Prevent Your Blog From Dead on Arrival Status – Consider ‘Buy Now’ Blogging

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Recently, a reader commented on a post I wrote called “How I Built and Sold a Blog Valued at Over $200 a Post.

I read this post when it came out 5 months ago, but reading it now I realize that I’m in a different place mentally and feel as though I had never read it to begin with.

For example, I was totally floored by your plan of write out 10-20 headlines, record a shit-ton of audio, schedule it out for 3 months. HOLY CRAP! I’m doing this.

I couldn’t help but think of NerdFitness.com when reading the tips on this. Main question: how to get fit. Steve’s approach: every nerdy thing he can write about to drive that point home.

I know the stuff I’m passionate about but trying to figure out what the commercial problem is seems to be my weakness.

What tips do you have (or where can you point me) regarding how to clearly identify the topic that you apply the “should I start a blog” questions to?

How does one get a good sense for what is commercial? It’s a question I’ve been thinking about a lot this week. Recently, I put out an open call to review blog concepts in the following format:

What problem do you solve? / From what fresh angle do you solve it from?

I would write back “win” or “lose” depending on what I thought were their chances of basic commercial success. By “basic commercial success” I’d say a blog concept capable of generating 40K+ of personal income for the owner within the first 2-3 years.

I’ve received well over 50 email inquires, probably close to 100. There were a few winners, but the vast majority of the concepts I received were dead on arrival. People who are passionate about writing, blogging, creativity, and personal freedom aren’t necessarily interested in being business hustlers. The good news: this business stuff doesn’t need to be that tough.

I’m incredibly bullish on the opportunity for online publishers. There has never been a better time to start a blog or a micro-publishing business. Don’t take my word for it, Rob Walling said it himself.

From the 50+ emails that I reviewed, there were a few common problems.

Problem: not sure who is making money and how.

It was common that the prospective blogger would suggest a concept similar to a mildly popular blog. If for modesty or lack of confidence, they’d suggest that they’d take a similar approach with less ambitious content, at least to start. People thought they couldn’t produce certain types of expert content without having an audience. Unless you are going to write about building audiences (please don’t), or making money online (please don’t), this shouldn’t be a problem.

I would suggest to all aspiring bloggers to take precedent case analysis seriously. Ask online publishers: how much money do you make? I’m serious. Before I get in to any market, my first step is to figure out how much the players are pulling down. If they won’t tell you, do your best to reverse engineer it. If some blogger is pulling in 15K off a huge audience built up over 3 years of relentless publishing, I would focus on learning from their example rather than copying it.

Problem: relying heavily on “cult of personality” business models. 

For years social web marketers have been preaching this idea of “you need to become the trusted expert” and that seems to have been translated into “get tons of attention by any means possible.” Bloggers are better off writing as if they would never be recognized. Let your content speak for itself. Focus on building products, services, and posts that are truly useful to people. Any fame status you get on top of that will be gravy. Fame built on the delivery of successful products that people love is more sustainable than endless ‘look at me’ hype-cycles.

If you already have a ton of credibility because of previous accomplishments, this sort of thinking might not apply to you.

Having a commercial conversation isn’t any harder than having the “audience/authority” conversation– it’s just a different type. Here’s an example of how to have a more commercial type of conversation:

4 basics elements of a “buy now” blog.

The way to get good at identifying commercial opportunities is to start framing them up on a regular basis. It’s been well established that blogs aren’t products in and of themselves, but excellent marketing channels to products. Forget about ads and affiliate links, that stuff isn’t going get you there. You’ll want to start doing the product math on day one. Anytime a potential blog topic comes across your desk, immediately start breaking down the potential products you could sell on such a blog.

1. Have a clear value proposition.

This is the part we’ve already discussed– focus in on exactly what problem do you solve and from what fresh perspective you solve it. For these points I’ll use my old Outsourcing to the Philippines blog as an example, as well as our new site Tropical Work Force, which I believe could easily make a dedicated individual a full time living if they wanted to.

What problem do you solve? / What fresh angle do you solve it from?

  • OutsourcetothePhilippines.comHow do I find low cost virtual employees for my business? / By moving your business to the Philippines or hiring VAs from there.
  • <TropicalWorkForce.com (no defunct) – How do I learn how to be a location independent entrepreneur? and How do I get passionate, dedicated team members and interns affordably? / By connecting with other entrepreneurial types who believe in the mentorship/apprentice model of learning. 

2. Identify an expensive product you can sell from day one.

I’ve noticed this is the hardest part, and I’m not sure why (I’d love your perspective so I can help more). This is also the most fun part of the process for me. Your goal here is to conceptualize a hypothetical product. You’ll want to be super specific, down to the price. “Do you think people would be willing to pay $300 bucks for x?” If it sounds good, start asking yourself the cost of delivering such a product. If it sounds feasible, start emailing the idea to smart people you know. Would you buy this? 

In the case of my Outsourcing to the Philippines blog, that product was a 40,000 word ebook written about basic information in the Philippines plus a 1-hour phone call with me. If you have a niche expertise like that, it’s not unreasonable to suspect that you could launch that service in a few weeks. Pump out the ebook, maybe even contracting some of the research or writing, put up the sales letter, add as much extra value as you can– maybe you’ll provide a personal rolodex, some helpful worksheets or spreadsheets (Virtual Assistant review sheet!), some and some follow-up emails after your phone call.

People roll their eyes and say it’s not a huge value proposition, or it’s not scalable, but you know what? You’re 5 phone calls away from 1,000 in profit. 

In the case of Tropical Work Force– go ahead and brainstorm some potential products. I can think of a bunch. Out of the gate you could charge $47 bucks for a successful internship placement (money back guarantee!). Your $200 product could be an in-house like bulk article writing. You could do the service yourself, or work closely with a provider and take a big cut.

3. Don’t start until you’ve published a sales letter for the product (and start small).

There is no such thing as a blog that doesn’t have some kind of product that could be sold from day one. Start selling it now.Forget about building audience, getting authority, and all that junk. If you can’t frame up something that’s worth a few bills, you’re probably wasting everyone’s time (caveat: I’m not talking about the wonderfulness of personal sharing and blogging on the webs, I’m talking about making a living through useful websites).

A big money product on your blog will keep you focused on providing real value to your readers.

Let’s say you make $150 bucks every time somebody buys your product. Let’s say .5% of your blog visitors buy your product. By the time you are receiving 1000 monthly uniques, you’d be making $750 bucks a month. That’s achievable in a just a few short weeks. What about having that explosive $200 product funnel people in to a much more affordable community? $37 bucks a month sound okay? If every month you add 5 community members you’ll add $185 to your recurring monthly cash flow (You’ll want to adjust that for your projected retention rate).

Take for example Ava’s $300 videos. When people in my demographic see that value proposition they are all like “hell yeah that’s worth it!” Then you work backwards– is it worth it to you to deliver that based on your costs of production? Don’t bother with products that couldn’t conceivably get you ramen profitable fast.

(I meet Ava last summer during the Puerto Galera meet-upa DCer who makes these amazing video introductions. Just wanted to point you her way if you ever needed to develop something like this for your business. Also note that every service on our Tropical Work Force site is personally reviewed by our team, so these aren’t just random service providers who found the site, but people in our network.)

If Ava wanted, she could start a whole blog around the concept of her intro videos. She could connect with other people making videos, teach people how to make them, affilate for video software (and review it), but of course the whole time she’s building trust for that big ass buy now button!

4. When you do start writing posts, forget about traffic and attention. Focus on making connections and conversions in your marketplace.

Attention, at the scale 99% of blogs can expect, isn’t enough to capitalize on with affiliate links and the occasional “launch.” This doesn’t prevent legions of bloggers to continue to promote, promote, promote, often causing me to wonder what is it that you are trying to do again? Please don’t let the answer be “make some money from my blog someday.”

If you decide to focus on truly useful content, you probably won’t have the most definitive expert content at the beginning. That’s fine. Link to those who do. Offer your commentary. Clarify their offerings. Hell, call the people who wrote the expert stuff. Find a way to get yourself into the center of the conversation.

My offer for blog proposals remains, but will be slightly updated. I want to continue to help people grow successful micro-publishing businesses. If you want to email me with your value proposition, I’m cool with that. This go around please include the basic outline of your $200 product or service. dan at tropical mba dot com baby!

Cheers,

Dan

PS, see also Making a Living Writing Blogs
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Published on 02.03.12
  • Aaron

    #3 really resonates with me, Dan. It’s time-saving and money-saving advice. I’ve taken this to an extreme by writing a rough draft of a sales letter for any product (related to a blog or not) before it receives any further investment of time or money on my part. This process forces me to do something I still can’t manage to do naturally–to define my customer, my product and my value proposition before I commit any additional time and resources. Much better than doing 40 hours of research only to realize I don’t have a customer. We’ve all been there, haven’t we? 

  • http://www.JiansNet.com/ Jian

    Hey Dan, thanks for the wonderful post, I couldn’t agree more.

    One thing I’ve been thinking is that, unless one has really good skillset, otherwise, blogging along couldn’t cut it. There are just too much competition these days, as anyone could setup a blog and write stuff.

    I keep thinking about Michael Jackson and I think the reason he has been really famous and successful is not because he got this hip at the time. There is some deep/intrinsic value he could deliver, that no one else could do.

    I heard that Jackson was forced to learn dancing at young age by his father and until his death, he was practicing every day. It needs passion and dedication to be successful.

    So, given this, I’d say most bloggers are gonna fail, unfortunately, since they don’t have exclusive skills that could transform to a business.

  • http://phoenixabroad.com Dave Huss

    Aaron you really nailed this – it is ALL about how you can help the customer. If you don’t have a target customer then you don’t have anything.

  • http://camcollins.com/ Cam Collins

    You definately have asked the fundamental question here. “What problem do you solve? / From what fresh angle do you solve it from?” Every entrepreneur should ask themselves this question and ask it over and over again. Ive posted it on my desktop as a reminder.

    This can be extended to the way we should think about any product or service offering as we evaluate whether it will/does add value. Joel Spolsky wrote a great blog post on how this can apply to mission statements and coming up with your company’s core purpose.

    http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2009/11/01.html

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com Dan

    Cheers Cam, Ian and I are big believers in missions as well. I think often about the Seth Godin “missions vs. plans” post. I can relate a lot of falling off of plan, but always being able to fall back on mission. Thanks for the link! 

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com Dan

    haha, I think that’s true I saw all the Jackson movies and learned the moves :D

    I agree with your basic thought about blogging, but I think its’ the type of work that great blogging requires that could develop higher order skill sets. It forces you to learn, be accurate (as your typo suggestion did!), and accountable. So I think a skill in blogging and serving the market with some specific skill could be co-developed. 

    Yeah but you are right, we can go on till we are blue in the face, most people will probably fail. I’d love to see a few more make it, though :)

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com Dan

    Abso-fucking-lutely. I LOVE this approach and wish more people would take me seriously when I suggest it. I actually do this! Ian and I always said that having a hard goods business, in some ways, helped us at the beginning because we were forced to focus on really particular features. With info products, you can run off the feature creep rails really quick. 

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com Dan

    :D

  • http://www.brandsuperpower.com David Crandall

    I originally wrote a lengthy response to this that would have been a Pullitzer and Nobel prize shoe in. Apparently it was too awesome for Disqus to handle. Damn interwebz stealing my stuff!

    I could now write about how coming up with the ideas is my weak point. How figuring out what that topic is to create the big product around seems to elude me. But you already wrote a post with 101 different ideas (well, really just 99 since it would be hard to do a big ticket item around the two identical ideas on how to follow Dan on Twitter. LOL)

    Identifying the topic is my weakest point. I don’t know if it is a mental block or just lack of experience. But I feel like I’m trying to think through a brick wall in this area. Your newest post definitely helps me have some guidelines in what types of things to think about. Framing it as a question helps!

    Thank you for answering that reader’s comment. I’m sure that they are not only devilishly handsome but think you are the boss! ;)

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com Dan

    cheers David, appreciate your questiona and getting back to me on this one. Look forward to chatting shortly. 

  • Josh

    That intro video is awesome! How do I contact Ava?

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com Dan

    emailed this to her!

  • Max

    Hey there,

    I want to start blogging on a niche I am passionate about.

    The keyword planer research showed that there are only around 1.5k searches for the this search term and related terms combined. First page of Google features a single site targeting that niche, rest are magazines with articles on a related topic.

    Does that mean I should give up on that niche? Or can I try and get the word out there?

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com/ Dan

    I would not consider search volume as an indicator if a blog is worth starting or not… if you want to find out about how passionate the audience for a potential blog is it’s probably better to look at competing blogs / publishers and products/services.

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