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How to Bore Your Readers to Death and Scare them Away

This guest post is by Jack Samuelson.

Blogging is no joke. There are millions of blogs, probably hundreds of millions of bloggers, and billions of articles online. Still, that does not mean everybody can blog effectively and run their own blog with success. So what about all those unsuccessful bloggers? Is the lack of popularity their own fault? Check out this short manual and find it out for yourself…

If you’re a successful blogger you might think you don’t need to read this. You couldn’t be more wrong. What if you got tired of doing the right thing and all this pesky, worthless success? Huh? You will definitely need my advice to kill your blog and scare away your readers. So, read and don’t forget to take notes.

Research? I don’t need no stinking research!

“I can write about any topic you want! Give me a subject and I’ll get back to you in just a few moments, perhaps an hour or so, with an already finished text. Try me! I’m writing off the top of my head and my head is full of great ideas. I can produce like ten valuable posts every day. No problem!”

Yeah right. You are probably one of millions of bloggers out there saying the same things. And I’m sure you are all misunderstood by the society of bloggers, which is why they reject your posts and ignore your blogs! Poor fellows.

Let me put it bluntly:

No research = no valuable content = no readers. Period.

Dear diary…

“I have such an exciting life! I just need to share it with you! With all of you. I don’t care that this is a tech blog, and I am writing about what I ate yesterday. I want to share all my experiences with you—tell you about my day, my adorable pets, my ex-girlfriend (ok, I’ll admit it—my imaginary ex-girlfriend).”

Now, listen. There is your personal diary where you can write whatever you want, and there is a blog where you should write what your readers want to read. Got it?

I’m the Pablo Picasso of blogging

“I am an artist! What I write is like a stroke of brush on a canvas. I never change what inspiration and muses bring to me. And you wouldn’t try to improve a piece of art would you? That’s why I write, finish and immediately publish my work, so people can enjoy and appreciate it (and bask in the glare of my genius!).”

Yup. That sums it all up. You are so attached to your words, you just can’t give them up. Every sentence is sacred and perfect. And then you wonder why no one reads your blog? You want to know why? I can help you with that: your articles are full of nonsense. They are simply unreadable. There you have it. It’s not marketing skills, but basic writing skills and modesty that you lack.

The word is the word!

“I’m a writer so I don’t add images, photos, videos or anything that could distract my readers! I also write long paragraphs so I can express myself the way I like. My articles are like short parts of a novel, of an epos. I am too great to care about the readers—they should care about me!”

Are you familiar with this new thing called the Internet? Where everything speeds up, where you are bombarded with millions of images, videos, pop ups, flashy lights, and more, every moment? Where every possible blog reader has literally millions of distractions?

And do you honestly believe that all you need is black “ink” and white background? Good luck with that. Let me know when you are ready to join us in the 21st century.

I’m a grown up and I don’t laugh or dance!

“This is blogging we’re talking about! That is a serious thing. Don’t be talking about jokes, funny pictures, sarcasm, and other childish plays. When I write on a topic, I’m dead serious! Regardless of the topic. Why would I want to laugh at iPhones and the Siri application? Because Siri sometimes answers question like “Where should I dump a dead body?” with specific directions? That is not a laughing matter. You should be ashamed of yourself and concentrate on serious writing—then maybe someone will appreciate it!”

Calm down, blogger… Everything’s going to be all right. Just breathe.

You know what? I’m not going to explain this one for you. If you don’t see it, just put a “joking forbidden” sign on your blog. I’m sure no one will connect it with totalitarian systems and George Orwell’s 1984.

There you have it. The complete manual for boring your readers to death and scaring them away. My advice? Use it at your peril.

Jack Samuelson is a contributing author who writes articles on numerous subjects, interested in issues of personal rights, online privacy, network security and anonymous surfing. He has been an insightful observer of new technologies (such as tools to hide IP) and their relations with the problems of internet privacy, freedom and independence.

What New Bloggers Can Learn From Some of History’s Greatest Minds

This guest post is by Kate Miller of BestWebsiteHostingServices.org.

Today’s new bloggers are a fortunate group. The blogging community is swarming with a plethora of experienced bloggers who they can turn to for advice, tips and DIY tutorials. These bloggers are the thought-leaders, renegades and early-adopters of the industry. Turning to them to learn the ropes of the blogosphere is a no-brainer.

But what about those thought-leaders and renegades for whom the concept of blogging, much less computers, was inconceivable? Believe or not, there is much to learn from some of the greatest minds in history when breaking into the blogging world. Just take a look at some of this advice.

“One can win the attention and time and cooperation of even the most sought after people by becoming genuinely interested in them.”—Dale Carnegie, How To Win Friends & Influence People

One of the most valuable assets for a new blogger is having someone they can turn to as a mentor who’ll take them under their wing. Nothing can beat the one-on-one personal advice of an accomplished blogger.

Have a blogger you admire and wish you could learn from personally? Do as Mr. Carnegie suggests and become genuinely interested in him or her. Read every blog post he publishes and comment in a relevant, valuable way. Don’t hesitate to reach out with a thoughtful email, but don’t become a nuisance.

You just may be surprised by the attention and willingly helpful attitude you are met with in return.

“Opportunity is missed by most because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”—Thomas Edison

Any weathered blogger can tell you that there is no such thing as overnight success. Blogs that are worth reading don’t just emerge without a lot of hard work and dirtying of the feet going on behind the scenes.

Between learning your way around whatever blog platform you use, deciding on your niche and content, researching the nuances of html, learning to decipher the lexicon and so much more, the work can seem endless. However, the payoff can be immense and those that are willing to don their overalls and jump right in will be the ones to enjoy the fruits of their labors first.

“I have been up against tough competition all my life. I wouldn’t know how to get along without it.”—Walt Disney

In March of 2012, Nielsen published findings which tracked over 181 million blogs around the world. That’s a lot of competition!

Fortunately, there is an infinite amount of space on the web and as such, there is room for all bloggers. No matter how saturated you feel your niche may be, you can carve out your own spot for success. Accept that you’ll have competition, embrace it, and learn how to get along with it. It will push you in new ways as you strive to rise above the fray. Keep at it and someday you’ll not know how to get along without it either.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”—Martin Luther King

Unless your blog readership consists of only your cats and your grandma, it’s safe to assume that you will, at one point or another, be challenged by a reader. Facing controversy is a very likely scenario as well. Just ask any blogger who has unwillingly become the center of a firestorm of internet criticism.

When you begin blogging, remember that you are putting your thoughts and ideas out into a public space. Just as you wouldn’t yell fire into a crowded room without expecting some kind of outrage, so should you approach your blogging. But also realize that challenge and controversy is nothing to fear. In fact, many a blogger has a made name for him or herself because of controversy. Be prepared for it and then write away!

“The most effective way to do it, is to do it.”—Amelia Earhart

Just get out there and do it! Hesitating to pull the trigger on making your blog live because the layout isn’t quite right? Nervous about leaving a comment or joining a link-up? Scared that your first guest post attempt will be rejected?

Let go of all of that and just do it. You will most certainly never become an effective blogger if you don’t get out in the blogging world to begin with. If Amelia Earhart could get up in the air; you can absolutely hit the Publish button!

Do you know any other quotes or advice from great minds throughout history that you think would be helpful to newbie bloggers? If so, share them in the comments.

Kate Miller is a blogger and writer for BestWebsiteHostingServices.org, a site dedicated to helping users find their ideal web host through the web host match survey, a tool that automatically compares hundreds of hosting providers to find the best one for the user.

A Basic Visual Design Guide for the Visually Incompetent

This guest post is by Anabelle of Read, Write, Live.

Have you ever woken up one day, looked at your blog’s header and other visual elements, and thought, “My, this is ugly!”

You need a visual redesign.

What to do?

There are two solutions to this problem: you hire a designer to work on your new visuals from scratch, or you try to do it yourself. The first solution can come at a cost, so cash-strapped bloggers can easily be tempted to try building their blog’s visual elements by themselves.

But what if, like me, you’re visually incompetent? I mean, really incompetent? You can’t draw a stick figure to save your life, and you know absolutely nothing about the basics of visual design. You’re a writer, after all, and writers are better off writing than playing around with pictures.

And yet, you can’t afford a designer, so you need to find a way, any way, to do it yourself.

In this article, I will share the lessons I have learned trying to redesign my blog visuals on my own—header, logo, and all.

Start with software that you understand

We’ve all tried to play with those complex professional photo and visual design programs. You load a picture or an empty canvas and you think “Wow, with all these great tools, I’m sure I can come up with something amazing!”

Well, not so much. After five minutes of trying to understand the functions of the program, you give up. This happened to me time and time again, until I discovered a nice little Mac app called Logoist.

Logoist is simple and has all the functions I need. I can use cliparts from its extensive library, add text, apply filters and effects and insert pictures and photos. Its interface is intuitive and it has a few tutorials to show you the ropes. It also has automatic grid lines that help align all your elements. This simplicity let me create more freely than any professional design program could.

There are a lot of apps and programs you can use for both Mac and PC. Some are free and most are reasonably priced. You don’t have to go for the $500 creative suite to get the job done.

Black and white are your friends

I’ve always worked under the principle that, when in doubt, you should take the simplest route. In visual design, black and white is a great base to start with.

A black and white design looks professional, clean, and easy to work with. You don’t have to worry about colors matching or clashing. You know your text and your visual elements will be readable on a computer screen, a tablet or a smartphone. Black and white reminds readers of printed paper, something that’s ubiquitous and familiar. It’s trustworthy.

But of course, black and white can become a little bland. To add variety, choose one (and when I say that, I really mean one) accent color for your sidebar widgets, for the picture in your logo, or for the blog title in your header.

For example, on my writer’s website, I decided to go with dark red. It’s a color I like, and I think it brings about the right amount of visual interest. On my blog, I count on the pictures inserted in my posts for a blast of color.

Play with fonts

For my blog’s header, I decided to keep everything simple and play with fonts rather than pictures or images. Each word of my title (Read, Write, Live) uses a different font that expresses something unique about that word.

“Read” is in a formal, serif type that you could find in a book or newspaper. “Write” is in a handwritten-looking font that illustrates the act of writing on paper and separates it visually the other two words. “Live” is in a bold, sans-serif font with unexpected lines. I added a small ornament (one of the cliparts in Logoist) in the middle for visual interest.

Here’s the logo version, with the first letter of each word:

Blog logo
Fonts are great because you can give personality to words and ideas before they are processed by the brain through reading. They leave an instant impression, and can make or break the viewer’s desire to read on.

A tool I love for choosing awesome fonts is Google Fonts. If you’re tired of Times New Roman and Comic Sans, Google Fonts has an impressive collection of independent, public domain fonts you can use.

Be yourself, be realistic

The most important thing when you’re stuck having to design your own visual elements without training is to be honest with yourself. If you don’t know how to use vector software, then don’t. There are a lot of solutions that are within your reach and your abilities.

You also need to be realistic: there is no substitute for a professional design. As much as a self-designed header and logo can fill in temporarily, as soon as you get a steady flow of readers, you’ll be expected to get some custom, professional visual design on your blog. But as a beginner or novice blogger, a handmade, simple header and minimal visual elements can go a long way

One last thing: remember to have fun. I can tell you that this kind of visual work can be absorbing and exciting when you really get into it. I didn’t know I could come up with something so attractive on my own. I was very proud of the results, and it got me compliments from readers too!

Have you ever tried to design your own visual elements? Do you have any other basic visual design tips you’d like to share with the visually incompetent among us? I’d love to hear from you!

Anabelle is visually incompetent and would rather write about books, writing and living life with purpose at Read, Write, Live. She’s also a professional freelance writer for hire.

How to Work With Technical Contractors

This guest post is by Neil Matthews of wpdude.com.

The majority of work to run a WordPress blog can be done by non-technical people, but about 20% of the work requires in-depth knowledge of the technology that sits underneath the hood of a WordPress site. This is when many blog owners call in technical support from developers.

There is a good chance that you have never hired someone to provide technical support for your blog, so this post is designed to give you pointers to successfully work with technical contractors when the time comes.

Set a project specification

The specification you pass to your contractors can make or break the project. Here are some pointers to help you create a foolproof spec.

Be thorough

The spec needs to be detailed enough so that your contractors can translate your requests into technical action items.  This is often overwhelming for people who are trying to convey technical information, but don’t have the technical vocabulary to do it.

The good news is that you don’t need to get technical if you are working with a good team. They should have enough experience to translate your request into geek and fix your problems.

The simplest way to start is to break down your project into manageable chunks and list them, with a brief description for each.

Sometimes I receive one-line vague requests or imperious demands to “call me” as a specification. That is always a red flag to me. If a potential client can’t spell out their requirements, it usually means they are going to be difficult to work with. Keep your techies happy by spelling out your needs thoroughly.

Use screen grabs or screencasts

I recommend adding screen dumps and screen casts to your specification, it helps to stop a lot of misunderstandings. A great free tool for this is Jing, which allows you to grab areas of your screen to send to your contactor as a link, or even record quick videos of your screen to point out exactly what you need.

Some of the best project specifications I have received are two- or three-minute screen casts of the problem my client wants fixed.

Point to examples

If you want something for your site that you have seen on someone else’s blog, send a link.

Your technician should be able to reverse-engineer how that feature was implemented and suggest a plugin or other solution to give you the same results.

Ask for confirmation they understand your spec

Ask your contractor to confirm that they understand your specification and for them to explain what they will do in technical terms to meet your requirements.

This is particularly important if you are outsourcing to countries where the native language is different from your own.

Use their expertise

If you are not sure how something can be done (or if it it technically possible) spell out what you want and ask if it can be done.  Your developer should be able to make a recommendation and give you a price.

Get fixed-price quotes

If you are new to outsourcing technical work, get a fixed-price quote rather than by-the-hour work. This will prevent any unpleasant shocks at the cost of your project.

There are unscrupulous techies out there who will run the clock up on people who don’t understand the technicalities of development. The solution is a fixed price project. Don’t pay for everything up-front (but expect to pay a deposit), and only pay the balance upon completion to your satisfaction.

Also look for some sort of guarantee. If the techie can’t fix your issue, expect a no-fix, no-fee guarantee. It is for them to decide if a project is feasible; sometimes it cannot be fixed and your money should be refunded.

Information you need to supply

There are certain credentials and other information that you will need to pass to  your contactor so they can work on your site.

Admin-level login

Your developers will need an admin-level user id and password so they can get access to your site to make any changes. 

I recommend to my clients that they create a new user ID for the duration of the project and pass that to me and my team, rather than giving out their own admin user ID. Then they can delete this login ID once the project is complete.

Control panel hosting login

If your contactor needs to work on the database or backend items such as the DNS setup of your system, they will need to have access to  your backend database and hosting account.

Again, I recommend creating a new user ID for the duration of the project. Check out your hosting setup: some companies like Godaddy or Dreamhost allow delegation of the control panel to other users so you don’t need to create a new ID.

If you have to pass over your hosting credentials, change the password during the project and swap it back once the contactor is done.

FTP details

If your contractor needs to upload any files to your site, they will need to have FTP credentials. Most hosting control panels have an area where you can create a new FTP user.

Create a specific user for your developers, don’t pass over your main FTP credentials.

Security

I’ve talked a lot about temporary passwords, so let’s talk about broader security issues.

I’m not suggesting technical people are nefarious by nature and will try to hack your site once your back is turned, but if you passwords start to be passed around and shared with contractors, the chance they might be compromised increases.

Ask your contractor to delete all references to passwords from their inbox. We do this as a matter of course, but many people simply archive details in their inboxes.

If you are concerned about this, check out Lastpass.com. This service keeps your password safe while allowing you to share them with contractors.

Managing expectations

If you’ve never hired someone to do technical work for you, then you will have no idea what kind of communication to expect. It’s a good idea to spell out to your contractor what kind of communication you would like, to keep you in the loop.

Managing that expectation can help to alleviate the stress of outsourcing technical work. Often it seems the contractor has disappeared into a black hole and no progress is being made. This is probably not true—they may be working on a development version of your site, or the work may be invisible to you.

There’s nothing wrong with asking your contractor to report in at the end of each day with a progress report on what they have achieved and what still needs to be done.

If you’re outsourcing across time zones, more communication is vital.  I’m based in the UK and most of my clients are from the US, so I find being open and communicative about time zones and when I’m ending for the day is very helpful.

What not to do

If you want the relationship with your technical team to work, there are a couple of things you should avoid:

Avoid scope creep

Write your specification correctly from the beginning of the project. If you forget something and try to slip it in mid-project, you might get push back from your contractor.

It’s a common tactic by some shady characters to add items mid way through a project to try and get them done for free. I’m sure you are not one of those people, so include them in the spec at the project’s beginning. If you forget it, ask your contractor to update the original quote.

Don’t micro-manage

Hand over the project and relax a little. Micro-managing your contractors and monitoring every aspect of their work is a pain in the behind for you and for them.

You are paying professionals to do a job, so don’t give yourself more work managing them. They don’t need hand-holding—let them do what you paid them to do.

Don’t double-guess project time and costs

Nothing annoys a techie more than someone saying “I’m sure this will only take you 30 minutes since you are the expert.”  You should expect to pay for their expertise, not their time.

If you are worried about run-away costs, ask for a fixed price quotation.

Make the daunting manageable

Outsourcing technical work can be daunting the first time you do it.  Trying to work with someone babbling in octal when you want to achieve blogging business results can be tough.

Get the spec right from the beginning and be prepared to pass over control to the technical team. It can save you a lot of headaches, and help you get the best job for your money.

This is a guest post by Neil Matthews, owner of wpdude.com, a WordPress technical support firm.

Highlights from ProBlogger Event 2012

Last weekend, over 300 bloggers converged at Etihad stadium in Melbourne to attend the annual ProBlogger event.

Image by Marija Ivkovic

We had dreamed a lot bigger this year. This was the first year that we held the event over two days. It was the first year we had two different “streams” of content, and the first time we uploaded the presentations shortly after the sessions had finished for virtual attendees.

I think it was pretty successful. People loved how many different niches were represented—we had speakers from travel, cartooning, business, food, photography, fashion, parenting, and more. People also enjoyed having direct access to the team that has helped me grow my business revenue over the past two years.

From little things big things grow

This turned out to be the accidental theme of the two days. I started my keynote on Friday by telling the audience about my early experiences as a blogger—including the story of my now defunct printer blog (which I had no passion for … and as a result couldn’t sustain)!

I think the attendees appreciated hearing from people at different levels of success in their blog. We heard from bloggers who were focused on building a part-time business around other responsibilities. We also heard from bloggers who had enjoyed a lot of success within two or three years of starting their blog.

I think Elle Roberts said it best:

It is okay to shift, change, and maybe even completely flip your direction. You need to give yourself permission to stay true to who you are what you want today and stop holding on to what you wanted when you started your business.

Many bloggers told us that they felt reassured after attending as well as having specific “action steps” planned to complete after they had recovered.

One of my favorite moments of the event at the end of Day 2 when we all went out into the 40,000 seat stadium to think about the impact we can have as bloggers – Image by Danimezza

Take small actions every day

Something else that really resonated with people was the idea of finding small blocks of time each day and using them to do an activity that improves your blog.

I spoke about how I created my first ebook by finding and using 15-minute blocks after the birth of my first son. Many people tweeted their own suggestions and followed up with blog posts:

Image by Marija Ivkovic

Chris Guillebeau was one of the standout speakers. He received so many compliments on his kindness and sincerity. It was a real honour to share this event with him.

The PBEVENT Team!

The day 1 networking drinks at Maha were another highlight. As you can see, we had a lot of fun catching up and posing for pics courtesy of Smilebooth Australia.

The Virtual Pass

This was the first year we made the presentations available almost live, and this was something that all attendees really responded to. People loved not worrying about missing information and being able to participate in the conversation virtually.

We also had 100+ others attend the conference from around the world virtually—it was great to see so many tweets coming in from participants in places like Serbia, South Africa, America, Canada, New Zealand, and of course many from around Australia.

It really added an extra element to the event, and is something we´ll look at expanding on next year.

The virtual ticket is still available if you are interested.

It includes 21 hours of great blogging teaching, all the slides used by presenters, and a recording of an hour-long Q&A webinar that I recorded with attendees after the event.

Get your Virtual Ticket here.

Do it in a Dress

I ended the first day by wearing a dress to the final session. Yes, a dress. The goal was to raise enough money for ten girls in Africa to attend school.

Image by Misho Maranovic

We hit our target. You can still donate here.

Our 2013 Event

This year’s event was a real success, but we’re already looking forward to next year. We’ve just finished our debrief as a team and there are some further improvements and new features of the event that we’re looking to add.

Interested in coming?

Leave your email below and we’ll let you know where and when it’s on:


Note: your details will be kept private and you can unsubscribe at any time.

Reviews of PBEVENT from attendees

There have been a flood of blog posts about the event this year. Here are just some of them—enjoy!

Thanks to our sponsors!

Thanks so much to our partners and sponsors at PBEVENT who helped make the event so great!

Lenovo, MYOB, Holden, Yellow Pages, Curtin University, Social Callout, Blurb, Coldflow, Zendesk, and Oz Blog Hosting.

Also thanks to World Vision Australia for helping out at the event with volunteers.

Image by Marija Ivkovic

Blogging Isn’t a Numbers Game: It’s a People Game

Last month I had the privilege of attending one of the biggest events in Australia—the AFL (Australian Football League) Grand Final. For those of you outside Australia, it’s kind of like the Superbowl of Aussie football (without all the cool ads and wardrobe malfunctions…).

Anyway, I was a guest (with my wife “V”) at the event of Virgin Australia and it was quite the experience.

The game is held at the MCG (a stadium in Melbourne) and was attended by 99,683 people.

During the Nathional Anthem moments before the game started

I don’t know if you’ve had the experience of being in a crowd close to 100,000 people, but it is a pretty amazing thing to be a part of—especially when so many of them are so passionate about supporting their team to win the season’s ultimate prize.

The game starts

As I sat there in that frenzy of flag-waving, face-painted, screaming fans it was easy to look at the crowd and almost see them as a single unit. Within an hour or so, the stadium had been transformed from a quiet, empty place into one that was teaming with life.

Buddy Franklin (one of the biggest AFL stars) takes a ‘Mark’ early in the game

However that crowd was actually made up of almost 100,000 small parts. Each person in attendance had entered through the turnstiles that day, one by one, having made their way to the stadium from around the city (and in some cases, from around the country). Each one came in their own unique way, with their own unique story, and their own unique expectations of what was about to unfold at the Grand Final.

Within seconds to go the game was tied up – this vital contest led to a goal that sealed the match for the Sydney Swans.

Each one also had their own experience of the day. For some, those expectations were exceeded as their team won. Others left the stadium dejected after seeing their team lose.

This was highlighted to me at the end of the game, particularly when I watched these two fans celebrating with such emotion.

Tension – it went down to the wire

Emotion – the win is in sight

Jubilation – the final siren sounds and pandaemonium breaks lose around us

It strikes me that all this is true for the “crowds” that read our blogs, too.

I was chatting with one blogger at the ProBlogger Training Event in Melbourne recently and they told me that they’d just passed the 100,000-visitors-in-a-month milestone. As we chatted, I told her that that’s enough people to fill the MCG, and an amazing thing!

However it is good to also remember when we celebrate these milestones that the crowds (whether they be 100, 10,000, 100,000, or 10,000,000) are actually more than just a number—they’re made up of individual readers.

The total “unique visitors” stat that many of us use to measure the success of our blogs is actually made up of real people who arrive, one by one, on our blogs.

  • They have unique journeys, and arrive from different places.
  • They each arrives at a different part of our blog (many on our archives).
  • They each come with their own set of needs that they’re looking to fulfil.
  • Each person has been shaped by their own stories and experiences.
  • Each has his or her own expectations of what the experience of your blog will be like.

Keeping this in mind as you blog is so important—it should shape the way that you write, the way that you build community, the way that you find new readers, and even the way that you monetize.

Don’t get too wrapped up in the overall number of visitors (big or small). Instead, focus upon the individuals who make up the crowd, and you’ll create something that not only grows, but really impacts the lives of those who read it.

A big thanks to Virgin Australia for the experience of going to the Grand Final – an experience of a lifetime.

Got a Consulting Gig from Your Blog? Don’t Make this Big Mistake

This guest post is by Bill Zipp of Billzipponbusiness.com.

You’re so excited!

The blog you’ve been writing faithfully, the list you’ve been building consistently, the newsletter you’ve been sending out weekly just paid off. You got a call from a reader who’s asked about the Holy Grail of blogging success: consulting.

When you actually talk with this person, you get even more excited.

What this company needs is exactly what you provide, and, unknown to you, many of the employees at this firm regularly read every post you write. They’re ready to work with you and ask this question, “What’s your hourly rate?” (or words to that effect).

Stop!

Any answer—and I mean any answer—you give to that question, no matter how ridiculous $500 an hour sounds to you right now, sets you up for ultimate failure.

Here’s why.

Charging by the hour is unfair to your client

What could be more fair than a simple exchange of time for money, right?

Wrong.

When a consultant charges by the hour, that consultant is best served by a project that extends for many hours. The client, however, is best served by exactly the opposite. The client is best served by the quickest possible solution to the problem.

Do you see the conflict of interest here?

Yes, I know, as bloggers we are an honest, ethical bunch, but the moment a system of charging by the hour is implemented, all of us become blinded by our own self-interest to simple solutions that may serve the client best.

Charging by the hour is unfair to you

Not only is charging by the hour unfair to your client, it’s also unfair to you.

Case in point. I was speaking with a solo consulting client of mine who’s a leading coder for WordPress plugins, and I asked him this question, “Over the years as you’ve done this work, have you become faster or slower as a coder?”

“Faster,” he said (really fast).

“So,” I replied, “when you charge by the hour, you actually get paid less for doing more. Am I right?”

“Yes,” he said (really slow).

But, you say, you can charge a higher hourly rate when your get faster, right? Wrong again.

People will only pay so much money per hour, and there you are getting faster and better at what you do and receiving less for it. Or doing it fast and lying about the actual hours you spend on the project to get paid what you’re worth.

Charging by the hour is unfair to your business

Finally, charging by the hour is unfair to your business.

When solo consulting, there’s only one you with only so many hours in the day and only so many days in the week. You must do the work of your business, write your blog, market, sell, attend to bookkeeping, administration, professional development, and a whole host of others things that come up.

When you charge by the hour, you instantly limit your business’s growth to the time you can trade for money. Your business will be capped by your personal capacity to work.

So you do.

You work and work and work and work, pay your taxes, buy health insurance, invest in technology, and go to the occasional conference or two. Then you come to the end of the year with very little to show for it. Not to mention the fact that you failed to put anything away for retirement.

Remember? You’re a solo consultant and no one’s going to do that for you.

There is a better way!

Yes, there is a better way. It involves not going down the path of charging by the hour in the first place, and learning the secrets to value-based pricing instead. Alan Weiss is the premier thought leader on the subject and presents this approach in his book Value-Based Fees.

Here are four lessons I’ve learned from Alan’s book:

1. Build a trusting relationship with the economic buyer

Many times in the initial conversations of arranging consulting work I’m not talking with the economic buyer, that is, the actual person who will make the final decision and write a check.

This is tricky, because the person I first talk to usually influences the buying decision in some way, so I don’t want to alienate him or her. But that person isn’t the one who can approve the project.

Graciously, but firmly, I work to arrange a conversation with the actual decision maker and begin building a trusting relationship with that person.

2. Identify objectives and outcomes

The next step in this process is reaching conceptual agreement with the economic buyer around the work that needs to be done. Conceptual agreement is found in outlining what objectives will be reached and the measurable outcomes for those objectives.

One of the biggest consulting mistakes I’ve made is rushing this step in my excitement to get started. Lack of goal clarity, however, has ruined more that one consulting project for me. Projects where I ended up doing stuff the client didn’t even want, and not doing stuff that, from their perspective, was absolutely essential.

Invest time up front clearly defining objectives and outcomes. It will pay off in big dividends later.

3. Agree on value

Here now is the very heart of value-based pricing and how I begin to determine what to charge for a project.

If the objectives agreed on are fulfilled and the outcomes for these objectives are achieved, what difference will it make? What monetary value will be gained by the organization?

I’ve found that I don’t need an exact number for this, a range will do, but I do need a number. I even use this discussion as a way to differentiate myself from other consultants by helping my clients understand exactly how they will benefit from working with me.

I bet you’re asking this question right now (because I’ve been asked this question scores of times by the solo consultants I coach), “How in the world do I get people to talk about money like this?”

Remember, you’re a blogger, and they’ve been reading your blog. These people know, like, and trust you. That’s why bloggers have such an amazing advantage in arranging consulting work. Also, you built a trusting relationship with the economic buyer, so they’ll tell you this stuff. They really will!

4. Present multiple options

Armed with value-based information, I present a proposal with three graduated options—Tall, Grande, and Venti.

These options are created from achieving some, or all, of the client’s stated objectives and outcomes. Each option is priced, not on an hourly rate, but on a 10:1 return from the first year’s revenue in completing the project.

I used to present proposals with one solitary option and had terrible acceptance rates. One solitary option has a binary, take-or-leave-it effect (so they leave it). Multiple options create what Alan Weiss calls, “a series of yeses” that lead a buyer into the consulting alternative that makes the best sense for their business.

There’s lots more to mastering value-based pricing, but these are the fundamentals.

It starts with a different mindset

For most of the solo consulting clients I coach, however, the biggest shift they need to make in mastering value-based pricing is the way they think about their business. That’s probably true for you as well.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What’s the true value I bring to the marketplace?
  • What are the measurable results I deliver my clients?
  • How are people’s lives different when they work with me?

When you have real answers to these questions, you’ll have a value-based mindset and become convinced that you’re worth much more than a mere exchange of time for money.

In other words, if you don’t take your work seriously, don’t expect anyone else to. Ever.

It’s this mindset that’s the key to building a successful consulting practice and the starting point to enjoying the life you’ve always wanted, as a blogger and a consultant.

Speaker, coach, and consultant, Bill Zipp helps busy leaders do what matters most in business and in life. He also helps other solo consultants build a thriving, successful practice. To learn more about Bill’s work visit: http://billzipponbusiness.com/consultants.

Build Your Brand to Get Paid Speaking Gigs

This guest post is by Valerie Khoo from www.ValerieKhoo.com

This article is the third of a three-part series on how to build your brand through your blog and get paid for your creative output and expertise. The first two parts were about How to build your brand to get paid to write for magazines and How to build your brand to get a book deal.

Jon Bon Jovi feels it all the time. The cheers, the applause. That feeling that you have an audience right in the palm of your hand while you’re on stage. The confidence that you’re taking them on the highs and lows of a journey with you.

Jon Bon Jovi does it through music. But when you’re speaking to a crowd of captivated listeners, you’re doing it through storytelling. And you’re getting paid for it.

If your blog has given you the opportunity to develop expertise in an area—whether that’s parenting, travel, wine or simply the art of blogging—it might be time to explore the world of paid speaking engagements.

Okay, chances are that you won’t be able to draw a crowd quite as big as Jon can. But even if you only do one or two speaking engagements each month, you might be able to generate more revenue from this than all the effort you put into trying to secure some banner advertising or sponsored posts.

So how do you go from being a humble blogger to rock star speaker?

1. Tell people you’re “open for business”

It sounds so simple, but this one thing can make a big difference. People aren’t going to know that you offer your services as a paid speaker unless you actually tell them. Mention it on your blog and customise your bio so it’s clear that you do this.

A few years ago, I decided that I wanted to get paid as speaker. I knew I had a wealth of information I wanted to share but no idea how to approach event organisers to offer my services—particularly as I had no track record as a speaker at the time.

Then I had a chat with Catriona Pollard from Public Relations Sydney, who successfully secures speaking engagements for many of her clients. She simply said to me: “You need a ‘speaker’s bio’ on your blog.”

A speaker’s bio is much like your regular bio except that it also features testimonials from people who have heard you speak, outlines your topics, and showcases your expertise in those subjects. You can check mine out here.

At the same time, I had to order some new business cards. Author and business coach William de Ora from Quantum Publications told me: “Put the words ‘keynote speaker’ on your card.” I felt this was a bold move at the time but I gave it a go.

Within a month of following the advice from both Catriona, I had secured my first paid speaking gig. And I’ve been doing them ever since.

2. Ensure your blog showcases your expertise

If you want to speak about the political unrest in the Middle East, then that’s what you should blog about. If you want to speak about how to raise children, make sure your posts cover these issues. If you want to talk about why Klingon is linguistically superior to Elvish, then your posts should debate the relative merits of both.

This is because you need to position yourself as an expert in your chosen field if you want to get paid to speak. Don’t worry, it’s not vital to have a Masters in Political Science or a PhD in Tolkien to get a speaking gig (although, sometimes, this can’t hurt). But you do need to show that you’re smarter than the average bear on your chosen topic. Your blog is the perfect showcase for this.

3. Identify your speaking topics

Identity two or three specific topics that you can confidently and passionately talk about.

Bad: I can talk about issues surrounding raising children.

Good: My core keynote presentations include:
“How to raise a teenager with depression”
“Successful co-parenting after divorce”

Basically, if someone is looking for a speaker, you want to plant a seed in their minds with a clear topic. Otherwise you end up spending a lot of time discussing a wide range of topics, then have to research and prepare presentations which may be just outside your core area of expertise.

Make sure you feature these keynote topics in your speaker’s bio and ensure that you also create blog posts that point to them.

4. Move from freemium to premium

I suggest cutting your teeth with smaller crowds first such as your local chambers or commerce, service clubs, or community organisations, so that you can hone your presentation and get over any nerves.

These groups may not have the budget to pay you. However, it may be worth doing a few free speaking engagements if you’re just getting started. Think of the “free” gigs as your beta test: you’ll see which jokes they laugh at and which fall flat, you’ll know the bits where the audience is on the edge of their seats, and the sections where they’re bored out of their brains.

While you might want to get cash coming in straight away, trust me, you want to know that you’re delivering a stellar presentation before you insist on being paid. Once you’re confident, then start targeting events and conferences that pay speakers.

If you can get someone to video you in action, put together a “showreel” and embed this video on your blog so you can showcase your talents.

5. Find a speakers’ agency and presentation coach

If you want to get serious about this speaking caper, I suggest two things.

Register with a speakers’ agency

A professional agency (which obviously takes a commission from your speaking fee) may already have established relationships with conference and event organisers, which is great if you don’t have any. But it depends on what industry you’re in and what you are speaking about. I’ve actually secured more paid gigs through my blog than through my agency.

Invest in a presentations coach

I thought I was a decent speaker—and then I invested in a presentations coach. She transformed the experience for me. Learning tips and tricks from a professional speaking coach helped me eliminate nerves, cut down my preparation time and gave me the tools I needed to really engage my audiences. I can’t recommend this enough.

Start talking!

Speaking on stage is not everyone’s cup of tea. But if you want to get paid to talk about what you love—or just want to channel Jon Bon Jovi—your blog might help you do just that.

Have you landed any speaking gigs through your blog? Tell us how—and how it went—in the comments.

Valerie Khoo is founder of www.SydneyWritersCentre.com.au which offers online courses in magazine writing. She blogs at www.ValerieKhoo.com and is author of the new book Power Stories: The 8 Stories You MUST Tell to Build an Epic Businesswww.PowerStoriesBook.com.

Build Your List Before You Launch, Using Launchrock

This guest post is by John Doherty of Distilled NYC.

Are you a blogger, either part-time or full-time, who is seeking to launch a product? Or, are you a business owner who is looking to launch either a startup or a new product line?

If so, this post is for you. We all dream of going viral with a product launch, but what if you can get the promise of a new product to spread across the internet so that you can gather the people who might be interested in your product when it actually does launch?

Or, if you have an idea for a product, wouldn’t you like to test out if people will actually be interested in buying or using said product, without actually putting much (or any) work into the minimum viable product (MVP)?

This is why tools like Launchrock exist. Launchrock is a tool that helps you capture email addresses, and encourages virality for new product launches.

The company I work for, Distilled, launched our online marketing training platform DistilledU back in May, after a few months of content creation and development.

In January of 2012, however, we put up this page:

Our launch page

This page was built with Launchrock in about 30 minutes. Within 24 hours, we had collected over 1,000 email addresses of people eager to hear when we launched the product. While your mileage may vary by the size of your engaged audience and those willing to help you co-market your product, I believe that you as well can see success in getting pre-buy-in for your product launch using Launchrock.

In this post, we’ll walk through the steps that you can follow to set up your own Launchrock page, and start collecting interest in your product.

Introducing LaunchRock

We’re going to be talking about Launchrock’s free service. Let’s see how to get started.

When you go to the Launchrock site, you will see this:

Launchrock home

Enter your email address, and you will be signed up and taken to this page:

Project name

On this page, you can input your project’s name, a one-line description of your project, and a short description.

Choosing a project name

Your project’s name is probably the most important part of this whole setup. Just like blog titles, which you want to be clickworthy and viral, your project’s name needs to be:

  • memorable
  • succinct
  • descriptive

You will want to avoid the typical blog-title trap of “5 Things That…” because this is a project that is long-term, not a one-hit wonder. While you want people to click through, they also need to get excited about the project.

Since viral marketing tactics are only one piece of the puzzle, though, you should take into account keyword research while crafting your title as well.

If I was to launch my ebook announcement again, I would have included “Blog Marketing Ebook” in the title and written a blog post about it, to try to rank for “Blog Marketing Ebook” to gain even more interest. I didn’t include something like “Online Marketing School” with the DistilledU launch because of existing brand recognition. If you’re a small blogger, though, this tip could help your chances of success.

One-line description

This tweet-length line of text is almost as valuable as your project title, since it is the next place your readers will look.

This is your project’s “elevator pitch”, which is what startups are often told to have should they meet a potential investor in an elevator and have five seconds to tell them about their company/idea.
Once again, this should be memorable, succinct, and descriptive.

“The last ebook about toy design you will ever need.”

“Why stressing yourself out at work does not have negative lifestyle repercussions.”

Short description

Your project’s short description is the meat and potatoes of your project. How much is it going to cost? When are you expecting to release it? There is no word limit to your short description, but anything longer than two paragraphs is probably too long in today’s internet reading-length environment.

Even though longform content can do well in some online niches, you have a very brief amount of time to grab your reader’s attention and convert them through the email box on Launchrock.

Choosing social networks

After your headline, description, and short description are made, you need to figure out which social networks you should enable your audience to share your project on. While allowing readers the option of which network to share it on is great, you shouldn’t necessarily allow every network.

The best way to make the decision about which social networks to prioritize is to make a data-driven decision.

Take your ten most recent blog posts and throw them into SharedCount. Using the multiple-URL option, you can see the trends and where your posts are most popular. Check out the most recent SEOmoz posts, shown in the image below. If they were going to launch a new product using Launchrock, they should prioritize Twitter and Facebook, but LinkedIn is not as high of a priority:

Sharedcount results

Custom messages

For each social sharing option, you also have the power to dictate what the message that’ll be shared says. This is a great power and one to be leveraged. Click on the social network option and a box will appear for you to input your message. Here’s the Twitter sharing options box:

Twitter sharing options

Remember that each social network has different triggers that work to incentivize people to share. Twitter updates are shorter and therefore require a short call to action, like “Join me!” Facebook users have more personal connections than Twitter, so the message must appeal to a friend and establish trust.

Here’s the call to action we leveraged on Twitter for DistilledU:

I just registered early for DistilledU on http://t.co/uOyRONjw. Come be my classmate! via @distilled.

This generated hundreds of retweets, resulting in over 500 signups in a six-hour period:

Tweets

Storing email addresses

When people sign up to your project by giving you their email address, they are sent a confirmation email by Launchrock, so that your email list is kept as pure as possible.

Now, however, we are faced with the challenge of storing and using the email addresses collected, which leads us to one of the major drawbacks of Launchrock.

One of the downsides of Launchrock is its lack of integration with email management platforms. If you do any email marketing and are building a contact list, you know that a good email marketing management platform is a must-have for segmenting lists and campaigns.

This lack of integration is troubling to me, but fortunately Launchrock makes it easy for you to export your data in a .csv format that is then easily imported into a system like Mailchimp, through Launchrock Insights.

Launchrock Insights

Pro tip: Insights shows you how many referrals have been sent to you by those who have signed up to your list. Take these and sort them from high to low by referrals. This will let you identify your power users, who can become your most powerful project advocates if you make them feel special.

Photo considerations

One often-overlooked consideration when building a Launchrock page is design. Launchrock allows you to upload your own background photo to customize your design. What image should you use?

Think about the psychology of your user at this point. Do they need to have trust built with them in order to sign up? Do they need motivation?

When we launched DistilledU, we launched with a photo of one of our cofounders, Will, because he is a trusted voice in the industry. We used the photo of him onstage speaking because we wanted to show that we are a trustworthy source for learning online marketing.

Minimum viable design

I understand that many bloggers and marketers are not designers. I have seen more badly designed blogs than I could ever wipe from my memory. But design is imperative to your project’s success. A well-designed page builds trust with your user.

I recommend using the rule of thirds, which is a well-known photography framing technique but also applies to design. If I’m announcing a new product or event, I could do a design like this. However, it looks somewhat messy and not as clear as I’d like it:

Page design

Yet, with a slight tweak to the background graphic and moving the signup form to the left of the page, I get a much cleaner look:

Revised page design

Launchrock allows you to change your background image as I’ve said above, but they also provide eight different page theme boxes to choose from. Once you have settled on your background, choose the right box design for your background:

Choosing the box design

Hosted or widget?

Launchrock provides you with the option of either creating a hosted page for your site, or using a widget.

Hosted page or widget

If you have access to your hosting provider, you can create a new CNAME with them and point the Launchrock-hosted page to a subdomain on your website (i.e. http://awesome.domain.com).

Now you won’t have to worry about whether or not your hosting will be able to stand the load of new visitors coming to your page once you launch. But the drawback is that you now have a subdomain that is gathering links, and that subdomain is not inheriting the domain authority of your main site, so even if you launch your product on that same subdomain, you will have a hard time ranking in the search engines for your targeted terms. For more information about how to set up a new CNAME, Launchrock provides a great resource for most hosting providers.

If you are not able to create a new CNAME (which can be an issue on platforms like Blogger), you can use the widget option instead. You will not have the full-page layout, but Launchrock provides you with code that you are able to copy into a post on your blog. Note that you will still need access to your site’s <head> section to copy over the Facebook OpenGraph tags so that your users are able to share your project on Facebook.

Launch time!

It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for. Of course, you have already reached out to the influencers to let them know of the launch so that it will reach more people, and you have set up content to go live on related sites to promote your project, right?

Now go, launch, and enjoy the ride!

John Doherty is the head of Distilled NYC, a search marketing firm based in London with offices in New York and Seattle. In his day job he works with clients of all sizes to help them earn more traffic from the search engines and other organic online channels. In his free time, aside from being adrenaline-seeking adventurer, he works on his own websites and is currently writing an ebook about blog marketing.