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Creating Products Week: Which Product Should I Create?

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Darren says: Today Shayne Tilley continues our series on creating products for your blog by examining the important question of “what product should you create?”

This is a question I know many ProBlogger readers are pondering because I get asked it many times.

  • “Should I create an eBook, a course, a membership area or something else?”
  • “What topic should I create a product around?”

If you’re asking questions like these – Shayne’s advice in this post is for you.

As I did in yesterday’s post – I’m going to chime in with my perspective too.

Maybe it’s just me, but my take on this question is the second-biggest decision you’ll make as a blogger. Second only to “what should I blog about?”. So if you’ve been stressing about the answer – congratulations, you’re normal!

Whilst I’ve been involved with hundreds of products in my career, it’s still something I debate in my own head and with those whom I work. It’s a debate well worth having.

In this post I’m going to share with you the process I go through when answering this question, whether it be in my head or with others.

This process is a culmination of both my personal experiences and my learnings from amazing entrepreneurs such as Darren, Matt Mickiewich, Mark Harbottle, and others you’ve probably never heard of.

I’ll in no way say this is a process that guarantees success, but hopefully it gives you a way forward as you answer this question yourself. Just keep in mind that every blogger has different circumstances, audiences, topics, and goals – and at the end of the day you’ll need to answer the question for yourself.

So let’s get started.

Not What… But Why

The first thing we are going to do is not decide what we’re going to build, but instead we’re going to define why – and it’s a two-part why.

Your Why

The first is answering why YOU want to create this product.

What is your motivation?

The answer can be money and for a lot of you it will be, but it needs to run deeper.

The motivation for money, and at this stage theoretical money, will lessen as you are working on your product at 2am on a Sunday.  When you realise that it’s going to take twice as long and cost twice as much as you thought starting out, there needs to be more of an incentive.

I really encourage you to watch Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle video to understand exactly what that means.

Let me share what I mean with a simple illustration.

Question: Why am I writing this post on a sunny Saturday afternoon and not outside doing something else?

Answer: Because the thought that this post could inspire someone to create their own great product in some small way that might change the trajectory of their live in a positive way forever, is much more rewarding to me than anything I could be doing outside.

So I write…

I want you to be able to in some way be able to describe in someway your own personal why.

Darren says: It’s been a while since I watched that Simon Sinek video – thanks for the nudge to do so again Shayne, it was a great reminder to do a little self analysis of my own ‘why’.

A personal example: Five years ago when we started the Australian ProBlogger event, I did so with a very clear ‘why’. I wanted to encourage, inspire and equip Aussie bloggers to do amazing things with their blogs.

I’ve told the story numerous times so won’t rehash it here – but my goal with the event was pretty single-minded and profit was the last thing on my mind. My vision was pretty clear and so when I began to share that dream with a few others, I was able to quickly communicate it. I found that in doing so, the idea caught hold of others.

I really believe that knowing the ‘why’ helped us create an event that has grown each year. 

Knowing the why keeps driving me forward (even when it gets tough). 

Knowing the why has helped me attract a core team together who work for the same purpose.

Knowing the why has helped us communicate what the event is about to attendees.

Knowing the why shapes the ‘what’ of what we actually DO at the event.

Your Customer’s Why

The second “why” you’ll want to think through is: why would your customers buy your product? Ask that with supplementary questions of who are they, and what are their problems?

And it’s time to pull out the pen and paper, or the spreadsheet.

What are the problems your readers have?

I want you to list as many of the problems your readers have as you possibly can.

In yesterday’s post I shared with you the necessity to understand your readers, and this is where the benefits of that start to play out.

Don’t leap to the solution. I repeat: don’t leap to the solution.

At this stage you are just researching, not creating path of action.  We will get to that, I promise.

List all your readers’ problems, big and small.

For example for a blog about lawns (a silly example for illustrative purposes):

My readers all have lawns, they are all proud of their lawns. Which is not a surprise as that’s what I blog about. With spring on the way, without some care and attention, these lawns are going to get out of control very quickly. When I surveyed my readers, lawn mowing was their number-one concern.

Problem:  My lawn needs to be mown so I can still be proud of it.

The readers of the lawn lovers blog probably have some others.

- I need to get rid of weeds

- I need to keep my lawn vibrant and healthy

- I want to have a lawn, but not sure where to start

You should, with a little effort, be able to come up with more than 20 problems your readers have. There’s never been a blog I haven’t been able to identify a lot more for.

When you are thinking about problems, it’s often easy to focus on the practical, or ‘issues’ your readers have. But don’t forget that people also like to be entertained (their problem might be being bored). They like listing to stories and admiring creativity (their problem might be that they lack inspiration).

From Darren: One of the key teaching points in many of the keynotes that I deliver is to become hyper-aware of problems (both your own and those of others). I truly believe that this awareness of the problems of others puts you in the perfect position to serve others, and create the #1 ingredient to a successful business – usefulness.

I’ve previously suggested 11 ways to identify reader problems in this post in the ProBlogger archives

Not only will these methods help you create product ideas but also they’ll help you come up with blog post ideas too!

Solutions

So now we’ve got problems, let’s see if we can solve them!

The next step is to think about possible solutions that might exist for each of those problems. Let’s go with the lawm mowing problem.

Solution: I can mow my own lawn

Solution: I can get someone else to mow my lawn

Both are viable and both would solve the problem 100%. There is always multiple solutions to the same problem, you just need to think it through.

We’ve solved it! Or have we?

So we’ve got a couple of solutions to the great lawn mowing problem of my readers. This is essentially a DIY or done-for-you.  From that, we then identify some of the barriers to activating the DIY solution.

Barrier: I don’t own a lawn mower

Barrier: I don’t know how to use a lawn mower

Barrier: I have a lawn mower, but it’s broken

Okay, now your probably starting to see product opportunities.  What could I do to remove those barriers to the DIY lawn mower problem. Let’s go with the I don’t own a lawn mower.  Another problem!

Solution: Well, you could buy one!

Barrier: I don’t know which one to buy

Barrier: I don’t know where I can buy one

Barrier: I don’t have any money

Keep going…

Problem: I don’t know which one to buy

Solution: A guide, some advice or training one how to buy a lawn mower.

We have a product idea!

So then it’s simple. Rinse and repeate.

What you have done is taken the problems of your readers, drilled them down into smaller ones by understanding barriers, and then drilling them down until we have a narrow and very specific potential solution to the problem.

I’ve on purpose solved my problem with an educational outcome, however some will be action-based (for example: another solution might be to sell them a lawnmower), some will be service-based (for example: a directory of lawn mowing services) and some will be training- and educational-based.

Regardless of the type, they will be all required and valued by someone.

Take each problem in your list and begin to drill down to find solutions by identifying barriers and smaller problems until you have a list of product ideas.

At this stage you’ll have a long list of potential products. When you actually look at this on paper (or spreadsheet), is it any wonder you were not sure which product to build?

Darren says: I hope you see some of the power of this technique. Rather than simply trying to brainstorm product ideas, what Shayne is suggesting is much more about coming at product ideas from the perspective of your potential customer.

Brainstorming their problems in this way will not only help you to come up with a product idea (it should probably help you come up with several viable ones), but by doing this you’ll also be in a much better position to write and launch that product also as you’ll have a better understanding of what questions the product should answer and what will motivate people to buy it!

Cull and Focus

It’s now time to cull and focus.

You can now grab the red pen, or be at the ready on the delete key, and start working from the top, removing any products that are simply not possible, or not something you are interested in doing.

For example, as a blogger you’re probably not interested in selling mowers directly, so that’s gone.

You will find, if you’ve spent time on the above exercise, that you’ll strike through a lot , if not a majority of the solutions. That’s okay, but don’t delete them, put them on the someday/maybe pile because when you are thinking about your next product your circumstances might have changed.

Let’s assume that you’ve got three legitimate product ideas. For this little lawn blogger, it’s all the information products.

  1. Information and training on how to buy a mower
  2. Information on how to keep my mower in tip-top shape
  3. Information on how to use a lawn mower effectively

Our next step is to look at the potential and viability of each of those products – we can do that a few ways.

How many?

You need to determine (and a best guess is okay) how many people would want these products?

You won’t sell it to all of them, but you use it as a comparison.  We know that only people wanting to buy a mower might want training on how to buy one, people with a mower and people buying one might want to know how to maintain it, as well as how to use it.

So we know, that there is a bigger market for products 2 and 3.

How much?

The counterbalance to this is: what value do people put on you solving that problem for them (thus how much are they willing to pay you)?

If you are about to buy a mower, you are about to spend a lot of money, so your readers might put a higher value on that.  Where as using a mower is pretty easy to figure out so not a great value is put on solving that.

Take the market size and multiple it buy the value, and you’ll have a total potential value on each of those products and rank them in order.

Let’s say for our little mowing project it’s now

  1. Information on how to use a lawn mower
  2. Information and training on how to buy a mower
  3. Information on how to keep my mower in tip top shape
Darren says: Feeling like you need to mow your lawn yet? I do!

My key advice on this ‘culling of ideas’ section is that doing this exercise the first time is usually the hardest. By doing this work now you’ll hopefully come up with multiple ideas that could well set your product creation strategy for the next year or so.

You’ll also find that by doing this process once fully the first time that you’ll find it actually becomes more intuitive and a natural part of your business. 

As you become used to doing this analysis, you’ll start to get more of a gut feel as to which type of products will work and which wont with your audience.

Analyse the Competition

We now know that our ‘how to use a lawn mower product’ is viable – now it’s time to look sideways at our competition.

For our lawn mowing example, we should now start looking at the products that exist that teach people how to use a lawn mower.

Take note of these product’s features, format, benefits, cost, size everything you can about them.

If there is no competition for the project, great!  It’s unlikely, but you’ve got a real opportunity on your hands.

If there is competition for each of your product ideas, starting at your number-one product, start detailing why your product would be unique.

Simply answer the “I would buy my product over theirs because ….“.

One of three things will happen:

  1. You can’t define anything to distinguish your product. In this case you probably need to move on.
  2. You have a unique point of difference, but it’s not a strong one.  You probably need to move on.
  3. You’ll have a unique approach to this product that people will love.

We are close to having a decision on a product.  We now just need to define it a little more.

The only remaining products in our lawn moving project is:

  1. Information and training on how to buy a mower

Form and Features

The final step is to define what form and features this product will have.

With information and training it can be:

  • Digital (eBook, video series, blended course, content)
  • Physical (book, training manual, dvd)
  • Face-to-face (training program)

Defining this part is tricky, as it’s going to come down to what your reader prefers, what you are able to deliver, and what might already exist in the market.

As a result it’s very much a question answered by the words ‘it depends’, and the answer will be different for each person reading this article.

The Pros and Cons of eBooks, Video and Courses

I do know a lot of ProBlogger readers will be unsure from a digital information product standpoint what approach to take, so let me share my perspective on that.

 1. eBooks

Pros:

  • Cheapest
  • Quick to market
  • Simple delivery and formatting
  • No huge technology burdens
  • Easy to sell yourself of leverage open marketplaces
  • Easy to update
  • -Online or offline

Cons:

  • Limited on price
  • Some things are hard to teach in pictures and words
  • Not everyone is a reader
  • Very easy to be shared and harder to control copyright wise

 2. Video or video series

Pros

  • Modern and very visual (you can show and tell)
  • Great for those that are not writers
  • Tools these days are making production much easier
  • A much more personal experience
  • Online or off-line

Cons

  • Fulfilment overheads and technical challenges
  • Harder to update an maintain content
  • Not all of your readers can deal with the technology (yet)
  • You’ll need gear and software (and knowhow) to make it stand out

 3. Courses

Pros

  • Best of both wolds – words, pictures and videos when needed
  • Two way communitation – Q&A’s forums etc
  • Emerging open marketplaces
  • Seems to be the way of the future

Cons

  • Biggest initial setup time requirement
  • Fulfilment overheads and technical challenges
  • Harder to update an maintain content
  • Not everyone can deal with the technology (yet)
  • You’ll need gear and software (and knowhow) to make it stand out
  • Difficult to run on autopilot (you need to be involved ongoing).

Again, let me be clear there is no blanket right or wrong choice with this. It’s about making a decision that you are comfortable with.

Darren says: obviously I’ve focused most of my efforts on eBooks over the past few years. My reasoning for doing so at the time was partly that it was the most achievable for me to create an eBook, but also that at the time (five years ago) I felt that it was probably the most accessible format for most of my readers at Digital Photography School.

I would advise that if you’re creating your first product that you don’t bite off more than you can chew. Unless you’ve got some cash to splash on getting lots of help to create your product, beginning with something achievable is probably the best starting place.

The Takeaway:

Reading through this post might feel quite intense and perhaps a little over-the-top for a little product creation project.

But when I put it in these simple steps I hope it doesn’t seem that way.

  1. Define your own motives for creating a product
  2. Define your customers and the problems they have
  3. Define solutions for those problems
  4. Define your unique point of difference in the market
  5. Discover if the size of the market will make it worth the investment
  6. Define what form your product will take

See it’s not that hard!

Final Thoughts on Choosing Which Product to Create:

A few final thoughts before we move onto actually building your product (which we’ll cover tomorrow):

The product that delivers to its promise wins, not the one with the most features.

You don’t need to be first to market to own it. Google wasn’t the first search engine on the internet, but it was the best.

If you believe in more than just the money, it will carry you much further.

What worked for them won’t always be the thing that works for you.

Products that teach you how to create products that teach others how to create products … is not a product.

Don’t always think as a blogger you need to create information products. Services and tools can be much more valuable over a longer term that books eBooks and courses.

That’s it for today! Tomorrow we get to build some stuff.

UPDATE: Read the next post in this series -> How to Create Products for Your Blog.

Creating Products Week: Before You Even Think About Creating Products, Think About This

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Darren Says: Today were continuing our creating productsweek here at ProBlogger by looking at some of the areas of groundwork you might need to do before or while creating a product. Our Marketing/Product Guru Shaynes written this post but Ill chime in along the way with some thoughts too.Over to you, Shayne.

As you explore your different monetization options as a blogger, products will no doubt come on the agenda. We’ve shared lots of stories here on ProBlogger about how products have really transformed all our blogs.Whilst these sorts of stories are encouraging, inspiring, and motivating, the truth is that a lot of work went in long before we launched our first product, which played a significant role in their success.Today I want to share with you some of the things you should be doing right now, before you even begin to think about what product you should create, that will help set you up for the sorts of results we’ve seen here on ProBlogger and dPS.

Pre-Product Idea:

1. Get the momentum moving in the right direction

If you’re thinking about creating a product because your traffic and readership has stalled, or even heading in the southerly direction, then it’s probably the wrong time to be launching new products. There are exceptions to this, but for information products (eBooks/courses), it’s important to have some momentum on your blog.

Products are great at capitalizing and helping build momentum – but they’re not usually great for creating momentum from a standing start. This is particularly important for bloggers, as visitors and engagement are the lifeblood of your blog.

Don’t get confused between a stall in revenue to that of visitors and engagement, as changes to earnings might not be linked to the true health and sentiment towards your blog.

If you’re not seeing upward pointing analytics graphs, even moderate ones, then focus on turning that around before you start creating new products.

Darren says: One of the keys to the success of my first eBook – 31 Days to Build a Better Blog – was that the launch came off the back of doing a month-long series of posts on the same topic as the eBook. While it might seem strange that an eBook that was largely repurposed recent blog posts sold so well when they’d all just been on the blog, it was that month of posts and interaction with readers that generated a lot of momentum. Readers had just received 31 posts of high value, there was lots of goodwill and community on the site, and I think the healthy sales reflected this.

2. Create fans as well as readers

I’ve worked with sites that receive millions upon millions of visitors every month, have email lists in the hundreds of thousands, and massive social media followings.

But that doesn’t mean they’ll sell more products than someone with an audience size only 10% of the big guys’.  Why is this? It is because engagement and trust play a massive role in the decision making process of someone buying your product.

If the majority of your readership arrives, looks at your post and then heads off somewhere else, then chances are  good they are going to ignore you when you launch your product, and an advertising strategy might be better for you.

If you’ve got real fans who will not only listen to what you are offering, but also share it with others, then you are in good shape for launch.

So if you want to launch product, make sure you have your own share of fans.

I would recommend you looking at 31 Days to Build a Better Blog for some insight on how you can transform the relationship you have with your audience –  there are some great community-building exercises you can implement right away.

Darren says: Have you ever pre-ordered a book, music, or product without actually having it in your hands to see if it is something you’d really like? If you have, it is more often than not the result of you being a fanboy/girl of a brand or person.I’ve had this same experience with our eBooks where people have told me that they’ve bought them without a great deal of thought because they trusted me or had been helped by me in the past. Creating this ‘fan-like’ connection takes time. It also is usually the result of consistently helping readers in some tangible way. Be generous, genuine, and always put your readers first.

3.  Build your list 

Now this should just go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. You need to build your list.

You need to build an email list and serve those who subscribe to it well so when it comes time to launch your product then they’ll actually read your email.  You need to build your social lists, so your followers/fans on social will take notice.  Again it’s not the number that counts, rather it is how they feel about you.

A list will give you the biggest leg up (aside from a several-million-dollar marketing budget) when your announce your new product to the world.

You probably should have started this a long time ago, so if you’re still sitting on the fence, then hop to it!

Darren says: I can’t echo Shayne’s thoughts enough on this point. Last time I did the analysis of where sales of our eBooks came from I found that more than 90% of our sales came from emails that we sent to our readers.Please digest that.If we didn’t have an email list our sales would be 10% of what they are. 

While I totally get all the excuses people give for not building and being useful with an email list (it takes work, it is a slow build, it feels like ‘old technology’), the reality is that if you’re not using it, you’re going to be leaving sales on the table.

Read more about how I use email newsletters to drive traffic and make money

4.  Extend your network

I’m the type of person that goes to a conference and sits in the corner listening, but with the shield of protection that is “me playing with my phone” always up.

I wish it wasn’t the case, as when it comes to launching your product, you need a network.

You need people you can go to for help and advice with your product, you need people with an audience to help launch your product, you need people to help with any media strategy with your launch.

So summon the courage to  meet some new people and extend your network as far as you can.  I know it’s hard, but it helps and is worth the effort.

Darren says: If you’re anything like me you’re probably hyperventilating a little after Shayne telling you to get out of your comfort zone like this. I’m an introvert and self promotion and networking does not come easy to me – but he’s right.Luckily for us shy types this doesn’t have to mean lots of face-to-face meetings and phone calls (although they can help) but can be achieved with email, social media and other internet technologies. The key is to put yourself out there and get to know others in your niche.

5. Earn a reputation 

I’m not talking here about a bad reputation, I’m talking here about being known for something – and in the context of what you are sharing on your blog.

You could be known as the person that tells it how it is, as the experimenter, the crash test dummy, as you the sympathetic ear, as the angry man, etc.

You can also have a reputation for sitting on one side of the fence. The Apple guy, the Canon chick, and so on.

I don’t care what it is, but ensure you are known for something beyond your name and the name of your blog, as it will make people excited that your product is not just another puff piece, it’s been created by the ultimate person so it’s gotta be good!

Darren says: the power of this one surprised me a little. When Chris Garrett and I authored the first edition of the ProBlogger hard cover book back in 2008, I noticed a strange trend.  When people reviewed it, the most common word that people used to describe me was ‘nice’. Time and time again reviews mentioned that I was one of the ‘nicest bloggers’ going around.At first I wasn’t so sure about it – don’t nice guys always finish last? – but I realised that it had actually become part of my brand and as Shayne says – it was what I was known for.

6. Research and learn

You will learn a lot by doing, I assure you of that. More importantly, what you’ll learn are the nuances of your particular product and audience.

Before you start your product journey, start first by looking at your competitors. What products  they have, how they launched them, how are they priced, how well they do they seem to sell?

Keep reading blogs like ProBlogger so you can follow stories about the launch, or join a community like ours so you can ask questions in a private environment.

Spend a month or two ensuring you’re smarter than anyone else when it comes to products and launches.

Don’t just make it all up as you go along!  (just bits of it…)

Darren says: This was an area I didn’t pay a heap of attention to with my first couple of eBook launches. It was partly that there were not many others doing eBooks in my niches at the time, but also partly because the actual product creation process was quite overwhelming.However, I think I’d have probably launched my first eBooks differently by spending a little more time in research mode. The key for me here is not to copy what others are doing but to learn from it, and also look for opportunities to differentiate yourself from the field.For example – is everyone in your niche doing short and lightweight $5 eBooks? Maybe there’s an opportunity to become known as blogger who does more in-depth premium quality eBooks or even courses?

7. Define your REAL strengths and weaknesses

As I get older this seems to get easier, but as a bulletproof teenager I thought I could do anything and if I admitted a weakness it was just giving my competition something to  prey on!

But by understanding and admitting what your real strengths are, you are able to focus and unleash them in your products. Knowing your weaknesses means you know what you can’t offer and what you might need to get help on so they don’t hold you back.

If technology is not a strength, get help or partner with someone who is. If you are more of a visionary sort than someone with attention to detail, then make sure you have checks and balances in place to deal with that.

Don’t live in denial about what you’re good and bad at.  If you do, it will show in your product and the people that might buy it.

Darren says: For me this has two levels to it – both as a product creator and in the launching on it.Firstly – when I wrote my first photography eBook I did so feeling acutely aware that I was not a professional photographer. I’ve always been an avid amateur photographer and know enough to help beginners but in writing that first eBook wanted to beef it up a little. As a result I had a pro photographer give it a technical edit to add a little depth to it, but also commissioned a chapter of it to be written by a more technical writer. I also added a section with interviews from pro photographers. By doing all of this, I felt I produced a much more helpful product.

Secondly – when it came to launching my first products, I was very aware that I’d never done such a launch before. I knew nothing about shopping carts, creating sales pages, merchant facilities, affiliate programs, etc.

As a result, I sought the advice of numerous people to help me get my first launches right. Shayne was one of those who helped me particularly with sales page and sales emails but there were others who helped along the way too (for example it was Brian Clark from Copyblogger who helped me name my first photography eBook).

By seeking the advice of others, I know for a fact that my eBooks sold more copies. I also learned a lot so that when my next launches came I was more confident and had more skills to bring.

8. Understand your readers

You might thing you know your readers pretty well based on your interactions on social media, or the comments they may leave, but I challenge you to go a little deeper.  For every comment you get on your posts, there are 100 or 1000 people who are reading and not saying anything.  It’s a great assumption to make that they think in the same way as the commenter.

I encourage you to reach out and understand your readers even more. Survey as many as you can and ask them to tell you a little more about themselves. Pick some at random and have a conversation with them. I guarantee the results will surprise you.

There’s more than one reason to go this extra step. Having this deeper insight into your readers not only gives you a much better platform to decide on which product to create, it also gives you some clarity around what you should be posting about as well.

Darren says: The more you know your readers, the better position you’ll be in to create products that they actually want and need. You’ll choose better topics, create the right type of products, price them better, market them better and all in all everyone will be better off (both you and your reader).Further reading: how to create a reader profile (and why they’re important), and why knowing your readers is incredibly powerful

9. Think about the consequences

Creating a product is not easy. It’s just not. They all take time, they create emotional stress, and most of them take money (even small amounts).

Even sites like SnapnDeals, that we started in a weekend, is still something we put work into every week.

You will read all about the upside, the money, the stardom from people and their their products, but you’ll hear very little about the blood sweat and tears that went into them.  If you’re not ready to put the effort in then do something else until you are.

When you’re ready to commit to the work, then you’re ready to start creating products.

It’s just a matter now of which one! But you’ll have to wait to find out about that until tomorrow :)

Darren says: Don’t underestimate the work that will be involved in creating a product for your blog. Like Shayne says – it’ll take a lot of work. My advice is to try to block out time to do it.For some people that means blocking out a little time each day until it’s done (that’s how I did my first eBooks), but for others it may mean blocking out larger slabs of time to knock off a lot at once (for example with the writing of my hard cover book I locked myself in a motel room for three days to get one of the bigger sections complete). Don’t underestimate the work…however… don’t underestimate the upsides either. 

Having a product to sell gives you something that has the potential to add a whole new income stream for your business – indefinitely.

Also – if you never try… you’ll never know.

UPDATE: Read the next post in this series -> Which Product Should I Create?.

Creating Product Week: How to Create and Sell Products On Your Blog

Theme Week (1)Welcome our ‘Creating and Selling Products’ Week – a week of content here on ProBlogger completely dedicated to helping you to create and launch profitable products on your blog.

Over the past few months we’ve done a number of theme based weeks that take a more intense dive into topics relevant to bloggers. Most recently we’ve had Beginner Week, and Content Week, but this week we wanted to turn our attention to monetization – specifically through creating and selling products.

My Journey With Creating Products (and why this week is important)

While I’ve been blogging for just short of 12 years, my own journey with creating products to help monetize my blogs only goes back five years since launching the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog eBook and creating my first Portraits eBook on dPS.

Before that time I had collaborated with someone on a product but never monetized my blogs with one a product of my own.

Previous to these first experimentations with eBooks, the income generated from my blogs was almost all from advertising revenue (from ad networks like AdSense and also a few ad sales direct with brands) and affiliate revenue (like Amazon and a few smaller programs). I also did a little speaking, consulting and had written a hard cover book.

NewImage

In 2007 I was making a comfortable living from the above income streams but was a little worried about the economy and relying so heavily upon advertising income (which comprised more than 80% of what I was making).

I also had been watching the growth in popularity of eBooks and had for a year or so been dreaming of creating one myself.

My big issue was a severe lack of time. Between juggling two growing blogs and a growing family (we had just had our first child), I wasn’t sure how I’d ever write an eBook. I also had a long long list of other excuses to put it off.

I’d never written, designed, marketed a product of my own before… I didn’t have a shopping cart system… I didn’t know if my readers would buy…

In short – the dream of creating and selling an eBook of my own stayed in my head for two years until 2009. Ironically by that point I’d become even busier (we’d just had our second son and my blogs had continued to grow) but I knew if I didn’t bite the bullet and do it that I never would.

In 2009 I created my first eBooks – 31 Days to Build a Better Blog (which I’ve since updated into it’s second edition). That eBook generated $80,772.01 in 2009.

Later in the year I created and launched my first Portrait eBook over at dPS. That eBook generated $87,088.21 in sales in 2009.

As I regularly say when speaking at conferences about this experience – on the launch of these eBooks I was obviously very excited but also couldn’t believe how I’d put off creating this new income stream on my blogs for two years!

While obviously these two eBooks were financially profitable that immediate monetary reward wasn’t the best part – what was most valuable to me was that it sparked a whole new side to my business.

Dps ebooks

Since 2009 I’ve published 17 eBooks and 1 Printables set on Digital Photography School, and 6 eBooks and kits here on ProBlogger.

While I still sell advertising and do some affiliate campaigns on Digital Photography School, eBook sales now make up over 50% of my business today. Since that time we’ve also added two other income streams – membership (for ProBlogger.com) and Events.

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I tell this story because many times I come across bloggers who are a little stuck in the mindset that the only way to generate an income from blogging is to sell advertising.

While it’s certainly possible to build profitable blogs through a variety of types of advertising and affiliate promotions, it’s not the only way.

There are a few other benefits of creating a product for your blog other than the obvious income stream that they provide.

For starters by using your blog to sell your own product rather than sending your readers to buy other people’s products (through advertising) you’re keeping your readers on your own site and within your own community.

Secondly when you create a quality product that your reader loves – you’re going to make a much bigger impact upon your reader. I’ve personally found that when I meet readers face to face at conferences that the ones who’ve bought and read my book or eBooks seem to feel a lot stronger connection with me. They often talk to me as if we’ve had a shared experience already.

Lastly – I find that when you’ve created a product of some kind that it seems to help in the authority that people seem to perceive you as having. I guess there’s something about having intentionally sat down to create something of note that people seem to admire. While having an eBook or course doesn’t mean you ARE an authority – it all goes to help build your profile.

Creating Product Week

This week on ProBlogger we want to walk you through a number of posts that will help you to work out:

    1. what you need to do before developing a product for your blog
    2. work out what kind of product might be best for your blog
    3. how to create your product
    4. how to launch your product

To walk us through this process I’ve asked one of my core team (and author of one of the ProBlogger eBooks) – Shayne Tilley – to lead us. He’s prepared four posts that will come in the following days that will tackle these topics.

I’m also going to chime in on each post to give my perspective and as always am keen to hear your perspective also, as I know many ProBlogger readers have created their own products too.

Have You Created a Product?

My story is just one of many many in the blogosphere. While I’ve majored on creating eBooks there are certainly many other directions to take (and much of this week will be relevant to them all). I’d love to hear your experiences.

Have you created some kind of product on your blog? What kind is it? How did it go? What did you learn?

Read More the Rest of this Series on Creating and Selling Products

Below we’ll share the rest of this series of posts as they’re published.

5 Steps to Determine the Right Social Media Content for You

This is a guest contribution from Benjamin Taylor, of Eloqua.

At the core, one of the biggest goals of social media is to foster and maintain engagement.  Anyone can create a social media account, but one of the hardest parts is to determine what kind of content you should be sharing. It’s safe to say that you have a good idea of what your niche or market finds valuable, but that is only a piece of the puzzle. Really having a true understanding of content and what/how it should be delivered takes some work. I’ve outlined five steps below that will enable you to determine how and what kind of content to share, when to share, and more.

Guidelines

When determining what kind of content to share, there needs to be a criteria or guidelines on what is or isn’t good content. What I mean by this is, the content MIGHT be interesting and valuable, but so what? With social media, the purpose is to deliver value AND be social so if content is being shared but it’s not generating any sort of socialization, then how valuable is it really? You’re looking for content that has a high # of shares, likes, RT’s, comments, Ect. These are the factors you want to pay close attention to. If a post is creating conversation from all corners; B2C and C2C, then the post is a success and this is the type of content you want to strive and push for.

Listen and read

Before you know what kind of content to share, look at what others are sharing. Far too many times I have come across brands and pages that share content that THEY believe to be valuable, but in reality is not what their audience values. How many times do we really want to read about your latest company press release or how your product or service is the best?! If you had a friend and all they did was talk about themselves and how great they felt they were, would you really want to talk to them often?  The goal here is you want to share content that pulls people in, fosters conversation, and keeps them coming back. Okay, but how?  The first step is to search and listen. Look at where people are sharing the most content, the type of content they’re sharing, and what is generating the most interaction. This will be important in moving forward.

Categorize and Analyze

Okay, so you’ve been listening and have done your research into what’s going on in the social-sphere.  Now it’s time to analyze.  Digesting all your research into the type of content can be a little overwhelming, and even harder to analyze and deliver, so categorizing and organizing the data will help. You can use a basic program like Excel to help manage your information.

First, create categories for the type of platform the content is being shared on; Blog, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc.  It’s going to be important to know where the interacting is occurring. From there, create categories for the types of posts; questions, sales driven, industry specific, photo, video, etc. From there, you can dive even deeper and create sub-categories, for instance if it was a picture: meme, company photo, industry photo, picture accompanied by article, picture accompanied with text, and so on.

Look at the times things are being shared too. Assign numbers for the amounts of interactions/shares it received to help determine the level of social power the posts had. By categorizing and quantifying your research, you will be able to notice trends and themes in the social-sphere.  This will enable you to have a much better idea of the type of content to share. Another bright side of doing all of this is you can create visual interpretations of your research and analyze what can be presented and easily digested by parties that are not directly involved with the project, such as higher level managers and clients.

Content Search

Now you have a good idea of the type of posts that are working the best and where they’re happening. Now it’s time to find to help and aid in your own content, so where do we go? One of the easiest ways to determine the topic for your next status update or blog post is by searching out various sources for information.  Some of my favorite places to find content ideas are

  • Industry blogs or websites: See what the hot topics are and what others are sharing
  • Your competition: What are your competitors writing about? See what they’re doing and make it better
  • YouTube: What videos are popular right now? How come?
  • Flickr/Pinterest: Visuals can lend a good hand in inspiration in what to share
  • News Outlets: What’s happening in the world?
  • Twitter: What are others sharing?
  • Facebook: What are others sharing?

Be mindful

So now you’re ready to start sharing content, you’ve done the research and analysis and it’s time to get social. There are just a few best practices that I think are important to be mindful of in any type of content you’re sharing. They are listed below:

Create goals or benchmarks: Determine your goals and what you value as a success for your social media campaign. Don’t set unrealistic expectations but go into it with an agenda and game plan of what you want to accomplish.

Monitor and analyze results: Take a look at what you’ve been doing, what has and hasn’t worked and push forward to improve your brand to take it to the next level of social media success.

Bolster your brand image: Make sure the content you’re sharing aligns with your brand in some way, and still says relevant to your audience. Ex: Your pizza business wants to be seen as the interesting and engaging pizza brand that is cool, not just the pizza brand that shares funny memes.

Share others content: You’re not the only one with great content, so is everyone else. Share their content, help them out, and extend your reach as well as theirs.

Be consistent: In order to keep your audience coming back, be consistent in sharing great content. Don’t over post but by posting daily, they know they can expect content from you.

Now if you follow these steps, you’ll be in a much better place to be creating and sharing creative, relevant, valuable and most importantly engaging content on your social media platforms. Don’t fall into the habit that so many others have and just skip by on social media…stand out and let your content be the voice!

Benjamin Taylor is a writer for Eloqua, an international online marketing firm that provides social media marketing and asset management software. His professional insights are surpassed only by his rugged good looks, quick wit, and personal charm.

The ProBlogger Infinite Scroller WordPress Plugin

Last week we made out first plugin available on the ProBlogger Community: an Infinite Scroll Wordpess Plugin. It’s a plugin we’ve been using on Digital Photography School since we redesigned it late last year.

With each of these plugins we release we want to share why we’re using it on our own sites, and also give you some options on how you can the techniques yourself (community member or not).

The infinite scroll plugin is does one very simple task: as you reach the bottom of a page (typically an archive of posts), it will automatically load in some additional posts. Once you get to the end of the new list, it will load more until you run out of posts.

For a demo, scroll to the bottom of this page on dPS. If you want a super crazy version check out the front page of mashable.com

With an infinite scroll, you’re essentially doing away with the need for ‘pagination’ which are those “next page” and numbered buttons you often come across. Sites like Google Image Search, Facebook, and Pinterest all use this infinite scroll technique.

It’s something that has actually been around for quite a while, and I’m often surprised it’s not as widespread as perhaps it should be. This is because are both downsides and upsides for a plugin like this.

The upside:

  • When a user is browsing a list of posts it can be bringing in new posts without the user need to click (or think).
  • It’s a quicker to show new content (the user doesn’t have to load a whole new page).
  • It’s more friendly for touch devices (tablets and phones) as you’re not asking your readers to zoom and touch those tiny numbers.

To put is simply: your helping expose more of your content to users for less work.

The downside:

  • People can’t get to your footer unless its sticky (or you run out of posts)
  • With an endless stream of posts there is no point of reference for people to go back to: “I remember seeing that on page X”.
  • If it’s not backwards-compatible (ours is) it will affect how your site gets indexed by search engines.

Over the last few years there have been a number of very detailed reviews by user-experience experts about the pros and cons of the infinite scroll. Of course with varying opinions.

At the end of the day you’ll just need to make the choice yourself!

So how do you add and infinite scroll on your WordPress blog?

Obviously if you’re a member of the ProBlogger Community you’ll get free access to our infinite scroller. One of the handy features of ours, that I’ve not seen any others, is the ability to include infinite scroll of related posts at the end of a actual blog post, not just an archive page (see the video at the end for a demo).

There is an infinite scrolling plugin in the wordpress plugin directory that looks like it was updated only a month or so ago with some nice features.

If you’re using a theme from WordPress, some of them actually have the infinite scroll built in.

Of course if you are a developer of have access to one, they can make one for you too!

Here’s a demo of our scrolled that will give you a better idea of how to set it up and how it works.

This is just a first of a many of plugins we’ll be releasing over on ProBlogger.com. If you’ve not signed up yet, we’d love to see you there!

Any if you’ve got any questions or experiances with this approach I’d love to hear them in the comments too.

The Stephen King Drawer Method for Writing Better Copy

Image by Flickr user Mo Riza

Image by Flickr user Mo Riza

This is a post from ProBlogger.net Managing Editor Stacey Roberts

When I was studying journalism, it was pointed out to us very early on that our first drafts of anything were never going to be printed. They just weren’t. They were to be edited by professionals with no emotional ties to the content, and we were to accept the final product as it passed through their experienced hands.

If we were going to get precious about our words and our bylines, we were in the wrong profession.

As a result, I learned to detach from my writing. To write well, but also to see it from another’s perspective, and to be able to take edits and cuts with no offence. The subs weren’t trying to be cruel, they were doing their job by making my copy better.

When I began blogging, and had no editor or filter to pass through before I published my work, I still would read back over my work with a sharp eye to tidy it up a bit before launching it into cyberspace. What journalism taught me was to write cleanly, boldly, and in the least amount of words possible. I could no longer waffle, and I wasn’t precious about cutting my copy where I thought it might be extraneous.

But what about blogging?

The nature of blogging and journalism means you’re usually in a rush to get your content in the hands of readers while it is still relevant. We’re staying on top of trends and we’re riding the waves while we can. But for more evergreen content, or things that aren’t time-sensitive, then Stephen King’s editing method is one of the most useful things I’ve ever practised: the art of putting time and space between you and your words.

In his book On Writing, King describes the methods by which he creates fiction novels.  A manuscript should take a season to write, he says. Then he will put a physical copy of it in a drawer and forget about it for at least six weeks.

What does that do?

  • It puts just enough time between you and your writing to ensure you’ve become somewhat unfamiliar with the words and can read it with less bias.
  • It ensures you’re looking at the work with fresh eyes, not in the heat of the moment where your brain autocorrects the errors it reads so they fail to register.
  • You disassociate yourself somewhat from what you have written so it doesn’t hurt to cut it.
  • Your brain has had time to percolate on some of the ideas and thus can flesh them out more.
  • You can immediately see simpler and clearer ways to convey your message.
  • You can finally remember those things niggling at you in the back of your mind that you wanted to include but couldn’t quite put your finger on what they were.
  • You might have learned something new you could add.
  • You might decide you hate it all and start over again.
  • It means you have a deeper feel for what works and what might be received better by your readers.
  • You can publish knowing you’ve produced the best work you’re capable of.

Now, obviously there are small differences between a behemoth fiction manuscript and your blog post. You might not want to wait six weeks, and you don’t think it’s necessary to print it out. That’s not important. What is important is that you are distancing yourself from your work in order to come back to it with a more professional attitude.

Your blog might be personal, and your words an extension of yourself. It is ok to feel a bit of emotional attachment to them – this method only ensures you’re editing with a clear head as well as a full heart.

The takeaway:

Save your work and close your laptop. Forget about your writing as fully as you can, and put as much time as possible between you and it. Re-read your copy with an open mind and make quick notes about edits you’d like to make as you go. Then you can go back and change. Don’t be afraid – be bold and decisive. These are words to be molded, sentences to be crafted. Go with your gut and rearrange what you want until you feel it is right. Then hit publish.

Tell me – do you let your posts rest for a bit before going live? Or are you churn-and-publish kind of blogger?

Stacey Roberts is the Managing Editor at ProBlogger.net, and the blogger behind Veggie Mama. Can be found writing, making play-dough, reading The Cat in the Hat for the eleventh time, and avoiding the laundry. See evidence on Instagram here, on Facebook here, and twitter @veggie_mama.

 

7 Reasons You Should Pay the Haters

This is a guest contribution from Matt Cumming.

I Messed Up.

Okay, this is embarrassing, but not-so-long ago I signed up for Reddit and without too much thought I dropped a simple attention-grabbing title and link to an article on my website within the first five minutes. Yes, I hear you — bad form — but I wanted to test the platform out. Sure enough, within a few short hours I had a more respectable, long-term member jump on it, click the link, check my site out and then come back and publicly tell me exactly what he thought about my link-bait tactic.

But he didn’t stop at a short rebuke. He didn’t just say “hey, crap tactic” and move on. Instead he took the time to meticulously craft a long, scathing and deeply bitter essay that totally slammed me, the link title (which he referred to as ”[dropping] a turd in the punchbowl”), my book (which he hadn’t actually read), my understanding of marketing and my motives in general. Even if he was a fast-typing genius, it still must have taken at least half an hour of his precious time.

He Tore Me Limb From Limb

“Are you offering genuine illumination… or just dropping cherry bombs in the toilet like a misguided child?”

“…One cannot adequately express the titanic misunderstanding you’re attempting to propagate by screaming shit like, MARKETING IS DEAD on the cover [of your book] in some effort to manufacture sensationalism, as if that isn’t horribly insulting to any of the people who take this shit seriously… And if there’s one thing that irks me to no end, it’s charlatans and hacks who proclaim something that works as dead without actually testing it.”

“…Writing an ill-conceived reductive ass grab… It’s a hackneyed backslide into the shite that kills every good methodology available to the marketer who doesn’t forget the face of his forefathers.”

“…If you’ve never heard that before, you should go back to whatever misguided teacher didn’t disclose such a thing to you and either demand a refund or a complete re-education. Or go back to bed and figure it out.”

Initially I was shocked. Dismayed even. But then it dawned on me… It was a gift. Firstly, I realised that he probably had no sense of humour (the “Marketing Is Dead” text on the cover is quoted from article titles published on the Forbes, HBR and CNBC websites — not a statement I would ever make personally) and I felt sorry for someone who felt compelled to take life so damn seriously.

Secondly, whilst he was in the broader audience I was speaking to (people interested in marketing and branding), he was firmly entrenched in the ‘old school’ marketing philosophy — so he was NOT within my niche target audience. My book, Polarize, is intentionally a light-hearted, easy read for smart startups, small business owners, entrepreneurs and ‘growth hackers’ who want to make their brand more visible and effective in this very crowded marketplace. It’s about an innovative approach marketing (polarization), because the traditional marketing approach can sometimes be slow, expensive and simply not viable for some businesses.

“Traditional marketing wasn’t working. We were spending $300+ to acquire customers for a $99 service.” —DropBox (who then gained 4,000,000 users within 15 months without further ad spend)

Thirdly, his tirade confirmed my belief: that the ‘haters’ (detractors) can offer great value to a brand. This is particularly true when they’re not your ideal prospect (in a psychographic and/or demographic sense).

So I Paid Him

I paid him with my time and attention, I paid him with my thanks and compliments, I paid him with exposure by sharing his essay via social media, I paid him with a free copy of my book and I even paid him with my dollars (gifting him a “gold level” subscription to Reddit).

Should I do this for all detractors? Yes, but not always in the same way. If the complaint was about a specific problem with the actual product or service I’m offering, then I would certainly respond and thank them for alerting me to an issue that clearly needs reviewing, and I might pay them with a discount voucher or even a refund (if they’d purchased), but I would think twice about promoting it or making too much of a big deal about it on public channels. However, if the ‘hater’ was voicing opinions about the ethos of my brand — particularly something to do with the brand personality or psychographic preferences — then I’d be happy to respond, promote and even pay them in some way as a thank-you.

7 Reasons You Should Do the Same

1. They talk a LOT

The more people hear about you and see you, the more they feel like they know you… and consequently trust you. The way our brains work…  It’s the reason we still eat McDonalds (over a lesser-known local restaurant) despite everything we’ve heard and seen. Without trust there’s no sale, so what would you say is the value in that for you? It’s unknowable, but massive nonetheless.

2. They’re often passionate

It’s simple: passion is a sure-fire way together people’s attention. Get people’s attention and they’ll at least have a chance to decide if they want to consider your product or service. Without their attention in the first place, there’s no possibility of conversion. People have become adept at ignoring many forms of traditional marketing. Those people who we assume are ‘on the fence’, may actually be unaware of us — they haven’t had a reason to consciously consider our brands, let alone engage. Passion is a flag that flies high above the millions of humdrum, everyday conversations and interactions that otherwise occur.

3. They tend to be in your market

I’ve noticed that detractors often share a crucial commonality with the brands they’re ‘hating’ on — the target audience. This is particularly true within social media channels. If you can respond appropriately (with respect) to the ‘hater’ statements, you’ll have the opportunity to connect positively with that broader audience. They often provide contrast and clarity to your true niche audience about who you are NOT for (and thus making obvious that you are indeed for them).

4. They give you an open invitation to share

Nobody likes to be ‘sold’ to without permission, that’s clear. But a conversation is totally different. It gives you an opportunity to share the benefits of your product or service in response to a negative statement. In fact, often passionate detractors will voice things that other audience members won’t, so it’s not just the loudest detractor you’re speaking to — it’s all those on the ‘fence’ of indecision.

5. It’s WAY cheaper than advertising

Admittedly it is now possible to have a much higher level of targeting with your ads than in the past, but think about how you typically respond (or, more accurately,don’t respond) when you see a promoted post on Facebook, or a sponsored tweet within the Twitter mobile app? Unfortunately, poorly-targeted ads (which is the vast majority of them) have ruined it for smart marketers who know their real audience intimately. Just like the majority of ads in traditional media, our brains have tagged them as irrelevant and phased them out of our conscious awareness. So, with that in mind, it’s possible that a series of passionate public conversations might bring more genuine exposure and engagement than a ‘big’ ad campaign.

6. They can make you look good

Detractors sometimes make wild, accusatory statements that seem angry or spiteful. But a well-voiced, professional response from your brand contrasts against that ‘hater-speak’ and casts doubt in the readers mind about whether they should even believe what the detractor is saying at all. If you witnessed an argument on the street with one person throwing stones and screaming “You’re a dumb-ass idiot who knows less than nothing about anything!” and the other calmly responding with “I hear what you’re saying and see you feel strongly about that, but I do have a Harvard masters degree, so I’m not sure ‘idiot’ is completely accurate” — who would you believe?

7. They might be highlighting a grievous error

Sometimes detractors are the only ones who will give you honest feedback about an error you may have made. Such was the case for me and my mindless ‘link-bait’ mistake and I was genuinely grateful for such a clear reminder to carefully considerall messages — not just promotional, but casual conversational messages as well.

“The data has shown that brands with plenty of animosity can still succeed in a big way … Very polarizing brands like McDonald’s and Starbucks are far and away outperforming their less polarizing counterparts (perhaps the biggest worry is that people feel nothing when thinking about your brand).” —Gregory Ciotti, HelpScout

Of Course The Real Goal is To Create Tribes, Not Troublemakers

Putting your focus solely on turning people into detractors never a good idea in itself. Extreme differentiation — or polarization — is a better way to look at it. Make your message so sharp you cut through the noise and connect with your ideal prospects immediately. The result of polarizing your audience is that you’ll fast-track the decision your fence-sitters will invariably make at some point — “Should I commit, or should I leave?”.

The idea of speeding up this decision-making process is incredibly valuable to a startup, entrepreneur or small business who doesn’t have huge resources of time, money or patience. Those people ‘on the fence’ of indecision are costing your business in some way or another (unless you’re completely ignoring them of course). Wouldn’t it be simpler if, when people were introduced to your brand, they immediately became a passionate advocate — rather than having to gently romance them over time with the vague hope of getting them to like you enough to buy something?

The assumed downside of polarization is that if they’re not a ‘lover’, it’s likely they’ll become a ‘hater’. But is it really a true downside? Considering the 7 reasons above, I don’t think so.

“Polarizing your brand is a strategy with nothing but upside.” —Erika Napoletano, Brand Strategist.

 

As for the hater who tore me limb from limb? Well, he gave me a platform and an audience, then disappeared like vapour. It’s often the way… Perhaps he’s too busy reading my book to get back to me right now, or — having read it — he has decided to stay quiet just to spite me!

Matt Cumming, author of “POLARIZE: Fast-Track Marketing For Growth Hackers”, has over 15 years experience working with startups and businesses of all sizes as a designer, brand manager, web developer and startup consultant. See www.Polarize.cc for further details.

Conversion Case Study: How I Made $7115 From 85 Unique Visitors

This is a guest contribution from Marcus Maclean, of The Million-Dollar Case Study.

Image from DryIcons

Image from DryIcons

Over the years, I’ve created and sold several “how-to” information products online, but none have been as successful as The Million Dollar Case Study. Within days of launching the site, I made $7115 from the first 85 unique visitors.

Since then the site has continued to grow steadily, and I’m still amazed at the conversion statistics. Currently, the squeeze page converts at 67% and the video sales letter at 8.2%.

If you’re struggling to convert browsers into buyers, here’s the exact strategy I’m using. It works in any niche, but it’s particularly effective in competitive, popular niches.

First Off, Your Product And Market Are Everything

Without a doubt, the number-one factor in my success so far is the product and market. The reality is, people in the “make money online” niche are ready and willing to spend money on products they like. Case studies are generally popular in most markets, but especially so in the internet marketing sphere.

If you have lots of traffic but very few conversions, I would take a good long look at your niche and product or service. Ask yourself honestly, “Are there enough interested buyers around?”

If you’re not sure, I highly recommend paying a visit to the ClickBank marketplace to find out. Simply find the category you’re involved in and see if there’s lots of products with a decent gravity (more than 20-30). If there are, you’re in a good niche; if not, that’s your basic problem.

Ignore The Crowd

The single most important factor in improving your conversion rate is your sales letter. If it works, you have a license to print money. If not, again, you’re fighting a losing battle.

The good news is, it’s very easy to get a sales letter or video to convert, but the key is to go against the grain. Most internet marketers copy each other and that simply doesn’t work anymore.

This is the simple process I use that works very well:

First off, I interrupt the same old, same old. Most people expect to hear a long boring sales pitch or a hyped up motivational success story. So I do the exact opposite. I get straight to the point and reveal exactly what my product does, and more importantly, who it can help and who it can’t.

I’m honest about my intentions. I have no idea why most marketers “hide” the sale until later in the sales funnel, when all you have to do is let people know that you’re in business to make money. Everyone knows that anyway, and it makes it a lot easier to ask for the sale.

Authority, customer advocacy and hope are my most powerful weapons. I’m not afraid to assert myself as a leader, let people know that I have their best interests at heart (because I actually do) and inspire them to take action.

My product is unique, different and interesting. If you’re just another “me too”, it’s very difficult to stand out in today’s marketplace. That’s why I created a case study; instead of teaching people how to make money online, like most people do, I’m just showing what works.

Finally, I use an ultimatum. This strategy is controversial, but it works. I force people to make a decision by giving them a deadline to buy. If they remain indecisive or on the fence when the time limit expires, I simply take them off my list.

The Real Money Is Made On The Back End

Membership sales have steadily grown since launching The Million Dollar Case Study, and it’s nice to have a regular, passive income, but the real profits come from coaching fees.

The truth is, your front end offer very rarely makes much money, especially if you’re paying for traffic. So the key is to offer a high ticket product or service on the back end to make up the difference.

As long as you’re providing genuine value to your customers, and you’re being open, upfront and honest about your expertise and how you can help them, it’s a fantastic way to earn a living.

One Other Thing – I’m Passionate About My Niche

I’m a firm believer in selling products and services you care about, that you’d personally buy yourself. If you’re not successful online, that’s something you should definitely think about.

In the past I’ve sold products in the weight loss and search engine optimization niches. They sold well, but it was always difficult to motivate myself during the tough times.

Once I started doing what I loved, and selling products and services I believed in, it made my job a lot easier. And besides, your customers can pick up on your enthusiasm, so I believe this is one of the most important factors in determining your conversion rate.

And That’s It

As you can see, it’s not hard. If target the right market and sell what people buy, that’s 90% of the battle. Of course, split testing different elements on your page is important (headline, sub headline, benefits, testimonials, the call to action button and so on), but at the end of the day, if no one wants your products or services, you’re fighting a losing battle.

Marcus Maclean is the founder & CEO of The Million Dollar Case Study, a live video case study detailing exactly how he’s building a brand new million dollar membership website from scratch. To watch the case study unfold, click here.

All You Need to Know About Using Exclusivity for Better Product Launches

This is a contribution by our very own Shayne Tilley.

Image by Flickr user EricaStLeonards

Image by Flickr user EricaStLeonards

Launching products and campaigning can be fast-moving and complex beasts. There are so many layers, and even the best-laid plans can be scrapped in an instant as it all goes amazing well, or horrifically wrong…

Two promotional tactics we use in our product launches and special campaigns on both ProBlogger and Digital Photography School are the notion of “exclusivity“, and “limiting factors“.

I thought today I’d share with you the how and why of this approach, and what we’ve learned along the way.

So what do I mean by “exclusivity” and “limits” in the context of a launch or promotion?

Exclusivity:

Exclusivity is about creating a proposition that will not be available to the general public. It’s an offer specifically for you, because you meet some sort of criteria. It might be because you’re an existing customer. It might be because you showed early interest in a product. It might be because you are a newsletter subscriber, or a member of a community. It can be anything as long as you can define it.

By me giving you this offer I’m making you feel special. You’re acknowledged and rewarded and hopefully rightly so! This can then drive two responses:

1. the “nah-nah-na-na-nah!” response

We like to brag. Sometimes it’s about how much we paid for something, sometimes it’s about how little we did. When I make you this exclusive offer, it means when you take advantage of it, you’ll have something the chump next to you paid way more for and it’s only because you were you. It’s like winning without having to even play the game! Of course you’ll head to the checkout.

2. the IOU response

By giving you this exclusive offer you immediately think that you owe me something. I’ve taken the time to create this special offer and reward you for some reason. That I value you so much I’m willing to give you something that no-one else can have. The only way you can pay me back is take up the honour in which I bestowed upon you and head to that checkout.

An example we’ve used recently on ProBlogger.com:

We soft-launched the new ProBlogger Community in the last couple of weeks, and before making it available to all, we exclusively launched it to existing members first. We provided with exclusivity in two ways: offering members the chance get into the community early and establish themselves in addition to receiving a great price as a foundation member of the site. Why? Because no matter how great the content and site technology is, it’s the people there that make it special — and we wanted to ensure our loyal problogger.com members were part of the new site. A real win-win situation.

This idea of exclusivity has been one the tech start-up community has really embraced. Take Pinterest for example: it had an ‘invite-only’ sign up process for some time. You had to request access, and when you were given it, (because you’d been ‘approved’ by them), you are much more likely to actually use the service. There are secret back-door and referral systems built-in to make you feel even more special.  Whilst you’ll see what sound like legitimate reasons for this, trust me –  it’s a marketing tactic. One that’s designed to create an emotional debt with the product, person, or service you are using. Which makes you more likely to stick around.

And it’s quite effective.

Limited:

When limiting your campaigns, you are communicating some sort of restrictive factor. It might be stock, it might be seats, or it could be time.  By doing this, you are creating a sense of urgency. A sense that “if I don’t act now, I might miss out“. These responses are driven by our past – we’ve all missed out on something because we waited too long, and it made us feel bad.  It’s the desire you have to avoid that negative emotional trigger I’m pulling by limiting an offer in some way.

How we use this on Digital Photography School:

Every single new product launch we run will have a limit. For the most part, it’s in the form of an earlybird special. For a time-limited period, readers will receive a special discount, or a special bonus for a few weeks. Over the launch period, we up the focus on this to increase the urgency.  The first week we’ll focus on the product or offer and just mention that it’s Time-Limited.  The next week, we will announce the cut-off date with a little more prominence, and the final email we’ll send 48 hours before that date will be the core message of the product.

With this urgency we often see more sales on the last day than we did when we first announced the product. This of course goes up a new gear when we run our 12 days of Christmas Campaign, where each deal only lasts 12 hours.

It’s not about making the sale, it’s about closing it.

With both of these techniques, it’s not about making the sale. Your products benefit and the offer still needs to do that too (sorry). What limits and exclusivity will do is just give the potential customer that little extra nudge to head on through the sale process.

Digital vs Actual

These techniques have been around longer than the internet, and digital content is actually just an adaptation of what retail stores mastered a long time ago. If you’re selling a digital product, such as a book or a video course, then as long as there’s power you have an infinite amount of stock.  However if you have a service, or a course, or a physical product, you don’t just have time up your sleeve to use as a sales technique – you also have ‘While stocks last’ – just as powerful, maybe even more!

The ProBlogger team recently witnessed action that a stock/seat limitation can create. After putting a limited number of tickets (450) on sale for this years ProBlogger Event, within minutes, half of them had sold.  That creates a bigger, more urgent call-to-action, as people realised they only had a short time to make a call to attend or not. If they waited they’d miss out!

… and it snowballed.

This accumulation of momentum resulted in all tickets being sold out in 6 hours and a re-engineering of the event set-up for us to allow another 100 people to attend. Which sold out quickly again!

Time and its subtleties

If you can’t use stock as a limiting factor, then time will be your best friend – just like it is on Digital Photography School.

With time there are some subtleties in language you need to take into account.

Ends in two weeks‘ is much stronger than ‘soon

7 days only‘ is much stronger that ‘next week

In the next 48 hours‘ is stronger than ‘In the next two days‘.

When putting your copy and messaging together, you need to think about which time terms feel closer; and ensure that you are giving specific time periods rather than just writing generic terms like ‘soon’. As I mentioned earlier, we tend to get more specific and forthright as we get closer to the end.

Be prepared to shift gears

In your campaign and launch planning, you’ll have a nice start and end time for your offer. You’ll communicate that clearly as suggested above, but you also might find yourself in the situation where you need to change things up.  We’ve done so a few times when:

  • Our readers demand it: Because you have a limit and things change back to normal after it’s reached, some people will miss out.  If you have enough of them you might, ‘by popular demand’, bring it back if possible for a little while longer.
  • Because something broke: If something goes wrong, your website might crash – or in the case of us in the last product launch on dPS, our email provider went down – you’ll have people that missed out through no fault of their own.  In this case you’ll have little choice but to extend the sale for those that missed out.

Truth is better than fiction

These techniques are powerful motivators, and you might be tempted to ‘manufacture’ them. Which is essentially lying to your readers.  Now I can’t stop you doing that, but in the interests of a long-term relationship with your customers, truth is much better than fiction.

If you never intended to raise your early-bird price don’t call it an early-bird offer. If you’re thinking about putting up an out-of-stock sign on your product with a warehouse full of them, just don’t.

Eventually, people will figure it out.

When we put 450 tickets up for the ProBlogger event, we only ever intended to sell 450. As a result of what we witnessed, we were fortunately able to react quickly and find room for some more.  It’s that authenticity that help build the demand in the first place, and lying will break that over time.

So that’s my take on exclusivity and limits, and how we use there here at ProBlogger and Digital Photography School. I’d love to hear if you’ve used these on your own blog and how it went.

Shayne Tilley is the marketing guy for ProBlogger.net and Digital Photography School.  The author of the PB Guide to Online Marketing and a long time contributor to the blog.  When he’s not thinking of new and interesting ways to grow the ProBlogger sites, he’s either bashing up developers or hanging out with the swiftly.com team.