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Build Blog Products That Sell 1: Match a Unique Idea to Your Audience

This guest series is by Greg McFarlane of Control Your Cash.

How do you get readers to part with their money, especially when said money is scarce?

As the worldwide recession enters its umpteenth year, it’s difficult for most merchants of any kind to make a sale. It’s particularly so if you’re a blogger who wants to advance from engaging readers about your subject of interest to getting those readers to buy something. In an average-to-booming economy, it’s easy to get people to part with their discretionary income, and not that much of a deal if they don’t.

Putting money in the bank

Image courtesy stock.xchng user RAWKU5

But when belts are tightening across the globe, how do you get readers to buy from you?

This post is the first in a series. Every Friday for the next six weeks, we’ll systematically prescribe a foolproof way for you to create worthwhile, lasting products that your readers can actually use—and that they’ll pay for the privilege of owning.

If you’re blogging regularly, and are the kind of blogger who reads ProBlogger, it’s safe to assume that you’re at least amenable to the idea of a digital storefront. Yes, maybe you consider your blog to be strictly a labor of love: something that serves solely to convey your thoughts about woodworking, or Pacific Island languages, for the sheer satisfaction of sharing such with your readers. If that describes you, great.

Yet if you could monetize your blog—sell a product or service of your own creation—you’d at least think about whether any profit you’d make would be worth the effort, right?

We all want a bigger audience. Even J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer would gladly accept more readers. But how can we turn regular readers into paying customers? Having half a million unique visitors means a lot more if even 1% stop to buy what you’re selling. Of course, that implies you’re selling something in the first place.

But what should you sell? Where do we begin?

You need an idea

It all starts with an idea. Really, it does. That’s not just an empty axiom.

(Apologies in advance. The next couple of paragraphs might read like an end-of-chapter exercise from a self-help book. That’s not the intention. Take them literally and don’t read between the lines.)

Answer the following questions, one series at a time. Explanations to follow:

1. What do I have to offer?

  • How am I different?
  • What makes me unique?
  • What can I offer to readers/customers that’d be hard for someone else to duplicate or automate?

Obviously you can only answer these questions for yourself, but I’ll walk you through it with my own set of answers.

My blog, Control Your Cash, is one of a few dozen personal finance advice blogs in existence. But “personal finance” is a wide umbrella. Most of my competitors can be placed into one of several subcategories. Some blogs focus on listing inventive ways to save money; others talk about personal finance exclusively from a Christian perspective; still others do nothing but spend every post comparing different credit cards.

Then there’s mine, which is probably most distinguished by a tone that readers have described as everything from “uncompromising” to “snarky”. Also, Control Your Cash explains complex and arcane personal finance topics in something of a readable and not altogether unfunny style, a skill that took a few years to develop.

That isn’t bragging. That’s determining what makes my site different, and what makes its author’s offerings of potential interest to a customer.

Understanding difference

My blog’s central feature is its thrice-weekly posts, there for the reading and delivered free to whomever subscribes to the site’s RSS feed. I also sell a full-length book on the fundamentals of personal finance for people who know that they know nothing about money, and a series of inexpensive ebooks, each of which deals with a particular topic. (How to read financial statements, how to buy a house, etc.)

The wonderful thing about taking the steps to create products is that few of my competitors, and presumably few of yours, are going to bother. The discipline required to write something 6000 words long, let alone 75,000 words long, intimidates most bloggers. The majority would rather just throw a bunch of unconnected thoughts on the page, run spellcheck (or not), then publish.

One of the elite bloggers in my field of interest is Mike Piper of Oblivious Investor. Even though we both write about personal finance, I hesitate to call him a “rival” because there’s little overlap in what we do. Mike’s tagline describes his site succinctly: “simple, low-maintenance investing.” To that end, he’s written a series of books—one on income taxes, one on accounting basics, and so on. As a certified public accountant, but one who can write captivatingly and with minimal jargon, Mike knew he could own that niche with little fear of serious competition.

You answered the questions, right? The ones at the start of the section?

If it took you more than a few seconds to answer them, stop. If you can’t effortlessly determine what makes your blog and your perspective unique, you can’t very well expect your readers to do it. Remember that they aren’t in the market for a faceless product that had dozens if not hundreds of hands in its creation, like a car or a jacket.

For better or worse, they’re buying you and whatever it is you’re identified with.

Accepting an ugly truth

If you answered the questions and came away with the conclusion that your blog just isn’t that distinctive, save yourself hours of frustration now by acknowledging that. It’ll be far better than creating a suite of products that hardly anyone will buy.

There’s no shame in coming to this realization at the outset. If anything, it gives you a chance to start afresh and establish your point of differentiation before you embark on anything else.

You don’t necessarily need a dedicated following to sell products—many of the people who buy my ebooks do so on their first visit to my site. (Which makes sense. What would compel an 89-time visitor to finally break down and buy something on his 90th visit?)

Now that you’ve determined what makes you different, consider your audience.

2. How can I build a following?

The speed with which people blog and get feedback makes it easy to confuse traditional roles in commerce. Just because someone leaves an insightful comment on your site doesn’t make him your confidant.

Keep it professional. Many bloggers forget that their customers, their advisors, their test marketers, and their collaborators should not all be the same people.

All too often, I’ll see bloggers make this dangerous transition when conversing with their readers. Don’t be afraid to solicit feedback, but on the other hand, don’t cede the responsibility of initiative by asking your readers, “So, what would you like to see?” That’s the equivalent of the chef coming out of the kitchen, wooden spoon in hand, going up to the couple awaiting dinner and saying, “Here, taste this. Tell me what you think.”

The above “strategy”, or non-strategy, is pervasive among bloggers, yet bears little fruit. Name a successful company—any company. Nike, for instance. Their research and development is a little more sophisticated than asking potential customers, “Would you like to see a running shoe with a waffle sole?” Or “How about workout gear that wicks away moisture?”

Sell yourself

If you’re going to sell via your site, you have to be bold. It starts with you, not your customers. Say “I’ve got a sales method that will revolutionize the industry. Here it is in four easy lessons.” Or “Sick of not knowing how to work on your car? Stop putting yourself at the mercy of repair shops. Download my series of instructional videos instead.”

Personalize it. Add value. Sell yourself. Take the examples from the preceding paragraph. Theoretically anyone could offer them. What makes your methods different? Is it your style and demeanor? Have you done research that no one else has done before? Are you creating a service or product that people don’t even know that they require, but won’t be able to live without once you’re done with them?

Ultimately, you want to understand what your readers want and need. But how urgently do they need it? When money is hard to come by, will they pay to have their pain assuaged? (People are much more interested in reducing pain than in embracing pleasure.) How can you improve their lives, and/or make their businesses more profitable?

Know your audience, and get inside their heads—specifically, the product-buying part of their heads. Read the comments they leave. Gauge their interest in and commitment to your blog. Only then can you create and sell content that resonates with and delights your readers, while staying true to your unique voice.

Key points

  • It all starts with you. Work out what’s unique about you and your blog.
  • Don’t be afraid to start again if your point of difference isn’t easy to define.
  • To build a paying clientele, offer something to your readers to gauge their interest.
  • Build yourself—your unique point of difference—into what you offer.
  • Use these offerings, and your blog as a whole, to get inside your readers heads, and understand how you can uniquely meet their needs.

Next time out, we’ll discuss how to research your competitors, and how to stand out from among them when readers are counting every penny. But later today, Darren will be sharing his secrets for securing reader feedback that can help you develop your next product. Don’t miss it!

Greg McFarlane is an advertising copywriter who lives in Las Vegas. He recently wrote Control Your Cash: Making Money Make Sense, a financial primer for people in their 20s and 30s who know nothing about money. You can buy the book here (physical) or here (Kindle) and reach Greg at [email protected].

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Comments

  1. Janmejaya says:

    The unique is the word will convert one blog to an bigger blog. Also mainly if your blog theme, blog posts and blog plugins are arranging an unique method or way then you will getting unique results.

  2. Selling your self is a good idea as long as you sell you don’t sell your heart. It must be your voice and interactions that matters when you are selling a product.I don’t think good content alone can boost the ongoing of our products,It should be you, the products you are selling is certainly a measure of your influence in readers.

  3. Putting your stamp on all of your work makes your products more attractive Greg. Place your unique footprint on all you do. In time, people know your brand. It becomes distinctive, and it is easier to sell products or services if you build a unique brand.

    People respond to you on a subconscious level. To sell products, you must believe in them, and this means selling yourself with conviction. Lose the fear of spamming; if what you offer is value-packed, push it. Get it out there. Ask people for a sale. 1 problem of struggling marketers is not asking for a sale. Successful online entrepreneurs have no issues asking for a sale. At any time, really. They know their worth, their product’s worth, and if somebody doesn’t vibe with the offering, there are millions of others who do vibe with it. An abundant mindset. Thanks for sharing Greg.

  4. What’s wrong with saying “so, what would you like to see?” I think if used once in a while it’s actually a great method for getting to know your readers and giving them exactly what they want…Of course it can be overused – like anything.

  5. Greg’s author bio is one of the best I’ve ever seen. In three concise sentences he 1) says who he is (“Greg McFarlane is an advertising copywriter”), 2) establishes his expertise by mentioning his book, 3) clearly and concretely specifies who he helps and how he helps them (“a financial primer for people in their 20s and 30s who know nothing about money”), 4) provides a way for people to buy his book and contact him. Well done Greg!

  6. Wpfix says:

    Yes, A unique idea is very much important.

  7. It’s important to standout so you have to be unique, but the idea behind your product doesn’t have to be unique, but the presentation and marketing does. For example in 31DBBB there isn’t anything you can find online, but the presentation of having a task each day and how the layout is made of the book is what made it the amazing success it is.

  8. This is wonderful (even though it does read like the end-chapter of a self-help book). Seriously though, I have a lot of people asking me how they can create information products with their blog and one thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of bloggers are:

    1. Intimidated about creating anything for sale and
    2. Think they don’t know enough to create anything.

    This is a misconception. If you are blogging then you do know something. You just have to figure out what it is.

    Thanks for this post Greg; a lot to think on.

    • Thanks to everyone for their comments, but especially to Sharon for forcing me to reexamine my writing style. (Let’s just say that self-help is a category I can find a lot to poke fun in.)

      That being said, you nailed it. If you’re blogging – and have any kind of following, which takes time – you do indeed know something.

  9. Looking forward to the next one already

  10. Walter Apai says:

    I think it’s crucial to have a deep understanding of your audience. You need to learn what the love and what they hate. Then you need to measure their response doing limited time trials on different products and services, once you narrow it down, it should be easier to market to them something they truly want. This way you really serve them in the best possible way and everyone wins.

  11. So next six weeks is going to be interesting.

    We all are invited :)

  12. nick palmer says:

    some great info indeed realy happy to come to this site and the comments are awsome aswell !

  13. It is absolutely true that if your blog theme, blog posts and blog plugins are arranged in an unique method or way then you will getting unique results. You have always keep me updated with useful news concerning development of SEO business.

  14. People are really tired of seeing another faceless product in the market. Selling yourself , especially with the direction social media is heading, has become really important.

    With that said, really defining your USP at the beginning of your blog/product creation is a must. Chances are this can change over time as well.

  15. Jesper says:

    That’s a great point. In todays market place with fierce competition, you have to be bold to stand out… And then PROVE you are worth following. More than ever before :)

  16. The unique is the word will convert one blog to an bigger blog. Also mainly if your blog theme, blog posts and blog plugins are arranging an unique method or way then you will getting unique results.

  17. WittyBlogger says:

    Quoted:
    “How am I different?
    What makes me unique?
    What can I offer to readers/customers that’d be hard for someone else to duplicate or automate?”

    This is also known as finding the “hook” of a brand. You need to present yourself differently so that readers can actually FIND you different. The big brand here is coined by Robert Cialdini – known as the Authority principle. People are more likely to believe what you preach.

    I wouldn’t put it as “selling yourself” actually. Instead, it is building a “culture” which readers are attracted to. In the end, readers aren’t really interested about you (as in the “you”). They’re interested and sparked by the prospect of associating with a rolemodel in their niche. They’re fueled by the active participation of other readers in the community!

  18. Thank you for sharing your insights in an organized manner. I am more motivated than ever get my giddy up giddy upping!

  19. Every single product or service is meant to help someone else. That is how consumerism began. Trading something for something you want or need. Tell people how it can help, how it can save and what are the short term / long term benefits of your product, easy or available maintenance or servicing. After that, there should be no doubt to clients other than cost.

  20. It’s good to see you on PB Greg.

    I am enjoying the series and look forward to the next five weeks.

  21. stargaterich says:

    I really like the key point highlighted pertaining to ‘differentiation’. What makes the product or service that we recommend through our blog different others? Consumers and readers are smarter than we think. Consumers are looking for practical solutions to their problems and needs. Ideas that can be put into good use immediately with fast results would certainly goes well with the subscribers.
    Furthermore, if reader feel they are not being push to part with their money but rather being informed or encouraged to consider products or services that helps them, they will invest in it regardless of the economy.

  22. This is wonderful (even though it does read like the end-chapter of a self-help book). Seriously though, I have a lot of people asking me how they can create information products with their blog and one thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of bloggers are:

    1. Intimidated about creating anything for sale and
    2. Think they don’t know enough to create anything.

    This is a misconception. If you are blogging then you do know something. You just have to figure out what it is.

    Thanks for this post Greg; a lot to think on.