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Weekend Project: Research Your Existing Audience

This guest post is by Logan Marshall of the Free Life Project.

You now know a few ways to research the audience you want, but don’t have. If you already have a list, I still recommend you employ those strategies, but there’s more you can do. Much more.

In fact, the following strategies will allow you to determine exactly who your best customers are so that you can optimize your marketing to speak directly to their fears and fantasies, and push their “hot buttons,” allowing you to attract more of the same (high-value) customers.

This is incredibly important. With strategic engagement, you can virtually guarantee that your marketing will resonate with your ideal target audience.

Here are five ways to understand your customers better then they understand themselves.

1. Strategically designed surveys

Despite my systematic bashing of surveys, they can be a great way to uncover the unmet needs of your audience. But you have to do them right. Surveys can come across as annoying. And, unless you ask the right questions, your results will probably be pretty meaningless.

Here are a few guidelines to help you craft a killer survey (that people will actually complete):

  1. Don’t survey too often. Survey at critical times (especially during product creation) and use other, less direct methods to gain more customer insight. When you do survey, I recommend you use Survey Monkey.
  2. Be simple and direct. You have to remember that when people take a survey, they want to finish it as quickly as possible. Don’t you? With this in mind, it’s important that you get straight to the point. Don’t make people read. Eliminate extraneous decisions. Ask no more than five questions per survey.
  3. Ask only super-high-leverage questions. Most people fill their surveys with unnecessary questions that don’t give them real, valuable data. Whenever you design a survey question, ask yourself the following: will the answer to this question be immediately useful at this stage of my business? If not, get rid of it.
  4. Gather qualitative data. Instead of filling your survey with endless check boxes, ask people to give you short responses in their own words. By employing these “open answers,” you’ll gain valuable insight you could have never thought up yourself. This will allow you to communicate with your audience using exactly the same language they’ve used to speak to you.

If you want to master the art of survey writing, I advise you check out Ramit Sethi’s How to Write a $100,000 Survey. It’s free and will change the way you interact with your audience.

2. Automated email investigation

I’m all about automation, especially when it comes to my email list. With this in mind, I like to weave strategic questions into my autoresponder sequence.

For example, say I just finished an email all about traffic generation. Instead of just ending the content, I’ll say something like, “What can I help you with? Please hit “reply” right now and send me your two biggest problems related to traffic generation.”

If people enjoyed the content, they’ll often take the time to respond. And the answers you’ll get will rock your world. And, if you get a particularly intriguing response, you can follow up with that person and keep the conversation going. Over time, you’ll start to see trends popping up, and you’ll be able to refine and optimize your funnel to match these common problems. Pretty cool stuff.

In addition to automated questions, I also have another (unconventional) email strategy. Here’s how it works: Every time someone joins my list, I take the time to send them an email. From my personal Gmail account. In this email I thank the person for signing up, build anticipation for the value to come, and then ask one question:

“What is your biggest [your niche] problem right now?”

This one “insight gaining” question, combined with the relationship-building power of a personal email is extremely powerful. (I must give credit where credit is due. Thanks to Derek Halpern for sparking this idea)

3. Consulting

While email and surveys can be effective, nothing compares to speaking one-on-one with your readers. This can be via email or on social media. Or, ideally, you can offer free or paid consulting services and talk with dozens of people over the phone.

However you do it, the most important thing you can do for your business is to spend time every day interacting with your customers and asking what their needs, problems, and dreams are. Even a few consulting sessions will revolutionize your understanding of what makes your audience tick.

4. Webinars

While I don’t claim to be a webinar expert, I know that they can be extremely effective both for understanding your audience and selling your products. Webinars allow you to monitor people’s questions in real time and really put a finger on how they are responding to your content.

Here’s the webinar workflow:

  1. Deliver extraordinary value upfront.
  2. Open up to questions at the end.
  3. Follow up with people after the webinar (email them) and ask for their feedback.

Try it out. You’ll learn a ton.

5. Facebook

As you know, Facebook is a great place to interact with your audience. It rocks. It’s one of the best engagement platforms on the web. I’ve found that people let down their guard on Facebook and really spill the good, juicy, valuable beans. The stuff you’re searching for. The insights that will skyrocket your success.

Plus, it’s fun to meet them!

How do you use Facebook to better understand your audience? I have two main ways:

1. Regularly ask engaging (but valuable) questions on your Facebook fan page

People love to talk about themselves and their problems. Especially on Facebook. I know I do. With this in mind, using your fan page to ask fun, strategic questions can be extremely effective. Questions like:

  • “Describe your ideal life one year from now in one sentence.”
  • “I can’t figure out X! What is the biggest thing you’re struggling with in your business right now?”
  • If you could take a pill and instantly become a master at any online skill, what would it be?”

…you get the point. Keep your questions engaging and fun. Ask for short answers (people will be much more likely to respond). Respond to peoples comments and keep the conversation going.

2. Do weekly Facebook chats

This is a strategy I noticed Blog Tyrant using with his “Sunday Night Facebook Jams.” Here’s how it works.

Once a week, hang out on your Facebook page for a few hours and let people ask you any question they have regarding a certain topic. For example, a while back Blog Tyrant held a “Jam” about Blogging SEO. Here’s what his email said:

Hey guys.
Hope you are all well.

Well, its time for another Sunday Night Facebook Jam! Tonight’s topic is any question you have about getting ranked on Google. It’s all about Blogging SEO!

Just head on over to the Facebook page and leave a comment. I’ll hang around for two hours. Oh, and if you share the page with your friends you’ll go into the draw to win a FREE SEO Audit by me.

See you over there. It starts now!
Tyrant

See how that works?

This strategy is extremely powerful and will also help you improve yourEdgeRank Score so that you show up in the news feeds of your fans more often.

Key reader research tactics

In all of this there are few key takeaways I want you to understand:

  1. Whatever strategy you decide to focus on, the key is to engage with your audience daily and keep your finger on their pulse so that you can fill their needs better than anyone else.
  2. Instead of randomly talking to everyone and anyone, focus on talking to the “critical few” in your business: subscribers and customers. Especially customers. These are the people you want to “target” and attract more of.
  3. Focus on employing high-leverage strategies to get the biggest results for the least effort.
  4. Pay attention and be interested in what your audience has to say. Not only will this increase your insights and understanding, but your authenticity will shine through, winning you more loyal fans and customers.

Oh and one more thing: if you employ even a few of these strategies on a regular basis, you’ll likely have a ton of data about your audience. My advice is that you compile it all into a common folder that you can refer to when creating content and marketing.

Putting it all together: creating your customer avatar

Okay, now is the time to create what Eben Pagan calls a “Customer Avatar.” If you’re unfamiliar with this idea, a “Customer Avatar” or “Customer Persona” is basically an imaginary person who represents the composite of your ideal customer. It’s a figure who you’ve determined to be your “average” customer based on the data you’ve gathered.

Yaro Starak explains it like this:

“The best example of an avatar that I can refer you to is that of characters you create in video games. In games you can often define appearance (include fine detail attributes like eye and hair color), strengths, weaknesses, associations, and all manner of conditions that make up your character in the game. You play the avatar in the game world and its characteristics influence what you experience in the game.”

This is exactly what we’re doing. Just for the kind of person who reads your blog or purchases the product or service you sell.

Knowing this information allows you cut through the clutter and talk directly to the right audience with messaging and a language that resonates with them with emotional impact. Watch this video for a better understanding.

As Andre Chaperon puts it:

“Creating a customer avatar allows you to “get specific” and use triggers and hot-buttons to help pull your audience towards you (towards your offer).”

Incredibly powerful stuff. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Get out a black sheet of paper.
  2. Using the knowledge you’ve gathered about the hopes, fears, and dreams of your audience, “project” yourself into their shoes and answer the following questions:
    • What’s your gender?
    • What’s your name?
    • What’s your age?
    • Marital status? Kids?
    • What do you do for a living?
    • What do you look like?
    • What do you believe in?
    • What communities do you belong to?
    • What really ticks you off?
    • Who do you want to be like?

    Try to really “fill out” this persona so that you have a crystal-clear understanding of the person you’re talking to. Get specific. Give them a name. Really “feel” what it is like to be them.

Don’t worry about getting this perfect right away. It will be an evolving process. It won’t happen overnight. As your business grows and you learn more about your audience, your “Avatar” will change, and that’s fine. The key is to get started.

Use what you know to create a rough avatar right now, or create a plan to better understand your audience. Schedule a survey. Analyze Quantcast. Plan a Facebook chat. Offer free consulting. Whatever you decide to do, don’t wait. I see so many “Wantrepreneurs” just messing around online instead of actually doing what it takes to achieve success. Yes, it takes work, but it’s worth it. And, once you get started you’ll realize that it’s actually a ton of fun.

The bottom line

I’ve know there’s a lot of information in this and yesterday’s post. And I hope I’ve given you at least a few “Aha!” moments.

But you’re probably wondering a common question: What does all this add up to? What’s the end result of a crystal clear understanding of who my audience is and what they are looking for?

Well, simply this: by understanding your audience at a deep level you’re able to create marketing that speaks directly to them. Marketing the makes them stop dead in their tracks and give your site their full attention. Marketing that skyrockets conversions.

You’ll know exactly what you need to say to get people to subscribe to your list, feel an immediate connection to your message, open and read your emails, comment on your posts, and when the time is right, buy what you have to offer.

As Eben Pagan puts it, “You must know what you’re offering, who it’s for and what the benefit is to them, then present it to the irrational human mind. If you don’t, you might as well not even start.”

Stop writing about what you think your audience wants. Stop guessing. Stop assuming. Discover what needs are going unmet, what your audience really wants, what is “emotionally motivating” them to seek out a solution, and crush it.

Logan Marshall is on a mission to help aspiring entrepreneurs change the world with their message. If you’re one of them, check out the cinematic trailer to his upcoming blog.

Weekend Project: Research the Audience You Want … but Don’t Have

This guest post is by Logan Marshall of the Free Life Project.

When I was starting out online, there was something that drove me absolutely crazy. It infuriated me. It made me want to punch a dozen newborn kittens.

Okay not really, but it got me mad. Real mad.

What am I talking about? Simply this: Everyone says you must “understand your audience.” The so-called “gurus” relentlessly preach a gospel of Customer Avatars and Empathy Maps, telling you that you must know the hopes, fears, and dreams of your readership in order to effectively position your offer.

You’ve heard this advice before right? I’ve had it crammed down my throat.

While this is fine advice and some people have gotten close to actually nailing down a strategy for completing this impossible mission, I’ve yet to find an actual guide on how to do it! Of course there are the common suggestions:

  • “Just run a few surveys.”
  • “Spend some time thinking about it.”
  • “Talk to people.”

Blah blah blah … fluffy useless garbage … blah.

You see, when I’m presented with the advice “just run a few surveys,” a gazillion questions immediately flood my brain:

  1. What should I say in the survey?
  2. When should I survey my audience?
  3. How often should I conduct surveys?
  4. What if I don’t have a list of people to survey?
  5. What if no one responds?
  6. Is this the only strategy I should use?

…And the list goes on and on. If you’re like me, you’ve probably asked yourself similar questions. And, unfortunately, you’ve probably been met with maddening silence.

But not anymore.

I’ve designed this and tomorrow’s posts to fill this “black-hole-of-a-void” and give you a step-by-step resource on how to really understand your audience. Not a superficial understanding but a real, deep understanding of who your audience is, what they want, and how to make them engaged and excited when they land on your site.

Let’s get started.

The foundation

Before we get into specific tactics, let’s take a step back and look at the overarching goal behind “understanding your audience.” Why do we even want to do this in the first place?

Because without a deep understanding of who you are serving (or trying to serve), you might as well be trying to find a newborn Pygmy Marmoset in a pitch-black cave. You will be guessing. And guessing is never a good idea. In fact, “guessing” is one of the main reasons why most blogs fail, most products bomb, and most newbie entrepreneurs end up pulling their hair out in undeserved frustration.

Instead of just hoping that your message resonates with your mysterious “target audience,” you want to know with utter certainty that your projects will succeed before you even create them. After all, there’s nothing worse then spending months (or years) creating something, only to find that no one wanted it in the first place. I’ve been there. Not fun. Not fun at all.

So please don’t just “hope for the best” or “trust your gut.” Instead, take the preemptive approach and spend some time doing the research that no one has the guts to do.

Starting from scratch: How to understand your audience before you write a single piece of content

Many of you probably don’t have a blog up and running yet, and that’s fine. It’s great, actually. Now you have the opportunity to make sure your messaging is cybernetic gold before you start implementing like a unstoppable vortex of awesomeness. (Too many over-the-top descriptions? My bad.)

You don’t need an audience to know what people are looking for. Of course, if you do have an audience, these methods will work fine for you, too. With the following strategies under your belt and a few hours of hardcore “niche mining” you can virtually guarantee that your business will crush it. Let’s start with Facebook.

Mining Facebook: a treasure trove of marketing goodness

Facebook is a goldmine for the blogger or online marketer. An absolute jackpot. You literally have the personal information of thousands of potential customers at the tip of your fingers. You have people’s age, interest … even favorite movies.

Personally, I use Facebook as a way of determining the demographics and psychographics of my niche—things like gender, age, location, and interests. This stuff is priceless information you can use when creating your marketing.

Facebook groups

For example, my upcoming project is in the lifestyle design/internet marketing niche. But who makes up this niche? I know. Do you?

How do I know? Simple. I went over to Facebook Search and “creeped” on people who have told the world that they are interested in what I’m writing about.

Here’s how you can do it too:

  1. Determine the niche you want to operate in.
  2. Head over to Facebook Search.
  3. Select “Groups” on the left hand side and type in keywords people would use when searching for information about your niche. For example, I typed in things like “lifestyle design,” “internet marketing,” and “online entrepreneurship.”
  4. Find a group with at least 200 members. This way your results will be statistically meaningful.
  5. Spend some time browsing through the members and writing down any patterns you notice. Are there more men or women? Are there common interests that keep popping up? How do people describe themselves?

In addition to Groups, you can also look through pages and live status updates that people are writing about your topic.

Quantcast: the least-known online weapon

Have you heard of Quantcast? Until just a few months ago, I hadn’t. But let me tell you something: it’s awesome. Real awesome.

Quantcast lets you see exactly who your audience is. As there homepage reads, “Quantcast is free direct audience measurement for all website owners including traffic, demographics, business, lifestyle, interests and more.”

Quantcast

You give them your URL, they give you the data. Sweet. If you have a website and get a decent amount of traffic I highly recommend you get your site “quantified” a.s.a.p. It will give you the insight you need to specifically target more of your best (most profitable) customers.

If you don’t have a website yet, don’t worry. You can still use Quantcast by analyzing the data of websites that are similar to the one you’re planning to create. Websites who’ve already attracted the audience you’re trying to reach.

Say you’re planning to start a blog in the baseball niche, for example. You’d head over to Quantcast and type in the URL of a similar website. Not all websites are “quantified” so you may have to do a little digging. Once you’ve found a popular site that has already attracted a thriving audience, browse through the data.

Quantcast gives you the traffic, demographics, geographic location—even the “likes” of that particular audience. This is priceless information. Information you can actually use to create a “Customer Avatar” later on.

The “B-list breakthrough: gain insight and authority in one fell swoop

I learned this next (without a list) technique from Corbett Barr. He calls it the “B-List Breakthrough.”

Basically, it’s a method that Corbett and a few others have used to gain attention, traction, and authority, all while uncovering invaluable insights about the audience they’re trying to serve. It involves creating a survey and leveraging the audiences of other bloggers to create “buzz” and capture insanely useful data.

While I could take you through the process myself, I’ll just send you over to Corbett and let the master teach you this art himself. In order to get this free training, sign up for his list here and you’ll immediately get access to his “Traffic Toolbox.” Once you’re inside the subscriber area, find “The B-List Breakthrough” and enjoy!

If you do decide to employ this strategy, make sure you really analyze the results you receive. Don’t just throw up a survey and never actually use the information. Spend a few hours (or days) breaking down the responses and use them to power your marketing.

Amazon negative reviews

This final (without a list) strategy is probably the most powerful of all. It’s all about using Amazon reviews to determine the most common objections in your niche.

Amazon reviews

Here’s how it works:

  1. Head over to Amazon.
  2. Enter the title of a popular book in your niche.
  3. Select the negative (one- and two-star) reviews.
  4. Read through the reviews and write down common objections that you notice.
  5. Repeat with other similar books.

If you spend even 30 minutes doing this, you’ll start to gain a definite understanding of what people dislike about your niche. You’ll also discover the most common needs people have, which will allow you to fill the gap.

In addition to these four (extremely powerful) strategies, here are a few other ways to understand your audience if you don’t have a list:

  1. Browse through forums and look for common problems that people have. I don’t recommend spending a lot of time doing this, but even a few hours should give you a better idea of who you’re trying to serve and what they are really looking for.
  2. Use Twitter search to find out what people are saying about your niche in real time. Again, it’s not the most effective tactic, but it can give you some insight into where your niche is headed right now.
  3. Keep your eyes open. While all this stuff will definitely help you understand your audience at a deep level, don’t forget to keep your head up. Be on the lookout for common problems. Notice if phrases or ideas keep popping up. Listen to what people are saying.

These are my favorite tactics for researching a new audience. But what about researching the readers you already have?

Logan Marshall is on a mission to help aspiring entrepreneurs change the world with their message. If you’re one of them, check out the cinematic trailer to his upcoming blog.

Physical and Free: How to Use Real-World Gifts to Inexpensively Drive Online Traffic

This guest post is by Danny Iny of Firepole Marketing.

If you’re reading this, you probably want traffic. And when it comes to traffic, there’s a lineup of “usual suspects” to consider; there’s SEO, PPC, blog commenting, Facebook, Twitter, and the list goes on and on.

Except I’m guessing that if you’ve been online for more than a few weeks, you’ve already considered all of these options, and they haven’t panned out nearly as well as you hoped.

I’m guessing that if you’re reading this, it’s because you’re looking for another option. One that everyone else isn’t doing, and one that really will give you a chance stand out, build relationships, and develop a following.

Been there, done that, seen it already

Let me start by asking you a quick question. How many free ebooks have you traded your email address for lately? What about free reports? White papers? Video courses? Lots, right?

Giving and getting free digital content has become so common that it’s almost a joke, and it’s definitely a commodity that—while sometimes useful—doesn’t impress anyone.

Do you have a folder on your desktop for all the free digital products that you signed up for? Many people do, and so did I—until I realized that I’m never really going to get to them, and deleted it!

At best, it’s a folder that people have every intention of sorting through, making use of the contents, and hopefully learning something. But the honest truth is that most of these things don’t get read, or even noticed.

Which leads to a big problem that many bloggers and online marketers face when it comes to getting attention…

Forgetfulness, inattention, and digital overload

Most of the time, we download our free content, put it aside and forget about it. We’re busy. Well intentioned, but busy. And it doesn’t take long for “I’ll download it and read it eventually” to change into “I’m  not going to bother downloading it at all!”

It’s a practical and reasonable defense mechanism. There is only so much information a person can take in over the course of a day, and when you spend most of that day online, you’re looking at a veritable sea of facts, ideas and opinions.

So, out of necessity, we learn to filter our digital information input, and all too often that free report you slaved over ends up being passed over, ignored, or not even noticed in the first place.

But that doesn’t mean that you can’t capture attention by offering something, it just has to be done differently…

The beautiful difference of “physical”

I want to contrast—just for a moment—that folder of PDFs hidden somewhere on my computer with the pile of books looming over my desk. I bought most of them because I was interested, several of them because of a friend’s strong recommendation, and a few were gifts.

They sit in a pile on my desk and I look at them every day. They’re begging to be read, and I want to read them. And sooner or later, I make the time to do it (that’s why I made a point of creating a physical version of my book, even though it’s available as a free download).

Now imagine if your free giveaway had that kind of a hold on the recipient.

When the giveaway is physical—whether it’s a book or a refrigerator magnet—it creates… not quite a sense of obligation, but a sense of privilege.  You get to use it, because someone took the time to create it and send it to you. And you’re a lot more likely to make the time for it, remember it, and maybe even talk about it.

Why? Because we are physical beings. We like to hold things in our hands. We develop strong emotional and mental attachments to the physical objects in our lives. That’s just a fact.

So why not take advantage of it? Ah, yes, the issue of cost…

Doesn’t physical = expensive?

This is the part where people jump up and down and say “Wait a second, isn’t giving away all of that free stuff going to be expensive? How am I supposed to afford it?!”

That’s a fair point, except that it misses several important points:

  1. It’s not cost that matters, it’s return on investment. If you spend a certain amount per subscriber, and each subscriber generates several times that in annual revenue, then it’s a great deal.
  2. It doesn’t have to be expensive. You’d be surprised what you can have produced these days and how low the prices can be. More on that in a bit.
  3. Not everybody has to get one! Who said that a physical free product is available for anyone who raises their hand? Why not make it that much more attractive (and make the digital version that much more attractive, too) by limiting access?

The third point is what I really want to talk about here: limiting access by giving selectively, and doing targeted contests giveaways.

First, let’s define our terms. A blog giveaway is where the reader who leaves the best comment, creates the most social shares, or comes up with the best idea gets an awesome physical prize. In other words, you get the best of both worlds, and at a very reasonable price: everyone gets a shot at the prize, it raises the value of everything else that you’re doing, and it generates buzz and excitement in the process!

It’s a great way of having something physical, and valuable, showcasing it to everyone, and giving people a good reason to spread the word. But you don’t even need a contest to give something away for free.

Targeted giveaways of free physical goods

Sometimes, you’ll want to do a giveaway without all the fanfare, just as a gesture of appreciation of goodwill.

Maybe for people who have already bought stuff from you in the past, or who have been on your list for a long time, or filled out a survey … or maybe you just appreciate them for who they are and what they do, and give them a chance to feel the same way about you.

Your giveaway—whether it’s a book, booklet, CD, worksheet, or whatever—can be a wonderful testament to the value that you’re looking to offer, that will impress those who receive it. So if there’s someone that you want to connect with and impress, then send them something physical!

Or better yet, send them two—one for them, and one that they can use as a giveaway on their blog. We did this with Engagement from Scratch!, and it helped us connect with a huge number of new readers. And it wasn’t complicated, or expensive—we just added another copy of the book into the packages that we were already sending out, with a note saying: “Ideas are for sharing. So are books. I hope that’s what you’ll do with this—share it!”

So am I saying that you need to publish a book to make this work? No, of course not.

Getting started with physical and free

The key is to take the time to think about who you might want to give something away to, and what they would appreciate.

It can be as simple as turning your digital ebook into a physical book using a service like Blurb or Lulu (which are great for inexpensively self-publishing books, booklets, photobooks, etc.), or putting your logo (or a snazzy design) on some apparel, decorative office items, fridge magnets, or anything else, using a service like CafePress or Zazzle.

Just decide what you want to create, get the file ready, and upload it to the service of your choice. And order one copy. Just one. For you.

Once you hold it in your hand, your head is going to start spinning with ideas.

Why? Because we’re physical beings, and we like holding things in our hands. And so will your audience.

Danny Iny (@DannyIny), a.k.a. the “Freddy Krueger of Blogging”, teaches marketing that works at Firepole Marketing. Together with Guy Kawasaki, Brian Clark and Mitch Joel, he wrote the book on building engaged audiences from scratch (available on Amazon, or as a free download).

Build Blog Products That Sell 5: Finding Customers

This guest series is by Greg McFarlane of Control Your Cash.

Cash crunch

Image courtesy stock.xchng user sqback

History dictates that the current economic malaise will eventually end, but we’re still waiting for some unambiguous signs. That’s why for the past few weeks, we’ve been learning how to create products that are inspired by (and that tie into) your blog, and how to plan to sell them to an audience whose collective disposable income isn’t quite what it used to be.

So finally, after approaching this scientifically and methodically, you’re there. You’ve created a product built on the expertise your readers have expected from you and your site. And you’ve priced that product (or series of products) at a level that will generate income without scaring off too many potential buyers. Now all you have to do its open up the storefront and watch the money roll in.

If only.

The good news is that at this point, most of the work is done. But you still need to build your clientele beyond its traditional bounds. To amass your army, if you will.

Flipping the switch

After you’ve created products and made them available for purchase, a radical shift occurs. Whether you realize it or not, you’re now (at least) 51% entrepreneur and (at most) 49% blogger. The set hours that you spend updating and freshening your blog every week are now secondary to your sales efforts. Once you’re committed to creating and selling your product, people will identify you with it, for better or for worse.

If your product is, say, a collection of spreadsheets you can use to organize your home and eliminate clutter, then sink or swim with it. Henceforth, home organization will be your blog’s primary focus. Even though you may love collecting miniatures, and have occasionally blogged about it in the past, your days of doing so are now over. Apple used to sell stand-alone digital cameras. Not anymore.

You’re now a salesperson, and the more seriously you take your new job, the better you’ll do.

For generations, your typical commission salesperson was given a list of leads and an admonition to break a leg. If the new hire didn’t work out, no big deal. There would always be plenty of others willing to step in. Unfortunately, your incipient business doesn’t get that same luxury. The sales staff is you, as is the product.

And your current audience, regardless of its size, is limited. Some of your longtime readers might buy out of a feeling of allegiance or mild obligation. If they do buy, it probably won’t be because they’d been dying for someone to create whatever it is you created. And while your loyal readership may have given you the impetus and spawned the idea for your product, they’re not the only ones you’ll want to buy it.

So where to find a lasting and larger clientele? It involves expanding your horizons, but not in a rote way.

Finding customers

If you blog long enough, eventually you’ll be approached by similar bloggers offering you various stratagems for mutually benefitting your sites. A link exchange, a guest post exchange, and so on. Those are all well and good, if you enjoy the novelty of exposing your blog to an audience that is already loyal to another blogger who operates in the exact same field of interest that you do.

One fellow personal finance blogger, who seems to be an awfully agreeable fellow, recently offered to create a discreet badge allowing me to sell my products on his site, and vice versa. I trust that he accepted it as a business decision and didn’t take it personally when I told him I wasn’t interested.

Why not accept the exposure? Among other reasons, his blog has fewer readers than mine does. Many of those readers of his already read my blog anyway. Besides, what’s to stop him from making a similar offer to other bloggers with greater readerships than his, diluting the impact of his agreement with me?

Also, to put it kindly, he’s not an authority. He’s a guy with a blog, and a relatively new one at that. My products will be an afterthought on his blog, as his would be on mine. That won’t do.

A passionate evangelism

In selecting and pursuing offsite promotional opportunities that will actually help you find customers, you need to be a passionate evangelist for your product. Whether you’re considering buying ad space, using email marketing, social media promotions, or even creating a physical promotional freebie to give away (which we’ll cover on ProBlogger later today), you need to advocate strongly for your product, all the way.

My products need to be advertised in a place of prominence, because I care about them. Not just in and of themselves, but for a more pragmatic reason: it sounds obvious, but every item I ship makes me wealthier. I don’t want the seminars I hold and the ebooks I create to be just another offering in a catalog, vying for attention with someone’s unreadable treatise on dividend investing and the overpriced collection of Visio diagrams that someone else slapped together.

I want my products to stand front and center. I also want to remind potential buyers that no one else’s work can substitute for what I’ve created. If you want to know The Unglamorous Secret to Riches, no one else has it. If you want to know how to get out of whatever unhealthy relationship you have with your employer, that outspoken guy who runs Control Your Cash is the only one who’s going to show you how.

Just another vehicle

That’s why you have to acknowledge the limitations of your own blog. Most of your buyers aren’t there. They’re on unrelated sites, where it’s your job to get their attention and show them what you have to offer. It takes time. In my case—and you can apply this to your own situation—it means posting regularly at major, well-established blogs in my area of concern. It means guest posting at general-interest blogs where I know I’ll reach a diverse and erudite audience. My business model is predicated on the following belief: if people like anything I have to say, once they find out a little bit more, they’ll like everything I have to say.

Which means your blog becomes just another vehicle for selling your product(s). Once you sell to someone unfamiliar with your blog, you then sell that buyer on your blog itself. Anyone who buys your product should immediately become a subscriber. Now that buyer knows where to find your entire oeuvre, including the subsequent products that you’re doubtless working on.

Key points

  • Once you launch your product, you’re a salesperson. Be prepared to put your product first.
  • Recognize that the bulk of your buyers should not come from your own site: if you’re to give your product the best chance of success, you’ll need to sell it to people who have never visited your blog … so far.
  • Be choosy about the promotions you use.
  • Become a passionate evangelist for your product. This will help you sift the great promotional opportunities from the not-so-great.
  • As your promotional efforts gain traction, you’ll begin to see your blog as just another vehicle for sales. Importantly, those customers are becoming subscribers … which will help when it comes time to sell your next product.

Still, buyers in 2012 remain wary. They have less money available to spend in an ever-growing market. With more vendors making their products available for sale every day, the successful sellers aren’t necessarily the ones who shout the loudest or the most frequently. Instead, the ones making sales are the ones who communicate the most effectively. Next week, we’ll find out how they do it.

Greg McFarlane is an advertising copywriter who lives in Las Vegas. He recently wrote Control Your Cash: Making Money Make Sense, a financial primer for people in their 20s and 30s who know nothing about money. You can buy the book here (physical) or here (Kindle) and reach Greg at [email protected].

Guest Post Hosting: the Surprising Traffic Driver

This guest post is by Shari Lopatin of ShariLopatin.com.

We’ve all heard how writing guest posts for other blogs can increase exposure and drive traffic to your site. But what about hosting guest bloggers as a way to increase traffic?

New concept, huh?

Before we move on, I want you to stop right here and clear your mind. Then, repeat after me: “Inviting others to my site will not help my competitors. Inviting others to my site will not help my competitors.”

Benefits of hosting guest bloggers

Several months ago, I was experiencing a major lull in my blog, “Shari Lopatin: Rogue Writer.” Literally, I averaged 15 visits a day. Then, I invited another published writer and teacher to craft a guest post. The day she published … bingo!

My blog’s views soared from 15 to 200—in less than two hours. And it only climbed from there.

After inviting others to guest post in the coming weeks, I started seeing a trend. Every time I hosted a guest blogger, my page views more than doubled. Sometimes, they quadrupled. And this was good traffic, too.  People commented. They followed me on Twitter. And, some even subscribed to my blog.

How to drive traffic with guest bloggers

Here’s the key: you can’t invite just anyone to write for your site. You have to find the “influencers” within your niche.  If you want to be successful, here are the steps I recommend following. They haven’t failed me yet!

1. Find potential influencers

Start by using Twitter’s search feature, or other social media search tools, such as SocialMention.com or Topsy.com. Use terms that correlate to your blog’s niche, such as “social media” or “photography.”

2. Identify the true influencers

These are the people whose followings are not only large, but engaged. Some points to look for: consistent blog comments, regular (but not necessarily frequent) blog posts, more Twitter followers than they are following, and consistent responses to Facebook comments.

3. Be reasonable in choosing your influencers

I say this because if you’re a lesser-known writer, you cannot expect Seth Rogen to guest post on your blog. Even another writer with 2,000 Twitter followers could be a great pick.

4. Court your influencers

Like them on Facebook, subscribe to their blog (and then comment), follow them on Twitter. Get to know their writing style and understand how they interact with their readers.

5. Reach out and invite them to guest post

If you courted your influencers correctly, they may already know your name by now. So email them, or send a direct message on Twitter. Ask them to write a guest post for your blog … and tell them why you’re asking (i.e. do they generate great discussions, or perhaps their composition blows you away?).

6. Cross-promote!

This is vital. The whole reason your blog will benefit from hosting a guest, is because of cross-promotion. On the day you publish, ask your guest  to:

  1. post a few links to Twitter
  2. promote their post on Facebook
  3. run a teaser on their blog, driving traffic to your site
  4. and don’t forget: you do the same to promote them!

Give it a try, and I promise you’ll see results. If it works, I’d love to hear your success stories (I might even blog about them), so find me at the virtual hubs below and let me know. If you’ve already used this technique to boost traffic to your blog, let us know your story in the comments.

Shari Lopatin is an award-winning professional writer, journalist, and media strategist who’s been published regionally, and nationally. Find her on Twitter @ShariLopatin, follow her on Facebook, or visit her at “Shari Lopatin: Rogue Writer,” where she blogs every other Thursday about writing tips, funny stories, industry news, and media strategies.

 

5 Tips to Convince Editors to Say “Yes” to Your Guest Posts

This guest post is by Alexis Grant of AlexisGrant.com.

You know all the benefits of guest posting on popular blogs. And you’ve decided to start guest posting today. So you want to do your best to crank out awesome content.

But smart ideas are only half the battle. The difference between pitching a thought-provoking post and pitching a thought-provoking post that gets accepted is making it easy for your editor to say “yes.” In other words, go beyond providing awesome, unique content and make accepting your post a no-brainer.

As editor of Brazen Life, I see aspiring contributors make the same mistakes again and again—mistakes that make me groan and delete. Here’s what you’ve got to remember: the editor you’re pitching is a person with a job to do, just like you. And the easier you make their job, the more likely they are to publish your post.

Here are five steps you can take that will make it easy for editors to say “yes” to your guest posts.

1. Write in the “you” voice, not the “I” voice

Readers want to feel like you’re talking to them, offering helpful advice and ideas—not like you’re talking about yourself. While the occasional anecdote can be effective, your best bet is to start out your post by talking to the reader, and writing about how what you’re about to share will change their life. Then delve into your personal anecdote.

Here’s an example of what I mean. Writing in the “I” voice might turn out a post that begins like this:

“I’ve always had trouble paying back my student loans.”

Writing in the “you” voice would look more like this:

“Having trouble paying back your student loans?”

The “you” there is only implied—“[Are you] having trouble paying back your student loans?”—but it’s still there. Here’s another option:

“Lots of students are having trouble paying back student loans. If you fall into this camp, listen up.”

That’s not the catchiest intro, but you get the idea—it’s written with “you”s rather than “I”s. This concept is essential throughout your piece, but most important in your introduction.

2. Don’t bury the lede

The biggest problem I see with guest posts is that they fail to have a focused introduction that tells the reader what they’re about to get—and tells them right away. In journalism, we call this “burying the lede.”

You only have a few seconds to catch and keep the attention of your reader. That means you can’t spend two paragraphs getting to the meat of your idea. Instead, you’ve got to get a running start, at least hinting at your main point from the very beginning.

If you’re having a hard time with this, see what happens if you chop off the first graph or two. Is it possible the piece would actually be stronger if you started with the second or third paragraph?

Even writers who offer fabulous ideas throughout their piece often have a weak introduction. Give your first few paragraphs extra care; they’ll make or break your post. And your editor will be particularly happy if s/he doesn’t have to rewrite your intro.

3. Write a great headline—even if you don’t have to

You may not be required to write a headline for your post, but guess what? It makes your editor’s job easier. The headline can be the hardest part; it’s got to be catchy, relevant and SEO-optimized. And it should match the voice of the other headlines on the site.

That means it will probably take some time to come up with a good one. But rather than completing your post and pitching it straight away, consider the extra effort it takes to create a fabulous headline part of the assignment.

There’s an added bonus here, too: if your headline is great, more readers will read, share and comment on your post. You’ll get more clicks on the link in your byline and more return for your investment. If you leave the headline up to the editor, there’s a chance they’ll come up with one that will serve you well, but if you take the time to do it yourself, you know you’ve done all you can to maximize eyes on the post.

Of course, it’s always the editor’s prerogative to change the headline, but that shouldn’t keep you from giving it your best shot. And take it from me—your editor will appreciate it!

4. Follow the publication’s link policy from the get-go

Each publication has its own policy about including links within the post¸ So either look for those requirements within the publication’s guest post guidelines, or ask the editor ahead of time.

At Brazen Life, we love to see links within the post so long as they’re relevant and helpful to our readers; in fact, we don’t run posts without links. But some publications have different preferences, often asking, for example, that the writer not link to his or her own blog. Getting this right the first time will make your editor’s day that much easier.

5. When in doubt, create a list

Having trouble getting your ideas across succinctly? Lots of us do, and lists can be a great help with that.

Here’s the good news: lists are popular with readers, too. Most posts with “5 Tips” or “5 Pieces of Advice” or “5 Reasons” get lots of clicks, which means if you’re good at writing list posts, you should do it.

I hate to advise this initially, because it’s so refreshing when a writer offers an awesome post that’s not written as a list or in bullet format. But bullets do make posts easy to read online. And if you’re struggling to write a helpful post, bullets can make it easier for you to convey your main ideas.

Following these tips—and making your editor’s job easy—won’t just help you land one guest post. If you abide by these suggestions, write a clean post and offer thought-provoking content, they’ll want you to write for them again down the line. And that means lots more guest posts in your future.

Do you have any tips you can add to this list? We’d love to hear them in the comments. And if you’re looking for other ways to use guest posts to attract new readers, stick around—later today, we’ll see how accepting guest posts on your blog can boost your traffic levels.

Alexis Grant is managing editor of Brazen Careerist’s blog, Brazen Life.

Why You Should Start Guest Posting … Today

This guest post is by Jaime of USBundles.com.

When they’re done correctly, guest posts can be a true “meeting of the minds”—a way for both the guest blogger and the host website to benefit from association. However, many bloggers may resist the opportunity for various reasons.

Let’s examine some of the most common reasons why a blogger might be reluctant to guest post—and see why these aren’t really issues after all.

Tone is a ubiquitous conundrum. Or should I have said “tone is always a sticky wicket”?

Exactly. You already know the significant challenges that come with writing for your own goals—you need to understand how to engage an audience, and develop your style so that it is both natural and effective in context. When you’re a guest poster, you need to take into consideration a potentially unfamiliar site and audience—an extra barrier that must be overcome.

Why this isn’t really an issue: you’re there precisely because you bring something extra to the table. Some unique combination of style and expertise got you the gig in the first place. Don’t waste your time and their time by being overly self-conscious and diluting the qualities that make you valuable.

On the other hand, square pegs don’t fit into round holes, and opposites only attract in the movies

If you tend to use short, witty, casual blog posts to get your point across, a guest blog on a site that involves serious analysis and research is going to seem like a bad fit. What happens when readers accustomed to a 400-word top-ten list get thrown a 1,500-word in-depth discussion with charts and graphs (or vice versa)?

Why this isn’t really an issue: you can maintain your tone and style while respecting the host’s expectations. Examine the layout and structure of the existing posts. How do they use bullet points, paragraphs, block quotes, and other structural elements? How do they use photos, tables, graphs, and captions? Flex your writerly muscles by attempting to communicate in a format that will be familiar to the readership, and be prepared to go into more or less depth than you’re accustomed to. You’ll only become more flexible and knowledgeable, and therefore more valuable overall.

Who does this really benefit? You’re giving away precious words, and directing potential readers toward another site!

You can’t help but wonder if both of you might be better off concentrating on building your own audience and optimizing your own traffic. It’s hard enough getting people to come and stay—surely it can’t be a good idea to give people a reason to go somewhere else?

Why this isn’t really an issue: what’s true in Real Life is even more true on the internet—networking is a basic key to success. A major part of SEO strategy is to develop a fertile web of connections between sites; a healthy combination of quality content and link traffic (in that order!) is the single best way to improve your search results. But even more than that, exposing content to a wider audience can only be a good thing for the visibility, reputation, and connections on both sides of the equation.

You’re an outsider. The regulars will say “who the heck is this person?” and you’ll say “I don’t belong, so I don’t care”

You are a potentially disruptive influence upon a community of readers who feel comfortably empowered to engage with the content. Even if you hit all the right notes as far as tone and structure, you’re likely to address some different topics and different points of view. And you’re at risk of maintaining your outsider status by refusing to engage with the community.

Why it’s not really an issue: you really wouldn’t have been considered for guest posting in the first place if you and the host (and therefore the host’s community) didn’t share a relevant interest. Even the narrowest niche has a wide range of thematic connections (call it the blogging version of “six degrees of Kevin Bacon!”), so don’t worry too much if your topic strays a bit from the usual subject matter. We’re not talking about some sort of free-form aggregate web site here—guests bring their quality and expertise on a specific topic, and both sides get the benefit of spicing up their “routine” with a different angle.

And call me sneaky, but it’s a perfect way to introduce a little controversy (and therefore conversation and attention, which benefits everyone!). Be as respectful and ethical as possible, of course, but don’t be afraid to ruffle some feathers—both you and the host will be able to distance yourselves from a negative reaction, if necessary.

Later today we’ll look at two key aspects of guest posting to help you get ahead in this competitive field. First, we’ll present tips to help you get your post accepted so you can build your profile with others’ audiences. Then, we’ll see how accepting guests on your own blog can boost your traffic levels.

But for now, tell us: have you ever guest posted? Are you facing the challenges mentioned here? Share your experiences of guest posting in the comments.

Jaime is an avid hiker and skier who loves to write in her spare time for USBundles.com—home of USBundles.com.

Why I Steal Content (And Why You Should, Too)

This guest post is by Adam Costa of Trekity.com.

I have a confession to make: for the past few years I’ve stolen content. Lots of it.

It’s not something I’m proud of. Hell, I’ve never admitted it to anyone besides my wife (and she’s an even bigger thief than me).

But this painful truth must come out, and—rather than see my dirty laundry exposed by someone else—I’d like to be the one to declare it publicly.

I am a thief. Worse… I’m a plagiarizer!

I have stolen content and used it for my own evil purposes. And if you’ve been around here long enough (or read my content elsewhere) chances are you’ve read been exposed to my crimes of passion.

“Passion?” you say. “How could this possibly be considered passion… when all you’re doing is stealing from other writers? Stealing from writers who shed blood, sweat and caffeine to put out the best content possible? What’s wrong with you, man?”

In my defense…

I would argue that stealing content is not only commonplace, it’s a smart business strategy. But please don’t misunderstand me.

I’m not saying you should hijack other people’s content and pass it off as your own. Nor should you mindlessly repeat whatever the “hot tip” of the day is.

No. You do need to create new, interesting and—above all—unique content.

Sometimes, at least. But if you’re reinventing the wheel with every post, you’re overlooking an absolute goldmine of content. One which you can ethically steal, and use for your own nefarious purposes.

But before I tell you where this goldmine is, I must make another confession.

It’s not as bad as the first. In fact, it may help you understand why I’m doing this. You see…

I’ve only stolen from one person

Myself. And you know what? I don’t mind at all.

Remember the goldmine? The one I promised to reveal? Well, that goldmine is every piece of content you’ve already produced. It’s all sitting there—buried deep in your archives—waiting to be brought to light again.

Why you should steal, too

The truth is, if you’re using your content once, you’re wasting your time. Remember that post you wrote about Thailand? Why not turn it into a video? Why not create a slideshow? Why not drip feed content through Twitter?

Seriously, what’s stopping you? Maybe you think you don’t have time. Or don’t know where to start.

Well listen up, buckaroo. Reusing old content takes less time than creating new content. And it reaches a different audience (some people love video, others prefer to read … why not engage them all?). Recycling content actually saves you time.

Here’s how to start

Below are 19 popular forms of content:

  1. articles
  2. social media updates
  3. blog posts
  4. enewsletters
  5. case studies
  6. in-person events
  7. videos
  8. white papers
  9. webinars
  10. microsites
  11. print magazines
  12. traditional media
  13. research reports (white papers)
  14. branded content tools
  15. ebooks
  16. tweets
  17. Pinterest updates
  18. podcasts
  19. mobile-specific content

Chances are, you’re only using one of these forms for each piece of content you product. Shame on you. Look at the above list—you could easily recycle a single piece of content into five or more different forms.

Examples of recycled content

Here are just a few examples to get you started:

  • blog post >> video >> podcast >> enewsletter >> series of tweets >> print magazine
  • ten blog posts >> ebook >> podcast >> microsite
  • images in blog post >> Pinterest >> ebook >> slideshow >> photography site (e.g. Flickr)
  • interview >> slideshow >> video >> transcription in blog post with images >> images added to Pinterest
  • live presentation >> video >> podcast >> blog post.

3 Unique ways to recycle content

1. Umapper

Umapper lets you easily customize maps. You can add images, annotations and video within your maps.

For example, let’s say you write a post on BBQ joints in Austin, Texas. With Umapper, you could create a map with each restaurant pinpointed with annotations and add video of each restaurant showing shots of the food.

2. Dipity

Dipity helps you create cool looking timelines (check out this one on Russian history) with zero programming or design skills. Have you written a post that flows in chronological order? Add it—along with images—to Dipity. Then embed the timeline on your own site underneath your existing post (or create a new page altogether).

3. Many Eyes

Many Eyes, which was created by IBM, helps you visualize data in new and exciting ways. It’s also a great way to “steal” public data and create something valuable.

How? For example, you use the average travel expenditure by country and create a chart like this one.

So if you’re already sitting on old content, break open these tools and start creating more valuable content in less time. After all, the future depends on what we do in the present.

Okay, I stole that line. From Gandhi. Sorry about that.

Adam Costa is Editor in Chief of Trekity.com, a new kind of travel website. †You can also follow him on Twitter.

If Your Email Newsletter Isn’t Generating Cash, You’re Doing Something Wrong

This guest post is by Kelly Crawford of Generation Cedar.

The most important tool available to a blogger is his email subscriber list. It is the easiest and fastest way to increase sales. You probably already know that the readers who have voluntarily signed up to hear more of what you have to say are the ones who trust you the most, and the ones with whom it is easiest to keep building a relationship with. These are the people who will buy your stuff. Competing in today’s market demands that you build good relationships.

But a list by itself won’t sell your products. You must grow your list and make the most of it. Here’s how:

Grow your list

Obviously, the bigger the list, the more potential customers are getting your message. Here are three valuable ways to grow it:

Popover

A popover signup form will exponentially increase your sign-ups. A popover is the sign up box that “pops over” the screen a few seconds after they land on your site. Yes, it’s that annoying little box that I always click away from. But, statistically, far more people sign up from a popover form than a static form. I had to experience it to believe it (I had heard it was true but resisted), and found that my signups soared once I installed a popover. Aweber is one of the few companies that offer this feature.

Reminders

Make it easy to subscribe, and remind your readers to do so if they haven’t already. Include a static form on your About page, and periodically Facebook and Tweet about the benefits of signing up.

Benefits

The best incentive you can give your readers to subscribe is a series of some kind. Why? A series with several parts, sent periodically (and automatically) after they subscribe gives them repetitive exposure to you, which builds the kind of relationship that evokes trust, which will make them more likely to purchase your products.

If you’ve been writing for a while, you probably have plenty of posts you can turn into a series. What are your most popular topics? Put them in order and tell the reader what they will get: “Sign up now and receive my 5-Part Series, ‘How to Make the Most of Your Newsletter’.” Your newsletter company should easily allow you to set up automatic follow-up messages that mail at the designated time, to the subscriber’s inbox.

I also offer my readers a coupon code that’s given in the Welcome letter they receive as soon as they subscribe. This is not only an added purchasing incentive, but I tell readers they will receive it for signing up.

Make them want to open your newsletter

People get a lot of stuff in their inboxes. You have to compete and avoid being among the emails that get deleted without being opened. Here’s how to do it:

Make every newsletter count

Your subscribers are your prized customers. Reward them with good content. Except for the occasional sales announcement you might send by itself, if every newsletter has meat in it, readers will remember it and want to open the next one. Make it valuable enough that they are afraid of missing out if they don’t open.

Subject line is king

A 25% open rate versus an 80% open rate has huge implications for your bottom line. The subject line is all you get to convince readers to open. Be creative, and try to think like the recipient. What would make you open your email if you didn’t know what was inside? I’d caution you here not to deceive readers with your subject line. They won’t like it, and it will hurt your relationship—that thing you are working so hard to build.

Advertise Without Annoying

Remember how I said to put valuable information in your newsletters? Helpful articles, advice, and inspiration should make up the bulk of your content. Answer questions, solve problems, and readers will be back for more. But you can market at the same time, without being a nuisance. Here are some important points to remember:

Try affiliate marketing

Choose articles and subjects that support the natural use of affiliate products. Linking to them throughout your text lets the readers click if they’re interested, but doesn’t assume anything. Consider interviewing an author whose affiliate products you will consequently be advertising.

Use the sidebar

Use your sidebar. Routinely include pictures and links to your products (or those of your affiliates) in your sidebar. Offering a coupon code or limited-time offer is a useful incentive to push a potential buyer to act.

Add testimonials

Customer testimonials are your number one selling tools. Use them every chance you get. Instead of just listing your ebook, include a “What customers are saying” section.

The right formula

As it is with any platform, your newsletter will be the most successful when you implement the right formula. And what it that?

Persuade them of their problem, give them practical hints about solving it, then suggest a more thorough answer through your product offer, with, of course, a discount exclusively for them.

Let’s say you blog about weight loss. In your newsletter, you might write about five common foods that burn fat. Hopefully you have an ebook entitled “How to Lose Weight Eating What You Love,” or something like that. At the end of your article, you simply say, “Enter the coupon code ‘burnfat’ to get $1 off my ebook, ‘How to Lose Weight Eating What You Love’ now. Here’s what our customers are saying about it…” You get the picture!

Don’t forget to scan old but popular articles for newsletter fodder, tweaking them to implement all these strategies.

So, what are you waiting for? Go turn your newsletter into cash!

Kelly Crawford is a “mompreneur” and contributing author for five blogs, including her own, Generation Cedar. She also founded the membership site, Home Paid Blogger, a step-by-step guide for beginners to making money by blogging. You can follow Kelly on Twitter @generationcedar or on Facebook.