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How to Use Storyselling to Boost Sales

This guest post is by Johnny B. Truant, of JohnnyBTruant.com.

When I was in high school, I witnessed the most impressive sales job I have ever seen.

One afternoon, the entire student body was called to the auditorium for an assembly. Nobody knew what the assembly was about. We were just told to attend.

The presenters were two guys, dressed casually. As they began, instead of telling us why they were there, they started telling us jokes. They told us a few stories, too—funny stories involving their own families (who were as clueless as our own, since we were teenagers and knew everything), and stories that empathized with us about how ridiculous school was and made gentle fun of our principal and teachers. We liked these guys. They thought like we did. Their stories were interesting and fun. We settled in and relaxed.

We stopped caring why we’d been called to the assembly. Someone had made a mistake and had booked pure entertainment, but we weren’t about to complain.

Halfway through the presentation, the mood of the two guys up front changed. It was like a sneak attack: it was on us before we knew it was coming. Suddenly, the presenters were talking about AIDS. And abstinence. And how it was bad to drink a lot and do drugs. It was all the stuff that adults usually try to talk to teenagers about—the stuff teenagers usually roll their eyes at.

But we weren’t rolling our eyes. We were listening. We’d been transfixed.

Instead of saying AIDS was bad, they’d tell us about the girl who we’d met in one of those funny stories toward the beginning of the presentation, and how she got sick after contracting HIV and died.

Instead of telling us not to drink and drive, they told us about the kid we’d heard about earlier, but now the tale turned to him being in a wheelchair for the rest of his life after being hit by a drunk driver.

When 1200 high school kids filed out of that auditorium at the end of the assembly, nobody was jaded, skeptical, or mocking the message we’d been told. Most of the kids who streamed past me were silent or crying.

Those presenters came to our school to sell us on the idea of being careful, and making smart choices, and staying safe—all ideas that teenagers usually aren’t even a little bit interested in buying from well-meaning adults and parents.

But because they did their selling through stories, we’d bought it all.

Persuasion starts with a story

When you blog, you’re often trying to convince people to do something. You want them to start reading the post. You want them to read until the end of the post. You may want them to buy a product or a service, or sign up for a newsletter or RSS feed. You might want them to leave a comment, take a survey, or be convinced of your point of view.

To convince readers do anything at all, you have to sell them. And one of the most powerful ways to sell is through a story—I call it “storyselling.”

Stories are disarming. Stories interest people on an entertainment level first, which causes them to lower the guard they usually have in place to keep people from pushing things onto them.

Back in high school, at that assembly, we didn’t want to be told anything contrary to what we already believed to be true. We were having fun, and nobody knew better than us what we should be doing. Teenagers are the hardest people to convince of anything—the hardest sale any presenter will ever try to make.

But these guys succeeded because they entertained us first. They got us to drop our guards. They got us to like them, and relate to them. And after they’d done that, when it came time for them to “sell,” we were defenseless. We never had a chance.

Four ways to sell your ideas (and products) with stories

Want to give storyselling a try? Here are some things to keep in mind as you do so.

1. Tell a story that demonstrates a need for what you’re selling or advocating.

The goal of storyselling is to cause the reader to recognize a need for a certain course of action (or a certain product or service) through allegory. Rather than explaining rainforest destruction, tell the story of your trip to stripped plots of land. Instead of outlining features and benefits of your new workout plan, tell the story of how you used to be overweight and how you developed the workout that got you thin.

2. Show, don’t tell.

Always try to lead your reader to conclusions by demonstration rather than by beating them with brute force persuasion. You know who was great at this? The ghosts in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. They didn’t tell Scrooge about how his life would stink if he kept doing what he was doing. Instead, they took him there and let him see it for himself.

3. Keep it relevant.

A common mistake with this approach is to string out a long tale that may be a great story, but which never gets around to selling the product or idea at hand, or loses the audience before it does so. You always have to keep your main “selling point” in mind, and keep bringing the story back to it. It isn’t just a story—it’s a story that shows the reader why they should do X or buy Y.

4. Be honest.

Everyone has a real, true story, and every product or movement has a reason for existing. Somehow, you became convinced to get involved, so it’s your job to pull that desire and motivation out, and to use your own story to convince others. There’s no need to make anything up—the truth always sells better.

Give storyselling a shot the next time you’re looking to persuade. No matter what you’re selling, you may just find that telling a tale will get you past the skepticism of many more readers than a bulleted list of benefits will.

Johnny B. Truant is the creator of Storyselling 101. (He also builds websites.)

The 7 Deadly Fears of Blogging and How to Overcome Them

This guest post is by Nathan Hangen of Build Your Digital Empire.

I remember back to early 2008, when I’d just started blogging, that even though I had great ambitions, my knowledge, expertise, and confidence as a blogger was sorely lacking. I stumbled through my blogging career for over a year before I felt I had a really good grip on things, and even then, there were many things I struggled with.

But more than anything, through all of the struggles I faced, there was one enemy that kept popping up time and time again, each time in a different form than the last. This enemy was fierce, determined, and relentless, and eventually I had no choice but to either confront it, or forever commit to a life of running.

Finally, in a Bruce Wayne moment of clarity, I decided to turn-around, face this enemy, and obliterate him. His name was fear, and there are seven ways that he tried to take me out. Here are the tactics I used to fight back.

1. Manic idea generation

I never thought that having too many ideas would be a bad thing, but what’s worse, I never suspected that the culprit would actually be fear itself.

In the early days, I found that just when I’d get close to completion on an idea, I’d suddenly be overwhelmed with dozens of new ideas. As a result, I’d move from idea to idea, never finishing a single one. In the end, I realized that my own fear of going all in on a single idea was keeping me from being successful as a blogger.

Tactic 1: Stop running from idea to idea and ship the ones you’re already committed to.

2. Holding back

Once I’d committed to a single idea, I often found myself running out of things to write about. It wasn’t that I didn’t have any ideas, but that I was too scared to actually talk about them.

“What if people make fun of me?”
“What if people think I’m an idiot?”
“What if I don’t really know what I’m talking about?”

This kind of self-talk is a blog killer, and it’s a great way to take yourself out of the fight before you get a chance to grow. Successful bloggers don’t run from their best ideas, they give them to the world.

Tactic 2: Don’t be afraid to be you. Turn your little flame into a wildfire. Some of the best bloggers I know are more personal and open than even I’m comfortable with, and guess what…their audience loves them for it.

3. Low confidence

My wife often asks me this very question: “Who cares what you think?”

And for a while, it hurt like a dagger, not because it was a silly question, but because it’s one that I was asking myself every single day.

“Who really cares what I think?”
“Why do my ideas matter?”

This is a confidence issue, and it’s where fear likes to play serious mind games. First of all, it doesn’t matter if anyone cares what you think. The only person you need to serve is yourself. Furthermore, there are people just like you everywhere, and you’d be surprised how many come out of hiding when they see a true leader emerge.

You can’t be everything to everyone, but you can be a great leader to the people that resonate with and connect with your ideas and philosophies. However, they can’t do that if you don’t share them.

Tactic 3: Seth Godin wrote about it in Tribes, and the truth is that yes—we need you to lead us. People do care what you think, in fact, much more than you can imagine. You owe it to them to share it; don’t be selfish.

4. Little guy syndrome

I see this one all the time. Bloggers still call themselves hobby bloggers even though they don’t want to be. They call themselves B-List or C-List even when they’re capable of more.

Fear likes to tell you that you’re not good enough to be great, and that you’re always bound to the role of a follower, or a 2nd rate talent. It’s not true, but it’s easy to fall prey to that kind of talk.

There aren’t any rules that say you have to be just an average blogger. In fact, the road is wide open for anyone willing to walk it.

Tactic 4: Stop cutting yourself down and give yourself permission to be great. No one is going to ask you to be great, but they’ll step in line the minute you prove that you are. Claim your authority; don’t wait for it.

5. Irrational fear of guest posts

I remember shivering at the thought of asking a fellow blogger for a guest posting opportunity. Her name was Caroline Middlebrook, and though we’d talked a bit via email, I was nervous as hell asking for her permission. Finally one day I just did it, and guess what? Success! Unfortunately, I see many bloggers fear that step, and as a result, they toil in isolation for years.

I joked with Kelly Diels about this once—that asking a blogger for a guest post opportunity is like asking a friend to go on a date with you. You might have a great relationship on Twitter or in the comment section, but you don’t want to ruin it for the sake of a guest post … so you wait.

Tactic 5: The word no is nothing to be afraid of, and instead of fearing it, you should get used to hearing it. Don’t view no as a crippling blow, but as a way to get one step closer to a yes. If the simple act of making a request is enough to ruin a relationship, then it wasn’t worth much in the first place.

6. Resistance to product creation

People aren’t just going to show up on your blog and offer to send you free cash via email; you need to be able to offer them something.

You’ve been told time and time again that you need to develop your own online store, which means you start planning a series of products, courses, webinars, and anything else you can think of. But that’s where you stop.
For some reason, there’s always something that gets in the way of your product actually getting finished.

  • Blog posts
  • Email
  • Social media
  • Emergency this and crazy that.

You know it’s true, but you do it anyway.

Look, I know it’s not easy to sit down and create a product, and the minute you try to do so, you get distracted. It’s easy to do, but you have to fight it.

Tactic 6: Don’t let the resistance win. Rather than focusing on the fear of losing time to do something else, or your inability to create a perfect product, focus on the positive … focus on shipping. Product creation, like blogging, takes time to perfect, but you’ll never get there if you don’t start.

7. Fear of asking for money

This is a big one, and sadly, it’s probably the most prevalent fear in the blogosphere. How can you ask for money when you love what you do? How can you ask a friend or a peer to buy something, especially when you like seeing them comment and retweet your blog posts?

Well here’s the deal, if you aren’t asking for the sale, then you’ll never get one. Case closed.

You can try to avoid “scammy” sales pages, big launches, or affiliates, but unless you’ve got an army of people waiting for you to sell them something, a weak close is never going to work. If you want to make a living doing this, then you have to fight for it; you cannot be afraid of the close.

Tactic 7: Get comfortable asking for the sale. Find every opportunity you can to practice this, and keep going until the fear goes away. Eventually, it will become second nature, I promise you.

Commit, practice, and practice some more

I think the biggest fear that bloggers face is that all of this hard work they’re doing is never going to pay off. I know how it feels.

You don’t want to waste time on something that won’t work. You want to “Crush It,” and you want to make a difference. You don’t want to lose, or to look like a fool.

The best advice that I can give you is this:

No one knows if what you’re doing is going to pay off. However, I can say without reserve that as long as you want to succeed, with every fiber of your soul, and you are willing to do what it takes to do it (this could mean shifting gears or changing your business), then the fear monster will not have anything close to a fighting chance against you.

Turn around, look fear into its eyes, and deal it a finishing blow, Mortal Kombat style.

Nathan Hangen is an entrepreneur and author that writes about building a digital empire. If you’re tired of letting fear get in the way of your success, click here to get a free sneak preview of Fear to Fuel, a revolutionary course for creative entrepreneurs.

7 Reasons Why $7 Products Rock

This guest post is by Steve Martile of Freedom Education.

I currently charge $400 monthly for one-on-one coaching. That’s a hefty price tag for some people, even though I know some coaches who charge up to $10,000 per month, which makes my coaching look like a bargain.

One prospective client said that she really wanted to do coaching with me. She saw the value in it. She needed it and wanted to buy, but she just couldn’t come up with the money. It was either buy the coaching or pay the rent. She decided to pay the rent.

Since coaching is the highest price service I provide, I decided to come out with a product that almost anyone could afford.

Enter: $7 products

The reason I started with $7 is because it’s low. I figured almost anyone in any country could afford that price … and that way I could at least test different price points and see what worked best for my readers.

I created my first $7 product two months ago on my Blogging for Coaches site. It’s a membership site where we provide coaches with mentoring on how to build their business using blogs and blogging—at $7 per month. It’s a steal for coaches who want to build their coaching business online.

The coaches must have thought so, too. When we announced this product to our mailing list of about 300 people, 11 of them bought. That’s a conversion ratio of about 3.6%. So if you think you need a big mailing list to start making money, you’re wrong!

Six weeks ago, I offered a $7 membership to my Freedom Education blog readers. Three weeks after that, I offered an audio book on motivation for $7. Both of these products sold. I love $7 products.

7 Reasons why $7 products rock

#1. They’re low-risk.

If you can reduce the cost of your products or services and package them into a $7 product, then your readers are more likely to buy. It’s a lot less risky. I mean it’s only $7… if they don’t like it, they haven’t lost much.

If that doesn’t convince you, try offering a product guarantee. Promise your buyers that you’ll give them their money back, no questions asked, if they’re not satisfied with the product. Very few of your buyers will come back to claim that guarantee.

#2. It’s easy to write an offer for them.

Your offer is also known as your copy. I don’t know about you, but I’m a blogger. I write newsletters and blog posts. I don’t write copy. Writing copy is a bit foreign to me. The last thing I want to do is write a ten-page piece of copy for a $500 product that doesn’t sell. What a waste of time.

What’s easier for me is to write a shorter piece of copy for a product that sells for $7.

It’s only 7 bucks—you don’t need to write a novel. Even 750 words will make it compelling, and that’s about as long as a blog post. Just make sure you focus on the reasons why someone should buy your product. You want to keep reminding readers why your product rocks and how it will help them.

#3. You don’t need a big product launch for them.

This gives you a huge advantage: you don’t need a big product launch to sell your $7 product.

You just want to make an announcement to your Newsletter and on your blog. Tell your readers about your product and how it will help them solve their problem. When I announced my new product, I sent three emails to my newsletter subscribers and published two posts on my blog over the course of a week. You don’t need to be that aggressive, but it’s really up to you and what fits your style.

#4. Producing them takes less time and skill.

Imagine writing a piece of copy for a $500 product. It could take 12-16 hours to write this if you’re a really good copywriter. And what if you’re terrible at copywriting, like I do? Then it probably won’t sell.

Instead, imagine a $7 product. It took me eight hours to create the copy, write the email announcements, and publish the blog posts for my very first product: just another Sunday afternoon for a blogger. Then I put my blog and newsletter on autopilot and let it all happen. I was out walking with my wife on Monday afternoon when I got my first sale. It was a great feeling.

#5. You don’t need affiliates to sell them.

I love this part. You don’t need affiliates for a $7 product. If you’re like me, you don’t have any idea how to approach affiliates or even how to set up an affiliate program. So instead of going through all the hassle, take the next baby step—which is to offer a $7 product.

#6. They’re easy to sell.

With a $7 product, more people will buy—even if the currency exchange is high—because it’s so cheap! You’re not going to get rich with this strategy, but it does get your feet wet. It gives you an idea of what your readers will buy and what they won’t. And knowing that helps you come up with new ideas for higher-priced products.

#7. They build your confidence.

I think this is the most important reason why you should start offering $7 products, especially if you’re new to selling products. If you just started blogging and you’re not seeing the return on your investment, consider creating your first $7 product.

When you sell your first $7 product online something happens internally. You shift inside: you start to believe you can make money from your blog. You start to see how you could go even bigger maybe creating $27, $45, $100, and possibly $500 products … and then it gets exciting.

But you’ve got to start small. Once you sell your first $7 product, you start to believe. You gain immense confidence in yourself and you realize that even you can make money online.

Steve is the creator of Freedom Education: Manifesting Your Desires and 7 Secrets of Rapid Transformation. He’s also the co-creator of Blogging for Coaches.

Blog Karma: How Good Blogging Deeds Can Spike Your Traffic

This is a guest post by Joshua Noerr of  JoshuaNoerr.com.

Since I was very young, I was told, and shown, the importance of giving back and doing things for other people. I’ve always felt that the highest measure of a person’s character is the degree of service they are willing to provide for others. In fact, your service to others will be the cornerstone of your legacy long after you are gone.

I also believe that as an individual of able body and mind, I have a certain level of obligation to help others. Not everyone has the abilities that I do, or that most of you do. My way of saying, “Thanks” for being blessed with all of these things is by giving back.

When I started blogging earlier this year, I knew that I had to carry that spirit into what I do, I just didn’t really know how.

A decision to share the love

One day, I was getting ready to write a post when I had an idea. I said to myself, “How about you share all the great blogs you read with your readers?” That seemed like a pretty good idea.

So I scrapped my original post, and shared five blogs I had read that month, with a featured post and some commentary on just what I felt made those blogs so awesome. Almost immediately, my traffic jumped. The bloggers themselves stopped by to say “Thanks” and read what I wrote about them, and my regular readers loved that I was exposing them to new content.

I have since made this a regular monthly feature on my blog, and it’s always extremely popular. I get a traffic spike, an increase in subscribers, and—best of all—I start new relationships with other really cool bloggers. Seems like a pretty good way to go to me.

A decision to share the load

A blogger whose work I read regularly, and for whom I have the utmost respect, published a post asking her readers for help.

She had a goal of making it to Blog World, and was inviting donations to help her get there. I thought that was great! I loved the fact that she’d built such a strong community at her blog that she felt comfortable enough to ask them to help her reach her goal.

This blogger was actually the very first person to post a comment to my blog (other than my mom!), and as I was reading her call for donations, I remembered how I felt that day. She made me feel like a blogging rock star, even though it was just one little comment! Remembering that feeling, I decided I wanted to help her get to Vegas.

So I posted a call to action to my readers. I told them all about what was happening, linked to the post asking for donations, and hit the publish button with a huge smile on my face.

The response was very nearly immediate—and overwhelming! People loved the idea just as much as I did, and wanted to help. There were so many wonderful comments from outstanding people. After all was said and done, the blogger reached her goal and booked her trip to Blog World.

Now I can’t take the credit for her goal being reached—I’m pretty sure her talent had something to do with it! Nevertheless, I felt like I was part of something, and that my blog had a small hand in making someone’s life better.

That day was also, to date, my blog’s highest traffic day. People Tweeted the post, Stumbled it, shared it, and Dugg it. I got some new subscribers, and met some new people. That wasn’t my goal in doing what I did, but it was a pretty nice side-effect!

What can you do?

It’s your turn! Have you ever done something like this before? What kind of results did you see? Do you have something planned for the future? I’d love to hear how good deeds have benefited you and your blog.

Just remember, your blog is a wonderful platform for making someone’s day, or helping other people in a positive way. I think that’s a great thing, and who knows, a simple act of kindness could lead more people to your door. Sounds like a win-win situation to me!

Joshua Noerr is a former MMA fighter and powerlifter turned blogger. He owns or is partnered in several blogs on different topics, including personal development, and health and fitness.

5 Life Skills You Already Have that Can Make You a Great Blogger

This guest post is by Sarah Von from Yes and Yes.

If you’ve just started a blog you are, no doubt, using your best Google-fu to hunt down every last post giving advice to novice bloggers. There’s heaps of great information out there, but it can get a bit overwhelming for the true beginner. Tweeting and SEO and HTML, oh my! Never fear. Many of the skills that make you an awesome friend/partner/human being will also make you a great blogger!

Work your strong suits

When you sing karaoke, you know you can rock Bob Dylan, and when you’re buying jeans, you know you should stick to boot-cut because they makes your butt look great. The same approach goes for blogging.

We can’t all be Pulitzer-worthy prose writers. Nor does everyone have an unerring eye for good design or a never-ending fount of ideas for amazing posts. But you’re probably pretty good at one of those things, most of the time.

Make the most of your talents! If you’re a good writer but a bad designer, find a good template and then leave it alone. If you’ve got a great eye for design but tremble at the sight of an empty page, maybe you’re meant for tumblr blog rather than something based in Blogger or WordPress. If you’ve got heaps of great ideas but lack the words to convey them, take a writing class or have a writer friend look over your posts in exchange for a nice dinner

Rest assured that very, very few bloggers have got the market cornered on every area of expertise. While there’s always room for improvement for all of us, don’t make yourself crazy sweating the details on an aspect of blogging that doesn’t really interest you.

Be reliable

In real life, you wouldn’t back out of wedding you RSVPed to attend. Hopefully, you’d never forget to pick up your best friend at the airport. Showing the people in your life (whether they’re here in person or out there on the Internet) that you are reliable is super-important.

I am not exaggerating when I say that many of my favorite blogs have a special place in my heart because I know that every morning I will find new content on them. And I will find that new content every day at the same time. It’s such a bummer to find a blog that you love, only stop by on Music Monday or Food Tuesday and just see posts from last week. That’s how blogs get removed from my RSS feeds.

You don’t need to post seven days a week to develop a loyal readership, but if you say you’re going to post new content every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, well, for the love of Pete, do so! And if your posting is going to be spotty for a while, tell us. People will take you (and your blog) seriously when you take it seriously.

Be a considerate conversationalist

Being able to make conversation can open so many doors for you. And it’s not hard! Ask people questions about themselves, actually listen to their responses and talk about topics that are of interest to both of you (not your Atkins diet or your dog’s health problems).

The same goes for the Internet. It might be tempting to write that post complaining about your coworker who took credit for your new marketing plan. And if you really, really want to, by all means post away! But before you click the Publish button, consider what you’re hoping to accomplish by publishing a negative post, which is probably of interest to a very small group of people.

Many successful bloggers include personal content in their blogs and allow readers a glimpse behind the proverbial curtain. However, unless you are a hilarious and excellent writer, you will probably struggle to find a large readership if your blog consists solely of posts detailing who makes you angry, how you feel about Grey’s Anatomy, and what you bought at Target today.

Write about a topic that interests you and then ask your readers how they feel about it. Respond to their comments. Write posts that are useful to them. If they email you asking for advice, write a post answering their questions. Engage your readers and show them that you value their input.

Make friends and help them out

Life’s a lot more fun with friends, isn’t it? It’s great to have people around you who share your interests and get excited when good things happen to you.

Increasingly, the line between real-life and Internet friends is blurring and one of the greatest things about blogging is all of the wonderful, clever, talented people that you will meet. It’s incredibly easy to make friends through your blog. Leave comments on blogs that you like and respond to your readers’ comments. Email bloggers directly and tell them that you like what they’re doing. Link to great blog posts and include friends in your blog roll. Do post exchanges. Nominate your blogging friends for awards. Let your readers know who your Internet friends are — we all like to be in on the fun!

Be the most attractive version of yourself

I am not possession of rock-hard abs, Michelle Obama arms or a designer wardrobe. However, that doesn’t mean that that I’m ready to throw in the towel and spend the rest of my days in yoga pants and a ponytail. It’s a fact of life that people judge us by our appearance: when we take care of ourselves, people notice.

You don’t need to hire a personal trainer or a stylist to look great, and you don’t need a graphic designer to create a good looking blog. You’d be amazed what you can find by googling “free blog templates.” Keep your page clean and uncluttered and resist the urge to fill up all your whitespace with animated ads or buttons.

Less really is more. Many people will fall all over themselves to navigate away from a blog with tiny white text on a dark background, oddly sized photos and animated flower that keeps blowing kisses at them.

Think about blogs you love and their visual design. Do they have a uniting color scheme? Are their pictures always the same width as the text column? Is the text fully justified? Take a few cues from the bloggers who seem to have it figured out!

There are many, many things you can do to create an great blog. But if you’re already an awesome human being, you’re more than halfway there!

Sarah Von posts daily about travel, style, design, and adventure on Yes and Yes. Sometimes, she really is waiting for you to stop talking about your Atkins diet so she can tell you her funny story.

5 Blog Naming Basics

A guest post by Nathalie Lussier, who blogs as The Raw Foods Witch.

Is your blog getting the attention you know it deserves? Maybe you haven’t started your blog yet because you can’t settle on the right name or theme. Perhaps you’re thinking of starting a second blog, but want to “do it right” this time…

Whichever camp you’re in, you need to consider five basic factors in naming a new blog or business.

You’ll need to weigh up the branding pros and cons before you settle on a name. You’ve only got a few seconds to make an impression with your web site visitors, or potential visitors. If your blog or business name doesn’t capture what you’re all about, then chances are that people will just click away.

You didn’t start your blog to have drive by visitors did you? No, you want to foster a community, get comments, and get people to subscribe and come back for more. All of that starts with your branding, and more specifically, with your blog or business name.

Let’s look at the options together, shall we?

1. Just be yourself: the pros and cons of using your own name

There are many bloggers and business owners who chose to brand their blog using their own name (or a pseudonym). Blogs like Steve Pavlina, Laura Roeder, and ElizabethPW come to mind.

The benefit of using your name as your domain or blog is that it’s not likely to change. Plus, you’re getting people to connect with you as a person and not a business entity.

Another benefit of using your name is that if ever you decide to switch gears and blog about new topics, your readers will stick around, because they’re there to read what you have to say. Oh, and you won’t need to have people change their links if you decide to stop writing about your chosen topic and start another blog.

In a way, using your own name is more about creating a strong connection with you as a person and blogger than it is about delivering a particular type of advice or information. This doesn’t mean that you can’t deliver value or targeted blog posts — it simply means that you’re not as tied down. You can always create a tagline that describes your main area of expertise.

The downsides of branding as yourself are that you need to train people to remember your name. If your blog name is memorable, you won’t have this problem. You also need to ensure that yourname.com domains are not already taken, and you might also want to buy common misspellings of your name.

When using your name, you also need to keep in mind that potential employers, family, and friends can easily find your blog. Now that might not be much of an issue, but it’s something to keep in mind if you aren’t ready to announce your blog to the world.

2. Picking a targeted name that’s catchy and relates to your topic

The other blog-naming strategy is to choose a name that describes the topic you’re blogging about. Some examples include Problogger, Ittybiz, and Escape from cubicle nation. You can tell just from reading the name of the blog exactly what the blog is about and what you can expect.

There are many benefits to choosing a targeted keyword and title. There’s definitely a search engine optimization advantage to including a common word or phrase in your title. Plus, people are more likely to remember how to spell your domain name.

If you come up with a fun, memorable brand and blog name, you can set a new trend in motion. Today there are people calling themselves probloggers, referring to the ProBlogger blog. Just like White Hot Truth started a tribe of “fire starters”.

The disadvantage of using a specific blog name is the limitation on what you can write about. If your blog’s name is Dolphin Rescue and you start talking about manicures, you might throw your your readers off course along the way … not to mention negate some of those SEO benefits we talked about earlier.

Another common issue with specific blog names is that we are all human beings who evolve and change. We can’t expect our blogs to stay static any more than we can expect our cells to stop regenerating.

One way to deal with your changing views is to expand your blog name — like the blogger who made the switch from Illuminated Mind to Illuminated Mind & Body.

You might also lose some of your blogging mojo if you get burned out writing about the same topics year after year. (Though there are great tips for battling bloggers block.) In the end, it’s best to pick a specific name for your blog only if you can see yourself sticking to your topic for at least a few years.

3. Pick a niche or market because you care — and not just about the money

Before you choose a blog name, you’re likely going to think through what you’ll be writing about. I want to caution you not to get sucked into certain topics or niche markets just because they’re currently hot.

There are definitely trends in the blogging world, and you don’t want to be one of the latecomers to the party.

Avoid choosing a topic because you think it will monetize well. If your heart isn’t in it, your readers will be able to tell. Nobody wants to spend tons of time setting up a blog and then giving up just a few months down the line.

Pick a topic that you’re really passionate about and that you can see yourself writing about long term.

4. Create a meaningful name that says something

Another thing I’d like to caution you about is picking a name that doesn’t really mean anything, or worse, that has a meaning your readers aren’t interested in.

Try to stay away from bland, no-real-meaning names like “Positive Living” or “Thoughts on Leadership”. You don’t want something that is so generic that people will forget it immediately. This isn’t to say that you can’t pick a great name that is both simple and conveys your topic well.

Let me tell you the story of how my blog’s name came to be. I initially chose the name Raw Food Switch, because I wanted to help people make the switch to a raw food diet.

I discovered that I was actually antagonizing my readers, because I was assuming they wanted to switch their diet. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who was just itching to voluntarily change the way they eat.

Usually the changes come about because of a health challenge, or other life changing experience. So you see the name of my blog was not talking to my people the right way. That’s why…

5. Listening to your friends and family works … sometimes

At this point I had received a couple of suggestions from friends and family members about the name of my blog. In general I try not to be too influenced by people who aren’t in my target market (and some of my family members are not into raw foods at all!).

My boyfriend had a great insight. He suggested I move the “s” from the word switch to the word food, and become the Raw Foods Witch. At first I resisted his suggestion, since it’s hard to see the genius in someone who is so close and potentially biased.

Yet as soon as I took his advice and decided to make the witch switch, everything fell into place. Martin Whitmore illustrated my new witchy logo, and I got tons of great comments, new subscribers, and more overall connection with my readers.

So my advice here is to listen to your friends and family, because although they may be biased, they probably know you well enough to see things that you can’t see yourself.

Pick something and go for it

If you’ve been stuck in the planning stages of your blog and have yet to create one, there’s no better time than the present. You can always tweak your name over time, so dive in and create that blog of yours!

Remember that you can choose between branding as yourself or creating a memorable targeted name. Don’t pick a topic just because it’s cool, and plan to write about your topic for many years to come. Finally, listen to your friends and family’s input when picking your name.

Nathalie Lussier is a software geek turned healthy food blogger, and you can get tons of easy-to-prepare recipes and see her in her witch’s hat at The Raw Foods Witch. Tweet her at @NathLussier.

7 Ways to Find Inspiration: Think Outside the Blog

A Guest Post by Amy Parmenter from The ParmFarm.com.

Have you ever wondered how Darren and other A-list bloggers generate so much fabulous content? It just seems to come pouring out: day after day, month after month, year after year, there is a constant flow of information and inspiration. Meanwhile, your well is quickly running dry.

As a journalist, I, too, am called upon to generate new stories day after day. While some of the stories generate themselves, most do not. There are plenty of slow news days and, with the advent of the 24-hour news cycle, there is almost always the need for another good story.

Over the years I have found that my greatest inspiration comes when I “think outside the newsroom”. I ask myself, “What are people talking about? What do people care about? Who has a problem I might be able to address?” And, with that, the story ideas start to flow.

It’s no surprise that I have found the same holds true for blogging.

When you’re looking for inspiration, you can spend all day online, reading what others have written and trying to rework it to call it your own. Or, you can think outside the blog. It takes a little more work, and a lot more creativity, but the end result will be truly original posts and the chance to develop a loyal following.

Here are seven ways to find inspiration by “thinking outside the blog“.

1. News

Given that I’m a reporter, you might think this would be a no-brainer, but as Darren and Kim at Regator have both pointed out, if you’re going to write about trending topics, you’ll want to offer a unique perspective. That’s easier said than done. Writing about the subject du jour in a way that is interesting, useful, and in keeping with your niche can be quite the challenge.

For instance, my blog is about growing personally and professionally. So, I wondered, how can I write about World Cup Soccer or the incessant blaring of those horns?

How about an article called “Silencing the Vuvuzelas”? I crafted a post comparing the non-stop noise of the games to that non-stop noise in your head that criticizes everything you do. Once you can accept that it’s just part of the game, it will be easier to tune out.

2. Exercise

I realize that not everyone exercises, but here’s another reason to do so — even if it’s just going for a walk. To me, walking (or running, or swimming) is thinking. Sure exercise is good for your heart but it also clears your mind (silencing the vuvuzelas!) and more often than not, new ideas just pop in or cross your path.

For instance, as I headed out for a bike ride the other day, I saw a beautiful goose toying with the idea of crossing the road. Sadly, on my return trip, that same goose was on the opposite side of the road, minus its head.

Ouch. How could I possibly write about that? Remember, I write about personal and professional growth.

My next post was entitled “The Life Lesson I Learned from a Goose”. And the message was simple: if God gives you wings, use them.

3. Your personal life

This is a tricky one, and it’s up to you to determine where to draw the line, but one of the things that makes ProBlogger so successful is that it’s so personal in nature. Even if Darren doesn’t know you, don’t you feel as if you know Darren?

He’s shared about his family, he’s referenced his faith, and we know he loves photography because each of those things, at one time or another, has served as inspiration for this blog.

4. Mistakes and failures

Mistakes and failures are not the same thing, but they can both provide inspiration, albeit painful. For my purposes, a failure is something you tried that didn’t work out as you may have hoped, but a mistake is something you shouldn’t have done in the first place. Either way, if it results in a blog post, something good has come of it.

For instance, recently I wiped out all the files on my computer and didn’t have a back up. Then, frustrated and angry that I had only myself to blame, I lashed out at my husband for no good reason.

While I am ashamed to admit both, I’m darn proud of the blog post it produced: “What I learned about my relationship from my computer: If something is important to you — protect it.”

In terms of failures, some of the best bloggers will write regularly about the things they’ve tried that haven’t worked out. Not only is this useful information, but it is also inspiring because you can see that even those who we identify as “successful” have had disappointments along the way.

To clarify, we are thinking outside the blog here, so the failure I’m referring to is not about falling short in the number of subscribers you hoped to have by a certain point in time. A better example would be one of the most popular posts on Darren’s digital photography blog about taking blurry pictures.

5. Conversations

This is an easy one. How often does Darren write about a question someone asked him or something that came up in conversation? Rarely does a day go by when I do not have a conversation that I could parlay into a post.

For instance, I recently had a conversation with a friend who was frustrated in his work. He wasn’t going to walk into his boss and quit on that very day, but he had come to realize he needed a change.

Blog post!

One brief phone call was the inspiration for “What’s Next?”, a post about the importance of thinking ahead.

6. Your day job

While we all want to be probloggers, most bloggers are pros at something else. I’ve already told you that I am a reporter by day (and sometimes by night…) but that doesn’t mean that news is the only inspiration I find in my work.

For instance, we all know media is changing and believe me, I’m in the thick of it. Like so many other industries, there is little job security and those who are still employed are doing twice as much for half the pay.

Blog post!

Witnessing my fellow journalists struggling to re-invent themselves, I wrote the post “Wait for Your Change”, a little anecdote about what to do when you don’t know what to do next.

7. Your fears

This is an easy one because it’s the one everyone can relate to. What are you afraid of? What are your readers afraid of? Write about it. You don’t have to eliminate the fear: simply acknowledging it will build a sense of camaraderie, build your following — maybe even eliminate some of your fears!

For instance, as a blogger you must wear many hats at once. But what if nobody reads your posts? What if somebody leaves a comment and you forget to respond? What if you don’t post as regularly as you had promised? What if…

It’s all so overwhelming! So Darren wrote a great post about feeling overwhelmed that made us all feel a little better.

Inspiration is all around you. Just look.

See it. Feel it. Write about it.

About the Author: Amy Parmenter is an award-winning journalist who blogs about personal and professional growth at The ParmFarm.com. She will be speaking at BlogWorld, October 15th, about How to Get Media Coverage of Your Blog. Go.

Three Problems that Make Me Leave Your Blog in Three Seconds

This guest post is by the Blog Tyrant.

“Wow that’s an interesting looking title you’ve got there, I think I’ll check out that blog.”

That’s what I think. But three seconds later I’m gone, never to return again.

Despite racking your brains for amazing titles, composing literary marvels to dazzle your readers, and spending hours on your blog’s design, you still lost me. In this post I’m going to show you three serious problems that’ll make me leave your blog in three seconds (or less). Be very careful to fix these if they’re present on your site.

I need to open this post by reiterating a simple truth. It is a truth that applies to all businesses, not just blogs. And that truth is:

One loyal reader is worth thousands of one-time visitors

It’s true that one loyal reader (or customer) is worth more than thousands of one-time visitors. One loyal reader will do more for your blog than thousands of one-offs will.

Think about it for a second. Who is it that leaves comments, links to you on their own blogs, talks about you to their friends, Diggs and Stumbles your latest posts, and, eventually, buys whatever products you sell from your blog?

It’s the loyal guys. It isn’t the thousands of mindless drones who just sit there clicking Stumble, Stumble, Stumble, all day long and not interacting with the pages they land on. It’s your loyal readers. Sure, there are some exceptions like affiliate and product websites where you’re just sending super-targeted traffic to the landing page. But we’re talking about blogs, and on blogs, it’s the community that matters.

The three mistakes I’ll explain here will kill your chances of gaining loyal readers. Even if you answer readers’ questions and create content that will help enrich their lives, you are going to lose them if these silly little mistakes appear on your blog. If they do, fix them as soon as possible.

Three problems that make me leave your blog in three seconds

Let’s get into the bulk of the post and sort out these injuries that are crippling your blog. And as always, if you have others that I’ve missed, please leave a comment—your advice might help someone take their blog to the next level.

Problem 1: Lack of comments

One of the first things I do on a blog is check out how many comments there are. A lack of comments instantly turns me off, because I consider comments to be a good metric for determining how useful the articles are. If my initial scan turns up lots of “0 comments” notices, I almost always just close the window.

In my first ProBlogger guest post, on how to make your blog addictive, I talked about social proof and the fact that people need to see that other people are involved on a blog before they themselves get involved. Human beings really don’t like being first—it’s too scary.

How can you fix it?
How can you get more comments on your posts? I talked a little bit about that in my article on blog commenting, but here are a few extra ideas.

  • Change the default “0 comments” text.
    The first thing you should do is change that horrid default text that says “0 comments” to something more interesting and engaging. On Blog Tyrant posts where there are zero comments, the note reads, “Leave a comment, handsome.” That’s much more personal than “0 comments.” To change this text on your blog, just go to your Main Index Template file in your template editor, find the section called php comments_popup_link, and change the relevant areas. I also change the other text in that section, so instead of saying 5 Comments it says 5 Intelligent Opinions.
  • Ask for comments.
    The next thing you need to do is specifically ask for comments. Design your articles in such a way that they really encourage people to leave comments and share their thoughts. This has a lot to do with not answering all their questions in the post itself, but can also mean putting a question in the title or the first paragraph of your post. There is a danger here, however, as if you constantly ask for comments, and no one leaves any, you’ll start to look even more lonely.
  • Create a “buddy” group.
    This is something I used to do years and years ago, and it worked quite well. Find a group of blogs in your niche that don’t get many comments, and send them an email explaining that you’ll leave comments on their posts if they’ll do the same for you. It works really well.

If you’ve been blogging for a long time now, and you still aren’t getting many comments, it might be time to ask some hard questions. In my post on why blogging is a waste of time, I touched on the issue that many bloggers are afraid to ask: are you sure blogging is the best career path for you? Most of the time, however, you can fix a lack of comments with a few little changes here and there. But make sure you do, because “0 comments” looks horrid.

Problem 2: A butchered theme

The second thing that makes me leave your blog super-fast is when your template or theme is ugly, hard to navigate, and has been tweaked so much that it no longer works correctly. If I had a dollar for every time I visited a blog that had been tweaked to the point of looking terrible, I’d be as rich as Bill Gates. The reason I find this so offensive is because it shows that you don’t really care about your users’ experience.

Image credit: duerschi

One of the ways you can make it in the blogosphere is by appearing bigger than you are until you actually get there. And part of that is having a slick theme that functions perfectly for your readers. A lot of experts say that the content is the only thing that matters, but I personally think that’s garbage. I’m sure there are hundreds of excellent articles out there that I haven’t read because the site was too hard to get around, or too ugly to take seriously.

How can I fix it?
Because this issue of an ugly theme covers so many different areas of your blog, I want to offer a few broad suggestions that might help you.

  • Get a custom theme designed.
    The first thing that I’ll tell anyone who is going to take their blog to the next level is to get a custom theme designed for it. This is an amazing way to brand your blog and make it unique. However, I’m aware that it’s quite expensive and probably not an option for most beginner bloggers. If you fall into that category, move on to the next point.
  • At least get a logo designed.
    Big corporate logos that need to represent a brand can cost tens of thousands of dollars. We aren’t there yet. Go to Google and type in “cheap logos” and spend $30 to $100 getting a pretty simple logo made for your blog. It won’t change your world, but it will help your readers take you a bit more seriously.
  • Choose a simple, clean, and mostly white theme.
    The next option is to choose a theme that’s very simple, clean, and mostly white. Forget about black backgrounds and swirling colors everywhere, white is what people are used to reading on, and anything else is upsetting to the eyes. Your theme should be content-focused and really simple; don’t distract your readers with too much other than elements that are going to get them to subscribe or read more content.
  • Don’t edit it yourself unless you make it perfect.
    WordPress is fantastic because it lets you add plugins and edit the theme to add social media icons and other things to your blog. The problem is that people edit the template themselves and end up making it look like a pre-school painting. Unless you know how to make the spacing and graphics work well together, please don’t edit it. Go to Rent a Coder and hire someone with knowledge to do it for a few dollars.

Take the time to present your content in a beautiful and easily navigable way. Don’t clutter the eye, and definitely make sure any additions that you make to the design enhance your blog branding.  It is very important that you appear as professional as possible.

Problem 3: No original ideas

The last problem is probably the most serious, and unfortunately it’s the hardest one to solve. When a blog has nothing new to offer, readers can smell it a mile off. In fact, by a quick glance of the front page you can usually tell whether or not you are going to find something new on a blog. And if there’s nothing new to read, the window gets closed pretty fast.

Let’s be clear about something here. You don’t need to have some amazing new idea like Stuff White People Like. That whole concept is totally original and something that I’ve never seen before.

What you need to do is present your work in a different way from your competitors; you need to differentiate yourself from them. Go and have a look at your blog and ask yourself why a visitor would read your content over another blogger’s. Unless you can think of some solid reasons as to why your offering’s different, you aren’t going to retain me.

How do I fix it?
Fixing this problem can be hard if you didn’t start your blog with some original elements. That being said, there are some things you can to do differentiate yourself as you go along.

  • Find an angle.
    Everything you write about should have an angle. Even if you’re writing about a topic that has been done to death, you can still usually find a semi-unique angle to present it from. That angle needs to percolate through your blog and change the way you write titles, opening paragraphs, draw conclusions, and so on.
  • Brand yourself differently.
    Closely related to the angle idea is the idea of branding yourself differently. People usually think that branding is just having a different logo, but it’s so much more than that. It is how your blog is perceived by others and where it is positioned in the market. Take Subway as an example. This brand is positioned as the only healthy option in the fast food industry, and as a result it’s killing this market space. The branding is all centered around why Subway is a healthy choice and will help you lose weight. Make sure you brand your blog in a way that promotes your angle and helps readers to perceive you as different and valuable.
  • Find out what others aren’t doing.
    One way I find ideas for blog posts is to go to the major websites in my niche, look at their most popular posts, and see what they did—but also what they didn’t do. If you can identify something that’s missing, and tap into that, you’ll usually get people interested. This is even more likely if you realize that what the blogger has written about is incomplete or incorrect, and you can challenge them on it. I think one reason my blog post on selling a blog went to the front page of Delicious.com and got picked up by newspapers is because it didn’t hold anything back—a lot of the other articles out there seemed to not quite show you the whole process. That is now a theme on my blog: share everything.

There really aren’t any original ideas out there. People have been thinking for a very long time now, and chances are that if we think of something, someone else has already thought it. The task, then, is to present your ideas in an original way or make it seem like you are different from the next blog. Unless you can do that, people will have no reason to stay on your blog, or come back once they’ve left.

What do you think?

What makes you leave a blog super-fast? Is it the design? Is it the grammar mistakes? Or is it that you just feel like you’ve seen it all before?

The Blog Tyrant has sold several blogs for large sums of money and earns a living by relying solely on the Internet. His blog is all about helping you dominate your blog and your blog’s niche, and only includes strategies that he has tried on his own websites. Follow him on Twitter or subscribe to his feed for all the juice.

10 Ways to Reduce Friction in Your Purchase Process

This post was written by the Web Marketing Ninja—a professional online marketer for a major web brand, who’s sharing his tips undercover here at ProBlogger. Curious? So are we!

The harder you make people work to order your products, the less people will buy. This basic knowledge has been proven both on and offline. Unfortunately, we’re all not blessed with same level of brand loyalty and scary desire for our customers to line up for our latest ithingy like Apple is, so we need to take a serious look at how much friction we’re causing our customers—and find ways to eliminate it.

There are lots of different ways to go about fixing friction. Here are some easy wins to get you started.

1. Capturing information that’s only necessary for the sale

You might want to know everything you can about your customer so you can help service their needs. But the checkout is not the place to ask for that information. Until the money has cleared, don’t ask them for anything more than you need to make the sale. After the sale has been made, quiz them all you like. The same goes for setting up accounts and passwords: think very carefully before you ask someone to create an account and password—even if your intentions are good.

2. Including direct order links from your emails or blog posts

This might not work for all products, but it’s worth a try. When you’re promoting a product or offer in a communication (such as an email or blog post), don’t send readers to a sales page—send them directly to your checkout page, with the product already in the cart. You don’t need to re-sell to them in a sales page if you’ve done a good job in your communication piece.

3. Recalling the information you know about the customer

If you’re running your own checkout process and you’re (securely) storing customer information, when it comes time for a customer to purchase their second product, fill out as many details as you can for them. You need to allow for them to update the information if required, but many will just sail straight through.

4. Minimizing cross-sell and up-sell messages

In the past, I’ve been guilty of creating friction by attempting to increase my average order value with up-sells or cross-sells. There’s a very fine line to tread when it comes to balancing these two needs. Personally, I limit myself to one up-sell message of one product in an entire checkout process. Any more, and you might risk reaching the friction tipping point.

5. Avoiding bouncing customers to unknown third parties

For some, this might be something you can’t avoid, as you don’t have an internal checkout process. But if possible, keeping the checkout process consistent in terms domain, aesthetics, and style will reduce the shock associated with bouncing to a third party. If you do need to ship your customer somewhere else, make sure the customer knows what’s about to happen. My only exception to this rule is PayPal. It’s such a recognizable brand, the effect can actually be positive rather than negative.

6. Making your process usable, accessible, and cross-browser compatible

For me, this one’s a bit of a given: the lower the number of people who can access your checkout process, the fewer sales you’ll make. It’s a pretty easy calculation, yet so many people fail to make their checkout processes consistent for everyone. Google Analytics, when configured properly, will make it easy to identify whether people with specific browsers are converting a lower rate than everyone else. This will help you quickly identify any problem areas.

7. Using smart and intuitive data validation

Even after you’ve reduced the number of fields you’re asking your customers to complete, people will still make mistakes. If you’re not giving people a clear message about what they’ve done wrong—and what they need to do to resolve it—the sale is going to very quickly be thrown in the too-hard basket. Make sure your error handling is smart and intuitive.

8. Doing what the big guys do

The reality is that the big guys, with the big budgets, are going to be better informed in terms of what constitutes the ideal checkout process. If you want to see a seamless checkout processes in action, be sure to buy something from the likes of Amazon so you know where the benchmark is.

9. Tracking checkout drop-offs

This is all about being as informed as you can about what’s actually happening though your checkout process. My favorite piece of free web software, Google Analytics, is the best place to start. You can thoroughly integrate your ecommerce pages with Analytics—some of the insights you’ll gain might even scare you a little. How you do that is another post in itself, so if you want me to step you through the process, be sure to let me know.

10. Asking people why they’re leaving

Another obvious but seldom-used method to gain insight into why people don’t order your products is to ask them. On-exit pop-ups and light boxes are a great method to quickly ask your customers why they’re leaving. This detailed information will show you very quickly where your friction points are.

When you think about it, if someone abandons your checkout process without completing it, you’ve only got yourself to blame. You’ve done all the hard work to convince the customer that they want to buy your product, then managed to talk them out of it with a poor checkout experience. Reducing the friction in your checkout process is one of the easiest ways to maximize your revenue.

Stay tuned from most posts by the secretive Web Marketing Ninja—a professional online marketer for a major web brand, who’s sharing more of his tips undercover here at ProBlogger over the coming weeks.