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How to Blog to Build Your Product Sales Business

This guest post is by Amy Harrison of Harrisonamy.com.

This article is the final part of a three-part series on how your blog can feed different types of business models. In the previous two articles we looked at how blogging can attract customers who want to hire you to do your thing, or to be coached by you so they can do theirs.

The final piece of the puzzle is looking at one way a blog can be used to sell products to customers. These might be physical products, digital products such as ebooks, or events and training courses.

Writing my blog put my directly in touch with an audience of people who were interested in a subject that I could help them with: copywriting.

As I built readers I became more familiar with the struggles they had, and where they needed help. Their challenges influenced the creation of my first two products, which still sell today even thought I launched them almost 18 months ago.

There’s no way I would have been able to create products that responded well without having a blog to see which posts were popular, which ones received comments, which ones people shared, and which ones got the most traffic. Best of all, I didn’t have to wait till launch day to see if my product was something people wanted.

The blog didn’t just help me get a feel for what products to create; it helped sell the products without being pushy. Here’s how.

Using the blog to set the scene—preparing for a launch

Whenever I’ve launched or promoted a product, the blog has been an invaluable tool in the process.

Even though your products are geared up to help your audience, sometimes you need to raise awareness of the problems they solve, and your blog is a great platform to do this.

Planning your content back from the launch date, you can start brainstorming topics to attract the attention of your ideal customer. When I’m planning a product launch, I’m looking at the key issues and challenges that the product solves and then turning them into discussion topics for the blog. I might also release a couple of cheat sheets and two- or three-page templates or reports that will give my readers a sample of what the full product is like.

This does a couple of things. It raises awareness about the problems, but also the awareness of the “need” to fix those problems along with discussions as to why the problems haven’t been fixed before. That then allows you to introduce the benefits of a product that answers those challenges, questions and hesitations.

It’s like a long sales letter in pieces, except that you’re not pushing hard, you’re simply trying to attract the ideal customer for your particular product.

So, for example, if you were about to release an ebook or course on DIY car maintenance, what would be some of the key issues?

Perhaps the importance of having a properly maintained car, the safety aspects, or how much money you can save by a few home tweaks rather than having to rely on the garage all the time.

Then you could release a couple of checklists about the most important parts to keep maintained on a car.

You could also think about running a number of posts about why people don’t maintain cars properly: breaking myths like “car maintenance is complicated,” or “I’ll void my warranty if I start tinkering under the hood.”

While this is going on, you’re able to start attracting attention from people who are going to be your target market for this kind of product—simply by publishing strategic content on your blog.

Staying flexible

The beauty of your blog is it’s flexible, and you don’t need to decide from day one what your business model is going to be. If you’re still in work and want to launch your blog on the side, you can experiment, find your voice, and find your niche.

And once you do follow one path with your blog, you’re not committed—there’s nothing that can’t be changed. I use a combination of all three blogging models to generate income for my business, and I’m still tweaking and checking in with myself to assess where to place my focus. It’s not a “set and forget” process, but a constant state of evolution.

What I’ve learned the most in three years is that you can plan too much and have ideas about how you’re going to do something, but you learn so much more by just doing. So try things out, get going, and see where the blogging ride takes you in your business.

What about you? How do you promote your products through your blog? Do you use your blog to have seasonal launches or are your products evergreen? Let us know in the comments!

Amy Harrison is a copywriter and content marketer for Personality Entrepreneurs wanting to connect and sell authentically to their audience. You can now download her free report on how to write sales copy when personality is part of your business at Harrisonamy.com.

How to Blog to Build Your Coaching Business

This guest post is by Amy Harrison of Harrisonamy.com.

This article is part of a three-part series on how your blog can feed different types of business models. In the previous article we looked at how blogging can attract the attention of clients who want to hire you directly, for the right price. In this article we’ll be focusing on how your blog can feed a coaching business model.

Potential coaching clients are looking for two main elements when they hire you:

  • confidence that you can do what you say you do
  • the idea that they will enjoy working with you.

Whether you’re offering life coaching, technology training, or marketing consultancy, your client wants to feel like your service is worth their investment, and that you will be easy to work with.

And through your blog you can provide evidence of both.

Build confidence in your expertise

We looked previously at how writing on the subject of your specialty showcases your expertise. This also works well for coaching models because you are letting your audience do a little “try before they buy.”

Not only are they getting to know you and your personality, but they’re getting to sample what they can achieve if they worked with you one on one.

One of the most obvious ways to encourage your reader to move from visiting the blog to hiring you is by offering lessons they can use to see some results. There are plenty of blogs regurgitating generic theory, but if you can break down your blog post into specific lessons (with examples drawn from real coaching clients), you prove that you can do what you say, and build credibility by referencing people who have seen results through your work.

Obviously you won’t be able to name all your clients, due to confidentiality, but you can still use specific examples without revealing identities.

For example, if you’re a marketing coach, which of these pieces of copy do you think are more likely to build your credibility?

“To succeed in social media marketing you’ve got to get your business to stand out and be noticed. If you look different than your competitors, more people will visit your page and you can increase likes to your business…”

Or this:

Last week as part of a client’s Facebook marketing campaign we made a couple of tweaks to their advert and managed to increase clickthroughs by 20%, get 5% more phone enquiries, and generate two sales within the week. Here’s an example of the processes we used to analyse what to change…

What you’re doing with this style of blogging is proving you know what you’re talking about, and making readers more familiar with the way you work with clients (as well as building social proof!)

Remind them you’re a coach with a blog, not a blogger who sometimes coaches…

If you blog regularly, you might find yourself attracting people who were first looking for the kind of coaching that you offered, but then turned into a blog reader, got comfortable and forgot all about the coaching.

This can happen if people get so comfortable with a presence in their lives that they forget the reason they were there in the first place. (I’m getting married this year and in no way is that an analogy to how I think married life will be—honest!)

Sometimes you need to remind your readers that you can also work with them one on one if they need a little extra support. Otherwise your coaching business is taking a backseat to the blog, and you might find yourself with a large audience, being very popular, and getting all the retweets you can handle, but no sales.

If you offer purely free content, people may go to another coach simply because they forget about your services. You don’t want that to happen.

Every now and then, whether on your blog, or on your newsletter, remind your audience about the services you offer—but position that message in a way that’s relevant to them and their problems.

For example, if you’ve done a rocking blog post on the power of NLP and increasing confidence for presentations, let people know that you offer a specific “confidence for presentations course” that can be done intensively over two days by anyone with an upcoming speech, pitch, or presentation to make.

The key is to make it relevant to the topic at hand, and not simply a plug to sell your services.

Tip: Don’t be afraid of giving away “too much” in your content

I’ve worked with coaches who have been afraid of giving away too much about how they work. They feel that if they explain their processes online, people will just use the advice and not need a coach.

However, reading an article and working one on one with a coach is not the same. In my experience, the more content you publish on your expertise, the more people know, like, and trust you, and want to work with you directly.

Remember, someone who wants you to coach them doesn’t just want your knowledge of theory—they want access to you. They want the accountability that comes with having a coach. They want to be able to ask you questions directly rather than interpret a blog post. They want specific tailored answers that they can apply to their life or their business.

They want you. And your blog is a way of attracting them to you.

What about you? Do you attract coaching clients through your blog? Do you find it’s easier to sign up a new client if they’ve been a blog reader previously? Let me know in the comments! And look out tomorrow for the final post in this series, where we’ll look at blogging to support a product business.

Amy Harrison is a copywriter and content marketer for Personality Entrepreneurs wanting to connect and sell authentically to their audience. You can now download her free report on how to write sales copy when personality is part of your business at Harrisonamy.com.

How to Blog to Build Your Service-based Business

This guest post is by Amy Harrison of Harrisonamy.com.

Earlier this year, through emails with ProBlogger about upcoming guest post ideas, I thought about an article about how blogging fed my business model.

This was the first time I’d really considered how my articles linked to the revenue I’d earned in the past three years.

I’m not a particularly prolific blogger, and I haven’t written anything outlandish, controversial—or even had a viral post. But business is very healthy, I’ve been booked solid all year and will be for the next few months, and revenue is growing year on year.

It was only when I sat down to write this post that I saw how 95% of my business is generated through blogging by:

  • clients hiring a service
  • businesses wanting coaching or training
  • customers buying products.

Whether you also have a combination of the above, or focus solely on client work or selling products, over the next three days I’m going to show you how blogging has helped me generate revenue for each of those models.

Hopefully this will give you ideas of what’s possible, and help you tailor your current blogging strategy to better suit your desired business model—whether it’s one of these, or one of the others covered in the recent Blog Business Model series here at ProBlogger.

Today, we’ll look at the first business model in the list: blogging to support sales of a service.

From readers to clients

If, like me, you’re a copywriter or other type of freelance writer, your blog naturally lends itself to promoting your skills. If people can see and scrutinise your writing online, they’ll find it easier to consider hiring you than someone whose work they haven’t seen.

But a blog also supports other freelance occupations when you’re working for hire. It showcases your expertise and personality, making it easier for someone to imagine working with you. If you’re in a service-based business this is very important. You probably know that people buy from those they know, like, and trust, and your blog is a way of building this confidence into potential clients.

If you’re a carpenter and your blog is filled with how-to articles, and the occasional video of you explaining a process, it is the equivalent of one long demonstration of what you are capable of and what you’re like to work with.

As a result, if someone studies your blog and likes what they see, by the time they do approach you to enquire about your services, beneath the surface, they’re already on the path of being “sold” on working with you.

Proving your expertise increases your value (and prices)

Generally speaking, if you approach a company or client looking for work, the balance of power lies in their hands. You’re asking them for something. (If you’ve ever cold called to get clients, you know what I’m talking about).

However, building a solid reputation online through your blog increases your value and lets you charge more because potential clients value your work more.

If you want proof of this, simply look at the difference between the rates of a copywriter, web designer, or developer who has a well-known blog, and those of of copywriters, designers, and developers on sites like elance. Huge difference.

You see, if someone gets to know you through your blog and wants to hire you, it’s not just to do your thing, it’s do your thing your way.

That sets you apart from the crowd, and the more unique you are, the less likely people are to treat you as a commodity that can be beaten down on price.

Specific blogging tactic to attract clients: guest posting

The strongest strategy I’ve found for attracting clients who want to hire me as a copywriter is guest posting and the relationships I’ve built through guest posting.

This doesn’t mean having to guest post everywhere. I can trace back about $20,000 worth of client work ($12,500 from one client for a month’s worth of work) to a handful of guest posts I’ve written on less than four different websites.

Pick the biggest, brightest blogs and make sure they are in your audience’s niche, not just yours. If you make banjos, don’t write on the best banjo-making site (where other banjo-makers hang out), write for the best banjo-playing site (where the players—your customers—hang out).

A few tips that I’ve found to work well include:

  • Pick blogs that have integrity and are well respected among the audience of your ideal clients.
  • Go big! Don’t be intimidated thinking you have to start small—write great content and aim for the best sites!
  • Study the site. Study popular posts, comments, and posting guidelines.
  • Work hard to write an article that will give the audience value.
  • Be polite but persistent if you don’t hear anything. Submit your article and follow up in a week, then a week after that. Try social media, email, and online contact forms to get in touch (but no more than one or two different types of contact methods a week).
  • Prep your own website. Don’t write guest posts before you have any decent content or a newsletter on your own site!
  • Follow up. If you have a successful guest post that increases your traffic and enquiries, start planning more, or even pitch a series of two or three articles so the audience can really get to know you.

What about you? How have you used your blog to attract clients for your service offering? Have you noticed a difference in how potential clients deal with you if they come to you after reading your blog? Let me know in the comments! And stay tuned: tomorrow we’ll talk about blogging to support your coaching or training business.

Amy Harrison is a copywriter and content marketer for Personality Entrepreneurs wanting to connect and sell authentically to their audience. You can now download her free report on how to write sales copy when personality is part of your business at Harrisonamy.com.

Blogging Business Plans 101

This guest post is by Adarsh Thampy of ConversionChamp.com.

Do you know what the biggest mistake is when starting your own blog?

I’d argue that it’s probably lack of proper planning. At the starting point, you should consider writing a business plan for your blog.

“A business plan?” you might ask. “A blog is not necessarily a business!” I have guest posted over at branding personality about this topic. Blogging is a tool to promote your business or brand. So it’s essential that bloggers too have a business plan.

One of the successful entrepreneurs I respect the most, Neil Patel, is not a big fan of business plans, and he’s written about why you shouldn’t write a business plan in the first place. However, the plan I am talking about in this article is not based on any traditional models. Most people search the Internet to create a business plan and finally give up. It’s probably because they find it too difficult. I have to agree with this feeling: writing a business plan is no walk in the park.

But there is good news for people looking to start a blog, who want a plan that’ll help.

Unlike traditional business plans, the one you need to create for your blog is fairly simple. You don’t have to worry about structure, wording, or content. Your business plan will be short and easy to prepare.

Why do I even need a business plan?

All entrepreneurs know they need a business plan. But not many know why they actually need one. If I am talking on a high level, I can say that it is needed to acquire venture capital, optimize business operations, and so on, though I bet most bloggers never even remotely think of such things before they start a blog.

In layman’s terms, here’s why you need business plan:

  • It can give you an overall idea about your business (even before you start one). This makes sure that you approach blogging from a business perspective, and not just the mindset of content creation alone.
  • You will have a better understanding of the requirements of your business. (Can you provide consulting through your blog? Or how is it that you are going to make money from it?)
  • You’ll have a better overview about cash flow in your business. (Cashflow is nothing but how and when money comes in and goes out). How much are you going to invest in your blog, and how much do you expect it to make over a given period of time?
  • It encourages you to take a more realistic approach towards your business.
  • It helps you discover the challenges that lie ahead for your blog and the business associated with it.

How to prepare a business plan for your blog

Here comes the good part, and I must say that it’s actually fun too.

To create a blog, you’ll have to do research on your target market, figure out the operational and start-up costs, and so on. So why not document those things along the way, in a business plan that guides you, and provides a reference for the future?

Step 1: Business idea

In this section, you will have to note down what your business idea is. To make it more fun, write down how you actually zeroed down on your business idea. Make it short: don’t go over one page. In fact, try not to go over half a page.

Example: “My business idea is to start an online store which will sell superman merchandise to kids. I wanted to do this since my children love Superman toys and there isn’t any store that exclusively sells them online. I can entertain my kids as well as make some profit. I’ll use my blog to engage my customers and build a loyal following.”

Step 2: Business requirements

What does your business or blog require to get started? What is the timeframe in which you expect each task to be completed? It’s good to make an Excel spreadsheet and paste it into your business plan so you have all the information in the same document.

Don’t include costs here. When it comes to the timeframes you’ll need to factor in, be realistic. Optimism is good, but your business decisions needs to be based on facts.

Example for small blog business: “My online store will be ready in approximately three months’ time. I’ll also need the help of some web designers and developers to build my online store. Then I need to get a decent hosting for my business website.

“I will spend three hours a day on this project, as I have a full-time job as well. For my blog, I’ll write the contents. I’ll also hire an editor to manage the content of this site (and occasionally contribute to it while I am busy with my main business).”

  • “Designing the site: 15 days (I am smart so I’ll use the StudioPress theme for my blog—the one that powers problogger.net)
  • Coding for the site: 45 days
  • Tweaks: 5 days
  • Setting up merchant account with Google Checkout: 5 days
  • Getting necessary stock: 10 days
  • Planning for the launch: 1 day
  • Hiring people to maintain my business: 10 days”

“So that makes it a total of around three months for the site to go live. I’ll also need to put some money aside for this. I think I have it in my savings account. If not, maybe I’ll ask my wife really nicely.”

See how I broke down the requirements into smaller requirements? This makes it easier to adjust your plan if something goes off track. Also, don’t try to be formal in the way you phrase things. Your business plan is for your reference, not for someone else.

Step 3: Business model

There are many business models you can choose from. Normally for ecommerce stores, the business model is kind of traditional: you make a product, then customers pay for items they want. But in certain businesses, the model may be different. For your blog, your business model might be selling services, selling other peoples products for commission (affiliate marketing), or something else.

Whatever it is, make sure you have a very clear idea about how you are going to make money from your business. This is very important.

Example 1: “I’m going to use my online store to sell products. I will get product from <insert your vendor here> for a nice discount if I buy in bulk. Then I will sell it for a slightly higher price.

“My payment processor will be Google checkout. I have set to receive weekly payments and they will pay straight to my bank account. I will also sell customized services through my blog.”

Example 2: “I have a blog on health and wellness where I post articles on health-related issues. So, my main income source would be Google AdSense. Whenever user clicks on an advertisement on my site, I will get paid. The payment threshold is $100 and I will receive checks via mail when I reach that threshold.”

You need to document this business model very clearly. This will ensure that you do not lose focus on your end goal.

Step 4: Finance

In this section, you need to focus on the start-up costs as well as the running costs of your blog, and your business. Do some research and find out how much it will cost you to keep your online business going.

Again, this is very important as it will help you get an overview about business cash flow and profitability.

Example: “My online store will require the following to get started.

  • Domain: $30 (Registered for three years with Namecheap. Billing is every three years.)
  • Hosting: $85 (Registered with Hostgator for a year. They will bill me yearly.)
  • Design: $250 (Paid a freelancer for the excellent design. Was delivered in PSD format as well as JPEG.)
  • Coding: $3000 (Will pay another freelancer with good reputation on Odesk. Work will be completed in 45 days from start of payment.)
  • Miscellaneous costs: $250 (Includes a launch party for my friends.)

Total: $3615

Operational costs

  • Domain: $40 (Every three years)
  • Hosting: $85 (Every year) [Note: I may need to upgrade to a more expensive plan as my site grows]
  • Shipping costs: $5 (per shipment)
  • Promotions and discounts: Vary from 2% to 10% discount depending on the market conditions”

This is just a small example. In some cases the finance required might be very small; in some cases it’ll be huge. If you want to factor in your time as well, then you can come up with an hourly rate that reflects your work, and put it in the operational cost section.

Also note that the running costs will vary over time. When your blog starts getting popular, you might need to move to better hosting, or you might need to develop more features, which will require a larger investment of money.

Step 5: Business goals

In this section, you need to set business goals. Make sure they are achievable. Relax your goals a bit. It’s better to achieve a small goal rather than fail to achieve a big goal.

Example 1:  “I need to break even in one years’ time. In another year, I will expand my collection to include more toys. After three years, I will launch my own brand of toys. My goal for profits is 0% the first year (that is, I’ll break even), another 5% the second year, and increase by 2% in the coming years.”

Example 2: “Right now I am going to start with just my blog and offer consultation services. Later on I will be adding informational products. So I expect to break even in one year, get a minimum of 1000 subscribers and land two or three consulting gigs. I also want to set a monthly traffic goal of 25,000 site visitors by the end of year one.”

You need to constantly refer to your business goals so that you do not lose focus.

Step 6: Operational model

You need to figure out how you’re going to run your business. Is it a one-man show? Are you going to hire employees to manage certain tasks?

Example:  “Here is how I plan to operate my blog and the business associated with it:

  • Work part-time for three hours a day during the first six months.
  • Write content myself. My blogging schedule will be to post three articles each week.
  • Quit my full-time job and work 12 hours a day for my site for the next six months.
  • Allow guest posts from the sixth month onwards. Hire an editor to take care of managing the guest posts.
  • Hire an accountant to maintain records so that I can easily file my tax returns.
  • Hire marketing people to take care of site promotion, or do site promotion myself.
  • Teach my wife how I run this business and ask her to take on some of the roles.”

Step 7: Marketing strategy

Here you will define how you’ll market your business. Don’t go into depth while laying out your marketing strategy. Marketing strategies vary greatly over time. In the early 1900’s no one would have thought about marketing online. Yet, now online marketing is one of the best ways to get customers for your business.

Put in the main points and leave it at that—you can always revise the plans in more detail as you come to put them into practice. This will also help you evaluate how your previous marketing strategy helped you, and how the new one is doing.

Example:  “I am going to promote my online store in the following ways:

  • Use blogging as a powerful content marketing tool. Create awesome content and post it on my blog. This will attract a loyal audience.
  • Hire a good SEO consultant/learn SEO myself.
  • Ask friends to recommend my site to others.
  • Buy a small ad in my local newspaper about my online store.
  • Write articles on related sites for free, in exchange for a link to my site (guest posts).”

Step 8: Exit strategy

This is something not many entrepreneurs want to think about. An exit strategy is something you use when you want to close your business.

People don’t want to think about it because it spreads a negative vibe, and you don’t want anything negative in your business. However, you certainly need an exit plan.

Most entrepreneurs never make an exit strategy the first time, so if their business or blog isn’t as successfully as they’d hoped, they get disheartened and quit. If you have an exit strategy, you can save all the stress and exit gracefully. I have personally started around ten blogs and only few of them were successful. I lost several thousand dollars initially because I did not plan on a proper exit strategy.

Example:  “In the rare case that my business fails or I decide to quit my business, here is my plan:

  • I will try to sell my business online for what it is worth at the time.
  • I will cancel all services associated with my business.
  • Customers will be informed of the business’s sale well in advance.
  • I have kept a reserve amount in my bank account should anything bad happen.
  • I will take a break for one month before I venture into another business again.”

A blog business plan in 8 steps

So there you have it: eight steps and you’re done. Now you have a well thought out, personal business plans for your internet business.

I highly recommend that each year you review your business plan and create a new, more specific one for the coming 12 months. The old one should be kept to provide a yardstick against which you can manage your business growth, chart the change in strategies, and so on over time.

Have you created a business plan for your blog? Let us know how it’s helped you in the comments.

Adarsh Thampy is a blogger, inbound marketing consultant for small business and a SEO guy. He writes about getting more customers for your business over at ConversionChamp.com. You can add conversionchamp to the Google plus circle.

How I Took the Toughest Blog Niche, and Owned It

This guest post is by Dominick DalSanto of Baghouse.

Imagine you are called into your boss’s office and presented with the following assignment: head a new marketing initiative for your entire company.

You are to do so using a medium and associated technologies that you have absolutely no experience with, and the plan you are going to follow is one that a great many other companies have tried/are trying to do, only to see failure. You are to do all of this without any training or instruction of any kind.

A tough industry

Image copyright Cowboy in the Jungle

Needless to say, you might a be a bit overwhelmed by the enormity of the task assigned to you. I know I sure was when this very thing happened to me a few years ago. I found myself tasked with running a new online marketing strategy for our company, with little experience, and hardly a clue on how I was going to do it. Quite a daunting task for the new guy at the company.

Our company, Baghouse.com, which sells industrial dust collection systems (a type of air pollution control technology), had decided that we needed to exploit of the overall lack of internet presence in our industry, and use that to our advantage by initiating a new online marketing strategy. This new strategy included a redesigned website with a focus on useful, practical content that would increase our company’s reputation as a industry leader, and bring in new customers.

My job was to figure out how we were going to do it, how to do it for a reasonable price, and then put it into action. Some of the challenges that lay before me included:

  • a lack of experience in both blogging and web marketing
  • my competition was fierce and included a Fortune Global 100 corporation with nearly endless resources
  • a very small potential audience/target demographic (industry professionals who deal with air pollution control equipment, and specifically dust collection equipment).

Where was I even to begin?

I found advice, but it wasn’t quite what I needed

As with most people in my generation, I figured that I would be able to learn all I needed about blogging by reading about it online. I did manage to find a number of great sites, such as Problogger and Copyblogger, among others. I also managed to run across Darren’s book about blogging, which also was an immense help.

Over the next few months, I read more articles about blogging than I can even number. Most of them had excellent tips for starting, maintaining, and promoting blogs for success. While some of these articles were very helpful (such as ones about SEO, design, software, etc.) I began to realize that a lot of this advice was not quite as applicable to my blog as it was to others with a more mainstream niche target.

For just one example, many articles talk about the importance of using Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites to promote your articles, and to engage your readers. Here’s a cold hard fact: middle-aged industrial engineers (a large part of my target audience) looking for ways to decrease static pressure drop across their pulse-jet dust collector at the advanced manufacturing plant where they work are not the types that sit around and go looking for articles on Facebook while they are at work.

I quickly realized that while there was a wealth of valuable information on these sites, I needed to adapt it to my unique market, and combine it with more traditional industrial marketing methods to have any success.

Fast-forward to the present day, we rank #1 for five of the best keywords in our industry, and have increased overall traffic, traffic quality (more focused), and conversions (contacting us for a quote). Here’s what I did to take my blog from its beginnings to where it is today.

1. Learn your topic well enough to teach others

One problem I encountered was that to be a successful blogger, you need to know your topic well enough that your writing offers something valuable to your readers. Your articles can inform, they can teach, they can warn, they can do a lot of things, but you as the author need to know your niche well enough to identify what stories will fill these roles for your readers.

Despite working in the industry from a young age (it’s the family business), I, as the simple high school graduate, now needed to know enough about dust collection technology to write something with appealing value to guys with engineering degrees from MIT.

I needed to learn everything I could about the industry, but you can’t just go to Barns and Noble and buy a book on dust collection. I needed to find other ways to educate myself. This lead me to asking people at our company with decades of experience, finding other professionals on LinkedIn and asking them specific questions, and devouring whatever reading material I could get my hands on from websites, to trade publications, etc. In such a specialized niche as mine, tracking down this kind of information often proved exceedingly difficult.

In the end, my education did not happen overnight, but little by little I learned more and more and right away I started to use my still growing knowledge to write. Initially my writings were a little simpler, and harder to do, but I always worked hard to use what knowledge I had to prepare interesting, informative, and useful content for my readers.

Two years on, I still have a lot yet to learn, but I have gone from writing simple news stories to being featured in major industry trade magazines/blogs, and large environmental advocacy sites among others.

2. Do what you can for SEO, and recognize that pros can do the rest better

One of the most valuable of the many things I took to learning about when I started was search engine optimization (SEO). In many ways the potential SEO benefits to our main site were the driving force for establishing a blog in the first place. I learned quickly, however, that simply adding a blog to your site, and filling it with a few articles is not all it takes to shoot straight to #1 on Google.

As with the technical aspect of my niche, I made sure to subscribe to several of the best SEO sites out there, as well Website Magazine to learn all I could about SEO. After a while I became pretty knowledgeable about SEO and our site saw a marked improvement.

However, it is very important to avoid becoming overconfident in your own newly-acquired abilities. In time I began to realize that there was a limit to what I could accomplish with SEO, while still devoting sufficient time to content research and authoring, webmaster duties, as well as other marketing endeavors.

So we made the decision to hire an outside SEO firm to help us. After doing extensive research (well over 20 quotes) we settled on a smaller company out of Idaho that impressed us with their knowledge and vision for our site. We managed to negotiate an innovative agreement with them that would see us pay a reduced rate upfront, and then pay a higher total price only if we obtained a set number of goals (in our case, a first-page listing on Google for each of our five target keywords).

This allowed us to make the initial investment even with our tight budget. If we then should we see success from the campaign, we would be able to afford the higher rate. (I find it utterly laughable that SEO companies claim that they cannot offer any sort of promise that you will rank well after they take your money. What other business in the world could get away with such a brush off of responsibility for their work like that?)

The results that have come from this partnership are astonishing. With their skilled staff, they were able to correct several technical errors on our site that I had endeavored in vain to fix on my own (still working on learning web programming). Additionally, since they were taking care of the mundane SEO tasks (technical tweaks, press releases, etc.), I was able to focus my attention on higher value SEO initiatives (guest posts, high quality link exchanges, recommendations from other sites, etc.) which required more effort, more time, and an actual expert knowledge of the industry.

All of this has lead to us in less than five months improving three out of five of our target keyword rankings from an average of 60 to between #1 and #3 on Google.

3. Find creative ways to network

With such a tight focus, and a niche that in general has almost no internet presence, finding networking opportunities was by far the most difficult part of developing our site. To say it required extensive research to find other sites in our niche online is the understatement of the year. Besides other competitors, the number of directories that include our industry is limited to around five. After you get a listing there, there is really not much else out there for us to go for.

LinkedIn proved itself deserving of the accolades it frequently receives, by filling in the gaps in business marketing like it has. By creating a custom profile for myself, and for Baghouse.com, we were able to introduce ourselves to others in our industry. Along with that, LinkedIn groups provided us with not just one, but a number of different forums to post our articles, find help with technical questions, and introduce ourselves as industry problem solvers to potential customers.

In fact, the most visitors we ever received was when I posted a link to an article on five ways to increase dust collector efficiency to one of the LinkedIn groups, and then asked for everyone to share their thoughts on it, and let me know what if any additional items I could cover in the next article in the series. It resulted in a traffic increase of over 200%, and brought me to the attention of several major players in the industry, which then lead to several offers to write for several important trade magazines.

4. Guest post like your life depends on it, and expand your topic’s reach

Of all the SEO/web marketing tactics out there, few provide as many benefits as guest posting. Guest posting simultaneously provides means for direct marketing relationship building, and immense SEO value.

Yet I had an extremely difficult time locating sites with a similar focus to mine that allow guest posts.

My initial efforts to post on the few larger, directly related industry sites (industry trade magazines, pollution control equipment directories, etc.) ended in failure because no one would take me seriously as I did not have an established record of content that was up to their standards, and more simply because I was a nobody. So this again forced me to adapt my methods.

I started looking for ways to broaden my articles’ reach, and make new connections between what we do at baghouse.com and the rest of the world. I then began seeking out a wider range of sites that I could then guest post on.

I began to write articles that focused on the environmental aspects of our work, how our equipment is playing a part in protection the environment (environmental advocacy sites), how it protects workers from health hazards at work (workplace safety and workers’ rights sites), and how the recent legislative developments (stronger governmental pollution regulations) would soon require upgraded dust collection equipment (political blogs, environmental and corporate law sites).

Keys to success in industrial blogging

It was not easy, it did not happen overnight, and the battle to be and stay #1 will be ongoing. Nevertheless, I believe that we owe our success to these four points:

  1. Study your topic enough to be able to inform, educate, and motivate your readers: You can do this by reading trade magazines, subscribing to blogs and sites, and asking others in your field and learning from them.
  2. Learn all you can about SEO, but find a pro to help, allowing you to use your time pursuing the most valuable things: You can do this by: Reading, and studying about SEO online, and in print. Find an SEO firm that fits your company size and scope, and that can provide their services at a reasonable price with reasonable expectations.
  3. Find creative ways to network with other industry professionals and potential customers: you can do this by digging deep to find directories, news outlets, and other sites that deal with your niche. Utilize LinkedIn to the full, by creating complete profiles for both personnel and the company, and by joining Groups that fit your niche.
  4. Use guest posting to increase your prestige, improve SEO, and attract new visitors: You can do this by identifying all blogs and content publishing websites in your niche, and broadening your scope of your content as much as possible to take advantage of “nearby” niches and their blogs.

Whether blogging about industrial dust collection systems or other less common niches, you will find success if you are willing to be adaptable, insightful and creative enough to take methods that have guided countless others to blogging success, and use them to find success yourself.

Dominick is a dust collection systems expert and author, having published numerous articles, whitepapers, and news pieces covering the benefits of baghouse filter technology in controlling industrial air pollution. California born, Chicago raised, in his spare time, he writes about travel and life abroad for various travel sites and blogs from his current home in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

What Blogging for Fun Taught Me About Blogging for Profit

This guest post is by Becky Canary-King of Direct Incorporation.

There’s really too much to say about the benefit of a good blog for your business. A well done blog can bring in new customers, establish yourself as an expert in your field, open up communication with your clients, and support your SEO and marketing.

Recently I discovered that the blog I write for fun about body image issues has a higher Google page rank than my company’s blog! Of course, we get a fraction of the web views, but without pointed effort, I managed to make my personal blog keyword rich, get lots of backlinks, and ranked high in Google’s page rankings. Now that I’m writing for my company’s blog, here are the lessons I’m taking with me:

Pick a specific topic

Be specific. Want to be a catch-all related to everything about your industry? Great. But you’re going to have a lot of competition, and major competitors with more resources and established viewers. Instead, focus on what you do best, the niche area that you have a unique perspective. What is the blog that only your company could write?

Establish your credentials. Let your readers know why they would want to hear from you about the topic. Just the fact that you are selling the product or service is not necessarily enough to gain your reader’s trust. Sharing your education or career path is a quick way to add credibility; but it’s not the only one. I never got a degree in “Body Image Sciences”, but my genuine interest in the topic makes me a credible source to readers.

Collaborate with other blogs

Know your part in the blogosphere. Read other blogs on your topic! Getting to know what’s already out there helps you establish where your niche will be. You also get a feel for what readers on the topic are interested in and can borrow some tricks on what works.

Comment and share. Guest post, link back, comment on other blogs. All these actions convey your interest in the topic and establish your unique point of view. Blogs can act as a community of learners, experts and interested parties. Join in enthusiastically!

Interact with readers

Let your readers know what they can expect. Doing a series is a great way to get readers coming back for more. Or pick a day when you write on a certain topic, or have a certain type of post. Personally, I do a body positive music post every Friday, featuring a song or two I enjoy. I have been linked back to as a place where you can consistently check out body positive music.

Encourage and ask for feedback. Trying to get commenters on your blog can be really frustrating at first—it normally doesn’t happen automatically, but keep at it! At the end of every post ask questions or encourage them to give you feedback on the topic. Respond to comments right away with a real response, rather than just a thank you. Readers are a great resource for your blog, so let them know they are valued.

Now get writing!

Becky Canary-King is an Account Manager and Press Contact at Direct Incorporation, a company focused on providing a more economical and efficient alternative to using a law firm for common legal/entrepreneurial issues. She is passionate about women’s empowerment and blogs for personally for Happy Bodies, and professionally for Direct Incorporation’s Blog, offering tips for the first 6 months of your small business.

How to Avoid Legal Trouble, Income Tax Fines, and Penalties as a Blogger

This guest post is by Sunil of Extra Money Blog.

Making money online is no different than making money from any other type of business in that you have to abide by the same laws and regulations as any other business or citizen.

Many internet entrepreneurs fail to consider this and are later faced with severe fines and penalties from relevant governing authorities. Others face even more severe repercussions.

How do I know? I’ve had to help many get out from their terrible situations! See, I have a slight advantage. Not only am I a successful internet entrepreneur today, but I was also a CPA and financial consultant in my past life.

Tax time

Copyright Christopher Meder - Fotolia.com

Although I have no data to prove it, my theory is that many young entrepreneurs enter the online business space without fully understanding its nature and the laws and regulations one must adhere to in any for-profit activity.

The lack of awareness and knowledge is what leads most people to unforeseen unfortunate circumstances with the legal authorities.

Below are a handful of legalities to consider as you embark and progress in your journey of making money online. These are some of the most financially impactful in terms of fines, penalties, liability exposure, and money left on the table, yet they’re ones that are most commonly overlooked by bloggers and internet marketers.

Note that this post focuses on regulatory obligations under United States law.

Note: None of this should be construed as legal or tax advice. Consult your personal and paid accountants and attorneys before implementing any part of this discussion.

Legal incorporation

A business online is a business nonetheless. And any business can be sued for anything.  At the very least, it’s a good idea to ensure your personal assets are protected and “separated” from your business assets.

One way to do this by incorporating your business under a formal legalized structured such as a limited liability company (LLC).

Contractor pay compliance

In the United States, you are required to timely complete and file Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Form 1099 for each contractor hired if you paid them at least $600.

This is how the government tracks who is earning money from freelance labor. This is also how the government tracks whether expenses claimed as deductions are being claimed as income elsewhere. For example, when you claim a $600 business deduction, that is $600 less the government can tax you with. But they will expect someone else to claim the $600 so they can collect their fair share of tax revenue.

Quarterly Tax Installments

When you’re self-employed, the Government expects you to remit your anticipated self-employment taxes on a quarterly basis so that it can operate within its budget.

Rather than paying a lump sum tax amount at the end of the year, you are expected to pay taxes in four installments (one each quarter). The idea is to pay all your tax liability by the time year-end comes around.

It is always a good idea to overpay and then claim a refund rather than underpaying and having to pay fines and penalties. You don’t want to mess with rude Uncle Sam.

Business losses

If your online business generates a loss and you happen to have a full-time job and therefore get a W2 form at the end of the year, you may be able to deduct your losses from your wage income to reduce your overall tax burden.

For example, if you made $40,000 working in a job and lost $2,000 in your online business due to expenses such as paying someone to design a website, domain, hosting, email newsletters, etc., you can deduct the $2,000 from the $40,000, netting you a total of $38,000 in taxable income. This essentially reduces your effective tax rate.

Now you won’t get into trouble if you don’t do this, but it is to your benefit to claim your business losses as a deduction against your wage income. The IRS will not remind you of this, so be sure to capitalize on what you deserve.

NOL carry-forward

If you don’t have a full-time job, and your online company is all you’ve got, providing you have it incorporated appropriately, you can carry over losses from one year to another, future year, to offset your earnings.

This is called a net operating loss deduction in more technical terms. There are certain rules around how much you can deduct, when and how long you can carry over a balance in the future. Speak to your accountant for more information.

When must you consider these income tax legalities?

These legalities collectively can sound overwhelming, especially if you haven’t had to consider them before. That said, these are not prerequisites by any means to start blogging or an internet-based business.

You can wait until your online ventures become profitable before considering the legalities involved. It makes sense. Why go through all that planning, work and possible hassle for nothing? After all, a very small minority of online businesses make money and survive in the long term.

That said, it can’t hurt to meet with a tax professional and get familiarized with the law and your obligations when you decide you want to monetize your online ventures. In fact, I highly recommend that approach. At the very least, spend some time reading about the law and your responsibilities to avoid any surprises in the long term.

Subsequent to all that, it is important to stay organized and keep track of all income and expenditures from your online endeavors. Many bloggers scramble at the last minute to obtain this information when their ventures turn profitable and they have to pay taxes on those profits.

Staying prepared and organized ensures that you can comply with tax laws if and when you have to cross that line (when you become profitable).

And while the above considerations are the most impactful and commonly overlooked, the tax law is broader and varies from one jurisdiction to another. Therefore there may be nuances unique to each blogger’s home base or jurisdiction.  For these reasons collectively, it may be best for a professional blogger or internet marketer to consult with a tax accountant who is familiar with this industry when your online endeavors start turning profit.

Conclusion

Although these points specifically apply to the United States legal system, the general premise underlying this discussion is broad. In other words, every jurisdiction has its set of legalities, and it is important to understand what you are expected to comply with as an individual earning income in that jurisdiction.

Knowledge is power, so make sure you are equipped with the right information before you start any worthwhile endeavor, whether online or off, and avoid potential legal liabilities that may come your way.

You can prepare yourself by initially learning about tax laws and your responsibilities, and subsequently consulting with a tax professional when it comes time to pay Uncle Sam.

Did you think about these things before you dove into blogging for profit? What did or do you do to prepare yourself for tax compliance?

Sunil owns over a dozen profitable niche websites and is the author of “How to Go from $0 to $1,000 a month in Passive and Residual Income in Under 180 Days All in Your Spare Time“, a FREE report you can download instantly from his Extra Money Blog, where he discusses how to create multiple streams of passive and residual income, entrepreneurship, internet marketing, blogging and personal finance. In 2007, he sold his ecommerce website for $250,000 to a top Ebay Power Seller and since then has sold several niche sites for five figures each. You can read more about him and his work on his blog

How to Use Blogging as a Job Search Tool

This guest post is by Lior Levin.

Blogging is not just writing your personal notebook these days: it’s a truly open platform where people share their ideas, passion, goals, and thoughts on subjects they care about. Gone are the days when people would consider blogs “a personal affair.” The scene has long since changed.

Blogging as a job search tool

Job seeker

Image copyright Luna Vandoorne - Fotolia.com

As a job seeker, you can use the power of blogs to reach potential recruiters and make them aware of your existence. Googling for potential employees is slowly becoming a trend among recruiters, and you should definitely use the power of blogging to elevate your job profile and establish yourself as an expert in your industry.

Of course you’ll face challenges, and there is no guarantee that you will get hired as a result of your blog. But it never hurts to give this idea a decent try, and see the feedback and response you get from employers who stumble upon your blog.

If you’re seeking a dream job and want to use the Internet to drive potential employers to your online resume, here are a few tips you should keep in mind:

Set up your LinkedIn profile

The very first thing you should do is set up your LinkedIn profile and connect with like minded people, who share common interests and professional backgrounds. LinkedIn is the social hub of career professionals, and employers are always scanning this social site to find enthusiastic candidates who love their work, and are considered leaders in their fields.

By engaging with like-minded people, you’ll understand what they want from you.

Blog about your core interests

Keep your blog focused and up to date on specific topics. It would be better if you leave aside personal rants and ramblings. Instead, blog about your career goals, past projects, lessons, assignments, and so on. The more you blog about your career assignments and skill set, the more people will consider you an “authority” and a “focused person” who knows what they’re talking about.

Blog regularly

If your last blog post was published couple of years back, potential recruiters will think you’ve lost interest. Write often—at least twice a week. Blog about your latest project, blog about the work culture, and remember a golden rule: “Never criticize any of your past employers.”

Engage

This is really important. Write about your interests, but at the same time, engage with the most important asset in any organisation: “People.” Visit their blogs and comment on a post you loved reading. Reply to their tweets, start a conversation with them, and maintain healthy relationships with your peers. Sooner or later, people will notice your online behavior, and they might shoot off an email expecting to hear more from you.

Never lose patience. It takes time to grow a tree, but once it’s there, the shade lasts forever. Just because you don’t see anything on the surface doesn’t mean the plant isn’t growing beneath it. Give your blog some time and keep writing about things you love. That’s what matters most if you want potential recruiters to notice you.

This post is written by Lior Levin, a marketing enthusiast who works for a start-up company that offers a to-do list app for businesses and individuals. Lior also advises for a web hosting company that offers consumers a list of the top 10 website hosting companies available online.

Make Money Locally—and Globally—Through Your Blog

This guest post is by Danny Iny of Firepole Marketing.

Our blog is less than a year old.

We started Firepole Marketing less than a year ago, and we’ve done pretty well with it over that time. A lot of people know who we are, and what we do.

I’ve even been dubbed the Freddy Krueger of Blogging.

And while we’re not at the scale of a major site like Copyblogger, we still do pretty well, to the point that we make a decent amount of money online, and occasionally even help others to do the same.

Connections

Image copyright Lvnel - Fotolia.com

We aren’t the only ones to have done that, and I remember that a year ago, when I saw others make the same sort of claim, I always wanted more information. I wanted to know how much money they were really making, and where that money was coming from.

All right then, I’ll tell you…

Where did we start? Where did the money come from?

Let me start with a bit of the back-story—who we are, and where we came from.

I’ve been an entrepreneur for longer than my adult life. I quit school when I was 15 to start my first business, and I’ve been doing it ever since.

For the last several years, in parallel with my various entrepreneurial ventures (some of which were successful, and some of which were less so), my regular income was earned by consulting for small businesses, usually in the zero-to-ten employee range. Sometimes I would get involved in an advisory capacity, and sometimes they would bring me in for something very specific (i.e. they need a new website)—either way, I would end up helping them make more money by tuning up their marketing and business strategy.

My partner Peter is a marketing and business coach, with similar expertise. We connected on the networking circuit, and while comparing notes over coffee, we agreed that while there were lots of businesses in our target market that were doing well enough to afford our services, there were also a lot of businesses that really needed help, but hardly had any money. We both gave away a lot of free coaching and advice, but that could only go so far.

So we decided to create our training program—that was the birth of Firepole Marketing.

That was more than two years ago. Fast-forward to last year, and the program was done—now we needed to get the word out about it, and that’s when we turned to blogging.

Obviously, my income started out completely offline. I had grown my consultancy to a six-figure business before we ever launched Firepole Marketing.

I think that’s pretty normal—very few people start their careers online, so it makes sense that you would start your transition into the online world still making money from offline opportunities.

Then we launched our product and blog, and half-expected the sales to start rolling in…

Disappointments and False Starts

Almost immediately after launching the blog, we announced it to our (small) lists, and did a small product launch. This was in the very beginning of 2010.

It flopped miserably.

We didn’t make any money at all from that launch, and in hindsight, it wasn’t hard to see why.

Nobody knew who we were, and our audience was very small (less than a hundred people on our list).

So who were we launching our product to?

Nobody—that’s right!

It was after that false start that we realized we need to focus on building an engaged audience first, and then worrying about product sales later.

So that’s what we did. I wrote lots of guest posts, landed interviews with major figures like Guy Kawasaki, participated in online conversations, and did everything that I could think of to:

  1. get my name out in front of as many targeted people as I could
  2. consistently offer as much value as I could, so that if people remembered me, they would remember me in a positive light.

And it started working. I built real relationships with lots of other bloggers, our traffic numbers grew, and we started seeing some really interesting discussion and debate on some of our posts. In less than a year, our Alexa ranking dropped from over a million to just about 85,000, where it hovers today.

And we figured that as the traffic numbers increased, we’d start seeing more people buy our training program. But we were wrong…

Next: Online Feeding Offline

We did start seeing product sales, but not as many as had hoped, and not as soon as we would have liked.

That was fine, though, because it turned out that there were a much more lucrative income opportunities that literally found us.

Those opportunities were offline opportunities … sort of.

It turned out that a whole bunch of people in our networks—some of whom we hadn’t spoken to in years—were reading our blog, and following our growth online. They were impressed, and started contacting us out of the blue, to engage our coaching and consulting services.

Once we noticed the trend, we put out a few feelers to our list (which had a couple hundred people on it by this point), asking if anyone was interested in working with us on a one-on-one basis.

More than a few people said yes, and working with us on a one-on-one basis isn’t cheap!

In other words, before we even started making product sales, we had generated something like $10,000 in extra revenues from new clients that found us through the blog.

But it didn’t stop there.

Product Sales and More Clients…

Eventually, people started buying our training program.

It was just a trickle at first—after all, this is a $900 training program, not a $17 e-book!

But people were buying, culminating in a big chunk of publicity that we got at the end of August, when we took the program off the market.

All in all, we’ve probably made another $10,000 or so from product sales, and we expect that number to grow dramatically each time we open the program to new students, which will probably happen once or twice per year (that way, we can focus on building our audience in between).

And in between launches, we get new coaching and consulting clients, which will realistically continue to make up the majority of the income that we earn online—at least for the next year or so.

So, how can you do the same?

Are you wondering whether you can do exactly what we did, and get the exact same results?

The answer is that no, you probably can’t.

I could tell you what’s worked for us—but that probably won’t be very helpful, because we’re different people with different strengths, we’ve had different experiences, and we’re in different circumstances.

What you really need is some hard data about what seems to be working, across the board.

Everybody talks about making some money locally and some money online, but there’s no hard data about what results large numbers of people are seeing, and how long it’s taking them to get there.

We wanted to change all that, so we created the Semi-Local Business Survey.

The survey will ask you how much of your income is generated locally, how much is generated remotely, and how you came to be where you are today.

Your answers are completely anonymous, and will be added to the answers of many others, so that we can see what the real trends in the industry are.

There’s no offer here, and nothing for sale—we just want to gather the data and share it with the community.

So please, take a few minutes and complete the survey!

Danny Iny (@DannyIny) is an author, strategist, serial entrepreneur, and proud co-founder of Firepole Marketing, the program that turns non-marketers into expert marketers. He wants to know where entrepreneurs, freelancers and small businesses are really making their money – help out by completing the Semi-Local Business Survey today!