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Looking to Outsource Your Design Needs? You Need to Read This

This is a guest contribution from our very own Shayne Tilley.

Late last year Darren looked at some of the DIY image and graphics tools we use here on ProBlogger — many of which I frequent daily. However with design, whilst I can resize and format an image and cover some the basics, the idea of approaching more complex design tasks very quickly exceeds my skills – and bad design can be worse than no visuals at all!

So today I wanted to share with you how a marketing guy with no design skills and no time to waste gets through a pile of design jobs every month without spending a fortune.

The quick stuff:

I’m finding more and more there’s a ‘real-time’ element to design.  Posts need more supporting (and complex) visuals to improve the quality and iterations are needed for more shareability. On top of that, when doing A/B testing you need to be creating visual variations in batches as much as copy.

Personally I appreciate, and am often amazed by, high-end visual work (just spend an hour with this guy and you’ll know what I mean), I just can’t bring myself to pay $100 an hour to create five versions of a button, or create a collage to share on Facebook.

So for this work I use:

swiftly

I was first introduced to Swiftly through my history with 99designs. After running a few trials in the initial days I was impressed by not only the quality but the speed of delivery. So excited was I about by what they were doing, I’ve offered my help to the team with their plans for world domination.

Price: $19 flat rate

fiverr

To be honest, I’ve used fiverr more for fun than serious work.  For example, if I need to play a gag on a mate for his birthday. But there has been the odd occasion where work and fun meet with my graphical requirements and that’s where I’ve headed.

Cost: $5 + upgrades

microlancer

Microlancer is a bit of copy/paste of fiverr, but brought to you by the Envato network that I use a lot for stock WordPress themes and plugins. It’s perhaps a little more serious/businesslike than fiverr, and I’ve used them for slightly bigger design jobs.  It’s newish and time will tell but I’m impressed with my experiences to date.

Cost: $5-$500

Why I like swiftly over the others…  (with a disclosure)

Being totally upfront here, I’m helping the swiftly team at the time of writing this post. But I’m very selective about who I work with and I’m helping because I believe in what they are doing…

I believe they are destined to be the Google of quick design services.  What I mean by that is I can spend 30 minutes browsing for the right freelancer on fiverr or microlancer for my task. In the same time I can have my designs already done with Swiftly.

They have built some behind-the-scenes magic to play matchmaker. I just tell them what I want, they find me the best person for the job, and it’s done.

There’s a reason we use search engines not directories to find stuff these days, and they’re doing the same for great design talent.

The big stuff:

When it comes to major overhauls like full site re-designs, full landing pages there’s likely to be much more at stake. So more thought goes into deciding who I’ll use. My decision marketing process goes a little like this …

My network:

I’ve worked directly in the past with some great designers across the globe so often my first port of call is to tap into the design network I’ve built over time. The requirements and style of the design jobs I need can be very diverse, so I’ll never limit myself to just one resource.

With an idea of time, a feel for the budget and the style required, out will go the expressions of interest to a bunch of people I’ve got a history with.

I realise that not everyone with have these connections to begin with, so it’s important to start building your own.

A big part of finding great talent is to go to where they are.

Freelancer.com & 99designs.com

Both these sites have great designers in their thousands. You might run a 99designs contest or a freelancer project initially and then work 1:1 with designers who you click with in the future.  You need to commit some time up front to find the talent in the crowd, but if you are thinking in the long term it’s worth it.

But also don’t forget to look locally.

Whilst sites like the above tap you into the global market of designers, chances are good there’s a great designer just around the corner. Do some searching, send some emails, make some phone calls and you might be surprised. If you can find a great design partner locally and develop a relationship over time, you’re in good shape.  You can talk about your requirements face to face. The challenge of time-zones don’t matter. It’s a great place to be in.

The visual web is an every growing thing and getting stuff designed well is more important than ever.  There’s no one size fits all solution to all your design needs, but if you make some smart choices and grow your network you can take the hassle and expense our of making your blog and the web more beautiful place to be.

Even if you can’t draw a straight line with a ruler, like me!

Shayne Tilley is the marketing guy for ProBlogger.net and Digital Photography School.  The author of the PB Guide to Online Marketing and a long time contributor to the blog.  When he’s not thinking of new and interesting ways to grow the ProBlogger sites, he’s either bashing up developers or hanging out with the swiftly.com team.

Creating Products Week: The Launch Countdown

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Darren says: It’s been a big week here at ProBlogger as we’ve worked through a series of posts exploring the topic of monetizing blogs through creating products.

I hope you’ve found it helpful and feel equipped to create your next product.

Today in a final instalment from Shayne and myself (we do have one more post in the series tomorrow though), we look at what to do when you’ve finished your product and move into launching it.

Without this final piece to the puzzle, we just have a great product – but nobody ever buys it. I hope you find this useful!

At a recent Problogger Event, I presented a session on how to launch product in the style of a ‘countdown’.

As it’s product week, and you’ve already prepared, picked, and constructed your product, it’s time to launch. So, today I’m sharing the countdown with you.

10. Practice Makes Perfect

I always suggest you do a mini-product launch on someone else’s product as an affiliate before you do your own.

Find a good affiliate product and revolve your practice launch around it.

You’ll learn a lot from doing this including:

  • what strategies are more effective than others
  • how much time you’ll need
  • how responsive your audience is

If you want to be a bit strategic, pick the product of someone who’s experienced and successful with their own launches. Reach out to them and let them know what you plan to do and ask if they have any advice – they’re likely to give you some pointers that you can then fold into your own launch.

Darren says: Shayne is spot on with this tip. In 2009 when I launched my first eBooks I had never launched a product of my own before but thankfully I had already done a number of promotions of other people’s products as an affiliate.

For example: on dPS two months before I launched our first Portrait eBook, I did a campaign for another site’s photography eBook. I chose to promote an eBook on a different topic so as not to cannibalise my own sale. I arranged for a discount for my readers with the other site owner, and then ran a simple two week promotion that went like this:

  • I emailed my list with details of the discount I’d arranged
  • I blogged about the eBook discount (and shared the post on social media)
  • I followed up a few days later with a blog post reviewing the eBook and reminding people about the discount (and shared the review on social media)
  • 48 hours before the discount ran out I emailed my list again letting them know and also sharing the review I’d written

By doing this launch, I made some money from my affiliate commissions – but the real ‘profit’ in the exercise was that I learned more about how to run a launch for my own products.

I learned what marketing worked and didn’t work with my audience, I learned about writing sales copy, I learned a bit about the price point my readers would buy at, etc.


9. Pick a date

You need to set a date and try your best to stick to it.

Pick a date that works for you, but also your readers (think about things like holidays, seasonal activities and events that might take their attention away from your launch). Also, think about the time of day and choose one where most of your readers will be online (we tend to launch as our audience in the US are getting to work).

If you’re someone who needs some accountability for motivation, let you readers know the date ahead of time. This way if you don’t hit it, you’ll be disappointing them as well as yourself!

8. Lock your product down

When you go into launch mode, you need to shut off product creation mode.

Your product is done and finished and cannot change unless something drastic happens.

You need to stick to this, because if you are continually tempted to go back and change your product, your launch will suffer or worse – not ever happen at all.

It’s time to stop thinking about your product and sell what you have.

7. Know your ‘Angle’

With all my launches I like to pick the ‘angle’ I’ll take in my marketing nice and early.

By ‘angle’, I mean the one key point that I will emphasise in marketing the product throughout every part of the campaign.

Your angle should be a benefit (not a feature), and ideally it will encompass your unique selling point that we identified when you first decided to create this particular product.

Darren says: This is something worth spending some time on.

Every time we launch a product, this is one of the key things that Shayne and I debate and experiment with in the lead up to a launch.

Sometimes the angle comes to us really early and easily, but many times it only finally clicks as we start writing our sales copy – and only then after we’ve written a number of versions of it!

One tip that I’ve found helpful when looking for the angle to take is to think about how you can test it with your readers beforehand.

I’ve been known to ask questions on our Facebook page or Twitter to try to get inside the heads of my readers. I’ve also run polls on the blog at times that test two alternative ideas to see what connects most with readers.

Also sometimes the ‘angle’ comes simply by brainstorming with friends. For example when I launched our Travel Photography Ebook, I emailed a few friends for feedback on the sales copy that I’d written. Jonathan Fields came back with the suggestion that I think about that feeling of regret that people get when they come home from a trip and realise their photos don’t live up to the experience they had.

That idea led to the ‘angle’ I was looking for, and ultimately to the line that I used in every piece of marketing ‘Taking a Trip? You’ve Got One Chance To Get Your Pictures Right…’

Angle travel

Once I had the angle sorted, the rest of the sales copy flowed.  At the time, this eBook became the biggest seller we’d ever had.


6. Make a Plan

I’m not a super-detailed planning guy, I like to go with things as they come more often than not. However, I do make exceptions with new product launches.

Detail down all the things you need to do with your launch.

Your emails, your blog post, any advertising you might activate, guest posts you might do on other people’s blogs, affiliate communications, etc.

A launch that goes to plan is a busy time. A launch that hits it out of the park, or doesn’t go well, can be crazy time.

A plan will give you comfort.

Darren says: For me a ‘plan’ comes in two parts. Firstly there’s all the detailed things that need to be done. These logistical things might include setting up the shopping cart, writing sales copy, emailing affiliates, etc.

The other part of it is thinking about the ‘flow’ or ‘sequence’ of marketing communications you want to do.

Thinking ahead of time about the sequence is worth doing because it means you’ll create a launch that takes your readers on a journey and which creates momentum – rather than just sending out random sales communications.

When you do a launch it can be a real buzz and you can easily get very caught up in the moment and start communicating with your readers A LOT – too much, in fact.

Here’s a launch sequence that I put together for the Travel Photography eBook that I mentioned above:

Product launch

This was only my fourth eBook, so the launch was quite simple. We’ve now evolved the process quite a lot, but you can see here that ahead of time I’d planned to take my readers on a bit of a journey.

I started off by surveying/polling my readers about their experiences with travel photography (I did this in a poll in a post in which I hinted there was an eBook on the topic to come). This warmed up my readers and also helped me to get inside their heads on the topic (which helped shape the sales copy).

I then featured two guest posts on the blog from the author of the eBook. This again got my readers thinking about the topic and more familiar with the author.

The launch post and sales email (which went up simultaneously) on the blog gave information on the product and mentioned the fast action special (a discount).

Next they got their normal weekly newsletter – which mentioned the eBook gently.

Through all this time there were a number of social media updates (on launch day there were a few but on other days no more than one a day).

Then I ran an interview with the author as a blog post – again to show who he was and show off some of his photography.

Then was another mention in our newsletter (not a hard sales email).

Then we did a blog post and final email telling readers that there was 48 hours left to take advantage of the early bird special.

This was a three-week launch. Readers got two sales emails and blog posts, but a variety of other less sales content as well.

Our launches today typically go for four weeks now, and we generally email 3-4 times in that period – but again we design the sequence to add value to readers and take readers on a bit of a journey.


5. Ready your Army and your Audience

Before you launch, you should start to get both your audience and your network ready.

You’ve hopefully been building them long before the launch to get them ready for what is to follow.

Give then sneak peeks, play some games, get them excited.

The general rule of thumb is give as much information to get them familiar with the product, but not enough as to allow them to make a decision on if they will buy it or not.

4. Make sure it’s Sellable

I encourage you to make sure your ability to both collect money and fulfil the product is rock-solid.

There is nothing more frustrating to me than having a reader who wants to give me money, and due to a technical break down, can’t. Worse still – they have given me their money and I am not living up to my side of the bargain and delivering the product!

So buy your own product: test it on mobile, on different browsers, and using all the payment options you have available. Involve others in this process too as they might find other issues than you.

3. Activate Tracking

Make sure you can track everything that’s happening on your product pages.

Get Ecommerce tracking enabled in Google Analytics, at a bare minimum.

This will feel like work for no reason at the start, but when you launch, and you’re trying to figure out what’s happening you’ll be glad you did.

You also might want to make sure you can quickly run some a/b tests if you need to change things up and that you can update your sales page at a moment notice.

Your launch will unfold in real time and delays will cost $$.

2. Put the writing on the Wall

Now it’s time to focus on your sales copy.

You’ve got your angle set above and you now need to start pushing that into copy for your sales page, blog posts, emails, affiliate communication, social messaging and advertising.

This is the one thing I’ll allow you to be a perfectionist with. Make sure you spend a good amount of time writing, editing and proofing everything.

Darren Says: While we don’t have the space in this post to go into depth on writing sales copy, Shayne has written a couple of great posts on the topic that I highly recommend you check out:

Also note that Shayne’s Blogger’s Guide to Online Marketing has more information on this topic including a number of sales page templates and example sales copy emails.

My last note on sales copy is that you’ll get better at writing it the more you practice. My first attempts at sales pages were pretty simple and not overly successful. As a result I involved others in the process of editing and shaping them – but in time you DO improve and you also begin to see what readers do and don’t respond to.


1. Get a green light from someone else

When I’m launching, I’ll tend to run someone else through what I’m planning to do for my launch. I get them to eyeball the sales page, do a quick test transaction, and collect feedback along they way. When they say “I think you’re good to go”, that’s when I hit the button.

Blastoff!

It’s time to launch and it’s all happening. You make your sales page live, and it’s all real. I tend to do some mild social sharing first (before sending an email or pushing out a blog post), in hopes of getting that first validating sale through, but once I have that, I pull the trigger on everything else.

Expect a whole raft of emotions, expect a sleepless night before, and a late night on the day. But get ready to have some fun, and of course, a whole heap of sales!

T + 1: Going into orbit

You’ve launched and it’s a great feat but it’s only just the beginning.

You should be thinking in terms of a “launch month”, not just launch day, and have a whole raft of activity planned to support your longer launch.

Darren has shared above some behind-the-scenes activity of a Digital Photography School launch that should give you some insight into what we do.

T + 2: Course Correct if need be

When you launch one of three things is going to happen:

  1. It’s going to go crazily well, and you’ll be over the moon
  2. It’s going to go just as you expected, you stick to the plan, and are happy with the result
  3. It’s going to go horribly wrong, and it’s at this point you need to decide if you should give up, or pivot your launch to a new ‘angle’ to help it get some more cut through with your readers

For #3, I’ve been in both situations where we’ve either stopped a launch in the first week because we’ve missed the mark (and it was never going to change), as well as adjusted the messaging and completely kick started the launch again.

I personally hope it’s #1 for everyone, but if you do find yourself in trouble, you need to be prepared to do something about it.

So that’s my countdown to launch, I hope you enjoyed it as well as all my other posts for launch week

Keep on shipping!

Darren says: There’s nothing like launching a product to give you a roller coaster experience of different emotions and diverse set of challenges and experiences.

I try to go into a launch confident but holding loosely to expectations. The reality is that some work well, others exceed your expectations and others flop.

If you go in holding too tightly to your expectations you could be setting yourself up for a fall and then you’re not in a great place to ‘pivot’ as Shayne suggests.

If things don’t look like they’re going to plan I highly recommend giving things at least a few hours (if not 24 hours) to settle (unless you’ve made some huge mistake that you can fix).

I find giving things 24 hours means you can do some analysis of why things might not be working, some testing of the different elements of your sales process (checking if sales pages are loading, shopping carts are working etc) and also hopefully you’ll get some reader feedback too.

If you don’t get feedback – seek it out. Email some readers, get advice from friends or other trusted bloggers.

The other factor to keep in mind is that once you’ve got your product created you’ve created an income stream that hopefully will grow in time over the long tail. While you may not have had a huge rush of sales at launch hopefully you can continue to see sales for many months and years to come!

Lastly – if your product does go well, this is a great time to start thinking about your next steps (and potentially next products).

Pay particular attention to how your readers are reacting to the product. What do they like that you could perhaps build upon for next time? What do they keep asking for or say is missing that you could do as a followup product or add to it to make it better?

Numerous times we’ve seen something in launching one product that triggers an idea for our next one – so don’t get so immersed in your launch that you lose site of the bigger picture!

Update: Read the Next Post in this series: Making Products Happen: Getting Your Ideas off the Ground

Creating Products Week: How to Create Products for Your Blog

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Darren  says: Today is part 4 in our ‘creating products’ week here at ProBlogger and now that we’ve done a lot of the ground work and decided on what product to create, we’re moving onto the all-important challenge of actually creating the product that we want to sell on our blog.

This is a huge topic and one that we can’t possibly go into great detail on, as it really does depend upon what kind of product you want to make – but below Shayne gives a great insight on how we do it at ProBlogger.

As usual – I’ll chime in with my perspective along the way.

When I suggested this as a post topic to the ProBlogger team for product, I perhaps underestimated the true breadth of what I was saying. The reality is, to give you all the detail you’d need as a blogger to create a product of your own, it would be multiple books’ worth!

So what I’ll do today is give a bit of a behind-the-scenes look at the ProBlogger product-building machine – so you can then adjust what we do for your own specific circumstances.

I’m also going to assume that you’ve read both what to do before you create a product and what product should I create so we can focus purely on the construction side of things.

Think About ‘Selling’ First

When we agree on building a specific product (it might be an eBook, a service (like our SnapnDeals site), a private community (like ProBlogger.com, or even an event), the very first thing we do is: ‘sell it‘.

By ‘sell it’ I don’t mean to our readers, but sell it to ourselves.

This can either be in a team discussion or more formally in what I call a ‘sell sheet‘ – a document that contains all the vital information around the product (drawing on a lot of what you would have done in yesterday’s post).

The reason I like to sell first, build later is sometimes you can get so swept up in the romance of an idea that the practicalities and benefit to your readers get lost in the excitement.

Darren says: Today when we create a product, we go through a more intentional process as a team of ‘selling’ the idea to ourselves as a team.

However, for my first eBooks I didn’t have a team and the ‘sell’ was largely an internal dialogue that I had in my mind.

I remember for my first photography eBook I had three topics that I was considering creating an eBook on. I was tossing up between eBooks on landscapes, portraits ,and something more general on techniques.

I took myself through some of the things that Shayne talked about in yesterday’s post to help me narrow down on the one I’d choose, but also as part of that process, began to think about ‘benefits’ of each eBook and how I’d sell them.

I listed each of these on paper and found by doing so I not only worked out which one I thought we’d sell more of – but by listing how I’d sell the eBook, I was then able to go and write something that would fit those benefits (i.e.: doing this improved the product).

I didn’t know it but in many ways I created the ‘sell sheet’ that Shayne talks about above.

Learn more about how to create a ‘sell sheet’ in this video. It’s a short excerpt of a webinar that Shayne and I ran for ProBlogger.com members last week on the topic of creating and selling eBooks. The full webinar goes into more detail but I thought this little section might help you work out what to put in your sell sheet.


Planning

Once we’ve created our ‘sell sheet’ we lock in a date for launch.

These dates are not just chosen to be when the product is ready – we also take into consideration other factors such as what else that’s happening on the site content wise, what else is happening in the wider business and other seasonal factors. We typcially allow for 4-6 months for creating an eBook and much longer for things like the ProBlogger community.

One of us, depending on the type product we’re developing, will then start to plan out how to create the product.

We don’t over-formalize this process, but rather focus more upon identifying:

  • the key stages of product creation
  • the resources well need
  • the costs we’ll incur

We know that having a plan is important, but also that plans change so we don’t want to be too regimented.

If you’re building your first product, you might not actually know all the different stages. That’s when I’d be going and looking for advice. Find a mentor or mentor group that’s got experiences with these types of products. Pull a favour with someone you know that’s some a similar thing before. Get them to go through all the critical steps and be making lots of notes.

Doing this might create more questions than answers, but a least now you know the questions!

Darren says: Our planning process today is more complex today than when I first started. For example when we create an eBook Jasmin (who manages all the production) will map out key dates and deadlines for all our different processes.

So ahead of time we know when the eBook outline will be completed, when the writing needs to be complete, when the content will be handed over to our designer, when we need to have a title and cover concept finalised, when we need to start creating sales pages, when we need review copies for affiliates, etc.

Having these dates in place even before we start creating the product is really important. We have multiple eBooks at different stages of production at any one time (plus other projects and events on the go) so without timelines like this projects stall.

For my first eBooks, I didn’t have quite so formal a process but I still created a basic timeline and listed out the things I’d need to complete. I also listed the things I’d need to research (eg. shopping carts), the help I’d need to find (a designer) and the skills I’d need to learn that I didn’t yet have (e.g. writing a sales page).

My list was basic and written on a notepad next to my computer. I had to add a lot to it as I went but by at least having something in front of me each day I kept momentum going.


Outlining Your Product

Once you feel comfortable with the plan, it’s time to start outlining your product in more detail.

If it’s an eBook, it will be your table of contents, if it is an e-course outline, the structure and modules, if it’s a community or service, start to map out and wireframe all the different sections and moving parts of the site.

Think of it like drawing up the plans to a house you’re about to build yourself, or hire someone to build it for you.

Now it’s time to build. This is either going to be yourself or you’ll give the green light to someone else.

If it’s yourself, you need to allocate some time. It might be a specific day you allocate, or one hour a morning, or you might be lucky and be able to just bunker down for a few weeks at a time to write.

Figure out an approach that you’re most likely to stick to, and make sure you block out that time in your diary. Once you have done that, it’s up to you to stick to it.

Whilst in creation mode, you should continually check in with your ‘sell sheet’, to make sure you’re still driving towards solving the same problem you set out to, but don’t let it slow your progress. We’ll have time to review later — just keep building and building.

When you get about halfway through the writing or building stages, if you’re anything like me you’ll get a case of the mid-build blues.

You’ll probably start to feel fatigued, disillusioned, distracted, and will wonder if anyone is going to buy what you’re creating.

This is the stage that a lot of great products die – and that’s a real shame.

When you feel those emotions creeping in, I want you to dig deep, find any motivation or inspiration you can, and keep going! Just push to that 60,70, 80% completion mark and you’ll feel closer to the end.

When it’s done you’ll be thankful you did!

From Darren: I won’t lie to you here… some of my least favourite moments in the last 12 years have happened midway through creating products.

The reality is that it is hard work to build something like this, and that to get it done, you need to find a way to focus and be disciplined (something that this blogger with a very short attention span and little will power struggles with).

For me it meant asking those around me to keep me accountable, setting aside time to focus (I’ve been known to lock myself in motel rooms for weekends) and setting myself little rewards for meeting milestones.

The other challenge that I often face mid-product creation is that of fear and doubt. How will people perceive what I’m creating? Will anyone buy it? Is it any good? Am I wasting my time?

I’ve written here about some of how I deal with these fears and doubts.

Lastly, try to keep the WHY of what you’re doing in focus (see yesterday’s post for more on why WHY is so important).


Polish Your Product

Just when you think you are finished… that’s when I can give you the bad news… you’re not!

It’s time to polish.

This is the final 5% that can really make your product stand up.

At this point you need to switch your mind from make mode to review mode, and I’m sure you’ll come up with a few small changes that will make things better.

Involve some of your friends, family or even some of your readers in this review process and you’ll significantly improve your product.

Listen to the feedback you get from and act on what you hear, but be aware that there is a trap.

The key is to remember that you’re ‘polishing’ not ‘perfecting’. There’s no such thing as a perfect product – you need to let that idea go.

There will be always things that you want to change and add to theoretically make things better. It will be never-ending and I can tell you with 100% certainty, you’ll never make a single dollar if you don’t finish your product, so loose ends or not — ALWAYS BE SHIPPING!

Darren says: I think most people fall into one of two categories when they’re at this point.

The first group ‘finish’ creating and never want to look at their product again. The result is they do little reviewing/polishing and ship products that could be better.

The second group spend so much time polishing and perfecting that they either don’t ship anything because the product is never ready or they end up with a product that is over engineered.

Identifying ahead of time which group you’re in and coming up with strategies to combat your weakness is important.

If you’re in the first group (like me) involving others in the review and polish can be helpful. Also blocking out time for this important task is important before you rush off to your next idea.

If you’re in the second group setting a deadline for shipping can be important too. There has to be a point where you stop!

My last advice for this stage is to echo what Shayne says about involving others. If you’ve authored your product yourself you are probably too close to it to be objective and will miss obvious errors and deficiencies – so whether it is by paying others for editing/proof reading or by giving a small group of readers free access in return for feedback – get others’ feedback before you launch your product.


Outsourcing

A special note for those using suppliers to create your product: for a lot of you, the biggest resource you’ll use will be yourself. However, technical services you might create, or online courses and communities, might involve a wider team.

Your choices on who works on your project can have a huge bearing on the end result. Don’t just pick someone at random, or the cheapest resource you can find.

Make sure they understand exactly what you are trying to achieve, make sure they have the skills and experience to deliver what you want, and make sure they have the commitment to see it to the end.

At the end of the day it’s your name attached to the product not theirs, so choosing the right person is so important.

Be Proud

Above all – be proud of what you create.

Even if the product isn’t as commercially successfully as you hoped it to be know that by creating it you’ve achieved something only a small number of people will in their lives.

For that, you get a hat tip from me!

Creating Products Week: Which Product Should I Create?

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Darren says: Today Shayne Tilley continues our series on creating products for your blog by examining the important question of “what product should you create?”

This is a question I know many ProBlogger readers are pondering because I get asked it many times.

  • “Should I create an eBook, a course, a membership area or something else?”
  • “What topic should I create a product around?”

If you’re asking questions like these – Shayne’s advice in this post is for you.

As I did in yesterday’s post – I’m going to chime in with my perspective too.

Maybe it’s just me, but my take on this question is the second-biggest decision you’ll make as a blogger. Second only to “what should I blog about?”. So if you’ve been stressing about the answer – congratulations, you’re normal!

Whilst I’ve been involved with hundreds of products in my career, it’s still something I debate in my own head and with those whom I work. It’s a debate well worth having.

In this post I’m going to share with you the process I go through when answering this question, whether it be in my head or with others.

This process is a culmination of both my personal experiences and my learnings from amazing entrepreneurs such as Darren, Matt Mickiewich, Mark Harbottle, and others you’ve probably never heard of.

I’ll in no way say this is a process that guarantees success, but hopefully it gives you a way forward as you answer this question yourself. Just keep in mind that every blogger has different circumstances, audiences, topics, and goals – and at the end of the day you’ll need to answer the question for yourself.

So let’s get started.

Not What… But Why

The first thing we are going to do is not decide what we’re going to build, but instead we’re going to define why – and it’s a two-part why.

Your Why

The first is answering why YOU want to create this product.

What is your motivation?

The answer can be money and for a lot of you it will be, but it needs to run deeper.

The motivation for money, and at this stage theoretical money, will lessen as you are working on your product at 2am on a Sunday.  When you realise that it’s going to take twice as long and cost twice as much as you thought starting out, there needs to be more of an incentive.

I really encourage you to watch Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle video to understand exactly what that means.

Let me share what I mean with a simple illustration.

Question: Why am I writing this post on a sunny Saturday afternoon and not outside doing something else?

Answer: Because the thought that this post could inspire someone to create their own great product in some small way that might change the trajectory of their live in a positive way forever, is much more rewarding to me than anything I could be doing outside.

So I write…

I want you to be able to in some way be able to describe in someway your own personal why.

Darren says: It’s been a while since I watched that Simon Sinek video – thanks for the nudge to do so again Shayne, it was a great reminder to do a little self analysis of my own ‘why’.

A personal example: Five years ago when we started the Australian ProBlogger event, I did so with a very clear ‘why’. I wanted to encourage, inspire and equip Aussie bloggers to do amazing things with their blogs.

I’ve told the story numerous times so won’t rehash it here – but my goal with the event was pretty single-minded and profit was the last thing on my mind. My vision was pretty clear and so when I began to share that dream with a few others, I was able to quickly communicate it. I found that in doing so, the idea caught hold of others.

I really believe that knowing the ‘why’ helped us create an event that has grown each year. 

Knowing the why keeps driving me forward (even when it gets tough). 

Knowing the why has helped me attract a core team together who work for the same purpose.

Knowing the why has helped us communicate what the event is about to attendees.

Knowing the why shapes the ‘what’ of what we actually DO at the event.

Your Customer’s Why

The second “why” you’ll want to think through is: why would your customers buy your product? Ask that with supplementary questions of who are they, and what are their problems?

And it’s time to pull out the pen and paper, or the spreadsheet.

What are the problems your readers have?

I want you to list as many of the problems your readers have as you possibly can.

In yesterday’s post I shared with you the necessity to understand your readers, and this is where the benefits of that start to play out.

Don’t leap to the solution. I repeat: don’t leap to the solution.

At this stage you are just researching, not creating path of action.  We will get to that, I promise.

List all your readers’ problems, big and small.

For example for a blog about lawns (a silly example for illustrative purposes):

My readers all have lawns, they are all proud of their lawns. Which is not a surprise as that’s what I blog about. With spring on the way, without some care and attention, these lawns are going to get out of control very quickly. When I surveyed my readers, lawn mowing was their number-one concern.

Problem:  My lawn needs to be mown so I can still be proud of it.

The readers of the lawn lovers blog probably have some others.

- I need to get rid of weeds

- I need to keep my lawn vibrant and healthy

- I want to have a lawn, but not sure where to start

You should, with a little effort, be able to come up with more than 20 problems your readers have. There’s never been a blog I haven’t been able to identify a lot more for.

When you are thinking about problems, it’s often easy to focus on the practical, or ‘issues’ your readers have. But don’t forget that people also like to be entertained (their problem might be being bored). They like listing to stories and admiring creativity (their problem might be that they lack inspiration).

From Darren: One of the key teaching points in many of the keynotes that I deliver is to become hyper-aware of problems (both your own and those of others). I truly believe that this awareness of the problems of others puts you in the perfect position to serve others, and create the #1 ingredient to a successful business – usefulness.

I’ve previously suggested 11 ways to identify reader problems in this post in the ProBlogger archives

Not only will these methods help you create product ideas but also they’ll help you come up with blog post ideas too!

Solutions

So now we’ve got problems, let’s see if we can solve them!

The next step is to think about possible solutions that might exist for each of those problems. Let’s go with the lawm mowing problem.

Solution: I can mow my own lawn

Solution: I can get someone else to mow my lawn

Both are viable and both would solve the problem 100%. There is always multiple solutions to the same problem, you just need to think it through.

We’ve solved it! Or have we?

So we’ve got a couple of solutions to the great lawn mowing problem of my readers. This is essentially a DIY or done-for-you.  From that, we then identify some of the barriers to activating the DIY solution.

Barrier: I don’t own a lawn mower

Barrier: I don’t know how to use a lawn mower

Barrier: I have a lawn mower, but it’s broken

Okay, now your probably starting to see product opportunities.  What could I do to remove those barriers to the DIY lawn mower problem. Let’s go with the I don’t own a lawn mower.  Another problem!

Solution: Well, you could buy one!

Barrier: I don’t know which one to buy

Barrier: I don’t know where I can buy one

Barrier: I don’t have any money

Keep going…

Problem: I don’t know which one to buy

Solution: A guide, some advice or training one how to buy a lawn mower.

We have a product idea!

So then it’s simple. Rinse and repeate.

What you have done is taken the problems of your readers, drilled them down into smaller ones by understanding barriers, and then drilling them down until we have a narrow and very specific potential solution to the problem.

I’ve on purpose solved my problem with an educational outcome, however some will be action-based (for example: another solution might be to sell them a lawnmower), some will be service-based (for example: a directory of lawn mowing services) and some will be training- and educational-based.

Regardless of the type, they will be all required and valued by someone.

Take each problem in your list and begin to drill down to find solutions by identifying barriers and smaller problems until you have a list of product ideas.

At this stage you’ll have a long list of potential products. When you actually look at this on paper (or spreadsheet), is it any wonder you were not sure which product to build?

Darren says: I hope you see some of the power of this technique. Rather than simply trying to brainstorm product ideas, what Shayne is suggesting is much more about coming at product ideas from the perspective of your potential customer.

Brainstorming their problems in this way will not only help you to come up with a product idea (it should probably help you come up with several viable ones), but by doing this you’ll also be in a much better position to write and launch that product also as you’ll have a better understanding of what questions the product should answer and what will motivate people to buy it!

Cull and Focus

It’s now time to cull and focus.

You can now grab the red pen, or be at the ready on the delete key, and start working from the top, removing any products that are simply not possible, or not something you are interested in doing.

For example, as a blogger you’re probably not interested in selling mowers directly, so that’s gone.

You will find, if you’ve spent time on the above exercise, that you’ll strike through a lot , if not a majority of the solutions. That’s okay, but don’t delete them, put them on the someday/maybe pile because when you are thinking about your next product your circumstances might have changed.

Let’s assume that you’ve got three legitimate product ideas. For this little lawn blogger, it’s all the information products.

  1. Information and training on how to buy a mower
  2. Information on how to keep my mower in tip-top shape
  3. Information on how to use a lawn mower effectively

Our next step is to look at the potential and viability of each of those products – we can do that a few ways.

How many?

You need to determine (and a best guess is okay) how many people would want these products?

You won’t sell it to all of them, but you use it as a comparison.  We know that only people wanting to buy a mower might want training on how to buy one, people with a mower and people buying one might want to know how to maintain it, as well as how to use it.

So we know, that there is a bigger market for products 2 and 3.

How much?

The counterbalance to this is: what value do people put on you solving that problem for them (thus how much are they willing to pay you)?

If you are about to buy a mower, you are about to spend a lot of money, so your readers might put a higher value on that.  Where as using a mower is pretty easy to figure out so not a great value is put on solving that.

Take the market size and multiple it buy the value, and you’ll have a total potential value on each of those products and rank them in order.

Let’s say for our little mowing project it’s now

  1. Information on how to use a lawn mower
  2. Information and training on how to buy a mower
  3. Information on how to keep my mower in tip top shape
Darren says: Feeling like you need to mow your lawn yet? I do!

My key advice on this ‘culling of ideas’ section is that doing this exercise the first time is usually the hardest. By doing this work now you’ll hopefully come up with multiple ideas that could well set your product creation strategy for the next year or so.

You’ll also find that by doing this process once fully the first time that you’ll find it actually becomes more intuitive and a natural part of your business. 

As you become used to doing this analysis, you’ll start to get more of a gut feel as to which type of products will work and which wont with your audience.

Analyse the Competition

We now know that our ‘how to use a lawn mower product’ is viable – now it’s time to look sideways at our competition.

For our lawn mowing example, we should now start looking at the products that exist that teach people how to use a lawn mower.

Take note of these product’s features, format, benefits, cost, size everything you can about them.

If there is no competition for the project, great!  It’s unlikely, but you’ve got a real opportunity on your hands.

If there is competition for each of your product ideas, starting at your number-one product, start detailing why your product would be unique.

Simply answer the “I would buy my product over theirs because ….“.

One of three things will happen:

  1. You can’t define anything to distinguish your product. In this case you probably need to move on.
  2. You have a unique point of difference, but it’s not a strong one.  You probably need to move on.
  3. You’ll have a unique approach to this product that people will love.

We are close to having a decision on a product.  We now just need to define it a little more.

The only remaining products in our lawn moving project is:

  1. Information and training on how to buy a mower

Form and Features

The final step is to define what form and features this product will have.

With information and training it can be:

  • Digital (eBook, video series, blended course, content)
  • Physical (book, training manual, dvd)
  • Face-to-face (training program)

Defining this part is tricky, as it’s going to come down to what your reader prefers, what you are able to deliver, and what might already exist in the market.

As a result it’s very much a question answered by the words ‘it depends’, and the answer will be different for each person reading this article.

The Pros and Cons of eBooks, Video and Courses

I do know a lot of ProBlogger readers will be unsure from a digital information product standpoint what approach to take, so let me share my perspective on that.

 1. eBooks

Pros:

  • Cheapest
  • Quick to market
  • Simple delivery and formatting
  • No huge technology burdens
  • Easy to sell yourself of leverage open marketplaces
  • Easy to update
  • -Online or offline

Cons:

  • Limited on price
  • Some things are hard to teach in pictures and words
  • Not everyone is a reader
  • Very easy to be shared and harder to control copyright wise

 2. Video or video series

Pros

  • Modern and very visual (you can show and tell)
  • Great for those that are not writers
  • Tools these days are making production much easier
  • A much more personal experience
  • Online or off-line

Cons

  • Fulfilment overheads and technical challenges
  • Harder to update an maintain content
  • Not all of your readers can deal with the technology (yet)
  • You’ll need gear and software (and knowhow) to make it stand out

 3. Courses

Pros

  • Best of both wolds – words, pictures and videos when needed
  • Two way communitation – Q&A’s forums etc
  • Emerging open marketplaces
  • Seems to be the way of the future

Cons

  • Biggest initial setup time requirement
  • Fulfilment overheads and technical challenges
  • Harder to update an maintain content
  • Not everyone can deal with the technology (yet)
  • You’ll need gear and software (and knowhow) to make it stand out
  • Difficult to run on autopilot (you need to be involved ongoing).

Again, let me be clear there is no blanket right or wrong choice with this. It’s about making a decision that you are comfortable with.

Darren says: obviously I’ve focused most of my efforts on eBooks over the past few years. My reasoning for doing so at the time was partly that it was the most achievable for me to create an eBook, but also that at the time (five years ago) I felt that it was probably the most accessible format for most of my readers at Digital Photography School.

I would advise that if you’re creating your first product that you don’t bite off more than you can chew. Unless you’ve got some cash to splash on getting lots of help to create your product, beginning with something achievable is probably the best starting place.

The Takeaway:

Reading through this post might feel quite intense and perhaps a little over-the-top for a little product creation project.

But when I put it in these simple steps I hope it doesn’t seem that way.

  1. Define your own motives for creating a product
  2. Define your customers and the problems they have
  3. Define solutions for those problems
  4. Define your unique point of difference in the market
  5. Discover if the size of the market will make it worth the investment
  6. Define what form your product will take

See it’s not that hard!

Final Thoughts on Choosing Which Product to Create:

A few final thoughts before we move onto actually building your product (which we’ll cover tomorrow):

The product that delivers to its promise wins, not the one with the most features.

You don’t need to be first to market to own it. Google wasn’t the first search engine on the internet, but it was the best.

If you believe in more than just the money, it will carry you much further.

What worked for them won’t always be the thing that works for you.

Products that teach you how to create products that teach others how to create products … is not a product.

Don’t always think as a blogger you need to create information products. Services and tools can be much more valuable over a longer term that books eBooks and courses.

That’s it for today! Tomorrow we get to build some stuff.

UPDATE: Read the next post in this series -> How to Create Products for Your Blog.

Creating Products Week: Before You Even Think About Creating Products, Think About This

Theme Week (1)

Darren Says: Today were continuing our creating productsweek here at ProBlogger by looking at some of the areas of groundwork you might need to do before or while creating a product. Our Marketing/Product Guru Shaynes written this post but Ill chime in along the way with some thoughts too.Over to you, Shayne.

As you explore your different monetization options as a blogger, products will no doubt come on the agenda. We’ve shared lots of stories here on ProBlogger about how products have really transformed all our blogs.Whilst these sorts of stories are encouraging, inspiring, and motivating, the truth is that a lot of work went in long before we launched our first product, which played a significant role in their success.Today I want to share with you some of the things you should be doing right now, before you even begin to think about what product you should create, that will help set you up for the sorts of results we’ve seen here on ProBlogger and dPS.

Pre-Product Idea:

1. Get the momentum moving in the right direction

If you’re thinking about creating a product because your traffic and readership has stalled, or even heading in the southerly direction, then it’s probably the wrong time to be launching new products. There are exceptions to this, but for information products (eBooks/courses), it’s important to have some momentum on your blog.

Products are great at capitalizing and helping build momentum – but they’re not usually great for creating momentum from a standing start. This is particularly important for bloggers, as visitors and engagement are the lifeblood of your blog.

Don’t get confused between a stall in revenue to that of visitors and engagement, as changes to earnings might not be linked to the true health and sentiment towards your blog.

If you’re not seeing upward pointing analytics graphs, even moderate ones, then focus on turning that around before you start creating new products.

Darren says: One of the keys to the success of my first eBook – 31 Days to Build a Better Blog – was that the launch came off the back of doing a month-long series of posts on the same topic as the eBook. While it might seem strange that an eBook that was largely repurposed recent blog posts sold so well when they’d all just been on the blog, it was that month of posts and interaction with readers that generated a lot of momentum. Readers had just received 31 posts of high value, there was lots of goodwill and community on the site, and I think the healthy sales reflected this.

2. Create fans as well as readers

I’ve worked with sites that receive millions upon millions of visitors every month, have email lists in the hundreds of thousands, and massive social media followings.

But that doesn’t mean they’ll sell more products than someone with an audience size only 10% of the big guys’.  Why is this? It is because engagement and trust play a massive role in the decision making process of someone buying your product.

If the majority of your readership arrives, looks at your post and then heads off somewhere else, then chances are  good they are going to ignore you when you launch your product, and an advertising strategy might be better for you.

If you’ve got real fans who will not only listen to what you are offering, but also share it with others, then you are in good shape for launch.

So if you want to launch product, make sure you have your own share of fans.

I would recommend you looking at 31 Days to Build a Better Blog for some insight on how you can transform the relationship you have with your audience –  there are some great community-building exercises you can implement right away.

Darren says: Have you ever pre-ordered a book, music, or product without actually having it in your hands to see if it is something you’d really like? If you have, it is more often than not the result of you being a fanboy/girl of a brand or person.I’ve had this same experience with our eBooks where people have told me that they’ve bought them without a great deal of thought because they trusted me or had been helped by me in the past. Creating this ‘fan-like’ connection takes time. It also is usually the result of consistently helping readers in some tangible way. Be generous, genuine, and always put your readers first.

3.  Build your list 

Now this should just go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. You need to build your list.

You need to build an email list and serve those who subscribe to it well so when it comes time to launch your product then they’ll actually read your email.  You need to build your social lists, so your followers/fans on social will take notice.  Again it’s not the number that counts, rather it is how they feel about you.

A list will give you the biggest leg up (aside from a several-million-dollar marketing budget) when your announce your new product to the world.

You probably should have started this a long time ago, so if you’re still sitting on the fence, then hop to it!

Darren says: I can’t echo Shayne’s thoughts enough on this point. Last time I did the analysis of where sales of our eBooks came from I found that more than 90% of our sales came from emails that we sent to our readers.Please digest that.If we didn’t have an email list our sales would be 10% of what they are. 

While I totally get all the excuses people give for not building and being useful with an email list (it takes work, it is a slow build, it feels like ‘old technology’), the reality is that if you’re not using it, you’re going to be leaving sales on the table.

Read more about how I use email newsletters to drive traffic and make money

4.  Extend your network

I’m the type of person that goes to a conference and sits in the corner listening, but with the shield of protection that is “me playing with my phone” always up.

I wish it wasn’t the case, as when it comes to launching your product, you need a network.

You need people you can go to for help and advice with your product, you need people with an audience to help launch your product, you need people to help with any media strategy with your launch.

So summon the courage to  meet some new people and extend your network as far as you can.  I know it’s hard, but it helps and is worth the effort.

Darren says: If you’re anything like me you’re probably hyperventilating a little after Shayne telling you to get out of your comfort zone like this. I’m an introvert and self promotion and networking does not come easy to me – but he’s right.Luckily for us shy types this doesn’t have to mean lots of face-to-face meetings and phone calls (although they can help) but can be achieved with email, social media and other internet technologies. The key is to put yourself out there and get to know others in your niche.

5. Earn a reputation 

I’m not talking here about a bad reputation, I’m talking here about being known for something – and in the context of what you are sharing on your blog.

You could be known as the person that tells it how it is, as the experimenter, the crash test dummy, as you the sympathetic ear, as the angry man, etc.

You can also have a reputation for sitting on one side of the fence. The Apple guy, the Canon chick, and so on.

I don’t care what it is, but ensure you are known for something beyond your name and the name of your blog, as it will make people excited that your product is not just another puff piece, it’s been created by the ultimate person so it’s gotta be good!

Darren says: the power of this one surprised me a little. When Chris Garrett and I authored the first edition of the ProBlogger hard cover book back in 2008, I noticed a strange trend.  When people reviewed it, the most common word that people used to describe me was ‘nice’. Time and time again reviews mentioned that I was one of the ‘nicest bloggers’ going around.At first I wasn’t so sure about it – don’t nice guys always finish last? – but I realised that it had actually become part of my brand and as Shayne says – it was what I was known for.

6. Research and learn

You will learn a lot by doing, I assure you of that. More importantly, what you’ll learn are the nuances of your particular product and audience.

Before you start your product journey, start first by looking at your competitors. What products  they have, how they launched them, how are they priced, how well they do they seem to sell?

Keep reading blogs like ProBlogger so you can follow stories about the launch, or join a community like ours so you can ask questions in a private environment.

Spend a month or two ensuring you’re smarter than anyone else when it comes to products and launches.

Don’t just make it all up as you go along!  (just bits of it…)

Darren says: This was an area I didn’t pay a heap of attention to with my first couple of eBook launches. It was partly that there were not many others doing eBooks in my niches at the time, but also partly because the actual product creation process was quite overwhelming.However, I think I’d have probably launched my first eBooks differently by spending a little more time in research mode. The key for me here is not to copy what others are doing but to learn from it, and also look for opportunities to differentiate yourself from the field.For example – is everyone in your niche doing short and lightweight $5 eBooks? Maybe there’s an opportunity to become known as blogger who does more in-depth premium quality eBooks or even courses?

7. Define your REAL strengths and weaknesses

As I get older this seems to get easier, but as a bulletproof teenager I thought I could do anything and if I admitted a weakness it was just giving my competition something to  prey on!

But by understanding and admitting what your real strengths are, you are able to focus and unleash them in your products. Knowing your weaknesses means you know what you can’t offer and what you might need to get help on so they don’t hold you back.

If technology is not a strength, get help or partner with someone who is. If you are more of a visionary sort than someone with attention to detail, then make sure you have checks and balances in place to deal with that.

Don’t live in denial about what you’re good and bad at.  If you do, it will show in your product and the people that might buy it.

Darren says: For me this has two levels to it – both as a product creator and in the launching on it.Firstly – when I wrote my first photography eBook I did so feeling acutely aware that I was not a professional photographer. I’ve always been an avid amateur photographer and know enough to help beginners but in writing that first eBook wanted to beef it up a little. As a result I had a pro photographer give it a technical edit to add a little depth to it, but also commissioned a chapter of it to be written by a more technical writer. I also added a section with interviews from pro photographers. By doing all of this, I felt I produced a much more helpful product.

Secondly – when it came to launching my first products, I was very aware that I’d never done such a launch before. I knew nothing about shopping carts, creating sales pages, merchant facilities, affiliate programs, etc.

As a result, I sought the advice of numerous people to help me get my first launches right. Shayne was one of those who helped me particularly with sales page and sales emails but there were others who helped along the way too (for example it was Brian Clark from Copyblogger who helped me name my first photography eBook).

By seeking the advice of others, I know for a fact that my eBooks sold more copies. I also learned a lot so that when my next launches came I was more confident and had more skills to bring.

8. Understand your readers

You might thing you know your readers pretty well based on your interactions on social media, or the comments they may leave, but I challenge you to go a little deeper.  For every comment you get on your posts, there are 100 or 1000 people who are reading and not saying anything.  It’s a great assumption to make that they think in the same way as the commenter.

I encourage you to reach out and understand your readers even more. Survey as many as you can and ask them to tell you a little more about themselves. Pick some at random and have a conversation with them. I guarantee the results will surprise you.

There’s more than one reason to go this extra step. Having this deeper insight into your readers not only gives you a much better platform to decide on which product to create, it also gives you some clarity around what you should be posting about as well.

Darren says: The more you know your readers, the better position you’ll be in to create products that they actually want and need. You’ll choose better topics, create the right type of products, price them better, market them better and all in all everyone will be better off (both you and your reader).Further reading: how to create a reader profile (and why they’re important), and why knowing your readers is incredibly powerful

9. Think about the consequences

Creating a product is not easy. It’s just not. They all take time, they create emotional stress, and most of them take money (even small amounts).

Even sites like SnapnDeals, that we started in a weekend, is still something we put work into every week.

You will read all about the upside, the money, the stardom from people and their their products, but you’ll hear very little about the blood sweat and tears that went into them.  If you’re not ready to put the effort in then do something else until you are.

When you’re ready to commit to the work, then you’re ready to start creating products.

It’s just a matter now of which one! But you’ll have to wait to find out about that until tomorrow :)

Darren says: Don’t underestimate the work that will be involved in creating a product for your blog. Like Shayne says – it’ll take a lot of work. My advice is to try to block out time to do it.For some people that means blocking out a little time each day until it’s done (that’s how I did my first eBooks), but for others it may mean blocking out larger slabs of time to knock off a lot at once (for example with the writing of my hard cover book I locked myself in a motel room for three days to get one of the bigger sections complete). Don’t underestimate the work…however… don’t underestimate the upsides either. 

Having a product to sell gives you something that has the potential to add a whole new income stream for your business – indefinitely.

Also – if you never try… you’ll never know.

UPDATE: Read the next post in this series -> Which Product Should I Create?.

The ProBlogger Infinite Scroller WordPress Plugin

Last week we made out first plugin available on the ProBlogger Community: an Infinite Scroll Wordpess Plugin. It’s a plugin we’ve been using on Digital Photography School since we redesigned it late last year.

With each of these plugins we release we want to share why we’re using it on our own sites, and also give you some options on how you can the techniques yourself (community member or not).

The infinite scroll plugin is does one very simple task: as you reach the bottom of a page (typically an archive of posts), it will automatically load in some additional posts. Once you get to the end of the new list, it will load more until you run out of posts.

For a demo, scroll to the bottom of this page on dPS. If you want a super crazy version check out the front page of mashable.com

With an infinite scroll, you’re essentially doing away with the need for ‘pagination’ which are those “next page” and numbered buttons you often come across. Sites like Google Image Search, Facebook, and Pinterest all use this infinite scroll technique.

It’s something that has actually been around for quite a while, and I’m often surprised it’s not as widespread as perhaps it should be. This is because are both downsides and upsides for a plugin like this.

The upside:

  • When a user is browsing a list of posts it can be bringing in new posts without the user need to click (or think).
  • It’s a quicker to show new content (the user doesn’t have to load a whole new page).
  • It’s more friendly for touch devices (tablets and phones) as you’re not asking your readers to zoom and touch those tiny numbers.

To put is simply: your helping expose more of your content to users for less work.

The downside:

  • People can’t get to your footer unless its sticky (or you run out of posts)
  • With an endless stream of posts there is no point of reference for people to go back to: “I remember seeing that on page X”.
  • If it’s not backwards-compatible (ours is) it will affect how your site gets indexed by search engines.

Over the last few years there have been a number of very detailed reviews by user-experience experts about the pros and cons of the infinite scroll. Of course with varying opinions.

At the end of the day you’ll just need to make the choice yourself!

So how do you add and infinite scroll on your WordPress blog?

Obviously if you’re a member of the ProBlogger Community you’ll get free access to our infinite scroller. One of the handy features of ours, that I’ve not seen any others, is the ability to include infinite scroll of related posts at the end of a actual blog post, not just an archive page (see the video at the end for a demo).

There is an infinite scrolling plugin in the wordpress plugin directory that looks like it was updated only a month or so ago with some nice features.

If you’re using a theme from WordPress, some of them actually have the infinite scroll built in.

Of course if you are a developer of have access to one, they can make one for you too!

Here’s a demo of our scrolled that will give you a better idea of how to set it up and how it works.

This is just a first of a many of plugins we’ll be releasing over on ProBlogger.com. If you’ve not signed up yet, we’d love to see you there!

Any if you’ve got any questions or experiances with this approach I’d love to hear them in the comments too.

All You Need to Know About Using Exclusivity for Better Product Launches

This is a contribution by our very own Shayne Tilley.

Image by Flickr user EricaStLeonards

Image by Flickr user EricaStLeonards

Launching products and campaigning can be fast-moving and complex beasts. There are so many layers, and even the best-laid plans can be scrapped in an instant as it all goes amazing well, or horrifically wrong…

Two promotional tactics we use in our product launches and special campaigns on both ProBlogger and Digital Photography School are the notion of “exclusivity“, and “limiting factors“.

I thought today I’d share with you the how and why of this approach, and what we’ve learned along the way.

So what do I mean by “exclusivity” and “limits” in the context of a launch or promotion?

Exclusivity:

Exclusivity is about creating a proposition that will not be available to the general public. It’s an offer specifically for you, because you meet some sort of criteria. It might be because you’re an existing customer. It might be because you showed early interest in a product. It might be because you are a newsletter subscriber, or a member of a community. It can be anything as long as you can define it.

By me giving you this offer I’m making you feel special. You’re acknowledged and rewarded and hopefully rightly so! This can then drive two responses:

1. the “nah-nah-na-na-nah!” response

We like to brag. Sometimes it’s about how much we paid for something, sometimes it’s about how little we did. When I make you this exclusive offer, it means when you take advantage of it, you’ll have something the chump next to you paid way more for and it’s only because you were you. It’s like winning without having to even play the game! Of course you’ll head to the checkout.

2. the IOU response

By giving you this exclusive offer you immediately think that you owe me something. I’ve taken the time to create this special offer and reward you for some reason. That I value you so much I’m willing to give you something that no-one else can have. The only way you can pay me back is take up the honour in which I bestowed upon you and head to that checkout.

An example we’ve used recently on ProBlogger.com:

We soft-launched the new ProBlogger Community in the last couple of weeks, and before making it available to all, we exclusively launched it to existing members first. We provided with exclusivity in two ways: offering members the chance get into the community early and establish themselves in addition to receiving a great price as a foundation member of the site. Why? Because no matter how great the content and site technology is, it’s the people there that make it special — and we wanted to ensure our loyal problogger.com members were part of the new site. A real win-win situation.

This idea of exclusivity has been one the tech start-up community has really embraced. Take Pinterest for example: it had an ‘invite-only’ sign up process for some time. You had to request access, and when you were given it, (because you’d been ‘approved’ by them), you are much more likely to actually use the service. There are secret back-door and referral systems built-in to make you feel even more special.  Whilst you’ll see what sound like legitimate reasons for this, trust me –  it’s a marketing tactic. One that’s designed to create an emotional debt with the product, person, or service you are using. Which makes you more likely to stick around.

And it’s quite effective.

Limited:

When limiting your campaigns, you are communicating some sort of restrictive factor. It might be stock, it might be seats, or it could be time.  By doing this, you are creating a sense of urgency. A sense that “if I don’t act now, I might miss out“. These responses are driven by our past – we’ve all missed out on something because we waited too long, and it made us feel bad.  It’s the desire you have to avoid that negative emotional trigger I’m pulling by limiting an offer in some way.

How we use this on Digital Photography School:

Every single new product launch we run will have a limit. For the most part, it’s in the form of an earlybird special. For a time-limited period, readers will receive a special discount, or a special bonus for a few weeks. Over the launch period, we up the focus on this to increase the urgency.  The first week we’ll focus on the product or offer and just mention that it’s Time-Limited.  The next week, we will announce the cut-off date with a little more prominence, and the final email we’ll send 48 hours before that date will be the core message of the product.

With this urgency we often see more sales on the last day than we did when we first announced the product. This of course goes up a new gear when we run our 12 days of Christmas Campaign, where each deal only lasts 12 hours.

It’s not about making the sale, it’s about closing it.

With both of these techniques, it’s not about making the sale. Your products benefit and the offer still needs to do that too (sorry). What limits and exclusivity will do is just give the potential customer that little extra nudge to head on through the sale process.

Digital vs Actual

These techniques have been around longer than the internet, and digital content is actually just an adaptation of what retail stores mastered a long time ago. If you’re selling a digital product, such as a book or a video course, then as long as there’s power you have an infinite amount of stock.  However if you have a service, or a course, or a physical product, you don’t just have time up your sleeve to use as a sales technique – you also have ‘While stocks last’ – just as powerful, maybe even more!

The ProBlogger team recently witnessed action that a stock/seat limitation can create. After putting a limited number of tickets (450) on sale for this years ProBlogger Event, within minutes, half of them had sold.  That creates a bigger, more urgent call-to-action, as people realised they only had a short time to make a call to attend or not. If they waited they’d miss out!

… and it snowballed.

This accumulation of momentum resulted in all tickets being sold out in 6 hours and a re-engineering of the event set-up for us to allow another 100 people to attend. Which sold out quickly again!

Time and its subtleties

If you can’t use stock as a limiting factor, then time will be your best friend – just like it is on Digital Photography School.

With time there are some subtleties in language you need to take into account.

Ends in two weeks‘ is much stronger than ‘soon

7 days only‘ is much stronger that ‘next week

In the next 48 hours‘ is stronger than ‘In the next two days‘.

When putting your copy and messaging together, you need to think about which time terms feel closer; and ensure that you are giving specific time periods rather than just writing generic terms like ‘soon’. As I mentioned earlier, we tend to get more specific and forthright as we get closer to the end.

Be prepared to shift gears

In your campaign and launch planning, you’ll have a nice start and end time for your offer. You’ll communicate that clearly as suggested above, but you also might find yourself in the situation where you need to change things up.  We’ve done so a few times when:

  • Our readers demand it: Because you have a limit and things change back to normal after it’s reached, some people will miss out.  If you have enough of them you might, ‘by popular demand’, bring it back if possible for a little while longer.
  • Because something broke: If something goes wrong, your website might crash – or in the case of us in the last product launch on dPS, our email provider went down – you’ll have people that missed out through no fault of their own.  In this case you’ll have little choice but to extend the sale for those that missed out.

Truth is better than fiction

These techniques are powerful motivators, and you might be tempted to ‘manufacture’ them. Which is essentially lying to your readers.  Now I can’t stop you doing that, but in the interests of a long-term relationship with your customers, truth is much better than fiction.

If you never intended to raise your early-bird price don’t call it an early-bird offer. If you’re thinking about putting up an out-of-stock sign on your product with a warehouse full of them, just don’t.

Eventually, people will figure it out.

When we put 450 tickets up for the ProBlogger event, we only ever intended to sell 450. As a result of what we witnessed, we were fortunately able to react quickly and find room for some more.  It’s that authenticity that help build the demand in the first place, and lying will break that over time.

So that’s my take on exclusivity and limits, and how we use there here at ProBlogger and Digital Photography School. I’d love to hear if you’ve used these on your own blog and how it went.

Shayne Tilley is the marketing guy for ProBlogger.net and Digital Photography School.  The author of the PB Guide to Online Marketing and a long time contributor to the blog.  When he’s not thinking of new and interesting ways to grow the ProBlogger sites, he’s either bashing up developers or hanging out with the swiftly.com team.

30 Lessons from Selling $30 Million Worth of eBooks

This is a guest contribution from our very own Shayne Tilley.

class snapshots

Before you hit me up for a loan, let me preface this post. That number represents eBooks sold in for various masters and partners in the last decade. Yes there are a couple of mine in there, but it’s a tiny fraction of a % of the total.

Okay, with that out of the way, a big part of my digital life has revolved around eBooks. I’ve been trying to sell eBooks before anyone really knew what they were. I’ve tried just about every approach, channel, launch strategy there is, and made pretty much every mistake in the eBook. I’ll admit, a lot of the time I was making it up as I went along. There were no rules to this eBook game.

If you’re about to start your own journey with eBooks here are 30 lessons I learnt along the way…

1. Good eBooks sell eBooks

When it comes to selling eBooks, there are lots of techniques and tactics that will people motivated to buy, but there is none more powerful that a great eBook.

True word of mouth will sell more copies than your marketing copy ever will.

2. Page count doesn’t matter (when it comes to pricing)

People are happy to spend a $100 on an eBook that solves a problem they put a high value on. Higher than the eBook price anyway. The length of your eBook should be as long at it needs to be to deliver the value you promise.

Don’t pad for price.

3. Some people are great at explaining things, some are not

I read and listen to people like Darren and my friend Kevin Yank and I know they are better at explaining things than I am.  It’s the truth but it didn’t stop me writing two eBooks. It did teach me that I needed to focus on the skills I wanted to improve on.

4. Momentum early pays off immediately and in the long run

Every eBook I’ve launched that has gained great early momentum (and was evergreen) has always delivered the most over a long period of time.

Don’t think about what you’ll earn from great launch now; think of the impact momentum will carry over the life of the eBook.

5. You’re not actually selling content

I’m talking about practical eBooks here. You can read / listen / watch for free on the web a how-to on any topic.  EBooks organise things for us into a nice little bundle and often have a higher editorial standard. That convenience and quality is what we buy, not the content. There are exceptions to this I’ll admit, but it’s something to think about

6. The story matters

People care about why you wrote the eBook just as much as what’s inside. When you tell a story and share emotions, people will be a lot more inclined to listen to what you have to say.

7. Marketplaces find buyers but screw with your pricing

If you want to play in the sub $10 eBook market then getting your eBook into places like iEBookstore and Amazon are a no brainer.  But they’ll work against you if you want to aim higher than that.

Used well, these marketplaces can reach millions of readers but if you have your own audience you might not need to bend to their will.

8. Reviews matter

Bad reviews can kill eBooks – legitimate or not. Sometimes there’s not much you can do about a bad review but you should know what people are saying. Don’t just look at Amazon reviews, Google ‘[your eBook] review’ and see what comes up.

Chances are your potential customers already are.

9. Print is still prestige

Whilst this is perhaps fading, printed books carry more prestige than an eEBook. You might consider printing a small batch of books so you can give them to your clients (and your mom).  This is even more important if your eBook is the bait not the fish (we’ll talk about that later).

10. Evergreen lives longer, relevant launches bigger

If you want your eBook to live a long life then evergreen content is the way to go. If you want a big win now, a timely eBook is an option as long as you remember that the clock on the longevity of your sales is already ticking.

11. You’ll sell more than anyone else will

You just stick your eBook on Amazon and let Amazon work it’s magic, right?  Wrong. Don’t expect to create an eBook and just magically sell your way to retirement.

You’ve got to continue to sell you and the eBook at every moment, if you want it to pay the bills.

12. If there are 100 of the same eBooks on your topic, you need an audience

The amount of times people talk to me about their social media eBook does my head in. Honestly. There are so many eBooks on this topic already – why would someone buy yours?

If you’re going to plonk your eBook into an open marketplace with a bunch of similar eBooks that already have history, sales and reviews, you might be wasting your time. But if you already have your own audience and can launch it to them, you might just get some instant momentum.

13. Invest in an editor, and or a proofreader

People expect quality in eBooks. I don’t care how good a word nerd you think you are. Get a second opinion.

14. There’s not such thing as a perfect eBook

Don’t expect to create the perfect eBook. It doesn’t exist and probably never will.  For the perfectionists, call it done and ship!  You won’t make any money with it in draft.

15. Even the niche of a niche can be profitable

Don’t think you need to create the next 50 Shades of Grey to make good money.  Even the super niches are large enough to create a volume of buyers and well worth your while.

The wider the niche the more potential customers but the more competitive it will be, so it’s a balancing act.

16. Write your blog post / press release first

This is a technique I use to understand who my readers are and what they want.  Your sales page should be full of benefits and promises. Write those promises first, then make sure your eBook delivers on them as you create it.

17. You might have an eBook and you don’t even know it

Two of the most successful eBook publishers I’ve worked with created their first eBook as a collection of posts – with a few extra bits wrapped up in a nice design.

Remember what you’re selling, then look at what you’ve created already and you just might find an eBook in there.

18. Think in launch month, not launch day

I’m not going to talk much more about launches, as there’s another 30 lessons in there.  But if your launch plan is only one day – you really need to talk to me!

19. Get someone else to review or write your sales copy

Of the hundreds of eBooks I’ve launched, the only sales pages I didn’t write were for my own two eBooks. Why? Because I just couldn’t be objective.

You’re likely to focus on the hard parts to write, which probably are not the part your readers care about. You’ll infer and miss stuff — it’ll get messy. Get someone else to do it, or, at a minimum get someone else to pick it to pieces for you.

20. Sometimes you just can’t pick ‘em

I’ll guarantee you this, there’s no guarantee or sure fire success when it comes to eBooks. Sometimes you can pick ‘em and other times, they’ll come out of left field.

But you’ll never know if you don’t try.

21. You’ll be surprised who doesn’t help spread the word

When you launch you eBook, there will be a bunch of people who you’re convinced will help you spread the word. You’ll learn a lot about the people who do and who don’t.

22. Your perfect launch day was probably yesterday

I’ve spoken about this before, there is no one size fits all perfect launch day (or every single eBook would launch on the same day!). So just get it done and stop worrying about when.

23. Your eBook can be the bait, or the fish

You can write eBooks, charge money and that’s your income. You can write eBooks, charge money and open doors. Or you can give away eBooks to sell other products and services.

There’s nothing wrong with any of these plans however, you need to understand your objectives and focus on them – rather than trying to get the best of every world.

24. Lots of people will tell you it’s easy

Creating an eBook isn’t easy. There are lots of things to think about and anyone who tells you it is easy probably has a product to lead you to. That said, it’s hard work done once and can be extremely valuable. At a minimum, it’s something to be really proud of.

25. It’s not a forever investment

There is a time-limit on every eBook. Well, maybe not all eBooks – but most. Don’t expect that in a decade, you’ll still be selling the same eBook in the thousands.

If you want to keep the revenue flowing, think about new editions and new titles.

26. Procrastinators need a stick

My stick is my partner Justine, and Problogger’s stick is Jasmine, our eBook creator (she’s a wonderful person!). If you procrastinate, you need help. Find it in any way you can, or you’ll never ship.

27. Titles and cover images matter (even digitally)

Think about what your title means to a reader, now and tomorrow. Think about how they will remember your title and how they will describe it to others.

Coming up with a great eBook title is a bit of an art form like email subject lines and headlines but you don’t have as much chance of running A/B tests to get it right!

28. Split your selling and your writing

This is really a tip about your mindset. When you’re writing, you’re delivering a message to your reader and you need to focus on doing the best possible job. Immerse yourself and be narrow-minded.

When it comes to selling, you need to approach it as objectively as you can. Try to think like your selling someone else eBook not your own — or get some help

29. What worked for them, won’t always work for you

If enough people try something, eventually someone will get it right but that doesn’t mean it will work for you.

Someone else’s success is probably during a different time, on a different topic with different readers – and you’re a different writer.

Your perfect launch story is your own.

30. Just go with it

Of all the things that scare you about putting an eBook out on show, the reward (even if it’s just a personal one) will be worth it.  I’m a two-time author who got D’s in English.  If I can do it then you can!

So there you have it, 30 things I learned selling a crap load of eBooks.  I’m sure there are more so I’d love to hear about some in the comments!

Gmail Trying to ‘Fix’ Our Inbox and What it Means for You.

If capturing and sending email is a part of your blog – it might be your newsletter, affiliate programs, sales email or even just reader comment notifications – there are some changes (that have been looming for some time) that will impact the way you create and send emails …

Email services providers are taking matters into their own hands to “fix” our inbox’s.  

… and when Google start leading the charge with this, we all better pay attention.

The reality is that our own inbox is a never ending stream of important stuff mixed with the boring but essential stuff, mixed with the junk mail and spam. Sorting and organising it all takes time and if your not on top of it, important emails get lost in the noise.

It’s a problem we’ve been trying to solve since the dawn of email:

  • We were given functionality to use such as folders, and auto-filter rules
  • We were given blocking tools such as spam filters and junk folders
  • We were given techniques to try such as inbox zero

All of these things were created for users to help themselves — if they wanted to.

I realised this was all about to change when providers started to play with the idea of proactively helping us manage legitimate emails by trying to figure out the important emails over the less important ones. Google’s priority inbox is a great example of this.

However, now Google have taken another step and are organising our emails into groups — based on their own rules.

If you’re a Gmail user (not everyone seems to have this yet) at some point you’ll see the primary inbox, social inbox, and promotions inbox magically appear.

Google will, using it’s own wisdom, sort all your email into these groups.

You will be able to ‘train’ google by dragging emails from one inbox to another and hidden nicely away in the settings you can turn it off. But if history is anything to go by only a small percentage will actually do either of those actions.

So what will this mean for sending emails right now?

Time will only tell what the open and click-through rate implications will be as more users realise there are now three inboxes instead of one.  But I’m fairly confident in saying that we’ll all be aiming for the priority inbox.

Mailchimp have already release some preliminary findings, with a noticeable impact.

Now, not only will you have to be thinking about spam filters, trash folders and how your email looks on mobile, you’ll also need to be mindful of how Google will categorise your email.

Oh, and that’s of course after you come up with some great copy!

You can go on the front foot and ask your reader to tell Google to shift you to the priority inbox, but that’s difficult right now as not all Gmail users have the service.

Your best action, right now, is to track your open rates and click-through rates closely and start testing different approaches. Just like SEO and spam, Google won’t share it’s rules for classification, so we’re going to have to figure them out on our own. You might want to play with text emails, you might want to play with different from addresses and service providers.

It’s time to re-test some of the assumptions we’ve made when it comes to email.

What have we seen with our own emails

We’ve noticed on dPS that both our launch emails from new product (this week) as well as our weekly newsletter were put in the ‘promotional’ tab. What was probably more concerning what that the confirmation (opt-in) email from our newsletter also ended up in promotions tab.

Open rates were slightly down for both. So we’re keeping an eye on things – but it’s still too early to tell. I have received direct emails from a few people I subscribe requesting to be moved across to the priority inbox, but without knowing exactly who has the change it feels too early to ask that.

But that’s just the beginning

When spam filters first arrived there was period where they needed to earn our trust.  We needed to believe that they would do a good job of keeping out only spam and not the stuff we wanted to receive.  Over time they succeeded and the performance of spam filters are hardly given a second thought.  Once that same trust is given to the automatic organisation of our legitimate emails the complexities of this will skyrocket.   More venders will get involved, more rules will be put into play.

What I Like about this

For those creating quality email content that people want to read, these sorts of systems are designed to work for you. If your emails are a priority for your recipients you should benefit from this. There will be some slight adjustments to make, I’m sure. The people trying to push their way into peoples inbox’s will feel the impact more than those who’ve earned it.

What worries me about this change

Even as a bit of a nerd, I struggled to ‘train’ my inbox. It was even harder do it via my phone. So that has really drawn me to the conclusion that our challenge is not going to be in educating our subscribers, the challenge will be working within the rules that Google won’t share with us. We can’t forget that Google have a commercial interest in this, and the idea of paying for the priory inbox isn’t without question. Nor is the idea of 3rd party messages appearing in the promotions tab either.

Fun times ahead.