9 Unsexy Truths about Making Money Online

Fast Luxury Cars, Parties with Sexy People, Dream Homes, Lavish Meals, World Travel, Book Deals and Pictures of massive Checks…. making money online is sexy!

Isn’t it?

As I sit here in my PJs alone in the front room of my house this morning – I wonder if perhaps the ‘sexy’ bit of what I do somehow bypassed me.


I was at a conference last year listening to one ‘make money online’ guru talking about the possibilities of making money on the internet. The picture he painted was certainly sexy.

He showed some of the things he’d bought with the money he’d made online, shared some of the opportunities that his business had opened up for him and told some of the story of how he achieved it. The first line of this post pretty much summed up a lot of his presentation – it was sexy.

As he shared two things happened inside of me:

  1. I got inspired (and a little jealous) – ‘wow, I gotta have some of what this guy’s got’. I think that was a pretty common reaction in the room (based upon the type of comments I heard after the presentation). I guess that was partly the purpose of the presentation – showing the possibilities of what could be achieved can certainly be inspirational on some levels (and can motivate people to buy all kinds of products and systems – as they did that day).
  2. I realised I was only hearing part of the story – as I sat listening to the story the reaction that grew bigger and bigger (and ended up being the main feeling that I had) was that the guy was only sharing part of the story. At least he was sharing a quite different story to the one I’d had and the one I’d heard in the quiet conversations I’d had with many successful online entrepreneurs.

While I have no doubt that the riches and success that this man shared about were true and I know for a fact that the life that some internet entrepreneurs lead can at times be very ‘sexy’ – the reality is that for the vast majority of those who set out to make money online that the story is anything but sexy.

In fact even for me – as someone who has had a moderate level of success in this game – this guy’s story had only fleeting moments where it seemed even vaguely familiar to me.

Perhaps that’s partly to do with my own personality, style, values and taste (I’d rather put my kids through a good education than buy a Ferrari and would prefer to help set up a feeding program for starving kids than rent a yacht and cruse the Caribbean for 3 months a year) – but I also think that quite often in our game the ‘unsexy’ part of what we do is not talked about enough.

Perhaps common sense to many – here are some of the ‘unsexy’ truths about making money online (with a few tweet reflections form my Twitter followers):

1. It Takes ALOT of WORK

When I mentioned the topic of unsexy truths on Twitter earlier in the week and asked for people’s feedback the overwhelming response was about the amount of work that it takes to build a successful online business. Here’s just a few of the response on this front:

“I would say the #1 “unsexy” truth is that it takes W-O-R-K despite what almost every sales page will lead you to believe!” – @ElysiaBrooker

“Well there’s the whole “work” thing that no one bothers to mention.” – @CindyBidar

“some days I’m too busy to even think about showering. MMO is more work than people realize, esp when starting out.” – @Allison_Boyer

“It still takes a lot of really hard work…and pajamas don’t go over well on skype calls you want people to pay for.” – @JonathanFields

The reality is that there is no escaping having to put in a solid amount of work if you want to make a living online (or offline for that matter).

The amount of times that I’ve seen people start blogs with the expectation of striking it rich and generating a passive income amazes me. I guess people want to believe that there’s a short cut and want to jump straight to the end (and sexy) results before working for it.

2. It Takes Time and Starts Slow

I love what @SamMartino (smart guy) responded to me on Twitter with:

“I’ve discovered it takes longer to get momentum… much longer lead times… but higher margins.”

This type of comment was echoed by quite a few including:

“only the get rich slowly by putting in a lot of effort schemes work” – @KarenMarree

“it takes almost 6-8 months before you see any respectable money” – @SkoolofLife

6-8 months might seem like a long time – but in my experience even that could be an under estimation. There are certainly examples of people who do it quicker – however the reality is that it usually takes longer – and even after a long lead time there are no guarantees.

While there are certainly some upsides (like Sam says there is often some nice margins to be made if you’re selling something online) my own experience was that I was putting in a lot of hours for a couple of years before I made a full time income. That meant working other part time jobs during the day and blogging at night for well over a year – while wondering all along that time whether it was going to amount to anything.

3. The Sexy Moments Happen – but are Often Few and Far Between

I’m a very very fortunate person. I feel incredibly lucky to have had some success in this field and to have some amazing opportunities open up. While some of those things I mentioned in the first sentence of this post have not been my reality – I’ve certainly had a few ‘sexy’ moments.

A book deal, being flown around the world to speak at conferences, some fun parties at these conferences, the opportunity to meet and interact with some amazing people, the chance to buy a nice house and give my family a comfortable life, appearing in mainstream media…. all of these things are beyond what my wildest dreams of blogging ever were.

However the day to day of my life isn’t sexy. The above things are special (and I’m grateful for them) but they’re not what my life is all about. Rather they punctuate the sometimes mundane daily routine of sitting alone in an office, writing content, answering emails, making videos, responding to customer queries….. etc

I enjoy what I do – but I think it’s important to keep some perspective – most of the successful web entrepreneurs spend most of their lives doing normal and ordinary things – just like everyone else.

4. There are No Guarantees

If there’s one thing that disturbs me most about many sales pages for ‘make money online’ systems it is the guarantee element of them. ‘You WILL make money’ – ‘Make $10,000 in 30 days’…. the list of claims that are made at times goes on and on.

  • A + B doesn’t always = C
  • Processes and systems don’t always work.
  • What works for one doesn’t always work for others.

No two blogs that I’ve been involved with are the same in terms of building traffic or monetization. They have all been so unique and so to claim that you can apply a ‘system’ or ‘process’ that is guaranteed to work in every instance is just not realistic.

There is a lot that can be learned from some of the make money online systems and teachers on the web but don’t allow yourself to be sucked into any product that claims that it works for everybody – there are too many other elements at play (including your own dedication, natural ability, niche, levels of competition etc).

“What works for one blog, won’t work for another.” – @JewelrySecrets

5. You’ll Fail More than You Succeed

The other factor that comes into the ‘no guarantees’ point above is that in every successful entrepreneur’s journey there is a string of failures left in their wake.

I’ve started 30+ blogs over the last 8 years – 3 of them remain. I’ve started a long list of ventures, products, companies etc – only a few of them were profitable.

In time I’ve been able to increase the rate of success that I’ve been having and have learned to tell if an idea is failing and whether I should kill it early on – but in order to succeed you may very well need to fail a few times first.

6. Some People Just Won’t Make It

I hate to include this one as part of me does think it’s possible for almost anyone to have at least some amount of success in making money online…. however I have to take note of the stats that I’ve seen every time I survey my readers about this – some people just won’t make money online.

“Some people just aren’t going to make it. They’ll put in a lot of time and spend more than they earn.” – @SHerdegen

For some the reasons for not ‘making it’ are to do with elements I’ve mentioned above (not willing to take a long term approach, work hard etc) – however I guess there are other reasons. Some people just have a certain ‘mojo’, talent, skill level, set of experiences or circumstances that propel them forward faster than others. Conversely – some don’t.

Much of this can be overcome in time however I guess the reality is that for some people they find themselves in circumstances where it’s just too hard.

7. It can be Lonely

It’s funny how lonely ‘social’ media can be sometimes.

I was chatting with one blogger recently who quit what was a growing online business to get a ‘real job’ partly because she needed more face to face interaction. She put it down to her personality type and living in a reasonably remote location where she couldn’t meet those she worked with face to face – but in the end it just got too lonely for her.

For introverts like myself this might not be a massive problem (although I try to do some face to face stuff with a few others most weeks) but I know for quite a few people working alone in the front room of their house all day is enough to make them start to lose it.

8. Increased Success Can Bring Increased Critique

In Australia we’re known for suffering from Tall Poppy Syndrome. Something wikipedia defines as:

“a social phenomenon in which people of genuine merit are resented, attacked, cut down, or criticised because their talents or achievements elevate them above or distinguish them from their peers.”

By no means is this just an Aussie thing, other cultures around the world share it. One of those ‘cultures’ I suspect is the web. I’ve seen it numerous times – as blogger begins to grow in their influence and reach only to find that closely trailing the rise in their own success comes a rise in ‘critique’.

Critique can be a helpful thing at times – however it can also move into a my sinister and destructive place where those that it is directed at often feel quite damaged.

In time I’ve had my share of negative attention. While I have learned to deal with it a little better than I once did – I do look back on periods in the last 8 years and see times where I think it led me to become quite depressed, stressed and once even to the brink of giving up on blogging.

I guess in time one gets thicker skin – however it’s a constant issue many bloggers have to work with.

9. Scaling it Sucks

If you do stick with things for the long haul, work hard and push through the tough times there is certainly potential for success in the online space. In fact some times get easier the bigger and more successful you become. Momentum grows and you can get to a point where the opportunities that keep coming your way are quite amazing.

However along with the opportunity and success comes the challenge of scaling up what you’re doing.

This can be particularly tricky when you’re basing your business around social media where there is a certain expectation that you be personal and interactive.

Tough choices need to be made around whether to stay smaller and keep being personal, whether to outsource some of what you do and how to manage the growing demands that you face.

These are the issues I’m seeing quite a few people dealing with right now – if you know the answer to it, please let me know. In the mean time, I’ll tell you it can be very unsexy :-)

Your Unsexy Truths

Earlier in the week when I tweeted on this topic quite a few other unsexy truths were suggested. You can read them here and here. Before inviting you to share yours… I’ll finish with this one from @BeyondBeeton:

” the “internet” doesn’t just spew out money. you need a good idea, a plan and an ability to deliver what people want to pay for.”

What would you add to this list of UnSexy Truths of making money online?

I think most people who’ve been at the business of making money online for even a few months know that the ‘sexy’ image of making money online is not a reality for most who attempt it.

How to Make Your Blog Pay the Bills [Bootcamp for Bloggers Starts Soon]

leo-babauta.jpgRegular readers of ProBlogger know the name Leo Babauta – creator of the massive blog ZenHabits (among other successful blogs). He’s guest posted here on ProBlogger numerous times and we’ve recommended what he does numerous times.

Leo’s famous for taking Zen Habits from nothing to one of the biggest blogs in the world with over 150,000 subscribers within a pretty short time frame. Off the back of his success he’s written a best selling book and launched a number of best selling e-books. He’s full time in what he does and every time I speak with him is experimenting with new ways to build his web presence.

A-List Blogging Bootcamp

One of Leo’s projects that he’s been running for a while now is the A-List Blogging Bootcamps. These intense 5 day training courses for bloggers have been a big success and he’s about to run another one called How to Make Your Blog Pay the Bills.

The course runs between 16-20 May and is an intense burst of learning through a variety of mediums including Podcasts, articles, videos, mentoring, daily live webinars with Q&A and daily action steps to keep you on track.

While there is some live interaction, there’s also lots that you can take away from it and digest in your own time for the next month after the course.

I participated in the teaching of the last bootcamp and was really impressed by the excitement that I saw among Leo’s students and so I’m also being featured in a session during this Bootcamp. Other guest presenters include Daniel Scocco and Jonathan Fields.

Learn more about how you can be involved in How to Make Your Blog Pay the Bills.

Disclaimer: I am a fan and supporter of Leo and what he does. I’m also a presenter in this course as well as an affiliate for it.

How My Ebook Paid for South by South West – in Just Two Months

A Guest post by Ali Hale – author of The Blogger’s Guide to Effective Writing.

March 11th – 16th 2010: I went to South by South West (SXSW) and had an amazing time. I went to panels and parties; I saw friends and personal heroes … and I even got to give Darren a hug. I was there for Ev William’s now infamous keynote speech. Chris Brogan admired my Metallica t-shirt. I went to a great panel by Tim Kring (the writer of Heroes.) I failed to guard Naomi Dunford‘s drink. (She forgave me. I think.)

Okay, that’s enough name dropping for one paragraph…

Last year, South by South West felt like an extravagant dream. I live in the UK, so my expected costs looked like this:

  • Conference fee – $395† (including “early bird” discount)
  • Flight – $721
  • Hotel – $717.60
  • Shuttle bus – $40 (five day pass)

That came to a grand total of $1,873.60 – and that’s without allowing for costs like taxis, food and drink. Although I met some of the up-front costs from savings, I wanted to replace the money which I’d withdrawn from my savings account.

The solution? I wrote an ebook, The Blogger’s Guide to Effective Writing, and launched it on February 9th – just a month before the start of SXSW. Two months after that launch date, I’ve made $2,146.50 profit, which covers the flight, hotel, ticket, and sundry expenses in Austin:


(NB: I’ve deducted the affiliate share and what I paid for cover and banner design from the “sale amount”, to get the profit.)

In just a couple of months, that one ebook covered all my SXSW costs. Without it, I’d have really struggled to afford the conference. And, of course, the ebook is continuing to sell … even though I had a busier-than-expected start to 2010 and haven’t yet done much promotion.

But here’s what I did do. I’m hoping you can take some of these tips and use them to see just as much success – and more! – with your own ebook or product.

Step 1: Write the Ebook (Easier Said Than Done…)

Okay, this is a bit obvious – but I had to start off by actually writing an ebook. However great your launch plan is, you’re never going to be able to implement it without a product to sell.

I’m a writer by both training and profession, so words come easily to me. If you hate writing, or really struggle to make your thoughts coherent, then you might want to consider a different product – perhaps a series of audio downloads instead of an ebook (you can get someone to transcribe these, or you can provide notes, to add extra value).

Whatever type of product you choose to create, you’ll find that the process requires self-discipline and stamina. I find that Dave Navarro’s writing really inspires me: he has a number of blog posts specifically about product creation, and he’s got a great way of being encouraging and no-nonsense all at once!

I also bought “How to Launch the**** Out of Your Ebook” by Dave Navarro and Naomi Dunford. I was a bit worried it wouldn’t be worth the price, but it turned out to be a huge help and I’m now really glad I’ve got it. I’d purchased it mainly for help on the launch process, but there were also plenty of tips and encouragement on the writing itself. They manage to be honest and realistic while giving hope!

If you schedule out 6 months to write your ebook it will probably take 7 or 8 months in reality. But that doesn’t matter, because the damned thing will get done. And that’s the magic. Saying you’ll ‘get to something when you have the time’ never works out. Putting something on your calendar? Much more likely to happen.

(Dave Navarro and Naomi Dunford, How to Launch the **** Out of Your Ebook, p45)

(I’ll let you into a secret here. “How to Launch” helped me get The Blogger’s Guide to Effective Writing into great shape even though I only used a fraction of Dave and Naomi’s advice and didn’t do any of the worksheets and didn’t listen to any of the extras which came with the ebook. Yet even the little bit which I did do meant that I sold enough extra ebooks to more than justify the purchase price. Don’t tell them!)

Step 2: Get Feedback – and Use It (Especially When Five People Point Out the Same Problem)

Once I’d finished the first draft of the ebook, I wanted to try the ebook out on readers (something which Dave and Naomi strongly advise in “How to Launch”). I posted on the forum of a membership group, asking if anyone would be willing to read the draft and offer feedback.

Several people did volunteer to, and provided invaluable feedback. Often this was easy to use – for example, most of the readers mentioned that I had three separate, somewhat repetitive sections which dealt with using images in blog posts, and I merged these into one simple, succinct chapter:


Occasionally, the feedback made it clear that I needed to do more thinking. One reader said that the ebook seemed very basic and that the content of the early chapters didn’t teach her anything new. Another reader felt that it was too complex, and struggled with quite simple blogging terminology. I realised that this wasn’t a problem with the ebook – but it was an issue with audience. I needed to clarify that this book was aimed at people who have already had some experience with blogging (even if that’s very limited) but who want to take their writing a lot further.

I finished the second draft of the ebook, rewriting several chapters, cutting out some material, and adding new sections. It took some extra work, but I was proud of the end product: it was as good as I could make it.

Step 3: Call in the Professionals (They Don’t Have to be Called Charlie, but It May Help)

While the ebook itself was all there, there were a couple of elements which weren’t quite in place. One was the title. I’d been using the working title of “Writing Blog Content”, but my good (and honest!) friend Charlie Gilkey gently pointed out that this wasn’t the catchiest title ever.

I agreed. But I was stumped. Titles aren’t my forte, and I just couldn’t come up with anything which was attention-grabbing but which also summed up exactly what the ebook was about.

In a Skype session with Charlie, we came up with “The Blogger’s Guide to Effective Writing”. (If you’re ever stuck on a project, Charlie offers project coaching.)

The other area where I needed help was with the design. I mentioned earlier that words come easily to me. Sadly, graphics and layout don’t! Again at Charlie Gilkey’s suggestion, I bit the bullet and paid for a designer. This was a big step for me – what if my ebook didn’t even sell enough copies to cover the design cost? What if I didn’t like the design? And I’d left design until the last minute, so I needed the designer to get me the finished cover and advertising banners within a week if I was going to meet my launch date.

Fortunately, another Charlie, this time “Charfish Charlie” from Charfish Design, came through for me splendidly. I loved the cover design and the banners which he produced, and I know that if I’d cobbled together something in Paint, it would have looked amateur and wouldn’t have done justice to the contents of the ebook.

Step 4: Have a Stand-Alone Sales Page (aka “Listen to Daniel Scocco”)

This is a lesson I learnt the hard way! I launched my previous ebook with a badly optimised page on the website that I had at the time – and I definitely lost out on sales. Even after Daniel Scocco from Daily Blog Tips told me that the sales page needed work, it took me several months to get it right.

It just didn’t look professional, and potential customers were getting distracted – clicking away to look at other material, rather than clicking through to buy.

This time, I knew what to do. I got a sales page set up on its own domain right from the start. Although I designed it myself, I thought this through and drew on design elements from sales pages that looked good to me.

I used the†eCover Software Pro to make a 3D book graphic, rather than using the flat cover image. †And, inspired byDave Navarro’s sales page for Becoming an Early Riser, I put readers’ quotes down the side.

These testimonials came from readers who’d provided first-draft feedback – many of them emailed me to say that they’d found the ebook really useful. I checked with several individuals that they were happy to be quoted on the sales page:


Step 5: Get Affiliates on Board (And Make Their Life Easy)

As you saw from the screenshot above, $706 was earned by my affiliates between February 9th and March 16th. That’s money I’m more than happy to pay out, because the other $706 (the 50% that I get when an affiliate makes a sale) is money which I’d otherwise not have had!

Ideally, you want affiliates with a larger audience than your own. Darren is an affiliate for The Blogger’s Guide to Effective Writing, and†a single tweet from him saw a couple of extra sales:


If appropriate, you might want to come up with a special campaign with one or two affiliates. I got Charlie Gilkey on board – he’s not just a good friend, but who also has a great blog with very engaged readers. I worked closely with him on the launch, and he posted a review of The Blogger’s Guide to Effective Writing, along with an exclusive sample (Chapters 3, 7 and 13) for download which included a discount code and his affiliate link to the sales page. Charlie made hundreds of dollars as an affiliate as a result, and I made hundreds of extra dollars in sales.

Don’t discount smaller affiliates, though: every extra sale matters, especially when it comes from reaching someone else’s audience. In order to encourage people to sign up as affiliates and to make things as straightforward as possible for them, I created a special page with step-by-step instructions and advertising banners for download – you can take a look at it here: The Blogger’s Guide to Effective Writing Affiliate Page.

Step 6: Give Discounts to Your Groups (You’re Not Losing Money, You’re Gaining Sales)

I didn’t have the time and resources for a big launch, so I went for quick results by offering generous discounts to key groups. I looked for areas where I already had a presence or connection, and here are just a few examples of what I did:

  • Emailed all the buyers of my previous ebook (the Staff Blogging Course) with a $10 discount code for The Blogger’s Guide to Effective Writing
  • Offered discount codes in the byline of my guest posts
  • Gave a discount to the readers of my blog Aliventures (even though that blog is focused on personal development rather than on writing/blogging)

When you’re preparing to launch, think through any groups which you could utilise in this way. It’s a win-win situation: †you get to publicise your ebook, and group members feel special because they get a discount.

Create unique discount codes for each group, so that you can track where buyers have come from. For example, I used the code “ProBlogger” to give ProBlogger readers a $5 discount on the purchase price.

You could consider giving a discount to:

  • Your blog readers
  • Any membership sites which you belong to
  • Forums which you’re active on (you can often use your signature for this – though check forum rules)
  • Buyers of previous products (e-junkie lets you send out a newsletter to buyers – do be very careful that this doesn’t come across as spam)
  • Your Twitter followers

Although it can feel like leaving money on the table if you’re giving out discounts, the truth is that many customers might not have bought your ebook otherwise. Plus, getting a discount makes them feel special – they’re primed to feel good about your product before they even download it.

Step 7: Guest Post (This One’s On My To-Do List…)

This is the one step which I didn’t take very far in the promotion, because it requires a solid investment of time and energy. However, now that the busyness of SXSW is over, I’m going to be doing another round of guest posting in order to promote The Blogger’s Guide to Effective Writing, as I found guest posting really effective with my last ebook.

And this time round, even a single guest post on Problogger (Navigating the Middle of Your Post – Without Getting Lost) resulted in an almost-instant 15 extra sales.

If your time is limited (and let’s face it, whose isn’t?) then guest post strategically. Your ideal guest post opportunity is on a blog where:

  • The blog is on-topic for your ebook (I chose Problogger because my ebook is aimed at people who are already blogging and looking to take their writing further)
  • The audience are receptive to paid products (Darren publishes reviews, runs ads and sells 31 Days to Build a Better Blog)
  • The audience is fairly large (Problogger definitely meets that point!)
  • You already have a relationship with that blog’s editor and readers† (I’ve guest posted for Darren in the past)

I’m going to be taking guest posting further in the next few weeks, and making sure that I get The Blogger’s Guide to Effective Writing in front of the people who’d find it most useful.

And, with a bit of luck, that’ll pay my way to Blog World Expo…

If you’ve been holding back on publishing an ebook (or an audio series), a conference trip just might be the motivation that you need. It really is possible to make a significant amount of money by investing some time and energy into creating and launching a product. It worked for me, and I’m hoping it’ll work for you too.

See you at SXSW next year?

Ali Hale is a freelance writer and blogs for a number of large sites. She’s the proud author of The Blogger’s Guide to Effective Writing – if you want to take your blogging further, check it out. ProBlogger readers get a $5 discount: just type in the code “ProBlogger” (no quotes).

If You Had Only One Month Left to Blog….

How would you live your life differently if you had one month to live?

It’s a question I was asked recently and while it’s one we’ve all heard before I think it’s something well worth pondering at different times. I also like to apply it to different areas of my life – like blogging….

If you had only one month left before you had to stop doing it or making money from it – how would that impact your blogging?

  • how would it impact the topics that you wrote about?
  • how would it impact the way you approached monetization?
  • how would it impact the calls to action you gave your readers?
  • how would it impact the passion and focus that it brought to your blogging?

I think I’d probably approach blogging a little differently if I were in my last month:

  • I’d probably do so with more focus in the topics I wrote about
  • I’d be thinking about the legacy I wanted to leave with my blog
  • I’d be more innovative in how I monetize it
  • I’d be focusing more upon the relationships I had with my readers

I’m sure it’d impact my blogging in other ways too.

The 2nd question of course that we need to ask ourselves is – why are we not blogging this way now?

How would you approach your last month of blogging?

Blogosphere Trends – What Bloggers Are Writing About This Week

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

After reading this post, you’ll not only know what the ten most blogged-about topics of the past week are but you’ll also have at least ten great options for the opening line of your next post.

The opening line above makes a promise. And I hope that it made you want to read more. (You’re still here, right?) After your headline, the opening lines of your post may be the most important words you write. They determine whether visitors will continue reading or click past your post. Making a promise, like I just did, is one of many techniques you can try. I was digging into the ProBlogger archives and stumbled across Darren’s 2008 post “11 Ways to Open a Post and Get Reader Engagement,” which reminded me that it’s all too easy for bloggers to overlook the importance of those first few words. That’s why, as we look at this week’s blog trends (generated by Regator), we’ll also take a look how effective opening lines helped a few specific posts stand out from the pack.

  1. Gulf of Mexico/Oil SpillMashable identifies a need (in this case, the desire to understand the severity of the disaster) with the opening line, “Wondering just how much damage April 20’s Deepwater Horizon drilling platform explosion has caused?” Then, just as importantly, goes on to provide a solution. This technique is the number one tip on Darren’s list for a reason: It works. Painting a picture with words can also help you snag readers’ attention. The Gaggle does this very effectively in its opening line: “At last, it’s here: after more than two weeks of waiting, the eerie pinkish-orange foam mixture of seawater and crude oil that has been creeping ominously closer to has now begun to wash ashore the barrier islands off the coast of Louisiana.”
  2. Times Square – Intriguing or surprising statements are another way to draw readers in with opening lines. The Daily Beast does this with the line “The wife of the accused Times Square bomber lived a suburban life of shopping and Everybody Loves Raymond–until her handsome young husband became a monster.” Daily Intel uses the same technique: “The more we learn about wannabe Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, the more normal he seems.”
  3. UK Election – Asking a question that readers are curious about is another way to engage them. Toby Young asks, “Why hasn’t Gordon Brown resigned?” He follows through by hypothesizing and offering up possible answers. Starting with a question without a definite answer and offering up your own opinions can be a great way to elicit comments from those who agree as well as those with other opinions. Young’s post has, indeed, drawn a lively conversation from commenters.
  4. Greece – As Darren points out, “Your opening line need not be a textual one.” The Gothamist‘s photo of a riot officer falling to the litter-covered ground after being hit by a chair is a powerful and effective image that makes me want to learn more.
  5. Federal Trade Commission – Stats and figures can be quite attention-grabbing. Marketing Pilgrim uses a figure to create interest: “The FTC created quite a stir last year when they announced their new blogging guidelines to crack down on bloggers who receive products free in exchange for mentions or reviews. The FTC reassured bloggers that the rumored $11,000 fines wouldn’t affect them…”
  6. JJ Abrams – Darren points out that stories that illustrate a post’s point in an indirect way make for strong opening lines. FilmSchoolRejects uses this well in its post “Why J.J. Abrams Gets Away With Mystery,” starting with a paragraph-long story that compares mysterious roadside attractions and JJ Abram’s latest project.
  7. Lawrence Taylor – “If I asked you on May 5, 2010 who Lawrence Taylor was, you would probably respond that he was one of the best linebackers of all time.” This opening line from Bleacher Report acts, in some ways, like a question. It causes readers to ask themselves what has changed since May 5, 2010.
  8. iPad 3G Cult of Mac uses a combination of wordplay and a totally unexpected statement to create an opening line that’s tough to walk away from: “The iPad is smoldering hot, especially in a professional grade microwave where it goes in pristine, then bursts into flames and comes out a charred, broken brick.”
  9. Lynn Redgrave – An analogy can put a story into context for your readers. “Before there was Bridget Jones, there was Georgy Girl,” says Shine’s Manage Your Life blog. This helps readers who might not be familiar with the actress a reference point and reason to read on.
  10. Conan O’Brien – Strong quotes are a brilliant way to draw readers into your post. In a recent post on Conan’s first interview since The Tonight Show debacle, PopEater begins by setting up then using this quote: ‘I went through some stuff,’ O’Brien told ’60 Minutes’ on Sunday. ‘I got very depressed at times. It was like a marriage breaking up suddenly, violently, quickly. And I was just trying to figure out what happened.'”

Here’s a challenge: Armed with these examples and Darren’s tips, try a type of opening line you don’t normally use this week, then tell us about it in the comments.

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

[Free Report] How to Create Compelling Content that Ranks Well in Search Engines

SEO Copywriting ReportAre you interested in ranking higher in the search engines for your content?

If so – you should download this completely free report (there’s no registration needed and no obligation to do anything to get it) from Scribe. It’s called How to Create Compelling Content that Ranks Well in Search Engines.

Written by Brian Clark of CopyBlogger it covers:

  • Why SEO Copywriting Still Matters
  • How Search Engines Work
  • Why You Have to Spoon Feed Search Engines
  • The 5 Essential Elements of Keyword Research
  • How to Create Cornerstone Content That Google Loves
  • Five Link Building Strategies That Work
  • Five Areas to Focus On for Effective SEO Copywriting
  • Why Writing for People Works for Search Engines
  • How to Make SEO Copywriting Simple

As usual – Brian’s work is both helpful but also easy to digest. If you’re new to or still getting your head around SEO (or even if you need some new inspiration) this is a report well worth sitting down with a coffee to read through.

Download your free report here

How to Make Sure You’re Functioning At Your Creative Best

A Guest Post by Livia Blackburne from A Brain Scientist’s Take on Writing.

With the need to come up with interesting posts week after week, blogging is a huge creative challenge. How do we make sure we’re functioning at our creative best?

At a recent conference, Harvard psychologist Shelley Carson spoke on harnessing your brain state for optimum creativity. Carson is an expert on creativity research and the author of Your Creative Brain: Seven Steps to Maximize Imagination, Productivity, and Innovation in Your Life (aff).

According to Carson, there are two creative brain states: the deliberate pathway and the spontaneous pathway.

The Deliberate Pathway

The deliberate pathway handles problem solving, planning, reasoning. You use this pathway when you’re actively focused on a problem or task. For those interested in brain anatomy, this pathway primarily uses the prefrontal cortex, the most frontal portion the brain.

The Spontaneous Pathway

The spontaneous pathway, on the other hand, comes into play during idea incubation, immersion, and free association. You’re in this brain state when you defocus your attention: when you’re sleeping, in the shower, in a boring meeting, etc. The spontaneous pathway uses posterior portions of the brain.

So how does knowing about these brain states help you? You can either train yourself to switch your brain state according to your task, or you can structure your tasks so you take advantage of your current brain state.

The key is to realize that the majority of your creative ideas occur via the spontaneous pathway. Therefore, you’ll get most of your ideas outside of your formal writing time, during your idle moments. Creative ideas are least likely to occur when you’re sitting at your desk in front of a blank document.

To take advantage of spontaneous creativity, keep an idea journal and write down ideas as they occur to you throughout the day. It’s very important to have paper available to write things down. Because the deliberate part of your brain is also in charge of working memory, ideas you get spontaneously are very easily forgotten. Carson also recommends keeping track of when you get your insights. Perhaps you’ll notice a pattern.

Once you have your ideas, it’s time to switch to the deliberate pathway. To optimize this pathway, use the traditional strategies for focused productivity. Free yourself from distractions. Set mini goals and reward yourself after accomplishing them. Some writers also prefer rituals, like specific music or a specific beverage that gets you into the zone. And then, just write.

What do you think of Dr. Carson’s advice? Does it jive with your own experience of the creative process?

Note: This article is based on Dr. Carson’s talk at the course Publishing Books, Memoirs, and Other Creative Nonfiction, organized by Harvard Medical School. Read more by Livia Blackburne at A Brain Scientist’s Take on Writing.

Taming the Small Business Search Engine Beast

In this post Mark Hayward shares some search engine optimization tips for small business blogs.

seopicimage source: smemon87

When it comes to your small business blog, do you care about search engine optimization?

I think many small business owners would like to have a better understanding of search engine optimization (SEO) but most are just too busy trying to run their venture and don’t necessarily have the time to learn.

When I started my business a few years ago, I knew if I was going to succeed I would have to get on to the front page of most major search engines. Subsequently, I began to read everything I could related to SEO.

Because search engine optimization is an ongoing science and art, I continue to scan all I can on the topic. Recently, I was perusing WordPress SEO: The Only Guide You Need and thought that it would be great if I could ask the articles author, Glen Allsopp, a couple of questions that could help small business owners to better understand SEO.

Question 1. In layman’s terms, what is search engine optimization (SEO)?

Glen: The saying “build it and they will come” sadly does not apply to the internet. Even if you provide the best service in a certain small business niche, or have the most informative and valuable content on your blog, it doesn’t mean that people are going to be able to find your venture on the Internet. There are lots of ways to get people to your business blog and one of the best sources of traffic (of course) comes from search engines.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is about helping people to find your small business online by creating a search engine friendly website and blog. An effective SEO strategy takes time, patience, and consistent hard work. For a small business owner who is just getting started in the SEO process, they can work on their search engine rankings by improving the relevance of the content on their site and increasing the number of backlinks pointing to their pages, among other things.

Question 2. Why should small business owners care about SEO for their blog?

Glen: Many people will tell you that the best thing about SEO is that it brings brings free, targeted traffic to your small business blog. While this is true in some regards, you have to remember that it’s likely you’ll have to put a lot of time into making a quality, optimized website in order to increase your rankings. So you may not pay in terms of money (unless you buy links), but you certainly will pay in some form.

However, time and monetary investment aside, the obvious benefit of increased search engine traffic is that it’s usually very targeted and specific to your business.

If you can rank highly in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) for phrases that are relevant to your small business niche, then there’s a good chance that you can make more sales, attract more clients, and get quality leads landing on your small business website.

Unlike many other sources of traffic, SEO is often something that you work hard on for a while and then you can usually put a lot less effort into it once you’ve achieved your specific goals. There are exceptions to this, of course, but for most industries, once you have achieved rankings you don’t need to do half as much work to maintain them.

Another reason small business owners should care about SEO is because not only can it help to bring more traffic to your site, but it can also protect you from any reputation management issues that you might have to deal with. If you sell products or services, the last thing that you want to have is for negative content to appear in the search results of your ranking and thus swaying potential customers away from using your company.

Question 3. If a small business owner wants to improve their search engine optimization, how do they know what words or which phrases to ‘rank’ for in their niche?

Glen: A good place to start is to have a clear view of what your business is about and the type of visitor you’re hoping to attract. Before you head over to keyword research tools, try thinking of the words and phrases you would use to find whatever it is your small business is offering. On a similar note, ask friends and family how they would search for the solutions that your business provides.

My two favorite tools for keyword research are the Google External Keywords tool and the free version of the Wordtracker Keyword tool. The Google tool is much better for search volume figures as you’re going directly to the source, but I like to use the Wordtracker tool as it gives me phrase ideas I would never have thought of.

When using the Google Keyword tool be sure to select All Countries and Territories from the drop-down option, but leave the match settings to broad or phrase while you’re browsing around. Once you’ve found a main phrase that you think will bring in targeted traffic then you can change the match to exact to get a real idea of how many people are searching for that term.

Please keep in mind, that although you may be excited by phrases which get a large number of searches, make sure you’re looking for visitors that are actually going to convert.

For example, if your small business specializes in selling lenses for digital cameras, then there’s no use in aiming to rank for the phrase “digital cameras.” First of all, it’s going to be very competitive because it’s such a broad phrase, and secondly, you aren’t going to get the real value of that audience unless you also have a lot of cameras for sale.

Conversely, I would recommend aiming to rank for less competitive phrases such as Nikon D3000 lens and then transitioning up to a phrase like Digital camera lens. This is just an example, but I hope it gets the point across.

Finally, before I start putting in the work to optimize for a phrase I’ll run it through Google Trends to see whether the term is declining in popularity, staying steady, or increasing. After all, you don’t want to put in lots of work on a term only to find that nobody is searching for it 6 months later.

Question 4. What are five things that any small business owner could do today to help improve the SEO of their blog?

Glen: Before I get into the specifics, I do want to say that SEO is not just a ‘do this’ or ‘do that’ strategy. You should aim to take a holistic approach to the process, rather than focusing solely on one thing. Building links to your small business blog won’t get you anywhere if you haven’t optimized for your phrase. Likewise, you could have “perfect” on-site SEO and not rank because you don’t have enough relevant backlinks. Now, my five tips for improving SEO today are:

  • Optimize Your Small Business Site Around a Phrase

It’s likely that your homepage or the main page of your blog is going to become one of the strongest places on your site (in terms of how many links it has) so if you aren’t using that link juice to rank for something, you’re missing a big opportunity. Unless you have a mega-name like “ProBlogger” which people search for (anyway) without even knowing the brand, it’s good to pick something that is relevant to your small business blog topic.

For example, when I owned PluginID it was obviously very easy for me to rank the homepage in search engines for the brand name. Inevitably this also become one of the strongest pages on my site, so I used the ‘link weight’ it had and optimized for the phrase ‘personal development’ which is what my site covered. I managed to rank 10th in Google within a few months, despite the competitiveness of the phrase, and brought in a new audience that I wouldn’t have otherwise reached.

  • Write the Best Content You Can

With my internet marketing blog ViperChill, I haven’t actually worked that hard to build links to the site. Yet, Yahoo tells me that I have over 16,000 backlinks and the search engine traffic to the site is increasing drastically each month. The reason I’m getting a lot of links and more search engine visitors is because I’m writing helpful content that people want to share with their audiences and talk about.

Small business owners should know that I’m not some lucky exception and that they can do exactly the same thing for their small business blog. If they focus on writing genuinely valuable content, that’s an excellent strategy to increase the inbound links to their site.

  • Set-up Google Webmaster Tools

I don’t like to give Google too much information about me or my websites (I make my living online, so don’t want to give away everything I’m working on). But if you don’t need to be as secretive as me then I highly recommend that you sign-up for Google Webmaster Tools.

Not only will it tell you if your small business site has been hacked – which is common with blogs – but it can also help you to find pages on your site that are resulting in 404 errors (that people are linking to), whether your robots.txt file is valid, and which phrases your site is ranking for. If you have pages that don’t exist which have links pointing at them, then you can redirect them to relevant pages. Similarly, if you know you’re showing in the top results for a phrase then you can increase your traffic by getting more links to that page and thus, increasing your rankings.

  • Link Out to Other Bloggers

While I don’t recommend that small business owners do this as a form of ‘link exchange’ or even using your blogroll, I do recommend that now and then you link out to other blogs and bloggers in your business niche. When drafting content for your blog you can ‘link out’ first and foremost as a way to help find excellent content for your readers. Hopefully, the owners of the sites that you linked to will come and check out your blog and link to your posts, which is going to help your rankings.

  • Use the All-in-One SEO Plugin

I’m sure there are alternatives which do similar things, but I’m a huge fan of the All-in-One SEO plugin for WordPress, which can be found here. One great thing this tool allows you to do is to change the title tag of your individual posts. I regularly make mine different from an actual post title which gives me the chance to rank for a lot more long-tail keywords because of how important heading and title tags are.

Another great feature is that you can automatically insert meta-descriptions into your posts (the snippets you see in search results) based on the first few sentences of your blog posts.

While there are a lot more SEO tasks small business owners can do, these five items should start any blog owner off in a good position.

Question 5. Do you have any favorite online tools that can show a small business blog’s SEO strengths and weaknesses?

Glen: Sure, there are a few I would recommend checking out, but I do want to say that you shouldn’t take them too seriously. Instead, small business owners should use them as a guide to help figure out where they may be going right or wrong. SEO is not something that can be fully automated and dissected by computers alone…yet. ;-)

  • Rank Checker for Firefox – will help you to see how you’re ranking for your targeted phrases in Google and other search engines.
  • Playground by Dave Naylor – is a bookmarklet that works in most popular browsers that will show you when a site was recently cached and things like keyword density, so you can see what terms search engines are going to think your page is mostly about.
  • Website Grader – by Hubspot, will notify you of things like missing alt-tags and which pages on your site are missing descriptions.

Coupled with the two keyword research tools I mentioned earlier, Google Webmaster Tools and the All-in-One SEO plugin for WordPress, most small business owners should end up with a great internet marketing toolbox.

I prefer to still do a lot of manual work to judge how competitive a niche is and use things like how many indexed pages there are of my site in Google, compared to how many are actually on the site, to determine whether there are things that need to be worked on.

Question 6. What is the easiest way for a small business owner to measure the SEO return on their time investment?

Glen: Don’t focus too much on keyword rankings. It may sound strange that I say that, based on what I covered earlier, but let me explain. I think it’s important to have phrases in mind that you want to optimize for and good on-site SEO in place, so that you can increase the long-tail traffic your website receives.

However, as an indicator to how well SEO is working for your business, rankings are not great. Instead, you should be looking at how those rankings are converting to see how effective your efforts are. Whether you want more RSS subscribers, product sales, or leads; it’s these things you should be tracking based on your search engine traffic, rather than where you rank for certain phrases.

As an example, many small business owners may be looking to increase the amount of subscribers their blog has in order to make their mark on an industry and later sell products or services. A great free tool that helps you track this is Get Clicky (though I recommend their premium version). With Get Clicky, if I go to the ‘Links’ section, and then click on ‘Outbound’, I can clearly see the sources of traffic to my RSS icon which in the situation for many people, is a conversion.

Instead of just focusing on certain phrases that are popular, I can focus on the ones which are resulting in people clicking on my RSS feed, rather than increasing the stats on my analytics account. Small business owners should always have some form of conversion tracking in place, even if it’s just for your feed, to judge how your SEO efforts are working out for you.

I would like to thank Glen (@viperchill) for the time he took answering the questions above. If you have further small business blog SEO questions, please ask them below in the comments.

Want more small business social media tips from Mark Hayward? Then subscribe to his RSS or email feed and follow him on Twitter @mark_hayward.

My First Business Involved Brooke Shields [I’m an Entrepreneur]

booke_shields.jpgI started my first business in grade 4 at primary school… and it all revolved around Brooke Shields.

Sure I’d sold random pieces of craft (finger knitting, match stick creations and wool wound around icy-pole sticks) to the neighbors before that time…. but that was small time in comparison to the gold mine that I discovered in grade five when I noticed all of the boys in my class were plastering their books with pictures of Brooke Shields.

My Brooke Shields Picture Business

It must have been the year after Brooke starred in Blue Lagoon because suddenly I noticed her picture stuck to the front covers of all the books and binders on guys books in the classroom. Boys would gather around the new pictures that they found at recess and all the talk at lunch times revolved around Brooke.

One afternoon after school I was wondering around the house looking for something to do when I opened a cupboard in my hallway where our family kept all the games. Next to the games was a pile of my mums old women’s magazines. She would buy one or two a week and when finished with them piled them up in the cupboard. I’d never really given them much thought until I spied a picture of Brooke Shields on the cover of one.

A light bulb went on. The boys in my class were crazy for pictures of Brooke…. and here was one of the best I’d seen. I grabbed the magazine and flipped through it to see if there were more and to my surprise found a full article on her, with 7-8 accompanying pictures.

I began to make my way through the rest of mum’s old magazines and was over the moon to discover quite a few more Brooke pictures. Not only that – there were pictures of many other female movie stars, some of whom I’d also seen displayed on the covers of my class mates books.

The next day at recess I opened my first business. 5 cents for a small Brooke Shields picture – 10 cents for a large one. I only took 10 pictures the first day and they sold within a few minutes.

The following day I took another 10 Brooke Shields pictures and sold them for 10 cents for small ones and 20 cents for larger ones. Again, I sold out.

As the week progressed my stock of Brooke pictures began to dwindle so I began to introduce other models and film stars. I also began to offer pictures of male movie stars for the girls in my class to buy.

I also began to eye off some of the magazines in the local newsagent and realised that there were magazines for teenagers there that were literally FILLED with pictures that I could sell. None of my classmates could afford these magazines on their own, but if I cut them up and sold the pictures in them I could definitely turn a profit. A $1.50 magazine cut up and sold purely for its pictures could make me up to $5.

My next challenge was that my classmates began to run out of money. I’d been focussing purely upon class 4a (my class) as my target market but as they began to run out of money I started to look further afield, both at class 4b but also where I found the big money… grades 5-6.

I set up shop each recess behind the big tree in the corner of the school (the same place I later started to sell my services as a celebrant in playground weddings) and for a number of weeks did a brisk trade. At the peak of the business I was buying up to 3 magazines a week and making up to $15…. that was until Mr Woods discovered what I was doing.

On a warm Spring day I was opening up my store and customers were beginning to gather (quite a few of them by this stage).

Two grade 5 boys began to fight over who would get my latest big picture of Brooke when my class teacher, Mr Woods, happened to stroll by. Within a few minutes he’d uncovered all my pictures, my money and had put two and two together to work out what the business was.

I was busted and quickly banned from bringing any more pictures into the school for sale.

In fact in the coming week pictures of movie stars and models were banned from being stuck to the covers of books altogether. Not only was I not allowed to sell pictures in school time to class mates, but demand diminished as classmates were not allowed to display my product.

I learned a lot about business in those weeks as a Brooke Shields picture sales-boy.

  • I discovered the power of watching trends and fulfilling demand
  • I learned about the power of scarcity (selling 10 pictures a day enabled me to put the price up)
  • I stumbled upon the idea that sometimes you need to spend money (on magazines) to make more money
  • I discovered that I was an entrepreneur

Other Early Businesses Followed

Over the years I developed other businesses. Some worked, some did not.

My most successful was the store I opened out of a spare locker in my 2nd year of high school. I sold my classmates who’d forgotten their pencil cases pens, pencils, erasers, rulers, exercise books and other assorted stationary.

I bought in bulk and charged a premium price knowing that classmates would get in trouble if they showed up to class without something to write with and on. That business lasted a year (I kept it much quieter) and made me several hundred dollars.

What was your first entrepreneurial experience?

I’ve been thinking about these early experiences of entrepreneurship a lot lately.

Someone recently asked me whether I see myself more as a blogger, journalist or publisher. I answered that of the three I’d probably see myself more as a publisher, however that above that I think I’m probably more of an entrepreneur.

I use blogging and publishing as part of my business (and I love doing so) – however I think entrepreneurship is more how I’m wired.

While I love writing and communicating on my blogs and really enjoy building communities around them – I think the challenge of creating a business, dreaming up how to grow it and working to see it expand and reach its potential is more what energises me.

I’m wondering if I’m alone? I’m sure there are some who read this blog who are more wired as communicators, or as community focused people – but are their other entrepreneurs out there also? I’d love to hear the story of your first entrepreneurial experiences too if you have a moment in comments below!