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3 Critical Steps for Blogging Success

While he was at Blog World, Darren met with Abbey Prince Johnson from WebProNews.

In this interview, Darren explores what he believes are the three critical steps to blogging success. You’ve got a blog, but where do you go from there…?

Easy Content Scheduling for Bloggers

I know what you’re thinking: a content schedule? How hard can it be? Get a calendar, drop a blog post onto each day, and you’re done. Right?

Well, sort of. That approach might be fine in the early days of a blog, when you feel the need to cover every topic in your niche, and you want to write about everything. But that kind of scattergun approach can be less than appropriate. Knee-jerk writing might get content onto your site, but it won’t necessarily meet the long-term strategies you’ve set for your blog.

If you take a completely reflexive approach to content, you also run the risk of publishing filler, rather that killer.

I have to admit that my approach to content scheduling is anything but high-tech, but I thought I’d explain it here, specifically in terms of how we schedule the content for ProBlogger. I’d love to hear how you schedule content — perhaps together we can come up with an Ultimate Content Scheduling Approach…

Step 1: Strategy review

Darren has a pretty clear strategy for the directions in which he wants to take the content here at ProBlogger, and he listed for me a range of topics that he wants to cover in more detail. You may have seen them listed in our Guest Post Guidelines—they’re things like blog SEO and design, WordPress tips, and so on.

Step 2: Category mapping

Once you’ve nailed down where you’re trying to get to, it’s not a bad idea to create some information categories that you can use to define the pieces of content you’ll publish. If you have a solid post categorization system on your blog, you’d be best to map those content directions to your existing information architecture.

So, for example, Darren wants to include WordPress tips in our content, but the categories we have set up for the blog’s content don’t currently include WordPress. We have two options. If the content direction isn’t a major one, we could decide to categorize WordPress content on the basis of the outcome of each tip. A tip that explained how to apply a new theme to your blog would appear in the existing Blog Design category, for example. If WordPress is a major content direction, then we may need to update the IA to include a WordPress tips category.

Step 3: Schedule proforma

I always seem to wind up creating my schedule proformas in a spreadsheet. Here’s the little template I created:

As you can see, it’s pretty straightforward: dates, days, spaces for post titles. Simple, right? In fact, there are two aspects of this template that reflect core values of our content strategy.

First, I included two rows for each week: I’ll schedule Darren’s posts in the top row, and guest posts in the bottom row. Darren’s voice is, obviously, crucial to the site, so I wanted to keep track of his posts separately. This way, I can tell at a glance if we don’t have enough Darren in a week.

Secondly, I’ve color-coded the various post topics we identified in step 2., as you can see at bottom-left. Every time I enter a post into the schedule, I color-code it. Again, this lets me see at a glance if we have too much of an emphasis on a given topic in a single week.

Step 4: Content scheduling

It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for: scheduling content. Here’s how my content schedule looks after I’ve dropped in all the content that’s been entered into WordPress.

Compare that with the WordPress Edit screen below, and I think you’ll agree, the color-coded spreadsheet makes it much easier to get a quick overview of where things are at, and what kinds of content we need to source or reduce in the coming days and weeks.

Step 5: Content management

With my schedule in place, it’s a simple matter of adding post titles (which I keep identical to the post titles entered into WordPress), and making any notes about them — like the DO NOT MOVE note on the post that published on Wednesday 13 October.

I created the schedule as a Google Doc so Darren can see it and add or move content as required. At the start of each new week, I delete the previous week’s content record from the schedule, but you might like to save it to a second spreadsheet, so that you can track the evolution of your content direction over time.

I also added a second spreadsheet to this file, where I can keep track of any content sourcing efforts. If you don’t actively source content, you could use a second spreadsheet to plan your own writing — again, this spreadsheet could be color-coded to ensure you posts align with your content strategy.

This very basic content scheduling approach works for me. How do you manage content scheduling on your blog?

10 Questions That Will Always Make You Better

A guest post from Larry Brooks of Storyfix.com.

There are ten questions that will always make you a better blogger—even if you can’t always answer them.

It’s the asking, the awareness, and the empowering context established through asking, that sets a higher bar for your writing, your business and your life.

1. Are you willing to actually strive for that higher standard, or not?

That’s the first of the ten questions that can change your life.

At the heart of each of these questions is a specific understanding that lights them on fire within your life. It is the recognition that there is a difference between a mission and a goal.

Everybody wants to be happy. In some way, everybody wants to be rich and successful, though the definitions of the word “success” vary widely. We all want to be respected, liked, loved and appreciated, both for who we are and for what we’ve accomplished.

These are missions. They’re over-arching and more vague than goals.

This may sound like rhetoric—mission and goal are frequently, easily, and naively interchanged—but it’s no accident that the highly successful understand the difference. They know that the difference isn’t rhetorical, nor subtle.

Indeed, this understanding is the very thing that apprentices, rookies, dreamers, and anonymous wanderers seek to discover and then, when it’s right there in their faces, adopt as a way of being.

A mission is a destination. A goal is a milepost on the journey.

One without the other, however, can represent yet another definition of insanity. That situation will bring you face to face with a more infamous definition: expecting different results while doing the same old things, over and over.

Here are nine more facets of that understanding. Nine questions that, if you ask them of yourself, will always make you a better blogger.

What is your mission?

What is your purpose? Your vision for your life? Your highest dream? Your hierarchy of dreams?

What is your work—indeed, your life—all about?

There’s nothing inherently wrong with living in the now, to seek comfort and pleasure and reward, to think no further than tomorrow. More people live this way than don’t.

It’s just that this approach won’t lead you anywhere. You’ll be treading water, or at least allowing it to carry you along, powerless against it, within its tides and currents.

You have no engine, no sail, no compass, and no distant shore. You aren’t swimming, you’re treading water. The water may be warm and comfortable, but over time, such water becomes stagnant.

Understand that the happiness this seems to deliver is something you choose. But there are other levels of happiness and satisfaction in life.

You need a mission to make those choices accessible. The “goal” of going on a nice vacation next year … is just that: a goal.

A mission is much more than that.

What are your strategic goals?

Getting rich is a mission, not a goal. Some get to skip the goal-setting by virtue of inheriting their wealth, but even lottery winners set a goal to buy a ticket on a given day. The result is a consequence of intention, rather than genes.

For the rest of us, the road to riches is riddled with mileposts, ruts, puddles, and forks. Each of them defines a strategic opportunity to move forward.

What do I mean by strategic? I mean that the choices we make when we encounter those mileposts—which, when put in our rear-view mirror become milestones—are made in the context of the bigger picture. In the context of the mission.

Getting a new job may feel like a mission, but it’s actually just a goal. An important one. But it’s not a mission until it defines who you are, and where you intend to end up, and delivers a strong motivation to get there.

Ask anyone who has reached significant heights in their life, or have completed a mission. They’ll talk for days about the journey and the milestones that got them there.

Then again, finding such a person may be hard, because those individuals are never really done.

What is your USP (Unique Selling Proposition)?

You may think that your mission is to become part of a specific crowd of achievers, to join a certain club or become known in an esteemed way.

Often you must work your way through a series of lower-level crowds, and advance through a series of minor leagues, to get there. And the only way to rise above the crowd—any crowd—is to differentiate yourself.

Back in school that happened when somebody acted out, punched someone, or got busted. They stood apart, then they went to the back of the line.

In life, in quest of a worthy mission, your USP needs to add and deliver positive value: to stand out with a better, bigger idea, more consistent performance and some indefinable, almost magical X-factor that makes you glow in the dark.

How are you being perceived?

Goals never exist in a vacuum. Nor does the effort we put into reaching our goals. Everything we do in life propels energy into the universe. Others see it, feel it, interpret it and respond to it.

You are in complete command of the energy you put forth. Use your head, work smart, get out of the way of your own backstory (which may be full of resentment, fear, and ignorance), and make sure the energy you are putting out there is proactively and extraordinarily positive in nature.

You have little to no control over the way you’re being perceived. You’re the raw material from which others form their perceptions.

What are you contributing?

You know all of those people who are running ads for free iPads, laptops, and mobile phones if you “opt-in” to only two of the long list of special offers they’re putting in front of you?

Guess what? They’re frauds. They contribute nothing. Their mission is unworthy and doomed.

What are you contributing? What are you, as a blogger, giving away? How are you impacting the thinking of others? What value are you providing, either for free or for a fair price?

Value is the great justifier of price. Always strive to over-deliver it.

Is it just about the money? Or at the end of day, even if you die poor, will you be able to look in the mirror and say, “At least I touched a few lives”?

This is your yardstick—your metric of ultimate success. All the money and friends and admirers you’ll make along the way … those are by-products. Those may be worthwhile goals, but they shouldn’t be the mission.

Your highest mission should be to make a difference. To contribute.

Are you playing to win, or playing not to lose?

Despite this love-fest of new-agey, love-thyself wisdom, the fact remains that it’s a competitive world out there.  And there are many potholes and roadblocks to negotiate.

Forward motion always requires the application of energy. In an airplane, when the engines die, the flight goes down, one way or the other. In a relationship, auto-pilot almost always results in a downward spiraling course.

In business, if you aren’t growing, you’re dying. Because all around you the world is changing. Better ideas, more capital, younger bucks … they’re everywhere.

Stay crisp and nimble. Focus on your mission and the goals that empower it. You are the CEO of your dream; don’t be afraid to fire under-performers and take risks on high-potential opportunities.

High achievers know no fear. Nor are they foolish in the face of risk. They weigh, they prepare, and then they choose. Once they’ve chosen, they allow nothing to stop them.

What are you getting out of this?

Here’s another little secret of the fabulously successful: they aren’t waiting to achieve their goal to acknowledge they’re having a good time. Almost always, at the end of the journey, they’ll tell you the best part was getting there.

It’s not just because of the money. More likely, it’s because of the sense of fulfillment and awareness the lives they’ve affected in a positive manner. Sure, there will have been dark moments, but business ins’t a zero-sum game. Just like life.

There will also be moments of pure elation. Just like life.

Getting the drift?  Your mission is your life.

Pay attention to your misery and pain. Pay just as much attention to that occasional inner glow.  Assign meaning, and have the courage and insight to allow that light to guide you.

Are you getting better?

Here’s that forward motion thing again. Competition is nipping at your heels. Age is unrelenting. What is past is prologue.

But prologue to what?

You get to answer this question. And when you do, you’ll find that the most exciting opportunities, the gut-check of stepping into your fear, always challenges you to be better.

If you can’t find that challenge, create one. Improvement and growth is often forced upon us, but just as often it’s self-chosen.

Are you willing to do the hard things?

The road is strewn with the gravestones of the well-intentioned. Time and degree of difficulty thin the crowd along the way. Survival is complicated. Nothing worth achieving is ever easy.

By definition, there will be moments when you feel unable to go on, to overcome, or to choose what you know in your heart must be chosen.

A critical sub-set of this question contains two elements: persistence and discipline. Both are essential. Both will determine your outcome. And both are choices.

There’s a song by Martina McBride called “Do It Anyway.”  You can listen to it here.

Does it describe you? This is one of the most important questions you will ever address in your life, because the answer will define your future.

Other questions quickly arise from these prompts.

…and that’s the point. It may seem that the journey is over and the mission’s accomplished once you wrap your head around these questions. But a funny thing will happen on the way to your dream. The mission will evolve. It will grow and embellish itself with your skills and earned wisdom. And new missions, new purposes and hopes, is what keeps you young and thriving.

Here’s another thing that highly successful folks get: they’re never done.

They want to slide in sideways on the day of their wake. They know that the saddest funeral of all is the one at which everyone in attendance (who is upright) realizes this: he wasn’t done. She had so much more to do.

Sad, but not tragic. Sad, but something to celebrate and admire. This is what you want. You want your friends and loved ones to celebrate your life and grieve that which was underway and left undone. This represents the evolution of the cliché, “he died doing what he loved.”

Because that person was fully alive, in movement, engaged, aware and continuing to grow and experience. And I promise you, whether they used these words or not, that person was asking themselves these ten questions until the day the music stopped.

Larry Brooks writes at Storyfix.com, where his new ebook, “Get Your Bad Self Published” is now available.  His book on storytelling, “Story Engineering: Mastering the Six Core Competencies of Successful Writing,” comes out from Writers Digest Books in early 2011.

5 Techniques to Make Your Next Post Unforgettable

This guest post is by Bamboo Forest, of Tick Tock Timer

Reading a blog post should be like sinking your teeth into an ice cream cone in the middle of August.

Or the moment just before you plummet 2,000 feet in a roller coaster.

"Canobie's Corkscrew" by flatluigi

Let’s face it: blogs posts always have been, and always will be, a diversion from the mundaneness of life. No matter what your blog’s subject.

Since that’s true, let’s give people what they want.

Here are five techniques you can use to make your posts give your readers a great experience—not just dry information, but a truly unforgettable post.

1. Be a contrarian.

“If you try to write for everyone you write for no one.” ~ Brian Clark

It’s okay to be controversial. After all, if everyone agrees on the same things, it’s boring.

While I don’t recommend you disagree just to get attention, there are bound to be times where your interpretation of certain concepts differs from that of many other bloggers. When this happens, don’t hesitate to share your opinion.

When readers come across your blog and read a different take from the usual, it’s refreshing. Allow readers to enjoy that experience by having the courage to be controversial.

2. Create the unexpected.

Here are two solid ways you can implement the unexpected in your blog.

The first is to occasionally write posts that are a little off-topic from your niche, but which your readers will enjoy.

For example, if you write a blog on personal development, you might occasionally write on subjects that veer a little outside your niche but still interest you, such as tea, or strength training. Leo Babauta of Zen Habits does this all the time, and his success speaks for itself.

The second way to create the unexpected is to include something in your post that the reader never saw coming. It can be funny, shocking, nonsensical—anything you can think of, as long as it’s something your readers can’t anticipate. Of course, you have to be tactful in how you use this technique, because ultimately it has to work.

In a post titled, 9 Greatest Mistakes of All Time, my brother wrote two sentences about the Crocs shoe craze. Notice how the second sentence is completely unexpected (which is why it’s so fun to read):

“Not that long ago in a galaxy, very, very close, plastic shoes with large holes became an international sensation. Definitely the Bush administration’s greatest mistake.”

A few other ways to implement the unexpected include:

  • Conclude your blog post with a sentence that came out of left field.
  • Set up a post giving the impression you support one position, and then swiftly move to support a contrary position.
  • Have a demon interrupt the middle of your post.

(You weren’t expecting me to give you that last bizarre example, but it made the reading more engaging, didn’t it?)

3. Use similes and analogies.

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” ~ Anton Chekhov

Whenever possible, regardless of your niche, give people something they can see in their mind’s eye.

For example, I wrote a post about people failing to capitalize on opportunities in life and how, regardless, new opportunities are always coming our way whether we take advantage of them or not.

But I didn’t use that language. That would’ve been, well, lackluster.

Instead, I used the analogy of a surfer sitting on his board who had missed a couple waves and then suddenly spots a new set of waves rolling his way, appearing in the sun like large hills laden with diamonds.

Whenever you can use an analogy that paints a picture in the minds of your readers—and also makes the concept you’re conveying clearer—do it.

4. Use humor.

When you laugh, you’re having a good time. If your blog post can elicit chuckles from readers, you’re giving them one of the most pleasant of all human experiences. Make your readers laugh even just occasionally, and you’ve added a whole new dimension to your blog that your readers will relish.

Humor turns your post from being just a bunch of words into a party where everyone’s cracking up and having a good old time.

5. Use quotes.

In my blogging career, I’ve used quotes from blogs, books, and YouTube videos. And every time I have, the quality of my post improved.

For starters, by inserting a quote from someone else, you’re allowing your blog post to house another person’s voice other than your own. That gives your writing variety.

In addition, it gives you the opportunity to share someone else’s expertise on a subject—expertise that you may not possess.

In short, including quotes can make your post more interesting.

I don’t advocate using quotes just for the sake of it, but if you recognize a time where a quote will fit with your post, give it a go. It’s like adding a little spice to a dish to give it a little something extra. And personally, I like curry.

Anyone can share simple facts in their blog posts. But the really talented bloggers, who demand attention, give their readers experiences that keep them coming back for more, through unforgettable blog posts. Do you use these techniques? How else can we make our posts unforgettable?

Bamboo Forest created an online timer that helps make bloggers ridiculously productive. He also writes for Pun Intended, a blog that’s hilarious and enlightened.

Marry Your Blog to Your Life … and Watch it Take Off

This guest post is by Tsh Oxenreider of Simple Mom.

I’ve watched in wonder how my blog has grown since it launched in early 2008. It started as a hobby blog, and has since morphed into an income-generating network of five sites, complete with a loyal community of readers, four other editors, and a family of more than 20 contributors. I got a book deal about two years into my blog’s inception, and it’ll be on bookshelves worldwide in just a few weeks. No doubt, those hours of soaking up every bit of wisdom here at ProBlogger have paid off, and then some.

I love what I do, and I love that I can earn revenue doing something I would do for free if I had to.

What’s my secret? He’s about 6’2 tall, likes his coffee black, and as I write this, is currently driving the minivan taking our daughter to school.

Yep, that’s right. It’s my husband.

There is absolutely no way my writing career would be where it is now without Kyle working right alongside me. I’m the main voice of Simple Mom, sure, but he tirelessly does many of the behind-the-scenes tasks so that the blog succeeds. Together, we work hard to make the network thrive, and as a fortuitous blessing, our marriage is strengthened.

Now, I’m not saying you have to be married, or have a partner, to have a successful blog.

But I do think a blog works better when it’s married to your real life. Let me explain how.

Just what does he do?

1. He and I tag-team with the kids and housework.

I’m blessed that Kyle also works from home. Every Sunday, we scribble out our family calendar for the upcoming week, allotting work times for the both of us. When one of us is working, the other one is the primary parent on duty, and is also in charge of the dishes in the sink and tackling Mt. Laundry.

Ultimately, I normally write several mornings a week while my oldest is in kindergarten, and my husband takes charge of our younger two. He also oversees dinner one night per week, giving me some extra time to edit posts and handle email.

This is an unbelievable help in keeping the blog running. We’re a family with little kids, and it’s a busy season of life. Being a mom is still my full-time job, and it definitely takes more of my attention, physically and emotionally, than blogging ever could. There is no way I could run a blog as large as Simple Mom without a parenting partner in crime.

2. He handles delegated tasks, such as email and accounting.

My husband is actually the first person to see the email that comes through my blog’s contact form, not me. He forwards me the emails he thinks I need to see—reader comments and questions, or PR requests worth a look. I created a set of pre-formatted emails for him to use for the mail that contains the most frequently asked questions, such as requests to do giveaways, or the occasional blogging question. The answers are still from me, but I don’t have to write them from scratch every time, and he can quickly reply to those people without having to wait until I’m free.

And I get a truckload of mail that could easily be deleted, but it still stresses me out to see them. Letting his eyeballs be the one to scan through all the fluff and mass-generated emails works well for us. They don’t bother him.

Kyle also handles all the accounting for the network. He keeps up with all our transactions, from hosting service payments to ebook purchases, by automatically transferring our Paypal account to Outright and handling things there.

These tasks take him ten to 15 minutes per day, tops, because he’s set up a system that works for him, and he tackles this housekeeping daily. If I waited to deal with it when I had time, it would take me hours where I could otherwise write. And I’d want to curl up in the fetal position and cry, because I’m horrible at these sorts of things.

3. His male perspective gives me ideas I would never think of.

Believe it or not, only 72% of the Simple Mom readership is female. Yes, that’s the majority, but it means over a quarter of our readers are male. I’d be remiss to write solely to females, and leave a sizable chunk of my readership by the wayside. The blog is much more about the ins and outs of intentional living than it is about wearing the mama hat.

Kyle helps me think of post ideas I wouldn’t have considered—not only because he’s a guy, but also because he’s a parent, too. I’m blessed to work in a blog niche that’s directly related to my everyday life as a parent. But sometimes, I’m so entrenched in the thick of it that I don’t see clearly. My husband provides an additional perspective.

He’s the one who came up with the idea of writing posts about family mission statements, and pizza Fridays, and he recently came up with the brilliant idea for my next book proposal.

4. He’s my best cheerleader and most helpful critic.

He’s there when I need to stay up late to fix some code. He lets me vent to him when I get harsh emails from readers. And his eyes teared up when I opened the envelope holding the advance copy of my book when it arrived in the mail a few weeks ago. His positive attitude and cheerful perspective keeps me going on those days when I want to walk away from the blog.

Likewise, Kyle will also let me know when an idea I have is just dumb. Or when I’m taking criticism too personally. Or when I need to say “no” to a PR request or guest posting offer. Or when I’m too focused on the blog and need to change the baby’s diaper instead. His perspective keeps me grounded and optimistic.

What can you do?

Again, I’m not saying you need to be married to have a successful blog. But I believe a blog will have a better chance of success if it’s part of your real life.

It’s easy to see a blog as a one-man-or-woman show, but there are lots of things behind the laptop screen we don’t see. Simple Mom would not be doing as well as it is without Kyle’s help, plain and simple. It’s not a one-woman show, by any stretch.

When we keep our blog aligned to our offline life, we aren’t as pulled in as many directions. It can even enhance our lives, our families, and our marriages. When Kyle helps me, we work together. We talk, we spend time together, and we focus on the same thing. Our relationship is enriched by it.

Blogging takes a lot of work, and the to-do list is never really done. Are there some tasks you can delegate to those around you? Can you tap into your spouse’s strengths and ask him or her to help out?

Maybe you’ve got a friend who’d enjoy collaborating with you. Ask her or him to run your blog’s newsletter (my friend Jenny does). Maybe get one of your friends to act as a sounding board for your post ideas. Or if the grandparents live nearby, see if they can watch your kids once or twice a month so that you can get a chunk of writing done.

Let your blog enhance your offline life, and recruit those around you to help. And watch it take off.

How do you use the help of others to run your blog?

Tsh is the main voice behind Simple Mom, is editor-in-chief of Simple Living Media, and her first book, Organized Simplicity, hits bookstores next month. Follow her on Twitter to learn how to handle cloth diapers and Silly Bandz obsessions, and to chat about why less really is more.

From Side Project to Sustainable Business … Using Social Media

This guest post is by Clare Lancaster, of WomenInBusiness.com.au.

Over the last 18 months I’ve built two profitable businesses with the help of social media. One business was a sure thing; the other was a side project. My side project was a blog: womeninbusiness.com.au. All of the important numbers (subscribers, page views and profits) are growing monthly and I’ve never paid a cent to promote it.

When I decided to drop out of corporate life, my first move was to open a consultancy. I had been working online since 2001 and by 2008 was confident I’d accumulated enough skills and experience that finding work wouldn’t be a problem.

Around about this time, Twitter was the next big thing. I realized if I wanted to offer my clients the best service I could, I’d better get to know what Twitter was, and work out it was going to be any good for business.

Little did I know that the answer would be a resounding ‘yes’—and that it would help me take my side project from an idea to a sustainable business in less than two years.

Ten steps to sustainability

1. Establish a personal blog.

I started blogging on clarelancaster.com before I launched my consultancy.

I had a clear objective for the blog—that was, to demonstrate my knowledge and start to build my online reputation. I wrote about social media case studies, the basics of online marketing, and my journey so far. I shared my knowledge with wild abandon and started to attract an audience.

Not only did this blog allow me to demonstrate my knowledge but it provided me with a home base to send people I’d connected with through social media.

2. Build a social network with purpose.

Twitter was (and still is) my social networking platform of choice. When I signed up, I spent months observing the conversations, getting to know the etiquette and slowly but surely growing my network strategically.

I sought out and connected with industry thought leaders and journalists, identified people with similar work backgrounds and ethics, and spent time chatting and sharing links not only to my blog posts but to articles that I was reading that I knew would benefit my network.

My patience and consistency paid off when I received a DM from the editor of Australia’s largest small business magazine. She’d been following my blog and invited me to write a five-page article about social media.

That article led to another DM, this time from the editor of Australia’s largest online business magazine. I was invited to write a column with the potential of becoming a monthly contributor. I’ve just filed my 14th column with them.

3. Connect with people who share your interests.

While much of my network building was strategic, I also enjoyed connecting with other people who shared my interests.

One day I was chatting with another woman involved in online business who was writing about similar topics. A few days later I woke up to find that I’d been listed on Forbes as one of 30 female entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter. It turned out that contact was a writer for Forbes, and the result of that coverage was 3000 new followers in three days.

Some might say it was luck. I say, you only get lucky when you put in the ground work.

4. Connect with your readers outside of your blog.

In addition to emailing a thank you to every commenter who interacted with my blog, I’d also visit their blogs and add them to my Twitter network. If they had a LinkedIn account promoted on their blog, I’d add them there too. This strengthened the relationships I built, and made a lasting impression. I still do this occasionally today.

5. Build anticipation for the launch of your business.

We all know that at the heart of social media is authenticity and transparency. As I was building my consultancy website, and deciding on my services and pricing, I chatted about it on Twitter. I asked for feedback on taglines and navigation text, and focused on involving my network in the journey to launch.

When the time came to open for business, I had a network that helped spread the word for me. They felt invested in the process and the journey I’d taken to get to that point.

6. Develop products based on your audience needs.

One of the first strategic networks that I built was focused around my industry peers—marketing and digital types. Six months after launching my I consultancy, I’d just experienced my first nightmare client and was looking into diversifying my income streams.

My first experiment was an ebook—a guide to using Twitter for business. I sold the majority of my guides to other marketing consultants and learned a valuable lesson: know your audience, listen to what they need, and create it. Then use social networking to spread the word. Don’t hesitate. If you spot a need, jump on it.

One of the reasons my ebook sold so well was because it was one of the first on the market. The reason it spread was because it told the reader what they needed to know, they got results, and they recommended it to their networks.

7. Rinse and repeat.

After I’d been writing on my personal blog for a while, I got the opportunity to acquire the womeninbusiness.com.au domain. I snapped it up and have since used social media to build traffic to the site and foster community around its message, which is to help women create their own paths using online business.

As with any profitable blog, this site has a variety of revenue streams that are dependent on the trust, influence, and interest of my audience both on my blog and on the social networking platforms I use.

I used the same technique that I used for my consultancy to launch this business.

8. Monetize the trust you’ve earned.

I know there’s something icky about framing the idea this way, but it’s the cold hard truth. You’ve worked hard to provide (free) value on your blog and social networking platforms, and to keep the attention and trust of your audience. If you want to create a sustainable business, you’ll need to monetize their attention.

I do this by recommending affiliate products, selling my own products and services, and advertising.

I view the products I choose to be affiliated with as part of my overall product range. I only recommend products I’ve used and feel proud to associate with my name and the reputation I’ve worked hard to build.

A successful affiliate promotion should span your blog, social media platforms, and mailing list. A profitable one will perfectly match the needs of your audience. If it doesn’t, it’s better to find one that does, than to compromise that trust.

I recently launched my first premium product, a do-it-yourself online marketing ecourse. Twitter was a great platform to tell the story of this offering, and let people know about it in a natural way. In fact, the less salesy I was about the product, the more registrations I received.

9. Promote your meaningful transactions.

When you own an online publishing business there are two things you’ll be doing continuously: creating and promoting.

You’ll create content and you’ll need to promote it. Not only do you need to promote your content, you need to promote the meaningful transactions that affect your bottom line.

Meaningful transactions are the actions that turn a passive visitor or reader into an active part of your business. They’re the things that will make your business sustainable. As a blogger, an essential meaningful transaction occurs when a visitor subscribes via RSS or email. If you’re also an affiliate, a meaningful transaction would take place when a reader clicks on your affiliate link.

Write a list of your meaningful transactions and cycle through them, not forgetting the social media success ratio of one part promotion, one part sharing, one part conversation.

10. Keep a critical eye on your output.

Even though it’s important to promote your meaningful transactions, it’s more important to keep an eye on the quality of your output and the reaction that you’re getting from your social media audience.

When I first started kicking goals I would excitedly jump on Twitter and tell the world. After a while, I could tell that my excitement was coming across as self promotion. I scaled back and remembered the golden rule. In social media, it’s not about you. It’s about what you can do for others.

How are you using social media to grow your blog’s following and your business?

Clare Lancaster offers blog reviews to help improve the business performance of your blog. She is passionate about helping people make their own path in work and life and can be found on Twitter most days (@clarelancaster).

Blogger Accountability 101

This guest post is by JC of JCDFitness.

Every blogger who’s responsible for a sizeable readership knows the excitement associated with gaining new subscribers and exposure.

The process is encouraging and humbling at the same time – people are actually reading what you have to say.  They’re not only reading, but commenting and coming back every single time you hit publish.  They have your site bookmarked, and never fail to tweet about it whenever you publish something new.

Everyone has their reasons for producing content, but if we take a look around the web, it’s easy to see the reason why most of us are blogging. It’s a basic need that everyone shares: community. Ultimately, it’s your responsibility to manage and nurture reader relationships through content. Every piece of content you write and present must be of superb quality—if it’s not, don’t click publish.

How can we ensure that everything we create is genuine, worthwhile, and full of awesome?

By being accountable.

Without some form of accountability and sincerity in your work, your blog will likely never make it.  Let yourself slip up too many times, and you’ll become another screech in the cacophony of blogging noise.  Your readers will figure you out and many of them will leave.

Accountability in action

Many months ago, I received a product from some fellow bloggers in my niche. They were launching their first digital download for profit and had set up an affiliate program to assist with promotions.  I was familiar with their work and enjoyed their writings on multiple subjects.

I opened the ebook within a few weeks of receiving it. I scoured most of it, but not all—and that was my biggest mistake. Thinking it looked fine, I signed up for the affiliate program.

Finally, while I was writing a post, I realized that the product fit nicely into the discussion, so I promoted the product in my post, and hit the Publish button.

And then it hit me—square in the kisser.

I received an email from a colleague I’ve garnered much respect for. He questioned my motives for promoting the product and challenged me to read it a few times over and re-examine why I was promoting it.

After my second and third looks into the product, I found myself asking the question, “Would I purchase this and if I did, would I recommend it to my friends and family?”

I wish I could have said yes, but it was impossible. I had nothing against the author or their previous writing. But their product contained a few things I disagreed with. I simply couldn’t feel good about referring it to anyone—especially my readers.

I took down the link, checked my affiliate account to ensure a refund could be processed if needed, and called it a day.  Later that evening, I made a decision.

I made up my mind that I will always seek another’s opinion before I publish something I’ve never promoted before on any site I own.

Developing an accountability system

That night, I phoned a friend and established a weekly accountability system. He, too, is a blogger in the same niche, and we now meet once a week to discuss our goals, the articles we’re working on—we even critique each other’s writing before publishing.

If we catch an affiliate product link, paragraph, or even one measly sentence that’s incongruous with our goals and ideals, we communicate this to one another immediately. It’s our goal to produce the best content with our readers’ interests in mind.

They are, after all, the only reason we write.

While most would like to go it alone, it’s fairly easy to let ourselves slip up every now and then.  No one’s perfect, and none of us can expect to make the right judgment call 100% of the time.  But, what if that one time we screw up, it costs us our entire audience?  What if it could’ve been avoided by inviting some extra accountability from someone you respect and who cares about you?

You’d be crushed if you inadvertently did something that ruined your relationship with your audience.  All your hard work would be in vain, and re-establishing your credibility would seem almost impossible—and it might be.  It would be even more frustrating if your mistake could’ve been avoided altogether had you created an accountability system to keep you on your toes.

If your audience means anything to you, I challenge you to seek out one or two people who will hold you to the standards you’d like to live by—someone who’s not afraid to call a spade a spade, and who’ll give it to you straight if they see you’re headed for trouble.

What about you? How do you hold yourself accountable and ensure your work is always your best? Let us know in the comments.

JC is the author of JCDFitness, where he shows regular people how easy it is to lose fat, build muscle and transform their body using his simple No-BS Approach to Looking Great Naked.  Follow him on Twitter.

Autoresponders on ‘Roids

This post was written by the Web Marketing Ninja—a professional online marketer for a major web brand, who’s sharing his tips undercover here at ProBlogger. Curious? So are we!

Darren has written a lot about how he has evolved his autoresponder sequences on his blogs. But I want to take this a step further and describe how you can turn a good auto responder into a great one.

Step 1: Segment your subscribers when they give you their email addresses

When you ask users to give you their email addresses, you should keep the process as frictionless as possible. If you can, just ask for the address itself. If you really need to, ask for their name so you can personalize messages—but that’s it.

Given you’ve only got one piece of information, how can you segment your audience?

  • Segment A: Existing Customer: match the email address to your list of orders and see if the person is an existing customer or not.
  • Segment B: Blog Commenter: if you’re requesting people include their email addresses when they post comments, match against that to determine how connected they are to your blog.
  • Segment C: Community Member: if your blog includes a forum, chances are you’ll have a record of user email addresses from your forum signup process. Use this to determine if they’re already part of your community.
  • Segment D: New Subscriber: this is the bucket for anyone who doesn’t fit into the above segments. These are fresh faces to your blog.

Step 2: Tailor an autoresponder for each segment

You’ll probably follow a similar process to the one Darren created here. However, you should create a sequence that’s specific for each segment. For example, you might welcome a new subscriber by sharing with them some of your most popular posts first. Then, you might send them a copy of your latest newsletter. Finally, you might send them an offer on one of your products. Alternatively, you might simply send an existing customer the content they gave you their email for, as they’re already in your sales cross-sell and up-sell cycle.

As a starting point, try to put yourself in the segment’s shoes, and create a process you’d like to see if you were them.

Step 3: Test and refine each segment’s autoresponder

This is where it gets a little harder and, sometimes, a little confusing. It’s time to refine your autoresponder sequence to find that optimal conversion rate for each segment. Some of the considerations you need to take into your testing could include:

  • Sequence of events: e.g. free ebook –> links to popular blog posts –> latest newsletter –> paid ebook
  • Email delivery time: during business hours/outside business hours/weekday/weekend
  • Delay between emails: one month, one week, one day, one hour
  • Email format: HTML, rich text, or plain text
  • Email copy: long or short, informational or sales-focused

Warning: when you’re testing, you can easily get out of control creating variations. For example, if you had three different test cases for each of four segments, you’d have 12 tests running simulations. And if they have four emails each, that would be 48 emails you need to write! I’d start with what you think is right, and over time evolve your approach—just like Darren has.

Now unfortunately I’m not sure of any email services offering this level of depth when it comes to allocating people to certain lists based on their customer profiles (if someone knows of one, let me know). So you might need to have something custom-created for you to take an email address, decide what segment the user fits into, and assign that person to the appropriate list. However, a little investment up front can pay huge dividends in ongoing reader-to-customer conversions.

Even if you’re only getting a handful or subscribers each day, putting them through a focused autoresponder program that’s been tailored to them will, without doubt, increase your conversions.

Stay tuned from most posts by the secretive Web Marketing Ninja—a professional online marketer for a major web brand, who’s sharing more of his tips undercover here at ProBlogger over the coming weeks.

Build the Perfect Blog Audience for You

This guest post is by David Risley of DavidRisley.com.

If you could hand-pick your ideal blog reader, who would they be? What are they like? What do they look like?

Have you ever even thought about it?

See, all too often, a blogger sets up a blog and just starts posting with their fingers crossed, hoping somebody will come by. In those days, you don’t really think too much about the people you attract. It is all about those numbers and getting traffic up. After all, seeing some positive numbers in your Analytics at least means somebody is listening, right?

As somebody who has been in this blogging thing for over a decade, I’m here to tell you that numbers don’t mean that much. When it comes down to making a full-time business out of blogging, the kinds of people you attract is more important than quantity.

I’d rather have an audience of 1,000 people who I really “click” well with than 10,000 people I don’t. I’ll make more money with the smaller audience any time.

For this to enter the realm of common sense, let’s look at real life, shall we?

Oil and water; peas and carrots

I’ve said before that blogging is a people business. Understand people and you’ll understand blogging as a business model. So, with that in mind, let’s just think about things we’ve observed in that little thing called “real life”.

Have you ever had to deal with somebody who you just don’t get along with – at all? Perhaps you have a sense of humor, but this other person has none and ends up taking all your jokes seriously (or, worse, gets offended). Perhaps you’re the responsible type and this other person is just a model of irresponsibility. Perhaps you guys simply share no interests whatsoever. You guys are like oil and water.

On the flip side, other people are just really easy to get along with. Perhaps they share the same goals and you end up working together. Perhaps you both have a similar sense of humor and crack each other up. Perhaps you meet that special person and experience “love at first sight”. Call it chemistry or whatever you wish. As Forrest Gump would have said it, you guys get along like peas and carrots.

Now, to throw a fancy word at you, what I’m talking about is congruence. If you were to arbitrarily try to symbolize that person in a series of vectors, all your vectors would more or less point in the same direction. You have congruence or alignment.

Understanding reader “congruence”

It’s been said many times, but a very important part of making money as a blogger is building a solid relationship with your audience. You want them to know, like and trust you.

If we delve just a little bit deeper than that, it comes down to attracting the kinds of people who you “click” with. People you have congruence with.

Your ideal reader would be somebody who shares certain goals with you (after all, that’s what makes them part of your market to begin with). Beyond that, however, they should also share certain characteristics with you so that they “click” with your style and your personality.

These are people with congruent personalities. These are the people who will form the strongest bond with you, who will love what you produce, and who will be much more likely to buy your stuff or what you recommend. They will feel as if they know you. They will like you and trust you. They will be fans.

Now, the way you portray your online brand is very important to attracting congruent personalities. You play up the characteristics that “jive” with your audience, and play down the others. Essentially, you are creating a brand avatar for yourself. Ideally, that brand avatar should be representative of where your audience wants to be.

If you’re at all familiar with the world of Internet marketing, then perhaps you know who Frank Kern is. Kern is a master of this brand avatar. His ideal customer is interested in making money. Money usually means freedom of time and location. People often associate the beach with freedom. So, what is Frank’s brand? A surfer bum who lives on the beach in San Diego and turns everything into huge piles of money just by touching it. He openly exhibits a sense of humor.

What has Frank done? He has played up those aspects of himself which are congruent with his audience. He is a brand avatar for where they want to be.

An exercise for you

The purpose of this post is simply to get you thinking about your blog’s brand avatar.

In short, it comes down to being natural, but also strategic. Be yourself on your blog while also being somewhat strategic about the type of online brand you portray and, thus, the type of people you attract. And when somebody who simply doesn’t click with you rolls along, let them unsubscribe. Because the relationship is more important than that extra pixel on your analytics graph.

To get you started, I recommend that you write a “Wanted” ad for your ideal customer or reader. If you were to write such an ad, what would you write?

Here’s an example, if I were to write one for the ideal audience of my blog:

WANTED: Motivated blogger who wants to turn their passion into a full-time effort. Must be an action taker willing to work while having fun.

It’s short and concise, yet it spells out the kinds of qualities I want. I’m not saying you’re going to go out and post this anywhere. This is just an exercise to get you thinking about your brand avatar, and your audience.

Lastly, as you create this ad, think about how you portray yourself on your blog and what kinds of people it will attract. Do your brand avatar and your audience line up?

David Risley shows bloggers how to find the intersection between blogging and marketing, and finally start making money with your blog. You can follow is escapades on Twitter at @davidrisley.