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The Importance of Having Your Own Product to Sell

Recently while on a beach vacation my family was out on the street having ice-cream when we came across two street performers/buskers.

The first one was set up 15 meters to one side of the ice-cream shop we were visiting. He had a guitar and had his guitar case open in front of him to collect the loose change of those walking by. He was pretty good and we stopped to listen to him for a moment or two before walking on and leaving $1-$2 in change in his case.

After buying our ice-cream we noticed another performer a little further down the street. This guy was something of a one man band with honky tonk guitar, harmonica, bells on one foot and a homemade kick drum/box on the other. He too had a case out for donations/tips but also was doing something that in my estimation pulled in at least 10 times the money that the other performer was making – he had two CDs for sale.

You could get one of his CDs for $15 and both for $25.

Not only was this guy pulling in tips like the other guy – but every 10 or so people to approach him was buying at least one of his CDs.

In the 15 minutes that we stopped to listen to this guy (our kids were fascinated by his act and caused quite a commotion by doing an impromptu dancing concert on the sidewalk in front of him drawing a big crowd) I saw him sell 8 CDs. He was obviously pulling in some decent money in comparison to busker #1.

Having a CD to sell was great for revenue but interestingly it seemed to also play a part in his overall act. People seemed to take him a bit more seriously than the other guy – I heard at least a few people comment to one another about the fact that he was obviously serious if he’d recorded a CD – it gave him credibility as well as giving him a talking point when chatting with people.

The Power of Having your own Products

As I tucked my boys into bed that night and my 3 year old insisted in sleeping with his new ‘honky tonk one man band CD’ (yep, we bought one too) next to his bed it struck me just how powerful having a product to sell can be.

As bloggers trying to make a few dollars from our online activity many of us get stuck thinking about making money by slapping ads on our blogs – but in doing so perhaps we’re doing the equivalent of busking for tips (not the perfect illustration I know). I know I’ve fallen into that trap myself over the years but in working to develop products to sell I’ve seen a variety of benefits including:

  1. Revenue – obviously selling a product (whether it be a book, ebook, membership site, consulting, coaching etc) has the potential to make you money. The cool thing about it is that you’re not splitting revenue with an ad network or someone whose product you’re promoting with an affiliate promotion – but it’s all yours.
  2. Credibility/Authority – I discovered the power of having something of my own to sell when we launched the ProBlogger book. Suddenly people not only referred to me as a blogger – but an author. While a hard cover book does carry weight in some circles more than an ebook – any quality product gives you another thing to list as the creator of in your CV/bio and can lend weight to your authority and credibility.
  3. Opportunities – Within 24 hours of releasing my photography E-book recently I had two publishers contacting me asking if we’d be interested in having them publish it as a real hard cover book. 2 weeks after launch I’ve spoken to more photographers and photography site owners about possible collaborations than I can count. When you have a product of some kind people in your industry and niche tend to take notice. It shows others in your industry that you’re serious and able to produce more than just a blog and it shows you’ve got initiative. People are attracted to that and all kinds of opportunities can emerge.
  4. Deepen Relationships with Readers – when someone buys something from you once there’s an increased likelihood that they’ll buy something else from you at some point in the future – IF you keep in relationship with them. Keeping a list of those who’ve purchased something from you opens up future profitable interactions. While it’s great to have an email list of readers – it’s a pretty powerful thing to have an email list of people who are proven ‘buyers’ of products in your niche.
  5. Lengthens Relationships with Readers – three weeks after our holiday has ended my son is still talking about the honky tonk performer. He’s been listening to the CD and every time that happens the experience he had a few weeks back is reinforced. Just yesterday I had an email from someone who bought 31 Days to Build a Better Blog who told me that they had the e-book on their computer’s desktop. She told me that every time she did another of the daily exercises she also was reminded to also check out the latest posts on the blog – something she might not have done otherwise. That e-book is drawing visitors back to my blog on a regular basis.
  6. Accelerated Learning – regular readers of ProBlogger will remember that last week I revealed some of the lessons that I’ve learned in the last few weeks while launching a Photography E-book. I shared 8 lessons in that post but the reality is that while it was the most profitable week I’ve had as a blogger it was also the week that I’ve learned the most about internet marketing in the last 7 years. I’ve read a lot about how to launch products online, I’ve talked to a lot of people who have done it and I’ve viewed a lot of case studies of successful launches – but there’s nothing like DOING something to learn how to do it. The theory and past conversations and case studies are helpful – but on the job training is the best. Developing and launching a product will teach you so much about many aspects of blogging, business and yourself – it’s the kind of experience money can’t buy.
  7. Traffic – This morning I was digging around on my photography site’s stats. Before I logged in I expected to find that traffic had been a little down on the previous month as a result of launching the ebook over the last two weeks (because I’ve been a little distracted and posted less posts than normal) and as a result of the normal Thanksgiving lull in traffic. However I was surprised to see traffic was up by about 9% over the last 30 days as compared to the 30 days before that. You can see the chart below but the 9% rise was almost completely a result of the days after the launch. As I dug further into the stats I realized that launching the e-book meant more of our regular readers hit the site to check it out but that it also created a buzz around the web as other sites linked up and as people passed on word of the launch via Twitter. Similarly – RSS and newsletter subscribers went up by more than normal in the last two weeks – launching the product has found us new readers.

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How Getting An F On Your School Paper Makes You A Better Blogger

This guest post was written by Rob Sutton from Ramped Reviews. Image by kharied.

-1.jpgThis comes to be a surprise to many, but I hate writing. Every paper in grade school through college was a futile effort in an attempt to pull out my own teeth. I could not stand it and I would do everything in my power not to have to write one more paper. My senior thesis to complete my economics degree was one of the worst experiences of my life. I dreaded every word on the page and had to stretch out every thought just to make it past the minimum page point to graduate. So…with all of these harsh, I’d rather die feelings about writing, how do I throw over 2,000 words a day on a screen for others to read and why is everyone I know surprised that my words now turn into dollars?

We Are Conditioned To Be Boring Writers

Throughout grade school and college, we are basically taught to be boring research paper writers. Unless you were a lit major (and probably even then), every single paper had to be double spaced, 12 point font, researched, cited and with 1 inch margins. As you typed out every content driven sentence, you had your grammar book open researching how you needed to structure every sentence and cite every reference. Really does sound like pulling teeth doesn’t it?!

This is how we wrote…this is how we were taught to write and this is how we were graded. We were in a boring writing cycle as we continued to attempt to make the grade writing about subjects we had little passion on. It was pure torture (at least for this blogger).

Writing was not seen as a form of expression, but a method on which we were ranked against others with defined topics and content.

How Getting An F Makes You A Better Blogger

Blogging is the polar opposite of research paper writing. Blogging is full of feeling and life, but many new bloggers struggle with boring writing as they are conditioned for years to write in a manner that does not speak to their own personality. Readers engage with blogs to step into the world of the blogger and feel that personality and connection…not to find a list of citations at the bottom of the blog article. It is time to fail lit in pursuit of the successful blog! But how do we do it?

Write As You Talk – One of the easiest ways to get over the hurdle of boring blog writing is to type exactly like you talk. After you get all of the words on the Add New Post screen, you can go back and edit/organize. By not worrying if the article is perfect on the first pass, you are able to make sure that your voice rings through and your readers are able to connect with you through your words.

Be Unique and Have Unique Ideas – Much of research paper writing is regurgitating what someone else has already said in your own words and formulating your hypothesis off of those conclusions. You are a blogger…you have an opinion…you can express that opinion and listen to other readers differing opinion. It is a beautiful thing! Conversation among semi-like minded individuals on the Internet without the aid of compound sentence structure and rules. Bring out your unique ideas and be unique yourself to engage in the conversation we call blogging.

Throw Away Conventional Sentence Structure – Some of the sentences in this article would fail me instantly in a written paper during the years I attended school. Now…I am not advocating writing in a way that no one can understand because you do not want to use spell check or construct sentences that actually mean something. But…you can throw in triple periods for the pause effect and have the occasional misspelled word. You can use run ons and fragments to get feeling across in your writing where only rambling and abruptness will work. You can stray away from conventional sentence structure to bring back feeling in your writing. Just make sure your readers can still understand it.

Be Super Descriptive – By being super descriptive in your writing style, you are able to pull your readers into your world. As I sit here listening to the clicks of the keys on the keyboard, I am imaging a day when my head was buried in a 40 pound book just bleeding for that last paragraph that would get me out of the nightmare. I can still smell the pages of the worn out book as I flipped through mindless text gasping at each failed page turn. See what I mean? No citations there…just painting a picture of the even as it unfolds…

Language - Are there slang words that will connect with your readers? How about a certain form of speech? You already know the type of speech that is going to engage your reading population. Your goal is to speak and connect with them, so what better way than to speak in a way they are comfortable with? Often times, this kind of speech writing would fail your paper, but it builds you credibility in your niche as a blogger.

What We Did Learn From Writing In School

Unfortunately, all of that time dreading papers in grade school was not wasted. As much as I hated it, there were certain aspects of that style of writing that we really need to take to heart as bloggers. Without these ideals and foundation, much of our writing would be worthless and unrecognizable.

Content…Content…Content – Remember when you tried to fill space by repeating the same thought in a different way? Your teacher used to crack down on that pretty hard didn’t she! Well…the same holds true in blogging. Many beginning (and experienced) bloggers are sometimes more interested in the word count stat than getting their point across efficiently. Your readers will be able to tell when you are padding up an article just to make it look longer…and they will count off points for that.

Sentence Structure – I know…I just told you to throw away all sentence structure and really go for it in the outside the box writing world, but you can not go too far. Even-though there is the urge to really expand your eclectic writing style, people still need to be able to understand it! You can stray away from the conventional way of writing, but don’t stray off into your own world. If your readers can’t understand what you are saying, they are not coming back.

Keep Your Paragraphs Organized – Typically, teachers back in the day wanted paragraphs around 5-6 sentences with a defined subject and conclusion. While we may stray from that some, there are a lot of bloggers out there that think writing the entire article in one paragraph is a good idea. It is a proven fact that readers digest information much better when it is separated in organized chucks. Keep your paragraphs short and concise. If I see a huge block of words…I go on to the next site. That much content jumbled up looks like too much work to translate.

As You Draft Your Next Blog Post…

Take an honest look at your writing. Are you speaking from the heart or are your feelings getting lost in the type? It is our goal as bloggers to engage and connect with our readers, and nothing kills that connection more than really boring writing. It is time to start thinking outside of the box in the quest to build a better blog and a better life.

This post was written by Robb Sutton. Auther of Ramped Blogging, Ramped Reviews and Ramped Mindset. He blog about blogging tips and lifestyle design at robbsutton.com.

How To Stop Procrastinating and Start Your Blog

A Guest Post by Jennifer Blanchard of Procrastinating Writers

I read this blog daily. But it wasn’t until last week when I noticed the results of Darren’s poll on “How long have you been blogging?” that I decided it was time to submit a guest post.

According to that poll, more than 4,000 of this blog’s readers don’t actually have a blog.

I have to say, this fact stunned me a little. Why would 4,000-plus people want to read about blogging if they don’t actually have a blog?

Then the same answer that caused me to start my own blog popped up in my mind – Procrastination.

Procrastination is the continual habit of putting off – sometimes until the very last minute – tasks you need (and want) to accomplish.

Oftentimes people procrastinate on tasks they really don’t want to be doing, like household chores, writing a paper for school or making a phone call they’re dreading. But many times, people also procrastinate on tasks they actually want to be doing.

Why People Procrastinate

There are many reasons why people procrastinate. But the top reasons include:

  • Fear – Fear of success, fear of failure, fear of not being good enough and fear of rejection are the most stand-out fears procrastinators often have. They fear starting a blog because it might not be as good as someone else’s blog. Or they fear starting a blog that no one will read. Or they fear they don’t know enough about a particular topic to start a blog. Or they fear their blog will actually be successful and that will cause them too much stress and anxiety. This list really could go on forever.
  • The Phrases “Should” and “Have To” – Believe it or not, by telling yourself you “have to” do something (ie: start a blog) or that you “should” be doing something, it makes you not want to do it at all. This is when procrastinating behaviors creep in.
  • Whole Project Thinking – When you think about starting a blog, you’re likely bombarded by all the things requiredto start a blog – you have to decide on a domain name, purchase it, then you have to choose a blogging platform, then you need to decide what you’re going to write about and you have to come up with topics and determine how often you’re going to post and then, and then, and then… Thinking of the project as a whole, rather than as small pieces, overwhelms you, which then causes you to procrastinate.
  • Perfectionism – Other than fear, this is the main reason people procrastinate. They get so worried that the blog they create won’t be perfect from the get-go that they don’t even bother starting it. Perfectionism causes serious stress, which is always a recipe for disaster.
  • Telling Yourself It’s “Too Much Work” and “Not Enough Fun”When people think a project they want to complete is going to be more work than fun, it usually stops them in their tracks and keeps them from starting.

How To Stop Procrastinating and Start Your Blog

Now that you know what causes you to procrastinate, you can begin to take steps to overcome it.

Truth be told, starting a blog is not as difficult as you think it is. All it really requires is a domain name, a content plan and a platform.

So here are some steps you can take to begin overcoming your procrastinating behaviors and start your blog:

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyways

I’ve heard this phrase a lot lately, and it couldn’t ring more true. Yes, it’s scary to start a blog. It’s scary to put yourself out there and share your ideas with the world. Yes, people may reject you. Yes, your blog won’t be perfect.

What you have to do is understand this; accept it; and start your blog anyhow.

If you allow fear to hold you back, you’ll never really be happy in life because you’ll always be compromising (or avoiding) what you truly want.

Remove “Should” and “Have to” from Your Vocabulary

These phrases make starting a blog feel forced on you instead of being a conscious choice you’re making; resentment and rebellion are typically the next feelings that come up.

In reality, there’s nothing you should be doing or have to be doing. If starting a blog doesn’t inspire you or if you don’t have a topic that you’re passionate about, then by all means, don’t start a blog. But my guess is, starting a blog does inspire you and you do have a topic you’re passionate about, otherwise why would you be reading this blog?

“Should” and “Have to” take your power away and give the power to the task of starting a blog. But by changing your self-talk, you can easily change the way you feel.

Instead of telling yourself, “I should start a blog” or “I have to start a blog soon,” tell yourself, “I want to start a blog” or “I choose to start a blog.” Words like “want” and “choose” are powerful words. These words mean you’re making a conscious choice. You’re deciding to start a blog; it’s not being forced on you.

View the Project in Pieces

You can’t start a blog and have it all pieced together in one day. It just doesn’t work like that. It takes time to come up with a name and determine a content strategy and learn how to write headlines that are effective and find traffic, etc. Instead, view starting a blog like putting a puzzle together: One piece at a time.

The best way to do this is to break the process of starting a blog into steps. Start slowly. Spend some time thinking about what type of blog you want to start. Then choose a domain name. Research available platforms and choose the one that best fits you. Next work on developing a content strategy, which includes what you’re going to write about and how often. Then work on how you’re going to market it and get traffic. Then you can work on finding ways to make money from your blog, and so on.

If you learn to break larger projects into smaller, more manageable pieces, you’ll feel less overwhelmed, which will help keep you focused and not procrastinating.

Give Up Perfectionism

No matter how hard you work, you will never be perfect. Perfection is an idea, not a reality. Humans weren’t born to be perfect. They were born to make mistakes and to learn from them. So rather than berate yourself for not being perfect, remember that life – and blogging – is a journey. And the only way to reach the end goal of that journey is to take the first step: Start your blog!

As you work through the trials and errors of starting a blog, you’ll come to realize that mistakes are actually gifts in disguise. Because for each mistake you make, you learn how not to do something, which will help you do it better next time.

Make It Fun

As the saying goes, “If it’s not fun, don’t do it.” But if you never start a blog, you’ll never get to see how much fun it actually is. Writing about topics you’re passionate about and connecting with readers are twoof the most fun things on the planet. And there’s definitely nothing more fun than getting an e-mail or Twitter message from a reader telling you how much you’ve inspired them.

What blog project have you been procrastinating on? Why?

Jennifer Blanchard is the founder of Procrastinating Writers, a blog that offers advice, motivation and inspiration for writers who struggle to get started. If this sounds like you, be sure to subscribe to her blog and/or follow her on Twitter.

ProBlogging – 10 Things I Wish I Knew when I Started

A Guest Post by Nathan Hangen of Making it Social.

As much as many of us want to get our blogs up and running and create an overnight success story, the truth is that having desire alone just isn’t enough. For starters, guys like Darren make it look extremely easy now, but it’s not like he rolled out of bed one morning and became an instant success. He poured hours of blood, sweat, and tears into his blogs before they became income worthy, but don’t fret just yet, help is on the way.

Even though we have to make our way through the learning curve until everything “clicks” into place, there’s no reason that we can’t shorten the learning curve so that we can spend less time wishing and more time living. By learning from our own experiences and, more importantly, the experiences of others, we can do just that. Darren does a great job of doing that here, but I’d like to present a list of things I learned the hard way, things I wish I knew sooner, and things that I think new bloggers could use to elevate their game to the next level.

1. Good design is crucial

Most bloggers don’t have a very long time to make a good first impression, and with the abundance of great content throughout the interwebs, readers try fo find ways to cut back and/or make quick decisions on which content they consume. One of the ways they do this is by judging a book by its cover. It might not be fair, but it’s reality. You dont’ have to give your kidney for a good design. There are dozens of theme providers that have both inexpensive and free themes that look much better than what was designed 2-3 years ago.

2. Narrow Your Niche

This is something that took me a long time to understand. I thought that by covering a bunch of topics, casting a wider net so to speak, that I would attract more people to my blog. The problem with that strategy is that when you do attract new visitors, you throw them off if your content isn’t consistent. They’ll wind up leaving and you’ll have to recruit new readers for every single post. So, try fishing with a spear instead.

3. Comments Really Do Matter

I didn’t take this seriously at first. I thought that my content was special enough to get noticed on its own. Boy was I wrong! It wasn’t until a few months ago that I crafted a comment policy that has helped my traffic explode. I do it by subscribing by email to a dozen or so blogs in my niche so that I’m notified as soon as there is a new post. I try to comment right away and do my best to add something meaningful to the conversation. More importantly, I come back and reply to other comments in the discussion. Do this often enough and on enough blogs and you will start to get noticed. You can’t give commenting lip service either; it is something that needs to be done every day.

4. Don’t Underestimate the Importance of Your Knowledge

When you master a skill, it’s easy to think that others might be on the same level as you, which can lead you to discount the value of your skill set and experience. However, most people don’t know what you know and would to pay you to teach them. Things that might seem simple to you can look like Greek to a reader. Don’t ever take your skill set and knowledge base for granted.

5. When You Have a Blog, You are the Authority

Own It! – We blog from behind a desk and see our lives as imperfect or incomplete. However, to a customer or new reader, you have an incredible amount of authority. If you have gone through the work of publishing content, then you need to step up to the plate and own that content. Take the authority and use it. You might be a 6 or 7 (on a 10 point scale), but to that new person, you are a leader. This excites people…they want a piece of your vision. Use that authority to step up to the plate and give them what they want. Don’t be afraid to be an expert!

6. Consistency Counts

I thought I could get away with blogging whenever I felt like it. I thought I could change the topic based on what felt right at the time. Looking back through my archives, I’m almost embarrassed by the casual attitude I took with my blog. These days, I know better and I keep a steady editorial schedule (3 posts per week on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday) and have narrowed the topics of my content to a degree that keeps my readers feeling like they belong. Changing it up all the time confuses people and scares away good readers.

7. Have a Plan

What are you going to do when your readership doubles? How are you going to handle getting hundreds of emails per day? How will you respond to comments? How do you see your platform evolving over the next year, 2, or even 5? These are some of the questions that you need to address early and often. Your plan might not be perfect, but at least you’ll have a direction to head. There’s nothing wrong with being flexible, but allowing your circumstances to dictate your business can lead you down roads that are better left untraveled.

8. Start Networking Early!

I cannot emphasize this enough. Use Twitter, comments, and guest posting as a tool to meet new people. The wider your reach, the easier it is to get noticed. Don’t wait for people to come to you…get out and network. People love personal connections! Go to conferences and shake hands with other bloggers. You never know which contact could turn into a great guest posting opportunity, a JV deal, or a new devoted fan. Blogging is a business, and you’ve got to get out and meet people if you want to take your blog to the next level.

9. Be Everywhere

This is tied in with the previous point, but to keep it simple – try to be in as many places as you can. Use Twitter, Facebook, USTREAM, YouTube, LinkedIn, and any other social network you can. You don’t have to live there, but having a presence there is important. People need to be able to find you in as many places as possible. You never know where that next source of income or the next reader might come from.

10. Hustle

Really, it all boils down to this. If I had to give you one piece of advice, it would be that you need to work your tail off to become a problogger. There’s no secret recipe, no golden ticket…you’ve just got to work hard and treat your blog like a business. It might seem like you aren’t getting anywhere at first, but be patient and keep at it. Adjust your plan on the fly if you have to, but never stop hustling. You’ve got to love what you do…absolutely enjoy doing it every day, if you really want to quit your job and go full time. If you don’t love what you do, then stop what you’re doing and go do what you love. Trust me, the work will come MUCH easier at that point.

Although this is just tip of the iceberg, I believe that if you just learn to improve on a few of these points, then you’ll shave a tremendous amount of time off your learning curve. You still might have to learn the hard way, but at least now you’ll have the context to understand what’s might be going wrong. If nothing else works, then you can’t go wrong with #10. In fact, I’d say that’s a great place to start.

Nathan Hangen is an entrepreneur, social media consultant, and co-author of the book - Beyond Blogging.

Luck is a Curse. How NOT to Relaunch and Rebrand Your Blog. There May Be Tears.

A Guest Post by Kelly Diels. Image by Cayusa

Part 1. Blogging, Before I Got the Bright Idea to Relaunch and Rebrand: What I Did Right. Maybe.

luck.jpgHere’s my curse: I’m lucky. Things always seem to work out for me and even when they go wrong, they’re never actually as bad as they ought to be. I’ve never had a white knight ride into my life on a unicorn but things have never been so bad that I wished for one. Lucky, lucky me.

Why is that a curse? Because, when planning (ahem. I use the word loosely) to rebrand and relaunch my site using WordPress and a professionally designed theme, I counted on Plan A working.

That was my first mistake.

My second mistake: When scoping (hahahahahahaha. sure. THAT’s what you call it) out the conversion, I expected Plan A to take place in a miraculous, lucky context.

The planets and stars would align in the House of Luck and the wind would be at my back and I am remorselessly killing the English language one mixed metaphor at a time.

Because I’m lucky, after all.

Lucky Blogging. The Beginning. It is Seductive.
Fortunately, when it comes to blogging, I didn’t do EVERYTHING wrong.

Here’s what I did right.

I started blogging because I needed to write. Luckily, I’m a half-way decent wordsmith so that part came easily.

Then I got lucky and people started reading my blog. More people than I know. Friends of friends. Strangers. You. I can’t believe my luck.

Then I started trying to figure out how to properly blog. I found ProBlogger and it’s archive of awesomeness.

Google and luck were on my side and also gave me White Hot Truth and I went to a fire starter and it lit me up. I thought, yes, I CAN do this. I can live like an artist, baby. I will.

Then, by sheer, random dumb luck, I found the World’s Strongest Librarian and he pushed me to start guest-posting.

(First I mulled on it for, oh, three months because although I’m sassy in text, I am ridiculously timid about making requests. My askus requestus muscle is highly underdeveloped. Offer to write something, for free, for someone else? THE NERVE. Case in point: I wrote a piece I intended for ProBlogger and then was far too scared to actually submit it. So I didn’t. I sat on the completed, undeniably awesome essay for ten days until I had a WTF moment and sent it. Luckily, Darren liked it and used it. WTF moments are important.)  

So I started guest posting. More people came to read my site and said nice things and started following me on Twitter. I love Twitter, maybe even more than Facebook.

And I love Facebook something fierce and unholy because my future website developer/designer friended me there.

Lucky Blogging Makes You Uppity and Think You Can Change The World Or At Least Your Site.

My facebook designer friend and I became real, offline friends. IM conversations, cupcakes and a festival were involved and then it turned into a business relationship.

It was time to redesign my site. (I say redesign, but “design” is an overstatement for what I originally slapped together, so the “re” is a hairy lie.)

Now, luckily, thanks to the genius of The Internet and Facebook, I had a designer/friend whose work ethic and aesthetic I trusted. I could say bad words and be anxious and require handholding – while toggling back and forth between states of extreme control freakiness and childlike need for reassurance – and as a friend/vendor she’d be obliged to provide it. Lucky, lucky me.

So, in my blogging journey this is what I did right:

  • When I started, I just started. I started somewhere/anywhere and figured out my focus and my mission as I went. This took six months
  • I wrote good stuff
  • People liked it
  • I sought out expertise and experts and handholders
  • I made friends. (If I was an internet marketer, I’d say I ‘networked’ but really I’m too socially awkward to network. It is juju love and cupcakes or nothing, baby.)
  • I grew my blog organically until it – and I – needed a focus, a brand, a name, and a proper design
  • Then, because I had friends, and had been following in their illustrious footsteps, I knew how to undertake the focus/name/brand/proper site challenge. I thought.

I was lucky. In the first six months of blogging, I did just enough right to think that wings and prayers and hot content were enough. Curses.

Still Lucky-Blogging. Tragedy Looms.

My luck held. My brain was on. I researched the design process. I researched sites I liked for inspiration. I thought about architecture. I thought about aesthetics. I thought about branding. I chose a developer with whom I actually wanted to work. I wrote a design brief, which forced me to clarify my vision, articulate it and map out the objectives for the site. My design brief gave my designer targets to hit and a guide for decision-making. She liked it and referred to it often. She told me so.

I invited feedback on the design and made changes. We tested the site. It was ready. It was time.

And then…

Part 2. My Blog Relaunch/Rebrand/Redesign: What I Did Wrong. No Doubt About It.

Luck was my lady. I had been blogging for six months and everything I tried, worked, and worked easily.

Then I made some quick, on-the-fly, hosting-related decisions and it all came crashing down.

Literally. There was an FTP error and internal permissions problem and what my hosting provider described to me in confidence-inspiring, technical language as a “zit”.

My new, pretty site? Nowhere to be found. My old ugly site? Also missing.

My sanity? See above. The same answers apply.

My Luck Runs Out. My Hosting Company Hates Me. Worse, It Is Indifferent.

In the midst of the bleeding and the bullets and grievous wounds inflicted upon me and my blog by my apparently uncaring service provider, I had a talk with a friend who manages huge communications projects with fancy, schmancy interactive sites. It went like this:

Friend: Can I suggest something?

Kelly Diels: Please.

Friend: Look at your site as your third child and guard it accordingly. Anytime someone is going to touch it, ask the following four questions:

A. Is it necessary?
B. What is the change?
C. What is the impact of that change?
D. What is the implementation/reversion plan? If the change goes to poop [KD note: he said a bad word here, but I'm prettying it up for you], how do I get back to my original state?

Your site must be up 24/7 as you never know who might be trying to access it. You probably have this in-hand but just my thoughts.

Kelly Diels: That was good. A little structure would have been useful…and preventative. I did not scope out the conversion process at all.

Friend: See your site as priority #1 and question and approve any changes made to it. Own it. It is not a toy. It is your business.

Kelly Diels: That is good advice.

Friend (pressing his luck): Thank you. Can I feel your breasts?

Kelly Diels: No.

Luckily, Boot-straps Are Good For Self-Flagellation, Too. Indulge Me.

You see what kind of emergency state I was in? I was soliciting advice (wise, as it turns out) from a very, very bad man.

I blame the trickster luck for my dilemma. If I wasn’t so lucky, all the time, I probably would have been more cautious. Maybe I would have done my research and made a plan. I certainly would have done things differently.

What I would do differently:

  1. Research service standards and guarantees.
    • I should have researched service standards for hosting and compared them. If something is wrong, how fast does it get fixed?  
    • I should have researched the internal business processes for hosts. If something is wrong, do I call and it gets resolved right now? Or does a queue ticket get issued and the techies get to it when they get to it?
    • I also should have researched what my current host would need from me to expedite transferring my domain to another hosting company. (Heads up, service provider.)
  2. Compare real costs. I would have consciously evaluated whether it is a good idea to choose a hosting provider that does or does not have a toll-free number. The company I chose does NOT have a toll-free number. I saved money by choosing a low-cost hosting package but then paid the difference -and then some, over and over – in long-distance charges. This is false economy.
  3. Question everything. I should have scoped out my hosting questions, up front, as part of the project plan. Instead, I chose the path of (apparent) least resistance, which was to stay with my current provider. (Heads up, current provider.)
  4. Invite feedback. I would have invited my developer’s opinion about companies she’s used (and loved!) in the past. I would have asked questions and solicited advice from my friends in the know about this sort of thing before I started, instead of in the midst, from the trenches, whilst under fire and bleeding.
  5. Question everything. Again. I would have asked my lecherous friend’s evil genius questions (above) about every single detail and at every decision point. For example, because my developer told me to, I switched my hosting from Windows to Linux. I made this choice without hesitation or investigation. This switch is exactly what caused the problem and caused my site to go offline for four days (and counting – at the time of writing it is still down). I didn’t anticipate the consequences of my decision because I didn’t think through the decision in the first place.
  6. Cop tools. Whatever it is that you’re doing, you are not the first to do this, so learn from the mistakes and successes of others. Ask them for their tools. My friend, for example, sent me a change management log to track edits and decisions to my site. It is usefulness gone Excel. My body parts are still off-limits, though.
  7. Formalize. Undertake and scope your own projects as thoroughly as you would for a client. Scope it. Question it. Plan it. Record it. Measure it. MANAGE it.
  8. Own it. Lead it. You ARE the leader. I would have taken my own business advice about blogging and owned it. Yes, it is a wise business decision to outsource the stuff I’m not good at; but I didn’t need to give away my authority, too. I should have assumed a Project Manager role instead of a passive client role. I should have forced myself to understand every single step and hurdle instead of thinking someone else would handle it because that is her job and she knows what she is doing. (She did it and she does.) This doesn’t mean that I would force myself to be well-rounded – which is a waste of energy – but I should have understood the issues and approached this more strategically.
  9. Anticipate problems. In addition to my lucky, cursed Plan A, I should have had Plan B through Z. I should have anticipated and assumed SNAFUs and adverse conditions and strategized accordingly.
  10. Eat your mistakes whole and do it better, next time. Please.

This is all basic project management stuff – which I know, and actually DO in my day job – applied to a context with which I’m not familiar (hosting, databases, technical details, design). I should have applied the skills and rigour of my “real” job to my own business. I’m still amazed that I didn’t.

I know why I didn’t. It was luck and freedom. They’re villains.

Part of the appeal of having your own business is the freedom to plot your own path and not be beholden by externally prescribed rules and processes. But some processes – like project scoping and management – are essential, and just because they feel work-like and bureaucratic doesn’t mean you should dismiss them. I will never, ever not scope a personal project again.

Luck and the Lady-Blogger. Not a Love Story.

Recently, I was interviewed as an “up and coming” blogger by another blogger. Srinivas Rao asked me how I figured out how to blog. Did I take a course, seek out resources and guides? Or am I making it up as I go along?

I said:
Oh, I am tap-dancing in the wind and the wind has no rhythm.

Until this week, that was both a flippant and a true answer. That’s freedom talking. And that was stupid.

The interview was for Srini’s blog called Skool of Life, which is very appropriate because the lessons I learned this week about how NOT to relaunch your blog are definitely school of life-ish stuff.

The best lessons usually are. I heard this on Twitter, so it must be true.

Luckily, I will do better next time. Because next time I won’t rely on luck.

Kelly Diels is a freelance writer and creator of the blog Cleavage (about sex, money and meaning, what’s not to love?) which has caused her to sob deep and wide rivers of tears this week. The blog is now fixed and prettier than ever. Please go look.

$72,000 in E-Books in a Week – 8 Lessons I Learned

Over the last 11 days I’ve been on a massive learning curve.

This post is a number of the scattered lessons I’ve been learning – mainly from the launch of my Portraits E-book over at Digital Photography School. This builds upon the post – The Insiders View of How I Launched My New E-book from last week.

Update on the Launch

In the last few hours I’ve ended the official launch process of the e-book. You may remember that we launched the book with a 25% off discount on the book that was to last a bit over a week (9 days actually).

In that time we’ve sold a bit over 4800 e-books.

Before you rush off to grab the calculator – that’s a little bit below $72,000 USD since launch.

While it has certainly been a profitable week – do keep in mind that there are some costs to take off this figure, it’s not all profit. PayPal takes a fee off every transaction, there were design costs, proof reading, affiliate commissions etc.

All in all it’s been a fun week but I’d learned a lot about this type of launch that I’ll do differently next time.

Lesson #1: Offers with Deadlines Work:

You’ll see from the following chart the number of sales each day during the launch.

e-book-sales.png

Day 1 and 2 were the ‘pre-launch’ – held over the weekend and basically a trickle of sales from a couple of tweets that I made.

Day 3 was launch day. It was when I emailed my list, posted on the DPS blog, tweeted in earnest about it and posted my last post mentioning it here on ProBlogger. It was a great day of sales.

Days 4-9 saw me do a few promotions on Twitter and an attempt by me to get my affiliates for the product promoting it. I’ll talk more about the affiliate promotions below. I also mentioned the e-book in the weekly newsletter that I sent out (Day 5) but that promotion wasn’t as in your face as others as I didn’t want to burn out readers. These days were steady in terms of sales which surprised me a little as Thanksgiving was in the middle of it all!

Day 10 was the day I sent out my final ‘last chance’ email to my list. It was a short email simply reminding them that they had 36 hours to go to take action on the 25% discount. The email also linked to a page on the blog where I had a number of reviews from other blogs that said nice things about the e-book.

This last action email and the post on the blog drove a heap of sales. I was expecting it to be a good day but Day 10 went past the launch and considering that the promotion ended halfway through Day 11′s figures that was a good day too.

All in all I think this chart illustrates the power of having an offer with a deadline. The sense of urgency and scarcity that such an offer brings about is powerful.

Lesson #2 – Extra Launch Offer

One thing that I almost immediately regretted with this offer was not having a time sensitive offer that ended after 24 hours. While the first day and last day were great, the reaction of a lot of readers on Day #1 was ‘I’ll think about it’.

Perhaps having a fast action bonus of some kind might have helped convert some of these procrastinating buyers. I’m sure some did end up buying but perhaps not having a fast action bonus lost a few sales on launch day.

Lesson #3 – Mid Promotion Offer

I mentioned above that on Day 5 I mentioned the e-book in my weekly newsletter. I showed the above chart to a couple of experienced internet marketers over the last few hours and each one of them said it’s a pretty typical result. The first and last day of an offer are generally the biggest.

However a couple of them also suggested that they also try to do a mid launch promotion also. In this way they try to get their chart to look more like a W than the V that my chart is like.

Upon reflection I could have done something similar with a number of things. Next time I’ll consider a post and/or email mid launch that points to some reviews/testamonials of the product as well as adding an extra bonus.

Jeff Walker did a nice mid launch promotion on his latest launch that seemed to work well – midway through he added a series of extra bonuses for buyers.

Lesson #4 – Affiliates Need More Hand Holding

Next time around I will be putting a lot more effort into developing relationships with the affiliates promoting the promotion. While 2-3 of the affiliates did quite good promotions – they were in the minority. Here’s what I’ll work on next time:

  1. communicating with affiliates before the launch – the craziness of the launch I didn’t start equipping affiliates until I’d already launched. While I did have a couple of them set up and ready to go most signed up on Day 3-4 and didn’t start promoting until days 5-6 which coincided with Thanksgiving.
  2. tips for affiliates – as I watched the promotions that some of the affiliates ran it became pretty obvious that many didn’t really have much experience in affiliate marketing – I think I assumed too much and should have developed some resources for them that showed them how to promote the e-book. While I’m not a big fan of swipe files and would never use them myself when promoting a product – I can now see why many people offer them to affiliates.
  3. banners – again, I wish I’d put a little more time aside to put together some banners and other graphics for affiliates to use. This was on my list of things to do but in the whirlwind of the last few days before launch it didn’t happen.
  4. recruit affiliates – I think this will get easier as I launch more products because I’ll have previous affiliates already set up but next time there are a few sites that I’d like to target as potential affiliates that didn’t come on board this time. Perhaps they didn’t come on because it was all too last minute or perhaps I simply didn’t have the relationship with them that I thought I did – but next time I want to be more prepared and have done more groundwork in this area.

Lesson #5 – Pre Launch Buzz

Apart from a few comments in passing in newsletters and blog posts – I did very very little to build anticipation on DPS in the weeks before this launch. I think I wasn’t wanting to build unrealistic expectations with readers or to be too in your face – and in doing so failed to create ANY anticipation among readers.

I look back now and think I should have done more – perhaps doing a live interview with a portrait photographer in the days before, running a competition, publishing an excerpt from the e-book…. etc

I don’t think that these pre-launch promotions need to be ‘in your face’ at all – rather they should both build buzz but also be useful to readers.

Lesson #6 – Price Isn’t Everything

When I ended the 25% off discount I expected that the folder in my inbox that collects emails about new sales would sit dormant for a while. The promotion is over – sales will stop now won’t they?

Not true. The price is back up to it’s normal price now of $19.95 but the sales are coming in pretty much at the same rate that they were before the discount. There’s still a certain buzz going around about the E-book and this momentum continues to drive sales. Even since writing this post we’ve had another 10!

Lesson #7 – It Takes a lot of work

This type of launch is both exhilarating and exhausting.

The excitement of launching this 9 days ago was fantastic. Seeing the first sales being rung up over the first few hours was a real buzz. Getting up each morning and realizing that you’d sold several hundred e-books was great.

However the number of emails that I’ve personally replied to this week must have been quite a few hundred. The weight of customer service type queries that come in when doing a launch is massive.

People whose computers crash during downloads, problems with credit cards, complaints about PayPal, people with old versions of Adobe Reader that mean they can’t read the PDF, people who fail to see that you’re selling an E-Book not a hard cover book (despite you slapping it all over your sales page)….. etc

This is just the territory that comes with this type of launch and if I were smart I’d probably have outsourced it – but it was good to get my head across it all as it taught me a lot.

Lesson #8 – Products are Powerful For More than Just the Money They Earn

I’m planning a post on this later in the week so won’t say too much except that both with this Portrait e-book and the development of 31 Days to Build a Better Blog workbook I’ve discovered that having a product of your own is something quite powerful.

Not only is it an income stream – but it’s something that has a real impact upon both your readers and your standing in your niche/industry:

  • I’ve noticed that readers are quite excited about the launch – they are proud that a blog that they belong to has it’s own resource.
  • Some readers somehow feeling more ownership of the blog because they have bought the e-book. I guess they now have something a little more tangible from the blog that they own.
  • I’ve also had a few emails from others in the photography space who seem to have taken a bit more notice of the site as a result of the e-book. It’s already opened doors.

That’s it for now – I’m going to log off now for a bit and have a glass of bubbly before crashing into bed to try and recuperate before I have to do it all again!

7 Questions to Ask On Your Blog to Get More Reader Engagement

Have you ever been ‘talked at’ instead of had someone ‘talk with’ you in a real life conversation? It doesn’t feel good to have someone talk AT you.

It leaves you feeling like you might as well not have been there at all.

Blogs can be like that and in this post we explore the power of asking questions on your blog and I share 7 types of questions you can ask to increase reader engagement.

[Read more...]

What to Do When Your Search Rankings Drop

“I just lost all my Google traffic – help!”

This request hits my inbox every week or two from a distraught blogger who has logged into the blog’s statistics one morning only to discover that most of their traffic has completely disappeared due to the all powerful Google making some kind of change in their algorithm and how they rank sites which resulted in that particular blog either disappearing from search results or at least being buried many pages down in the rankings.

The feeling associated with this discovery of a loss of traffic can be sickening.

I still remember the first time it happened to me (back in 2004) as if it were yesterday – it was like someone had sucker punched me in the gut – really took the wind out of my sails.

Up until the day it happened traffic had been healthy on my blog – healthy enough to just make a full time living from. Then when the traffic from Google disappeared I was down to 30% of what I’d come to see as ‘normal’ traffic and suddenly my dreams of being a full time blogger seemed over.

What to do when your Google Traffic Disappears

OK – so the question that I’m asked each time this happens to a ProBlogger reader is – what should I do?

It’s a tough question to answer – partly because I’m not Google and don’t have any insight into your particular situation and partly because each time it happens it is different. I’m also not an SEO expert am won’t give you any technical advice – but let me give you some general advice to start with:

1. Don’t Panic

I’ve had this happen to me at least 5 times over the last 7 years of blogging and most successful bloggers I know can recall a similar number of Google fluctuations that have brought decreases (and increases) in traffic in their blogging history. It happens to us all – sometimes in big ways and sometimes in small ways. In chatting with one Google employee recently he told me that they are making daily (and more) changes to the way that they rank sites (mainly small tweaks) so over time we’ll all notice changes.

The key is not to make massive big changes to your site’s SEO too quickly or as a gut reaction to a change in your ranking.

For me the first time that this happened (when I lost 70% of my traffic) I was very tempted to make big changes to my site to try to fix things. I was advised by a few wise and experienced web masters to wait. I did and a few weeks later almost all of the traffic returned. Google fixed itself (phew).

If the traffic doesn’t come back after an extended period you might want to get some expert SEO advice and make some larger changes – but I personally am glad that I’d seen out the dips in traffic rather than doing anything to hurt my long term rankings.

Of course there are times when you might need to make some changes…. such as….

2. Have You Done Anything Black Hat?

Google has guidelines in place for webmasters. If you want to rank well in their search engine you need to play by their rules. Of course there’s a whole industry around ‘bending’ and ‘manipulating’ the rules and many web masters make a living by doing it – however if you are caught breaking the rules by Google you’re likely to be penalized.

If this is the case for you you have two choice:

I know of numerous bloggers who’ve asked for reconsideration and have been reinstated back into the index. It can take a little while (the last one said it took a couple of weeks for them) but in the long run it can be well worthwhile.

3. Build Other Sources of Traffic

The biggest lesson that I learned back in 2004 when I lost most of my traffic as a result of a Google algorithm change was that I needed to diversify my approach to building traffic to my blogs.

Up until that time I was almost exclusively working on driving traffic via Google. It was like a drug that I’d become dependent upon in some ways and much of my day was spent writing content for Google and attempting to ‘get links’ to that content from other sites. I was not really writing for regular readers or trying to build community on my blog – I just wanted traffic that I hoped would click my ads and affiliate programs.

This approach had worked for me – however when my Google traffic disappeared I was left with little and realized how short sighted I’d been. I began to change my focus and started working on other sources of traffic.

I still love the traffic that Google sends me but today if it all disappeared it would hurt – but it wouldn’t be the end for my business. Next week I want to followup this post with another one looking at some of the ways to become less reliant upon Google traffic and to build traffic from other sources – stay tuned for more.

Subscribe to the ProBlogger Newsletter 2.0 Here

Today I’m pleased to announce that the ProBlogger Newsletter is Back!

The next newsletter to go out is queued to go out in 10 hours from now (update: it’s now been sent but you can see it here and sign up for future ones below).

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Early on in the life of ProBlogger I produced a weekly newsletter that ran parallel to this blog.

I did this as a way for readers to keep in touch with the latest information about the blog, get a little exclusive inside information on what I’d been doing, to promote new products and services available to bloggers and to make advance announcements about ProBlogger. The newsletter was well received by readers.

Unfortunately due to other projects the newsletter got put on the back burner – until now.

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Frequency: I aim to put this email out 2-3 times per month.

Content: There will be a similar mix of content to last time and it will include:

  • Recaps on the hot threads of conversation on ProBlogger from the last week
  • Inside information on techniques that I’m trying in my blogging
  • Pointing out tools and services that you might find useful
  • Exclusive newsletter only tips from time to time that won’t go up on the blog (or at least won’t appear on the blog for a few weeks)

Each week will be a little different – for example this week’s newsletter is a story of how I’m changing my approach to blogging for income – it doesn’t include an update on the latest posts from ProBlogger – next week’s will be more of an update from the blog – the week after’s will be something different again.

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