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Tips and Techniques for Selling Training on Your Blog

Training and electronic courses are common product offerings for bloggers, and as the range of tools and services available to help us create and market engaging courses has grown, so has the competition in this space.

Jules Clancy talked earlier today about offering classes and training as a blog business model.

Still wondering why you’d choose ecourses over other models? Have a look at 8 Great reasons to add an ecourse to your blog. This post explains the not-so-obvious advantages of this business model.

What does it take to create an online course? Peep Laja explains the basics in Creating Online Courses 101. It’s a great guide for those who are considering dipping their toes into the training waters—but want to know what they’re in for ahead of time.

What about the launch? How to launch a product on your blog (and sell out in 12 hours!) is Danny Iny’s story of the wildly successful launch of his first online course. Also see his post Make money locally—and globally—through your blog—there are more than a few tips in here to help you make the most of your own launch when the time comes.

Finally, Ramit Sethi’s advice on products, focused mainly on the launch of his course, has many tidbits to get you on the road to a great course launch. Even seasoned course sellers would do well to read this one!

Do you sell courses through your blog? What tips or resources can you add to the list?

Blog Business Model 5: Sell Training and Courses

This is the fifth post in our series on Blog Business Models.

When you think of online training as a blogging business model, cookery classes may not be the first topic that springs to mind.

The Stone Soup courses

The Stone Soup course homepage

But Jules Clancy of The Stone Soup has created a successful cooking class business around her food blog.

Hi Jules. First up, can you share a bit of your history with us? How did you get into blogging?
My background is in food science. I used design chocolate biscuits for a living—for Australia’s largest biscuit manufacturer.

I love everything to do with food, so it was only natural that after getting addicted to reading food blogs, I took the leap to starting my own.

Your blog supports online training product offerings. Did you develop the blog first, and then adopt that business model, or develop the business first, then build the blog?

It was blog first for me. I had no idea where blogging would lead me, or that it was even possible to use a blog to make money online. It wasn’t until I’d been blogging for a few years that I came across the idea of turning a blog into a business.

And at what point did online cooking classes appear as an ideal product idea? Did you always think that that might be the way to go, or did you need to be convinced of the model’s viability first?

It wasn’t until I saw a class on the A-List Blogging Bootcamps called something like “Create Courses that Sell” that I even had the idea. But as soon as I had that “a-ha” moment, I decided to give it a shot.

Cooking is something that works really well on TV and video, so I figured it would translate well into a class format. (Although if we could get someone to invent ‘scratch and sniff’ video that would be even better!)

Ultimately, it was an organic evolution of my blog—that was just how it happened. There was no grand (or evil!) master plan.

Great. So in what ways does blogging support your training offerings?

Primarily, my blog attracts customers to buy my ebooks and my online cooking classes. It’s a way of developing a relationship with my readers to turn them into buyers.

That being said, my blog also works as an online business card. I have a book coming out next year because of my blog—my publisher discovered Stonesoup and contacted me about doing a book. It also works for speaking gigs, and I’ve done a bit of freelance writing based on contacts from my blogging.

What kinds of challenges do you face in using your blog to build your business?

At the moment, my biggest challenge is moving away from making most of my money when I launch a new cooking class to a more continuous (and sustainable) model. I haven’t figured out how I’m going to do it, but I think building a process with email marketing at the centre will be part of the solution.

I’m also struggling with conversions. For the amount of readers and traffic I get, I don’t think I’m doing a good job of turning them into paying customers.

So what converts best for you: your ebook or your courses? Do you think the blog reading marketplace is saturated with certain format offerings?

In terms of overall revenue, about 50% of my income comes from ebooks and 50% from courses. So even though ebooks are cheaper and convert better, the total income is about the same as the higher priced classes.

In terms of saturation, I think there’s always a market for high-quality products that solve real problems for people, regardless of the offering format.

You mention price. How did you work out how to price your classes?

Pricing is something I’m still experimenting with. At the beginning, I thought about what other classes cost, then considered what I thought I’d be prepared to pay for a course, and took it from there.

What are the key elements that have helped you get to where you are with your blog?

Passion! It’s a bit of a cliche, but in my case it’s totally true. I love cooking, writing about food, and taking photographs of what I cook. I can’t imagine doing anything else and enjoying it as much as I love working on my blog and my business.

Consistency has also been key. I promised myself when I started I would publish at least once every week and I’ve been doing that right from the beginning.

The quest for continuous improvement is also important. I’m not a perfectionist by any standards but I’m always thinking of how I can do things better.

That’s interesting. How do you continuously improve your courses? What’s involved in that process—from a content perspective, but also from product integrity and delivery viewpoints?

I ask my students for feedback. After I run a major class I do a short survey using Survey Monkey to collect testimonials and also get feedback on what worked and what needs improvement.

I’ve also started running a Poll Daddy quiz on my cooking school site so my students actually vote for the topic of the next class. Actually, you’ve just reminded me I’ve been meaning to set up a feedback option on the site using something like uservoice.com so it’s really easy for my students to give feedback, get help, and make suggestions.

Cooking’s a very cluttered niche. What’s unique about the way you’ve developed your offering?

I’m all about simplicity. All my recipes have only five ingredients and deliver big when it comes to flavour and healthiness.

And have you carried that philosophy through to your cooking classes?

Absolutely! Simplicity is really a core philosophy of my life, so even if I wanted to do a “fancy” or “complicated” cooking class, I wouldn’t be able to do it.

Right. So you mentioned Survey Monkey and uservoice, but what other tools or services do you rely on as you develop your business?

I’m using:

  • Aweber for email list management
  • Clickbank for selling products and their affiliate network
  • Visual Website Optimizer for split testing (although I’ve had a few issues recently with them).

What tools do you use specifically in developing and delivering your courses?

At first I had a little flip video camera for making my videos but I’ve since upgraded to a Nikon D7000 for recording video. And I just use  imovie for editing videos. And then in terms of my membership site management, it’s a WordPress blog using the plugin Wishlist Member.

And how did you go about researching and sourcing those tools?

I’m very lazy when it comes to researching things like that, and I’m pretty sure the flip cam and Wishlist Member were what was recommended in the “Create Courses that Sell” class I took.

What advice, tips, and insider secrets would you give to someone who was just starting out with a blog business model based around selling training?

Get your own product out there sooner rather than later. I made the mistake of quitting my job and then not launching my first product for seven months, so there was no income coming in.

That was fine, but I would have been much better off to get something out there and start learning how to market etc. sooner rather than later. It’s definitely one of those things that you can only get really great at if you keep trying different things.

Interesting! So what does the future hold for Stonesoup and your course offering?

Hopefully lots more sales! And I’d like to have things more automated so I can step back a bit and spend more time in my veggie garden and less time in front of a computer screen.

Thanks to Jules for her time and advice. To find out more about Jules’s business, visit The Stone Soup, and check out the article she wrote for ProBlogger.

10 Popular Affiliate Programs for Small and Medium-sized Blogs

This guest post is by Charles Dearing of WhoIsHostingThis.com.

As we’ve already seen today, affiliate marketing is a relatively trouble-free way for bloggers and other website owners to earn money. In fact, these days, even social media sites can become lucrative platforms for affiliate marketing campaigns.

Because affiliate marketing doesn’t require affiliates to offer their own products or services for purchase, but only to place promotions on their sites for other merchants’ products, it frees affiliates from many of the responsibilities and complications of traditional sales models.

Affiliate marketing programs typically work by having the merchant handle all the logistics involved in selling products or services, processing customer orders and payments, and shipping merchandise—all while the affiliate sits back and collects a commission for each agreed-upon action completed by the visitors the affiliate sends to the merchant’s website via an affiliate link. As long as the affiliate has done her homework and chosen a trustworthy affiliate program, she needn’t worry about non-payment.

Affiliate networks administer programs for individual merchants, handling all the work involved, while generally providing tracking and reporting capabilities to their affiliates to help them keep tabs on their revenues and determine which products or services are producing the best returns. These tools can be helpful to an affiliate in fine-tuning the line of products she decides to promote on her site and, ideally, increasing revenues as a result.

However, all affiliate programs are not created equal. Which are the most popular programs available today?

1. LinkShare

Reportedly the largest affiliate network, with over 10 million affiliate partnerships, LinkShare took the number-one spot in the 2012 Blue Book of Top 20 Affiliate Networks for platform strength, support quality, and international capabilities.

LinkShare offers over 2,500 affiliate programs and lets you choose whether to have every aspect of your affiliate channel managed for you or whether you would rather manage your own program using the company’s various service and support options.

2. Commission Junction

Said to be the largest affiliate marketing network in North America (though it operates globally) and claiming the number-two spot in the 2012 Blue Book of Top 20 Affiliate Networks for being “the best at balancing the relationship between the merchants, the network, and the affiliates,” California-based Commission Junction, owned by ValueClick, Inc., offers affiliate, media, and tracking services and provides either a self-management or company-managed option for your affiliate relationships.

In addition to its regular pay-per-action affiliate program, the company also offers a convenient PayPerCall program to help affiliates “ensure they get paid commission for the leads they generate, thus further monetizing existing ad placements and having the opportunity to expand their promotional…online and offline campaigns.”

3. ShareASale

Claiming the number-three spot in the 2012 Blue Book of Top 20 Affiliate Networks for being the “overall best performance marketing network in the world today,” Chicago-based ShareASale has over 2,500 merchant programs and features brands such as HootSuite and PS Print.

ShareASale has received excellent ratings, with the company’s reputation/security, ethics, customer service, and ease of commission payment receiving glowing reviews.

4. Amazon Associates

Placing fourth in the 2012 Blue Book of Top 20 Affiliate Networks, for a reporting system that “far surpasses other big networks,” this is one of the largest and most diverse affiliate programs available.

As most people know, Amazon.com offers such a wide array of products that there’s bound to be something to fit your niche. In fact, they offer over a million products from which you can choose to monetize your website or blog. Amazon Associates is a pay-per-sale affiliate program.

5. Google Affiliate Network

According to the network’s Overview page, “Google Affiliate Network helps advertisers increase online conversions on a performance basis and enables publishers to monetize traffic with affiliate ads.”

Google Affiliate Network is a pay-per-action network that pays commissions to its affiliates for driving conversions (sales or leads). The network requires a Google AdSense account for posting ads to the affiliate’s website or blog and facilitating affiliate payments.

6. ClixGalore

ClixGalore is an Australian PPA (pay-per-action) affiliate network that also has offices in the US, UK, and Japan. The company offers various types of programs, including PPM (pay-per-impression), PPL (pay per lead), PPS (pay-per-sale), and PPC (pay-per-click). Many programs pay in US dollars.

Some well-known brands that use ClixGalore for their affiliate offerings are Bluehost, Time Life, Trend Micro, Citibank, and Fox Sports Shop. While not as widely known as some of the other affiliate networks, ClixGalore is a solid network that offers thousands of potential merchant programs. The network also offers a two-tier network. By referring other affiliates to the network, current affiliates can receive a portion of their earnings.

7. PeerFly.com

PeerFly is a PPA network with its own proprietary software system. The network made the 2012 Blue Book of Top 20 Affiliate Networks, which stated regarding them, “They are courteous, helpful, and point you in the right direction.”

The network also took the number-four spot in the 2012 Blue Book of Top 20 CPA Networks, for its high popularity, great staff, and excellent platform. PeerFly accepts publishers from all over the world and offers thousands of merchant programs.

8. ClickBank

A well-known affiliate network, ClickBank features digital products, such as e-books, software, and membership sites. The program reportedly offers up to 75% commissions on its tens of thousands of products. Commissions are paid weekly, and direct deposit is available to its affiliates.

Over the years, this network has remained popular, though some have questioned a few of its practices. Despite this, the company enjoys an A- rating with the Better Business Bureau.

9. MaxBounty

MaxBounty came in sixth in the 2012 Blue Book of Top 20 CPA Networks, though it didn’t make a showing in the Blue Book’s top 20 affiliate networks. In business since 2004, the network was founded on the philosophy of paying its affiliates more.

MaxBounty pays affiliate commissions weekly, and the company appears to have a good reputation among its affiliates. In fact, the network is popular among many top affiliate marketers and has received numerous positive reviews and writeups and critiques over the past several years.

10. Neverblue.com

Neverblue is a pay-per-action affiliate program that pays its affiliates for lead, download, and sale generation, as well as for new affiliate referrals. While Neverblue didn’t make the 2012 Blue Book of Top 20 Affiliate Networks, it did take the number-one spot in the 2012 Blue Book of Top 20 CPA Networks.

Note: Neverblue’s parent company, Velo Holdings, Inc, filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy earlier this year and now plans to sell the network at auction to pay its debts.

Despite this, the affiliate program has stated the following: “This filing will not impact Neverblue’s ability to meet client needs in any way—we intend to continue to operate business as usual without interruption. Neverblue’s business is fundamentally strong and we intend to make all affiliate payments on schedule, in a timely and reliable manner.”

Its management is just as confident that the sale will not affect Neverblue’s ability to meet its affiliates’ needs in any way. While this company tends to inspire high confidence among affiliates, you’ll have to decide whether to jump in now or wait a while to see how things go after the sale.

What’s your favorite network?

If you’ve been thinking of trying affiliate marketing to monetize your blog, consider testing these ten programs to see whether they fit your niche and audience. If you’ve used any of these programs, we’d love to hear your thoughts on them in the comments.

Guest post contributed by Charles Dearing, for WhoIsHostingThis.com – A review site and webmaster tool that enables you to discover which web hosting company any site is hosted with. They also provide information about all the popular webhosts like Blue-Host.

More Affiliate Marketing Advice, Tips, and Techniques

Affiliate marketing is one of the blogger’s mainstay business models. It’s simple, and as Anshul proved when he shared his story earlier today, it works—but it does take effort and commitment.

The first challenge is to understand how the process works, and for that I can point you to no better resource than the four-part series Brian Clark wrote for us. Still current, and pulling no punches, this primer is a great place to start if you’ve never sold targeted affiliate products before:

  1. The secret of blog products that sell
  2. Why this blog sells tons of ebooks and how it can sell even more
  3. How to sell niche products with your blog
  4. You don’t need a product of your own to have a successful product blog

Once you’ve worked through those, try these more specific posts that deal with individual challenges that affiliate bloggers need to master:

Of course, here on ProBlogger we have an archive dedicated to affiliate marketing, so if you’re after specific advice or solutions, take a look at the posts there.

What other resources can you add to this list to help those who want to improve their affiliate marketing? Share them with us below.

Blog Business Models 4: Affiliate Marketing

This guest post is by Anshul Dayal of Nichsense Niche Marketing.

This is the fourth post in our series on Blog Business Models.

Many entrepreneurs who own successful online businesses have followed similar paths through the world of blogging, internet, and affiliate marketing. Perhaps they were working a never-ending grind stuck in a nine-to-five day job they hated until one day they discovered the power of the internet—a medium that has likely made more millionaires than any other in the last ten years.

Anshul Dayal of Nichesense

Anshul Dayal of Nichesense

My journey to the world of blogging and online entrepreneurship is not dissimilar, with one exception. I came from an extremely rewarding, fulfilling, and successful career working on computer-generated visual effects for multi-million-dollar Hollywood productions. That’s probably the definition of a dream job for many people!

So what led me to blogging and the world of internet marketing? The answer is my never-ending desire to conquer new challenges and create something of my own. My initial foray into internet marketing wasn’t completely based around blogging. In fact, I first started by building small affiliate and AdSense sites sometime in mid-2011—a process I wrote about in this post for ProBlogger.

Within a matter of months, some of these sites started turning over decent monthly revenues, and that was really the lightbulb moment for me. I’d heard about internet marketers making millions on autopilot using the web, and while I was by no means making millions, I could see real, tangible evidence that by using the right strategy, it was very much possible for me to make a comfortable living online.

I also felt that there was a lot of misinformation surrounding what it really takes to make money online. That’s when I decided to launch my own blog, nichesense.com, as a place for me to share the proven strategies I was using on a daily basis, and help budding online entrepreneurs.

Blog or business?

In its infancy, nichesense.com was very much an information-focused blog supporting my affiliate niche marketing business, and sharing my journey to building a successful online business.

There were two reasons for taking this approach:

  1. it allowed time for defining the so called “unique selling proposition” for the blog
  2. it helped me build a loyal online audience and somewhat immunize the blog from unreliable search traffic.

This approach also allowed me to test various monetization strategies I was going to implement as part of my development of a long-term business strategy for nichesense.com.

A different approach to blog monetization

From a current business and monetization perspective, the majority of my blogging business success has come through affiliate promotions of various products and services that I used to build successful niche affiliate sites. This includes WordPress themes, keyword research tools, SEO tools, hosting services, and also various information products.

Effectively, I’ve taken the techniques I developed through my work building successful niche affiliate sites, and repurposed them to suit my blog.

Most of these affiliate promotions are gradually drip-fed to subscribers through a series of follow-up emails as part of the free training they receive when they first sign up to the blog. This approach reduces unsubscribe rates and also helps me achieve better conversions, as many new subscribers are also guided through the process of using the products to achieve real results.

From a broader perspective, the key elements in nichesense.com’s growth are still to do with offering practical, hands-on internet marketing training. The primary focus is on providing genuine strategies and techniques, and less on selling the next magic bullet to online success—which is what many of the “make money online” blogs tend to focus on. That’s what makes nichesense.com unique in the internet marketing blogosphere.

My recipe for success

Social media, email marketing, YouTube, and organic SEO have all been key tools for success in my blogging arsenal. However, there is one thing that stands above the rest: outsourcing. I have used virtual assistants for just about every aspect of my online business. This includes using dedicated social media managers to grow Twitter and Facebook follower counts, plus assistants to research content, publish content, conduct SEO tasks, and so on.

Outsourcing has been pivotal in helping me focus on the developing the blog as part of my larger business, rather than simply letting it turn me into a workhorse who researches, writes, publishes, and does just about everything—something that I think can be a real hurdle to growth and success.

Moving forward, some of the biggest challenges for nichesense.com will still focus around continuing to evolve a long-term traffic and monetization strategy. Using affiliate promotions on the blog achieves only a small part of its monetization potential.

Publishing great content is no longer enough for serious bloggers looking to make a mark in the lucrative internet marketing niche. Most successful bloggers in this niche in recent years have used innovative methods of engaging the audience through interviews, podcasts, reviews, and real-life case studies. This is very much the path I intend to take with the blog while still keeping a unique identity through the “hands on”-style content which has made it popular so far.

Creating high-quality information products, attracting guest posts, and presenting expert interviews will also be an integral part of my revenue and growth strategy for nichesense.com in the coming months.

The key

I recommend anyone looking to build a successful business through blogging is to at least write down a vision statement of what what will make you stand out from the crowd. This is especially true if you plan to launch another “make money online” blog. Think differently and don’t be afraid to innovate.

Remember, the key to a building successful blog in any niche is more than just good content. If you want to treat it as a business then you ought to be making money from it and in order to make money you need to to envision a strategy to attract “buyer” (or paying customer) traffic very early on.

Anshul Dayal is the author at Nichsense Niche Marketing blog offering cutting edge niche marketing strategies for starting a real, sustainable and profitable online business. You can download his step-by-step guide to launching your own profitable niche website on his blog http://www.nichesense.com

Get Started Selling Electronic Products on Your Blog

Today I explained a bit about the strategy I use to sell electronic products through my blog at Digital Photography School.

I sell ebooks, but as technology evolves, bloggers face a growing array of product creation possibilities.

Just as many hop on board the product bandwagon, so many keep well away from it. But developing a blog product can have many benefits for your blog, so it’s definitely not a business model you should simply ignore.

Importantly, you need to know before you begin where products fit within your overall blog strategy. That will help you to avoid premature product launching, and ensure your product meets a real audience need.

Devising, creating, and launching a product is hard work, so you want to do it carefully, and in a way that rewards you for all the hard work you’ve put in—and the hurdles you’ve overcome.

There’s as much advice about product development and sales as there are blog products available on the internet. But here are a few of our favorite ProBlogger posts:

Have you developed an electronic product strategy for your blog? Share your tips, advice, and resources with us in the comments.

Blog Business Model 3: Sell Electronic Products

This is the third post in our series on Blog Business Models.

On Digital Photography School, we currently sell nine ebooks on different aspects of photography. When you look at the blog now, it looks as if it was built to sell products, but it wasn’t.

dPS ebooks

A couple of dPS ebooks

The site is five years old now. I remember brainstorming potential ways of monetizing early on, and I’m pretty sure that products were on the list. I didn’t have specific ideas on what ebooks those might be, but I knew there was potential with an educational site to go in that direction. (Other niches might have been tougher to develop products for.)

My strategy for the first two years on dPS was to build the audience, and if I could cover my costs, which were very low, with some advertising, then that would be a bonus.

So I had advertising and affiliate marketing on the blog before I developed the products. I was mainly using AdSense on dPS, as an easy way to make money while I built the audience.

Preparing for products

From the beginning I knew I was building the blog as a platform for monetization—building audience and building community, which are such a big part of selling products. If you can get a community feel on your blog then your readers become advocates for you, both to each other, and beyond your blog.

The other way I used the blog was to test product ideas. So after two years of writing, I had a fair suspicion of what might work. I knew my audience, what they were commenting on, and what questions they were asking.

The blog itself was almost a bit of a research tool, as was the social network that surrounded it. I used the social network to research things like what type of information did people read, and what formats did they use.

On the blog I did a little of research around pricing—I did a survey about what people were buying (books, magazines, and so on) and I got a sense from that as to what people were regularly spending their money on. A lot of photographers buy UK photography magazines which are about $15. That gave me a hint as to what sort of price I could expect for my ebooks.

And of course the blog and the social networks gave me ideas about products that actually would help people.

Challenges of a product strategy

I’ve faced a couple of pretty major hurdles in developing a product strategy on dPS.

Firstly, I’m not a pro photographer—I’m more of an enthusiastic amateur—so it’s always a challenge to put together material at a level that’s going to help people. While my knowledge might be beyond what a normal camera owner’s is, I’m not confident about it as the basis for an ebook!

So the challenge has been to develop partnerships with pros to write the products. That whole process of partnerships is a challenge, as is finding a model that’s a win-win between myself and the author. Then there’s the task of maintaining that business, and managing the day-to-day logistics of that—profit sharing and so on.

The key for me is the team I’ve built around the product strategy. We outsource our design and editing, as well as the writing of the ebooks. So a lot of energy has gone into drawing that team together and getting them working together well.

One of the other big challenges is trying to build a platform to sell the products—choosing shopping carts and so on. I’m really not a technical person so I spent a lot of time researching the options for delivering the products and collecting payments.

If you don’t have the skills yourself, it’s important to find the right people—people who are passionate and can deliver the product content you need.

Building the business

The key to building a paying customer base around dPS has been email: we use the blog to get people on our email list.

If we were relying on people reading the blog posts, or subscribing via RSS and Twitter and so on, we’d be much smaller than we are—and significantly less effective in selling.

The vast majority of our sales come when we send an email, not from when we put up a blog post or Tweet or Facebook. It’s the email address. We’re more about email marketing than we are about anything else, so the email address is the big key.

Our email strategy is pretty straightforward—we send a weekly newsletter, which is like an RRS feed in an email. And when we launch a product, subscribers receive a series of weekly emails over four weeks. Each of those emails does a different type of thing—announces some aspect of the launch, reminds people of product features or special offers, and so on.

Really, though, the success of that strategy rests on the quality of our products.

Quality information is also really important. Our ebooks are longer and deeper than many of the other photography ebooks around. We do charge a little bit more for them, but we get a lot of feedback that the quality is really good. So we emphasize that.

We also take our time publishing them—each ebook takes four to six months to write and publish, which is significantly longer than what a lot of others are doing in this space.

Quality also plays into the design. We put a lot of emphasis on getting the design right—our ebooks are far beyond a Word document converted into a PDF. We really invest money into that, because we feel it’s important.

The other aspect that’s crucial to the growth of the site—and product sales—is the work we put into the launch process.

Our first launch was a ten-day launch; now we’re doing four-week launches and thinking about how we can really build the momentum over that time.

How can we build the launch into an event? How can we tell the story of the ebook and showcase it in a way that’s not “hypey” but builds anticipation and highlights what customer needs it will help with?

The creative process doesn’t stop once we’ve written or designed the ebook. That’s just the beginning: once you’ve got the product, it’s about creative selling.

These days, for us, the marketing starts before we even write a word. We’re always thinking, what need is this fulfilling? How would we sell it? And that informs how we work with the writers as well—we’re always trying to get the authors thinking about selling the content, rather than just writing it.

In terms of new challenges that will help us grow the business, I’m now looking at new ways to keep the sales momentum going after an ebook’s launch.

I’m thinking hard about the long-tail opportunities that surround products like educational ebooks, and how I can create a stronger, longer sales life for each product.

One thing I’m looking at is developing channels that will allow us to resell the materials we’ve already developed over a longer time period. Basically, I want to leverage the wealth of already-developed content by looking for new channels through which to sell it.

Just starting out?

If you’re just starting out with a product model, I think it’s critical that you know your readers and the needs that they have. Then, you can develop products that really are taking those felt needs and solving thproblems.

Some of the ebooks we’ve published have done better than others, and they’re the ones that solved a really felt need. The ones that don’t sell as well were products that we felt might be useful to people, but our readers didn’t feel those needs.

So it’s about getting to know your readers as much as possible.

Are you building a product strategy around your blog? How’s it going? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments.

Starting Points for Selling Your Print Book Through Your Blog

Earlier today we heard from Kevin Cullis, who’s successfully using his blog to support his self-published print book, How to Start a Business: Mac Version.

As print publishing evolves, we’re seeing more and more bloggers release printed books—either themselves or through established publishing houses, like I did.

This is an interesting thrust for blogging. When ereaders first hit the virtual shelves, more than a few people said that print was dead. Years later, we can see that those predictions haven’t—and won’t—come true any time soon.

A print book can help you grow your blog’s audience and build your profile as an expert authority within your niche.

It can open you up to new opportunities—like public speaking, joint ventures, and so on.

And it can take your blogging career in entirely new directions.

Of course, a print book can grow your income both in and of itself, and through your blog.

Have you considered writing a print book? What’s stopping you? Let us know what you think about this blogging business model in the comments.

Blog Business Model 2: Sell Your Print Book

This is the second post in our series on Blog Business Models.

Kevin Cullis, who runs MacStartup.com uses the blog to support his print book, How to Start a Business: Mac Version, and his upcoming release, How to Start a Business: Windows Version.

Kevin's book

Kevin's book, How to Start a Business: Mac Version

Kevin’s written about his business journey here at ProBlogger before, but here, he explains in detail how the blogging-and-print-books business model works for him.

Kevin, what was it that drew you to blogging in the first place?

Well, I was selling hardware and software computer solutions to businesses and answering the same questions over and over again. After doing this for a while I was bored and needed an outlet for my energy, talents, and skills. I decided to write down not only the computer problems businesses have encountered, but also the answer to each computer problem.

My unique approach is: not every business problem needs a computer solution and not every computer solution is a good fit for a business. Too often geeks see a computer answers for every problem. From a business perspective, you need a Return On Investment for the money you spend on computer solutions.

So, to get things moving, I started writing things down, having no clue where it would lead. As I wrote, I began noticing trends in what issues businesses were having and shaped my content to fit each trend. After helping a business person one day and mentioning my business, and computer articles and writings, they suggested that I convert them into a book.

Hmm … I hadn’t thought about that before! I thought about it after work and asked myself: What does this mean? How does it change what I’m currently doing? Is this doable? The answer: Yep, sure could. So, ok, let’s head in that direction now.

Like most budding authors I had intended to find an an agent who hopefully would find a publisher to get my book on the market. Fast-forward a few years. Listening to a teleseminar, the speaker mentioned that it was no longer just about your book, but about your content. The teleseminar guest mentioned that your content could become books, blogs, seminars, workshops, DVDs, coaching, and ultimately the potential for multiple streams of income that comes from your experiences.

As with anyone doing anything they love, it’s no longer just about your craft, trading time for dollars, but turning your craft into a business.

Bingo! The shackles on my brain came off. I was now mentally free to pursue and use all of my talents and skills for my readers’ and customers’ sakes—not just those that a publisher wanted me to use. It was about making more money based on a whole host of things I could do with my talents, skills, content, books, and blogs, not just the limited few wanted by others.

Besides, in recent years because of POD (Print On Demand) technology, the publishing game rules have changed, both for the “Big Six” and for independent publishers like myself. Most authors today who sign contracts with publishers find those publishers want want you to market your book yourself. Why sign a contract then? Do it yourself and keep more of the profits.

As my book writing progressed further other well-known authors mentioned that I had a blog so I could connect directly with my readers. Blogging not only helps in getting noticed more through Google search, but also helped in doing market research for my book’s content, and now provides additional content beyond my book.

For example, after a book editor suggested I put an initial cap (in my case, a drop cap) in the book, I spent about three hours deciphering the technical solution in iWork Pages and ended up posting the solution on my blog. I wrote the blog post about drop caps because I knew that eventually I’d probably forget how to do it myself, so I could always look up my own blogged answer. I wasn’t sure whether people would be interested in this post, but it had became my fourth-most-viewed blog post within weeks of my posting it online. Wow, the power of the 24/7 internet and search!

So for me, blogging is an extension of my writing and provides marketing insights from potential readers and clients.

Do you think writers make good entrepreneurs?

As I was planning for this interview, and having a discussion with another entrepreneur about whether or not I had planned to become an entrepreneur, I thought back about my journey as an author and a blogger.

I started out just with an idea and began writing down answers to solve some business and computer problems. With suggestions from others, that idea progressed into writing a book, and then to become a blog. This ultimately changed into the potential of starting my own business with my idea, and purpose of my talents and skills.

Just having an idea does not make one an entrepreneur, but taking action on the idea does.

So, looking back, I’ve come to a realization: I never started out thinking I’d be an entrepreneur, but I grew into one as I took numerous steps toward an ever-changing goal. Only as I learned and grew did I ultimately transform myself from a writer to a published author, and from a blogger into an entrepreneur. With other more experienced entrepreneurs mentoring me along my path I’ll get better and more profitable at it.

Your blog supports sales of your print book, but you had the book before the blog. Most people would tackle things the other way around. How has your approach worked in terms of building an audience for your self-published book?

While I started with the book and then added the blog, ultimately they both have affected each other, and it was not until later, through considering them both as part of a business, that their purposes have merged into a more cohesive whole.

As any entrepreneur learns, the most crucial part of any business is searching for the right business model based on your idea, and you’ll have to change many times before you find your right business direction and model. This means try something, test it with your customers, then change (or “pivot” in entrepreneurspeak) to the new input. Test again, change again, and repeat often as necessary until you succeed.

For example, I originally started writing about Windows, Mac, and Linux in my book. But my first pivot was to drop the Windows and Linux and focus only on Mac content—and on companies with over 500 employees—after realizing most Mac fans don’t care about Windows or Linux.

My third pivot came after I found that a vast majority of businesses in the US have under ten employees (i.e. they’re startups, mompreneurs, and dadpreneurs, not businesses with over 500 employees). That means I’ll sell more books to smaller businesses than to bigger ones.

Taking one path or another at first is an “either/or” thing, but over time it will eventually become an “and” at some point as your business grows.

As a blogger, it’s the same. You start with an idea and take the necessary steps toward your goal and you write and get feedback with Google Analytics and reader feedback.

My blog and book have both evolved over time as I have personally learned and grown. It’s the same with any endeavor you decide to take. In fact, I just signed in the middle of June 2012 another author to do a Windows version of my book due out this fall titled, “How to Start a Business: PC Version.”

Well, your book talks about startups, and this is a very startup-typical approach. Can you tell us why you took that approach, rather than the more traditional approach most bloggers would use?

Why? Because you can’t steer a parked car. I just took my first step. Take action, any action, in any direction and then various things begin to appear and “line up” that need to be done as you move forward and observe the various reactions. You’ll then need to steer over and around various customers, vendors, issues, and obstacles as they affect your blog and business as you come into contact with them.

As bloggers, authors, and business people, we’re paid to solve problems and/or provide entertainment. You can’t do that sitting and meditating a lot about it. Get going.

So can you tell us a bit about how you use blogging to support your book?

When you sell a book, you may or may not get feedback on what you’ve written. Blogging gives me direct feedback as to what my customers are looking for, through the analytics of my blog posts. It also provides the 24/7 marketing and analysis about my content, book, blog, and for those that find the help they need from me.

So I search and find ways that it supports my overall purpose for me being in business and blogging. Like any entrepreneur, I never stop looking for more answers and solutions, to provide more and more value in my responses to questions people ask.

So what’s the biggest challenge you face in using your blog to support the business of selling your print book?

Keeping creative, relevant, and valuable in my topics, and finding problems and answers that people are looking for.

But more importantly, getting people to realize there are some issues they’ll face as entrepreneurs which are essential to a business (and blog), and to quit chasing after the SOS (Shiney Object Syndrome, the next “in” thing), since that only delays them in getting to where they want to go.

While there is the creative part, the fun part, the stuff we just love to do and can’t stop doing, there’s also the not-so-fun parts, and they’re just as important for your blog and business. For instance, there is never a quick way to riches. You’ve probably heard that it takes years to become an overnight success? It’s 100% true. Besides, making money is only part of the issue. You personally have to change to handle your new-found income and success.

When you get rich quick you don’t necessarily get the time to grow and absorb what’s necessary to handle your success. Why do you think nearly all lottery winners go broke soon after they get their money? Because they didn’t earn it and did not personally grow as they earned it, like most successful entrepreneurs do.

My purpose is about telling a story with my book and blog, but also telling the truth. But as it has been said: when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. I was writing my book and it was suggested that I take it online and build a web site. At the time, I was focused on completing my book. Little did I know that years later I’ve come full circle and am will be putting more and more of my content online. I was not ready at that time, but now I am.

And it’s a really captivating blog, too. What are the key factors, or components, that have helped you get it to where it is now?

First, not getting married to my blog idea (The What: a blog about Macs), but to focus instead on a purpose for my blog (The Why: i.e. helping startups, mompreneurs, and entrepreneurs using Macs). Ideas and blogs are a dime a dozen; finding our why you are in business, or blogging, makes your potential blog and business last longer.

Second, dogged determination to keep moving, not quitting, it’s all about being focused on helping my readers and clients.

Third, making changes if things are not working out. I don’t fail, I just test and change as frequently as needed until I am successful.

Fourth, work at keeping your blog and business a no- or low-cost startup. For example, most professional book editors and designers said I needed to do my book in Adobe’s InDesign or Quark, each priced at about $700, or pay someone to do it for me. I could not afford either at the time. I researched and found that Apple’s iWork Pages could still handle the book results I wanted, and I’d pay only $20 for the application. Same with WordPress and its plugins.

Fifth, love what you do and it won’t feel like work, but also get a life. Don’t get so wrapped up in your blog and business that you can’t turn it off by taking a day off once a week and do something else with your family and friends—and I do mean relax. If you don’t know how to turn your blog and business off for one day, it’ll become just another high-paying job or time- and energy-sucking hobby.

Sixth, get outside your blog and business to get connected and noticed, and learn more. Recently, in a LinkedIn group I belong to (Society of Physician Entrepreneurs), a post asked some questions about healthcare reform. I answered with my idea, and that comment was picked up by a major medical web site.

Seventh, and the most important: get a hand up and give a hand down to others. Have a hand up: look for mentors that are willing to help you out, and be thankful and grateful for their help. Especially, tell others publicly either in a blog post or as a testimonial about their help. But also have a hand down: always find someone you can help out as you’re getting help. Justin Bieber invested his wealth early on in other startups such as gaming outfit Sojo Studios and Spot­i­fy. Sart helping others when you start your blog and business.

If you aren’t thankful for mentors and helpful to others, you’ll slow or delay your blogging and business growth, and your reputation will be negatively affected.

Okay, so what’s unique about the way you’ve developed your offering—what makes your blog business unique?

First, everything is a number of processes hobbled together within in a system. Just like building a house, you need four things: tools, materials, an idea, and then a step-by-step plan of what needs to be done and a sequence to do it in (much like a formula of 1 + 1 + 1 = 3).

Some blogs and businesses provide you with some tools, others provide you with some materials, others give you ideas, and very few provide a step-by-step complete plan to get it done (Content blog + Book + Idea – Outsourcing x multiple streams of income = Business).

If you have an idea, I focus on providing the other three elements of tools, materials, and a good sequence of instructions on how to get it done. That makes my approach unique in most of the blog and startup business world.

The most common comment you hear from people is, “I can get anything free on the internet. Why should I pay for things?” It amazes me that people do not understand that while free means you may not pay actual money for something, you are paying for it with your time and effort to find your own answers.

And more importantly, there is usually a good sequence you need to follow that will help you achieve your results quicker. Getting free information on the internet may not be part of the right sequence to get your task (or business) effectively, efficiently, and profitably done.

What makes my offer unique is I search for all of the essential elements and steps that need to be followed in a proper and good order to do things a better and quicker way. Just like building a house, you start from the design, lay the foundation, to finishing the landscaping and moving the furniture in. You learn from your mistakes. That makes things not only effective, because you can get results, but also more efficient, because it costs you less as well, which ultimately leads to better profitability.

That’s what makes my blog and book offering so compelling: I make your efforts more effective and efficient at getting to profitable results. By spending three hours figuring out how to do drop caps in iWork Pages, I saved others three hours of work. And that should mean something to them: at $10 or $100 an hour, I saved them either $30 or $300. Multiply that over how many times they do that and that’s a chuck of change that solution has save someone.

Sure. Speaking of tools like that, can you recommend any software or services that you’ve used to develop your blog business?

Not many, even being the geek that I am, but I’m more of a business geek. The simpler, more effective, and more efficient, the better (going cheap is not always better).

My hosting ISP is Bluehost.com and I use WordPress for my blogging software. But since I’m in business and writing is my business, I use all of my Mac’s tools (iLife, iWork, and WordPress plugins) for everything for my blog and business. I use Apple’s iWork Pages to do all of my writing, especially since I wrote my book using it. I then just cut and paste the content into a WP blog post and format it. I’m about to improve my blog experience and WP theme as I change my business and blogging emphasis very soon here.

Same goes with tools and services for blogging—as the need arises, so does the need to search out more tools! I work at keeping things simple with the tools I use. Simple means less expensive, which translates into more profits and further growth of my business.

That’s great advice! What other tips would you give to someone who was just starting out as a print-pubished author using a blog to support book sales?

  1. Know who your readers and customers are, and the numbers surrounding them (in my case, Apple sells millions of Macs per quarter, and a percentage of them are to businesses and consumers who later become businesses). You have to know your market and business numbers—this is essential for anyone starting a blog and business.
  2. Solve your readers’ and customers’ problems by providing them good value. And you don’t have to give away the farm, but you need to give a sample of your work so they can try the results that you promise.
  3. Build a name for yourself as you become the expert in that niche by providing quality solutions. Matthew Bennet’s story in my book How to Start a Business: Mac Version is about someone who found a niche solution between expectant mothers and doctors and solved both of their problems at the same time with his book the Maternal Journal.
  4. Do the work up front. Do your due diligence and prove yourself as an expert. The money will come if you’ve hit the right market for your talents.

Finally, Kevin, can you tell us what you think the future holds for your business?

Here’s how I describe any entrepreneurial business and life.

You’re in a convertible car (your life) during July, with the top down on cool, moonlit night. Alone with the stars and your family (your family is “in business” with you, right?) driving down a winding, rural, two-lane road. You’re driving with your headlights on and carrying on a conversation with your family as you head toward “our destination.”

You can only see as far down the road as your headlights will show you, much like a blogger or business person seeing into their business’s future. The road ahead twists and turns based on the lay of the land (the market place and your business model). While you can see the outline of the lay of the land (your business future) in the moonlit shadows and stars, you can really only see as far as your car’s lights will shine on the road ahead (your business goals and paths). That’s anyone’s business future.

Most entrepreneurs are not only the Christopher Columbuses and the Lewis and Clarks, they’re also the Cornelius Vanderbilts, John D. Rockefellers, Steve Jobses, and Mark Zuckerbergs and thousands of individuals taking a chance at changing their and our worlds—hopefully for the better.

As an entrepreneur, it is more important to focus on the journey rather than the destination (goal) because at some point you’ll be let down after you have arrived at your “destination.” Ensure that you have a long-term purpose, rather than just a short- or long-term goal, to ensure you keep moving ahead.

David Ogilvy said, “Pay people in peanuts and you get monkeys.” So, while you can just blog for the fun of it, look to provide value to others to earn more than a living with it, and by that I mean you earn more than just peanuts as a blogger.

Thanks to Kevin for his time and insights. Don’t forget to check out Kevin’s blog at MacStartup.com and his book, How to Start a Business: Mac Version.