of priorities included things like studying, career, relationships etc.

My actual use of time was dominated by TV, computer games, time in the pub etc.

Of course, at the time I was young and reckless… but I suspect if I did the exercise again today there would probably be a bit of a disconnect between my priorities and how I spent my time. The activities I ‘waste’ time on and my priorities today might be different but the pattern would probably remain.

One of the keys to finding time to blog is working out whether blogging is actually important to you and arranging your life so that time is allocated for it!

I know it’s sounds obvious but it is easier said than done… and needs to be said.

2. Name Your Blogging Priorities

In the section above I talk about ‘life priorities’ but now I want to hone in on your blogging priorities.

The challenge many bloggers face is that they feel overwhelmed and often distracted by the many elements of blogging that they feel they need to do to have success.

Writing blog posts, reading and commenting on others blogs, responding to readers comments, guest posting on others blogs, being active on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, LinkedIn, Pinterest (and more), working on your blog design, writing an eBook, finding advertisers, creating a media kit…. the list goes on and on.

I’ve had periods in my own blogging where this list overwhelmed me – to the point it almost paralysed me.

When I felt overwhelmed, I tried to strip my blogging back to the core tasks I knew I needed to do to keep my blog moving forward. Again it was really about priorities.

What do you need to do to grow your blog and make it sustainable?

For me, I strip my focus back to these areas:

  • Writing Content
  • Finding Readers
  • Building Community
  • Monetizing

These are the non-essential priorities I have with my blogging. Simply by naming them simplifies things a little for me so I’m not looking at a long, crazy list of little things that I need to do.

With this list in mind I’m can set myself some achievable goals in each area.

For example, when it comes to ‘Writing Content’ I’m set myself some goals with how many posts per week or month. Then I start to think about the types of posts I want each week.

So here on ProBlogger, my current goal is 5 posts per week as a minimum with 3-4 of those posts written by me and at least one of them to be a longer form piece of content (like my recent Guide to the Amazon Affiliate Program).

Within each of these areas I would normally have at least a couple of goals/priorities at any one time.

Simply having this list of things I want to achieve suddenly gives me direction on how to spend my time, which makes me much more effective when I do blog. Instead of sitting down at the computer to blog and then working out what to do, I have a list of things I need to get done – and I find myself just knocking them off.

3. Batch Process Your Main Tasks

I won’t go into great detail on this as I’ve written about it before but a number of years ago I changed the way that I do my weekly tasks and it significantly boosted my productivity levels.

Before making this switch, I would sit down to blog and find myself going through a whole day flitting from one thing to another…. but not really getting much done. I’d write an intro to a blog post, then jump onto Twitter, then talk to another blogger about a collaboration, then go back to the blog post, then moderate some comments, then jump on Facebook and then…. well you get the picture.

So I began to carve out longer chunks of time to do the most important tasks in ‘batches’.

For example, one of my weekly rhythms is to use Monday and Wednesday mornings to write. On those mornings, I will often set myself up in a cafe and work offline for 2-3 hours. This enables me to write as much content as possible for the days and week ahead. It is not unusual for me to write 4-5 blog posts that I’m then able to schedule onto the blog for the coming days.

By silo’ing off time to do the most important tasks, and removing other distractions, I found I churn through a lot more work than I had previously been able to do.

I now ‘batch’ process many tasks. I’ll often set aside half an hour to do social media for example (instead of popping into Twitter 20 times a day, I might spend a longer period once a day). Email is similarly something I try to do in batches, similarly I tend to read other blogs via RSS in batches etc.

Read more about ‘batch processing in my post ‘How Batch Processing Made Me 10 Times More Productive‘.

Mental Blogging

In the early days of my blogging I had very very limited times to blog. I was working 3-4 part time jobs at any one time while also studying in the evenings. As a result I often would only have half and hour here or there during a lunch break, late at night or early in the morning to write content.

In order to be more effective at those times, I began to do what I now call ‘mental blogging’.

So while I was working in one of my jobs in a warehouse packing parcels, I would begin to write my blog posts in my mind. I would come up with a topic, decide upon a title and then begin to map out my main points – all in my head.

I sometimes would use a small notebook to jot a few words down to remind me what I wanted to write but after a shift in the warehouse, I would often be ready to sit down and quickly write out a pretty decent blog post (sometimes more than one) because I’d effectively written it already in my head.

Since that time I’ve come across countless other bloggers who do a similar thing during their own daily activities.

Later on I did a similar thing by jotting down my notes on my iPhone or even speaking blog posts into an audio recording app on my iPhone while I was out on a walk.

4. Idea Generation and Editorial Calendars

In my early days of blogging one of my biggest time sucks was coming up with ideas. I would sit, staring at my computer screen for hours on end, trying to work out what to write about on my blog that day.

I discovered that a much more effective strategy is to put aside batches of time specifically to come up with post ideas.

Instead of deciding what to write about each day, I began to create times to brainstorm and mind map blog ideas. I would then developed a file for each post topic so that on any given day I could sit down and within seconds I’d have something to write about

Mind Mapping is my favourite technique for generating potentially hundreds of ideas (read Discover Hundreds of Post Ideas for Your Blog with Mind Mapping).

Just having the ideas ready to go when you need them will save you a lot of time. You can take this a step further and consider creating an Editorial Calendar where you actually slot the ideas into a calendar over the coming week, month (or longer) and map out where you’ll be going with the blog in that period of time.

Editorial calendars may not suit everyone but I know of numerous bloggers who plan their blogs content well over a month in advance. This not only gives them an idea of where their blog is headed but they also find it useful to monetize their blogs as they’re able to share their calendar with advertisers who may wish to sponsor a relevant series of posts that might be coming up.

5. Break Down Big Jobs into Small Bites

Late last year, I recorded a free webinar where I shared 10 things I wish I’d known about blogging when I started 10 years before. In that webinar I shared the story of creating the first eBook that I developed over at Digital Photography School.

The idea of creating an eBook was something that I’d been meaning to do for at least a year or two but I’d always put off doing it because I didn’t have the time for such a big project. I’d never done something like that before and I felt overwhelmed by it.

In the end, to get the eBook created and launched, I decided that the only way I’d find the time to write it was to get up 15 minutes earlier every morning to work on the project.

15 minutes a day isn’t much (although we had a newborn at the time so 15 minutes sleep was precious) but I was amazed how much I could get done in that short period of time, on a daily basis. Over the coming 2-3 months I completed writing the eBook, had had it designed, had worked out how to market it, had researched how to sell it (shopping carts etc) and was ready to launch.

I effectively broke down a big job into little bite sized chunks until it was complete. That eBook went on to sell thousands of copies and became the template for 19 other eBooks that I’ve now launched (the main source of income to my blogs today).

I often wonder what would have happened if I’d never found that extra 15 minutes per day!

6. Slow Blogging is OK

“I have to post something today!”

Sometimes, as bloggers, I think we create monsters for ourselves for no good reason when it comes to posting deadlines and frequency.

I’m very guilty of this and it’s been something of a relief to realise that I can slow down my blogging a little and not see it ‘hurt’ my blog.

Here on ProBlogger you may have noticed a bit of a change lately. I’ve gone from posting 7-10 posts per week to posting 5-6 times a week.

For many years here at ProBlogger I felt the need to publish daily posts and at times, even aimed for 2-3 posts per day. While there were some benefits of doing so (more posts can mean more traffic) there were also costs in terms of the quality but also personally (it’s hard to sustain that kind of publishing for years on end).

Since slowing down, I’ve been fascinated to see that our traffic has remained steady (in fact some days it has been higher). The other impact has been a rise in comment levels, in positive feedback but also in my own energy and passion levels.

While deadlines and targets for posting frequency can be motivating - there may be periods of time when slowing down has some big benefits.

7. Make Space for Preparation, Creating and Rest

I recently came across this great video from Aussie blogger Kemi Nekvapil.

What I particularly loved about it was at around the 1.30 minute mark, Kemi talks about the structure of her week and how she has 3 different types of days during her week. They are ‘preparation days’, ‘success days’ and ‘inspiration days’.

Note: I think this originally comes from Jack Canfield who talks about creating days for ‘preparation’, ‘success’ and ‘rest’.

So for Kemi, her Mondays are preparation days when she is getting ready to have a creative ‘success’ day, Tuesdays are successful days, Wednesdays are preparation days and Thursdays are successful days. Fridays are her inspiration days where she gets to do whatever she wants to do for herself.

By giving herself days with a different focus, Kemi says she’s able to keep her creativity up and to sustain herself.

It makes sense really – if every day is a day where you have to produce something and you never have time to prepare or to have a break the quality of what you produce will suffer (as will your energy levels).

I love this idea and almost intuitively have done something a little similar of late. My wife (V) works on a Wednesday, so on those days I’ve had a bit more to do with the kids (drop offs, pick ups and a shorter working day). I’ve decided to go with it not being quite as a productive day and make Wednesdays a little less hands on with work, giving me a little more space to just ‘be’.

I’ve been doing a little work but also am trying to put time aside on Wednesdays to read, walk and have a siesta. It might sound a little like a lazy day on some levels but I’m noticing that having a quieter day in the middle of my week certainly makes me more productive on the following days.

What Are Your Tips for Finding Time to Blog?

What I’ve written above just scratches the surface. I am by no means an expert on this and am keen to learn from your experience.

Update: Check out this post where I ask a number of other bloggers about their tips and blogging routines.