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The Dark Art of Product Pricing

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!

One of the most common questions I get asked is how much I’d charge for a given product. I guess the reason I’m asked this so much is it’s one of the hardest questions to answer, but the importance of price should never be underestimated.

Here’s the process I go through when I’m trying to arrive at a product price.

1. Your existing readers

It doesn’t matter if it’s your first product, or your tenth. If you know your audience, you should have a feel for their propensity to pay for things—and to what degree. If you’re unsure about this, look at the sorts of affiliate campaigns that are more successful with your readers. Do low-cost/high-volume campaigns deliver your highest revenue? Or do high-cost/low-volume promotions boost your bottom line the most?

Outcome: My existing customers have a propensity to buy cheap/expensive products.

2. Market perceptions

The general public has trouble valuing things—and brands have been exploiting that for years. But what you need to determine for your specific product is this: is there a market-based status quo when it comes to the price people expect to pay? If you’re selling music, or books, ask if there’s generally an accepted price range for these products.

Outcome: The community perception is that my type of product will be priced between $____ and $____

3. Where it fits in your product/customer life cycle

If this is your one and only product, then this perhaps doesn’t have much of an impact, but typically, products fit into three key life-cycle categories: entry level, standard, and premium. Once you’ve slotted this new product into your product life cycle, you want to apply one simple rule: make the step from entry level to standard small, and the step from standard to premium high. For example, you might offer an ebook as your entry-level product, a webinar series as your standard product, and one-on-one consulting as your premium offering. An example price structure might look like this:

  • ebook $19.95
  • webinar: $49.95
  • consulting: $5000

Outcome: This product is my Entry / Standard / Premium offering in my product portfolio.

4. Competitive market research

When building a competitive profile, aside from the prices my competitors charge, I document five key items:

  1. Influence of the brand (High, Medium, Low)
  2. Perception of the product (reviews, sales volumes)
  3. Core problem the product is solving
  4. History of discounting
  5. My product’s key point of difference from the competition

What I’m attempting to find with this research is where there is an under or over representation in terms of high/low value and high/low price. You’ll also get a good understanding of the caliber of your opponents’ products in the particular subsection of the market you choose to enter.

Outcome: My product has (high/medium/low) value and a (low/medium/high) price, and my closest competitor is…

5. Defining the real cost of the product

Bloggers often fail to figure out the cost of selling the product. You need to factor in things like transaction fees, the likely overhead of affiliate payments, and, if you’re selling a physical product, delivery, storage and other costs. While you may be likely to sell electronic products, you’re still going to have to pay money for every sale that’s made. How much?

Outcome: On average, my product costs $____ to sell.

6. Correlating feature relevance with customer value

Things can get tricky at this step. You need to make a realistic assessment of how relevant your #1 feature is to the customer problem that your product solves. Don’t get caught adding up the ten different features your product might have—focus on the top one. Then, make a call about the value people put on the solving this problem.

Outcome: My product has a (low / medium / high) relevance to solving the customer problem (___________) and people are willing to pay (a little / some / a lot) to solve it.

Other considerations

Okay so that’s the first stage done. Since you’ve answered some critical questions, you should now have a feel for what the market expects to pay for this type of product, and where yours fits into that spectrum. Now there are just a few more considerations to keep in mind as you choose a price.

Don’t be the cheapest.

It’s easy to start a pricing war by offering the cheapest item, and if you’re after a short term windfall, then it’s and option. But rarely does the cheapest win when if comes to competition.

For me this was summed up when I heard a five-year-old kid say to his mother, “We need to get that one, it’s more expensive, so it must be better”. The innocence of youth — saying what we all think!

Discounting is dangerous.

Lately, many successful product launches have initially offered a special introductory price that’s discounted. That’s fine, but try to avoid any ongoing discounts. It’s actually more advantageous to offer outrageous 50-60% discounts than smaller 10-20% amounts, as the customers’ perceptions of returning value on higher discounts are a lot greater. But if you can, avoid discounting at all.

The smaller the price, the more important it is to get it right.

If you decide on a low-priced product, keep things in proportion! The difference between $5 and $10 is 100%. So if you price your product at $5 you’ll need to sell twice as many to earn the same amount of income as you would if you sold the product for $10. Worse, a product you sell for $5 needs to sell four times as much as it would if it was priced at $20. When working with small numbers, finding the sweet spot is extremely important.

Don’t get stuck in middle.

Those irrelevant middle prices do nothing but cost you money—especially at the high end of the market. If you’re thinking of an $800 price tag, and your product has a unique selling point, charge $999. For a $325 product, go for $399 or $499. Your competition might seem to drive your price downwards, however I’d be working the other way. If you’re competitor is $999 try $1499—as long as you can prove why your product is better.

Throwing caution to the wind

As this post’s title attests, pricing is an art. Pricing can be so hard that sometimes you just need go with your gut, pluck a number, throw it out there and see what happens. Remember though, that it’s easier to drop the price of something than to increase it.

What techniques have you used to price your products? Have you had any pricing disasters?

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

How to Blog for a Transient Audience

This post is by Tim Tyrell-Smith, founder of Tim’s Strategy.

We all have a free flow of readers who pop in, consume our content and move along. And while we have them, we hope to convert them: to have them purchase a product, sign up for our feed, or perhaps join our community for good.

Image by Tim Tyrell-Smith

But what if your core audience is transient? Not just a small percentage of them, but the bulk of your readers. They might be in a life stage that requires new knowledge or a key advisor—a life stage that may end before you, the blogger, are ready.

Is your core audience transient?

My primary audience is the active job seeker—a segment of the population that’s highly engaged in my subject. And they’ll stay engaged for the next eight months, on average.

But what happens when they succeed in their job search? Or when the larger macro-economic situation turns around? It’s great news for them, but what about the bloggers looking to build a community in this space?

Of course there are other transient audiences out there. If you write a blog about the following categories, you likely have a transient core audience:

  • pregnant or new mothers
  • beginning photography
  • home buying or selling
  • wedding planning
  • political campaigns

These topics have audiences that are heavily engaged with you today, but may pick up and go tomorrow.

For some of these categories, readers may come back every two or three years (pregnancy) or every five to ten years (home buying). Some needs are unpredictable and can occur at any time (job search). Finally, some are natural progressions (the beginning photographer shifts to intermediate and advanced photography).

My blog has an unpredictable entry point (lay off) and a natural progression (new job) as an exit.

How do you write effectively for a transient audience? How do you keep them satisfied while you have them, and give them a solid reason to become a long-term reader even if your core content becomes less relevant as their lives change? Here are my tips.

1. Know and reflect their experience.

Either on a landing page or about page, you have to connect with new readers. You need to show them that you’re someone who has the life or category experience to lead them through the content successfully.

That first impression really matters. After all, you have to give them a reason to join in the first place, right? A great way to do this is to tell your story (buying your first house, or having your first baby, perhaps). And do so in a way that reaches the emotional or richly practical core of your subject. Whether your story is based on a real-life success, or a failure, the connection to your story is critical in the beginning.

The ideal reader reaction? “He knows me.” “She’s felt my pain.” “They did it right.”

Next, you have to maintain that credibility throughout the first months of their readership. One thing I hear a lot from my readers is: “How did you get in my head? How did you know that was important to me?” The answer has two parts. First, I was there: I was a job seeker for four months in 2007. Second, I meet with ten or 12 job seekers a week, and I ask them lots of questions, so I can stay as relevant and engaged as I can.

2. Know who they are and what they want.

At Blog World, I sat and watched Darren illustrate the importance of creating reader profiles. And I heard him speak about the value of writing posts directly to each profile. He gave each profile a name and a photo, to make them more personal.

As a consumer marketer, I’d done this for years—but I’d never done it for my blog readers. I’m knee-deep in it now.

Ask yourself, “What’s the core content that my readers are looking for? How does it compare (in terms of voice and complexity) to other sources of content in my category?“

While I don’t want to re-hash the same content that’s already out there for job seekers, I know I need to have a base source of content about resumes, interviewing skills, and career networking. Once I do, I can deliver it uniquely. For example, instead of just writing another “how to write a resume” post, I wrote about writing a bare-knuckled resume and cover letter.

I also provide a lot of free content (templates, tools, and ebooks) because I know “practical, easy-to-use, and affordable” is important to anyone looking for work.

While I’m in the process of creating fee-based products and services, I continue to create free content—and will always do that.

2. Know where they’re going next.

While I stay on my primary topic, I try to sprinkle in some more broadly based content.

This allows me to stay highly relevant, but also to begin introducing my role as more than just a job search expert. I also have a perspective and growing expertise on career strategy and work/life issues. For example, I wrote about the importance of building a stable career and life platform. so that if they were ever laid off again, their lives may not be so dependent on a single job.

To support that breadth, a few months ago I renamed the site with the following tagline: job search, career and life. It used to be solely a job search blog.

I am also developing a career strategy newsletter as a way to join my readers, arm in arm, as they transition into their new job, and are looking for content that will support their successful entry into the new company. This is content that will help keep them in a job, and out of the job search market.

I’m also beginning building my database. This is a must, I now realize—especially for bloggers with a transient audience. I figure this is much better than complaining about their departure.

This way, I can celebrate their success and be a part of their new world in a very natural way. But if they ever need me again for job search, I’m here for that too.

Do you target a transient audience? How do you keep them coming back?

Tim Tyrell-Smith is founder of Tim’s Strategy, a blog that helps professionals succeed in job search, career and life strategy. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimsStrategy and share his 30 Ideas E-Book with job seeking friends!

How Personal Experience Helps Me Blog Better

This guest post is by Kiesha of WeBlogBetter.

Have you ever wondered how some bloggers never seem to run out of post ideas? They always manage to escape the dreaded writer’s block unscathed; they’re always full of inspiration. Ideas overflow and pour onto the page as they type feverishly. They’ve tapped into a mystical stream of never-ending stories.

What if I told you that you could tap into the same power?

Everything you’ve already learned and experienced can be used to create infinite and original ideas for your blog. If you can turn on the analytical and creative juices in your brain, you’ll never run out of ideas.

Almost anything you’ve learned in school, on the job—even life’s lessons in general—can be turned into useful analogies or comparisons. Music, television shows, movies, or videos can also be used as fuel for unique and engaging blog posts.

There are almost no limits to this technique. In fact, the more unlikely and unusual the comparisons you make, the better.

Using my personal experience to blog better

Whenever something evokes an “Aha!” moment for me, I immediately think about how I can use that principle for blogging.

For example, late one night, I was watching The Karate Kid. At the point when young Dre finally realizes that all those days and weeks spent picking up his jacket had really been preparing and strengthening him, my mind immediately connected that experience to blogging.

When Mr. Han said, “Kung Fu lives in everything we do … Everything is Kung Fu”, I jumped up like a hot coal had landed in my lap. I grabbed a pen and wrote:

“Blogging lives in everything we do … Everything is blogging! Every experience is potential blogging material!”

My husband thought I was going mad as I frantically scribbled this on an already over-filled piece of paper. It was a major “Aha!” moment!

Yes, everything in my life — even those experiences that I thought were useless wastes of time — had been preparing me for blogging.

You might not be able to see the similarities between blogging and manicuring nails, but what I learned years ago as a nail technician helps me blog better today. I was known for my creative airbrush designs and 3D nail art. I had more customers than I had time. It sounds like I should be rich by now, right?

Here’s the problem: I loved the design/art part of the process, but I hated the chemical aspects of the job. I also hate feet, which wasn’t the best of news for customers who wanted their toes to match their fingers. I suffer from the exact opposite of a “foot fetish.” Would that be a foot phobia? What I learned is that no amount of money justifies doing (or smelling) things you hate.

How does that translate to blogging?

Nothing, not even money, should be the reason for blogging about something you’re not passionate about.

I can see many parallels between applying acrylic nails and blogging.

They both require preparation

When applying acrylic nails, the surface must be adequately prepared. Skimping on this step creates the prime condition for the growth of fungus or other harmful pathogens that, if left untreated, could create medical problems for the customer.

With blogging, if you don’t take adequate time to prepare with research and fact checking, you could potentially steer a reader in the wrong direction. They may not be physically harmed, but advice you offer on your blog could harm a person’s business or their blogging efforts—and maybe even adversely impact their finances.

They Both Require Good Design

If I tried to put a beautiful design on a malformed nail, it only made the malformation more apparent. On the other hand, a well-formed nail with an ugly or bland design would be a waste of sculpting efforts. In other words, the nail had to be both well formed and display a beautiful design.

The same is true for a blog. You can have the most beautiful blog design, but if your site lacks valuable content, no one’s going to want to return. You need both good design and great content.

So you see, yes there is much to learn about blogging from doing nails. There is much to learn about blogging from everything—from all of your experiences.

Over to you

Have you ever thought about how your own abundance of personal experiences relates to your own niche? And how you can use that to create a blog unlike any other?

  1. Start by listing some of the most vivid experiences you’ve had, or lessons you’ve learned over the years.
  2. Then instead of thinking about how different they are from blogging, think about how similar they are.
  3. Use those points of intersection to highlight those similarities.
  4. Then mesh those ideas together to create something new.

What you’ll get is something totally unpredictable and extremely insightful.

Which pieces of your personal experience and life lessons could you use to create an interesting analogy or comparison in a blog post? Which could you use to help you improve your blogging in general?

Kiesha blogs at WeBlogBetter, offering blogging tips and tricks. She’s a technical writer, writing instructor, and blog consultant for small business owners. Connect with her on Twitter @weblogbetter.

Inside the Life of the Other Kind of ProBlogger

This guest post is by Paul Cunningham, blogger, internet marketer, and author of How to Become a Successful Freelance Blogger,

I bet that you could easily name at least a dozen blogs that dispense blogging tips to other bloggers. The so-called “blogging blogs” vary in many different ways, but they all tend to give out the same basic advice: start a blog, build your audience, monetize, and maybe one day you’ll reach that six-figure income that defines you as a “problogger”.

But what about the other kind of problogger, the one who gets paid simply to write blog posts? You might think of them as freelance bloggers, or staff writers, or maybe you’ve never actually thought about them at all.

Consider this: while you work hard to build up your own blog, writing post after post and trying to find the traffic and monetization strategies that will work for you, those freelance bloggers are out there getting paid for every blog post they write.

So, is it really that easy for freelance bloggers to make money while most other bloggers make nothing? Let’s take a look inside the life of these other probloggers.

Skills and experience

A freelance blogger isn’t all that different from someone who publishes their own blog. The freelancer is a regular person who knows how to use WordPress to write and edit blog posts, just like any of you reading this that have used WordPress before.

They certainly don’t need to be a WordPress expert, because someone else is responsible for all of the technical stuff that goes on behind the scenes of the blogs they write for. Installing plugins, dealing with comment spam, and performing upgrades are things that don’t eat up the freelancer’s time and energy. They’re free to concentrate on the writing.

The freelancer also either has strong experience in the topic they’re writing about, or uses simple research techniques to write with authority on almost any topic they wish.

This is more common than most people realize. After all, the biggest audience for most blogs is the beginner level, so freelance bloggers only need to be at intermediate level—or be able to fill in their knowledge gaps with research—to be able to write about the topic.

Discipline and time management

Make no mistake: that image you have in your head of a freelance blogger sitting in their pyjamas at home or relaxing at the local coffee shop while they work is true in a lot of cases. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t professionals too.

Freelancer blogging is a business, and has to be treated as one. The clients that you write for depend on quality blog posts being submitted on time. A freelancer can’t just spontaneously take the day off when they’ve got a deadline to meet. If they did, their reputation would take a hit, and reputation is one of the biggest assets a freelance blogger has.

Because most freelancers work from home, there are numerous distractions throughout the day that can easily harm their productivity. Successful freelance bloggers develop excellent time management skills and create routines that have them writing at their most productive times of day.

Money, money, money!

By now you might be wondering just how much money a freelance blogger makes, compared to the typical problogger. Naturally, this depends on a few different factors.

The ability to find and win good paying work is the first challenge. Freelance blogging opportunities are in plentiful supply at the moment (just take a look at the action on the ProBlogger job board as one example), and the trend seems to be towards more work rather than less.

Now that blogging has become mainstream, it plays a big part in the web strategies of a huge variety of media companies. The top blogs in the world tend to be high-volume, multi-author sites using a mix of staff writers and freelance bloggers to turn out the amount of content they need to compete in their niche.

All of this means that freelancers who are able to present a good portfolio of work, and have the discipline and professionalism to do the job, can virtually pick and choose exactly how much work they want to do each week. This puts the earning potential of a freelance blogger almost entirely within their own control.

It’s no surprise, then, to find that freelance bloggers can be anything from hobbyists who do it one or two nights a week for a bit of side income, all the way to full-time freelancers running their own six-figure business writing for multiple clients.

My experience in freelance blogging

I’ve spent the last two years freelance blogging. For me it was a side income — some extra money that I could reinvest into my own blogs as I was building them. It meant that I didn’t need to dip into our family savings to pay for the WordPress themes, plugins, ebooks, and other products that have helped me along the way.

While I was blogging, I met numerous bloggers who spend most of their time doing paid freelance work. A lot of them also run their own blogs for fun, and some make good money from those blogs too, but for most of them the attraction of freelance blogging is that it gives them a steadier income and almost instant return for their effort.

What about you? As you work to build your own profitable blogs, would a freelance blogging income help you get there faster?

Paul Cunningham is a blogger, internet marketer, and the author of How to Become a Successful Freelance Blogger, the ebook that teaches you how to turn your knowledge and passion into a real income stream. Follow Paul on Twitter.

Slow and Steady vs the Quick Knock-out: Marketing Fight Night

This guest post is by Barb Sawyers, of Sticky Communication.

In one corner of the ring, we have me,  a new online marketer who has bought into the content marketing philosophy of trust. I hope I can go the distance! In the other corner is the nimble Ninja, who swings fast and furious to end the match quickly.

Who’s your money on?

Experience, backed by the many limited-time offers I receive every day, suggests that Ninja is your best bet.

But let me explain why I think you should place your wager on people like me.

I keep reading advice from people like the Web Marketing Ninja who, in this recent post, applies the traditional marketing principle of urgency. He even advised online marketers to threaten to double the price. At least he didn’t tell them to try the fake scarcity punch, as many hard-liners do.

But what if you’re selling something that’s neither urgent nor scarce? What if you don’t feel comfortable raising and lowering your prices or pulling products off and on the shelves to whip up buyer frenzy? What if you don’t want to look like a late-night infomercial huckster? What happened to all those books and blogs about building online trust?

Maybe the answer lies in the middle. Maybe urgency—and scarcity—can be deployed to provide a little nudge, as long as they are grounded in reality. No knockout punches, please.

What to do if you’re new

So I thought about how I could apply authentic urgency and scarcity without eroding trust to boost sales of my ebook, Write like you talk—only better.

I’m thrilled when somebody visits my site and immediately buys the book. But I think people are more likely to purchase if they’ve read a few of my posts, and maybe scanned the reviews. When they’re in a panic about that white paper or whatever their boss has told them to write, they’ll be back, brandishing their credit cards. I’ve kept the price low enough that people don’t need to wait for a fire sale.

How I fixed my pitch

Still, my approach wasn’t an overnight success. So I went back to my pitch page, ready to apply some advice from the masters.

People who don’t buy my book today will not die a horrible death. But they could get in trouble with the boss for not finishing that white paper on time or with their loved ones for being stressed and cranky. If their problem is urgent, the solution must be quick.

So my authentic urgency is based on the buyer’s immediate need and my fast-acting solution.

I revised the page to explain that they could expect to start seeing results—in terms of easier, faster, and friendlier writing—as soon as they started applying the three steps from the book. To be catchy, I added that they needed to buy it “before another sentence falls flat.”

Scarcity was more challenging, as I’m not going to yank an ebook that I just started selling. But what if, like urgency, I consider scarcity from the buyer’s point of view?

Products are authentically scarce if they are unique.

My product is scarce because it’s the only one that bases writing advice on something people are already comfortable with: talking. Instead of forcing them to relive high-school English, or memorize and apply 173 tips, as some other books do, it focuses on the big common writing pitfalls to avoid and the most powerful memory-enhancing steroids.

In addition to my concern that extreme urgency and scarcity tactics will erode trust, I don’t think this old bag of marketing tricks always works.

Like many shoppers, I love to find a bargain. But I won’t buy a new dishwasher simply because there’s a good deal this week, unless mine has died. If I need a dishwasher, I will scan the flyers for a sale.

On the other hand, I will respond to a limited-time offer if I’m looking for an excuse to buy those cute shoes or if I’m already looking for an online course like yours. I also go for the specials when I’m grocery shopping—a big expense with two teenagers to feed—but only on items we eat regularly or might like to try.

The limited-time offer, or urgency, gives me a little push. That’s all.

Let me stress that I will not buy your ebook or SEO software because you are threatening to double the price next week or soon as I leave the seminar room or site. I’m too smart for the nimble Ninja. I think my buyers are too.

Like me, I hope they would rather buy one thing they really want than ten things they were pressured into buying.

What’s more, I believe manipulative tactics are for commodities where cheaper is always better, rather than for intellectual property that smart people will talk about around water coolers and on Twitter.

And let’s not forget the ancient wisdom of Aesop and his fable about the tortoise and the hare. Slow and steady wins.

Sustain the success

So maybe the Ninja is going to rack up a few quick knock-outs. If the money is on only one match, I’d place my wager with him.

But if we’re betting on who’s going the distance to maintain the champion title, I think people like me stand a better chance. Then again, I’m not yet a proven online marketing success.

Are you? If so, please weigh in. I have teenagers to feed.

Barb Sawyers believes that business writing should be friendlier, easier and more fun. She blogs at http://www.stickycommunication.ca/blog and summarizes her wisdom in her ebook “Write like you talk—only better, 3 steps to turn good talkers into great writers.”

5 Techniques to Make Your Next Post Unforgettable

This guest post is by Bamboo Forest, of Tick Tock Timer

Reading a blog post should be like sinking your teeth into an ice cream cone in the middle of August.

Or the moment just before you plummet 2,000 feet in a roller coaster.

"Canobie's Corkscrew" by flatluigi

Let’s face it: blogs posts always have been, and always will be, a diversion from the mundaneness of life. No matter what your blog’s subject.

Since that’s true, let’s give people what they want.

Here are five techniques you can use to make your posts give your readers a great experience—not just dry information, but a truly unforgettable post.

1. Be a contrarian.

“If you try to write for everyone you write for no one.” ~ Brian Clark

It’s okay to be controversial. After all, if everyone agrees on the same things, it’s boring.

While I don’t recommend you disagree just to get attention, there are bound to be times where your interpretation of certain concepts differs from that of many other bloggers. When this happens, don’t hesitate to share your opinion.

When readers come across your blog and read a different take from the usual, it’s refreshing. Allow readers to enjoy that experience by having the courage to be controversial.

2. Create the unexpected.

Here are two solid ways you can implement the unexpected in your blog.

The first is to occasionally write posts that are a little off-topic from your niche, but which your readers will enjoy.

For example, if you write a blog on personal development, you might occasionally write on subjects that veer a little outside your niche but still interest you, such as tea, or strength training. Leo Babauta of Zen Habits does this all the time, and his success speaks for itself.

The second way to create the unexpected is to include something in your post that the reader never saw coming. It can be funny, shocking, nonsensical—anything you can think of, as long as it’s something your readers can’t anticipate. Of course, you have to be tactful in how you use this technique, because ultimately it has to work.

In a post titled, 9 Greatest Mistakes of All Time, my brother wrote two sentences about the Crocs shoe craze. Notice how the second sentence is completely unexpected (which is why it’s so fun to read):

“Not that long ago in a galaxy, very, very close, plastic shoes with large holes became an international sensation. Definitely the Bush administration’s greatest mistake.”

A few other ways to implement the unexpected include:

  • Conclude your blog post with a sentence that came out of left field.
  • Set up a post giving the impression you support one position, and then swiftly move to support a contrary position.
  • Have a demon interrupt the middle of your post.

(You weren’t expecting me to give you that last bizarre example, but it made the reading more engaging, didn’t it?)

3. Use similes and analogies.

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” ~ Anton Chekhov

Whenever possible, regardless of your niche, give people something they can see in their mind’s eye.

For example, I wrote a post about people failing to capitalize on opportunities in life and how, regardless, new opportunities are always coming our way whether we take advantage of them or not.

But I didn’t use that language. That would’ve been, well, lackluster.

Instead, I used the analogy of a surfer sitting on his board who had missed a couple waves and then suddenly spots a new set of waves rolling his way, appearing in the sun like large hills laden with diamonds.

Whenever you can use an analogy that paints a picture in the minds of your readers—and also makes the concept you’re conveying clearer—do it.

4. Use humor.

When you laugh, you’re having a good time. If your blog post can elicit chuckles from readers, you’re giving them one of the most pleasant of all human experiences. Make your readers laugh even just occasionally, and you’ve added a whole new dimension to your blog that your readers will relish.

Humor turns your post from being just a bunch of words into a party where everyone’s cracking up and having a good old time.

5. Use quotes.

In my blogging career, I’ve used quotes from blogs, books, and YouTube videos. And every time I have, the quality of my post improved.

For starters, by inserting a quote from someone else, you’re allowing your blog post to house another person’s voice other than your own. That gives your writing variety.

In addition, it gives you the opportunity to share someone else’s expertise on a subject—expertise that you may not possess.

In short, including quotes can make your post more interesting.

I don’t advocate using quotes just for the sake of it, but if you recognize a time where a quote will fit with your post, give it a go. It’s like adding a little spice to a dish to give it a little something extra. And personally, I like curry.

Anyone can share simple facts in their blog posts. But the really talented bloggers, who demand attention, give their readers experiences that keep them coming back for more, through unforgettable blog posts. Do you use these techniques? How else can we make our posts unforgettable?

Bamboo Forest created an online timer that helps make bloggers ridiculously productive. He also writes for Pun Intended, a blog that’s hilarious and enlightened.

Marry Your Blog to Your Life … and Watch it Take Off

This guest post is by Tsh Oxenreider of Simple Mom.

I’ve watched in wonder how my blog has grown since it launched in early 2008. It started as a hobby blog, and has since morphed into an income-generating network of five sites, complete with a loyal community of readers, four other editors, and a family of more than 20 contributors. I got a book deal about two years into my blog’s inception, and it’ll be on bookshelves worldwide in just a few weeks. No doubt, those hours of soaking up every bit of wisdom here at ProBlogger have paid off, and then some.

I love what I do, and I love that I can earn revenue doing something I would do for free if I had to.

What’s my secret? He’s about 6’2 tall, likes his coffee black, and as I write this, is currently driving the minivan taking our daughter to school.

Yep, that’s right. It’s my husband.

There is absolutely no way my writing career would be where it is now without Kyle working right alongside me. I’m the main voice of Simple Mom, sure, but he tirelessly does many of the behind-the-scenes tasks so that the blog succeeds. Together, we work hard to make the network thrive, and as a fortuitous blessing, our marriage is strengthened.

Now, I’m not saying you have to be married, or have a partner, to have a successful blog.

But I do think a blog works better when it’s married to your real life. Let me explain how.

Just what does he do?

1. He and I tag-team with the kids and housework.

I’m blessed that Kyle also works from home. Every Sunday, we scribble out our family calendar for the upcoming week, allotting work times for the both of us. When one of us is working, the other one is the primary parent on duty, and is also in charge of the dishes in the sink and tackling Mt. Laundry.

Ultimately, I normally write several mornings a week while my oldest is in kindergarten, and my husband takes charge of our younger two. He also oversees dinner one night per week, giving me some extra time to edit posts and handle email.

This is an unbelievable help in keeping the blog running. We’re a family with little kids, and it’s a busy season of life. Being a mom is still my full-time job, and it definitely takes more of my attention, physically and emotionally, than blogging ever could. There is no way I could run a blog as large as Simple Mom without a parenting partner in crime.

2. He handles delegated tasks, such as email and accounting.

My husband is actually the first person to see the email that comes through my blog’s contact form, not me. He forwards me the emails he thinks I need to see—reader comments and questions, or PR requests worth a look. I created a set of pre-formatted emails for him to use for the mail that contains the most frequently asked questions, such as requests to do giveaways, or the occasional blogging question. The answers are still from me, but I don’t have to write them from scratch every time, and he can quickly reply to those people without having to wait until I’m free.

And I get a truckload of mail that could easily be deleted, but it still stresses me out to see them. Letting his eyeballs be the one to scan through all the fluff and mass-generated emails works well for us. They don’t bother him.

Kyle also handles all the accounting for the network. He keeps up with all our transactions, from hosting service payments to ebook purchases, by automatically transferring our Paypal account to Outright and handling things there.

These tasks take him ten to 15 minutes per day, tops, because he’s set up a system that works for him, and he tackles this housekeeping daily. If I waited to deal with it when I had time, it would take me hours where I could otherwise write. And I’d want to curl up in the fetal position and cry, because I’m horrible at these sorts of things.

3. His male perspective gives me ideas I would never think of.

Believe it or not, only 72% of the Simple Mom readership is female. Yes, that’s the majority, but it means over a quarter of our readers are male. I’d be remiss to write solely to females, and leave a sizable chunk of my readership by the wayside. The blog is much more about the ins and outs of intentional living than it is about wearing the mama hat.

Kyle helps me think of post ideas I wouldn’t have considered—not only because he’s a guy, but also because he’s a parent, too. I’m blessed to work in a blog niche that’s directly related to my everyday life as a parent. But sometimes, I’m so entrenched in the thick of it that I don’t see clearly. My husband provides an additional perspective.

He’s the one who came up with the idea of writing posts about family mission statements, and pizza Fridays, and he recently came up with the brilliant idea for my next book proposal.

4. He’s my best cheerleader and most helpful critic.

He’s there when I need to stay up late to fix some code. He lets me vent to him when I get harsh emails from readers. And his eyes teared up when I opened the envelope holding the advance copy of my book when it arrived in the mail a few weeks ago. His positive attitude and cheerful perspective keeps me going on those days when I want to walk away from the blog.

Likewise, Kyle will also let me know when an idea I have is just dumb. Or when I’m taking criticism too personally. Or when I need to say “no” to a PR request or guest posting offer. Or when I’m too focused on the blog and need to change the baby’s diaper instead. His perspective keeps me grounded and optimistic.

What can you do?

Again, I’m not saying you need to be married to have a successful blog. But I believe a blog will have a better chance of success if it’s part of your real life.

It’s easy to see a blog as a one-man-or-woman show, but there are lots of things behind the laptop screen we don’t see. Simple Mom would not be doing as well as it is without Kyle’s help, plain and simple. It’s not a one-woman show, by any stretch.

When we keep our blog aligned to our offline life, we aren’t as pulled in as many directions. It can even enhance our lives, our families, and our marriages. When Kyle helps me, we work together. We talk, we spend time together, and we focus on the same thing. Our relationship is enriched by it.

Blogging takes a lot of work, and the to-do list is never really done. Are there some tasks you can delegate to those around you? Can you tap into your spouse’s strengths and ask him or her to help out?

Maybe you’ve got a friend who’d enjoy collaborating with you. Ask her or him to run your blog’s newsletter (my friend Jenny does). Maybe get one of your friends to act as a sounding board for your post ideas. Or if the grandparents live nearby, see if they can watch your kids once or twice a month so that you can get a chunk of writing done.

Let your blog enhance your offline life, and recruit those around you to help. And watch it take off.

How do you use the help of others to run your blog?

Tsh is the main voice behind Simple Mom, is editor-in-chief of Simple Living Media, and her first book, Organized Simplicity, hits bookstores next month. Follow her on Twitter to learn how to handle cloth diapers and Silly Bandz obsessions, and to chat about why less really is more.

From Side Project to Sustainable Business … Using Social Media

This guest post is by Clare Lancaster, of WomenInBusiness.com.au.

Over the last 18 months I’ve built two profitable businesses with the help of social media. One business was a sure thing; the other was a side project. My side project was a blog: womeninbusiness.com.au. All of the important numbers (subscribers, page views and profits) are growing monthly and I’ve never paid a cent to promote it.

When I decided to drop out of corporate life, my first move was to open a consultancy. I had been working online since 2001 and by 2008 was confident I’d accumulated enough skills and experience that finding work wouldn’t be a problem.

Around about this time, Twitter was the next big thing. I realized if I wanted to offer my clients the best service I could, I’d better get to know what Twitter was, and work out it was going to be any good for business.

Little did I know that the answer would be a resounding ‘yes’—and that it would help me take my side project from an idea to a sustainable business in less than two years.

Ten steps to sustainability

1. Establish a personal blog.

I started blogging on clarelancaster.com before I launched my consultancy.

I had a clear objective for the blog—that was, to demonstrate my knowledge and start to build my online reputation. I wrote about social media case studies, the basics of online marketing, and my journey so far. I shared my knowledge with wild abandon and started to attract an audience.

Not only did this blog allow me to demonstrate my knowledge but it provided me with a home base to send people I’d connected with through social media.

2. Build a social network with purpose.

Twitter was (and still is) my social networking platform of choice. When I signed up, I spent months observing the conversations, getting to know the etiquette and slowly but surely growing my network strategically.

I sought out and connected with industry thought leaders and journalists, identified people with similar work backgrounds and ethics, and spent time chatting and sharing links not only to my blog posts but to articles that I was reading that I knew would benefit my network.

My patience and consistency paid off when I received a DM from the editor of Australia’s largest small business magazine. She’d been following my blog and invited me to write a five-page article about social media.

That article led to another DM, this time from the editor of Australia’s largest online business magazine. I was invited to write a column with the potential of becoming a monthly contributor. I’ve just filed my 14th column with them.

3. Connect with people who share your interests.

While much of my network building was strategic, I also enjoyed connecting with other people who shared my interests.

One day I was chatting with another woman involved in online business who was writing about similar topics. A few days later I woke up to find that I’d been listed on Forbes as one of 30 female entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter. It turned out that contact was a writer for Forbes, and the result of that coverage was 3000 new followers in three days.

Some might say it was luck. I say, you only get lucky when you put in the ground work.

4. Connect with your readers outside of your blog.

In addition to emailing a thank you to every commenter who interacted with my blog, I’d also visit their blogs and add them to my Twitter network. If they had a LinkedIn account promoted on their blog, I’d add them there too. This strengthened the relationships I built, and made a lasting impression. I still do this occasionally today.

5. Build anticipation for the launch of your business.

We all know that at the heart of social media is authenticity and transparency. As I was building my consultancy website, and deciding on my services and pricing, I chatted about it on Twitter. I asked for feedback on taglines and navigation text, and focused on involving my network in the journey to launch.

When the time came to open for business, I had a network that helped spread the word for me. They felt invested in the process and the journey I’d taken to get to that point.

6. Develop products based on your audience needs.

One of the first strategic networks that I built was focused around my industry peers—marketing and digital types. Six months after launching my I consultancy, I’d just experienced my first nightmare client and was looking into diversifying my income streams.

My first experiment was an ebook—a guide to using Twitter for business. I sold the majority of my guides to other marketing consultants and learned a valuable lesson: know your audience, listen to what they need, and create it. Then use social networking to spread the word. Don’t hesitate. If you spot a need, jump on it.

One of the reasons my ebook sold so well was because it was one of the first on the market. The reason it spread was because it told the reader what they needed to know, they got results, and they recommended it to their networks.

7. Rinse and repeat.

After I’d been writing on my personal blog for a while, I got the opportunity to acquire the womeninbusiness.com.au domain. I snapped it up and have since used social media to build traffic to the site and foster community around its message, which is to help women create their own paths using online business.

As with any profitable blog, this site has a variety of revenue streams that are dependent on the trust, influence, and interest of my audience both on my blog and on the social networking platforms I use.

I used the same technique that I used for my consultancy to launch this business.

8. Monetize the trust you’ve earned.

I know there’s something icky about framing the idea this way, but it’s the cold hard truth. You’ve worked hard to provide (free) value on your blog and social networking platforms, and to keep the attention and trust of your audience. If you want to create a sustainable business, you’ll need to monetize their attention.

I do this by recommending affiliate products, selling my own products and services, and advertising.

I view the products I choose to be affiliated with as part of my overall product range. I only recommend products I’ve used and feel proud to associate with my name and the reputation I’ve worked hard to build.

A successful affiliate promotion should span your blog, social media platforms, and mailing list. A profitable one will perfectly match the needs of your audience. If it doesn’t, it’s better to find one that does, than to compromise that trust.

I recently launched my first premium product, a do-it-yourself online marketing ecourse. Twitter was a great platform to tell the story of this offering, and let people know about it in a natural way. In fact, the less salesy I was about the product, the more registrations I received.

9. Promote your meaningful transactions.

When you own an online publishing business there are two things you’ll be doing continuously: creating and promoting.

You’ll create content and you’ll need to promote it. Not only do you need to promote your content, you need to promote the meaningful transactions that affect your bottom line.

Meaningful transactions are the actions that turn a passive visitor or reader into an active part of your business. They’re the things that will make your business sustainable. As a blogger, an essential meaningful transaction occurs when a visitor subscribes via RSS or email. If you’re also an affiliate, a meaningful transaction would take place when a reader clicks on your affiliate link.

Write a list of your meaningful transactions and cycle through them, not forgetting the social media success ratio of one part promotion, one part sharing, one part conversation.

10. Keep a critical eye on your output.

Even though it’s important to promote your meaningful transactions, it’s more important to keep an eye on the quality of your output and the reaction that you’re getting from your social media audience.

When I first started kicking goals I would excitedly jump on Twitter and tell the world. After a while, I could tell that my excitement was coming across as self promotion. I scaled back and remembered the golden rule. In social media, it’s not about you. It’s about what you can do for others.

How are you using social media to grow your blog’s following and your business?

Clare Lancaster offers blog reviews to help improve the business performance of your blog. She is passionate about helping people make their own path in work and life and can be found on Twitter most days (@clarelancaster).

Blogger Accountability 101

This guest post is by JC of JCDFitness.

Every blogger who’s responsible for a sizeable readership knows the excitement associated with gaining new subscribers and exposure.

The process is encouraging and humbling at the same time – people are actually reading what you have to say.  They’re not only reading, but commenting and coming back every single time you hit publish.  They have your site bookmarked, and never fail to tweet about it whenever you publish something new.

Everyone has their reasons for producing content, but if we take a look around the web, it’s easy to see the reason why most of us are blogging. It’s a basic need that everyone shares: community. Ultimately, it’s your responsibility to manage and nurture reader relationships through content. Every piece of content you write and present must be of superb quality—if it’s not, don’t click publish.

How can we ensure that everything we create is genuine, worthwhile, and full of awesome?

By being accountable.

Without some form of accountability and sincerity in your work, your blog will likely never make it.  Let yourself slip up too many times, and you’ll become another screech in the cacophony of blogging noise.  Your readers will figure you out and many of them will leave.

Accountability in action

Many months ago, I received a product from some fellow bloggers in my niche. They were launching their first digital download for profit and had set up an affiliate program to assist with promotions.  I was familiar with their work and enjoyed their writings on multiple subjects.

I opened the ebook within a few weeks of receiving it. I scoured most of it, but not all—and that was my biggest mistake. Thinking it looked fine, I signed up for the affiliate program.

Finally, while I was writing a post, I realized that the product fit nicely into the discussion, so I promoted the product in my post, and hit the Publish button.

And then it hit me—square in the kisser.

I received an email from a colleague I’ve garnered much respect for. He questioned my motives for promoting the product and challenged me to read it a few times over and re-examine why I was promoting it.

After my second and third looks into the product, I found myself asking the question, “Would I purchase this and if I did, would I recommend it to my friends and family?”

I wish I could have said yes, but it was impossible. I had nothing against the author or their previous writing. But their product contained a few things I disagreed with. I simply couldn’t feel good about referring it to anyone—especially my readers.

I took down the link, checked my affiliate account to ensure a refund could be processed if needed, and called it a day.  Later that evening, I made a decision.

I made up my mind that I will always seek another’s opinion before I publish something I’ve never promoted before on any site I own.

Developing an accountability system

That night, I phoned a friend and established a weekly accountability system. He, too, is a blogger in the same niche, and we now meet once a week to discuss our goals, the articles we’re working on—we even critique each other’s writing before publishing.

If we catch an affiliate product link, paragraph, or even one measly sentence that’s incongruous with our goals and ideals, we communicate this to one another immediately. It’s our goal to produce the best content with our readers’ interests in mind.

They are, after all, the only reason we write.

While most would like to go it alone, it’s fairly easy to let ourselves slip up every now and then.  No one’s perfect, and none of us can expect to make the right judgment call 100% of the time.  But, what if that one time we screw up, it costs us our entire audience?  What if it could’ve been avoided by inviting some extra accountability from someone you respect and who cares about you?

You’d be crushed if you inadvertently did something that ruined your relationship with your audience.  All your hard work would be in vain, and re-establishing your credibility would seem almost impossible—and it might be.  It would be even more frustrating if your mistake could’ve been avoided altogether had you created an accountability system to keep you on your toes.

If your audience means anything to you, I challenge you to seek out one or two people who will hold you to the standards you’d like to live by—someone who’s not afraid to call a spade a spade, and who’ll give it to you straight if they see you’re headed for trouble.

What about you? How do you hold yourself accountable and ensure your work is always your best? Let us know in the comments.

JC is the author of JCDFitness, where he shows regular people how easy it is to lose fat, build muscle and transform their body using his simple No-BS Approach to Looking Great Naked.  Follow him on Twitter.