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7 Ways to Find Inspiration: Think Outside the Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. News

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

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

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

2. Exercise

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

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

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

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

3. Your personal life

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

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

4. Mistakes and failures

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

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

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

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

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

5. Conversations

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

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

Blog post!

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

6. Your day job

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

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

Blog post!

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

7. Your fears

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

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

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

Inspiration is all around you. Just look.

See it. Feel it. Write about it.

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

Three Problems that Make Me Leave Your Blog in Three Seconds

This guest post is by the Blog Tyrant.

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

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

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

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

One loyal reader is worth thousands of one-time visitors

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

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

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

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

Three problems that make me leave your blog in three seconds

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

Problem 1: Lack of comments

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

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

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

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

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

Problem 2: A butchered theme

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

Image credit: duerschi

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

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

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

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

Problem 3: No original ideas

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think?

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

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

10 Ways to Reduce Friction in Your Purchase Process

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Recalling the information you know about the customer

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

4. Minimizing cross-sell and up-sell messages

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

5. Avoiding bouncing customers to unknown third parties

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

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

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

7. Using smart and intuitive data validation

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

8. Doing what the big guys do

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

9. Tracking checkout drop-offs

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

10. Asking people why they’re leaving

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

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

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

Blogging Tips from Pro Triathletes

This is a guest post by Mike CJ, co author of Beyond Blogging.

One of the businesses I consult with organizes triathlon events. Although my work is based around their blog and social media presence, I also enjoy getting stuck in as a general volunteer on the actual events.

The triathlon we run is called Ironman, and it consists of a 3.8km swim, followed by a 180km bike ride and finished off with a 42.2km marathon. Our triathlon is renowned as the world’s toughest, as athletes have to endure our searing heat and a mountainous bike course.

I’ve been lucky enough to get to know several world-class, professional competitors, and it was while talking to one of them that the similarity between what they do and what bloggers do dawned on me.

It’s the details that count

Steve was explaining to me that the difference between being a winner and an “also-ran” in triathlon is about improving a wide range of factors, bit by bit, over time.

He said the mistake most amateurs make is to focus on what he called “The big one”— the biggest challenge. In triathlons, that’s almost always the bike discipline, or the marathon. Amateurs tend to work hardest on those areas, believing that there is a lot to be gained from the two longest legs.

He told me that they’ll work and work on one area, and then lose all the time they’ve gained in those legs on other parts of the race.

As a pro, he told me the secret to his success was to focus on improving every single element of his race by a small amount every week. As well as the obvious key phases of the race, he also concentrates on small details:

  • the swim start, running into the sea and getting into a stroke fast
  • stripping his wetsuit off while running to the transition area
  • getting sun cream on quickly
  • leaving his bike shoes strapped to the pedals and doing them up while riding
  • changing his seat height for the final few miles to get his legs ready for the run
  • dismounting from the bike and racking it fast
  • putting his running shoes on while running
  • planning his fluid intake during the race.

These are just a few examples, but he told me that he seeks to improve the efficiency of each of those factors by several per cent every year. In real terms, he may make up only a few seconds on each, but when they’re all added together, he improves by minutes every single year.

How to blog like a pro triathlete

We bloggers love to focus on the big stuff—changing our themes, writing an epic series of posts, or perhaps creating a new ebook or course.

But actually, it’s all the little things that add up to improve our traffic, increase our conversion rate and really move our blogs forward over time. Lasting progress is achieved in many small ways:

  • revisiting old posts to add internal links and improve them
  • adding new follow-ups to keep our email lists engaged
  • testing placement of adverts or calls to action to improve response rates
  • taking the time to follow commenters back to their blogs
  • creating sneeze pages to help new readers find relevant stuff
  • adding links to relevant past posts when we write new ones.

None of these tasks are interesting, fun or sexy, but find me a successful blog and I’ll show you a blogger who does them. All the time.

Mike CJ is a full time blogger and writer who lives in the idyllic Canary Islands. He’s co author of Beyond Blogging and you can find out more about him at Mike’s Life.

Five Ways to Prevent Email Overload

This guest posts is by Yael Grauer of http://yaelwrites.com.

One sure sign that your blog is getting more successful arises when you find yourself barraged with email from readers. The down-side to this attention is that it can take a very long time to answer individual requests for help.

Bogged down in too much email? Here are some suggestions for helping you find your way to a clear inbox sooner rather than later.

1. It’s all about the FAQ.

If you get asked the same questions over and over again, it’s a good idea to include it—along with any other common queries—in a comprehensive, well-written FAQ page. You can direct people to the FAQ in your contact page, cut and paste from your own FAQ as needed or, if you use Gmail, use your FAQ to take advantage of the tool’s canned responses feature.

2. Keep it short and sweet.

Who says a good email response has to be a novel? Seth Godin, who I’m sure gets more email than most of us could ever imagine, does a great job of responding to everyone who writes to him—often in a sentence or two. Charlie Gilkey of Productive Flourishing fame took this a step further. “If this message is brief, it’s because I care,” his sig file reads, along with a link to a blog post explaining just that. Timely and concise emails may be just the trick you need to plow through that inbox.

3. Give answers for the masses.

Find a way to answer common questions publicly. Whether you schedule a free introductory conference call, have regular “open office” hours or twitterchats, answer questions in a podcast or video, or use reader questions as blogging or newsletter fodder, use techniques that allow you to spend time crafting an answer that reaches more of your audience. Others may well have the same question.

4. I have an ebook about that.

Develop or promote a product that will help answer your readers’ questions. This could be an ebook, paid consultation offer, or any of a number of products that will allow your readers to explore their questions in depth—and get the help they need. Don’t hesitate to mention the product if you think it would be helpful.

5. Make a referral.

If you’re too slammed to do consulting, you’re getting asked questions outside of your area of expertise, or you otherwise don’t have the type of product or service available that would really help your readers, be sure to pass them along to someone else who can help them. Your reader—and the person you refer them to—will likely be grateful for your recommendation.

What email management techniques have worked best for you and your blog?

Yael Grauer is a freelance writer and blogger who was thrust into the world of independent media when she started self-publishing at the age of 12. Find her at http://yaelwrites.com.

8 Reasons to Add an Ecourse to Your Blog

This is a guest post by Kelly Kingman of StickyEbooks.com and the co-creator of Engaging eCourses.

A great ecourse can make a huge difference to your blog and your business. In fact, I can name eight fantastic reasons why you should add an ecourse to your blog.

But first of all, what exactly do I mean when I say “ecourse”?

Ecourses can be anything from a simple, free auto-responder educational series to year-long, in-depth membership programs with live calls and personalized coaching. They could involve text, audio, video — and every combination of those.

For the purposes of this post, we’ll define an ecourse as instruction delivered over time, and delivered virtually, with the intention of helping the consumer achieve a result.

As I watched Darren’s 5Cs of Blogging video the other day, I realized that well-designed ecourses can deliver all five of these critical elements:

  1. incredibly useful content
  2. a basis for community
  3. points of connection with your audience
  4. cash in your pocket
  5. a contribution to your readers’ lives.

Not too shabby.

Pace Smith and I recently asked six bloggers who have mastered the art and science of creating great ecourses for their advice on inspiring people and helping them get results from ecourses. Our collected interviews make up Engaging eCourses: How to Motivate People to Get the Results they Want, which is available this week for the first time.

As we learned from our conversations with these bloggers, teachers, coaches, and authors, there are lots of great reasons to explore the arena of delivering educational content, and concrete benefits to be gained by setting the consumers of this material up for success.

Here are eight reasons we found why an effective, well-designed ecourse is good for your blog.

1. It inspires your readers to action.

In the Internet age, we have no shortage of information. Information is great. Information is important. And as bloggers, we thrive on delivering information — but it’s only part of the picture.

What people are hungry for now is inspiration. A great ecourse inspires people to implement the information they’re receiving.

Your readers’ results are the best way to build your business, according to Pam Slim, of Escape From Cubicle Nation. “[Results are] always, always is a stronger foundation for your company —rather than focusing all this time and energy on getting the perfect brand, or the perfect tagline, or the right people to be re-tweeting your stuff on Twitter,” she told us.

Not only do people like to feel inspired, but if you help someone solve a problem, they are likely to share their good results. This could take the form of social media buzz, testimonials and just good, old-fashioned word-of-mouth.

“People become sort of raving fans if they use the whole thing and complete it,” said Scott Stratten of Un-marketing.com. “Don’t be afraid of the conversation [in social media]. People are going to ask, ‘what are you talking about? What is UnBootcamp?’ and then people can go check it out.”

2. It helps focus and refine your niche.

Teaching people shows you not only which chunks of information are the most useful, but who really “gets” what you’re saying. Sonia Simone, from Remarkable Communication, told us she didn’t really, really understand her niche until she launched her ecourse, the Remarkable Marketing Blueprint.

“When I launched the Blueprint I saw the people who stayed and got excited about it and those that drifted away or didn’t get it. It was really seeing that that helped me create Third Tribe, because I could say ‘this is the kind of person who gets it.’”

Instead of trying to figure out the nuances of your niche in advance, see who responds to the content and style of your instruction and then work with them in mind. “Always look to your students to see who you’re most able to help,” Sonia said. “Sometimes you don’t know until you try some stuff and see what people respond to … who is picking it up and running with it?”

3.  It deepens your relationship with readers.

It’s one thing to give someone ten tips on mountain climbing; it’s another to walk someone step by step through choosing the best path and preparing for the trip, then listening to how their progress is going along the way. Depending on the level of interactivity, creating and delivering an ecourse can give you crystal-clear feedback on what works and what doesn’t about your information and your approach.

“Ecourses represent a certain level of commitment,” Charlie Gilkey of Productive Flourishing told us in his interview. “The more that you set the ecourse up so it reaches that peak level of commitment, the better the results [your participants] are going to have, and the more feedback you’re going to get.”

Designing an ecourse also means tuning into which problems your readers are really facing and what they want. “What’s going to make you feel really good is when you’re focused on the learner. What is that they’re trying to do? Be really curious about it, dig in,” Pam Slim told us. Pam co-created the $100 Business Forum with Chris Guillebeau.

4. It helps you monetize your offering.

Who doesn’t love money? The great thing about an ecourse is that if you offer it at a reduced cost to an initial “test group,” you essentially are being paid to create most of it.

Sonia Simone offered a “beta group” price to the first members of the Blueprint and made it clear that the content would evolve based on their feedback. She told us how this was the model Brian Clark used when starting out with Teaching Sells, essentially creating income from the ecourse before it was totally polished and done. This also lets you adapt the material on the fly to the needs of the group.

Even if you feel like you’re relatively new to your niche, you’re a few steps ahead of a total beginner. “The biggest market in all topics is the beginner market. That’s when people are looking for something to help them over the hurdle. If you’re an intermediate, you know of the basic advice that’s out there which is really key,” said Sonia.

5. It helps you grow a strong tribe.

Participants in an ecourse can form the core of a tight knit community. “If you let people know you care about them, they will have loyalty to you and that loyalty will help them get moving,” said Sonia.

Don’t spend too much time trying to convert those who don’t vibe with your approach. Sonia said that “people sign up because they resonate with your values — your point of view — and that gives everyone something in common and makes everything go more smoothly.”

A tribe gets stronger through the connections that are built within it. Students given a space to interact online often find enormous value in helping each other.

“It’s not been an uncommon phenomenon for people to come out of our courses and start a mastermind group or continue to have significant contact with some of their buddies from the courses one, two, three years later,” said Mark Silver, from Heart of Business. “Building those relationships, and really being able to trust and get support from your peers, are some of the most important parts of the learning experience.”

6. It helps you build expertise by teaching.

“As you help people solve problems, you tend to get the reputation for being an expert,” said Pam. But she also warned against getting too hung up on the word “expert.” “All that I care about is: are you really able to help people solve a problem?”

The best way to build confidence in your skills is to use them. “If you can really listen to and respond to what feels like it’s lacking with your folks … and be very responsive to that feedback, this is going to increase your confidence at such a deep level,” said Pam.

7. It helps you gain a competitive edge.

An ecourse can provide a way to help people cut through the noise, to figure out which information is key for their situation, and this will set you apart. “The entrepreneur who delivers a better experience to her right people, wins. It’s the experience — not the content, not the information,” said Charlie. “[Experience] can be the level of engagement, it can be the ease with which they get results that you promised, it can be the results themselves.”

Instead of striving to be original, Charlie said, focus on being effective. “The point is not to come up with something novel and new, though it’s great when you do,” he said. “The point is to explain, synthesize — do what you have to so people take the information that’s already there and use it.”

8. It helps you give back to your readers.

Ultimately, helping readers get results impacts their lives for the better. “When your focus is really, ‘how can I help my ideal client do what they need to do?’ that’s going to be driving excellence. That’s going to be driving results and impact,” said Pam.

She added: “That is what our work is about: it’s about the impact of your gifts on people that you care about that’s solving problems you want solved in the world.”

Kelly writes about creating compelling eBooks at StickyEbooks.com. To learn more about how to deliver ecourses that engage and inspire, visit Engaging eCourses.

11 Ways to Convince Readers to Buy Your eBook

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!

eBooks are a great monetization channel for your blog. Unlike methods such as advertising and affiliate programs, your own products allow you to keep the lion’s share of the profit. But with this great power comes great responsibility. Unlike other monetization methods, with ebooks, it’s up to you to turn your readers from fans into real customers.

In this post I’ll explain 11 ways you can convince readers that your ebook justifies them pulling out their credit cards.

1. Don’t leave them wondering.

If a reader has to think twice about how to buy your ebook, that’s one time to many. Your readers shouldn’t have any doubts in their minds about how they can order your product. Now this doesn’t mean you should turn your sales page into one gigantic Order button (believe me, I’ve tried), but it does mean you should have clear and identifiable order buttons at the top, middle, and bottom of your page.

2. Give them safety in numbers.

People don’t like missing out, nor are they comfortable with feeling as though their friends, competitors, or colleagues have the jump on them. If 10,000 people have read your ebook and they all love it, make sure you let everyone know. Give your readers safety in numbers, and they’ll give you their credit card numbers!

3. Connect them with advocates.

Anyone can write testimonials, including testimonials that never actually happened — and your readers know that. But what you can do is provide advocates. If there are real people in the real world who love your ebook, ask them if they’d be prepared to openly share that with others who might be interested in the product. A testimonial from someone who includes their social media profiles and encourages readers to get in contact with them is going to pay much better dividends than a testimonial that you made up yourself.

4. Give them a guarantee.

Buying any product requires some sort of leap of faith on the part of your readers. You’re asking them to spend their money on something that, even with the world’s best sales copy, is an unknown. You can reduce the size of that leap by guaranteeing your ebook: “If this doesn’t deliver all that you hoped for, we’ll refund your money – so you’ve got nothing to lose.” The smaller you can make that leap of faith, the more sales you’ll make.

5. Give them a sense of urgency.

Perhaps an unfortunate reality is that we’re often lazy, or easily distracted in our daily lives, so you need to create a sense of urgency to ensure your readers stay the course and complete the entire purchase process. An easy method to achieve this is to threaten a price increase after a certain number of days. If they don’t act now, they’ll pay twice the price.

6. Tell them your story.

Whether yours is a technical book or a novel, readers will value being able to connect with you as the author. If you book involves the completion of a journey that a potential reader is about to embark on, and you can help them avoid all the mistakes you made, they are much more likely to order.

7. Don’t bore them to death.

If your ebook’s sales page contains as many words as your first chapter, you’re going to do nothing but bore them away from your page, and your key sales messages will be lost. Write your sales page as concisely as you can, then strip out 50% of the words — and you’ll just about be there.

8. Make it easy for them.

You’ve only won half the battle once you’ve got your reader to click that Order button. What happens next is perhaps even more important. If you ask them to jump through four more clicks and fill out 20 fields with information, chances are you’re going to lose them. Ask your potential customers only to do the minimum required to make your sale, and get the money in your bank account. If you want extra information, do that after the sale is made.

9. Cater for their preference.

eBooks these days are more than just PDFs. iPads and Kindles have changed the expectations of ebook purchasers. If you can, make sure your product is available in the maximum possible number of formats (ePUB and Mobi). This can be a great point of difference in a competitive ebook market.

10. Know your audience members’ problem and tell them how you’ll solve it.

You probably should have figured this out before you wrote the ebook, but you need to still convey what problem your ebook solves for a reader, and make sure this message dominates your sales copy. Your friends will buy any book you write, but the mass market will buy books that solve their problems.

11. Give them one thing to do on your sales page.

It’s very easy to hedge your bets when it comes to creating a call to action on your sales page. There should be your clear Order button, but you might be tempted to add a Tweet This button, or an alternative product, or even someone else’s ad! Unless you stand to make as much money from someone tweeting your book page, or clicking your ad, as you will through an ebook sale, then ensure your page asks visitors to do one thing and one thing only: buy your ebook.

Selling ten ebooks is easy; selling 10,000 can be a little more challenging. I hope these tips help get you going.

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.

How to Make Everybody Happy

A Guest post by Stanford from Pushing Social. Image by superbomba.

happy.png

Your blog is like the popular kid at school.

It needs to look great, be funny, smart, and remember everybody’s name. It’s a tough job.

But the hardest part of the job is keeping everyone happy.

You are probably figuring out that your readers are not all cut from the same cloth. Although they may share a common interest, each has his or her own reason for visiting your blog. Some are casual readers, while others are hardcore fanatics that devour every word.

It’s easy to believe that every reader will be satisfied with your 300-700-word post. Not so. In fact, your standard post may only satisfy a fraction of your readers and leave the rest wondering, “Where’s the beef?”

If you want your blog to grow, get passed around, and inspire an engaged community, you’ll need to write content that makes everyone happy.

Wait, you can’t make everybody happy … right?

I know that blog readers — myself included — can be a fickle crowd. There’s a handful of blogs that I read daily and I have impossible standards. They need to write exactly the type of posts I like, publish them regularly, and never, ever, disappoint me. I’m a tyrant and so are your blog’s readers.

The problem is that you can’t write multiple types of posts every day to satisfy every reader.

But can you make all of your readers happy?

Crowd -> community -> core

Yes you can … by being smart about the content you produce and where you place that content.

It’s useful to think about your audience as overlapping circles of readers. At the center are the core readers. A little further out is your community of regular readers. Furthest out is the crowd, who occasionally visit. All together, these folks form the ecosystem for your blog.

Every day, people read your content and naturally settle into one of these circles. Your goal is to move the crowd to the core.

Let’s take a look at each group and some techniques for keeping them happy.

The core

These folks are dedicated to you. They visit your blog every day and are the first to comment, retweet, and mention your posts. You may even know these fans by name. Core readers are the first to sign up for email courses, pre-order products, and join your affiliate program.

Your goal as a “tribal leader” is to find and connect with your core as quickly as possible.

Core readers are disproportionately influential. Don’t be fooled by their small followings — their enthusiasm is infectious and they can rally a crowd through sheer persistence.

How to make core readers happy

Core readers hunger for more than your usual posts. They want to dive deeper into each of your posts and are starving for more detail. These folks have devoured your archive post and relate to you on a visceral level. You need to kick it up a notch to keep them satisfied. Here’s how to do it:

  • Go deep: Use email courses, private forums, and ebooks to give the core a deep dive into your content. My own Spectacular Posts email course is designed to give my core readers new information that I haven’t covered in a post. I don’t hold anything back because my core reader has an insatiable appetite for more information. So does yours.
  • Keep your eye on them: Create a list of your core readers in Twitter and bookmark their Facebook pages. Friend them, follow them, and regularly visit their blogs. Make sure they know that you are cheerleading for them.

The Community

Community readers are regular visitors to your blog. They are infrequent commenters but frequent retweeters. The community makes up the bulk of your blog’s traffic. They appreciate a consistent message and hate surprises.

How to make the community happy

  • Be reliable: Your community wants a steady supply of information that serves their needs. They share your goals and interests and want to hear more from you. Consistent posting encourages them to visit your blog often. Over time, you earn their trust and convince them that you have a resource worth sharing.
  • Use “edutainment”: Community readers plow through a lot of blogs every week. Dry, me-too posts are easily drowned out. To raise above the clutter, you need to combine entertaining and interesting viewpoints with your topic. These mashups can combine Lady Gaga and Blogging Tips or Ant Swarm Behavior and Project Management. This is guaranteed way to stand out in the RSS reader, and catch the eye of super-influencers too.
  • Be relevant: Community readers have a low tolerance for loosy-goosy, feel-good content that isn’t practical. They were attracted to your blog because you helped them solve a problem. They keep coming back because you are interesting and have a viewpoint that fits them like a glove. Don’t disappoint them. Keep an editorial calendar that continually delivers on-point content.

The Crowd

Outside of the community lies the crowd. Crowd readers are usually referred by another source. They are not regular readers and may only spend a few seconds on your blog. Your topic is likely to be complementary to the crowd reader’s main interest, but not a tight fit.

It’s tempting to dismiss the crowd since they aren’t your bread-and-butter readers. But smart bloggers work to satisfy the crowd because they bring fresh perspectives to the community. Your goal should be to turn the occasional crowd reader into a regular community or core reader.

How to make the crowd happy

  • Guest post: As you know, I’m a huge fan of guest posting as a way to reach readers that lurk outside your community. Guest posts allow other more influential blogger to vouch for you, giving you enough credibility to attract a larger audience. It’s not a mistake that many up-and-coming bloggers spend a large chunk of time guest posting to reach the crowd.
  • Build outposts: Outposts are social networking sites where you maintain a profile and special content. Youtube, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are popular outposts that represent online watercoolers for millions of users. Pick one outpost to start with, and invest some time to build a presence there. Link your outpost to your blog and regularly post content there. Over time, your outpost will get on the crowd’s radar screen and start escorting new readers to your blog.
  • Be a peacock Don’t be shy. Every once in a while, write a post that grabs attention. Your post can be provocative, epic, or piggy-back on a popular topic in the news. These “peacock posts” get noticed by influencers and passed along to their network. Even though it’s hard to tell if your post will be a barn burner, you can increase your chances by regularly writing them!

What do you think?

Can you make all of your readers happy? Which technique will you try first?

Stanford obsesses about how to get passionate people’s blogs noticed and promoted at Pushing Socialexcept when he’s fishing with his boys. Follow him to get the latest about his new ebook “Get Noticed.”

The Power of Not Giving Up – One Blogger’s Story

A guest post by Naomi Dunford from IttyBiz who emailed last week to remind me (Darren) that today is ProBlogger’s 6th Birthday and asked if she could write a birthday post. Here it is!.

I’ve sat where you sit.

I’ve devoured the articles and the blog posts and the link roundups. I’ve agonized over whether I could afford that video camera or that conference or that membership program. I’ve felt like a fool for even hoping this blogging thing could ever work.

I’ve sat right there and I know how scary it is.

Maybe I should introduce myself. My name is Naomi Dunford, and I was just like you.

I was desperate, scared and pregnant. My doctor had put me on bed-rest. I had to leave work because I was fainting all the time. Even before he was born, we knew our baby boy would have health problems.

We had intermittent web access because I could only intermittently afford to pay the bill. My husband was making very little money in a job working nights and it was going nowhere. Things did not look good.

Then I found Problogger.

I read all the archives. (All the archives.) Read some Copyblogger. Read some Chris Brogan. Slept. Drank a lot of tea. Had some panic attacks and spent a lot of time thinking about how cool it would be to be a problogger one day.

You’re waiting for the bit where I say it got better, right? Where I say I dove right in and created a blog and hustled my way to fame and fortune? Sadly, no.

I did nothing. Nothing. For a year.

I had my son. Went back to my job. Left work in the middle of my shift on my fourth day back. Went down to one (sub-poverty line) income. Flirted with the idea of starting a business. Got one half-hearted client. Put our son to bed by myself. Ate a lot of rice.

But I kept reading Problogger.

One day, Darren mentioned he needed businesses to sponsor his third birthday giveaway. Sitting there, nursing my son in the middle of the night, I had a crazy idea. I could be a sponsor. I had no idea what I was going to give, but the deadline of Problogger’s birthday was enough to get me going and get my blog launched.

I decided to give some marketing coaching. I had to fill out a form to say who I was and what I was offering, and I wrote that IttyBiz was the “offshoot blog of IttyBitty Marketing”. IttyBitty Marketing? Please. We’d had the sum total of one client and to this day, they haven’t paid me. But I had to put something in there. I sent it off, and then all I could do was wait.

(The actual story of how I went from not even having a domain name to launching my site on a Technorati Top 100 blog in four days is pretty uninteresting, although there are some juicy behind the scenes highlights and an adorable picture of Xavier here.)

I launched the blog. I wanted to email the people who commented to enter the contest and invite them to IttyBiz, but I didn’t have their email addresses. (I ended up clicking on all their links and personally emailing them via their contact pages, a process that took two full days. We worked straight through the night.) I did the same with the other sponsors.

I got some readers. Not a lot, but some. I got a little bit of traffic. A few other bloggers said some nice things about what I wrote. My goal was to get a thousand subscribers before Christmas. I didn’t make it.

But I kept reading Problogger.

Let’s flash forward three years.

My blog now employs six people. We have over 20,000 readers. We’ve helped more than 1000 people quit their job. As an affiliate, we sold enough copies of Teaching Sells to fund a school in Cambodia.

My husband quit his job. We’re unschooling our son. We moved to England for a while. We bought a little house. We finally got a car. We went to Cuba and Ireland and SXSW and Blogworld a few times. I threw a party in Austin and Darren came.

We’ve had ups and downs. I got pregnant again and lost the baby. Burned out. Missed some deadlines. Had a few site crashes. Got hacked a couple times. Did some stuff I’m not proud of. Did some stuff I’m very proud of.

And we’re home. My husband kisses my little boy goodnight seven days a week.

But here’s the really crazy part.

Nothing special happened.

I didn’t just happen to get a column in the New York Times. Nobody invited me to be on Oprah. I didn’t conveniently score a book deal. Despite my repeated attempts, I’m still not married to Brian Clark. I didn’t do anything special. The gods did not smile on me.

I just kept reading Problogger.

The point of all of this?

Please don’t give up. I know it’s terrifying. I know you are under indescribable pressure to do something serious with your life and grow up and forget your crazy blogging dreams. I know that some days, this is the hardest thing you’ve ever done.

I know your family thinks you’re crazy. I know you feel completely alone. I know you feel like it’s never, ever going to work.

But what you’re reading here? It works. I promise. Please don’t lose heart.

Happy birthday, Problogger. And thank you, Darren. I am blessed to have you as my mentor and honoured to have you as my friend.

Naomi Dunford writes at IttyBiz.