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The Definitive Guide to Setting Up and Marketing a Podcast to Help Grow Your Blog

This is a Guest Contribution by Chris Ducker, from ChrisDucker.com.

It’s no secret that the subject of podcasting has been a buzz for quite some time. In fact, some say that although there have been solid podcasting networks around for years and years, it’s only just in the last 12-18 months that the idea of starting a podcast, especially as a blogger, has become something that we’d even consider.

I’ve been blogging for three years and podcasting for almost as long. I’ve had three separate shows, but nowadays tend to focus on just my New Business Podcast, which goes along with my brand as a blogger and entrepreneur. I can categorically say that starting and marketing a podcast has been extremely important, when it comes to my success as a blogger.

So much so, that I would say if you could only add just one strategy to your blog marketing mix this year, I’d highly recommend podcasting, and here’s a few reasons why:

  • 45 million Americans download and listen to at least one podcast a month (source). That’s in the US alone – think about how many millions you can reach worldwide!
  • One in every four podcast listeners, tune into podcasts while driving (source). This is a good opportunity for you to have the undivided attention of your audience.
  • The volume of podcasts has remained fairly steady since 2011 (source). There’s a lot of opportunity for you to capture a chunk of that market share – regardless of what niche you’re covering.
  • The typical podcast consumer is between the ages of 12-34. They are also, high-ticket buyers, and are Internet savvy (source). Perfect if you’re wanting to monetize your blog.

On December 22, 2012, I launched my latest, aforementioned podcast. Within the first month of it being live I had enjoyed over 10,000 downloads via iTunes and had gained the number one spot in the two main categories I was going after, namely “Business” and “Marketing & Management”. Cool, right? Accident? Absolutely not.

There was a very clear strategy in place to make that success happen, which I’ll tell you more about later, so you can put it in place for your own podcasting success. However, before you can have a top ranking podcast, you’ve gotta create one!

Getting Ready to Podcast

If you’re still with me at this point, I’ll assume that you’re rarin’ to start your own podcast. But, let me tell you now that, just like setting up a blog for the first time, it’s going to take some planning and preparation to get your podcast out there in the right way.

As this guide unravels you’ll see me discuss the process of setting up, packaging and launching your podcast in the following phases:

  • Planning your Podcast – You’ll need your thinking cap for this phase!
  • Recording your Podcast – Hardware and software you’ll need to record your podcast.
  • Post Production Work – Exporting, editing, and tagging your audio for iTunes.
  • Publishing your Podcast – All about creating an RSS feed and submitting your podcast to iTunes and the other directories.
  • Marketing your Podcast – Advice and tips on how you can get your podcast to rank well, be found and help catapult your blog and brand online!

Please note there are a bunch of links in this post to resources such as hardware, software and other online tools – none of them are affiliate links.

Let’s begin!

Planning Your Podcast

As with any marketing endeavor, you need to sit down and spend some time thinking about what your podcast is going to be about, your target audience, your keywords and your goals. If you’re blogging already and want to focus on producing content for the same type of audience, then this part of the process will be a little easier and faster for you.

Note: If you’re not blogging already, or if you’re thinking of changing your blogging focus – this exercise is also perfect for you, too – just replace the word ‘podcast’ with ‘blog’…

Some of the things you need to be asking yourself, in preparation of getting going with your podcast are as follows:

1. Your Podcast Title

The name should be descriptive of what your podcast is all about. Take my podcast title for example, from its title alone you know that “The New Business Podcast” is all about business. More importantly, it contains a keyword (business podcast) phrase that I am optimizing my blog and my podcast channel for. Smart, huh?!

2. Your Podcast Subtitle

This will show up next to your podcast title. Your subtitle should complement your title and give listeners the chance to get an ‘elevator pitch’ on what your show is about. Try to include a few keywords here, too – it’ll help your show get found in searches.

3. Your Podcast Description

This is a good place for you to identify who your target listener is and what they can expect from your podcast, i.e. what topics you will be covering in your episodes, common takeaways, etc.

4. Your Podcast Artwork

People’s eyes are naturally drawn to images that “pop” from the rest, so use colors and font styles that will draw people to your podcast, as flowers attract bees. If you’re looking to build on a personal brand, then it’s a good idea to include your headshot in the artwork, along with your title (and possibly subtitle), too. Dimensions change from time to time, according to the directory your listing in. When it comes to iTunes, which is the 800lb podcasting gorilla that you want to be focusing on going after, your artwork needs to be 1400×1400, to make sure that it displays in the various sizes it gets listed in, such as web results, inside iTunes, via the podcast app on the iPhone and iPad, and so on.

No good at designing, or don’t want to have to do it all yourself? No problems, I have a solution for that later on…

5. Your Podcast Talent Name

Your talent name should tell people who you are in several words. It’s not just your name. You have the ability here to include several keywords that you want to be discovered for. It’s imperative that you utilize this option properly.

You’ll see in the screenshot below how I’ve covered (1) the title, (2) the subtitle, (3) the talent name, (4) the description and (5) my talent name.

PODCAST1.png

6. Your Podcast Intro and Outro

One of the ways that you can brand your podcast is by having a distinct intro and outro. It can be as simple as a piece of an instrumental music, or a combo of music and a short voice-over.

If you’re using music, make sure that you get the license to use it – iStockPhoto has some brilliant audio recordings you can license cheaply. Then get your voice-over ready and simply lay it on top of the music using some simple audio editing software, such as Garage Band.

Don’t want to record the voice-over, or edit your intro’s and outro’s together yourself? No problems, I have a solution for that later on…

When you have everything above ready, put them aside for use later on. You’ll need them when you submit your podcast to directories like iTunes, Zune, Blackberry, Stitcher, etc. Before I get into that stuff, let’s get stuck into what you’ll actually be submitting!

Planning Your Podcast

This is the fun stuff! Recording your podcast. I say fun because this is really where “YOU” come into play. This is where you share your knowledge and experiences to your listeners. To start recording audio, you’ll need to get the following sorted out first:

Your Show Format

Typically, there are two types of podcast formats you can go with. First up is the ‘solo’ show, where it’s just you talking into your mic, laying down all your experience for your listeners to indulge themselves in. Secondly is the ‘interview’ format show, where you bring on guests that can lend their own experiences and tips to your audience – much like I did with Darren, on my podcast recently.

You might also decide to do a combination of the two. I recently changed from a full interview format, podcasting twice a month, to a mix of interview / solo shows, which allows me to share my own experiences and business experience a little more freely, by publishing slightly shorter episodes (around 15-20 minutes), bi-weekly.

Microphone

This is a no brainer, I know. Can you use your laptop’s built-in mic? Certainly. Will it sound good? No! At the very least, you need to be recording with a microphone that is on a headset – preferably when it’s attached to your head!

However, if you’re really serious about using podcasting to take your blog, business, or personal brand to the next level, don’t scrimp on your hardware (besides, it doesn’t cost a fortune, anyway!). Invest in a good quality mic and a few cool accessories.

PODCAST2.png

My podcasting set-up is in the image above, here are the Amazon links to everything I use:

  • MicrophoneAudio Technica AT2020 USB Condenser Mic
  • Swing ArmRode PSA1 Swivel Mount Boom Arm
  • Pop FilterNady PF-6 6-Inch Clamp on Pop Filter
  • Shock MountSamsung SP01 Spider Mount
  • Audio Recording / Editing Software

    Another no-brainer. You need software to record your podcast. Whether you’re doing a solo show, or an interview format show, if you’re on a Mac, I suggest you get involved with GarageBand, and if you’re a PC user, then Audacity should be your top choice.

    If you’re recording interviews, I’ve found the easiest way to do this is via Skype.

    You can do this really easily on a Mac using the software, Call Recorder for Skype from Ecamm Network – it’s just $19.95, and allows you to record not only Skype-to-Skype calls, but also Skype-to-phone calls, too. On the PC you can do the same thing with Pamela. I recommend upgrading to the Professional version (€24.95) because of it’s specific support for bloggers and podcasters.

    Getting Ready to Record

    There are a number of things that I’ve picked up in the last few years since I started podcasting, in regards to actually planning the individual episodes.

    Firstly, make sure you plan out your show properly. If you’ve ever listened to a podcast before and thought that it sounded like it had been literally thrown together at the last minute, the chances are it probably was!

    If you’re interviewing a guest, visit that guests blog, or website. Snoop a little on what they’ve been up to on social media profiles – especially Twitter, as people tend to speak a little more freely on that platform. Then put together some questions, or at the very least a collection of bullet points on topics that you’d like to discuss with them.

    If you’ll be recording a solo show, that doesn’t mean this gets any easier. In fact, it’s harder, as it’s all about you, and only you! So, likewise, plan out your content by getting some ideas from your community, answer some questions they have and provide some solid ‘how to’ advice. All this coupled together with your charm, humor and entertainment factor, and you should be fine.

    Either way, I always like to make sure that I’ve got a glass of water close by, any material I might need to reference during the recording either on the screen, or better yet, printed in front of me – as well as making sure that all other distractions turned off.

    Now, go ahead and hit that recording button!

    Post Production Work

    We’re now coming down to the nitty-gritty of things. The dirty stuff that happens after you’ve recorded your podcast. This is where all the techie talk comes into play. Audio and sound engineers refer to this stage as post production work and it starts with exporting your audio file.

    Now, don’t be scared of this term. When I say export, it just means that you will save the file in a format that is recognizable by iTunes and other audio directories and devices – in other words, across the board – an MP3 file format. Name your file something relevant, like NBP001 (this is the title code I use for ‘New Business Podcast – Episode 1’).

    Note: For those using Audacity, you will be asked to download a LAME encoder the first time that you export an audio as an MP3 file. The system will direct you the download site or you can also download it here.

    After you’ve exported your audio file, the next thing to do is to edit your audio. You can do this using Audacity, or GarageBand, as we’ve discussed already.

    This is the part where you add the intro and the outro, remove background noise, adjust sound levels, and add any sound effects, voicemail recordings, etc. This is also where you trim the audio and remove portions that you’d rather not include in the final product.

    Drop an F-Bomb by accident? Bleep it. Stuttered, mumbled? Removed it. Recording run for too long? Cut it! You can do what you want – it’s YOUR podcast, after all.

    When you’re done with the file, the next thing you need to do is to save your edited audio as a new file. This way, just in case something happens in the future, you’ve got the original, un-edited file, along with the ‘final’ edited version, backed-up. Always back-up.

    Now that you’ve got your final audio (the version of your recording that the world will hear), you need to tag it properly, so that all the information related to your show gets uploaded with it, along with the file itself.

    Here’s a screenshot of how I tagged a recent episode of my podcast. You’ll notice all the information we finalized earlier coming into play here, such as the title, subtitle, description, talent name, etc. It’s also at this point that you’ll attach the podcast artwork to the file, too.

    PODCAST3.png

    After you’ve done this, give yourself a pat on the back. You’ve successfully tagged your podcast. Which leads us to the next step.

    Don’t know how to edit audio files together, or simply don’t want to have to worry about tagging your audio files yourself? No problems, I have a solution for that later on…

    Publishing Your Podcast

    This is essentially a three-step process which includes getting a media host sorted out, setting up your podcast only RSS feed, publishing your first few podcast episodes and then finally submitting your podcast to the major directories!

    Set Up Your Media Host

    Firstly, you need to figure out where you’re going to host your audio files. At first, as long as they are below the maximum upload size of 50MB, you can do this directly onto your WordPress server, via your usual dashboard. The only problem with this is that when your podcast becomes popular, you might have server issues, with all the download’s taking place!

    A far better way to attack this step in the process is to upload your files to a dedicated audio file / podcast server. I use the folks over at Libsyn, and they have been brilliant. They even promote my episodes and blog posts via social media, from time to time. Awesome customer service, too. With a few different payment options to choose from you can get started at just $5 a month, for 50MB – just enough space for one, maybe two episodes a month.

    Set Up Your Podcast RSS Feed

    Once you’ve uploaded your file to your media host, the next step is to create a feed for your podcast. This is the one area where a lot of people trip up. So, let me put that another way – you need to create a ‘podcast only’ RSS feed. I can try doing this on your own, if you’re tech-savvy enough, if not – here’s the perfect, step-by-step solution for you.

    Within WordPress, you’ll see five dozen, or so plugins listed when you search for “podcasting “ in the directory.

    We’re going to install and activate the best one, in my opinion. The Blubrry PowerPress Podcasting Plugin. Note: This is the same plugin you’ll use to actually publish each of your podcast episodes, too.

    Once installed, follow the steps below to create your Podcast Only RSS Feed:

    1. Under the Welcome Tab, check the box before “Custom Podcast Channels” and save. It will create one podcast channel by default.
    2. Edit the default “podcast” channel. You can find this in under the PowerPress menu in the left hand side. Change the name of the podcast to the Title of Your Podcast show. Don’t forget to save.
    3. Click Settings under the PowerPress menu and go to the Basic Settings tab. Make sure that the boxes are checked before Media URL and Media File Size and Duration. These options created additional fields in the Post Editor, where you can enter the file URL of your podcast. Keep in mind that this URL ends up in .mp3, or other audio file formats.
    4. Scroll down to the bottom and delete the URL in the Default URL field. Save again.
    5. Under the Feeds tab, make sure that “Enhance All Feeds” is selected.
    6. Copy the Podcast Only Feed URL. Since you have no podcast episode published yet, it will be in RED. Make a note of it for later use.
    7. Scroll down under the Feed Settings, set the number of podcast episodes you want to show in the feed, e.g. 10, 20, 50, or 100.
    8. Upload your RSS Image. This is the cover art you prepared when you were planning your podcast. The size of the image should be 300×300 pixels.
    9. Add a location to your RSS Feeds. If you don’t plan on traveling for each podcast episode, then put down your normal location.
    10. Save your new settings for the Feeds tab.
    11. Go to the iTunes tab and scroll down to the iTunes Feed Settings. Enter the details required namely Subtitle, Summary, Keywords, Host and Categories. Just copy these from your podcast plan. (Remember the one you prepared before you started recording?) Select three categories for your podcast.
    12. Set whether your podcast will contain explicit content or not. Upload an iTunes Image, which is the cover art you have prepare beforehand. Use the file size with 1400×1400 pixel dimensions.
    13. This is where you publish your first podcast episode. Just open a post draft, as usual, type out your show notes and then put the post in a ‘Podcast’ category, so it’s easier for archiving / searching in the future. Don’t forget to add the media URL – the file URL for your podcast that will end in .mp3, that’s sitting on your file server. The box for this is under the text editor box.
    14. Go back to the Feeds tab under the PowerPress menu and click on the “validate” link next to the Podcast Feed. This will open another window called Feed Validator, which will tell you if you’re feed is properly setup.
    15. Make sure that your Podcast Only RSS Feed URL is the same as the one you took a note of earlier on. This is important because this is the URL you will be submitting to the directories.

    Continue to Publish New Episodes – Now that your feed is set up, and your first podcast episode is published, all you need to do is continue to publish new episodes – and before submitting to the main directories – which are:

    Why do we need to publish more episodes BEFORE submitting? Because the chances of your podcast getting accepted by directories is correlated to the number of episodes you have. Meaning, the more episodes you have in your feed before submission, the more likely that it will get accepted.

    In fact, Blubrry for example, says that it requires seven episodes before they’ll accept your podcast into their own directory. However, I’ve found that a minimum of three episodes is usually good enough to get listed in these major directories, and lets not mess around here – iTunes is the one we really care about, right?! I got a listing on the iTunes store with just three shows for my latest podcast.

    Marketing Your Podcast

    Just because your podcast has been approved by the directories and you’ve started to publish regularly, doesn’t mean that you can relax. In fact, you now need to work even harder than ever to make sure that it’s found and downloaded by as many people as possible. Especially when it comes to getting a taste of a little iTunes success.

    How to Achieve Amazing iTunes Success – FAST!

    At the top of this post I mentioned the success I had enjoyed in the iTunes store. I utilized a really simple tactic that paid off big time, and although I did produce an in-depth post about it on my own blog, this article would not be complete without including it here, too.

    There’s a little known fact that many first time podcast producers are unaware of, that will make all the difference in the instant popularity of your podcast in the iTunes store. It’s about how to take advantage of the ‘window period’ you’re given in the ‘New & Noteworthy’ section of Apple’s iTunes Store once your podcast is approved in its directory.

    Apple automatically lists your podcast in the ‘New & Noteworthy’ section, which appears at the top of the iTunes search results for every category, for a limited period of 8-weeks, following the launch of your podcast in the iTunes Store.

    Bottom line, you have two short months to shine, and grow your audience. So what you need to do is launch three episodes in your first week, this boosts your download count immediately – putting it very close, if not right at the top of the section – ahead of all your competitors.

    Then, try your best to publish at least one new episode a week, for the remaining 7-weeks, to keep the download (and subscriber) count growing, and your podcast listed at the top of the charts.

    With the New Business Podcast, by the end of the 8-week period, I had consistently held the number one spot in two separate categories, and received well over 25,000+ downloads with just 9 episodes published.

    General Podcast Marketing Tips

    Even with the simple iTunes tactic (and the success that it can bring) in place, you still need to market the hell out of your show. So, here are a bunch of additional marketing tips that you can work on, to be sure that your podcast becomes a success, and helps catapult your blog and brand to the next level.

    • Promote your podcast through social media. Post links to new episodes on your Facebook page, Twitter profile, as well as your LinkedIn and Google+ profiles, too.
    • Invite members of appropriate Facebook and LinkedIn groups to subscribe to your podcast – this works really well, if you stay focused.
    • Add a link to your podcast in your email signature.
    • Add a link to your podcast on the sidebar of your blog, or perhaps the navigation bar.
    • Email your list subscribers whenever you publish a new podcast, incase they aren’t subscribing to your Podcast RSS feed.
    • Reach out to other bloggers that you’re friendly with, and ask for them to mention your new podcast on their Facebook page, etc. – you can offer them a guest spot on your show, if it helps sweeten the deal!

    Get Smart – Don’t do ALL the Work!

    Remember where I said a few times earlier on in the post that I had a solution to you not knowing how to do something, or simply not wanting to do something related to getting your podcast up and running… well, here it is.

    It’s called outsourcing.

    No talent in graphic design? Want a cool sounding ‘movie voice guy’ to do your intro and outros? You can hire freelance graphic designers on oDesk, or if you’re in a tight budget, go to Fiverr. Just make sure that you’re clear on what you want. Provide examples of cover art work that appeal to you and perhaps some audio examples.

    If you want to take all of this to the next level, then you could also look into finding an Audio Editor VA, either part-time, or full-time through Virtual Staff Finder (Disclaimer: I own this company), or another service – they can then fundamentally handle the whole process for you. All you need to focus on is creating the content and marketing the content!

    And if you didn’t want to handle the marketing side of things, you could also find a VA to do that for you, too – but, that’s a whole separate blog post!

    And my final tip, above and beyond everything else, is to be sure to provide great value in every episode that you publish. This is easily the best way to make sure that your subscribers will continue to tune in, and recommend your podcast to their own networks.

    The fact is that ‘fluff’ doesn’t cut it anymore. As online content creators we need to be sure to research and create content that is genuinely consumable. If it is, people will not only consume it, but they’ll also be more than happy to share it with the people they know – and that is what makes a ‘good’ podcast… ‘great’.

    Focus on having fun with your podcasting, and utilizing the power that it brings to your overall online brand. As far as I’m concerned, it’ll help grow your blog faster than any other activity that you can spend time on nowadays.

    Are you already podcasting to help build your blog following and overall brand? If so, share with the community here what’s worked well for you. I know I’d love to hear from you, for sure!

    Chris C. Ducker is a serial entrepreneur, speaker and author. He is the founder of Virtual Staff Finder, the world’s number one VA match-making service, as well as a popular blogger and podcaster at ChrisDucker.com. He can also be found daily on Twitter @chriscducker.

    3 Simple ways You can get your Blog Engagement Rockin

    A Guest Contribution by Shaun McCarthy from Twitter, or visit Training Outcomes

    When was the last time you learned something new? It could have been anything, from customising your blog template or setting up your social media to fixing your leaky tap. I want you to think about how you were taught. Did you just sit down and read a manual?

    I’m guessing you didn’t. I bet you did a whole combination of things in order to perfect your new skill. It might have included reading, but it probably also included watching how someone else does it, listening as they explained it to you and almost definitely trying it yourself.

    Why is this important to you as a blogger and content creator? Because in order to get your audience to do what you want them to do, you first need them to fully comprehend your message.

    In this post I’m going to show you three basic ways that people learn and what you can do to ensure your blog content gets them excited.

    Three key learning types

    Did you know that more than half of the population (around 65%) are visual learners? What that means is they need to be able to see a concept in order to process, remember and use it.

    Everyone has a preferred way to consume information, a learning style. Visual learners want to see how to do something. Auditory learners like to hear an explanation and talk things through. Kinaesthetic people need to get their hands dirty and feel how something is done.

    If you understand the way your audience likes to learn, then communicating with them becomes a whole lot easier.

    1. Visual learners

    Visual learners prefer to watch demonstration and will often get more out of video, rather than written instructions. Aside from the sheer entertainment value, this is one of the main reasons why YouTube works so well.

    Video works well because it is very engaging, but you can also use simple visual alternatives such as diagrams and images that help to communicate, or better demonstrate the outcome you are trying to achieve. Photos, cartoons, tables and charts all work well as reinforcement tools for visual learners.

    The good news is that you can create videos yourself using a decent camera with movie mode, or even with an iPhone if you are starting out. Practice makes perfect, but it is likely that your audience will value any effort you make to show them what you are talking about.

    Well renowned blogger, Ramsay the Blog Tyrant, has used video to great effect in his article about Google authorship. Not only did he write a really detailed ‘how to’ and inject plenty of his own thoughts, he also included a video to show his audience exactly how it can be done using screen capture software.

    Videos aren’t the only visual learning tools available. Infographics visually communicate ideas and sometimes, quite complex data. They are so popular because they resonate so well with visual learners.

    2. Auditory learners

    Hearing and speaking are closely related so you’ll often find auditory learners combining the two when they are introduced to new concepts. Maybe you have even found yourself repeating something out aloud in order to remember it.

    Auditory learners remember complex information through song or rhyme; in fact we all do it from an early age – who doesn’t know the alphabet song?

    A good way to engage people that like to learn by listening is through podcasts. Podcasts are a really popular way to deliver online interviews and once you are up and running, podcasts are pretty easy to offer to your audience. Check out Pat Flynn’s great resource about setting up podcasts for a great step by step (funnily enough it actually contains a lot of video).

    Video can also be a good way to engage auditory learners. It can really help develop a stronger connection when your audience can see the person behind the voice. Someone that does this extremely well is Derek Halpern from Social Triggers. Derek has stacks of energy and gets right to the point, leaving you with a clear and actionable takeaway message every time.

    As surprising as it might sound, you can also engage auditory learners through text by getting them to repeat something (like a desired action) aloud to themselves. Try suggesting to your reader that they read a word or sentence using a well-known voice (like a celebrity), or tell them how it should sound (sexy, angry, crazy). You will be amazed how well this works at getting someone to recall a certain piece of information.

    3. Kinaesthetic learners

    While kinaesthetic learners make up the smallest group, many of us use this type of learning at some point. This is the process of performing the intended action, which is naturally more suited to physical activities.

    Although this can pose some challenges in an online setting, there are ways to incorporate this learning style into your blog. Try to be very descriptive about the way in which something should feel to the learner and ask them to action it out themselves.

    You can also try setting specific homework related to your desired action. On your blog you could do this by:

    • For a photography blog, you could ask your reader to take a specific photo in a particular way and have them post a link to it in the comments;
    • For a personal development blog you could challenging readers to interact with a specific number of new people in a given amount of time, then ask them to report back;
    • For a marketing/writing blog you could offer subscribers a reward in the form of a link from your site, for a specific piece of content they create.

    Aside from helping people put their learning into practice, another benefit in doing this is that it often promotes community interaction. Your audience will not only share and learn from you, but also with each other, which is really cool to see happen.

    Adding the additional reward element through recognition makes it all the more enticing.

    Combining learning styles

    Research has show that combining different learning styles is the most effective way to engage learners, independent of the way they best learn.

    The key is making your blog a hot house of interaction is to understand that most people use a mixture of learning styles. Some have one dominant style, and use small amounts of the other styles, while other people will use different styles in different situations.

    What this all boils down to is that the best way to create a hot house of reader engagement on blog, is to incorporate all three learning styles whenever practical. Look for ways to inject this into your online content and experiment with different communication media like audio and video, I guarantee it will result in better engagement and greater success with your target audience.

    Do you usually create one style of content over another? How could you tailor your content to better suit each of these learning styles?

    Shaun McCarthy helps people create fantastic learning experiences that anyone can relate to. He also likes to make wild claims about guaranteed success using a training based approach. Feel free to take this up with him on Twitter, or visit Training Outcomes to see how a simple approach to online training can help you get more from your online business.

    How NOT to Send an Email: A Day We’d Rather Forget But a Story We Need to Tell

    In this post Shayne and I share the back story how we mistakenly sent an email to almost a million people that should have gone to a few thousand – (and we then share what we did about it).

    From Shayne: Wednesday the 10th of April 2013 was a day I will never forget – for all the wrong reasons.

    It was a brain draining day for me.  A huge business decision was made in the morning, followed by spirited discussions, followed by lots of work and climaxed in dramatic style.

    A new deal had just been loaded on SnapnDeals and it was time to let our several thousand subscribers know about it via email.  The email was written, loaded, tested and good to go — so I thought.

    I clicked send at around 7:30PM and headed for dinner.

    About 30 minutes later I popped back into the office to finish up some work and immediately realised something wasn’t right.  I had over 400 out of office emails to an inbox that normally had only a handful.

    With haste I jumped into our Aweber account and my heart sank.

    I had sent the SnapnDeals email to ALL our lists. dPS, feelgooder and Problogger.  Almost a million people!

    Not good. Not good at all.

    Now that I have that admission out of my system (you can stop blaming Darren now) I wanted to share our actions and response to this no so happy moment so we can all learn from my mistake.

    Step 1: Tell Darren

    I didn’t really know what to expect from Darren because the situation wasn’t good. He was on holiday and this was the last thing he wanted to happen.  

    I find you always really get to know someone at times like this and what I can share with you is that the perception that he’s the one nicest bloggers on the planet – when push comes to shove it is 100% true. 

    His response… “It happens… let’s fix it”.  

    From Darren: I was just settling down to watch some TV on our second last night of our vacation when my iPhone began to buzz incessantly with incoming emails – I knew something was up and on checking my inbox I knew pretty quickly what had happened.

    The incoming emails were a mixture of direct emails from subscribers complaining of spam and unsubscribe notices from Aweber – mainly from ProBlogger readers – with comments that indicated they were not happy.

    I was just logging into Aweber to see how many people had been emailed when Shayne’s text message came through.

    My reaction: the first reaction was panic – seeing people quickly unsubscribe from a list you’ve put years into building up will do that – but I quickly realised we needed to react quickly and that panic and negative feelings wouldn’t get us anywhere.

    Step 2: Evaluate Quickly

    From Shayne: Every moment we waited to act was hurting us that little bit more. Together we quickly explored options.

    1. Hold our nerve and respond to anyone that contacts us directly
    2. Broadcast through social media and other channels about the issue
    3. Email people we mistakenly emailed, explain the situation and deal with the consequences.

    We decided to do all three.

    From Darren: Time was of the essence. Luckily for us this happened early in the evening here in Australia and most of our subscribers were asleep in the US – but the stream of negative emails and unsubscribes was constant and I wanted to react fast.

    Even as I chatted with Shayne I drafted an email that I began to send in response to every person who was emailing me to complain or who had unsubscribed and left a comment via Aweber.

    The email was short, apologised and briefly explained the situation.

    I also tweeted about it pretty quickly to the ProBlogger account and also added updates to Facebook and Google+.

    I was also pretty sure I wanted to email those who shouldn’t have received the email – however my reservation was that in doing so we may be accused of pulling the old ‘we made a mistake’ trick that some email marketers do by making a self serving mistake in their marketing.

    While being seen to use that tactic wasn’t something I wanted to happen I could also see that by NOT emailing we’d do even more damage.

    Step 3: Act

    From Shayne: Darren immediately shared the news on social media as we set about writing a follow up email explaining what had happened.  About 20 minutes later that email was on its way. Nerves were high – and yes, I had to get Darren to hit the send button!  But it was also a relief to be clearing things up.

    From Darren: Everything as though it was going in slow motion at this point – I couldn’t hit send on that email fast enough and as Shayne says – it was a relief to get it out!

    Step 4: Watch

    From Shayne: As the email was being delivered we both monitored all inboxes to understand the response our follow up email was having.  For the most part our pro-activity and transparency achieved the response we had hoped.

    such as…

    “I LOVED this message! I’ll take it as a benchmark of what to do when something wrong happens – because it often does, to all of us ;)

    When I received the SnapnDeals email I was puzzled, but I wouldn’t have known it had a connection with you – we receive so much spam, anyway… so I didn’t pay much attention to it.

    Receiving this apology, on the other hand, immediately caught my attention and had a very positive impact. It showed how a company or a consultant that cares for their contacts should behave, and made me not only sympathize with you all, but also admire your professionalism on a new level.

    I learned a lot, thank you and congratulations!”

    There were a few that assumed we were strategically manipulating the situation.

    “And by sending this ‘mistake’ out you inadvertently introduce your readers to your SnapnDeals site. Tisk tisk – shame on you Darren. A transparent marketing effort and a unprofessional marketing effort. “

    Which we knew was going to happen.

    We did lose some subscribers but we minimised the damage and being open an honest about what had happened.  

    From Darren: the reaction from subscribers was pretty amazing. Within seconds of the email and social media updates going out we began to see reactions. They were overwhelmingly positive.

    I’ve had hundreds of emails come in from those who received the Apology email and 99% of them were positive including some common themes:

    • Don’t be too harsh on the person who made the mistake
    • It’s good to see that even ‘ProBloggers’ make mistakes
    • Thanks for your transparency and admitting the mistake

    Of course it wasn’t all positive – as Shayne mentioned, some did see this as a marketing ploy. I responded to each person personally when they reacted this way. My response was to explain there is no way I would risk a brand as important to me as ProBlogger to drive a little traffic over to a side project on a completely irrelevant topic to ProBlogger readers.

    The costs of this saga were certainly higher than any unintentional benefits we may have received.

    Thankfully though, while we continued to have some unsubscribes they slowed down a lot immediately.

    Step 5: Share

    From Shayne: Darren and I both like to share our experiences so without even having to say it, we knew this had to be written about on ProBlogger.  Not only to show you how not to run an email campaign, but also share that when something goes wrong, getting on the front foot and owning the issue, in the long run, is going to minimise the harm.  

    It’s a story that I’m sure Darren and I will chuckle about in years to come, but also a story I hope we all can remember just before we hit that send button.

    From Darren: There was never a question of not sharing this story. For starters we told many of you already with our apology but interestingly another of the common responses from subscribers was them telling their own mistakes (it seems we’re not the only ones to make this mistake).

    Step 6: Learn

    From Shayne: Now that we know what’s possible Darren and I will look as way’s we can make sure this doesn’t happen in the future. We might look at separating out the accounts on Aweber or putting a few extra checks in place before we send out emails.  

    Either way we need to adjust what we do as I hope you’ll all forgive me this once, but should it happen again you have my complete permission to get angry.

    So that’s my wonderful 10th of April.  I’m sure there’s a few more email catastrophe stories out there waiting to be shared!  

    It’ll make me feel better if you do :)

    From Darren: The thought of this happening again sends shivers down my spine. I’ve been at this long enough to know that honest mistakes do get made (I’ve made plenty) however the keys in this are to:

    • Learn from those mistakes
    • Own the mistakes and to get on the front foot in responding
    • Look for ways to turn the mistakes into postives

    The last thing I’d say is that the mistakes you make – and how you respond to them – in many ways define you.

    As I look back over the years at the times I’ve messed up it is often these moments that drive me most to improve, to change and to better what I do.

    These are also the moments that others remember most – so how you move through these times is a really important part of building your brand (and character).

    How Early Should You Monetize Your New Blog?

    A common question that I get is ‘how early should I begin to monetize my blog‘.

    I understand the concern behind the question – some bloggers certainly like to build their audience before they introduce monetization and you do need readers before whatever monetization model you choose will work – but have always believed that if you intend to monetize your blog one day you should probably do it in some way from early on.

    I’ve never heard a shop owner ask – ‘how early should I monetize? – shops open from day #1 with products to sell.

    Likewise – Newspapers generally run ads from Day #1, Businesses open with sales staff from Day #1, Gyms generally offer membership packages from Day #1… why shouldn’t a blog that intends to monetize start with that in mind.

    It’s never too early in my opinion.

    Monetizing from the start has a few benefits:

    • Firstly it’ll generate a little income – it won’t be much early on but a little is better than nothing and you’ll be surprised how even just earning a little can motivate and energise you!
    • Secondly – you’ll learn a lot by just trying. The first time I tried to monetize I used AdSense and Amazon’s affiliate program. In the first week of doing so I learned a lot – knowledge that I’ve utilised ever since.
    • lastly, and perhaps most importantly – monetizing from the start means your readers expectations are that your blog is one that will be monetized and you don’t have to break it to an established community that you’re suddenly going to start monetizing in some way.

    A better question might be ‘HOW should I monetize early on?’

    Some blogging monetization techniques will work better from Day #1 than others.

    For Example

    If your goal is to sell advertising directly to advertisers/sponsors – you’ll need to build your traffic before an advertiser is likely to want to advertise with you. In that case you might want to consider running ads from an Advertising Network like AdSense or Chitika (aff).

    Or if your eventual goal is to sell your own products (an eBook or course perhaps) it may not be feasible for you to have a product developed from Day #1. In that case it might be worth promoting someone else’s eBook or course as an affiliate while you develop yours.

    When Did You Start to Monetize?

    I’d love to hear your experience – did you monetize from the start or introduce it later? Or are you still waiting for something to happen before you do it?

    DISCUSS: How do you Keep your Content Fresh, Interesting and Engaging?

    Over on our Facebook page last week Kim Hill-MacCrone asked a question that I thought might be a good one to discuss with the wider ProBlogger readership.

    How do you Keep your Content Fresh, Interesting and Engaging?

    It is a question I get asked quite a bit and know is a challenge many bloggers face. I also know that bloggers use a wide array of techniques and strategies to combat the problem including:

    • limiting posting frequency to when they actually have something fresh, interesting and/or engaging to say
    • having an editorial calendar that cycles through different types of posts on different days of the week
    • outsourcing some of the writing of content (paid writers or guest posters)
    • regularly polling readers on what topics they want written about on the blog

    I’m just scratching the surface here – I’d love to hear your thoughts.

    So lets hear some tips and suggestions on the topic – how do you keep your content fresh, interesting and engaging?

    What does it take to Succeed?

    This guest post is by Tommy Walker of Inside The Mind

    We often look outside of ourselves when we ask “What does it take to succeed?”

    Surely, others know more about success than you, so following their advice will lead to success.

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and while I think it’s true that you have to at some point seek outside mentorship, to really be successful, it comes down to a three things.

    Consistency, Practice & Routine.

    But first, watch this video.

    Now you may wonder what the heck beatboxing has to do with blogging, and on the surface the answer is very little.

    But watch this video a little closer.

    This is a guy, on a stage, making sounds with his mouth… and people are cheering him on.

    Technically, you could beatbox. If you’re reading this, I’m assuming you have a mouth and you make sounds with it.

    But what this guy has done that you haven’t is practiced. Constantly.

    How many hours years do you think he’s spent in the mirror practicing his patterns.

    When he’s got nothing to do, what do you think he does?

    The same as you might stare at tabloids in the grocery line, or playing a song in your head, he’s probably making beats under his breath.

    I don’t know if this guy won the competition but I know he was good enough to compete.

    And I know the only way he could compete was by practicing his skill more than anyone who didn’t take the stage, or make this far in the competition.

    And I know that he’s got the same tools as you. What sets him apart is his willingness to practice, consistently, on a routine.   

    …something to think about next time you sit down to write.

    Tommy Walker is an online marketing strategist and the host of Inside The Mind and The Mindfire Chats, fresh and entertaining shows that aim to shake up online and content marketing.

    A Key to Building a Sustainable Online Personal Brand

    Recently I was part of a panel to launch a new book by Trevor Young called ‘Micro Domination‘.

    In the book Trevor identifies a number of what he calls ‘Micro Mavens‘ – including people like Chris Brogan, Jonathan Fields, Marie Forleo, Chris Guillebeau, Trey Ratcliff, Pamela Slim, Gary Vaynerchuk (and he generously includes me too) and goes onto describe their characteristics and how they’ve built businesses around their personal brands.

    The book is a good read – particularly for those starting out and wanting to get their head around the idea of building an online personal brand.

    As I read through the list of Micro Mavens that Trevor identified it struck me that he’s actually put together a group of people who have a number of very common traits (many of which he outlines in the book).

    The Power of Being Constructive

    The most obvious trait to me is that the above group of people are a very ‘constructive’ group of individuals.

    I’ve been fortunate enough to have had both online and face to face meetings with most of the above group and many others listed in the book and in each case I’ve interacted with them I’ve been struct by how positive they are as people.

    There’s a certain uplifting vibe about each of them in meeting them but when you look at what they’ve built online over the years you can see the trait again and again.

    Day in and day out they use their time to build something that is useful for their networks, readers and followers.

    • The books and blogs that they’ve written have been positive and full of constructive advice.
    • Their tweets are largely positive and the communities that they form are largely positive and constructive too.
    • When they speak at conferences their messages almost always contain inspirational and useful ideas.

    While from time to time they probably all have had a rant or have complained about something and they all are quite capable of bringing critical thought to what they write about…

    • They spend a lot more time constructing than being destructive.
    • They build more than they tear down.
    • They focus more upon the positives than the negatives.
    • They focus their energy upon helping those who interact with them to have positive outcomes

    My suspicion is that this ‘constructive’ approach is probably a large part of their success over many years.

    Destructive Personal Branding

    This may all seem quite obvious – however as I pondered the group of people Trevor has written about I found my mind going back through the years to another group of people who took quite a different approach.

    Many of those that came to mind rose to prominence in their niches quite quickly through using a more ‘destructive’ tactic.

    They often burst onto the scene in their niches in a flurry of controversy, snark and personal attack – tactics that do often cause a stir and get the person behind them lots of attention very quickly.

    The problem with this negative or destructive approach is that it is much more difficult to sustain over the long term for a couple of reasons:

    Firstly for most people it is particularly draining to be constantly being negative. Controversy, snark and attack doesn’t really bring anyone life and isn’t something most of us can do on a day by day basis without it taking a personal toll.

    Secondly creating a brand on the build of a more destructive approach makes it difficult to build a business model around it. While it is possible to build a following with such tactics I find it difficult to think of too many ways to build a profitable long term business on that. What advertiser would want to associate their brand with it? What product could you create that people would want to buy with such negativity?

    In the long run these ‘destructive’ online personalities tend to attract others like them and something of a cesspool of negativity emerges around them.

    Build Something Positive!

    Building something ‘constructive’ is probably not the quickest way to build an online profile but what I find is that it is the key to building a more long term and sustainable online brand.

    The rise to prominence may be a little slower but in time what you build is much better. In fact in my observation of the people mentioned above (and many many others) is that in time real momentum can grow when you’ve built something positive over time.

    The accumulation of generously helping people over years and years can have a massive return in a business sense but on a personal level it is much more life giving back to you too!

    The key lesson to me is to think about how you can build something that gives hope, that solves problems and that genuinely and generously serves others.

    I’d LOVE to hear your thoughts on this. I’m sure there are a few examples of ‘negative’ brands that have managed to succeed despite their approach and I’m happy to hear about them but I’d also love to hear other positive examples and hear about your experience of this.

    The Only Real Way to Learn About Blogging

    … is to start a blog and use it.

    Start

    The barriers to entry into blogging are low – you can start a blog in minutes using a tool like WordPress.com.

    In setting it up and hitting publish on your first blog post you’ll learn so much. In your first week of blogging you’ll develop skills and habits that could change your life.

    Your first post won’t be perfect but it’ll be a step closer to perfect than never publishing one!

    The only real way to learn about blogging is to start one!

    15 Years Blogging And Still Learning

    A Guest Post by Chris Brogan from Human Business Works

    I started my first blog back in 1998, when it was called journaling. It was on some Geocities site whose name I no longer remember. From there, I moved to Tripod, and then to Blogger, a quick side-step into another platform or two, and then WordPress. Along the way, it went from being a place to share my fiction, and then my self-improvement efforts, and there were a lot of other iterations, too.

    Maybe more of interest to you: it took me 8 years to get my first 100 subscribers, and I can say without a doubt that blogging was what made me most every dollar I earned from 2006 until present, in one way or another. It also landed me a New York Times Bestselling Book. Want to hear more?

    My First Biggest Discovery

    In the beginning, I wrote for myself. I wrote about myself, too. And I gave my opinions on this or that. Guess who cared? Only me.

    My first big discovery was to be helpful. The more I could create material that was useful to others, the more it would be rewarded by people visiting more, interacting more, and checking in more often to see if I had anything more to help with.

    That same process of learning how to be helpful led to my course, Blog Topics: The Master Class, which was a much more structured and premium version of what I had accumulated for skills. In fact, learning how to help gave me the idea to create courses that would add value to professionals in lots of different subject areas. Which, of course, led to even more success.

    How To Get More Readers

    The predominant advice out there is to guest post (like I’m doing now!) and that’s not wrong. But what I’ve come to learn is this: the more you interact with people on their sites and where they are, the more people will flow back to interact with you. Not the “big names.” Connect with the up and comers. That’s part one. The second part is that you have to practice the “B Strategy.”

    • Be Helpful (already told you that).
    • Be Human
    • Be Interesting
    • Be Everywhere

    The sketch is this: most blog posts I’m sent to read end up being boring, too short, not especially helpful, and feel like they were written as a chore. Does that sound like the way to attract readers? I think not.

    Build the Newsletter Subscriber List Early

    I’ll tell you the most surprising (and depressing) revelation of all my years of blogging. Though my blog has attracted a lot of opportunities, if I intend to sell something, my blog isn’t actually very effective. My beloved newsletter has only about 29,000 subscribers on it. Compare that to my 200K unique monthly visits. Now, get this: I get 10x more sales activity (by volume, not %) from my newsletter. So, 10x less people get my newsletter, and I sell 10x more there than via my blog.

    If I could go back and change one thing early, it would be to create a valuable newsletter earlier. Get mine to see what I do to make it valuable.

    The Best Part of Blogging

    When I met Darren Rowse for the first time, it was in the presence of Brian Clark (Copyblogger) at the first BlogWorld Expo in Las Vegas. It felt like magic, because the three of us had been writing successful blogs for a little while. Both Darren and Brian were more successful than me (still are), but we had very different approaches. Here’s the list of what I love most about blogging:

    • It lets me build business my way.
    • It empowered me to meet smart people.
    • It lets me help others in a scalable way.
    • It affords me a place to earn leads based on my thoughts.
    • It enables a campfire around which a community can gather.

    I won’t be closing down my blog any time soon, even if it’s supposedly dead. Again.

    Some Lessons For You

    Here’s some advice on the way out the door:

    • Never write super long posts like this one.
    • Never write self-referential posts like this one.
    • Don’t approach guest posting as an opportunity to stuff your links into someone else’s blog, like I did.
    • Don’t lecture people on what to do like I am doing.

    Oh, and break the “rules.” Do whatever serves your community best. That’s what got me this far (15 years and counting), and that’s what will get me to my next level. See you there?

    Chris Brogan is the president and CEO of Human Business Works, a publishing and media company providing courses, books, and live education to professionals like you. He wishes he were Darren Rowse.