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My Top 5 Mistakes as a Blogger

w__darrenrowse-_66.jpgOver in the ProBlogger.com forum last week, I issued members with a challenge to complete this week on their blogs. The challenge was simple – to write a ‘top 5’ post on any topic they wanted.

This is my own contribution to the challenge!

My Top 5 Mistakes as a Blogger

I’ve been blogging 11 and a half years now, and while I pinch myself everyday at where blogging has taken me, that time has been littered with mistakes and failures along the way.

While we often talk about the good times here on ProBlogger, today I thought I’d share 5 mistakes I made (or to put a more positive spin on it… 5 lessons I learned the hard way).

1. Choosing Profit over Passion

My first blog was a personal blog and an extension of who I was. I only wrote about what I was interested in and profit was not on the radar as nobody made money blogging back then.

My second blog was an extension of my first, and a blog on a topic that I was interested in (cameras/photography) – but which also became profitable.

After I saw that my second blog started to make money I began to dream about ‘going pro’ as a blogger. One of the routes I saw I could take to achieve this dream was to start more blogs.

I thought if my camera/photography blog could make money, then I could replicate the model with other niches and topics. At the time, I took two approaches in researching what topics to create these new blogs on:

  1. Popular topics which could potentially attract a lot of traffic
  2. High-value topics – which I could earn good money on through AdSense (some niches of ads were paying higher rates than others)

I started 30 blogs in that next year, and each fit into one of the above categories.

For example in category one was a blog which I started with a friend on the Athens Olympic Games. We knew there’d be a heap of people searching for information on the topic (particularly people wanting the results of events), so we created a blog with hundreds of posts on every single event in the games. We had all these posts live and indexed by Google weeks before the games happened so that when each event happened and people typed in ‘event name gold medal’ or ‘event name results’, we’d come up.

As each event happened we added the results to the event.

Fitting into the second category (profitable high value topics) was a blog I started on ‘printers’. My research revealed at the time that some of the highest paying ads going around were for print cartridges. So I started a blog on the topic of printers. I reviewed printers and I posted about new ones on the market.

I had absolutely no interest in the topic of printers – and it showed in my content.

Both of the above blogs made money but neither were topics I was particularly passionate about (although the Olympics is something I have an interest in the content we were producing wasn’t that stimulating to create).

I got away with the Olympics one because it was a short-term project and it was quite a buzz to do on some levels, however the discovery I made about almost all of the other blogs I created in that period was that it was both mind-numbing and spirit-sucking work to sustain a blog on topics you had no interest in at all.

That year almost ended my blogging dreams because while I made enough money to call it a full time job – it left me very uninspired.

Luckily at this time I also started ProBlogger – a blog I’m passionate about – and later started Digital Photography School and found that it was a heap more enjoyable to create blogs that you actually enjoyed writing for. I abandoned the other blogs soon after and a weight was lifted from my shoulders!

2. Being Slow to….

I’m going to roll a number of regrets and mistakes into one here and put them all under the ‘being too slow’ banner.

I’m not a fast-paced person. It takes me a while to make decisions and to jump into new things. I watched everyone else jump into Twitter for six months before I did. The same happened with Facebook, the same with investing time into starting an email newsletter.

While I did jump on some thing pretty quickly (like blogging itself – which I started doing two hours after reading my first blog), I sometimes wonder where I’d be if I’d acted faster in some areas, particularly at adopting new technologies.

On the flip side of this though is that I feel like by being a little ‘slow’ I probably jumped in with more information and having watched what others were doing – which hopefully meant I started things ‘right’ from the start.

3. The Wrong Domains

I’ve made almost every mistake you can with domains. For starters I didn’t get my own domain when I began, later I got an Aussie domain for a blog with a global audience, then I got a .net domain instead of a .com, then I ran a whole heap of different topic blogs on the one domain and then I got a domain with hyphens! I wrote more about all these mistakes (and more here!)

4. Business Regrets

A number of years ago I started blogging network by the name of b5media with three other bloggers. While the experience was amazing on many levels and I learned SO much, I have many regrets about some aspects of the experience also.

I won’t rehash them all but if I could go into that business venture again I’d have spent more time at the beginning as a partnership working out goals, expectations, roles and thinking about the model. I’d probably have wanted to ‘meet’ my partners before starting the business too :-)

I’d also have avoided going down the path of giving up equity in the business in order to take on capital. My experience with venture capital was not overly positive. While it does enable you to grow and expand – it means less control. In my case it meant I ended up with nothing at all after several years of work. It works for some, but I’d avoid it in future.

I learned a lot from that business and bear no grudge to any of my partners in it, but wouldn’t do it the same way again!

5. Trying to Do it All Myself

It’s only really been the last three or so years that I’ve begun to develop a team of people to help me run my businesses.

The 3-4 years preceding bringing on team members almost killed me. I stretched myself way too thin and it impacted my health, relationships, and the business itself.

While expanding the team means changing my role (which brings challenges), it also has led to many new opportunities and a lot more enjoyment! The business has grown as a result and I hope has helped me provide a better experience for those whom I serve also.

What Are Your Biggest Blogging Mistakes?

There you have it – my biggest mistakes as a blogger (note: I didn’t say my ‘only’ mistakes). I’ve shown you mine… how about telling us some of yours?

44 Things Bloggers Should Be Delegating to Virtual Staff to Catapult Their Online Growth

Chris' internal team, based in Cebu City.

Chris’ internal team, based in Cebu City.

This is a guest post contribution by Chris Ducker.

One of the biggest pain points that comes up when I talk to bloggers about growing their blogs is that there simply isn’t enough time in the day to do everything they need to, to truly start to catapult the growth of their blog/s.

As someone that is all about productivity and helping other entrepreneurs achieve the ability to ‘buy time’ and inject that additional time into their businesses and lives, I’ve seen dramatic changes in not just productivity levels, but also income levels, after strategizing with content marketers on the way they can simply get more done by working with, and building a virtual team.

So, what I’ve decided to do is put together the following list to help you discover the different tasks you can outsource to virtual staff, along with the type of worker that would naturally handle those tasks, to make your delegation as easy (and pain free!) as possible.

I’ve included the different type of virtual worker in this list, because its important to understand that there is no one ‘Super VA’ that can do everything for you. If you want to experience real success in working with virtual assistants then you need to hire for the role, not for the task (unless of course you are literally just outsourcing a task that needs to be completed, such as a logo being designed!).

I’ve also broken the list up into five clearly different sections for easy digestion and additional brainstorming, as follows:

  • Research
  • Creation
  • Publishing
  • Promotion
  • On-Going Marketing

Remember, this list is not final in any capacity. Some of these tasks you might never get around to delegating, there might even more others that I’ve not included that you’d be rushing to offload, if you could.

Research

Making time to properly research and prepare for your content creation is an important part of the process. However, many bloggers simply don’t spend the time they sometimes need to get all their ducks in a row, before the ‘creation’ begins, because of time constraints, which is a shame.

1. Make a list of topic ideas in any niche, using Google Keyword Tool. (General VA, Writer, SEO VA)
2. Group similar topics and figure out if they can be turned into a series of posts, or even more – ebooks, etc. (General VA, Writer)
3. Figure out what TYPE of content should be created to serve the topic best. Written, audio, video, etc. (General VA)
4. Produce an outline for posts, videos, podcasts, or a rough storyboard for other type of content, such as Slideshare docs, etc. (General VA, Writer)
5. Find similar online content and create a ‘Likewise List’ to use later on, when promoting. (General VA)
6. Identify Facebook and LinkedIn groups, which can be used to promote and share content when published. (General VA)

Creation

A lot of bloggers and other types of online content creators have real problems ‘letting go’ of this part of the process. However, there are so many different tasks involved here that its simply impossible to be good at all of it.

I do want to say, however, that there is one thing that you should NEVER outsource – and that’s your actual CONTENT. Meaning, write everything yourself, shoot and record everything yourself. It’s your voice, your personality, your stories and experience that people are following you for, and tuning in for.

7. Edit video, including intro and outro bumpers and lower thirds. (A/V VA)
8. Transcribe the entire video file into Word, to use as blog posts, YouTube description, and more! (Writer, General VA)
9. Edit and finalize podcast session, including intro, outro, CTA’s and list episode mentionables. (General VA, A/V VA)
10. Transcribe the podcast episode for use as additional SEO content. (General VA, Writer)
11. Transcription into a free PDF download (General VA, Writer)
12. Create ‘Draft Post’ in WordPress, adding bold, italics, etc., to your pre-written content. (General VA)
13. Format the Post: Add H2 and H3 tags to sub-headings and sub-sections and bold, as needed. (General VA)
14. Find and add an image to the post, if needed. Best to use your own images whenever possible. (General VA)
15. Add image title, alt-text & caption into WordPress. (General VA)
16. Embed related video content. (General VA)
17. Capture video screenshots if required, then resize and insert them into the post if needed. (General VA)
18. Embed any audio, or podcast sessions if required. (General VA)
19. Put the post in the correct categories, and be sure to also include relevant tags. (General VA)
20. Optimize the post for SEO using the correct plugin’s. (General VA, SEO VA)
21. Create ‘Tweetable’ images to use on Facebook, etc. (General VA)

Publishing

After all that research and content creation, its time to share your work with the world. Not exactly super time intensive, but with some solid procedures in place, you will literally never have to do any of this stuff again.

22. Upload video to YouTube, with title, links, keywords, categories, as well as transcribed text. (General VA)
23. Add video to relevant playlist. (General VA)
24. Upload audio file to server, tagged and with podcast image attached. (General VA)
25. Final proof read for spelling, punctuation and grammar errors. (Writer, General VA)
26. Draft and schedule ‘Broadcast’ email in Aweber. (General VA, Writer)
27. Schedule post, or simply hit ‘Publish’. (General VA)

Promotion

Once your content has been published, promotion takes over. After all, there’s no point in spending all this time to solve problems and answer questions for your audience, unless you work just as hard in getting as many eyeballs on your work as possible.

This can be incredibly time-consuming in today’s very savvy, social world. The following list will get you moving faster than ever, all with the help of your virtual workers.

28. Share your content on your personal social media accounts, as well as your blog’s Facebook page. (General VA)
29. Share your content on related Facebook and LinkedIn groups. (General VA)
30. Schedule Tweets to go out every 6-hours for the next 48-hours after publishing content. (General VA)
31. Social bookmark the content on StumbleUpon, Reddit, Digg, etc. (General VA. Writer)
32. Contact anyone you mentioned in the content with a pre-written email, as they might like to share it. (General VA)
33. Comment on the Top 5 posts from your ‘Likewise List’. (General VA,Writer)
34. Wake up your Email List by sending that drafted ‘Broadcast’ message. (General VA, Writer)
35. Social bookmark any content commented on, helping to gain more traffic to the post. (General VA)
36. Share the featured image of your post on Pinterest, Flickr, etc., including a link back! (General VA)
37. Share infographic’s on the top distribution sites. (General VA)
38. Share PDF transcripts of your video, or podcast content to Docstoc, SlideShare, etc. (General VA)
39. Promote your SlideShare content on LinkedIn, Twitter & Facebook in order to get homepage exposure. (General VA)
40. Post your ‘Tweetable’ images to all your social media profiles and pages, to promote clickthru’s. (General VA)

On-Going Marketing

There is a big difference between ‘promoting’ and ‘marketing’ in my eyes. Promoting is what you do to ‘get the word’ out there about something you’re in the process of, er, well, promoting!

Marketing, on the other hand is an on-going way to create opportunities and bring in traffic, opt-in’s and ultimately, business – this is exactly the type of area that a lot of bloggers take their eyes off of once their content has been published and initially promoted.

Silly move – why stop telling the world about your stuff? Keep doing it – whenever relevant, I say!

41. Add this recent content to your ‘Blog Bank’, for easy access when creating fresh content and linking. (General VA)
42. Build internal links to new content from your new archive. (General VA,SEO)
43. Create a summary of the content and include it on Tumblr. Add media and a ‘Read More’ link to original. (Writer, General VA)
44. Social bookmark the summarized content on Tumblr, as well as StumbleUpon, Reddit, Digg, etc. (General VA)

Conclusion

The big problem here is that a lot of bloggers are quite trapped in their ways of doing it all themselves. This is not surprising considering that starting, growing and running a blog is a pretty lonely caper, lets face it!

However, as you can see, the General VA role is the one person you need to start looking at bringing on full-time as soon as you’re able to. How much more could you get done, how many more posts could you publish, products could you create and events to could you attend if you had someone handling the majority of this for you?

I know a lot of bloggers haven’t ventured done the outsourcing road yet, so I’m happy to answer as many questions as you can fire at me, in the comment section below and if you’re attending the ProBlogger Event in August, I simply can’t wait to meet you in person – it’s going to be a lot of fun!

Chris poses with some of his VAs, based in the Philippines.

Chris Ducker is a serial entrepreneur, blogger, podcaster and speaker. He is also the author of the new book, Virtual Freedom: How to Work with Virtual Staff to Buy More Time, Become More Productive and Build Your Dream Business. You can follow him on Twitter.

Creating Products Week: Your Experiences – What Have You Done?

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We hope you’ve enjoyed the mega-week we’ve had here on ProBlogger talking about creating products – everything from what reconnaissance you should do prior to choosing a product, all the way through to your product’s launch phases. If you have any questions, feel free to ask them here.

What we’d like to ask you, however, is about your experience with creating products. What have you made? Did you learn the hard way what works and what doesn’t? Have you dabbled in creating out-of-the box ideas, or have you stuck mostly to the tried-and-true eBook? What have your readers responded to, and what was your favourite thing to create? You are most welcome to share your experiences here with us.

For those of you who haven’t created a product yet and would like to (or for those who are looking for something different to create), our homework challenge for you for this theme week is to take 10 or 15 minutes to brainstorm a couple of products you could create for your blog and your readers. You can either think of five things you can create straight away (printables, eBooks) right through to long-term goals (e-courses and beyond). Spend a bit of time fleshing out what each would contain, who would be the ideal reader, and a tentative timeframe for getting them running. We’d love to hear what you come up with.

Creating Products Week: Making Products Happen – Getting Your Ideas off the Ground

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Today we have Team Member Jasmin Tragas weighing in with her take on creating great products. She is the Producer of eBooks at Digital Photography School, and has had a hand in almost all of the ProBlogger products made over the three years she’s been with us. A creative whiz, Jasmin has a fantastic perspective on what works, what doesn’t, and how to get your product from idea to creation in the most productive way possible.

So you want to create a product to sell on your blog, now you just have to make it happen, right?

If you have tried sitting in the local hipster cafe, coffee in hand and laptop at the ready,expecting to type with ease and whip virtual pages up into the glorious ether – you’ll know that it’s not quite this enjoyable nor easy! I’ve seen clients and friends become disheartened as they try to  get an idea off the ground. It’s hard work and can be just as challenging as it is rewarding.

Creating a product involves the selection of the perfect idea, finding the resources you need, creating content and then motivating yourself to the finish line . Each one of these steps presents its own challenges and may even make you feel overwhelmed enough to put your idea on hold. So how do you make a product happen?

Simplify, simplify, simplify!

A good product doesn’t have to be a complicated product. Some of our best sellers are PDF ebooks.

Start by making a list of all of your ideas for a product, including variations from the most basic idea you could attach in an email, to the million-dollar dreamworks crew creation.Next, in a second column, write a list of  as many challenges as you can for each product such as: time, budget, design, or development requirements.

Now, ready to get started? Be helpful to yourself and scale that long list right back!  Take out whatever you can until you are left with the most essential elements. Keep the focus on creating a useful product.

Chances are you can make a least one of your ideas happen by simplifying. And if you end up getting things done quickly, you can always add the bells and whistles back in later. Aim for excellence by all means, but don’t make it too hard for yourself or it might not happen at all.

Hint: just as a great home or outfit can be impressive without having every new trimming, the same rule of thumb applies to products!

Set a date.

If you have trouble with procrastination, find an event which will help motivate you to meet your goal, such as a competition, meetup or conference you are going to attend. You can also ask a friend or mentor to check in on you at pivotal milestones. Set a deadline and reward yourself.

Hint: pick someone who has seen results of their own as they will understand the fine balance of perseverance and inspiration 

You don’t have to do this all on your own!

Need content? Tap in to your social network for quotes, words and pictures. Just remember to be respectful, be clear in your request, and always give credit where credit is due.

Need direction? Use online surveys to refine your focus. And if you don’t get a huge response when you ask, don’t be disheartened. Try asking a different way…or find a sponsor to give you a prize as incentive for responses.

Refine your tone.

Your product will resonate with your audience if you have a distinct voice. For instance, we like the tone of writing for our dPS ebooks to be natural, authentic, friendly, personal, and accurate.

Regardless of tone, always use subject matter experts! Write about what you know (or ask others to contribute) and your product will stand out.

Hint: tone alone won’t impress, but set a style to share knowledge with integrity and ease.

Still stuck?

Don’t give up. Set aside time each day and keep trying. Remember to turn off all the beautiful and shiny distractions.

You might find it helpful to change your environment …even if it’s finding a coworking space, the library, or a cafe where you can unplug and write.

Very importantly, after you have done your research, make a start and don’t look back by comparing yourself with others. You have your own unique point of view to share, and worrying that you’re not as good as the next product  isn’t going to be constructive to the development process. Keep your focus by being helpful and creating value for your readers.

Hint:  you can experiment with what helps you to focus best, but don’t waver from the ultimate goal – make a product!

Read the rest of our series on Creating Products at How to Create and Sell Products on Your Blog.

Jasmin Tragas is the Producer of ebooks at Digital Photography School, SnapnGuides and Director of ProBlogger Training Event. She is currently working on her 24th product and sixth event since joining the ProBlogger team three years ago. She has experience creating products for small agencies, artists, large corporates and for fundraisers. 

Creating Products Week: The Launch Countdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. Practice Makes Perfect

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

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

You’ll learn a lot from doing this including:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


9. Pick a date

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

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

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

8. Lock your product down

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

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

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

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

7. Know your ‘Angle’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Angle travel

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


6. Make a Plan

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

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

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

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

A plan will give you comfort.

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

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

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

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

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

Product launch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


5. Ready your Army and your Audience

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

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

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

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

4. Make sure it’s Sellable

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

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

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

3. Activate Tracking

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

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

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

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

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

2. Put the writing on the Wall

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

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

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

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

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

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


1. Get a green light from someone else

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

Blastoff!

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

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

T + 1: Going into orbit

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

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

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

T + 2: Course Correct if need be

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

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

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

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

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

Keep on shipping!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creating Products Week: Which Product Should I Create?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So let’s get started.

Not What… But Why

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

Your Why

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

What is your motivation?

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

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

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

Let me share what I mean with a simple illustration.

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

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

So I write…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Customer’s Why

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

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

What are the problems your readers have?

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

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

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

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

List all your readers’ problems, big and small.

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

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

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

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

- I need to get rid of weeds

- I need to keep my lawn vibrant and healthy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solutions

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

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

Solution: I can mow my own lawn

Solution: I can get someone else to mow my lawn

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

We’ve solved it! Or have we?

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

Barrier: I don’t own a lawn mower

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

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

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

Solution: Well, you could buy one!

Barrier: I don’t know which one to buy

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

Barrier: I don’t have any money

Keep going…

Problem: I don’t know which one to buy

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

We have a product idea!

So then it’s simple. Rinse and repeate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cull and Focus

It’s now time to cull and focus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

How many?

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

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

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

How much?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Analyse the Competition

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of three things will happen:

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

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

The only remaining products in our lawn moving project is:

  1. Information and training on how to buy a mower

Form and Features

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

With information and training it can be:

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

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

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

The Pros and Cons of eBooks, Video and Courses

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

 1. eBooks

Pros:

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

Cons:

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

 2. Video or video series

Pros

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

Cons

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

 3. Courses

Pros

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

Cons

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

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

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

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

The Takeaway:

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

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

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

See it’s not that hard!

Final Thoughts on Choosing Which Product to Create:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pre-Product Idea:

1. Get the momentum moving in the right direction

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

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

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

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

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

2. Create fans as well as readers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.  Build your list 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4.  Extend your network

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

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

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

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

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

5. Earn a reputation 

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

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

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

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

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

6. Research and learn

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Define your REAL strengths and weaknesses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. Understand your readers

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

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

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

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

9. Think about the consequences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creating Product Week: How to Create and Sell Products On Your Blog

Theme Week (1)Welcome our ‘Creating and Selling Products’ Week – a week of content here on ProBlogger completely dedicated to helping you to create and launch profitable products on your blog.

Over the past few months we’ve done a number of theme based weeks that take a more intense dive into topics relevant to bloggers. Most recently we’ve had Beginner Week, and Content Week, but this week we wanted to turn our attention to monetization – specifically through creating and selling products.

My Journey With Creating Products (and why this week is important)

While I’ve been blogging for just short of 12 years, my own journey with creating products to help monetize my blogs only goes back five years since launching the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog eBook and creating my first Portraits eBook on dPS.

Before that time I had collaborated with someone on a product but never monetized my blogs with one a product of my own.

Previous to these first experimentations with eBooks, the income generated from my blogs was almost all from advertising revenue (from ad networks like AdSense and also a few ad sales direct with brands) and affiliate revenue (like Amazon and a few smaller programs). I also did a little speaking, consulting and had written a hard cover book.

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In 2007 I was making a comfortable living from the above income streams but was a little worried about the economy and relying so heavily upon advertising income (which comprised more than 80% of what I was making).

I also had been watching the growth in popularity of eBooks and had for a year or so been dreaming of creating one myself.

My big issue was a severe lack of time. Between juggling two growing blogs and a growing family (we had just had our first child), I wasn’t sure how I’d ever write an eBook. I also had a long long list of other excuses to put it off.

I’d never written, designed, marketed a product of my own before… I didn’t have a shopping cart system… I didn’t know if my readers would buy…

In short – the dream of creating and selling an eBook of my own stayed in my head for two years until 2009. Ironically by that point I’d become even busier (we’d just had our second son and my blogs had continued to grow) but I knew if I didn’t bite the bullet and do it that I never would.

In 2009 I created my first eBooks – 31 Days to Build a Better Blog (which I’ve since updated into it’s second edition). That eBook generated $80,772.01 in 2009.

Later in the year I created and launched my first Portrait eBook over at dPS. That eBook generated $87,088.21 in sales in 2009.

As I regularly say when speaking at conferences about this experience – on the launch of these eBooks I was obviously very excited but also couldn’t believe how I’d put off creating this new income stream on my blogs for two years!

While obviously these two eBooks were financially profitable that immediate monetary reward wasn’t the best part – what was most valuable to me was that it sparked a whole new side to my business.

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Since 2009 I’ve published 17 eBooks and 1 Printables set on Digital Photography School, and 6 eBooks and kits here on ProBlogger.

While I still sell advertising and do some affiliate campaigns on Digital Photography School, eBook sales now make up over 50% of my business today. Since that time we’ve also added two other income streams – membership (for ProBlogger.com) and Events.

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I tell this story because many times I come across bloggers who are a little stuck in the mindset that the only way to generate an income from blogging is to sell advertising.

While it’s certainly possible to build profitable blogs through a variety of types of advertising and affiliate promotions, it’s not the only way.

There are a few other benefits of creating a product for your blog other than the obvious income stream that they provide.

For starters by using your blog to sell your own product rather than sending your readers to buy other people’s products (through advertising) you’re keeping your readers on your own site and within your own community.

Secondly when you create a quality product that your reader loves – you’re going to make a much bigger impact upon your reader. I’ve personally found that when I meet readers face to face at conferences that the ones who’ve bought and read my book or eBooks seem to feel a lot stronger connection with me. They often talk to me as if we’ve had a shared experience already.

Lastly – I find that when you’ve created a product of some kind that it seems to help in the authority that people seem to perceive you as having. I guess there’s something about having intentionally sat down to create something of note that people seem to admire. While having an eBook or course doesn’t mean you ARE an authority – it all goes to help build your profile.

Creating Product Week

This week on ProBlogger we want to walk you through a number of posts that will help you to work out:

    1. what you need to do before developing a product for your blog
    2. work out what kind of product might be best for your blog
    3. how to create your product
    4. how to launch your product

To walk us through this process I’ve asked one of my core team (and author of one of the ProBlogger eBooks) – Shayne Tilley – to lead us. He’s prepared four posts that will come in the following days that will tackle these topics.

I’m also going to chime in on each post to give my perspective and as always am keen to hear your perspective also, as I know many ProBlogger readers have created their own products too.

Have You Created a Product?

My story is just one of many many in the blogosphere. While I’ve majored on creating eBooks there are certainly many other directions to take (and much of this week will be relevant to them all). I’d love to hear your experiences.

Have you created some kind of product on your blog? What kind is it? How did it go? What did you learn?

Read More the Rest of this Series on Creating and Selling Products

Below we’ll share the rest of this series of posts as they’re published.

5 Steps to Determine the Right Social Media Content for You

This is a guest contribution from Benjamin Taylor, of Eloqua.

At the core, one of the biggest goals of social media is to foster and maintain engagement.  Anyone can create a social media account, but one of the hardest parts is to determine what kind of content you should be sharing. It’s safe to say that you have a good idea of what your niche or market finds valuable, but that is only a piece of the puzzle. Really having a true understanding of content and what/how it should be delivered takes some work. I’ve outlined five steps below that will enable you to determine how and what kind of content to share, when to share, and more.

Guidelines

When determining what kind of content to share, there needs to be a criteria or guidelines on what is or isn’t good content. What I mean by this is, the content MIGHT be interesting and valuable, but so what? With social media, the purpose is to deliver value AND be social so if content is being shared but it’s not generating any sort of socialization, then how valuable is it really? You’re looking for content that has a high # of shares, likes, RT’s, comments, Ect. These are the factors you want to pay close attention to. If a post is creating conversation from all corners; B2C and C2C, then the post is a success and this is the type of content you want to strive and push for.

Listen and read

Before you know what kind of content to share, look at what others are sharing. Far too many times I have come across brands and pages that share content that THEY believe to be valuable, but in reality is not what their audience values. How many times do we really want to read about your latest company press release or how your product or service is the best?! If you had a friend and all they did was talk about themselves and how great they felt they were, would you really want to talk to them often?  The goal here is you want to share content that pulls people in, fosters conversation, and keeps them coming back. Okay, but how?  The first step is to search and listen. Look at where people are sharing the most content, the type of content they’re sharing, and what is generating the most interaction. This will be important in moving forward.

Categorize and Analyze

Okay, so you’ve been listening and have done your research into what’s going on in the social-sphere.  Now it’s time to analyze.  Digesting all your research into the type of content can be a little overwhelming, and even harder to analyze and deliver, so categorizing and organizing the data will help. You can use a basic program like Excel to help manage your information.

First, create categories for the type of platform the content is being shared on; Blog, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc.  It’s going to be important to know where the interacting is occurring. From there, create categories for the types of posts; questions, sales driven, industry specific, photo, video, etc. From there, you can dive even deeper and create sub-categories, for instance if it was a picture: meme, company photo, industry photo, picture accompanied by article, picture accompanied with text, and so on.

Look at the times things are being shared too. Assign numbers for the amounts of interactions/shares it received to help determine the level of social power the posts had. By categorizing and quantifying your research, you will be able to notice trends and themes in the social-sphere.  This will enable you to have a much better idea of the type of content to share. Another bright side of doing all of this is you can create visual interpretations of your research and analyze what can be presented and easily digested by parties that are not directly involved with the project, such as higher level managers and clients.

Content Search

Now you have a good idea of the type of posts that are working the best and where they’re happening. Now it’s time to find to help and aid in your own content, so where do we go? One of the easiest ways to determine the topic for your next status update or blog post is by searching out various sources for information.  Some of my favorite places to find content ideas are

  • Industry blogs or websites: See what the hot topics are and what others are sharing
  • Your competition: What are your competitors writing about? See what they’re doing and make it better
  • YouTube: What videos are popular right now? How come?
  • Flickr/Pinterest: Visuals can lend a good hand in inspiration in what to share
  • News Outlets: What’s happening in the world?
  • Twitter: What are others sharing?
  • Facebook: What are others sharing?

Be mindful

So now you’re ready to start sharing content, you’ve done the research and analysis and it’s time to get social. There are just a few best practices that I think are important to be mindful of in any type of content you’re sharing. They are listed below:

Create goals or benchmarks: Determine your goals and what you value as a success for your social media campaign. Don’t set unrealistic expectations but go into it with an agenda and game plan of what you want to accomplish.

Monitor and analyze results: Take a look at what you’ve been doing, what has and hasn’t worked and push forward to improve your brand to take it to the next level of social media success.

Bolster your brand image: Make sure the content you’re sharing aligns with your brand in some way, and still says relevant to your audience. Ex: Your pizza business wants to be seen as the interesting and engaging pizza brand that is cool, not just the pizza brand that shares funny memes.

Share others content: You’re not the only one with great content, so is everyone else. Share their content, help them out, and extend your reach as well as theirs.

Be consistent: In order to keep your audience coming back, be consistent in sharing great content. Don’t over post but by posting daily, they know they can expect content from you.

Now if you follow these steps, you’ll be in a much better place to be creating and sharing creative, relevant, valuable and most importantly engaging content on your social media platforms. Don’t fall into the habit that so many others have and just skip by on social media…stand out and let your content be the voice!

Benjamin Taylor is a writer for Eloqua, an international online marketing firm that provides social media marketing and asset management software. His professional insights are surpassed only by his rugged good looks, quick wit, and personal charm.