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    How to Price Free

    April 2nd, 2010

    People just love free stuff. Free is one of the most valuable marketing tools a blogger has. For a blogger, the cost of free is, well, pretty much free (sans your time). The trick to pricing free is that something has to make up for all that free stuff you give away.

    Pricing Free

    Now, I know this seems a little weird to talk about pricing free but bear with me for a second. What I mean is that the free stuff you give away has to be balanced by the stuff that people can buy. You also need to price this free content so you can really figure out what it’s worth to a customer. Consider the price of your free material as the additional price adder you have to add to your product offerings. These free offerings are what you hope will entice your customers to fork over their hard earned money for your products.
    Some products are easier to give away free than others. Usually, these products are ones where the cost of production rounds to zero. Some of the products that bloggers can give away for free include:

    • Free eBooks: Some bloggers will give away the eBook version of their physical book for free to give customers the ability to value the content by eventually paying for it. This not only lets customers “try before they buy” but gives you valuable marketing insights into what sells.
    • Free Advice: Most of us that blog are really giving our readers free advice or commentary on certain subjects. If you make this advice high quality, then your readers will be enticed to purchase other materials from you. Think about that every time you post to your blog.
    • Free Guest Posts: Guests posts are as free as posting on your blog. It can sometimes be hard to get a guest post but you should endeavor to try. A high quality guest post, on a high traffic site will be the best use of your time.
    • Free Reviews or Comparisons or Compatibility Reports: Reviews can be a great free technique since usually people that stumble upon a review want to buy something.
    • Free Pod Casts: Audio is a little more expensive than plain blogging but is still a good free strategy if the cost of production is not too out of control. Typical free Pod Casts include excerpts from longer, paid for material.
    • Free How to Videos: Snippets or “commercials” of a video will cost you more than posting but will reach a different audience that might not want to read your blog posts.
    • Free Manuals: Physical manuals or how-to-guides can be a little pricy to purchase but most people that are looking into how-to-do something usually want more details. So, giving away some of the manual for free (maybe as an eBook) is a good way to make up for the price of free on the full manual.
    • Free Music: Depending on the quality, music is pretty cheap and is a great way to get people exposed to what you can do.
    • Free Software: A trial or limited version of software is a pretty cheap way to allow potential customers to sample before they buy. If you provide a web based solution, then the free trial is your single best free marketing tool.
    • Free Movies: Movies are expensive to produce but shorts or trailers are effective ways to get people interested in the full version.

    Looking at all the options, it’s kind of obvious that when you price your free stuff, the costs to produce and distribute it is a critical factor. As you can see, the list above contains no “physical” products. It’s all just bits that once produced, can be reproduced really cheap. This is the critical part about pricing free – you want to give away products that are cheap for you to make and distribute but are part of bigger products. This means that your “free price” is actually reflected in your product price.

    The Real Price of Free

    I am sure you have gathered by now that we really don’t price free. Rather, we have to price our products to reflect our free offerings. These free offerings need to drive the customer to buy our other products. In order to support your free products, consider some of the methods that available to support your give-a-ways:

    • Advertisements: Ads are a reasonably good way to at least cover your baseline costs. Ads really start to kick in when your traffic volume goes up. So, this method may work in the long run but your free offerings really have to drive traffic (which is kind of the point anyway).
    • Affiliate Sales: Selling products that you write about is a more targeted way to cover your free offerings. Affiliate programs can also cater to your target market, which allows for more conversions.
    • Premium Content: Video, Pod Casts, Interactive Forums: Some free content is just excerpts from premium content that allows the customer to taste a little bit about what might be inside. When pricing this kind of free offering, it’s important to give away some of the quality content so that potential customers can see real value.
    • Books: Authors give away pieces of their printed books in order to give readers a better sense of what’s inside. When you free content is backed up by something a customer can buy, then the price of free may be that your book sales will only take off once customers can share more of the content with their friends.
    • Subscriptions: Free content is a great way to get customers to subscribe to your service. In this case, the free offering needs to directly relate to the subscription service and allow a deeper, richer experience. The price of free in this case may be allowing free trails or having some key opinion leaders on your subscription site for free.
    • Speaking Engagements / Seminars: Speaking gigs usually result from being an expert in some area. Your free content should give you the credibility to charge audiences for your time. So, the price of free would be the time it takes you to generate the free content.
    • Full Length Movies / Music: A trailer or sampler can be just enough of a hook for a customer to buy the full length album or feature. In this case, the price of free is really just in making the trailer or sample – the full length feature is already going to be made.
    • Premium Software: Since the cost of manufacturing software rounds to zero, the price of a premium software product as it relates to the free version is a matter of how much features and functions the free ones has. If you have too much free function, then that will encroach on sales but you can also limit the full version free trail to some fixed amount of time.

    Free is Not That Free

    For the content creator, giving away your content for free is a tool to sell your premium content. When pricing your free content, remember to look at the creation costs and the manufacturing/distribution costs. Strive to give away content that is essentially free to manufacture and distribute. That way, the cost adders to your premium content (the stuff people pay for) can be kept in check.

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    What Business Are You In?

    March 5th, 2010

    One question I have been asking myself lately is how to make money at blogging. It’s kind of a natural question really since a lot of bloggers want to some day get paid for what they do. What got me thinking about this was an excellent post over at Copyblogger. Don’t click on it yet. You need to read the rest of this before you do (I have the link at the bottom so you don’t have to scroll back).

    The basic thesis of the article was that blogs don’t really make money. Rather they are a strategic marketing tool for some underlying business. Read that one more time. A blog is a strategic marketing tool that supports some underlying business. Hmm. So, that means that if you want to make any money in blogging (or rather by blogging), then you have to have some sort of product or service that people can actually buy. Sure, you can have ads and affiliates, which does bring in some revenue , but not as much as some tangle product or service. This is an interesting thesis since most of us bloggers want to make some sort of living at blogging.

    Assessing Your Blog

    As I thought more about how blogs are more of a strategic marketing device than a money making device, it naturally makes sense to figure out how a blog fits into an overall business strategy. For some, defining their blog will be pretty easy while for others, it will be more of a challenge. A couple of things to think about when assessing how your blog helps your business include:

    • How much of me is in my blog? Part of creating a strategic marketing tool is that it needs to reflect the business it serves. If you have too much of yourself in your blog, then it will distract from the business purpose. It’s fine to have some personality that make it unique but don’t put a lot of your personal self in your blog. You are not a business (unless, you are famous).
    • What topic(s) does it cover? The topic of your blog needs to directly relate to your core business. It’s acceptable to niche blog by taking on specific challenges that your business can solve but don’t make the mistake of diverging your blog topics from your business focus.
    • How easy is it to find your blog? Part of a blogs appeal is that it’s always working for you, 24/7. The reason is because of the wonderful world of Inbound marketing. Inbound marketing is always working for you as long as you work for it. So, make it easy to find your blog by applying inbound marketing techniques so that customers can find you.
    • Are there similar blogs to mine? If you can find some blogs that are similar to yours, that’s a great way to gauge how you stack up. It also  wonderful intelligence on how others might make money from your topic. Don’t copy others but it’s important to distinguish your blog from others so that it attracts the customers you want.

    Assessing Your Business

    So now that you have a good idea what your blogs about, the next thing to think about is what business you are in. Remember the thesis above, that just being a blogger is not a business model since a blog is just a strategic marketing tool that drives business to the supported enterprise. To figure out what business you are in, ask yourself these questions:

    1. What do I sell on my blog today? Take a look at your blog and figure out if it sells anything. By selling, I mean is there someway, via a link or icon or whatever, for a reader to click on to purchase your product or service. If you have none, then you need to ask yourself why.
    2. How am I making a living today? If your blog has no way for readers to pay you, then you must be making a living somewhere else. How does that living match up to your blogs message?
    3. What customer pain does your business cure? People buy products and services to fill a need. Without such a need, a customer will not be motivated to part with their money. Look at your business and figure out what pain does it cure. List a couple of pain points that you think people will pay for. How can your blog promote that?
    4. What business am I really in? Now that you have an idea about how you make money, is this the business that your blog promotes? If not, why not? Does your blog help solve your customers pain? Take a critical look at your business needs and how your blog can help you achieve them.

    Hopefully, your blog aligns with your business needs. If not, then you need to change that. If you want to be an effective blogger, you somehow have to convert all of your readers to take action that benefits you if your aim is to make money with your blog. If all you want to do is blog for the love of blogging, then disregard everything I just said.

    Aligning Your Blog To Your Business

    So now that you have assessed your blog and your business, it’s now time to align them. Aligning your blog to your business is as simple as making what you blog about strategically align to your business needs. It also includes making what you sell available to potential customers. Now, you don’t need to do a hard sell or anything like that. Rather, make whatever product or service you have easily available so that your readers can support your blogging effort.

    What’s Business Are You In?

    I know a lot of you who read this are bloggers looking to make some money. After all, this is The Bloggers Bulletin and it’s sole purpose is to discuss the business of blogging. So, tell me what business you are in. Since there are about 40 contributors to this blog, I would except at least that many comments. I assume you are all serious about making money via your blog. Aren’t you?

    I will even go first. The Daily MBA’s business is to help technical and creative people succeed in business. I do this by selling books and offering consulting services via my creative branding and strategy company, Pointed Letters. See, that was easy. Now, it’s your turn. Tell me, what business are you in?

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    This post was inspired by this great post over at CopyBlogger. You should go check it out.

    About the Author

    Jarie Bolander is an engineer by training and an entrepreneur by nature. He is the managing director of Pointed Letters, a creative branding and strategy company. Jarie also volunteers with San Francisco SCORE as a cyber-counselor and also blogs about innovation, management and entrepreneurship at http://www.thedailymba.com. His first book, Frustration Free Technical Management, has recently been published. You can also follow him on Twitter @thedailymba

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    Feeling, Action and Content

    February 3rd, 2010

    I just finished the book, How to Castrate A Bull. It’s the semi-autobiographical story of one of the co-founders of NetApp, Dave Hitz. It’s a good read with some great advice on how you grow from the garage, to a multi-billion dollar company, crash down to nothing (during the Internet bubble) and then rebuild yourself again. One of the topics that stuck with me (along with how to castrate a bull. He actually tells you how to do it. Fascinating) was the method he uses to prepare for a presentation. His method, Feeling, Action and Content, frames what he wants to say in a way that inspires people to take the action he wants them to take.

    Feeling

    His method starts out with what you want the audience to feel. This should be an emotion that grips the audience and puts them in the right frame of mind to accept the action. Feelings include: anger, sadness, joy, excitement or dread. The trick is to pick a single emotion and focus your efforts on developing it. Applying this to blogging means that your posts should carry a tone that gets your readers ready for action.

    Action

    Once your audience is in the proper emotional state, it’s now time to prompt them to action. An action could be as simple as continuing their great work or more detailed like meeting their sales number. The action should be clear, doable and measurable. Preferably, your call to action will be a single thing that your entire audience can participate in. Resist the temptation of multiple actions since that will confuse and distract. Remember, you are going for an emotional connection that will resonate enough that your audience will equate that feeling to action. For bloggers, it might be a request to post a comment or visit your site.

    Content

    Now I know this sounds counter intuitive for us bloggers but when talking to a group of people (and extending that to your readers), content is not as important as the feelings and action you want people to take. Why? Well, feelings, emotions and actions will be remembered while content will not. The content is really used to reinforce your feeling and call to action. It has to be good and factual, yet in the end, most people won’t remember it. On the flip side, they will remember bad, poorly explained content, so you don’t get off that easy. As bloggers, we understand that content is king but remember that your content must be incapsulated into something that readers feel and want to take action on.

    Your Call To Action

    In the comments, put in your favorite blog post or speech that inspired you to action. What feelings did it arouse in you? What content sealed the deal? Was it the content or the feeling that you remembered?

    – – – –

    Author Bio

    Jarie Bolander is an engineer by training and an entrepreneur by nature. He is presently VP of R&D at Tagent, a company working on breakthrough technology that will help reduce medical errors. Jarie also blogs about innovation, management and entrepreneurship at The Daily MBA and has recently published his first book, Frustration Free Technical Management. You can also follow him on Twitter @thedailymba

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    Blog to Book in About a Year

    January 23rd, 2010

    I am sure most of you who read this want to write a book. In fact, I am willing to bet that over 90% of you have either thought about it or started it. Now that my first book has been published, I figured I would explain how I actually got the beast done. Looking back, it took me about a year from concept to finished book. During that year, I also started my blog (actually, before I started the book). It turns out that the blog really helped me write the book. Blogging turned out to be one of the best methods to get the book done. Let me explain.

    Instant Support Group

    Staying motivated can be a challenge. Couple that with the loneliness of writing and you can get off in the weeds fast. Luckily, blogging gives you an instant community that is always eager to help. The great thing is, there are so many writers/bloggers out there that are facing the same issues and challenges you are. By blogging, you get connected to this network.

    Style Crafting

    Early on, I had no style. My writing was all over the place. In order to develop a style, you have to write (can you see a theme here). By writing, your writers voice emerges. This voice is in every writer but needs to be nurtured and even coaxed out. By blogging, I found my voice and style since by blogging, it’s easy to experiment with different methods and styles.

    Discipline

    It’s so easy to blog that there is no real excuse to not write something. In fact, my first couple of blog posts were all private writing journal entries just so I could get used to seeing my words “in print.” The discipline also comes from people that follow you and encourage you to write more. Nothing motivates me more than “fans” that want more of my writing. It’s kind of addictive in a weird, semi-famous on the D-list, kind of way.

    Instant Feedback

    The instant nature of blogging has a great upside (or downside, depending on your attitude). You can actually tell if people are reading your stuff (or not). This is a powerful feature because you get to try different things to see how they work. Books are bad for doing that since they take so long to write and print.

    Building Your Following

    Part of writing a book is to get the word out. Your publisher will do little to help you with this. By blogging, you can create a following that will be the natural audience for your book. Couple that with the instant feedback and it’s almost like your readers are helping you write the book. I cannot stress this enough. Building your following while writing the book is the way to go. Do not wait till you get the book deal or the book is done. This whole Social Media, Inbound Marketing thing takes time. Tons of time.

    My Challenge to You

    If you listen closely (put your ear to your monitor), you can hear all the “but Jarie, I have not time”, “but Jarie, I don’t know what to write about” or “but Jarie, no one wants to read my drivel.” These are the most common excuses to not write a book. Remember, 90% of you actually want to write a book but never do. So, my challenge to all of you is go write it. Use the most powerful motivation tool available, your blog. Tell your fellow bloggers about your plan. Have your readers help you write your masterpiece. If you are still stuck or think that a book is just too big a challenge, then do a blog series. If I had known how motivating a blog series was, I would have done that for my first book.

    One more thing. Anytime your motivation wanes or some knucklehead tells you your book dream is a waste of time, drop me a note. I know what it’s like to sit in front of a blank screen, wondering if it’s all worth it. Believe me, it is.

    Author Bio

    Jarie Bolander is an engineer by training and an entrepreneur by nature. He is presently VP of R&D at Tagent, a company working on breakthrough technology that will help reduce medical errors. Jarie also blogs about innovation, management and entrepreneurship at The Daily MBA and has recently published his first book, Frustration Free Technical Management. You can also follow him on Twitter @thedailymba

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    5 Steps to Creating Crossover Content

    January 2nd, 2010

    Content that crosses over appeals to the broader audience outside your niche. It’s essential to occasionally write this type of content because it will strengthen your follower base while also expanding it. Content that crosses over mixes things up a bit and gets people talking — something that is essential to a long and prosperous blogging career.  2279365542_752f857158

    Step 1: Go Deep

    Before you can create crossover content, you really need to deeply penetrate your niche. Know every nook and cranny, inside and out. This depth of knowledge is essential to build so that you are considered an expert in your niche. Experts crossover well since they have built in credentials from their niche and when some asks around, they can easily find that at least some people listen to you. Now, you don’t have to be the expert in a niche but people should generally consider you someone that provides quality, authoritative content.

    Step 2: Reveal Yourself

    Once you deeply know your niche, you can then start to reveal your other interests that might crossover. A good example of this is The Worlds Strongest Librarian. Josh Hanagarne knows books. He is a librarian after all but he also knows so much more. Having built his creditability, he revealed that he has Tourette’s Syndrome . Now, many people have Tourette’s but the way Josh deals with it is by lifting kettlebells. Talk about an eclectic crossover — a librarian that uses kettleballs to manage his Tourette’s. That just works on so many levels. Now, Josh has another blog that came out after revealing that kettlebell training helps him with his Tourette’s.

    Step 3: Look Around

    Opportunities to crossover are everywhere. The trick is to look in places where others might not or put two difference concepts together. Looking around means subscribing to different types of blogs or following that crazy twitter guy who is obsessed with street food (@sfcarts) or maybe it’s watching a TV show that seem like a distraction but actually have valuable lessons. My own post about Project Runway is exactly that. I write mostly about business and some about blogging. The last thing you would think of is that a fashion show has lessons for bloggers. Well, it does. Project Runway is all about creativity under pressure. Something every blogger can relate to.

    Step 4: Partner With Someone Different

    Reaching out to others is a great way to understand what they do. Partnering (via guest blogging, joint ventures or whatever) can provide a wealth of insights into all sorts of topics. Sometimes, the most unlikely partners make perfect sense. Enter Jonathan Littman and Marc Hershon over at I Hate People. Talk about two different people. Jonathan is a best-selling author (read paid writer) while Marc names stuff (which in the trade is a “branding expert”). Their latest project is the book I Hate People about how to break free of the corporate flock of Sheeple to thrive as a soloist. If you haven’t figured it out yet, it’s a business book that deals with productivity. How could they do something like that? Well, they looked around and found that creative types have a real problem with all of these corporate wonks dragging them into wasteful meetings and decided that their shared experiences would crossover to others.

    Step 5: Release and Repeat

    Crossover content can be hit and miss. What you might think is the perfect marriage of basket weaving and scuba diving might fall flat. You know what, that’s OK. Not every crossover post will be a home run. Heck, none may be, but that’s not the point. Building crossover content allows you to breakout of your niche and stretch your creative mind. That’s why it’s important to just release it and see what happens. It may fall flat, it may soar like an eagle or it may just lie dormant until the someone figures out that underwater basket weaving really does make you a better parent.

    About the Author

    Jarie is an engineer by training and an entrepreneur by nature. He is presently working on breakthrough technology that will reduce medical errors. Jarie also blogs about innovation, management and entrepreneurship at http://www.thedailymba.com and has recently published his first book, Frustration Free Technical Management, which I assure you, does crossover to other managers as well. You can also follow him on Twitter @thedailymba

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    Your Blog as a Virtual Peer Conference

    December 21st, 2009

    I recently picked up Adrian Segar’s, Conferences That Work: Creating Events that People Love and was fascinated by the concept of peer conferencing. It turns out that peer conferencing uses an attendee-centered model that largely leaves the content of the conference up to attendees.

    There still needs to be some organizational framework that guides the attendees but aside from that, organizers are more like facilitators then authority figures that control the speakers and content. This largely user generated content (sound familiar) has a lot of similarities to what bloggers should try and build on-line.  Conferences that work

    Application to Blogging

    What got me thinking about peer conferencing and blogging (aside from Adrian’s book) was how groups of people come together, discuss topics (via blog posts), comment on that discussion and influence the discussion. I realized that blogging is the virtual peer conference that centers around an organizer (blogger) who puts topics out there and the attendees (readers) discuss (via comments, retweets and reposts) the topics (post) and the community guilds the discussion.

    The beauty of the blogger as peer conference facilitator is that blogging is naturally a bottoms up approach. You can’t dictate what your readers will comment on or if they will repost your stuff. Clearly the blogger has control of the initial content but will soon perish if the community gets bored.

    The Basics of Peer Conferencing

    There are a lot of lessons that peer conferencing can teach us about building a better blog. Think about it. People spend money to attend a conference where they have direct influence over the content. Sounds a lot like what we want our blogs to be — a place where people come, enjoy the content, help craft it and if so moved, reward us with purchasing what we have to sell.

    There are a lot of mechanics that go into a proper peer conference (Adrian’s book goes over them in great detail) which is beyond the scope of this post. What is relevant is the high level concepts that make a peer conference successful. If you apply this to your blog, it will make it better. Some of these concepts are (summarized from chapter 4 of Conference That Work):

    • Connection With Others: Humans are social animals and we want to feel part of a group. Blogging is a natural way to connect with others as long as the blogger fosters that by allowing comments and being open to debate.
    • Open to Possibilities: Be open to discussing different topics. This will encourage your readers to interact more because it shows that you value different perspectives.
    • De-emphasizing Status: We have all seen how experts tend to monopolize meetings and in some cases even blog comments. Acknowledging and accepting that your readership has a wide range of experiences will make your community better. Everyone has something to contribute, even the novice.
    • Increasing Transparency: Openness is a strength. People like it when any conflicts or selfish interests are “on the table” and they feel that their moderator is a straightforward person.
    • Ensuring Timeliness and Relevance: Relevant and topical posts are what drive traffic. It also shows your readers that you care enough to stay on top of your topic. It also makes you the go to person when new developments break.
    • Publish-Then-Filter: The beauty of the Internet is that there is a vast array of opinions that accumulate into a tribal knowledge database. Don’t be afraid to post your content even if someone (or many people) have posted it before. The community will filter it appropriately and the feedback (or lack there of) will make your next post even better.

    Some Examples

    There are a couple of great examples of blogs/sites that seem to be a continuous virtual peer conference. Some, admittedly, are not really blogs but the interactions and dialog capture the spirt of a peer group getting together to make themselves and the community thrive. Some to check out are:

    • Zen Habits: Just read the comments section and you will figure out that this is a thriving community that wants to help each other. Leo does an excellent job of crafting his posts to be relevant and based on direct feedback from his readers.
    • Answers OnStartUps: I must admit, I am addicted to this site. This approaches the ideal in terms of a virtual peer conference since the users ask the questions and the discussion starts. Questions and answers can be voted up and the result is a wonderful knowledge base of user generated content.
    • Copyblogger: Their rich content draws in a wide range of participates. They have strong commenting and great interaction with their readers. A lot of the posts are generated by reader questions and the relevant trends of the day.
    • Quicksprout: Neil is probably the most engaged facilitator I have ever seen. He tries (or maybe demands of himself) to respond to every comment. This attitude breaks down barriers by showing that no matter who you are, Neil values your opinion. His content is also relevant and the transparency is shocking (in a good way).
    • Personal MBA: Josh takes a novel approach to education. His approach is about charting your own educational course and the community he has build is a wonderful venue for self improvement.

     

     

    Conclusions

    The peer conferencing model is a great way to take your blog to the next level. Sure, you many not be able to do everything right away but it’s a good model to aspire too. Treat your readers like peers. Ask them what they want to talk about. Include them in the content generation. Respond to comments respectfully. Doing these things will make your blog feel like a virtual peer conference, where attendees have a vested interest in its success.

    About the Author

    Jarie is an engineer by training and an entrepreneur by nature. He is presently working on breakthrough technology that will reduce medical errors. Jarie also blogs about innovation, management and entrepreneurship at http://www.thedailymba.com and has recently published his first book, Frustration Free Technical Management. You can also follow him on Twitter @thedailymba

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