Friday, October 7, 2016

The Basics of Blog Monetization: Selling Your Own Product(s)

This is an incredibly detailed post on how you can sell your own digital products from your blog!  This blogger includes resources she uses to market and how she processes payments.  Awesome resource!

Today, I'm (finally) wrapping up the last of my Basics of Blog Monetization Series!  Over the past few posts about monetization, I've gone into detail on the various ways I make money with my blog.  I'm sharing years of trial and error in this's taken over 7 years to learn the trips and tricks I'm sharing with this series!

Check out the other posts in this series here:
The Basics of Blog Monetization: An Introduction
The Basics of Blog Monetization: How to (Frugally) Start a Money-Making Blog
The Basics of Blog Monetization: Using Ads on Your Blog
The Basics of Blog Monetization: Using Affiliate Links on Your Blog 
The Basics of Blog Monetization: Creating Sponsored Content

(Affiliate links used in this post.)

Before last June, I did have just a little bit of experience in selling a product in conjunction with my blog.  When I first started blogging in April of 2009, I almost immediately started offering custom blog designs.  I designed my own blog, and when a few friends noticed and asked me to design their blogs as well, a little side business was born.  This business absolutely took off...I designed hundreds of blogs in the 6 years I offered this service.  But, when I was pregnant with Jackson, I decided to hang up my designing hat.  I had gotten to the point where there just weren't enough hours in the day, and designing had become incredibly time-consuming.

So, for quite awhile, the first three areas of blog monetization (ads, affiliate links, and sponsored content) were my money-makers.  I was doing great with those, but I saw so much more potential in this little blog of mine.  In late 2015, I finally found an opportunity to expand my blog monetization that has been a game changer.

Step 1: Pinpoint what you'd like to sell.

Many of you know I started this blog in April of 2009 to share our personal story.  It has since evolved into a place where I discuss everything related to home: productivity, food, family, and decor.  In June of last year, one of my homemaking posts absolutely took off.  I published a cleaning schedule that addresses every single area of the home.  Within a month or two, I could see a significant boost in my pageviews because of this one post!  It ranked really high in Pinterest search results for "cleaning schedule" (and still does), thanks to a few Pinterest SEO and promotion methods.  Late last year, I got the idea to take the pageviews from this one post and turn them into something a little more substantial for the growth and profitability of my blog.

I knew that there was a market for an ebook that would go into detail about how my cleaning schedule can be integrated into a daily routine.  Just having the cleaning schedule is great; having a collection of printables that break the cleaning schedule down by the day is even better. I didn't know of another ebook on the market that broke home cleaning down into daily parts, and this segmentation is something I did anyway as I used the cleaning schedule in my home, so I knew others that used this printable could benefit from it too.

Thus, Journey to Clean was born.  After months of marketing, tech prep, and writing, it was launched in June of 2016.  I have been beyond impressed with the engagement it's offered with my readers and the residual income it's provided to my blog.  If given the chance, I wouldn't hesitate to publish it again (which is exactly what I'm doing in a couple of months...more on that below!).

If you take one sentence away from this post, this is the one:

The two steps to selling your own content are 1) finding something to sell that benefits an audience and 2) finding that audience. (Tweet this.) 

Once I found my item that could benefit an audience, the next step was identifying that audience and marketing to them in an authentic, beneficial way.

Step 2: Find and grow your customer base.

The next thing I honed in on was growing my email list.  I wanted to convert the readers that might have only visited my blog once for a printable into engaged, interested participants in my blog.  I've read from many, many bloggers that one of the best ways to grow your reader base is by growing your email list.  I saw this post as the absolute perfect way to grow this list.  Readers were visiting my blog to download this printable...why not offer a preview of the printable when the readers visit and offering the printable version as a "thank you" for joining an email list?

In early 2016, I put this plan into action.  I added sign-up boxes and links to join my Mailchimp email list to many of my popular printable posts.  If you visit those posts now, you are able to see the printables (so it's still offering visitors some kind of value...they aren't just getting hit up with a sales pitch as soon as they arrive).  But, if they need the full-resolution version, they're asked to join my list.  Once they subscribe, they're given access to the Printable Collection on my blog (which houses many other popular printables from Lamberts Lately as well).

This method has been beyond valuable to a) growing my reader base and b) converting one-time visitors into engaged customers for my product.  As of the end of August 2016, I had almost 10,000 subscribers on this email list!  The majority of those subscribers that might have never visited my blog again, much less have bought a product from me.

Most of the emails I send from this email list are Lamberts Lately newsletters.  They offer a little insight into what I'm publishing on the blog for the past couple of weeks, a summary of recent blog posts, and a few archive favorites I wanted to share.  This keeps one-time readers engaged in my content.  I also offer a "printable of the month" that's exclusive to email subscribers.  This feature has been incredibly popular and gives the subscribers a little extra incentive to stay on my list!  (If you'd like to join my email list to get an idea of what I do, click here.)

I usually get a few hundred clicks over to the blog each time I publish a newsletter...that's nice.  But, where the email list is especially beneficial is around the time I'm launching a new product.  I use this list to send out a few reminders (and even a product preview) to subscribers in the weeks leading up to launch.  On launch day, readers are sent a direct link to purchase the product, in addition to a discount that is exclusive to my email list.

This graph is the best demonstrator of the power of my email list in Journey to Clean's launch.  It shows sales from launch day to the end of June 2016.  Obviously the first day sales are always going to be the best...that's due to marketing on both my email list, social media, and blog.  But, the next couple of peaks show the power of email marketing.

I gave email newsletter subscribers an exclusive coupon code that was valid until Friday, June 17...the first peak you see in sales.  So that peak in sales is totally attributed to my email list.  The next peak you see is the last day of introductory pricing on June 28th.  Now, there was marketing from all ends advertising that date as the day the price was going up, but I saw a significant spike in sales coming in for the hours following the reminder email going out to subscribers.  I really believe that peak is largely due to email marketing.

I don't regret working so hard to grow my email list for a second.  Social media comes and goes; you can put a lot of effort into growing your presence on another platform, and they can very easily change algorithms to completely cancel out that hard work.  I've seen that lately, in particular, on Facebook.  But your email list is the only marketing tool (besides your blog, of course) that you 100% control.  You get to say how often those subscribers see your can't say that for a social platform that you don't own!

So, how long does it take to grow a customer base?  It doesn't have to take long at all!  I grew my email list for about 6 months before launching my first product.  If you have a very targeted, interested audience, it could take even less.  It really just depends on how quickly people are signing up and how eager they are to get their hands on your product.  Having the large number of subscribers is nice, but it's totally possible to have a successful launch with a much smaller, more targeted audience.  Obviously, the more interested customers you can attain before launching, the better, but you have to be the judge of whether it's worth the out the time needed to grow a customer base.

Step 3: Make a launch plan.

So, you've got your product idea, you've got your what?  About 2 months before I launch a product, I sit down with a calendar and make a launch schedule.  In this, I work backwards: the first date I put on the calendar is my launch date.  Then, I pencil in 3-4 blog posts where I'll mention the product (including the day-of-launch post), 3-4 targeted emails I'll send, and a handful of social media promos I'll post.  I also put in goals and deadlines for myself within the launch schedule (when I'll finish sections of the book, when I'll have it proofed, when I'll have websites up and going, etc.).  It makes it a hundred times easier to know your deadlines and goals in advance, rather than making them up on the fly.

Now, is that launch schedule going to change? Absolutely.  Mine got rearranged a few times throughout the process, and that's something you might need to account for when you're making your plan.  But the one thing that couldn't change for me is my launch date.  I actually wrote about my launch date on the blog on purpose early on, so I couldn't change it later. :) By having it out there for everyone to see, I felt like I was more accountable to staying on schedule.

Step 4: Produce the content.

What might initially seem like the most important piece of selling your own content is really just a small part of this process.  Is it important you focus on producing a beneficial product that is worth the price you're asking of your readers?  Absolutely.  Is it the only part of selling your own product?  Not even close.

It probably took me about a month of Starbucks trips to get Journey to Clean ready to sell.  All said and told, I'd estimate I spent 30-40 hours working on the actual content of the book.  That included...

-making the printables
-writing the copy
-checking consistency of the printed content
-setting up links within the pdf file
-checking actual print quality
-checking compatibility on different computer systems
-shooting images and designing covers/dividers

Noah and I were the only two editors on the book...that's one thing I'm thinking about changing in my upcoming launch.  I'd like to have a set of proofers next time that can help fine-tune the smaller details of the book.  I haven't really found any flat-out errors in the book, but I feel like having more eyes on the initial draft could have given it a better flow and helped with overall reader experience.

As far as the tech side...don't feel like you can't produce your own product because you don't have the right software!  Want to know what I use to write an ebook that has now sold hundreds of copies?  Open Office.

As in free, didn't-pay-a-dime-for-it Open Office.

This program is quite possibly my favorite free software on the internet.  It's an open-source program that emulates Microsoft Office.  Does Microsoft Office have more functionality?  Absolutely.  But in my opinion, it's not worth hundreds of dollars to have the few extra features that Microsoft Office provides.

I wrote the whole book in Open Office and made my printables in Photoshop Elements.  Those were copied and pasted into the document where needed and I saved the file as one big .pdf.  Easy peasy!  I did have to test printing and download functionality on several different operating systems to make sure everything was a go in that department...we had one issue with the document not opening on Windows systems, but that was easily fixed by exporting the file into a reader for saving.

Step 5: Produce quality marketing materials.

I have found that it is so, so important to have the right marketing materials for your product.  Whether you're selling an ebook, a physical item, or even a set of printables, you have to make the customer want what you're selling.  That means you need to use images that not only give the customer details on what they're buying, but really help the customer want to use that product.

I probably could have slapped up a few sample file images of my ebook, but I'm not sure that would have stood out from the crowd.  In my opinion, styled pictures of the ebook pages were much more effective in letting the customer imagine they are using the product.  I tried to include details about the printables in my marketing images that gave a sneak peek without "giving the cow away for free," if you will.

I also made sure we had a solid landing page that really answered any questions about the ebook before the customer purchased.  This is kind of the homepage of your product.  I filled mine with lots of background info about the book, colorful, detailed images of the content, and a Q&A section that made sure the reader knew what they were buying.  I would rather have happy, informed customers than feel the need to "trick" someone into buying something that might not be helpful for them.  (More info on the technical side of setting up a landing page below.)

Step 5: Make sure all systems are in place

The behind the scenes part of selling your own product is pretty overshadowed but so incredibly important in the product selling process.  If you set up your systems correctly, you really can make this process a very passive stream of income that requires almost no upkeep.

(I am not a lawyer or tax expert, so please consult a professional if you need advice in this department.)

The first step in this for us was forming an LLC.  It's something I needed to do for my blog for a really long time, but the need to collect sales tax is what really put a spur in our sides to do it.  In Mississippi, forming an LLC was as easy as filling out a couple of forms online and mailing in a check.  From there, we were able to file for a sales tax number that legally allowed us to collect sales tax on the ebooks. (Which, coincidentally, was almost pointless as of right now.  I think we've remitted 70 cents of sales tax to the state so far.)

From there, we had to figure out the online systems we'd use to inform customers, collect payment, and deliver the product.  Because my product was digital, there are numerous systems and websites available that make the process an absolute breeze.  After a lot of research into what payment processor we could use, we chose to go with Gumroad.  So far we have been incredibly impressed with the site.

Once you sign up for Gumroad, you upload the files you'll be selling, specify a price (or select a "Pay What You Want" pricing model), write a small blurb about your product, and upload an image for it...and boom, you're done.  No need to invoice each individual customer and deliver the product, Gumroad does it all for you!  Of course they do charge a small fee for payment processing and their service, but it is well worth it in my opinion.  I pay $10 a month for Gumroad's premium plan, and typically pay about 6.5% on each $10 ebook for their payment processing.

Gumroad makes it so easy to bookkeep too...each month, I'm about to download a .csv file that goes into detail about each customer and the numbers I need to keep up with for accounting purposes.  If I choose to make an email list for my customers, their information is provided to me in this file.  This makes for easy product updates and marketing of future editions.  They also offer an option to make affiliate programs for your products...this is something I haven't done yet, but am seriously considering for the next launch.  That process seems easy as well.

Long story short, I would definitely recommend Gumroad if you're selling any kind of digital product.  I've been very pleased with it.

You'll also need to think about how you'll make your landing page.  This is the face of your product, so it's one that really needs to be polished and professional.  You can take a peek at mine here.  I do have a good bit of experience in coding, but even I chose to go with Instapage for my landing page needs.  You literally drag and drop things to where you need them...even someone who has no experience coding could design with this service.  They also allow individual formatting for mobile sites and have tons of customization options.  The price per month is a little high, and I'd love to find another option at some point that doesn't cost quite as much, but I'm happy with it for now.

I recommend going with an easy-to-find URL for your landing page.  I tied mine into the CNAME file for my site (which is a whole 'nother post), but you could always purchase an inexpensive domain name for your product to make the landing site easy to find.  You want one that a customer could type in without having to remember a long string of text...making it as easy to find your content as possible is so important!

Step 6: Promote the heck out of it.

You've got your landing page and payment processing set up, you've got your product, you've got your audience...launch day is here!  From here, I recommend really marketing your product for the next few weeks.  After about a month, I kind of let it ride out...but the first few weeks after launch are a crucial time for getting your product out there.

Obviously your blog and social media will all get a few posts about it.  I scheduled several pins through Tailwind that have been great advertising for the book.  I also used some paid Facebook and Pinterest advertising in the weeks after the launch date.  I had some limited success with both (mostly Facebook), but I'm not sure I'd sink a ton of money into either one.  With the next launch, I'm planning on focusing advertising money on the Facebook side.

If you've taken the time to grow and email list, like I mentioned, that's been my most effective marketing tool for a digital product.  I offered a coupon code for a day or two to my email subscribers that brought in a lot of interest.  I also let my email subscribers know when there is going to be a price change and if there are any future sales on the product.

And, if you have any popular posts that are at all related to the product, don't be afraid to drop a few images/links in those posts!  I definitely market my product on that original cleaning schedule post.  I also have an image of my book in my sidebar and a link to it in my top nav bar...both have given me a moderate amount of interest.

And, I found it was really beneficial to have a few targeted blog posts launch on the day of the product release and in the weeks afterwards that promote your product, whether directly or indirectly.  You don't want to post a straight up commercial, but give the reader something beneficial that integrates your product.  Here are the promo posts I did...

A Tour of Journey to Clean (with my favorite notebook supplies)
How to Involve Kids in Journey to Clean
Coordinated Phone Wallpapers for Journey to Clean

And, my friends, that's how I went from dreaming about selling my own product to actually doing it.  This is a lot of info.  I'm not going to sit here and tell you that successfully selling a product or service through your blog is easy.  It's a ton of work, but if you put in the right effort on the front end, it can become an almost effortless source of residual income for your blog.  I never thought I'd still be making the kind of money I am off of an ebook I launched months ago.  And I'm just crazy enough to want to do the whole thing over again! :)

I'll be launching the 2017 version of Journey to Clean on December 1, 2016!  In it, I will have updated calendars for 2017, an updated cleaning schedule and deep cleaning calendar, and new tips and tricks to keep your home in tip top shape.  (Yes, I'm just nuts enough to launch a new product while building a house and taking care of 2 kids.  Pray for me.)

I can't wait to share more with you guys in the coming months!  Stay tuned!