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8 Tips To Launch Successful Challenges at Your Blog

This guest post is by Celestine Chua of The Personal Excellence Blog.

Earlier this year, I launched a challenge called 30 Days To Live a Better Life (30DLBL) on my blog. This is a 30-day challenge where participants complete one task a day, for 30 days in the month, that will help them live a better life. When I created 30DLBL, it was breath of fresh air—I’d not seen any such personal development challenges around at the time, and it was fun to do something different rather than just write articles every week. I was very excited about my challenge, and thought I’d probably get about 100 people joining in, or 200 people max.

I was proven wrong. The minute the post went live, there were already a handful of participants. By the end of the day, there were over 100 participants. The number slowly exploded to 200, 300, 500, 800 … to over 1,200 excited participants all over the world, all ready to transform their lives in the next 30 days! Not only that, but people were tweeting about 30DLBL, blogging about it, sharing it on Facebook, and telling all their friends about it. Some readers even specially created new blogs just to blog about their 30DLBL experience. Needless to say, the response totally blew me away!

The 30-day challenge was extremely successful, and many participants’ lives changed in unimaginable ways that month. Many of them rediscovered themselves on a whole new level, set new goals, and created new plans for their future. It was so successful that I later launched a guidebook and a workbook on the upgraded version of 30DLBL. The book sold over 200 copies in less than two weeks of launch, and last month I did a second run of the challenge, with many more runs planned in the future.

Some bloggers have also been inspired by the success of 30DLBL and are launching their own 30/31-day challenges, and it’s great to see them getting down to engage their communities.

Why run a challenge?

First off, you might wonder, why run a challenge? There are four key reasons:

  1. Create a breath of fresh air: At that time I launched the challenge, I’d already been running The Personal Excellence Blog for about 1.5 years. After 1.5 years of writing article after article, I wanted to have a 30-day challenge as a breath of fresh air, as Darren did with his challenge, 31 Days To Build a Better Blog. The challenge was designed to complement what I write at the site. It was very much welcomed by the readers.
  2. Help readers apply what you teach: Even while we may be writing down the most important insights in our articles, it’s a whole different thing altogether to apply that advice to real life. Some readers may not fully comprehend what you’re writing, while some readers may not know how to apply your insights. A challenge helps them take action.
  3. Engage readers: A challenge lets readers become involved. It makes them feel like they’re a part of your site. Launching 30DLBL helped me get up close and personal with my readers in a completely new way. At the end of the 30 days, I’d developed a very close bond with many of my readers.
  4. Form a community: With the launch of 30DLBL, I saw the first signs of a true community forming around my blog—a community where readers interact with each other, care for one another, and really help each other grow. This made me very excited about what’s ahead.

Eight tips for running a successful challenge

Here, I’ll share with you eight tips to help you run a successful challenge on your blog.

1. Evaluate the role of a challenge in your blog

Some bloggers may prefer to write articles, which is totally fine. Challenges are not necessarily for everyone. Figure out whether you do want to run challenges as part of your blog, and how regularly you want to do them. It can be a once-in-a-while project—for example, Darren runs 31DBBB at Problogger about once every few years. Or it can be a regular affair, which is what I’m planning for my blog.

I love interacting with my readers, getting up close and personal with them, and growing side-by-side with them, and I see a challenge as the perfect platform for me to know them better. Last month I finished a second run of 30DLBL with great success, and it’s now part of my plan to have three 30DLBL challenges every year. On the other hand, I launched a new 21 Days To a Healthier Me challenge in January ’11, where people all around the world get together to live a healthier life for 21 days. I’m planning more new challenges in the months ahead, to get more readers to join in and participate. Through these challenges, I’ve gotten to know my readers on a much personal level than I had previously with just writing articles.

2. Ensure you have a sizable reader base

Before you kick off a challenge, you’ve to ensure that you have a sizable reader base. The last thing you want to do is to have a challenge that no one’s participating in! Bear in mind that there’ll always be dropouts throughout the challenge, so if you have 100 people signing up, you might very well end up with only ten people towards the last week, and that will pull down the momentum. So the more participants you can get starting the challenge on Day 1, the better.

When I kicked off 30DLBL, I had almost 10,000 subscribers. I believe you’re good to go if you have at least 5,000 active subscribers, though I’ve seen people launch challenges with only 500 subscribers and they went well. In those cases,  the outreach was smaller by comparison, and the community, while small, was tight-knit.

3. Offer a tangible, compelling benefit

Your challenge should have a tangible, compelling benefit that draws people to participate. Since people have to dedicate time to the challenge, the benefit has to be something attractive. For 30DLBL, the benefit is about living a better life, and that’s something which was very compelling to many. After all, as growth-oriented people, we’re always looking for ways to grow and improve our lives.

Your challenge should be relevant to the topic of your site. It’s going to be quite strange if your blog’s about cooking and you run a challenge that’s on making money! Since I run a personal development blog, 30DLBL was a great complement to what I’d been writing at the blog. It was a great way to reinforce the ideas and concepts I’ve been sharing since the blog started.

Besides it being a direct complement, your benefit can be a subset of your site’s offering. Think about what your site is about, then brainstorm on the various sub categories that fall under the theme of your site. Are there any noteworthy topics worth starting a challenge on? The Live a Healthier Life in 21 Days challenge I just ran this month has been a great success. While some may think that health and personal development are unrelated, it works as healthy living is part of living a better life. People who are interested in personal development are the same people who want to pay attention to their health and fitness too.

4. Allow enough time for people to join

I posted the announcement post for 30DLBL five days before it started, which provided enough lead time for people to find out about the challenge, share with their friends, and join in. At the same time, I think it would have been better if I posted it earlier. Overall, one week should be more than enough time for you to promote the challenge and spread the word.

5. Set a proper duration: 30 days, 21 days—whatever suits

It’s up to you to design your challenge the way you want. I recommend making it a daily challenge, since it’ll be easier to follow. Duration-wise, I recommend 30 or 31 days (where participants can dedicate a whole month to it), or 21 days if you think 30 days is too long. 30DLBL was, of course, 30 days long, whereas my healthy living challenge was 21 days long. Anything longer than one month will be too long—participants will be likely to lose steam before it finishes.

6. Create channels for participants to engage with one another

A successful challenge is one that allows the participants to interact with one another—not just to interact with you. Establish channels for them to engage with one another. With 30DLBL, I initiated a twitter hashtag of #30DLBL, so that participants can connect with one another. I also created a new forum, with a sub-forum dedicated to the challenge so readers could have their own space to interact with one another. This approach worked very well. Participants used these platforms to give each other support and encouragement, and at the end of the process, many new friendships and bonds had been formed. Many of them added each other on Facebook afterward, and stayed in touch through the forums and Facebook.

7. Make your challenge tasks easy to follow

If you make your challenge tasks daily (which I recommend), you want to make them easy to follow. Don’t set tasks which take a week to complete. If your challenge is too tough, your readers may get discouraged and give up mid-way. This will defeat the whole purpose of the challenge to begin with! Make the tasks easy to process—break them up into mini-steps and spell everything out in layman’s terms.

For example, when I first ran 30DLBL, there were several tasks that made the participants feel discouraged, because they couldn’t finish them on time. Subsequently, they kept putting off the tasks and eventually disappeared off the radar. Hence, in my upgraded version of 30DLBL, I revised the tasks such that they could be completed in 30 minutes to one hour, if the person made an effort to do so.

8. Be in tune with your participants’ needs

Your participants are the backbone of your challenge, so stay in tune with their progress every step of the way. Observe what’s happening at ground level. If there’s something going awry, step in to help out. Throughout 30DLBL, my site received over a thousand comments from readers. I read through as many comments as I could and replied to all the questions that they asked. I also made a point of responding to as many participant comments as possible, so that they would be encouraged to share more. This created a tightly-knit community around my challenge.

I also noticed after four or five days in the challenge, some participants were falling behind. Hence, I introduced a three-day break after the first week, so the participants who were falling behind could catch up. It was very much welcomed and many participants were able to regroup themselves and get back into the challenge after that.

Moving forward

Challenges can be resource-intensive, but they definitely pay off. Your readers become more engaged, you help to make a positive difference in their lives, and you can build a community for your site. It’s up to you whether you want to create one, and what you want it to be about.

For me, running 30DLBL has been an extremely rewarding experience, and it’s not going to end there. I’ve planned a series of new challenges which I look forward to completing with my readers. Have you ever run, or considered creating, a challenge for your blog? Tell us about it in the comments.

Celestine writes at The Personal Excellence Blog on how to achieve excellence and live your best life. Check out the life changing 30DLBL program and live a better life in the next 30 days. Get free ebooks 101 Things To Do Before You Die and 300 Inspiring Quotes of All Time now by signing up for her free newsletter.

Fundraise $1000 with Your Blog in 3 Days

This guest post is by Eric Kim of Erickimphotography.com.

When I first got into blogging about street photography, I told myself that I wasn’t going to sell out to the man, and that I would keep my blog as ad-free as I could. The reason I decided this was to keep it more of a passion and a hobby, rather than a job. I enjoyed writing my blog posts for my audience, as well as engaging them with questions while even getting some people to write guest posts for me.

Eric with the workshop team (author's own image)

One day, one of my blog posts, titled “101 Things I Learned About Street Photography”, went viral and brought 3,000 visitors to my blog in one day (I averaged about 100 visitors a day at that time). Then, a photography workshop director in Beirut, Lebanon, emailed me to ask me to teach a street photography workshop.

Needless to say, I was ecstatic and very excited about the trip. However, there was a problem. I didn’t have the $1100 at the time to afford a round-trip ticket to Beirut. The organization holding the workshop was able to fund my lodging and expenses, but not my flight.

When all hope seemed lost, my girlfriend suggested that I reach out to the community on my blog and try to fundraise for my air ticket. I thought it would be nearly impossible to fundraise the necessary funds for my trip, but I thought it would be worth a try.

Fast-forward three days. I had $1100 in my Paypal account for a round-trip ticket to Beirut to teach my street photography workshop. I ended up having the trip of a lifetime, meeting some of the most cordial and amazing people, and taking inspirational photos as well.

Now, perhaps you’re not looking to finance a trip to boost your career. Maybe you want to raise funds for a charity or cause that’s important to you. Or perhaps you want to be able to donate money to a specific appeal. Using your blog to raise funds for a cause you care about is a very fulfilling, enjoyable thing to do. Here’s how I did it.

1. Have a personal connection with your community

Well before I started fundraising for this trip, I had a very strong and personal connection with my community. On my Facebook fan page, I regularly ask for my audience’s input and opinions about certain issues, and try my best to address everybody by his or her first name. Not only that, but I also try my best to reply to every single comment I get on my blog personally.

I genuinely believe in human generosity and kindness. People want other people to achieve their dreams. When I asked people to donate, I asked them to help be a part of achieving my dream—which was to go to Beirut. Also, the fact that my mission was not selfish, but sprang from my wanting to spread my love of street photography to other places, helped tremendously.

2. Chart your progress

Whenever I got a donation, I charted my progress on my blog. I made a percentage bar in Photoshop, and would update it every time somebody donated to my cause, helping me get closer and closer to that 100% mark. This way, I relied on game mechanics to spark action; people wanted to see me reach that 100% mark and had a reason to donate. Making the experience much more visual helps out tremendously.

3. Use various social media platforms

When I was asking for donations, I accessed all of my social media platforms. This included Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and my blog. Being able to effectively leverage each platform helped me reach different audiences, all of which believed in my cause. Only utilizing one social media platform is selling yourself short, as kindness is very wide-spread on the Internet.

4. Thank your donors personally

Once somebody donated to my cause, I gave him or her a heart-felt and personal response, thanking them for their generosity. This way the person who donated to your cause feels great in helping you, and motivated to spread the word. Which goes to my next point…

5. Ask others to spread the word

It never hurts to ask other people to support your cause. Simple things such as updating their statuses on Facebook or sending out tweets truly helps out a lot. Imagine if you had 100 fans, and each of them updated their Facebook statuses, asking for their contacts to help. Now let’s also assume that the average person has around 200 friends on Facebook. That means that your message is being broadcast to at least an audience of 2000, which can continue to ripple outwards if other people believe in your cause as well.

6. Make a video

When I asked my donors to support my cause, I recorded a video, uploaded it to YouTube, and spread it far and wide. Why use a video rather than just writing? Well, when you record a video, people can truly see the face behind the computer—the person they will be donating to. Also, in hearing you ask for support in real life, people feel more secure donating to you, as they know you aren’t some random scammer on the Internet. Show your spirit, personality, and charisma. It truly goes a long way.

7. Have a “donor list”

People love to be honored, and to see their names in public places. Think about all the famous memorials you have been to, which have the names of donors embedded into the bricks that make the memorial. I did the same with my blog. Whenever somebody donated to my cause, I wrote their name in a “donors list” which was proudly displayed at the front of my homepage. Importantly, I made sure not to display how much money they each donated, as I saw that to be a bit too intrusive.

8. Have a minimum suggested donation

Most people love donating to causes, but aren’t sure how much to donate (which prevents them from donating altogether). For my campaign, I asked for a minimum donation of $5. I did end up getting many donations worth $5, but surprisingly enough, the majority of people who donated either gave $20 or $25. If you set a minimum suggested donation, people will know what the standard will be, and will even donate more if they truly believe in your cause.

9. Go big

During my fundraising campaign, I was able to net $300 in donations in the first two days via Paypal. However, what really got me over to Lebanon was a $800 donation from a Swedish street photographer named Thomas Leuthard. He heard about my cause through Twitter, and after seeing my passion and how badly I wanted this trip, he offered to sponsor the remainder of my trip. He also told me that he was looking for some adventure as well, and asked me if he could accompany me to the workshop.

He actually ended up being the guest speaker for my street photography workshop, and after meeting in person overseas, we made a strong friendship and relationship.

10. Share your experiences

People who donated to your cause love to see the fruits of their labor. When you come back from your trip, share your experiences! I took many photos of the people of Beirut, Lebanon, and shared them in this post. Not only that, but I also shared the slides from the workshop that I did for free—for those who wanted to attend but couldn’t.

Have you ever used your blog to raise funds? How did you do it, and what tips can you share?

Eric Kim is a street photographer based in Los Angeles. He shoots, blogs, and tweets about everything street photography. You can check out his work on his blog, and also connect with him on Facebook.

Buying and Selling Blogs with Strong Personal Brands

This guest post is by Andrew Knibbe of Flippa.

The responses to my last post raised the crucial issue of selling a blog that’s built around a strong personal brand.

Mark Wolfinger wrote, “When I write a blog, it’s my passion that the readers see. It’s my writing style and knowledge. Buy an existing blog and the blog’s voice changes immediately. How can you keep loyal readers who loved the previous voice?”

This is of course a key consideration in buying or selling a personally branded blog. It’s true that the strength of some personal brands may make a blog unsaleable, but that doesn’t need to be the case.

The blog as a business

In response to Mark’s comment, the Blog Tyrant pointed out, “Mark you read ProBlogger and hardly any of the posts are by Darren nowadays.”

This reminds me of that old saying that if you want to have a saleable business, you have to be able to step back at some point and work on it, rather than in it.

This seems to be the approach that Darren has taken with ProBlogger. He’s spent years building a strong personal brand, and building a blog that revolves around that. By establishing ProBlogger as a leading light in the niche, he’s able to attract some of the best bloggers and source high-quality content for the site, and that’s let him step back from the blog to work on aspects like product development.

We can guess that he’s now spending time he used to spend writing blog posts preparing courses, writing ebooks, and coming up with new concepts.

But the things that make ProBlogger what it is remain here, even if Darren’s time and presence on the blog has decreased from what it was when he started all those years ago. There’s a large and loyal community, a strong brand, an enormous, high-quality content inventory, and  a raft of happy advertisers, affiliates, and so on. So if ProBlogger was for sale, you can see that it would have a lot to offer a potential buyer.

Getting personal

What if this site was called DarrenRowse.net, rather than ProBlogger.net? Sure, that might reduce the overall sale price of the site, but it certainly wouldn’t make it unsaleable. As a potential buyer, you might choose to move it to a new domain, but if you were smart, and Darren was a caring seller, you’d probably negotiate a handover arrangement whereby you as the new site owner could be introduced to the ProBlogger readers and community.

Before you agreed to buy the site, you’d probably assess the alternative domains you could use, and you might buy one—possibly one like, say, ProBlogger, which talks about the niche more than a personality—as you bought the site. Perhaps you’d also secure Twitter and Facebook accounts with the same brand, or negotiate with the owner to transfer the existing account’s ownership with the blog.

During the handover period, you might undertake a gradual rebranding of the site and announce to users that its location was changing. Rather than switching off DarrenRowse.net the day your turned on the ProBlogger domain, you might have the two running in tandem, with a redirect attached to the personal domain, for a while.

Buying (or selling) an existing blog isn’t like buying a used car: it doesn’t need to be a take-it-or-leave-it situation. As the buyer, you can request any assistance you need to transfer the blog safely to your ownership, complete with its full complement of readers. If the seller cares about the community he or she has built up, they’ll hopefully be pretty happy to negotiate this kind of thing among the terms of the sale.

Finding opportunities on a personal blog

Another response to Mark’s comment on the article came from Alex, who wrote, “buying a blog which already has a small reader base and some articles can save you quite a bit of time, otherwise you’d need to “get the ball rolling” yourself, which is the hardest part of blogging, IMO.”

Mark replied, “It’s funny. I find writing to be the very easy part. And I have a decent number of readers (24,000 monthly unique). It’s the monetizing that’s difficult for me.”

These comments really show the variation that exists in the blog trading space—people buy and sell blogs for all sorts of reasons, and a blog that has real potential for one buyer will hold little appeal for another.

Take Mark’s comment, for example. It sounds like he’s built up a great content inventory, and a loyal, committed readership—but he has difficulty monetizing blogs. Alex says he finds the initial stages of starting a blog the biggest challenge, but perhaps he’s the type to easily spot monetization opportunities and do something about them. The fact that Mark’s been unable to monetize his blog presents an opportunity: if he wanted to, he might sell the blog to someone like Alex, who had monetization skills. After all, strong community and great content are valuable assets.

Mark comments that his unique style and personality are what readers come to his blog for. That’s great, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that, if he wanted to sell the blog, he couldn’t.

Firstly, he’d be choosy about the buyers he considered, looking for someone who knew his site and understood what it was about—he might well find that among the interested buyers were some of his site’s current users. He’d look for a potential buyer who had an appealing writing style that he felt would really engage his readers. Perhaps he’d invite them to write some guest posts so that he could see how his readers responded to the potential buyer, and to help that person build a profile among the readership in advance.

If the sale went ahead, he’d make a personal announcement to his readers, perhaps via email to subscribers as well as in a post on the blog itself. He might also recommend a handover period to help the transition go smoothly, and keep readers as loyal to the blog—and the new owner—as possible.

Personal brands can add an extra dimension to the buying and selling of blogs, but they don’t have to be a problem. A buyer might be able to find a personally branded blog that doesn’t have a strong personal style (we’ve all seen them online)—another opportunity for the astute buyer who knows what they have to offer.

Have you ever though about buying or selling a blog with a personal brand? What other concerns would you have about the process?

Andrew Knibbe is the Marketing Manager at Flippa, the #1 marketplace for buying and selling websites. He blogs at the Flippa blog. Follow him @flippa.

How to Optimize Your Sales Funnel for Success

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

As online marketers, we often devote a large amount of time to finding ways to attract eyeballs to our online assets. We put such effort into simply get the readers there that we allow the rest to take care of itself. Money will flow, Ferraris will be purchased, and we can all retire nice and young…

Then we discover the concept of sales funnels.

You may already know what a sales funnel is, but if you don’t, let me quickly describe it for you.

A sales funnel is a simple map of your lead-to-sale process.

  1. Let’s imagine you start with 1,000 leads (visitors to your web site).
  2. 100 might click on a sales page link for of one of your products.
  3. 50 might click your Order Now button and enter your shopping cart.
  4. Ten complete the checkout process and buy the product.

So your sales funnel starts and 1,000 and ends in ten sales—that’s a 1% conversion.

That’s a bare-bones view of a sales funnel, but as you can see it takes four steps, not one, to increase the amount of sales your site delivers. If we put all our attention on attracting new visitors, we’re essentially forgetting 75% of the puzzle—and we’ve all done that.

But that’s not where online marketers go wrong!

It’s not hard to sell people the idea of the sales funnel—it’s simple to understand and easy to quantify. It’s also been around for a long time. Offline sales professionals have been using it for decades.

The problem with the sales funnel is that in the offline world it’s a simple and straightforward methodology, but in the online world, it’s not.

The image below is a quick process map I prepared for a Managing Director of a large retail operation, who’s focusing heavily on online strategy.

As you can see, that organization’s sales funnel is a lot more complicated than the simple four-step process I mentioned above. There are some key points I want to highlight in this map:

  • Seven different types of traffic that visit the site.
  • There are multiple behaviors that we need to analyse: what pages visitors view, how long they stay, the navigational path, and their user profiles (locations, browsers, etc.).
  • There’s a connection outcome, as well as a buy outcome.
  • A visitor can become a customer in a range of ways.

Now my idea of a funnel resembles something I use to fill my car with oil, and this looks nothing like it. This depiction reminds me more of the tubes game I play on my iPhone. In even more bad news, I made this process map in five minutes. The reality is that this business’s online sales funnel is probably twice as complicated!

The key to sales funnel success

The key to creating a more successful sales funnel is: step away from the keyboard. While I work in an office, I actually have a whiteboard in my house. I actually use it, and it’s better than any online tool I’ve seen for laying out the bare bones of a real, live sales funnel.

I start by detailing every single way people can enter the funnel, identifying where they have come from, what their persona is, and where they’re at in the purchase cycle.

Then, I identify every activity that someone can undertake on the site: read some content, read some more content, subscribe to a newsletter, view a social media profile, buy something, or exit the site.

Finally I detail the measures I can put on each activity: time on page, entry path, exit path, and so on.

Then I start connecting the dots and putting together all the different pathways a visitor can take thought my funnel. The key here is not to change anything about your site yet.

Putting theory into practice

Once the funnel is mapped, and the measures are in place, I start collating reports at every step. What I’m trying to do here is understand how my funnel works in practice, not in theory.

Try this on your blog. Once you’ve collated enough information to start making decisions, I guarantee there will be obvious points of failure in your process, and they’re likely to arise in two main areas:

  1. a page that does a great job at encouraging a secondary behaviour (that is, rather than keeping someone in the sales funnel)
  2. a page that fundamentally fails to move a customer to the next step in the funnel.

Initially, you’ll probably feel like there is a lot to do, so you’ll need to prioritize the changes you want to make. Focus on the areas that are costing you the most sales (which might actually be at the bottom end of your funnel).
With time, effort, and focus, you could see huge improvements in the performance of your site, without your having to attract one new visitor to your site. Sounds good to me!

Have you tweaked your sales funnel recently? What changes have worked best for you?

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

October and November Earnings Breakdown

Over the last few months I’ve been showing breakdowns of my earnings in an attempt to give some insight into the diversity of income streams available to bloggers, as well as showing how earnings can vary from month to month. Earnings come from my work on a number of sites including ProBlogger and Digital Photography School.

Following are the breakdowns for October and November.
Screen shot 2010-12-10 at 2.19.58 PM.png Screen shot 2010-12-10 at 2.20.09 PM.png

The split changes a little from month to month based upon a variety of factors. For example, in October, affiliate income went up by quite a margin as I did a couple of larger promotions on my photography blog. In November, ebook sales rose quite well because I did a promotion with affiliates on the ProBlogger ebooks. Similarly, Amazon affiliate income and AdSense have both increased in the last couple of months, as tends to happen when we move towards the holidays.

To get a sense of how the revenues have tracked over the last few months, here’s a different visualization that shows how each area has performed (click for a larger picture).

Screen shot 2010-12-10 at 2.22.03 PM.png

Now that we have seven months of data, I hope that it’s clear how things can vary from month to month depending upon the season, special events, and promotions that you might run.

Looking forward, I’m predicting December to be quite a good month in terms of AdSense and Amazon, thanks to holiday shopping. I’m also running a fairly larger promotion in December on dPS with some affiliate pushes, so I’m hoping that that income stream will spike quite a bit also.

Looking further ahead, I’m hoping to see the red ebook line increase with some good spikes in the new year, as I have several ebooks currently in different stages of production for dPS.

How Changing My Intentions Made Me Money

This guest post is by Roman from how this website makes money.

Two years ago I stumbled across the concept of blogging for money.  Instantly it hit me as the perfect thing: sit behind a computer, design a site, write, be my own boss, work from home, what could be better? I knew nothing about traffic, SEO, backlinks, Pagerank, or keywords.  I knew nothing about how to make money with a website.  So what did I do next?  I registered the domain name howthiswebsitemakesmoney.

Looking back all I can do is laugh at my arrogance.  Like thousands before me and thousands who will come after me, my first attempt at blogging was a site about making money online.

Two years later, I know how to start a site, I know how to write content, I know about SEO, I know about backlinks, I know how to add advertisements … but I still do not know how to make good money online.  The site makes dimes a day, not dollars.

The site has been two years of disappointment.  Two  years of waking up in the morning and seeing the same green egg in AdSense.  Two years of waiting for a four-digit affiliate check with my name on it.  Two years of working without pay.  Two years of scratching my head.

So I asked for advice, and every time the reply was the same: create a site about something else. Create a site about what you know and what you enjoy.  Do not create a site with the intent to make money, create a site with the intent to help people by doing something you enjoy doing.

What happened when I changed my intent

Six months ago I created a new site.  This time my intent was pure pleasure.

I live in Prague and I love it here.  So I made a little site about how great Prague is and what people should do when they come for a visit.  It was built in a month.  In a gust of activity I designed the site and wrote the content.

It was so easy.   I did not agonize over what to write about.  The content flowed effortlessly from my head to the keyboard.  I did not have to take long walks with the dog or waste water standing dazed in the shower coming up with new ideas.  I just sat down at the computer and wrote about what I know.  It was so easy I actually looked forward to it.

As an afterthought, I created a simple page where people can order a real postcard from Prague.  Visitors select a picture of Prague and fill out a form indicating what they want written on the postcard.  After they hit the Submit button I get the request by email.  I grab a postcard and, like an ancient scribe long before computers, lick the tip of the pen and write.  After pounding a Prague stamp on the postcard I toss it into the mailbox on my way to work. I charge $4.00 for this five minutes of work.

I created this site with no aspirations of becoming rich, no day dreams of shaking hands with Oprah, no imagined scenes of telling my employer to find some other donkey to kick around. I created the website because it was easy for me to do and I enjoyed it. I made it because I needed a break from my ‘real’ website. I expected nothing to happen.

Again, I was wrong.

My hand is ink blue from all the postcards I have written.

I wrote a postcard from a son playing a trick on his mother: “Hi, Mom!  Sorry for not calling in last few days.  But I am in Prague with friends.  Having a great time and the beer is sooo cheap.  Say hi to Dad.”

I have written postcards to countries all over the world.  Some of them in languages other then English—I have no idea what I am writing. Fortunately, the order form does not allow Chinese characters!

I get emails from people thanking me for the information they found on the site, thanking me for the postcard, asking for more information.

I feel like I am making the world a better place.  I made a website about something I know about and am interested in and people are thanking me. Emotionally it is a soft, warm, fuzzy ball.

And yes, I am making money.

Intend to enjoy and you might make money

I learned a lot about making money online not from my site about making money, but from licking postage stamps.

New arrivals to the make-money-online scene go through the same initiation—they start out with the intent to make money, then fail to make more then a pile of pennies.  For some it means the end and they quit, but for others this brutal introduction teaches them that their intent needs to change.

Of course, making money is about traffic, clicks, affiliates, backlinks SEO, but it’s also about finding something you enjoy doing.  If your intent is only to make money the odds are stacked against you: you will probably quit.  But if your intent is to do something you enjoy then you will keep moving forward until one day, you will be surprised to find that you are making money.

What’s your intent?

Roman intends to figure out how this website makes money.  He has been trying to do that for two long years, so when he needs a break and do something fun he goes onto his other website to send a real postcard to his mother who misses him very much.

Top 5 Affiliate Sales Techniques

This guest post is by the team at E-junkie.com.

Working with so many merchants and affiliates gives us a great opportunity to see what different bloggers are trying to do to generate sales of affiliate products, and over time we’ve noticed that some strategies work much better than others.

These are the top five affiliate sales techniques we’ve seen work time and time again.

1. Only promote products you’re willing to stand behind 100%.

We had one incident on our site where someone bought something from a third party, didn’t like it, and got so mad that they launched a Denial of Service attack on us!

It’s very common for us to receive emails from people who buy stuff from our merchants but get mad at us for allowing people to sell what they see as substandard products. Initially we used to tell them that this is akin to writing to Bill Gates complaining that someone who made budgeting software using Excel didn’t do a good job, but now if we get too many complaints we just get rid of the product.

We have a certain brand that gets attached to whatever is being sold using our platform, and if a product is bad, people view us negatively, even though we have nothing to do with it.

The same applies to your blog.

Your customers will see very little difference between your products and the affiliate products you sell. They’ll blame you if they don’t like the affiliate product. Only promote products you really love, and are willing to back 100%—or your readers will lose their faith in you.

2. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

The range of products that our merchants sell never ceases to amaze me. Recently we featured a seller whose product is poo-shaped pillows! No, that’s not a typo: these pillows are colored and shaped like poo.

You never know what will work until you try it out—many times you’ll think about something, assume it won’t work, and move on to something else. Yet the Internet makes experimentation so cheap and so easily measurable that you should give all your ideas some time before you drop them. You never know what will bring you the next million!

3. Reviews work much better for affiliate sales than buttons, widgets, or advertisements.

In Darren’s 31 Days to a Better Blog book, the exercise for Day 28 is writing a review post that includes an affiliate link.

We’ve seen this approach work much better, as far as conversions are concerned, than advertisements, widgets, or buttons on your website. You may drive a lot more traffic to your sales page using buttons, but contextual links in reviews have much better conversion rates.

4. Think of your customer service as your product.

If we see a merchant who offers first-rate customer service, we know that they’re going to be big. There’s so much commoditization in so many industries that it becomes difficult for customers to choose between products, and for merchants to be heard. Great customer service is something that easily cuts through this clutter.

Sometimes people will buy your product just because they know that you will pick up their call or answer their emails. When you put customer service on the same pedestal as your core product, you will see an attitude shift in the way you deal with your customers, and also the way they see you.

5. Don’t lose your customer at the last step.

One of our core mantras is to make our product as easy to use as possible, and we see a lot of other successful merchants do that too.

There are two key ways of doing this: simplify your product, and provide as much detailed documentation as you can on how to use it.

While there are limits to simplifying the product, you can always provide a great amount of detail on how to use your product, or how to become your affiliate.

Leo Babauta’s step-by-step directions on what to do when you want to join Zen Habits as an affiliate are a great example of what I’m talking about.

A user can walk through that whole process without any confusion, and providing such great detail can vastly improve your conversion rates. You really don’t want to lose your customer at the last step just because your instructions weren’t clear. It’s so hard to get people’s attention, and convince them to try your product. Don’t let them fail to sign up just because they can’t understand the directions on your site—that’s the last thing you want to happen.

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out any of this stuff—it all makes so sense when you think about it.
The reason why affiliates and merchants fail to follow this advice isn’t because it’s hard to figure, but because execution is difficult. Doing the right thing, day in and day out, over and over for years, is what makes the difference between generating a six-figure income online, and the rest of the blogosphere.

Keep these best practices in mind—but also focus on executing them as much as you can. What tips can you add to this list?

E-junkie.com is a hosted shopping cart and digital service that lets you sell just about anything on your website, blog or social network. Our mission is to lower the barrier of entry in online selling. Our blog is about small business, e-commerce, self publishing and all the awesomeness in them. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook or Subscribe with us for all the action.

Your Readers Buy Products! Do You Offer Them?

Recently I gave a presentation on monetizing blogs. I talked about how developing your own products to sell to readers can be an effective way to build a blogging income.

During a question-and-answer segment of the presentation, one blogger stood up and said:

“My readers don’t want to buy products! How else can I make money?”

It was a question that I’ve heard many bloggers ask over the last year—and one I used to ask myself.

I once was afraid that if I dared develop a product and promote it to my readers, they’d push back—and push back hard. However when I bit the bullet and did produce a product, I found that my fears were unfounded.

Readers buy all the time—we all do. We buy to survive, we buy be entertained, we buy to learn, and we buy to enjoy our lives.

I asked the blogger who asked this question what topic they blogged about, and she told me that she was a travel blogger. As a group, we quickly came up with 20 or so things that people interested in travel buy (guide books, luggage, accommodation, flights, and more). Her readers were buying products all the time—she just wasn’t offering any.

Readers do buy. Many even enjoy the process and go out of their way to be sold to. My lovely wife is one example: she amazes me with the amount of time she puts into researching and buying products online (she’s an online marketer’s dream come true!).

The problem isn’t that blog readers don’t want to buy—they do!

What readers don’t want is to be annoyed.

used-car-salesman.jpgIn my experience, it’s not that you have a product to sell that turns readers off—it’s the way that you promote it that has potential to offend.

  • Readers don’t like to be tricked.
  • Readers don’t like false hype.
  • Readers don’t like bait-and-switch tactics.
  • Readers don’t like finding that they’ve bought a low-quality product.
  • Readers don’t like aggressive and intrusive selling.
  • Readers don’t like being badgered and annoyed repetitively.

I think many bloggers balk at the idea of developing a product to sell on their blogs more because they think that to sell, they’ll need to use the above tactics, and annoy their readers. We’re so used to seeing these techniques practiced by internet marketers that we think it’s the only way.

It’s not.

I love what Sonia Simone recently said in a presentation at Blog World Expo. She said, it’s not about “selling” to your readers—it’s about making them an offer.

It’s not about tricking people—it’s about producing a compelling product that meets their needs and offering it to your readers in a way that represents a win/win transaction. It’s about making the offer in a way that allows your reader comes away from the interaction in a better position whether they buy the product or not.

There’s much that can be written about how to make these kinds of offers (and in many ways, that’s why we developed Third Tribe Marketing), however I think the starting point for many bloggers is shifting their mindset.

The starting point is to realize that in most cases is’t not buying that offends people—it’s the sales techniques that annoy.

PS: Brian Clark provides a good post on offers here.

Online Marketing … Without the Arrogance

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

There are many less-respectable professions than internet marketing, but even today I get a glare—“so you’re one of those guys”—when I’m introduced to someone for the first time.

For many, the word “marketing” conjures images of people whose sole job is to convince others to spend money they don’t have on products they don’t need, using every tactic possible—no matter how sneaky. The business owners I speak to all the time consciously ignore all forms of marketing because of this.

But I’m here to tell you that you can be a marketer without being a die-hard, arrogant salesman, and the secret is simple: you just need to know where the lines are.

Silence or the megaphone?

You or your product may be the very best, most valuable product in the marketplace, but if you sit in the corner in silence, no-one will ever know your name. On the flip side, if you stand in that corner on a box, and scream how awesome you are into a megaphone, everyone will remember you—but as that irritable person who just wouldn’t shut up!

The secret here is engagement. Be ready to start or join a conversation, and be prepared to listen as much as you contribute. Engagement is a two-way street, and it requires you to get out of your cave not just for face-to-face conversations, but in all your forms of marketing communication. Your customers have a voice. Seek it out, listen, and show you care.

The moral: engage, engage, engage!

Over-deliverer or over-promiser?

Do you write, “This product is going to make you a billionaire!” or “I’m going to share with you all my secrets to becoming a six-figure blogger”? These are two very different approaches to tag lines that I’m sure you’ve seen, and it’s not hard to guess which is more credible in most peoples’ eyes.

When it comes to taglines and copy, it’s very easy to overstep the mark. You’re told time and time again to focus on benefits, not features, and it’s so attractive to launch into the most outrageous, fantastical benefit you can—without thinking about whether it has any credibility, or your product can deliver on the promise.

Keep your messaging benefit-focused, but don’t claim to be able to better the human plight forever—unless you’re convinced your product actually does this. Focus on the benefit for the specific problem your product solves, and you’ll be set.

The moral: promise something great—and deliver.

Humble or egoistical?

A company that I believe has walked very close to the line when it comes to being confident in their product, but not egotistical, is Apple. They were brave with their Mac vs. PC campaign, and initially they focused on what the Mac could do that the PC couldn’t—and it was a great success. Over time, as it became harder to find new points of difference, their approach did devolve into an all-out attack on the PC, but they backed off that tactic pretty quickly.

When looking at the brand you project, as well as your products, if you can instill confidence, it can give you credibility. Arrogance will only project insecurities. Darren and Brian Clarke http://www.copyblogger.com/ are two people who are perfect examples of this philosophy in action.

The moral: be confident, but not arrogant.

Marketer or con artist?

In my mind, the difference between a marketer and a con artist is honesty. If you’re being told that the key to marketing success is to lie to your customers or leads, then you’ve crossed a line—it’s as simple as that. There are also laws designed to protect consumers against exactly that kind of behavior.

The moral: honesty is the best policy.

Friends or profit resources?

If you believe that your customers are your friends, you’ll look at what you do as a gift to the world, nothing more. And if that’s truly what you want to do, then no one will question you. The other extreme is to see people purely as resources from which to extract as much cash as you can; you judge their value by how deep their pockets are.

If you want to run a business, you need to be somewhere in the middle of this continuum. Again, it comes down to solving a problem for someone, and more importantly, solving a problem they’re willing to pay for.

There’s nothing wrong with asking people for something you value—money—in exchange for something they value—your product. It’s been happening for a while, and we’re doing okay so far.

The moral: ot’s okay to ask for money, but not to bleed them dry.

Does it feel wrong?

I have a very close network of people who act as my arrogant-web-marketing-o-meter. I seek them out when something I’m planning feels a little wrong. Just the fact that I feel I need a second opinion is usually warning enough, and in most cases, my suspicions are confirmed by a group of people I trust. Because the reality is, if it feels wrong, it probably is.

The moral: go with your gut feel for what’s appropriate.

Don’t cross the line

In my history I’ve done things that pushed the envelope on every single one of these points. Some I regret, some I don’t, but by doing this I’ve been able to more effectively understand the balancing act that exists between being a marketer and being nothing more than an arrogant salesman.

It’s something that you’ll only really understand over time as you conduct marketing yourself, but all I ask is that you don’t let the worst cast scenario prevent you from using online marketing to help your blog or your business grow.

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