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The Win – Win Scenario: Holding Successful Blog Contests

A guest post by Jodi Friedman from MCP Actions.

Do you have contests on your blog? Do you ever wonder why so many blogs are doing contests now? One of the reasons is that, when done right, they are a win-win scenario. You can increase your traffic and readership, create excitement, and help promote companies and products.

If you are new to contests, you may be lost and wondering how to get started. Having run very successful giveaways for both national companies and smaller businesses on the MCP Actions photography blog, I have learned skills to make them even more effective. You can see some of my past blog contests and winners announced here.

Before running a contest, work on building your blog traffic and your presence ion social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. While there is no magic number, you want confidence that you will get entries, making it worthwhile for you and the sponsor.

Next, you need to find companies that want to give away products or services. After doing contests for a while, companies find you. But to start, you may want to try the following:

  • Contact your advertisers – this is a great opportunity for more exposure than a simple banner.
  • If you have affiliate ads on your blog, contact these companies. Again it is a great way to get them more exposure.
  • Have a button on your website or blog that leads to a page explaining the benefits of donating prizes for a contest. You can see one in the right column of my blog.
  • Make a list of items you feel your readers would like to win. For example, since I run a photography blog, prizes I look for range from lenses for SLR cameras, to Photoshop products, to camera bags, to marketing materials for photographers.
    • Once you identify these items, contact the company via email or even phone, and explain what you are hoping they will donate and what you will give in return.
    • Clearly show your web statistics, using a tool like Google analytics.
    • Explain how the contest will be conducted, links you will provide to their site and any advertising you will include.
    • Describe how you plan to publicize the contest.
    • If they agree to donate prizes, make sure to keep them posted during the contest. They may end up sending traffic your way too.
    • Send a thank you note when the give-away concludes.
  • Use your own products for a give-away – if you sell a product, chances are your audience wants to win it. So make sure to give them occasional opportunities to win.

Once you have prizes, you need to organize the contest. How? What? When? Where?

  • Where to host?
    • Blog – My contests work best directly on my blog, using the comment section for entries.
    • For short length contests, Facebook and Twitter are also great venues.
    • Forums – if you have a forum, this is an excellent place for holding contests. But remember, not everyone will be able to see it. It can be a great way to get people to join the forum if you publicize it well at other venues.
    • Mailing list/Newsletter – you can utilize your newsletter for contests, though where to have people enter can be trickier.
  • When to have the contest? How long should the contest last?
    • When to start and end a contest: there is no magic to this. So much depends on your traffic.
    • I like to start contests on my peek volume days, Tuesday and Wednesday. And I usually end them on a Sunday, which is my lowest traffic day. I often take Saturday and Sunday off from blogging, so this is a “free” space on my blog. Plus it gets people coming to check when they might not otherwise.
    • I occasionally have vendors ask if they can do a 1-day contest, which I will allow. The perk to a one day contest is people feel they need to participate right then. Also, no other posts cover the contest up on my blog. This format works great on Facebook and Twitter as well.
    • I shy away from 2-day contests, since they would begin and end in prime time on my blog. I have not found a reason to end at a time of high traffic since these posts are often not filled with content.
    • Again, this is what works for me. You may find something completely different works well for you.
  • How people will enter?
    • Darren wrote an article about competitions and said that keeping it simple is most important. And I agree with this, especially on the entry side of things.
    • On my blog, I ask a simple, yet meaningful question (or sometimes a few). To enter, people answer the question(s) and add your entry to the comment section.
    • Of course if you want to have a photo contest, for example, then you need clear instructions on where to upload photos to, etc.
    • Consider offering additional entries for spreading the word, joining your Facebook Page or following you on Twitter.
  • How can you publicize the contest? Of course there are dozens of ways to get the word out. Assuming it is a blog contest, I usually do the following:
    • Make sure to link to the company providing the prize(s). Remember, you need to add value for the sponsor.
    • Post to Twitter.
    • Post to Facebook.
    • Post to any other social media networks you use.
    • Give extra entries to others that post to social networking sites.
    • For my biggest contests, I will send out a newsletter, but I reserve that for just a few times a year at most.
    • Thousands a day read my blog so many see the contest just by their regular visits or RSS.
    • Ask the person donating the prizes can also send out a post or tweet and Facebook about it.
  • When will the contest winner(s) be announced?
    • Make sure to let your audience know where and when you will announce the winner(s).
    • You can announce winners in a blog post, or to get people on your social networking sites, consider occasionally announcing winners on Twitter of Facebook.
    • Announcements can be short or you can use them as an opportunity to talk more about the products and company that sponsored the give-away.
  • How will you pick the winners?
    • In picking the winner, you can choose based on content, voting or random draw (and possibly other ways but these are the ones I have used).
    • For content, this could be picking the “best” photo or the “favorite” comment. This is subjective and sometimes can lead to frustration. But I see this done a lot on blogs.
    • Voting: On the rare occasion that I do a photo contest, I usually narrow down to the 10-15 best entries (in my opinion). Then I open it up for voting. The perk to this type of contest is contestants help spread the word for you. They tell friends, family and social networking contacts to come vote. This can be very viral.
    • Then there is luck… Picking based on random drawing. Most of my contests are this type. I use either a random picker (like random.org) or I have my kids pick X amount of numbers between 1 and the end number of the contest. This gets my children involved and makes things more personal. For huge prizes, like camera lenses and such, I tend to use the online picker so I can show the results in a screen shot.

This post was an overview on running contests. While it is not a full e-book on how to run contests, I hope you picked up some useful information. Please share what works for you in the comments and expand on ideas explained here too.

This post was written by Jodi Friedman, who runs a successful Photography and Photoshop Blog. Jodi is the popular creator of Photoshop actions and Online Group Photoshop Trainings for Photographers. MCP Actions provides great products and resources for both hobbyist and professional photographers who want to improve their post processing and take their photography to the next level. If you are serious about the quality of your images or your photography business, visit MCP Actions.

You can also find Jodi on Facebook, Twitter, and through her RSS Feed.

Top 10 Blogosphere Trends + 10 Great List Posts

This column is written by Kimberly Turner from Regator (a great tool that gathers and organizes the world’s best blog posts). – Darren

Each week, Regator brings you a list of the ten stories bloggers have been writing about most during the previous seven days (click any trend to see a list of posts about it). And while blogging about the week’s hottest topics may help you snag some new readers, it also puts you squarely in the center of a massive crowd, all talking about the same subject. That’s why, along with the top ten lists, I always give examples of posts that covered the week’s top stories in interesting ways.

We’ve already looked at interesting formats that can inspire you and add variety to your blog. Today, we’ll look in more detail at one of those formats: list posts. Writing a list post is the assignment for Day 2 of the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog Workbook because (among other reasons) list posts are scannable, succinct, visually attractive, persuasive, and have a higher than average chance of going viral. If you’re new to this type of post, get some valuable tips by checking out “10 Steps to the Perfect List Post.” Let’s see how some bloggers used lists to cover this week’s top stories:

  1. Gulf of Mexico – By offering five solutions, Inhabitat’s Top 5 Green Ways to Clean Up Oil Spills ensures that readers know exactly what they are being promised.
  2. Rand PaulThe Atlantic Wire’s 6 Ways Rand Paul Is Like Sarah Palin uses a bullet-pointed list to break up what might otherwise have been an unwieldy block of text providing comparisons between the two politicians.
  3. Google TV ­– 7 Ways to Watch Web Video Without Google TV gives readers value through tips on products, along with the pros and cons of each. Using a non-round number such as seven can have the effect of encouraging readers to add to the list in the comments, which has happened on this Gadget Lab post.
  4. French Open ­– The Bleacher Report’s 10 French Open Observations, provides tennis enthusiasts with ten scenes from this important event. As one commenter noted, the post keeps things “brief and moving along.”
  5. North Korea – As demonstrated by PajamasMedia’s North vs. South Korea: How Bad Could a War Get? list posts don’t always have to be numbered. Breaking this story down into “The Good News,” “The Bad News,” “The Worse News,” and “The Downright Scary News,” dissects and simplifies a complex situation.
  6. World CupAbduzeedo’s The 10 Stadiums of the 2010 World Cup is appropriately image-heavy and text-light for this design-focused blog and uses the round number 10, which (like 25, 50, or 100) lends the post a certain amount of authority.
  7. Mark Zuckerberg ­– Agree to Disagree’s 5 Ways to Deal with Facebook’s Privacy Policy shows that the list itself might be only part of your post. Create the list then spend the rest of your post playing devil’s advocate or debating the pros and cons of each item.
  8. Craig VenterJacks of Science used a bold, attention-grabbing, humorous headline to sell 5 Reasons Craig Venter Might Kill You. It’s not a brand-new post relating to Venter’s recent creation of the first synthetic life, but it does provide interesting trivia in a fun-to-digest format.
  9. Series Finale ­– BuzzSugar’s The Top 10 Highlights From the American Idol Season Finale! uses the word “top” to create interest. Words like “top” and “best” lead your readers to believe that they’re seriously missing out if they don’t read your post and therefore tend to do very well in the titles of list posts. Techland’s 10 Ways LOST Shouldn’t End takes the opposite approach and looks at the worst ways the show could end rather than the best. Lists of the “worst,” “most awful,” “most disastrous” also tend to do well. Call it schadenfreude.
  10. Shrek Forever AfterReelz Channel’s Top 10 “Wow, You’ve Really Let Yourself Go” Movies uses one timely story to illustrate a trend, presenting each list item with a clear subheadline in larger text and bolded phrase that hopes to intrigue readers into reading the smaller text.

How often do you use list posts? Under what circumstances to you think they work best? Let us know in the comments.

Kimberly Turner is a cofounder of Regator.com and Regator for iPhone as well as an award-winning print journalist. You can find her on Twitter @kimber_regator.

How to Turn Your Blog Into a Product Launch Engine
[Free 78 Minute Video Plus 4 Free Workbooks]

Over the last 18 months my blogging business has undergone a real shift in the way that I’m making money. While I first reached a six figure annual income 4-5 years ago based almost completely upon advertising revenue – in the last 18 months I’ve transitioned my business to close to a seven figure income by shifting some of my focus away from the ad game and toward launching my own products.

I’m not the only one who has done this – every week I’m seeing more and more bloggers releasing products, whether they be e-books, teaching resources, webinars, membership sites, software etc.

dave-navarro.pngIf you’re one of these bloggers today I have an exclusive teaching resource from product launch specialist Dave Navarro (pictured right) that I think you’ll find very helpful.

It’s a 78 minute video where Dave talks you through How to Turn Your Blog Into a Product Launch Engine.

I love the way that Dave approaches his online business. It’s all about delivering value, building a sustainable business (not just going for the fast dollar), acting with integrity (he’s very real and is not one of ‘those’ hyped marketers) and he’s very relational.

In the video Dave covers the following (and more):

  • Why most products fail before they’re launched (and how to guarantee yours succeeds)
  • How to stand out and get attention in a market saturated with “free” offers
  • My simple 6-step process for a successful product launch – use it again and again
  • How to make subscribers spread the word about your list so it grows quickly
  • The one question about your customers you MUST get crystal clear on to make money
  • What really makes people click the “Add to Cart” button (it’s not what you think)

Best of all – the video is based upon Dave’s insights just for ProBlogger readers – I sent him some questions that I knew readers here would find value in hearing answers about – it’s tailored for you.

In addition to the 78 minute video Dave’s also offering his four workbooks from the Launch Coach Library for free.

To get the video and workbooks all you need to do is sign up for his newsletter which I’d be recommending you do anyway as Dave’s constantly delivering insights and quality teaching.

There’s no obligation to do anything more than get the newsletter (which you can unsubscribe from any time if it’s not where you’re at).

How to Pitch Bloggers – Make it a Win/Win/Win Situation

Here’s a quick tip for companies or individuals pitching to bloggers to link to their products, services, events, sites etc:

Make it a Win/Win/Win interaction!

A Quick Story

Yesterday I was pitched to on my photography blog by a company running training events for photographers. They felt that they had a useful training event that would help my readers and as a result thought it’d be great for everyone if I linked up to it and gave it a little promotion.

I went to the event page and it did look like a useful event – however I came away from the pitch feeling a little less than inspired to promote it because it wasn’t really a Win/Win/Win situation.

  • I could see how dPS promoting it would be a win for the company running the event – we have 3 million or so readers and a certain % of them would sign up for the event.
  • I could see how promoting it might be a ‘win’ for my readers – they learn something about photography.
  • But I struggled to see the ‘win’ for me and the site. Yes, helping my readers could have some benefits for us as a site – however there was no direct win really.

The thing I fed back to the event organiser was that I’m asked to promote events most days of the week so I’m a little selective in what I promote partly because I don’t want to overwhelm our readers. I’m also ideally looking to promote things that provide value for readers (and so reject some events simply because they’re irrelevant or don’t see to be high quality) AND also want to see some benefit to my site also as a result of it.

I fed back to them that while that might seem a little greedy and self interested – that I’m running a business here (as they are) and if I’m promoting a commercial event then I have an expectation that not only the organisers of the event should benefit. I’m looking for mutually beneficial partnerships.

How to Make Your Pitch a Win/Win/Win Pitch

If you’re pitching bloggers – don’t just look to get something out of it for yourself – you need to be pitching in a way that the bloggers readers will benefit (this is mainly about promoting relevant and high quality products) and hopefully where the blogger/blog itself will benefit in some way.

This doesn’t just mean financial wins for the bloggers (although that should certainly be considered if you’re benefiting financially) but it could include numerous things. Here are a few ‘wins’ for bloggers that might increase your chances of a successful pitch:

  • advertising – one obvious type of financial win is to buy advertising on the site. Whether this be a banner ad, an in-post ad, a newsletter sponsorship or some other kind of ad – this at least compensates the blogger for promoting your event.
  • affiliate deal – paying the blogger for a conversion/sale is a good way to go for you because you’re only paying for conversions and good for the bloggers as it gives them real incentive to promote your product/service/event.
  • promotion – an exchange in terms of promotion could work – if the blogger is promoting you, why not agree to promote them back either at your event, on your site etc. Promoting them as a sponsor or partner won’t cost you anything but helps the blogger to do something that they’re on about – growing their blog.
  • product – many bloggers will accept products either as payment or to give away to their readers as prizes. In a sense this is payment (and most bloggers will want to disclose it) but it’s going to cost you less while still delivering value to the blogger for their promotion.

I’m sure there are other ways you could bring some value to a blogger (feel free to share some in comments) – the key is to find a way to not only deliver value to yourself and their readers – but to them also.

Wibiya Toolbar [First Impression Review]

Over the last week I’ve been trialling the Wibiya Toolbar on my photography blog.

For those of you unfamiliar with it it is a little toolbar that appears at the bottom of the browser of those who visit your blog which allows them to do a variety of tasks. You can see it in the bottom of the screen shot below (click to enlarge).

wibiya-toolbar.png

The toolbar is customizable so there are a variety of applications that you can add to it.

On my toolbar I’ve enabled a number of applications including:

  • Search – allows readers to search your blog (or the web) via Google
  • Recent Posts – when clicked it shows the latest posts on the blog (while not as useful on the front page where these posts are already displayed it can help increase page views from single posts.
  • Real Time Users - shows readers how many others are online and what they’re reading
  • Random Posts - when clicked it takes readers to a random post on your blog
  • Link Menu - allows you to add in a variety of key links on your site (like a little navigation menu, I have mine pointing to key categories and sections)
  • Digg This - allows readers to digg your posts from the toolbar
  • Subscribe - allows readers to subscribe to your RSS feed
  • Smart Share - allows readers to share your posts via a variety of means including on social bookmarking sites, twitter, facebook and via email
  • Facebook - allows readers to see your facebook fan page without leaving your site via a popup
  • Twitter - allows readers to see your twitter stream as well as tweet a link out about your page without leaving your page

There are quite a few other applications/tabs that you can choose from and a number of options within some of them to different features.

You’re also abe to choose a color scheme to suit your page.

There are a variety of ways of installing it into your blog including via a WordPress plugin for those using WP.

The Results

I’ve been testing the Wibiya toolbar for about 10 days now so it’s time to look at the ‘result’ and stats that they provide publishers to see what impact (if any) using the toolbar has had.

Here’s a quick screenshot of the dashboard having selected stats for the last 7 days:

Screen shot 2010-05-25 at 3.38.28 PM.png

The top section of stats provides stats for each of the ‘tabs/applications’. You can drill down a little more on each one like this one for the ‘latest posts’ tab:

Screen shot 2010-05-25 at 3.41.40 PM.png

Worth noting – the stats in the first screen shot above do look a little more impressive than the reality as can be illustrated by the ‘latest posts’ stats which show that 586 people clicked the ‘latest posts’ toolbar tab but only 83 clicks on other posts were recorded (meaning less than 1 in 7 of the 669 people who clicked the latest posts tab actually visited another page). This is true for almost all of the other tabs. Here’s some examples:

Screen shot 2010-05-25 at 3.44.38 PM.png

Screen shot 2010-05-25 at 3.45.00 PM.png

Screen shot 2010-05-25 at 3.45.21 PM.png

Screen shot 2010-05-25 at 3.45.32 PM.png

A few comments about these results:

  1. people were clicking on the toolbar a lot without doing anything. I suspect this was partly a ‘curiosity factor’ at play as the toolbar is new and people are still working out what to do with it and how it works.
  2. considering the traffic of the site the ‘actions’ were pretty low. Wibiya doesn’t give you any stats on how many times the toolbar loaded (that’d be handy) but as the blog area of dPS (the area it was showing) does over 146,000 page views per day (over 1 million per week) I was a little surprised by the low numbers of actions. They recorded about 3000 actions in the week but considering that most of those were simply clicks on the tool bar the real conversions were not super high.
  3. the stats could be a lot more insightful – perhaps Wibiya will be adding a premium model where you pay for more detail but I didn’t find that some of the stats that they gave were that insightful. For example:
    • it’d be handy to know that not only 83 people clicked on latest posts but to also know which posts they clicked on
    • it’d be great to known which links in the navigation links tab were clicked
    • It’d be handy to know what those 255 searches were for
    • similarly it’d be cool to know which posts were Dugg
    • it’d be great to know which posts were shared
  4. the other considerations that I need to take into account is the fact that I also had reader feedback during the last 10 days about the toolbar. In fact we’ve had a number of threads in our forum area talking about it and the feedback has been mixed. Originally I had the toolbar installed in the forum area as well as the blog – but I removed this after members complained at a ratio of about 9:1. On the blog area I’ve also had both negative and positive feedback about it (something I’ll keep monitoring. It seems that those complaining about it just don’t like anything popping up or obscuring any part of their browser (not surprising – even though the toolbar is pretty slim and is on the least unobtrusive part of the page).

There have obviously been some benefits from having the toolbar. I’m not complaining about having new followers, subscribers and more page views…. however the question I have to ask is whether the results are enough considering the page views and interruption of readers.

I’m going to run it for another week to see what happens when the curiosity factor with readers dies off a little more before I make any final decisions.

Have you experimented with the Wibiya toolbar (or similar ones) – what impact has it had on your site?

Join the Third Tribe Before the Price Changes

If you’re struggling to find your place in this internet marketing game and feel torn between the hype and obnoxious tactics of some of the traditional internet marketers and the ideals, principles and yet lack of profitability of many of the social media purists… you just might want to check out The Third Tribe.

Third Tribe was designed as a place for those who see themselves as internet entrepreneurs who want to embrace and learn from different types of internet marketers – yet who don’t want to abandon their principles, ethics and sell their souls along the journey.

thirdtribe.jpg

Two weeks back I posted an update on the Third Tribe and hinted that now was a great time to join as the price would probably be raised in the coming month – on 1 June, the price will rise so this is your last chance to get in at the current level.

The reason for the price rise is simple – since launching we’ve added 10 hours of seminar content and a further 10 hours of other kinds of content including twice monthly Q&A calls. The value that you get out of the archives on day 1 of joining (currently for just $47) has risen – and so will the price if you don’t lock in at the current one.

Seminars already in the archives are:

  • Product Launch Strategies: What Always Works and What’s Working in 2010
    Jeff Walker & Sonia Simone
  • How to Get Your Customers to Do Your Best Marketing for You
    John Jantsch & Chris Brogan
  • Email Marketing Strategies that Work
    Sonia Simone & Brian Clark
  • Action Email: Copywriting Tips for Insanely Effective Email Marketing
    Dave Navarro & Sonia Simone
  • Internet Business Models: Part One – the Problogger model
    Darren Rowse & Brian Clark
  • Internet Business Models: Part Two – the Chris Brogan model
    Chris Brogan & Sonia Simone
  • Internet Business Models: Part Three – the Copyblogger model
    Brian Clark & Sonia Simone
  • Internet Business Models: Part Four – the Zen Habits model
    Leo Babauta & Darren Rowse
  • The Quick Start Guide to Making Money Online
    Johnny Truant & Sonia Simone
  • Advanced Affiliate Marketing with Social Media and SEO
    Brian Clark & Glenn Allsopp

You can get a lot fuller descriptions of the sessions and see the back story on why Brian Clark, Chris Brogan, Sonia Simone and myself started this project on the Third Tribe Site – so check them out.

Of course on top of the content is the community of Third Tribe. With thousands of members coming from a diverse back ground of online disciplines the forum area is a treasure trove of information, knowledge and potential collaborations.

Currently you get all of that plus recordings of the Q&A sessions the minute you subscribe for just $47. You’ve got no obligation to continue your membership after month 1 but if you do you can rest assured in the knowledge that you’re locked in at the current monthly price and won’t pay any more even after the price rise.

If you’ve been thinking about giving Third Tribe a go – it’s a great time to join us! I hope to see you on the inside!

How To Convert Blog Readers To Paying Customers

You work hard to build your blog through traffic and content strategies, but are you working equally as hard at converting readers into paying customers? As Darren demonstrated during his week-long, $72,000 ebook launch, having your own product available for sale can help you generate an impressive revenue stream.

To get to the big numbers, however, you need more than just a high-traffic blog – you need a way to contact your readers via email, because that’s what really drives the sales. Let’s talk about why this is true (and how you can start using your blog to build a list who will buy from you).

The Blessing (and Curse) of A Blog Audience

Blogs are an incredible way to build a connection to your audience. People get a chance to sample your content, get to know you, and establish trust in you, all at their own pace. Your loyal readers can spread the word about you, creating “social proof” and an ongoing stream of new readers. It’s a beautiful thing.

The downside, though, is that a blog audience isn’t necessarily a “real time” audience, meaning that readers may not be keeping current with your content on a daily basis. And this will kill you when it’s time to do a promotion or sale.

You may be running a 5-day special on a new product or service, but what if readers only catch up on their RSS feeds once a week? They may miss out. Or, if their feed reader is too cluttered, they may never get to it at all. You run your promotions, and sales flounder.

But having a growing number of people who are subscribed to your mailing list turns the tables on this problem. If you’re releasing a product today, your subscribers will hear about it via email today – no matter what.

The Advantage Of An Email Audience

Unlike feed readers or tweet streams (which people often skim through, ignoring most of the content), email commands attention in a different way. Readers are used to opening emails in order to figure out what to do with it (read it, save it for later, or delete it), and they’re a lot more likely to give it a look – and click the links inside – within a few hours of it being sent.

So if you’ve got a promotion going tomorrow, you can let all your readers know about it tomorrow. Some may decide to ignore it, but they’ll have at least seen it, because their inbox gets looked at in detail at least once a day.

And if you’ve been doing your job using your blog to warm up your audience, they’ll be more likely to open that email soon after receiving it.

So let’s talk about a few field-tested strategies for getting your readers on your list.

How to Get Blog Visitors On Your List

To get blog visitors on your list, you need to have a reason for them to join up – and in most cases, people offer a freebie such as a special report or audio/video content as an incentive. The challenge with this, however, is that everybody’s doing it.

Years ago, just having something for free was enough to get people to join your list. But these days, people are inundated with free offers so you’ve got to do something more to stand out. Whatever it is that you give away needs to better than good – it needs to be spectacular.

The good news is that making this happen is pretty easy to do. All you need to do is create one small, product-worthy resource that solves one of your potential customers’ biggest problems. It doesn’t have to be a gigantic undertaking – just a resource that represents some of your expertise specifically positioned to solve a reader’s issue or help them become smarter than they were before.

I recommend you actually create a workbook for this free resource, because it’s a format that isn’t used too often and will more readily capture attention. “Special Reports” are a dime a dozen, but most people are accustomed to paying for workbooks, so your offer will automatically appear higher-value.

Why The “Free Product” Model Works So Well For This

Giving away a product-quality resource is an incredible list-building tool because it takes people by surprise – they’re not used to getting something truly substantial for free. And workbooks are particularly powerful because they contain the promise of some fairly immediate results – when the reader gets through it, they’ll either have a particular problem solved or they’ll have more information around a topic that’s important to them.

That promise of immediate results is a powerful motivator to get on your list, get your workbook and go through it. And once your reader finishes that workbook, they’ll be pre-sold on the idea that you are a person worth buying from in the future (after all, if your free stuff is product-quality, how much more impressive will your paid products be?).

One other benefit to this “over the top” free offering is that very few of your competitors will have the guts to do this. Just having this resource puts you at a competitive advantage.

What To Do If This Seems Like A Scary Amount Of Work

By this point you might be thinking that you don’t have the time to make a product-quality offer for your list. But it’s actually easier than you think. You don’t have to create a 100-page PDF or 6 hours of audio – all you need to do is pick one specific pain point your audience has and create a resource that lets them get one step further than they are now.

And to show you just how simple it is, I’ve put together a free workbook that steps you through how to put together a product-quality resource in a weekend (or even one day, if you’re ambitious). It’s not that difficult to do, and the payoff can be huge. I’ve personally used this free workbook strategy to drive over 3,000 people onto my list over the last seven months, all by adding additional free workbooks to a “library” on my blog.

(And the best part is, you can reuse the strategies in the free workbook to create additional products you can charge for after you get people on your list.)

When You’re Ready To Begin Building Your List, Here’s What To Do

What would it do for your blog’s reputation to have a product-quality resource available for free download? And how strong of a good first impression would you make on your readers if you offered it?

Take a look at the free workbook and decide what kind of resource you’re going to create to pull people into your mailing list.  One weekend is all it takes, and it could be the tipping point your blog has been waiting for.

Dave Navarro is a product launch manager who specializes in teaching smart blog owners how to build responsive email lists and create their own high-demand information product platform at his blog, The Launch Coach.

6 Powerful Life Hacks for Bloggers

A Guest Post by David Turnbull of Adventures of a Barefoot Geek

Life hacking has evolved to mean many things but at its core it’s a term for geeks to describe their love of using tech skills to save time, automate boring tasks and confuse people with their array of hot keys, shell scripts and jargon.

As I become more comfortable with expressing my ideas through writing I felt it was time to focus on achieving the same aim with a bit more efficiency and cleverness. These are the solutions I came up with.

Write with Markdown

Writing for the web isn’t all sunshine and lollipops. There’s the ugly necessity of writing out HTML which, while not in any way difficult, makes your writing less readable during the editing process.

Markdown is the answer and the best way to explain Markdown is to show you what it does.

Let’s look at a standard HTML tag: <strong>Bold text goes here</strong> and now the Markdown equivalent: **Bold text goes here**. Doesn’t that look much nicer?

Every common HTML tag has a Markdown equivalent, allowing for improved readability while writing. On a small scale you may not notice much of an improvement, but click here to see a screenshot of this article written in Markdown.

For use with WordPress, install the Markdown for WordPress plugin, which converts the syntax to HTML for your reader but maintains the original syntax for editing.

There’s the added advantage that writing Markdown syntax is quicker than writing out HTML and, in combination with TextExpander (more on this in a second) the time spent formatting your posts will be cut down to seconds.

Speed up your workflow with TextExpander

TextExpander is a killer app and a necessity for serious bloggers.

Here’s an example of its power:

Let’s say I want to create a link using the Markdown syntax. The syntax for that is [Anchor text goes here](http://sitename.com). It’s not much typing by default but all I need to type is :link.

TextExpander recognises that I’ve typed :link and:

  1. Replaces it with the syntax I want.
  2. Inserts the URL I wish to link to between the parentheses (taking it from the clipboard).
  3. Launches an input field titled ‘Anchor text‚Äù that lets me add the link’s anchor text between the square brackets without breaking my flow. (Example)

Let that sink in for a moment. This is one example that saves me 2-3 seconds for every link I include in my articles.

Imagine how much time you could save after setting up your own rules. TextExpander do provide you with thousands of text substitutions out of the box though, so there’s no upfront work required to experience the benefits.

If you use Windows ActiveWords provides similar functionality.

Edit blog posts with any text editor

Text editors are the perfect writing environment. They allow you to focus on what truly matters ‘the writing’ and aren’t bogged down with cumbersome controls that encourage fiddling rather than effectiveness.

Wouldn’t it be great to write and edit blog posts within a text editor? Sure, you can copy and paste text into WordPress, but what if there was a better solution?

All it takes is the ability to edit text fields (like WordPress’ HTML view) using your text editor of choice. Any Cocoa-based browser (like Safari) should allow this by default, but if you’re like the majority of web workers who use Firefox then install the It’s All Text! extension. Setup a hot key and KA-BLAM you’re able to edit any text field you wish with a text editor.

When writing with Markdown this trick lets me combine TextMate’s syntax highlighting with WordPress’ automatic save system. It’s the best of both worlds.

To get most text editors working with the Firefox method you may need to read this article.

Improve your writing with clever formatting

One of the age-old writing principles is to write less. Detail is fine, clutter is not. But we like to fill up space. We’re compelled to fill blank pages with content, even if it dilutes what we’re saying.

To combat this tendency increase the size of the text you write with and give yourself less space to fill.

Within TextMate, for example I write with size 14 text and have it so the text wraps after 78 characters. This means that even a small paragraph fills up plenty of space, satisfying my ego while deflating the word count.

Build a comprehensive backup system

If you’re putting a lot of work into a project without any redundancy you’re never going to have peace of mind. Spending 30 minutes building a bullet-proof backup system is one of the best time investments you can make.

Email backups

  1. Setup an email forwarder through cPanel ‘something like [email protected]’ that directs to a Gmail account. Use this one email address for backing up all of your blogs.
  2. Create a filter in Gmail that identifies emails being sent to your email forwarder. Set this filter to archive your emails, label them as ‘Backups’ and mark them as read.
  3. Install WP DB Backup, configure it via the settings page and start building an archive of your blog’s database.

Amazon S3 Backups

Amazon S3 offers storage that’s dirt cheap on a small scale. I have a 6+ month archive of my largest blog and I’m still paying less than $0.50 per month.

To take advantage of this:

  1. Install the WP S3 Backups plugin for WordPress.
  2. Create an Amazon S3 account.
  3. Connect the two elements by entering your access key and secret key (which are both available in your S3 control panel) into WordPress.

It’s worth using S3 Backups just to backup your blog’s files but an additional copy of your database won’t go astray.

VaultPress

Automattic, the creators of WordPress are putting together VaultPress, a backup and security web application that connects with your blogs and performs a whole bunch of magical functions including:

  • Real time cloning of your files
  • Security fixes without your intervention
  • Handling massive amounts of data

Once the tool is released to the public (sign up for the beta) it will be a premium service, but from the little we know it sounds like a worthwhile expense.

Automate with Automator and Folder Actions [Mac OS X]

Before switching my blog about the Nintendo 3DS from WordPress to Tumblr (which is a story for another time) I would add 600 pixel wide images to the beginning of each post. This was a manual process until I decided to use OS X’s built in software to automate it.

Folder Actions allow you to automatically run a workflow built through Apple’s Automator when a file is dropped into a folder of your choice. There’s too much flexibility in Automator to explain it all in one post, but here’s a rundown of what I created:

  1. I find an image for article I’m writing and save it to a specific folder.
  2. Folder Actions recognises this and runs an Automator workflow I created called Rename, Crop and Convert Post Images.
  3. The image file is renamed with a predefined structure, cropped to 600√ó250 pixels and converted to a JPEG.
  4. Growl notifies me that the process is complete and that the image is ready to be uploaded to the blog.

All this happens in one quick motion without any input aside from initially saving the image. It took 10 minutes to setup (including the learning curve) but would’ve saved me hours of my life each year had I maintained that structure.

To find out more about this, you can download the workflow I created or become familiar with Folder Actions.

You may not need to resize images as I do but there are plenty of linear activities you need to do that Automator can handle.

And that wraps it up for the 6 killer life hacks I’ve recently adopted. I have a tendency to switch systems somewhat erratically though, so don’t feel like you’re doing it wrong if you play around with different strategies rather than trying to conform to what works for me at the moment.

Speaking of different strategies, what life hacks do you use to improve the quality and efficiency of your blogging?

David Turnbull is a life-long geek who writes about effortless living at his blog, Adventures of a Barefoot Geek.

Why Professional Writers Need a Blog. Or Not.

A guest post by Larry Brooks of Storyfix.com

Pardon the cryptic title.  Not trying to sound hip or flip.  Just going straight at it.

Today’s title is literal.  Rather than the traditional try for a killer hook, what you see above is actually the point.

Not recommended as a default blogging best-practice, by the way, but sometimes you have to color outside the lines to paint the desired picture.

If you write for money as an independent contractor (versus, say, the staff obituary writer at the local daily), and if you intend to grow and sustain your client base, you should have a website.  Period.

If you’re any other type of professional writer who has to buy your own health plan, you need a website, too.  But there’s a question you need to answer first.

The Question

These days – and here comes the aforementioned point – you need to decide what kind of website is optimal for what you intend to accomplish.  And this is, as Shakespeare first wrote in a little ditty he called Hamlet, the rub.

This is gospel – as is that rub – for freelance writers in any venue, niche or media: copywriters, ghostwriters, grant writers, novelists, essayists, columnists, non-fiction authors, resume writers, technical writers, speech writers, PR and marketing and training consultants… and to a lesser extent, even screenwriters.

Lesser in that case because, let’s be honest, Jerry Bruckheimer isn’t going to hire you because he found and liked your killer URL. 

Otherwise, if you’re a writer out there on your own, you absolutely need to be online.

So the question is no longer… do I need a website

The question has become… what kind of website should I have?

Which, if Shakespeare were online schlepping his services as a playwright (funny spelling, that one; why the hell isn’t it playwrite?) he would rewrite as: to blog or not to blog, that is the question.

The answer just might surprise you.

What color is your freelance shingle?  

A website is the contemporary equivalent of a yellow pages ad, or a listing in a trade directory, or a flyer you leave on windshields in the stadium parking lot.  It’s your digital calling card.  

In essence, an advertisement.  The shingle you hang out in front of your virtual place of business.

Here I am.  Find me.  Hire me.  Love me.

The “or not” part means that a blog, per se, might not be the optimal choice for your particular shingle.  For some it might actually be self-servingly counter-productive.

So let’s cut to the chase.

For professional freelance writers and authors it boils down to two choices: a blog, or an “official website.”

Get that one wrong and you may pay a price.

The difference is significant. 

Not every writer needs a blog.  Yet some writers – many writers – absolutely do need a blog. 

Many may benefit from both.

It all depends on what business you are in.  On what you write and what slice of the market you hope will send money, by whatever means, in your direction.

We can boil it down to this: if you’re looking to get hired for a project, which implies you offer some vertical expertise in addition to your abundant writing gifts, then you should consider writing a blog.

And you should let the reader know who you are.

Because you need to show the world you know more than they do about whatever it is you do.  You need to demonstrate it.

Both elements drive toward your credibility, which his essential.

If you intend to write a non-fiction book about your vertical expertise – and hey, who doesn’t? – then you absolutely must write a blog if you intend to sell it to a publisher.  This has become a standard prerequisite in publishing – one of the first things a prospective publisher will ask is the nature and extent of your online following, and the URL of your blog.

For the most part, if you don’t have a blog and you aren’t otherwise famous in your niche, your shot at a non-fiction book contract is slim to none.

And if you end up publishing it yourself – which is very viable in non-fiction these days – then a blog is every bit as essential to your goal.

What about authors of fiction or non-expertise-dependent topics?

This is where the conversation gets sticky.

If you are simply trying to get famous, which is a good marketing strategy if you’re a novelist, for example, then a blog may not help you much.  In fact, it may hurt you in the long run.

For you, a branded, somewhat static website is the optimal solution.

It is, in fact, essential.  Remember, every pro writer needs a website.  In your case, however, it probably shouldn’t have a blog on it.

Unless it should. 

A blog isn’t about – or at least shouldn’t be about – you. 

A blog is about your niche, your field of expertise, your message.  Your blog is, in essence, a gift to your readers. 

In effect, your blog is where you give away what you know.

It’s your chance to demonstrate and validate your claim to authority and expertise.

Your blog is, in every essence and facet of the word, content.

Whether you have an agenda attached to that content – you want them to hire you or buy your books, courses or published work – doesn’t change this truth. 

If your blog content is valuable, then they’ll buy your ebooks, products and services.

Maybe even  your book if you have one available.

And if your blog is about you, then you better make yourself a window into life’s lessons, rather than simply trying to sell something you’ve written.

It’s perfectly appropriate to brand yourself on your blog, too.

If you’re looking to be hired, to secure work from someone who will assume the role of client, then you could argue that you should have something about you on the website.  No argument there.

Just don’t put that stuff in the body of the blog posts themselves.  That’s where your content goes.  That’s where you talk about the reader’s needs, not yours.

The stuff about you is what the sidebars are for.

You’ve written a novel.  Do you need a blog?

In a word, no.

You need a website.  An official author website.

A website  that is unabashedly about you and your work.

Google virtually any famous author and you’ll see this is exactly what they’ve done. 

Why doesn’t a blog work to promote a novel? 

Because you can only blog about your book for so long.  And blog readers are almost completely intolerant of self-serving, thinly disguised promotional agendas.

You have to earn every single moment of personal mindshare from a prospective buyer through the delivery of content they can put to work in their lives.

Blogging also comes with another type of risk. 

Even if you have valid to offer. 

Blogging can be addictive and hungry, it can eat up energy, time and mindspace like no other intellectual pursuit you’ve ever been tempted to give in to.

If you dive in, you need to be all in.   And that’s a huge commitment.

The only reason a website created with the intention of promoting an author and/or a work of fiction (or any book that isn’t dependent on a vertical topic expertise) should include a blog is if the author is delivering relevant content that is not self-serving.  That is not about the book you are trying to promote.

A blog about the writing process, about getting published, or anything that coaches and mentors readers from your own chosen field – in this case, fiction – absolutely can work.

This is precisely what I do on my own website. 

But I’m clear on what it is and what it isn’t, as you should be.  My site is an instructional website, designed for writers of fiction in any form.

My blog isn’t about me – neither is this guest post, by the way, I’m just providing an example — though I do make an appearance in a sidebar.  It’s about the reader.

This opens the door to selling the ebooks I’ve written – also in a sidebar – which is textbook blogging strategy 101.

Does it allow me space to announce my new novel and even create a link to it?  Of course it does.  I even promote a fund-raising calendar in which I’m a half-naked Mr. May. 

But the site isn’t about me, the novelist.  It’s about the art and craft of writing.  I’m just there to help.

When you are solid on the difference, then the peripheral benefits from both sides of the promotional fence will come your way. 

Larry Brooks is the creator of Storyfix.com and the author of the recently released novel, Whisper of the Seventh Thunder, the latter of which has its own website.