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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.

Autoresponders on ‘Roids

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!

Darren has written a lot about how he has evolved his autoresponder sequences on his blogs. But I want to take this a step further and describe how you can turn a good auto responder into a great one.

Step 1: Segment your subscribers when they give you their email addresses

When you ask users to give you their email addresses, you should keep the process as frictionless as possible. If you can, just ask for the address itself. If you really need to, ask for their name so you can personalize messages—but that’s it.

Given you’ve only got one piece of information, how can you segment your audience?

  • Segment A: Existing Customer: match the email address to your list of orders and see if the person is an existing customer or not.
  • Segment B: Blog Commenter: if you’re requesting people include their email addresses when they post comments, match against that to determine how connected they are to your blog.
  • Segment C: Community Member: if your blog includes a forum, chances are you’ll have a record of user email addresses from your forum signup process. Use this to determine if they’re already part of your community.
  • Segment D: New Subscriber: this is the bucket for anyone who doesn’t fit into the above segments. These are fresh faces to your blog.

Step 2: Tailor an autoresponder for each segment

You’ll probably follow a similar process to the one Darren created here. However, you should create a sequence that’s specific for each segment. For example, you might welcome a new subscriber by sharing with them some of your most popular posts first. Then, you might send them a copy of your latest newsletter. Finally, you might send them an offer on one of your products. Alternatively, you might simply send an existing customer the content they gave you their email for, as they’re already in your sales cross-sell and up-sell cycle.

As a starting point, try to put yourself in the segment’s shoes, and create a process you’d like to see if you were them.

Step 3: Test and refine each segment’s autoresponder

This is where it gets a little harder and, sometimes, a little confusing. It’s time to refine your autoresponder sequence to find that optimal conversion rate for each segment. Some of the considerations you need to take into your testing could include:

  • Sequence of events: e.g. free ebook –> links to popular blog posts –> latest newsletter –> paid ebook
  • Email delivery time: during business hours/outside business hours/weekday/weekend
  • Delay between emails: one month, one week, one day, one hour
  • Email format: HTML, rich text, or plain text
  • Email copy: long or short, informational or sales-focused

Warning: when you’re testing, you can easily get out of control creating variations. For example, if you had three different test cases for each of four segments, you’d have 12 tests running simulations. And if they have four emails each, that would be 48 emails you need to write! I’d start with what you think is right, and over time evolve your approach—just like Darren has.

Now unfortunately I’m not sure of any email services offering this level of depth when it comes to allocating people to certain lists based on their customer profiles (if someone knows of one, let me know). So you might need to have something custom-created for you to take an email address, decide what segment the user fits into, and assign that person to the appropriate list. However, a little investment up front can pay huge dividends in ongoing reader-to-customer conversions.

Even if you’re only getting a handful or subscribers each day, putting them through a focused autoresponder program that’s been tailored to them will, without doubt, increase your conversions.

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.

Build the Perfect Blog Audience for You

This guest post is by David Risley of DavidRisley.com.

If you could hand-pick your ideal blog reader, who would they be? What are they like? What do they look like?

Have you ever even thought about it?

See, all too often, a blogger sets up a blog and just starts posting with their fingers crossed, hoping somebody will come by. In those days, you don’t really think too much about the people you attract. It is all about those numbers and getting traffic up. After all, seeing some positive numbers in your Analytics at least means somebody is listening, right?

As somebody who has been in this blogging thing for over a decade, I’m here to tell you that numbers don’t mean that much. When it comes down to making a full-time business out of blogging, the kinds of people you attract is more important than quantity.

I’d rather have an audience of 1,000 people who I really “click” well with than 10,000 people I don’t. I’ll make more money with the smaller audience any time.

For this to enter the realm of common sense, let’s look at real life, shall we?

Oil and water; peas and carrots

I’ve said before that blogging is a people business. Understand people and you’ll understand blogging as a business model. So, with that in mind, let’s just think about things we’ve observed in that little thing called “real life”.

Have you ever had to deal with somebody who you just don’t get along with – at all? Perhaps you have a sense of humor, but this other person has none and ends up taking all your jokes seriously (or, worse, gets offended). Perhaps you’re the responsible type and this other person is just a model of irresponsibility. Perhaps you guys simply share no interests whatsoever. You guys are like oil and water.

On the flip side, other people are just really easy to get along with. Perhaps they share the same goals and you end up working together. Perhaps you both have a similar sense of humor and crack each other up. Perhaps you meet that special person and experience “love at first sight”. Call it chemistry or whatever you wish. As Forrest Gump would have said it, you guys get along like peas and carrots.

Now, to throw a fancy word at you, what I’m talking about is congruence. If you were to arbitrarily try to symbolize that person in a series of vectors, all your vectors would more or less point in the same direction. You have congruence or alignment.

Understanding reader “congruence”

It’s been said many times, but a very important part of making money as a blogger is building a solid relationship with your audience. You want them to know, like and trust you.

If we delve just a little bit deeper than that, it comes down to attracting the kinds of people who you “click” with. People you have congruence with.

Your ideal reader would be somebody who shares certain goals with you (after all, that’s what makes them part of your market to begin with). Beyond that, however, they should also share certain characteristics with you so that they “click” with your style and your personality.

These are people with congruent personalities. These are the people who will form the strongest bond with you, who will love what you produce, and who will be much more likely to buy your stuff or what you recommend. They will feel as if they know you. They will like you and trust you. They will be fans.

Now, the way you portray your online brand is very important to attracting congruent personalities. You play up the characteristics that “jive” with your audience, and play down the others. Essentially, you are creating a brand avatar for yourself. Ideally, that brand avatar should be representative of where your audience wants to be.

If you’re at all familiar with the world of Internet marketing, then perhaps you know who Frank Kern is. Kern is a master of this brand avatar. His ideal customer is interested in making money. Money usually means freedom of time and location. People often associate the beach with freedom. So, what is Frank’s brand? A surfer bum who lives on the beach in San Diego and turns everything into huge piles of money just by touching it. He openly exhibits a sense of humor.

What has Frank done? He has played up those aspects of himself which are congruent with his audience. He is a brand avatar for where they want to be.

An exercise for you

The purpose of this post is simply to get you thinking about your blog’s brand avatar.

In short, it comes down to being natural, but also strategic. Be yourself on your blog while also being somewhat strategic about the type of online brand you portray and, thus, the type of people you attract. And when somebody who simply doesn’t click with you rolls along, let them unsubscribe. Because the relationship is more important than that extra pixel on your analytics graph.

To get you started, I recommend that you write a “Wanted” ad for your ideal customer or reader. If you were to write such an ad, what would you write?

Here’s an example, if I were to write one for the ideal audience of my blog:

WANTED: Motivated blogger who wants to turn their passion into a full-time effort. Must be an action taker willing to work while having fun.

It’s short and concise, yet it spells out the kinds of qualities I want. I’m not saying you’re going to go out and post this anywhere. This is just an exercise to get you thinking about your brand avatar, and your audience.

Lastly, as you create this ad, think about how you portray yourself on your blog and what kinds of people it will attract. Do your brand avatar and your audience line up?

David Risley shows bloggers how to find the intersection between blogging and marketing, and finally start making money with your blog. You can follow is escapades on Twitter at @davidrisley.

How To Use Inception Marketing on Your Blog

This guest post is by Tommy Walker, Online Marketing Strategist and owner of Tommy.ismy.name.

Have you seen Inception yet? For those who haven’t, all you need to know is that it follows a team of thieves who access dreams in order to steal information for their clients. The term “inception” refers to the notion that information can be implanted in, rather than taken from, a person. An idea can be planted so that it feels organic to the dreamer, and when he or she wakes up, the person will take certain actions without questioning his own motives.

A similar concept can be used with the advertising that supports your blog. We’re all familiar with the 10,000 hour rule, but if you had a way to skip over it, and use advertising in a way that let you wake up a week or two from now with more devoted readers than you have today, would you be willing to make the effort?

Enter: social networks

“An elegant solution for keeping track of reality.” – Adriane

For a long time, the targeting process for advertisements was limited to basic parameters: age, gender, location, and context. Now, we have social networks. What used to be the outer limits of a consumer profile now constitute the baseline of information most people consider “safe” to share online.

And, thanks to social networks, many more will share specific likes and dislikes, their employment history, educational background, and more. All of this can be pieced together into a audience profile that has real dimension to it.

Gathering information from Facebook ads

“If we are gonna perform Inception then we need imagination.” – Eames

There’s something special about Facebook ads. Before you jump ship or question whether Facebook is appropriate for your blog, consider this fact:

There are over 500 million people on Facebook.

The total of the populations of the United States, Australia, Canada and Russia combined is only slightly above that figure. How many readers would you need to consider your blog successful? I’m pretty sure you could find at least a few thousand people who are interested in what you have to say—provided you’re willing to make the investment to locate them.

In order to use the Facebook ad platform to its full potential, you need to understand the differences between Facebook ads and search ads.

The most notable difference is the targeting techniques these ads use. The strength of Facebook’s ad platform comes from its ability to target users via the “Likes & Interests” section of a user profile. Search ads are targeted to the information a user is actively searching for in a given moment.

So, for example, I see Facebook ads for the Golden Girls box set because Facebook knows from my profile that I’m a fan of the Golden Girls. (Just … don’t tell anyone, ok?) Google or Bing will show me ads for the same thing—but only if I ask for them by performing a search on those terms.

The beauty of Facebook ads lies in the quality of the information you receive in the reporting data generated when someone clicks on your Facebook ad. Unlike a search ad’s reporting data, Facebook’s reports provide access to detailed demographic data plus a Responder Profile report, which details the nitty-gritty of the common interests of the people clicking on your ad.

The end result

“Dreams feel real while we’re in them. It’s only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange.” – Cobb

Bloggers can create an Inception-like effect using Facebook advertising. We can use the ad reporting data to create the illusion that our blog or our website is, and always has been, beloved by its audience.

We start the process of inception by using the Responder Profile. This profile will vary from ad to ad but is typically similar to this:

The Responder Profile is your toolbox when it comes to learning how to approach your users. Review this data, learn to love it, and wring the life out of it by incorporating it into all the techniques you use on your blog.

For example, let’s imagine you have a blog about home improvement and hope to monetize it, but you need to build your readership. You have some basic audience demographic information to get you started, and you decide to target an ad that includes keywords like, “home improvement,” “decorating,” “construction,” and “home repairs.”

Your ads start running on Facebook, and two weeks later, your Responder Profile tells you that people who include those keywords in their profile, and clicked on your ad, also tend to share interests you never even thought of. Facebook’s report lets you know that 60% of the people who like “construction” also like “Uncle Fred’s Light Beer.”

Suddenly, Uncle Fred’s Light Beer has some power to it. Perhaps you can use that as a targeting parameter: if Uncle Fred’s is what connects Group A to Group B, then Group B may like your blog, too. You can study Uncle Fred’s marketing techniques and apply them to your own campaigns.

Furthermore, you might decide that Uncle Fred’s should probably be mentioned somewhere in your blog content—probably with the same level of humor, or using the same language, that your intended readership uses.

I used this technique recently on a page I was running for a client. After I saw my first Responder Profile, I realized that my initial approach to the target audience was likely bordering on offensive: it was a little too young-sounding. I also noticed that many of our users shared the Bible as their favorite book, and had a penchant for the Blue-Collar Comedy series.

As I interacted with the community over the next few days, I took on a more at-home tone. and made sure that the content I provided had a sense of humor (sometimes at the expense of usefulness). Our interaction rates went through the roof. The more I knew about these users, the easier it was to approach them on their own wavelength. This, in turn, helped me learn even more about what we needed to be offering our customer base.

Ultimately, you can use Facebook’s Responder Profiles to take on a virtual version of your own client’s personalities. The effect is that your blog’s visitors will feel at home communicating candidly with you, following your work, and buying from you, without ever questioning why they feel so comfortable.

And when people like you that much, they become brand advocates. It only takes a few of them to spread the word about your site among the people they know—and beyond.

“You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.” – Eames

Tommy is an Online Marketing Strategist and owner of Tommy.ismy.name. He is about to release Hack The Social Network, the ultimate guide to Facebook Marketing, and is currently developing a “mind hacking” course.

5 Reasons to Use Press Releases to Promote Your Blog

This guest post is by Jiyan Wei, director of product management for PRWeb.

Creating content on a blog is just one aspect of being a productive blogger—you’ve written the content, but now what? How are you going to promote your blog or specific posts within it?

Companies, businesses, and individual blog owners try out many tactics, but few consider using a press release as a promotional tactic for their blog. It’s an idea many blog owners simply forget about, underestimate, or don’t even know exists.

Why a press release?

1. Quality links

An external link to a website is like a vote of confidence—imagine how powerful those votes could become with targeted anchor text. Press releases with anchor-text links can help increase the authority of your blog in search engines, whether in the release itself, or reused in original content by an influencer. Not only are you using targeted anchor text, but you also gain domain authority from websites that your blogging competitors who aren’t using press releases may not have.

Remember not to fall into the trap of overdoing your links in press releases. Include too many links, and it’s obvious to the reader and to search engine robots what you’re trying to do. The reader will be put off by too many links and feel advertised to, while the search engine bot will recognize that the document contains way too many links and won’t value them highly. The links in press releases can be powerful, but only if they’re used when necessary. My recommendation (conventional wisdom) is one hyperlink for every 100 words.

2. Exposure to media

Press releases are still a format that’s preferred by mainstream media, so promoting your blog through press releases may grab you an inquiry from a mainstream media outlet. The media will be looking for something unique, so promote the most eye-catching or attention-getting content on your blog (or even your blog itself).  Even if media don’t write up the story from your release, if that release exposes an influential journalist to your blog and they become a subscriber, they could easily write about you later on.

3. Qualified traffic

Releases from the major wire services which have large channels of distribution will send your blog fresh, niche-specific traffic. The larger the site, the more channels and categories of distribution there will be (which is what you receive with the paid wire services vs. the free). Remember, press releases reach a community of influencers. Journalists and other bloggers from your niche could see your release and send you highly targeted traffic as a result. This is also the power of the new direct distribution model—it gives you the ability to create your own audience.

4. Influential subscribers

The days of actually visiting a site to obtain information are long behind many of us, and the best press release distribution services have kept up with the evolving demand for content. Since categories are prevalent in large distribution sites, web savvy influencers subscribe via RSS based on their interests. By promoting your blog to an audience that’s already using RSS, and sharing your feed within the release, you can increase your subscriber base of influencers significantly.

5. Search engine exposure

Press releases can rank well in major search engines, providing a great entry point for a new niche blog. Sometimes just one highly optimized press release is all it takes to get on the first page of a search engine for a competitive term, drive consistent organic traffic, and creating increased awareness about your blog.

Release resources

New to press release writing?  These resources will help you get started:

Jiyan Wei is director of product management for PRWeb, leader in online news distribution and online publicity. For more tips on using press releases, follow @PRWeb on Twitter.

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.