Saturday, January 5, 2013

When Should You Start Selling from Your Blog?

How do you know when your audience is ready to buy from you?

Should you wait to “monetize”?

How big does your audience need to be?

These are common questions and the answers have been debated over the years. I am going to share an answer I gave George from the Man Up Blog during his blog critique.

George spent some time in the dating world, sometimes called the “pick up artist” niche. This is shy dudes learning to pick up the ladies mostly, but obviously the market caters to all genders and tastes.

It’s pretty obvious what people want from dating advice, but moving away from that into a broader (and less defined) hook of helping men with mindset techniques and self development tools was giving George some interesting challenges. He knows he can help, and he knows how valuable the offered outcome is, but how does he communicate his value so clearly so he can gather an audience who wants to buy what he has to offer? When does he know he has it right?

First, Define Your USP

If you have read much of this blog you will have seen me give quite a bit of advice around defining what you do and who for. You need a unique selling proposition, positioning, uniqueness, hook, or whatever you want to call it.

You need to know who you help, what with and how. You need to be able to communicate why someone would want to work with you rather than go with the other options available to them.

While you might not get there right away, it is worth thinking about what that might be and testing out some ideas. That’s going to take some work but the effort pays off and reduces some friction so you can build momentum.

You need this unique and beneficial hook if you are going to get networking contacts, get people to join your list, or just get people to take notice of what you are doing. When you see someone struggle to get subscribers it is often because nobody knows the answer to “what’s in it for me?“. For example, George had “Awesome newsletter” to describe his opt-in form, rather than describing what the reader would get for signing up in an attractive way.

In George’s case we had some ideas but we realised one of the main ways George helps men is to gain confidence. It might not be where George ends up but it is a good place to start. While George can help someone get a complete overhaul, that is too big a picture to define a nice specific hook around.

Monetization versus Product Launches

When it comes to making money from blogging, in most cases you can go with “monetization” or you can market a business.

Monetization is the “media” type play where your blog is an online magazine (or maybe more like radio). It’s about building an audience, content, traffic, and making money off it. Usually this involves ads, maybe affiliate offers, but it is more about getting enough traffic that the ad space is worth enough financially and also attractive enough that advertisers want to appear in front of your audience.

You can put ads on your blog from day one, but don’t expect anyone to buy those ads, or to make any money from adsense and other automated services, until your traffic is high. In the order of around a thousand page views a day upwards unless your niche is particularly valuable.

Affiliate offers can be a good way to work out what your audience is willing to buy and at which price points, but obviously it is not going to ever perfectly match what people want from you.

A business is more than having a revenue source. It is a planned undertaking that is there for the longer term, has a real business model, is less about trying out tactics and more about building something substantial. That’s where launching products and services come into play, but interesting enough, it can actually be harder to make money off advertising than having your own deals.

Selling a product or a service is not about having masses of subscribers or millions of page views, it is about putting the right offer in front of the right people at the right price and at the right time. A freelance designer probably can’t handle more than a handful of clients at any one time so what good would a million visitors a day do her?

The Vital Difference Between an Offer and Selling

You might still be wondering when it is time to try a launch. Don’t worry, we will get there.

One thing I think is vital but missing from most of these conversations is … You need to know when to sell, and when to pitch.

There is a difference between having a product or service on offer and actively pitching it.

Pitching your product or service uses up goodwill with your audience. Go to far and your audience will disengage or abandon you completely. You have to keep up the valuable content and keep the pitches down to a minimum, particularly early on. But that said, you can put things up on offer without making constant sales pitches.

My advice is that you can have a consulting call offer on your blog from the day you launch. You don’t even have to draw attention to it. Having it exist has a value.


It sets the scene. Having the offer there tells people you are in business and that your time and expertise has a value. You can even give free calls, but you can honestly tell people that ordinarily that call has a certain price.

If you don’t show that you mean business then people will not have the opportunity to send you money, and might at worst discount your advice as not worth anything. People don’t tend to give a lot of perceived value to free, so from that perspective alone it is worth putting a price on it.

Giving a price to your advice also allows you to filter. Not everyone is going to be a good fit for you, and some people do try to take advantage. Should someone want to “pick your brain” when you are busy, distracted, or just not interested, you can point them to your offer.

In George’s case he can offer one to one coaching calls to help men gain confidence in certain areas of their lives.

Get Deeper Insights and Get Paid

Consulting and coaching is an excellent way to deepen the insight you can get from readers and speed up the whole process.

You can really help people, get paid, plus all the while be gathering crucial research into what your audience most wants to know.

Most of my best content and product ideas come out of the coaching and Q&A calls I do. People ask me questions and I answer them, but the topics rattle around my head and later come out as articles.

A really cool added benefit is while people might tell you they are interested in something, when they buy your consulting the audience is taking action – they tell you with the best vote possible … their dollars. When people take you up on your consulting or coaching you know your audience wants what is in your head (no matter how you package it) and you even get a rough idea of how much that information is worth to them.

Should You Wait?

George told me he had been waiting until he had a critical mass of audience engagement before offering a product for sale. I told him not to wait, but it is worth understanding what the options are.

Coincidentally, while I was writing up this blog critique case study I was listening to today’s Third Tribe Q&A call with Sonia Simone and Brian Clark. Brian brought up his concept of a “Minimum Viable Audience” – the tipping point where your audience is large enough and you know enough about what they want from their feedback that you can successfully launch your product.

Copyblogger waited a long time before offering products. They had a massive audience of engaged readers, so when Teaching Sells came out they knew exactly what that audience wanted and gave it to them. It was a huge success, and still is.

That was a different time though. Audience tolerance for bloggers offering products for sale has transformed over the last few years.

There is another point in favour of having something for sale early on also. Sonia mentioned that if you don’t let people know you are in business then people can forget and then get annoyed when you sell stuff. This is an experience I had for a while where people thought of me as a “free guy” because of my free content, ebooks, seminars, and so on – even though by blog was about business.

So how should you progress? Should you wait or should you offer something now?

My advice is to follow these steps:

  1. Offer consulting or coaching (especially if you can make it very easy to see what people are going to get, like my critique service).
  2. Gain insights from the audience, surveys, metrics, questions, testing content ideas and from the private calls.
  3. Do a test launch of a contained product to a small group – what we often call a Minimum Viable Product.
  4. Expand the product based on the feedback you get from the test group.
  5. Roll out to the public.
This allows you to move forward or pull the plug at any stage without risking too much time, money or goodwill.

What do you think? Have you held off selling products or services? Do you rather blogs wait to offer items for sale? What do you think about George’s blog? Please share your thoughts in the comments … 


John T. Chambers Mukesh D. Ambani John C. Martin Jeffrey P. Bezos Margaret C. Whitman

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