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How to Land the Best Products to Review

This post is by Simon Worrall of CM Copywriters.

Each year, companies spend hundreds of millions on branded T-shirts, mugs, stickers, and pens. Go to enough conferences and you’ll amass terabytes of memory sticks and a wardrobe of T-shirts, hoodies, and caps.

Promotional products are also a way of making money. In 2008, Europe’s soccer elite scored around $800 million from merchandizing. And now online brands such as GitHub and Mozilla sell merchandize online. Most promotional products, though, are given away free.

20th Century Fox have done this in a clever and quirky way. They sent A.V. Club a faux-fox-tail tie to promote Fantastic Mr. Fox. “As promotional gimmicks go, it’s oddly appropriate, if a little sick,” said the entertainment publisher in a post discussing promotional products they’d received.

But not everyone’s use of promotional products is quite so fantastic. Do you really think promotional pens are churning out a strong return on investment? Spend $100 in giving away pens and sell $1,000 in products! The answer is a clear no: the recession hit the merchandizing industry like a punch in the face.

Not all promotional products quiver when they’re asked to justify the cost of being free; there’s one product that fries memory sticks, bursts pens, and shrinks hoodies. And, best of all, companies already have thousands stocked in their warehouse. It’s time they stopped buying branded umbrellas and started giving away their products for free.

Today companies must be more surgical with their marketing spend, and that’s where you can help. There’s never been a better time to get companies to give you their products so you can write a review. Provided you write honestly, and never promote brands blindly, you can become an important source of product information in your industry. This will bring new readers to your blog, and strengthen your credibility with advertisers.

Make your case

When online retailers give away their products, they want to measure results and get a tangible return. Your job is to convince them that you can deliver this.

The first point to make is that if you blog about a product, your followers will buy it. Best of all, you can deliver continuous sales results. There will be a surge when you first post the review, and then a stream as more readers find it in your archives. Be careful though. Don’t commit to writing positive reviews before you have tried the product. There’s no better way of poisoning your blog than endorsing poor products.

You will bring traffic to companies’ sites. Of course, linking to their site will help them get traffic from Google, but it’s more than that:

  • You can link to buried product pages—retailers find getting this type of link notoriously difficult.
  • You can rank for search phrases that are typically out of reach for retailers.

Next, you can help them with their conversion rates. If someone goes to a retailer’s site after reading your independent product review, they’re more likely to buy the product. This is especially the case if your blog is well established and has a good reputation; if they trust you, they trust the company.

Finally, companies worry about defending their brands. Their worst nightmare is some crazy customer ranking for their name. Good product reviews from established blogs help them to avoid this; you’re part of their insurance policy!

Companies like influencers

If a retailer sells a physical product, they don’t make money by giving it away for free. They make money from the way that people react to the product. The problem is that most consumers don’t react. They read and follow; they don’t blog or tweet.

As a blogger, you’re an influencer; that makes you one of the chosen few. If you can make a company understand that your blog is one that matters, one that people listen to, they are much more likely to give you products to review.

It’s even better if your followers are influencers themselves. If you are in this position, you don’t need to have a hundred thousand readers to create enormous value. For instance, every political pundit in Washington reads ABC News’ The Note, despite its comparatively low readership. By influencing The Note, you can influence The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.

If you have this type of audience, make sure that the retailer knows this. Otherwise, they will just look at your site statistics, and undervalue your influence.

Here’s another idea if your audience is influential: be bold, ask the company for several copies of the product, and run a contest. Giving away free products to your followers is a great way of rewarding their loyalty and encouraging them to stick around, and the business will be happy to get people thinking about their product.

Understand the retailer’s business case

Here’s a secret: the price of a product doesn’t reveal much about the cost of making it. Price is the value that people place on the product; cost is the raw materials and labor that go into the product in the first place.

When you approach a retailer, you need to think about product cost, not the price. Have you ever seen a software sales letter that ends with $300 in free bonuses? There’s a reason why you’re getting them free: there’s no cost to making each new product. There’s a one-time cost and barely any costs thereafter.

Do some basic arithmetic before approaching a prospect. Can you drive enough sales to make it worthwhile for them? How much will it cost them to give you one of their products, and will they get enough money back? Unless you can show them you can do this, you’re going to walk away empty-handed.

Getting a $10 bunch of flowers from a florist is easy. But unless you’re filming the latest James Bond movie, Aston Martin won’t be sending you a car anytime soon.

Metrics

Your site metrics aren’t everything, especially if your blog is highly influential. But, retailers will want to see your metrics. Here are some of the key metrics they will use to evaluate your reach.

  • PageRank: This is often derided as an SEO metric, but it does give some idea of the volume and quality of your inbound links. Companies will often look at this as a quick first check before spending more time looking at your blog.
  • Twitter and Facebook: companies will look at your Twitter and Facebook audience to judge your reach. If you don’t have a big audience, show them that people are sharing your content. You should also show that you have a bigger audience than your competitors.
  • Comments per post: this gives insight into the size of your readership and how strongly they respond to your blog. Companies are cautious when using this metric; it is the easiest of all to manipulate and varies depending on the subject of your blog.
  • Monthly visits: companies tend to focus more on monthly unique visitors, rather than total page views. This is because page views are easier to manipulate.

All of these statistics have some value, but they all have flaws as well. Therefore, rather than relying on one, companies generally consider them as a whole.

How to contact companies

Get in touch with companies directly. Find the right marketing contact on their corporate website and send them an email. If you can’t find this, give them a call and ask for the best person to speak with. This will usually be a public relations or marketing employee.

Here’s an example of the type of email you can send:

Re: Business Proposal

Hello Name Surname,

Good morning. I saw your recent press announcement about the new range that you’re launching next month, and I was particularly interested in your 1960s-inspired hard-sided luggage. Your timing seems perfect—’60s fashion is everywhere at the moment, and my readers love it!

I have written a fashion blog for several years now, and it has grown to about 30,000 followers. I had a huge amount of comments recently on several posts I made on ’60s fashion, and also on another post about traveling in style. Putting these together, it seems to me that my readers would be very interested in your new range.

Would you be interested in providing me with your product so that I can review it and share feedback with my readers? I was also thinking of running a prize contest after the review; a lot of my readers are in the fashion industry themselves and this would be a great opportunity to spread the word!

I would be very happy to give you more information about my blog and the type of readership I have. You can also read my blog at Blog Address.

I’m excited about this idea, and hope that you are too. I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

Kind regards,

My Name

T: 123-456-7890
E: [email protected]
W: myblog.com

Product reviews and contests are a great way to increase your followers, and keep them coming back. Getting companies to give you their products takes a little homework, but you can do it—and you’ll get some great products for free!

Simon Worrall is a copywriter at CM Copywriters. The UK-based agency provides tone of voice and web copy services to a global roster of clients.

Principles of Effective Blog Design

This is a guest post by Peep Laja, CEO of Traindom.

People judge books by the cover, and other people by their looks.

Take a look at these two men:

Two men

Now answer these questions (you can’t choose “neither”):

  • Which one would you rather ask investment advice from?
  • Which one would you rather have babysit your children?
  • Which one would you rather have cook your dinner?

… and so on. You don’t know anything about these men. Yet you make assumptions and can even take decisions based on their looks.

What does that have to do with your blog? Everything!

“As aesthetically orientated humans, we’re psychologically hardwired to trust beautiful people, and the same goes for websites. Our offline behaviour and inclinations translate to our online existence.”—Dr. Brent Coker

Dr. Brent Coker studied the impact of attractive websites on human behavior. Websites that are more attractive and include more trimmings create a greater feeling of trustworthiness and professionalism in consumers.

People judge your blog based on the design

If somebody knows you well, they don’t care about your looks that much. If they see you for the first time, looks matter a lot.

The content of your blog is always more important than the design, but you need to woo people with your design first. You draw them in with design, and keep with content.

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”—Steve Jobs

The following advice will help you design a better blog and this in turn will help you sell more (whether you’re selling free sign-ups, coaching sessions, products, or whatever).

Make it easy to find stuff

Who is your site for? What are they looking for? Value function over aesthetics: 76% of people want it to be easy for them to find what they want.

What kind of blog layouts are they used to using? Remember, people spend most of their time on other websites, not yours. Avoid totally new and never-seen-before layouts. Your car isn’t unique, and your house might not be either.

For return visitors, search is vital. Make sure your search box is clearly visible (above the fold), at least 27 characters wide and that the search can actually find relevant stuff. WordPress’s built-in search is very poor, and it lists the results by date, not relevance. Use a plugin like Relevanssi to improve it tremendously.

Less is more

Use plenty of white space. Don’t fill every possible space with banners, messages, or whatever else. The more breathing room there is, the easier it is for visitors to consume the information you produce.

Here’s an excellent post on using white space.

Rule of thirds

You should never publish a blog post without an image. A visual communicates your ideas much faster than any text can.

The best images follow the rule of thirds: an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally-spaced horizontal lines and two equally-spaced vertical lines, and that important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections.

The rule of thirds

Image licensed under Creative Commons

See how the image on the right is more interesting? That’s rule of thirds in action.

Clarity matters

Content and clarity are important parts of the design.

What is this place? What can I do here? How is it useful? First-time visitors need to get answers to these questions within their first seconds on your blog.

Make sure it’s possible to clearly understand what your blog is about and who’s it for—no matter which page the visitors land on. The better you build a connection between your reader and your blog, the higher the chances they will stick around.

People start reading your website from the top-left corner. The fixations go in order from left to right. That’s where you want to place the most important information.

Readability and typography

The text on your blog should be beautiful and easy to read.

Use large fonts (at least 14px), short lines (see the width of Tynan’s blog posts), and lots of white space. Create a new paragraph every three or four lines, and a subheading after every two to three paragraphs.

The best blog typography lends a meaningful purpose to the content while triggering emotions in your readers in the process. Besides picking a beautiful web font, make sure that different text elements have a different look and feel (main headings, subheadings, regular text, italic text, quotes, lists, and so on).

Here are 10 Examples of Beautiful CSS Typography and how they did it. Also take a look at Space, a WordPress theme designed for reading.

You can use TypeTester to test and compare different fonts, sizes and so on.

Invite repeat visits

Over 95% of people won’t buy anything on their first visit. Hence you should not even try to sell to your first-time visitors. Instead, try to get them to come back so you can build a relationship and add value before you make them an offer of any kind.

How can you do that?

  • Invite them to subscribe to your RSS feed (and state how many people already do as a type of social proof).
  • Use a lead magnet to attract them to sign up to your email list.
  • Invite them to subscribe to your blog posts over email (Feedburner is a good tool for this).
  • Ask them to follow you on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook.

Make sure you focus on one of these options most (email list is best), but give a choice of up to three options.

This is how aext.net is doing it:

aext.net follow invitation

The aext.net follow invitation

Signup forms

The best signup forms:

  • put the form labels above the input box (not next to it)
  • give clear reasons to take action
  • have the submit button say what’s coming next
  • ask for as little user data as possible—an email address is enough in most cases.

The more fields people have to fill in to subscribe, the less likely they’ll be to do it. Email personalization by name is not working as well anymore anyway, so you might as well not ask for those details.

The One Question, a site helping people find their life purpose, has 30% of new visitors sign up via this form every day:

The One Question subscription form

The One Question subscription form

Why is it so effective? The form offers the exact thing people search for on Google to come to the site. If you offer people what they want, they are happy to sign up.

Text logo: 1% pain, 99% gain

You don’t need to hire a fancy designer and pay top dollar for your logo. Even huge budgets might not make much difference here.

You can create a beautiful logo using text. Pick a beautiful fontand a background color you like—and voilà! A designer from Edicy took just 15 minutes to create this logo for an imaginary company (Tajo Oja):

Edicy's text-only logo example

Edicy's text-only logo example, by Tajo.ee

Careful with stock photos

Stock photos seem like a good idea, but 90% of them are utterly fake and cheesy. Have you googled “women laughing alone with salad” recently?

How can you expect to be taken seriously if you feature suits shaking hands and half-naked women measuring each others waists?

Some people advocate that given the proliferation of low-cost cameras and smart phones, your own photography should be used rather than stock.  I agree.

Can’t decide on the color scheme?

Let’s say you like the color red, but can’t decide what other colors match your favorite shade of red.

You don’t have to guess or ask your friends. You can use online color matching tools for this:

How often should you revamp your blog design?

That’s actually not the right question to ask. You should only change it if there’s a real need behind it. What’s not working for you today? Put the goal first, and the redesign second.

Will the new design help you get more clicks to your ads? Increase pageviews or signups?

Ideally you’ll see your blog as a living, breathing organism that never stops evolving. Constantly A/B test your most important pages and design elements, and measure the improvement. You can only improve what you measure.

Peep Laja is the CEO of Traindom, online software for building online courses and membership sites.

I’m Going to Blog World Expo LA [PLUS: Who #BWELA is Good For]

In just over a month Blog World Expo will be happening in Los Angeles from 3-5 November – and I will be there – speaking at one of the Track Keynotes (topic TBA).

blog-world-expo.png

I didn’t think I would get there this year with a new baby in the house but the little guy is doing really well and so I’m coming.

If you’ve already booked your tickets to come I can’t wait to see you – and if you’re still not sure if BWELA is for you I’d encourage you to seriously consider it – particularly in the next couple of days because their Early Bird Discount ends on 30th September – PLUS if you use the coupon code of PROBLOGVIP you’ll get an additional 20% off (that’s around $500 off the full pass).

This is the 1 conference that I’m willing to commute for 15 hours (each way) to get to every year.

Who is #BWELA For?

Usually when I tell people I’m going to Blog World people ask me what type of blogger it is for? It’s a tricky one to answer because attendees come from around the world who blog in many many niches and who are at many levels – from beginner to advance.

So perhaps rather than trying to define a type of blogger – let me explore some of the ‘needs’ bloggers have that I think BWE helps* with.

Need Inspiration?

The thing I love about BWE is that almost every night after I get back to my hotel (and then again on the plane as I fly home) I find myself writing page after page of ideas and things that I want to try out for myself. I find it so inspiring to spend 3 days hearing the stories of other bloggers and always return home feeling very motivated to take my blogging to the next level.

Need Advice?

BWE is 3 days packed with so much teaching from amazing speakers that you just can’t take it all in. Some of the names listed on the speaker page you’ll have heard of and others you won’t know – but the variety of topics covered and the expertise of many of the speakers is sure to hit the spot for most bloggers. In addition to that – BWE is small enough that you can get to chat with speakers after their sessions – so there’s lots of opportunity to ask questions.

Need a Network?

Of course the expertise is not just up on stage – BWE is attended by several thousand bloggers who each have something important to share. The real magic of BWE often happens when you’re waiting for a session to begin and get to know the person sitting next to you. It often happens over lunch, coffee or at the parties and networking events in the evenings. It often happens in the exhibition hall or even while you’re lining up to get your badge. The opportunities for friendship, support and even collaboration are amazing – if you go with the right attitude*.

Need a Break?

Have you been working hard on your blog and are feeling a little burnt out? One of the reasons I get to BWE every year is that it actually gives me a little ‘space’ away from my normal routine and life to take a look at my business from a new perspective. It also gives me a little opportunity to relax and have some fun with others who understand what I do and who are also in need of a little unwinding. I am not really one for partying hard (I tend to be more into going out for dinner or smaller gatherings) – but the opportunity for a little fun towards the end of a big year is something I’m looking forward to.

*Will Blog World Expo Fulfil all these Needs?

BWE is a great event – you’ll get a lot out of it and come home with Inspiration, Advice and a great Network…. IF you go with the right attitude. The people who I see getting most out of Blog World Expo are those who are willing to step a little out of their comfort zone and those who are willing to not only attend and be impacted by the event – but who also go home and implement.

As with anything – BWE is not just about what you get – it’s also an opportunity to reach out to others like you to give encouragement and support. When you go with that attitude the experience comes alive all the more!

Secure Your Early Bird Discount to BWE Today

If the above fits with your needs as a blogger and you’re able to get to LA from 3-5 November I would love to meet you at Blog World Expo. Grab your ticket here today and don’t forget the PROBLOGVIP coupon code for a further 20% off.

Disclaimer: I am an affiliate for this event – but I’m also travelling half way around the world to attend it because I believe in what happens there.

7 Ways Interviews Can Skyrocket Blog Growth

This guest post is by Srinivas Rao of The Skool of Life.

The idea of interviewing people might give you the jitters. It might make you feel like you’re standing naked in front of your elementary classroom with nothing intelligent to ask or say. But the only way you’re ever going to find out is if you put yourself out there.

I took a gamble and started interviewing people as part of a weekly series on my blog. That eventually became my calling card in the blogosphere. David Siteman Garland built his show The Rise to the Top through interviews and went on to publish a book. And Andrew Warner at Mixergy has interviewed some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world and built his own brand in the process.

Interviewing experts in your field is a gold mine waiting to be cashed in on, and it offers many benefits to the blogger.

1. Create killer content

Interviewing other people, especially those who are experts in their field, is a great way to create killer content for your blog.

When you interview an expert you end up creating highly educational, valuable content that your audience can learn from. It brings a different perspective to your audience, and gives them ideas they may not have considered before. The key to turning your interview into killer content is to put the spotlight on your interviewee.

2. Build lasting relationships

The greatest benefit I’ve received from interviewing people is the relationships that I’ve formed with them. The people I’ve interviewed have become some of my biggest supporters and greatest friends.

When you interview somebody you have an opportunity to have a conversation that goes beyond what you might have via email, Twitter, or blog comments. As a result you have an opportunity to form a stronger connection with that person.

The benefits of interviewing people have extended far beyond blog traffic for me. When one of the bloggers I interviewed learned that I was moving to Costa Rica, she introduced me to some real estate developers who provided me with six months of rent-free living in exchange for some social media and online marketing advice.

When I found out I would be speaking at Blogworld NYC, I jokingly wrote about the fact that I was going to land from Costa Rica without having a suit to wear for my speech. Another blogger I’d interviewed asked me for my size and he bought be a brand new suit and shipped it to my friend’s place.

The beauty of relationships is that they provide a solid foundation that will extend beyond the life of your blog. After all the blogosphere is fueled entirely by people, so getting to know a few will be essential to your success.

3. Spot business opportunities

When you interview people, you may even come across potential business opportunities.

A well-known blogger on the Adage 150 list who I interviewed extended me an invitation to be a paid contributor to his blog. I ended up launching a product with another blogger I interviewed that enabled me to generate my first couple hundred dollars online. I’ve always believed that conversations evolve into relationships, and relationships evolve into opportunities.

4. Gain valuable advice

Interviewing people has resulted me in getting tens of thousands of dollars in valuable advice.

When I first started interviewing people my mindset was, “This person is famous. They’ll tweet each interview and it will go viral.” That never happened, and the problem with that mindset was that it was all about me.

I soon came to the realization that I had the attention of a person who charges hundreds of dollars an hour for their time. If I made it all about what I could learn and what I could teach my audience, the quality of the interview would go up dramatically.

From that point forward I treated everyone I interviewed as if I was paying for their time. Given that you’ll often spend some time talking to your interviewee “off the record,” you’ll likely also get some invaluable insights on how to grow your blog or business.

5. Expand your platform

They say around 95% of communication is non-verbal. And one thing I think most bloggers don’t do nearly enough of is experiment with different types of content. A blog is a multi-format platform. You can use written content, audio content, and video content. While most bloggers have a presence on Twitter and Facebook there aren’t nearly as many who have a presence on iTunes. In fact it’s a great differentiator when you consider the following:

  • The competition for written content is vast.
  • With audio content the competition decreases.
  • With video content there is even less competition.

When you interview people (especially using audio or video), you have an opportunity to experiment with different types of content and differentiate yourself from other bloggers.

6. Connect more deeply with your audience

While writing is a nice way to let your audience get to know you, when your audience gets to hear your voice, you’ll be able to form a deeper connection with them.

Human beings are dynamic and the written word is one of many ways in which we communicate. Exploring multimedia content like audio and video humanizes your brand and gives your audience a more in-depth view into who you are beyond your writing.

7. Build traffic

Interviews can also send a significant amount of traffic to your blog. When you interview influential people, it’s likely they’ll share your interview with their audience and if it’s a high-quality interview you’ll end up getting traffic to your blog.

While traffic is a nice benefit, experience has showed me that you shouldn’t interview people in the hopes of generating more traffic. In fact, the reason I ranked it last on this list is because I think all the other benefits of interviewing people significantly outweigh the traffic increase that you’ll get.

So what are you waiting for? In the famous words of AT&T “Reach out and touch someone.”

Srinivas Rao is the author of The Skool of Life and the host/co-founder of BlogcastFM. Download his FREE Webinar on the 7 Pillars of Blog Traffic.

A Practical Strategy to Increase the Value of Your Blog

This guest post is by Sunil of the Extra Money Blog.

Not long ago I wrote about determining the value of your website or blog here on problogger.net. Now that you know how a web property is or can be valued in the free market, in this article I want to discuss a practical strategy you can apply to increase the valuation of your web property.

The value of a website or blog, or any other business for that matter, is derived from its earnings or free cash flows before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization—a term referred to as EBITDA in the professional sector.

Grow your value

Copyright Gorilla - Fotolia.com

Therefore a web property’s value is predicated on its earnings, multiplied by a factor X called an earnings multiplier that is derived from similar transactions in the recent past. 

For example, if a similar blog sold for four times its earnings couple months ago, there is a good chance you can count on a similar multiple when putting a value on your web property.

What do I know about website valuations? For starters, I sold an ecommerce website in 2007 for $250,000 to one of the top power sellers on Ebay at the time. Since then I have sold several niche websites for five figure cash out deals.

The best way to boost value

If valuations are based on earnings, it is obvious that earnings must increase if the value of your web property is to increase. Many online entrepreneurs take their time growing their web property organically, often on their own due to funding restrictions.

However, once the web property starts generating a little bit of money, one of the best investments you can make to increase its value is by reinvesting those earnings right back into the business.

For example, let’s assume you have a niche website that has 30 pages, each of which brings in $1 a day, roughly on average, from Google Adsense. If you took your earnings and invested in 30 freelance articles, you can hypothetically double the earnings from your website.

Let’s walk through this example with numbers. A 30-page website generating a dollar per page per day generates a total of $30 per page per month. $30 per page per month multiplied by 30 pages gives you a monthly income of $900.  If you took the $900, or one month’s earnings, and invested it in 30 high-quality articles at $30 each, you would now have a total of 60 articles. 60 articles generating $1 each per day equates to an income of $60 per day, or $1,800 per month, which is double of the initial $900 you were making.

Now here is a question: since your income has now increased by $900 per month, or $10,800 per year, has the value of your web property also increased by that amount as well?

No it has not.

It has increased even more.

Let’s have a look at the reasons why. $900 generated per month equates to $10,800 per year. If you were to sell this web property at an earnings multiple of four, you could expect to get $43,200 for it. However, your web property now generates $1,800 per month, or $21,600 per year. At the same earnings multiple of four, we are looking at a valuation of $86,400, which is not just $10,800 more, but double the initial $43,200 valuation.

The math reads pretty simply. Assuming the same multiple is in place, double your earnings and it will double your valuation. This example is very simplistic in that it assumes no operating expenses, stable multiples, certain Adsense earnings correlations, etc.

A valuable concept

Even though it’s not always quite this easy, or simplistic in nature, don’t get fixated on the facts. Instead, keep the general concept in mind. 

A web property may never grow, or may grow slowly if you were to work on it on your own, but hiring outside help can boost your earnings in the short-term and pay large dividends down the road if and when you sell your web property.

What do you think of this method of increasing the valuation of your business? Do you have additional tips or strategies that you can share with us?

Sunil owns over a dozen profitable niche websites and is the author of “How to Go from $0 to $1,000 a month in Passive and Residual Income in Under 180 Days All in Your Spare Time“, a FREE report you can download instantly from his Extra Money Blog, where he discusses how to create multiple streams of passive and residual income, entrepreneurship, internet marketing, blogging and personal finance.

6 Tips to Help You Survive Your First 3 Months of Pro Blogging

This guest post is by Glee of Creative Fashion.

I was a high-school Maths teacher for eight years and for all those years, my life evolved in writing lesson plans, producing teaching materials and worksheets, dealing with parents, teaching some well-behaved and some rude students, and pleasing demanding bosses. When an opportunity came for me to finally be a full-time blogger, which allows me to be my own boss and set my own schedule and calendar, it was a dream come true.

Yet, as it turn out, building a website and establishing myself as an authority isn´t all fairy tales.

Work from home

Copyright AZP Worldwide - Fotolia.com

I was a part-time blogger for two years, juggling my full-time day job, after-school tutorials, and blogging until late midnight every day. My first blogs were built through a free blog platform, on which I learned HTML, SEO techniques, and a little online marketing. I had enough experience and I was quite ready to do blogging full-time before I decided to quit my job.

I built my professional blogs and now I’m working toward my dream of making them big: I’m officially a full-time blogger. But there are stumbling blocks that I had to deal with more than once in those first few months of pro blogging; here are the techniques I used to beat them.

1. Balance your freedom with a solid schedule

The good thing about full-time blogging is you don’t have a boss. And the bad thing about full-time blogging is you don’t have a boss.

The freedom that full-time blogging offers is what makes people want to become full-time bloggers. However, it’s the same freedom that sends them to failure fast if they aren’t careful.

I’m a stay-at-home wife and a self-confessed online entrepreneur (a fancy name for a blogger), and when my husband kisses me good-bye in the morning, I’m still in bed … and so tempted to go back to sleep.

It takes discipline to beat this behavior. I soon realized that if I go to work late, I can’t keep working until late. When my husband comes home, I have to start preparing dinner—plus there’s a couple of hours for our bonding time which include going to the gym. I clean the kitchen after dinner, and then it’s already very late at night. So basically my job ends at 5p.m. I can only do a little work on my blog late at night.

This urged me to create a schedule and to stick to it. When hubby goes to work at 7:45 in the morning, I’ve got to be fixing the bed, then have breakfast, shower, do a little housework, and be at my desk by 9a.m. I get a break for lunch around 1p.m. and the hard work ends at 5p.m. If I’m really good, I can do a little more work after dinner.

The bottom line: create a daily schedule and stick to it. Treat blogging as a real business.

2. Learn how to deal with discouragements and frustrations

When I see my traffic numbers start to rise, I feel so happy. It gives me energy to work harder. This is especially true when I see my Alexa rank increase.

However, there are times when the scenario is reversed. I get up in the morning excited to see how my site is doing, thinking, “Did it increase from last night’s Alexa rank?” But I’m disappointed if it didn’t. In fact, if the rank has decreased, I’ll feel sad and my energy levels will drop.

Another discouraging experience is seeing my subscribers leave. It´s fun to see them increase, but it´s never fun to see them decrease. If I’m not careful, I am really emotionally affected by these events. I keep asking myself, “What made them leave?”

What to do? I figure that it’s best to apply sportsmanship in this business, and not to take it too personally. Some people are happy to join your list but sometimes, for some reasons, they no longer need your service, so they have to go. It’s not always all about you so there’s no need to mourn for it.

However, if the percentage of decline is quite big, it makes me re-evaluate my site. Am I posting enough quality content in a day? Which content items are sending me most of the traffic and why do they perform better? What do my readers want to learn from me? And so on.

The bottom line: Don’t take discouragement too personally, and don’t let it affect you negatively. Use it to re-evaluate and improve your site.

3. Don’t succumb to burnout

Burnout is one of the most common enemies of full-time bloggers. There’s just too much to do! You become overwhelmed if you try to do everything at once. Not good! When you suffer from burnout, you no longer feel happy doing what you love. How can you avoid it?

I created a “To-do” list for my website and I order the items according to priorities and timeframes. I learned to set a target each day, each week, and each month. For example, guest posting here at ProBlogger is my “To-do” task this week, and I had to set time to write this post, inserting it in my everyday schedule. The “must-do” tasks are done right away, while those in the long-term list are done little by little each day.

If I don’t escape burnout and it strikes me, I find ways to unwind. For example, I focus my energy right now on my fashion blog. At times when sitting at my desk and seeing HTML makes me feel ill, I grab my camera, dress up, leave the house and do outfit pictorials. This allows me to take some fresh air and re-charge my energy. If I’m not into dressing up, I take my fashion magazines and do some reading instead.

The bottom line: create a “To-do“ list and learn to prioritize your tasks. If burnout strikes, find ways to refresh your mind. Do something that makes you happy other than blogging.

4. Be prepared to troubleshoot when technical problems hit your site

I have twice survived the horror of hacking and viruses—and I didn’t escape without trauma. There was one day when my then-fiancé (now husband) made a long-distance call from Germany to infrom me that something was wrong with my site. It didn’t display properly on his monitor, everything was in disarray, and there were some scripts that would flash on the screen before my messy website loaded. To my horror, my friends confirmed via Facebook that, indeed, they couldn’t access my website. But it was displaying all right in my monitor. No matter how I tried, it really worked just fine in my computer. I’d been hacked!

I immediately did a complete malware scan and started to troubleshoot. I got plenty of “Cannot modify header information” messages, which I was completely unprepared for. I was crying my eyes out because the solutions that I googled didn´t work. I spent two days hunting down the illegal scripts before I finally found their file location.

The next attack was through my Feedburner service, which was corrupted by a virus so that nobody could access it. This time, I spent a day troubleshooting before I was able to again locate and remove the illegal scripts.

Then one morning I received an email from my webserver host informing me that they did a cleanup of my FileZilla because they found some suspicious activities. They also informed me that they’re available 24 hours if I need help and that I could access them via chat.

How come I didn´t know that? Those days of troubleshooting could have been reduced to hours if I only used some help! Now I know better.

The bottom line: Full-time blogging isn’t just about writing, publishing, promoting and designing layouts; it’s also about troubleshooting. Therefore, be prepared to roll up your sleeves when virus attacks or other technical errors arise, but be certain to make use of the tools and help that are at your disposal.

5. Be inspired by big brands and sites, but don’t compare your blog to theirs

Commenting and visiting other blogs in your niche is one way of getting social and promoting your site. As you do it, you encounter blogs that are already big, with a wide following. It’s easy to get inspired and jealous at the same time. You tend to compare yourself and your site to theirs. However, remember that even big brands took time to bring their website to where it is now. Tell yourself that you, too, someday will become as big as them. Think big, get inspired, and work hard.

The bottom line: Learn from the leaders in your niche, and be inspired, but never compare yourself to them. Take your time.

6. Give yourself a pat on the back for every little achievement

Sitting in your own home office, alone, for the whole day is never easy. Much harder is to stay focused and committed to blogging all the time. It’s easy to miss the work community that you once had—the lunches with your office mates and the after-work shopping at the end of the month. You turned your back to those parts of life because you opted to carve your own territory on the Internet. That, by itself, is an achievement. Not everyone can do it, so reward yourself for that.

Also, before you close your laptop each day, think of both the little and big accomplishments you’ve made for the day and be thankful. Congratulate yourself. It helps in maintaining your faith.

The bottom line: It’s difficult to quantify how much you’ve done for the day. But your mind and self-esteem need to be fed every day. By appreciating yourself for all the little achievements you’ve made on your site, you are helping to maintain your drive.

Once you’ve survived the first three months, you have a better grip of full-time blogging and you know better how to set and follow a schedule. You’re more equipped to overcome discouragements as you blog your way to success.

How did you survive the first three months of full-time blogging? What stumbling blocks did you meet and how did you overcome them? What are your techniques for staying focused on achieving your goals?

Glee Josko teaches women how to be creative and joyful fashionistas through her blog, Creative Fashion. She also explores the ways to achieve happiness in extra-challenging marriages such as intercultural marriage at Offbeat Marriage.

How to Increase Conversions With Google Website Optimizer

This guest post is by Joe Burnett of Who’s Your Blogger?

“I have a pretty (un)healthy obsession with email lists. I’m constantly telling my readers to focus on growing a list of active, engaged, and interested email subscribers.”—Blog Tyrant

You can capture emails with only one ethical plan: the visitor will have to give you his or her email by typing it in.

How do you get your readers to type in their email addresses? Will you use a pop-up lightbox, a sidebar subscribe form, or a subscribe form below your posts? Maybe you’ll give your readers a small, ethical
“bribe.”

What do I use? All of them! Each and every one of my past and present blogs went through a quick elimination process to find which tactic captured the most emails.

Never ask someone which email capturing tactic works best for them. The answer depends on the style of your readers, and the niche your blog is in. Is the readers’ attention span short, do they get annoyed, and do they take time to look at their surroundings?

But on your own blog, there is a reliable way to find out which tactic works best.

Testing your email capturing tactics

Google Website Optimizer is a great tool you can use to increase email opt in conversions. It’s surprisingly easy to use and produces great feedback, graphs, charts, and results.

How do you get started? First, you obviously need to login, or create a Google account. Click the Get Started button, agree to their terms and get ready to capture so many emails other bloggers think you’re stealing them.

Getting started

Currently you should be at your dashboard looking something like this…

Google Website Optimizer dashboard

Google Website Optimizer dashboard

Once you’re at the dashboard, click Create a new experiment.

You have two option here, and one is a lot easier to use than the other. The first option is called the A/B Experiment. You shouldn’t choose that, because it will involve completely changing the page you test, and for this exercise, we only want to change the opt-in form on our page.

The Multivariate Experiment gives you the ability to change specific section(s) on the page in isolation. In this case, we want to change our subscribe form.

Google Website Optimizer multivariate experiment

Google Website Optimizer multivariate experiment

Next, you need to enter in the URL of page that you’re trying to test. This could be your blog’s home page or a specific post or page you’ve created. If you’re really daring go straight into your themes files to edit them, allowing the testing to be done on your entire WordPress blog!

The Conversion page is the location where new subscribers land after the subscribe to your blog. Both Mail Chimp and Aweber give you the option to redirect visitors back to your website after subscribing.

Setting up the experiment

Setting up the experiment

Now Google Website Optimizer knows the pages that are used in the conversion process. We need to give the service access to those pages by using a little bit of JavaScript. Google will give you some code snippets, and all you need to do is paste it inside the pages you specified above.

Google Website Optimizer provides the code

Google Website Optimizer provides the code

Once, you’ve added all of your JavaScript tags, click, Continue to verify the tags. A small lightbox should pop up to let you know that Google found the tags on your blog.

Click Continue to verify the tags

Click Continue to verify the tags

Making changes to test

Now it’s time to make changes to the areas of the page that you specified. You can change your opt-in form to produce a higher conversion in many ways.

  • Change the headline.
  • Add a picture.
  • Reduce the amount of textboxes. (Instead of Name and Email fields, try just an Email textbox.)
  • Change the background color.
  • Edit the text.
  • Change the Submit button to something less standard.

Once you’ve made the changes you want to test, you can sit back and wait to see which opt-in form converts the most visitors into subscribers.

The results

Below are the results for testing the opt-in form on my website. When I ran the test, I decided that whichever combination of visuals achieved the best results would be the combination I’d use on my blog.

Google Website Optimizer test results

Google Website Optimizer test results

As you can see, I created five different versions of my opt-in form. During this test, the original actually performed better than all of my other combinations, with an almost unreal 41.7% conversion rate. That’s almost one out of every two visitors signing up.

The combinations were different because of the headlines and descriptions I used. I used three different headlines along with two different descriptions:

  • Headline #1: How Does It Work?
  • Headline #2: Guest Blogging Rocks!
  • Headline #3: Guest Blogging Never Fails.
  • Description #1: Who’s Your Blogger is an online guest post exchanging platform. We make it easy to accept guest posts, and find blogs to guest post on. Best of all, it’s fast, easy, and free!
  • Description #2: Who’s Your Blogger has helped me land my guest posts on ProBlogger, Copy Blogger, and even John Chow. Trust me, Who’s Your Blogger has tripled my guest post production rate!

The results were:

  • Original: Headline #1 & Description #1 – Conversion Rate: 41.7%
  • Combination #1: Headline #2 & Description #1 – Conversion Rate: 20%
  • Combination #2: Headline #3 & Description #1 – Conversion Rate: 30.4%
  • Combination #3: Headline #1 & Description #2 – Conversion Rate: 25%
  • Combination #4: Headline #2 & Description #2 – Conversion Rate: 31%
  • Combination #5: Headline #3 & Description #2 – Conversion Rate: 21.4%

As the results show, my original message outperformed all of my other combinations, so it would make no sense to change the headline and description.

What can I do now? Of course there are many different tests I can run on my site. I might want to do the same test over again, but spend some more time coming up with headlines and descriptions that really rock!

Have you used Google Website Optimizer before? How do you like it? Leave your opinion below…

Joe Burnett is an amazing guest blogger. He created Who’s Your Blogger? to help increase your chances of landing guest posts on popular blogs by over 534%, and to find free unique content to publish on your blog. He teaches you exactly how to guest post and build a popular blog at the Who’s Your Blogger? Guest Blogging Blog!

What Aspiring Actors Can Teach You About Blogging

This guest post is by Tom Ewer of Leaving Work Behind.

If you were an aspiring actor, and you spotted a famous movie star on the street, would you run up to them and ask them for help? You might, but I’m willing to bet that 99 times out of 100, you would get nowhere. In fact, those odds are probably very generous.

I am willing to bet that those odds would improve if you were to approach them, briefly introduce yourself, compliment them on their work, and ask if it would be okay to write to their agent with a few questions that they might consider answering if they get time.

When you’re dealing with people above your station, the hard sell is almost always a failure. If you were to deal with your fellow bloggers in the spirit of the more polite and unobtrusive aspiring actor, you would establish some highly valuable relationships.

Embrace your “competition”

As Darren explained, it’s wise to embrace the competition. It doesn’t matter what niche you are in—there are almost always going to be more authoritative blogs already in existence. And that is a good thing, for two key reasons:

  1. It demonstrates that there is a market for your niche.
  2. It provides you with an opportunity tap into an established audience.

Who wouldn’t want to take advantage of a resource of already warm, highly targeted leads?

Nothing is free

So how can you tap into the audiences of your contemporaries? Not in the way that many people try to, that’s for sure. Do not emulate the method of the rude and desperate aspiring actor. There is few things more irritating to a blogger than being contacted by another who simply asks for a link to, or mention of, their site.

Assuming that you are the proverbial minnow, you only need to concern yourself with one thing when reaching out to your peers—providing value. Whilst simply asking for help may occasionally reap short term rewards, it is far more valuable to establish long term relationships based upon giving.

Provide value

The desire to reciprocate is human instinct. For the most part, if you offer value to your peers, they will eventually be inclined to return the favor.

So what should you do? Here are a few things you can do to get started:

  • Drop them a line and compliment their work.
  • Share their posts.
  • Add useful and insightful comments to their posts.
  • Link to posts of theirs that you find valuable.
  • Review their products.

Please don’t let your imagination be stifled by my suggestions—more inventive ways of reaching out to your peers can offer higher rewards! For instance, you might choose to post a video on your blog entitled “Five Reasons You Should Be Following (insert name here)”. That might grab their attention!

Always make sure that your complimentary nature does not turn into overt fawning, and don’t go out of your way to tell the person in question that you are doing all of these lovely things—it will look disingenuous.

Be genuine

The key is to do all of the above (and more) with absolutely no expectation of a reward. I would like to think that I have already established some really positive relationships with bloggers in a short period of time, and for the most part, my generosity has not been reciprocated. How does this make me feel? I’m totally okay with it. Reciprocity is not an obligation, and what you consider due reward for your generosity may not be realistic.

When I get in touch with a fellow blogger, it is not in the vain hope that I can get something out of it. It is because I think they offer quality content, and I want to get to know them better. If something comes out of a burgeoning relationship that positively affects my blog, that is a wonderful bonus.

Okay … Now what?

Once you have started befriending bloggers, you’ll have to play it by ear. Your new friendships will probably bring about unexpected benefits without you having to do anything. But if you think that there is some way in which your friend can help you, and it is not asking too much, then once you are on good terms, you may consider asking for a favor.

If you do decide to, then make sure that you are not asking too much. Put yourself in the shoes of your compatriot—would what you are asking for make them uncomfortable? Always err on the side of conservatism if you feel compelled to ask for something. I personally am far more inclined to never suggest anything that does not offer some kind of benefit in return. Simply saying “can you please link to my site?” is not something I would recommend, because if you already have a great rapport with someone, they would have done so already if they wanted to.

What are you waiting for?

You probably know of many bloggers in your niche. You have probably contacted some of them before. You may not have gone about it in what I consider the right way.

Now is the time to make amends. Start engaging with people—start helping them. You are entering into a long term process, but one which is bound to offer fantastic rewards, given enough time and the right attitude.

Tom Ewer is the owner of Leaving Work Behind, a growing community of likeminded people with a unifying goal—to create scalable and sustainable online incomes. He aims to leave his career in property development just as soon as his online pursuits can support him. If you enjoyed this article then be sure to sign up to Tom’s newsletter, which has exclusive content not available on the blog.

7 Powerful Reasons Why Companies Will Pay for You to Blog

This guest post is by Lina Nguyen of Words That Influence.

Influential bloggers are being paid top dollar to write sponsored posts (thousands of dollars per post is not unheard of). They’re gifted with luxury items, cars and overseas trips, and invited to events previously exclusive to A-List celebrities and long-established journalists.

Bloggers worldwide are proving to be fierce competition for mainstream media, as companies decide how to get the best return on investment for their marketing buck.

If you have the following seven things, then your blog and social media networks will be highly valuable digital assets, sought after by major companies.

Even if you don’t quite have the same reach and clout as some of these bloggers, you can still apply these principles to negotiate your own deals with smaller businesses in your niche.

ProBlogger Training Day event speakers Craig Makepeace and Caz Makepeace are travel bloggers who landed a corporate sponsorship deal with a major airline, to cover a high profile international sporting event. At the end of this post, we’ll see these seven points in action, as we take a look at their success in attracting sponsorship from a major brand.

1. Your audience is a profitable niche market

The people in a profitable niche for major companies tend to be decision makers, consumers or influencers in the buying process, for either highly priced items (like cars, technology, travel or finance), or highly consumed items (like food, health products, household goods).

How do you know if your niche is profitable? Just take a look around in mainstream media. If companies are already paying big bucks to advertise to your audience on TV, radio, magazines and newspapers, then you’re in a profitable niche.

2. You’ve built a community

If you’ve created a group of people who gather on your blog and social media networks, then what you’ve created has the potential to be extremely financially valuable.

Companies always want to know where their target market is hanging out and get in front of them. Trouble is, as outsiders, whose primary motivation is to sell, they’re not exactly welcomed.

That’s why they’re willing to pay to get access to your tightly formed online community, which has its very own culture, rules and etiquette. Your intimate knowledge of how your community thinks and behaves has a valuable price tag on it.

3. You have reach

Being in a commercially attractive niche and having impressive reach in numbers (in terms of blog traffic, subscribers and social media followers) makes your community really valuable. A big corporate client will be after the exposure you can give them.

What kind of numbers are valuable? That all depends.

Essentially, it comes down to the demand to reach your niche, how targeted your audience is and what other advertising avenues are available to the company to reach that specific audience.

The more profitable the niche, and the harder those communities are to access, the more money a company will be willing to pay you to get in front of them.

4. Your community is highly engaged

This is what makes a blogger much more appealing to companies for advertising potential than say, television, print media, billboards and flyers.

Bloggers engage with their audience, who eagerly share their thoughts and feelings. In addition, they actively give bloggers permission to communicate with them, by following or subscribing.

Engaged communities also show clear signs of activity, through comments, posts and tweets. This is valuable in the eyes of a potential marketer, because an active community gives the company a way to evaluate and measure a campaign’s success.

An indicator of a successful marketing campaign is one where the target market responds to it, hopefully positively (although a highly engaged negative response can also be seen as successful, depending on the company’s objectives).

5. You have influence

A blogger with a highly engaged and active community is more likely to have influence, which is what’s really going to make a company take notice.

A company will pay for your ability to help get the word out, your referral or your endorsement.

If you can do all three, to an audience who will listen to you and believe you, then you are in a very strong negotiating position to command a price.

A bigger company with a large marketing budget is most likely interested in building brand awareness, exposure and chipping away at a longer-term objective to improve market perception.

The good news for a blogger is that they’re unlikely to expect a huge spike in sales from working on a one-off campaign with you. This eases the pressure off you, relieving expectation that you’ll influence your readers to rush out and buy the product.

Having said that, if you do have the clout to change attitudes, beliefs and market perception about a particular product or service—or you can get people to buy in noticeable numbers—then that will clearly make you extremely valuable in the corporate marketplace.

6. Your brand is strong and clear

If you have all of the above advantages, then what a company wants is to align with your brand. You’re obviously credible and your brand says something that they want to be perceived as being.

They want your audience to think they’re worthy of attention, too.

7. Your prices are competitive

Is your going rate less than the cost of advertising with traditional media power houses, or a celebrity endorsement? Most bloggers are. You’re instantly more appealing, price-wise—especially if you’re willing to accept non-cash payments which the company can offer you at low cost to them.

More importantly, if a major company is willing to do business with you, then they see you as a profitable return on investment.

To demonstrate these seven points, let’s take a look at a blog that’s had success in attracting big-brand sponsorship.

Case study: the yTravel blog’s and Qantas sponsorship deal

yTravel Blog's Caz and Craig Makepeace

yTravel Blog's Caz and Craig Makepeace

After blogging for a little over a year, Craig Makepeace and Caz Makepeace secured a sponsorship deal with Australia’s leading international and domestic airline, Qantas, to travel around New Zealand and cover the Rugby World Cup.

If you would like to hear more about the specific steps they took to secure this sponsorship, you can listen to my exclusive interview with Caz on my blog, Mother’s Love Letters.

Blog: y Travel Blog
Niche and Community: Travelers, world-wide.
Sub-niches: Independent world travel, working holidays, family travel.
Reach: 

  • 50,000+ visitors a month
  • 70,000+ Page Views per month
  • 3,000+ Facebook fans
  • 5,000+ Twitter followers
  • 1,200+ subscribers

Level of engagement: Average 15-20 comments per blog post. Daily social media interaction. Reply to almost every blog comment. 12,000+ Tweets to date. Facebook fan page is the most interactive and engaged in this niche.
Influence: Klout Score: 70

Brand:   Fun-loving, friendly travellers who are about making your life a story to tell. They believe life is all about the memories, so they make sure they live their life in a way that creates many memories through travel. Their goal is to help people get inspired, get informed and get going.

The deal: All expenses paid 12 day tour of New Zealand, doing activities and attending Rugby World Cup matches. Qantas will also be promoting the bloggers. In return, all Craig and Caz have to do, is have fun, blog, Facebook, and Tweet!

What impressed Qantas most: The bloggers’ level of engagement with their active community.

A key secret to their success: Guest posting. This was key to growing traffic.

Their top tips: Be clear about your brand and make it authentic. Network and build relationships in order to build your community. Social media is crucial, but look at offline networking opportunities, too. Value yourself. Consider how short-term income opportunities for advertising and sponsored posts that compromise content quality may affect your blog perception and brand in the long term. Learn how to write a sponsorship proposal. Don’t be limited by the fact that you’re a new blogger. Every big blogger starts off by being a new blogger.

Is corporate sponsorship for bloggers something that’s common in your niche? Are you looking at aligning yourself with a company, as a monetization strategy?

Lina Nguyen is a blogger in the Australian Mummy Bloggers niche. She is also a copywriter, digital media consultant and online communications expert at Words That Influence.