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Entrepreneurship Sales Uncategorized

Customer Self-Cancellation Policy: Good or Bad for Business?

Unfortunately, you just won’t keep all your customers forever.

If your business is a SaaS or other recurring service, you’ll eventually have to deal with the unpleasant reality of cancellations. But how you deal with cancellations can have a big impact on your business’s overall growth, customer retention, and churn rates.

So, should you let customers self-cancel, or should staff handle cancellations — and maybe try to convince the customer to stick around?

We’ve tried both approaches for our monthly membership SaaS, WebinarNinja. Having gone both ways, we formed a pretty good picture of the ups and downs of each. Which policy will benefit your business, however, depends on a few factors.

Self-Cancellation, Pros and Cons

Letting customers cancel their own membership has its advantages. Believe it or not, letting your customers slip away with no attempt to stop them might make more business sense — because trying to stop them requires time and resources. How much time and resources are worth putting into something that, frankly, isn’t likely to succeed?

It’s all about the ROI.

Obviously, customers prefer self-cancellation. People are generally non-confrontational. No one likes to have to speak to a rep, to break the bad news to a human being. It’s almost like breaking up. Think about it: if you could just click “Cancel” to get out of a relationship, there would never be another “It’s not you, it’s me” speech delivered for the rest of human history.

It’s easier for both of you to allow self-cancellation. The customer doesn’t have to suffer the awkwardness of explaining their decision to leave, or — worse — endure the hassle of a customer service rep trying to convince them to stay. As Comcast has shown us, that can get ridiculous.

More to the point for you, a customer service rep’s time isn’t free. Every second you or your rep spends on the phone with someone is a second they’re not doing something that may have a better ROI, like dealing with customer dissatisfaction before it reaches cancellation level.

Of course, the counterargument to all this is easy: what if the customer service rep can stop the cancellation? What if the problem the customer has is easily solved? If the customer’s dissatisfaction is rooted in, say, their own lack of user knowledge, a rep can fix that. Perhaps the problem is a glitch that can be referred to support and easily sorted.

Even if the customer service rep can’t save the membership, they can identify common complaints or shortcomings, allowing you to perfect the product and avoid future cancellations with improvements and upgrades.

All things considered, it’s always possible that the customer doesn’t really want to cancel. They just don’t realize that the product can meet their needs with a simple tweak on their end or yours. That’s worth a few minutes on the phone, right?

Maybe.

Frankly, dissatisfaction based on user error should be headed off before it happens, with good customer onboarding. Technical glitches are unlikely to produce immediate cancellation, unless they go unresolved or repeat incessantly — in which case you have bigger problems to deal with.

Ask yourself: what percentage of cancellations are really based on something resolvable?

Most cancellations are due to reasons over which you and your business have no control. The customer simply doesn’t need your product anymore, or can’t afford it, or doesn’t think it’s worth the cost. Whatever the case, they’ve concluded that your product doesn’t have the ROI to keep them around. That’s not a conclusion you’re likely to talk them out of, unless you or your customer service reps are extremely sales-oriented.

Even then, it’s a long shot.

Our Experiment

When we built the first version of WebinarNinja, we didn’t want to make it easy for customers to cancel. Who wants to give up business without a fight? Originally, if you wanted to cancel your membership, you had to get on the phone with customer service, and we’d try our best to keep your business — or at least analyze what turned you off, so we could improve the platform.

We thought requiring this dialogue was a no-brainer. And we weren’t exactly wrong. But in the end, the numbers showed that requiring a pre-cancellation talk had a point of diminishing returns.

First, it didn’t save that many memberships. In any given stretch of time, we found that on average, less than 5% of people who called to cancel were talked out of it. From a bottom-line perspective, that wasn’t worth the time and resources spent (mostly) talking to people who were leaving no matter what we said.

Our reps’ time was better spent preemptively addressing customer problems, so they wouldn’t make that cancellation call in the first place.

Second, the data gathering was useful at first, but only for so long. We kept a spreadsheet of reasons for cancellation, so we could track and analyze what exactly was costing us customers. In the end, it helped us identify areas of improvement, and helped us better our product.

But we didn’t to spend hours on the phone to get this information.

If a shortcoming in our product caused someone to cancel, we fixed it the first time! We didn’t need to register the same complaint from 20 other customers in order to make our platform better. More importantly, it didn’t require a live conversation to identify any given problem or shortcoming.

That’s what forms are for.

We switched to an automated cancellation procedure over which the customer had control, but wasn’t as simple as clicking “Cancel.” To end their service, the customer simply had to tell us why in a brief, low-hassle exit survey.

The customer got to leave without having an awkward conversation. We got the data we needed to improve, and  saved the money it cost to pay someone to acquire it.

As for talking people out of canceling…that was never realistic in the first place. In the end, we were happier to give the customer a pleasant exit experience that didn’t leave a bad taste in their mouths, leaving the doors open to both improving our product and potentially earning their business back in the future.

Deciding Factors

Of course, just because self-cancellation works for us doesn’t mean it’s the right move for you. WebinarNinja, like most SaaS products, is a relatively low-cost monthly membership service. That’s to say we depend more on the volume of repeat customers than on revenue generated by any single customer or payment.

Other services work differently. Pricier memberships, like certain expensive courses or mastermind groups, can run thousands of dollars for membership. In those cases, it may be well worth the time and money spent to try talking a customer out of cancellation.

The decision all comes down to math. Broadly speaking:

  • If losing a single customer will hit your revenue hard enough to make a conversation worth the investment, by all means don’t let customers self-cancel.
  • If your business model is about landing thousands of small-to-medium sized fish rather than a few whales, go automated.

If you do choose to allow self-cancellation, make sure it’s customer-friendly and leaves the door open for a future relationship. Make the exit survey quick, easy, and upbeat. Be magnanimous, and make sure any automated emails or messages make it clear that their success, not your revenue, is priority one.

If you don’t allow self-cancellation, make sure that your customer service reps take a sales-oriented — but not pushy — approach. Their goal should be to educate the customer on the product’s value to them, not the customer’s money’s value to you. Above all, make sure that your onboarding and pre-crisis customer service are optimized for customer retention, so fewer cancellation calls come in the first place.

In both cases, keep the customer’s account active for a full billing cycle. Whatever they already paid for, deliver.

We learned which approach works for us the way we learned everything else: experimentation, mistakes, corrections, and experience. You may have to make tweaks to your onboarding, customer service, and cancellation policies as you go.

Don’t be afraid to try things. Your customer retention and churn rates will improve as your customer service experience grows. Keep your head up, and keep moving forward.

Categories
Entrepreneurship Marketing Sales

Launching With Affiliates: Smart Strategy Or Careless Shortcut?

Affiliate marketing is a tricky subject, one I’ve had a lot to say about over the years. For those new to the game, affiliate marketing is when a business asks another business (the affiliate) to sell their product for them. You find someone with an audience, and utilize that audience’s trust in the affiliate to move your product. In exchange, when anyone buys your product using the affiliate’s special link, the affiliate gets a cut. Everyone wins. Or do they?

I’ve been asked whether this strategy, with all its advantages and drawbacks, is a good idea for new entrepreneurs. It’s certainly a popular one. And while I’ve definitely had my reservations about affiliate marketing, I can’t deny the potential benefits of doing so…when it’s done right.

I’ve launched many a product, both with and without affiliates. Whether it’s right for you will depend on a few variables. The beauty of entrepreneurship is that unlike traditional business, you don’t have to do anything. You get to make the choices that seem best for you and your company. So before you decide, know what can go right— and what can go otherwise.

The Pros

When you work with affiliates, you’re increasing the size of your audience (and potentially the number of sales) exponentially. Someone else has done the work required to earn the trust of a whole pool of potential customers. Now, your product is being recommended to them. It could take months or years to reach the people your affiliates have already reached, and here they are being handed to you on a platter.

The value of this is hard to estimate. Assuming your product is good and it sells well, it’s priceless exposure. The benefits can continue to accrue over years, as strangers become first-time customers, who become longtime customers, and who ultimately recommend your product to others. One good affiliate relationship can snowball into years of profit, especially if it’s not just a one-time thing.

All of this requires relatively little from you, at least compared to the cost and effort required to earn that following on your own. Affiliate marketing can be a fast lane to notoriety and credibility. As long as your product delivers, hitching your wagon to someone else means trust by association. And as market value goes, trust is a priceless commodity.

The Cons

All that said, the downsides can be considerable— especially for new entrepreneurs. When you’re just starting out, it can be tough to get credible affiliates. No one knows or trusts you yet, and affiliates may not want to risk their own credibility on someone’s first or second product. That means the caliber of affiliates available to you might not be…ideal. Businesses who rely too heavily on being affiliates (rather than selling their own products) quickly lose credibility with their own audiences. These kinds of operations are not wagons to which you want to be hitched. Unfortunately, they might be the only ones willing to work with you.

Once you do find an affiliate, you have to be very careful about their effect on your brand. It’s important not to just let anyone market for you, because the way they do so reflects on you! You’re trusting these businesses with your brand. They could be unprofessional or scammy. They could simply have an aesthetic or set of values that’s too different from your own. Being misrepresented by an affiliate is a damaging experience.

And obviously, you’re giving up profits. 50% is standard, but even higher commissions aren’t unheard of (some businesses even forego 100% of the profits if they think the exposure is worth it). You have to ask yourself: with the money you’re giving the affiliate, could you market and advertise just as effectively for yourself? If your affiliate wants to sell your $100 product on a 50% commission, is it possible that you could take that $50 and buy ad space that’d get you the same result (or better)?

Cautious Affiliate Marketing

I’ve always been very wary of affiliate marketing, for all the reasons above. Most of all, I’ve always wondered if outsourcing the marketing of my own brands runs counter to the independence that makes entrepreneurship…entrepreneurship! That said, independence doesn’t mean never working with others or refusing mutually beneficial partnerships. That’s why I do choose to go the affiliate route sometimes— but only on certain conditions.

First, I don’t do “open” affiliate marketing, in which anyone can sell your product. While it’s tempting to sort of crowdsource your marketing this way, you completely lose control over your brand. When any jerk with a Twitter feed can call themselves your business partner, you’re setting yourself up for some bad press.

Instead, I hand pick my affiliates, and only let my business be associated with companies I know and trust, and whose audiences identify with my outlook. This means my reach isn’t quite as wide, but it is deeper. Most importantly, I can rest assured knowing that people I’m proud to associate with are increasing the value of my brand, not detracting from it.

Secondly, I insist on controlling the message. I provide the copy for emails, social media updates, videos, pdf’s; you name it. This makes life much easier for the affiliate, as all they have to do is share my work with their audience. More importantly, it keeps me in control of how my product is presented. I don’t surrender control of the narrative; I simply “borrow” the attention of my affiliate’s audience for a bit. That’s easier for the affiliate, and safer for me.

The Right Call For You

If you’re a brand new entrepreneur selling your first product, I have to recommend that you not choose affiliate marketing. It’s a better idea to go it alone at first, learning how to market and build your own credibility before trying to leverage someone else’s. Both your marketing skills and your product itself are in the early phases. Both should be “matured” a little before you’re ready for the kind of exposure affiliate marketing brings. Otherwise, the partnership could backfire.

If, on the other hand, you’ve been in business a while and you’re ready to launch or relaunch a tried-and-true product, affiliate marketing might be a great boost. Just make sure to take the time you need to find the right affiliates, and give them the materials they’ll need to represent you well. So long as it’s done with restraint, affiliate marketing can be mostly upsides. And it can give your business just the bump it needs to reach the next plateau.

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Entrepreneurship Finance Sales

5 Reasons You’re Not Selling Enough— And How To Sell More

Why do businesses fail to grow? Why do sales go into slumps, or never take off at all? Owning a business with insufficient sales can be a frustrating, frightening experience. Without adequate revenue, it’s only a matter of time before it shrivels up and croaks. The good news is that ugly sales numbers don’t have to be a terminal condition. There’s a reason for them, and there are ways to address them.

It may require facing some uncomfortable truths. It will require making some changes. But you don’t have to go down without a fight. By identifying the problem, you can save your business before it’s too late. The following are 5 of the most common reasons we fail to sell, and what you can do about them.

Reason 1: Selling isn’t a priority.

Impossible, you might say. Of course, sales are a priority. Of course, you’re trying to sell— isn’t every business owner? However, many business owners are either uncomfortable with selling, or simply don’t know how to. They think that with a little marketing and a little advertising, a great product will sell itself. They don’t want to be pushy. They think a passive approach will work.

I’d say that If you think you’re “selling” enough, you’re probably not. Almost every successful business prioritizes sales. This doesn’t mean they’re going to door-to-door every day, asking people to consider their yoga class or SaaS. It means they’re doing something that will increase sales every single week. They’re hosting a webinar. They’re doing an email promotion. Whatever it is, they’re not letting much time go by without actively chasing sales.

Some small business advocates preach that if you just “do what you love,” the sales will come. I’ve gotta call nonsense on that. Sales don’t come, they’re pursued. You have to sell, actively and constantly. It doesn’t mean turning yourself into some slick stereotype. It just means making a conscious effort. It’s about hustle, not hassle. You can’t be afraid to ask for the sale, day in and day out.

When a business owner with weak sales comes to me for advice, the first thing I ask is how many times in the last month they’ve had some kind of sales event. Usually, the answer is 0. It’s not enough to simply put the product out there. Look at Macy’s: they have a 1-day sale every week. It might seem silly, but it gives people a reason to show up. John Lee Dumas of Podcaster’s Paradise hosts a webinar every week for the same reason.

Set a goal to do some kind of sales promotion every week. It can be as simple as a coupon code at the end of a blog post. Whatever it is, give people a special reason to buy.

Reason 2: Opaque Pricing

Few things kill sales like a confusing price structure. While it isn’t always easy to determine exactly what the customer will have to spend, it’s important to make it as simple as possible. This is because people, like businesses, need to plan their budgets. A convoluted system might make sense to you. It might even be your way of trying to help the customer spend only what they need to. But if it’s too complex, it’s guaranteed to scare people off.

Especially when you’re selling a service, you’ve got to have clear, simple package prices. Hourly rates for things like graphic or web design are particular problems, because neither you nor the customer know how long a given project is going to take. Whatever you charge, make it as easy as possible for the customer to predict how much they’ll ultimately spend.

Charge for the result, rather than trying to charge for the exact time and resources you’re using. Set your prices from the customer’s perspective— all they want to know is what the result will cost them.

Reason 3: Burned by the churn

Churn, if you don’t know the term, describes the rate at which customers cancel their service or get refunds. It’s an especially dangerous business-killer, because it’s sneaky. It makes your sales stats unreliable indicators, because the money you’ve “made” gets un-made. That’s why it’s vital to track this metric. We use baremetrics for our analytics, which includes churn rates.

If your churn rate turns out to be significant, do whatever it takes to stop the bleeding. Find out what’s causing customers who were initially sold to change their minds. Give your customers a good reason to stick around. Improve support, improve communication; improve whatever you have to in order to keep the business you’ve earned.  

Reason 4: You’re spending too much

Like the churn problem, in this case the sales numbers can look deceptively good. But in reality, you’re not actually generating revenue. As I always preach, the most important statistic for any business is profitability. If what you’re spending to produce each unit is too close to (or heaven forbid, more than) its price, you’re spinning your wheels.

I had this problem when I ran a clothing line. My sales were great. Clothes were flying off the shelves. However, no matter how much I sold, I was never really making money. What it cost to produce each item was around 90% of the price. With soft products, it’s even trickier. You’ve got to factor in costs like hosting and third-party apps on which your product depends. You’ve got to track your costs honestly and thoroughly, leaving nothing out of the equation— including whatever you’re paying yourself.

Reason 5: You Ain’t Write Good

Finally, invest time in improving your sales copy. The words you use in ads, emails, blogs, and webinars are at the heart of your salesmanship. For help with that, I recommend reading This Book Will Teach You How To Write Better by Neville Medhora. It’s very short (100 pages), but it’s a fantastic primer on articulating yourself in a way that moves product. With the right messaging, you can reach customers who would otherwise ignore you.

When sales aren’t happening, it’s a horrible feeling. The end of your business isn’t around the corner, but you know it’s down the road. The cure is to stay in sales mode. Ask for the sale in every way possible, as often as possible. Offer value, prove yourself to the customers, and entice them with offers that make sense. Chase the sales, and orient your business practices around them.

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Entrepreneurship Marketing Prices & Rates Sales Uncategorized

How to Sell Small Informational Products

If you’re looking to get your feet wet as an entrepreneur— or even just looking for a way to reinvigorate and boost your marketing— nothing beats a well-made small informational product. Whether it’s literally “sold” (as in for profit) or simply offered as a freemium or low-cost bonus to your audience, the small info product is easy to produce, easy to deliver, and easily one of the best returns on investment a small business can make.

Small informational products can take any number of forms. The most common are infographics, short e-books, and videos. Whatever the medium, anything that condenses and delivers valuable knowledge is hard for customers to pass up— especially when it costs them little or nothing. By giving your audience access to these kinds of products, you’re accomplishing two things: adding to your own credibility, and honing your sales skills.

Easy Delivery

Fortunately for online entrepreneurs everywhere, there are a number of services that make moving your small informational product a snap. The following is not sponsored content, folks; these are simply the best ways to get your product out to the public quickly and efficiently.

Gumroad is one of the best ways to offer this kind of product. This service isn’t about high volume or massive numbers. It’s a simple, beginner-minded website that allows anyone to post and sell quality content with zero hassle. It’s easy to embed the technology onto your own website (though if you want, you can have someone on fiverr.com do it for you). Gumroad not only handles the transaction, but actually delivers the product itself to your customer through a simple download page.

Using the Gumroad embed code, you can actually keep customers on your website rather than send them on to any third party’s, including Gumroad’s. Whether or not you prefer to keep the transaction on your site, Gumroad takes a 5% transaction fee. From my perspective, this is well worth it. The ability to forget about the transaction and delivery process is invaluable in the early phases of learning how to sell. Gumroad simply takes care of everything so that you can focus on your next product.

Pricing The Product

With small informational products, the purpose is less to make profits and more to provide proof of concept. If you can sell small, you can eventually sell big. If your expertise is valuable enough to gain traction, the small product will act as a stepping stone to greater things. Keep this in mind when choosing your product’s price point.

When deciding how much (if anything) to charge, aim low! When in doubt, simply make it a steal. Make it an undeniable bargain for anyone interested in your industry. The return on investment isn’t supposed to come through profit— it will come in the form of established credibility and sales experience. It will come in the form of an audience, grateful for whatever problem of theirs your product has solved.

Gumroad even features a “name your price” tool for customers to decide exactly how much they’re willing to pay for your product, with a minimum price set by you (Gumroad takes no fee on free products). To offer free videos, use Wistia, which features an option that requires customers to submit their email after the first minute or two of the video. Build your subscription list— and your reputation— by enticing your audience.

The No-Pressure Product

When it comes to small informational products, it’s safe (and effective) to simply have fun. Don’t sweat the minor details or the minute features of your product. Whether it’s an infographic, e-book, or video, don’t aim for perfection. Each unnecessary improvement can only delay the launch and increase your overhead. Insisting on waiting until you have the “ultimate” version of the product defeats the purpose: to engage in the act of monetizing your knowledge.

The small informational product should be the epitome of the MVP, or Minimum Viable Product. It shouldn’t cost much time or money to produce, and it shouldn’t require too much effort to bring to the public. We’re not advocating laziness or carelessness— it’s simply a matter of understanding that the act of selling your expertise is the true value of the exercise. Improvements and innovations will come as you gain experience.

Be creative. Be willing to experiment. Be yourself. Create a minimum viable product, and teach yourself how to bring customers around to your real value as an expert. With practice, selling small can lead to very big things.

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Entrepreneurship Marketing Sales Uncategorized

3 Small Products Any Entrepreneur Can Produce

Here at The $100 MBA, we’ve said a lot about the MVP, or Minimum Viable Product. So many would-be entrepreneurs (we believe) obsess over creating the ideal, perfect product and refuse to actually take action until they can do so. Meanwhile, business moves on! Products are being made, sold, and refined by business people who aren’t afraid to make their move, even if the product isn’t “perfect”…yet.

To get your independent business career started— or just to give it a boost— few options are better than a simple, small informational product. Something that demonstrates your passion and expertise, that solves a problem customers have, and that is easily, cheaply produced and distributed. It’s the best way to make your mark in the market at minimal financial risk to yourself. It’s also a stepping stone to bigger success.

It’s not about inventing the iPhone. It’s about getting your feet wet and showing an audience what you’ve got. It’s about testing the waters, building your following, and establishing your brand. It doesn’t even have to be sold; it can be a freemium or part of a content marketing strategy. The point is to give the crowd a taste of your expertise.

Infographics

Producing a great infographic is a fantastic way to establish credibility with a grateful audience. They’re direct, simple, and customers love them. Creating a little “cheat sheet” on a given topic empowers customers to solve their problem with an easy reference. They won’t forget that when it’s time to consider learning more— and paying more to learn it.

The key to a great infographic (or any small product) is to be as specific as possible. It should address one relatively minor issue thoroughly and in a way that’s easy to understand. For example, our software company, WebinarNinja, could offer a simple checklist for new hosts: check the camera angle, adjust the lighting, etc. The point is that offering an easy reference makes customers feel more comfortable and empowered, which encourages trust.

All it takes is a little brainstorming. Outline the problem to be solved and the information needed to solve it. Then, either create your own infographic or outsource it to a graphics person (good ones can be found on fiverr.com and freelance.com). One simple hack for creating nice infographics is to use PowerPoint, Keynote or Google Slides. By entering the information onto one “slide” and saving it as a PDF, you can create the perfect infographic.

e-Books

Unlike regular books, e-books don’t have a length requirement. They can be as short as 10 to 30 pages— easily written and easily downloaded. Write the content down in any word program, then transfer to PowerPoint and add the “cover” and any illustrations. Save as a PDF, and you’ve got a marketable product.

E-books are more detailed than infographics, but not much more work to produce. By outlining the information and writing the “book” one small section at a time, it’s no more challenging than writing an academic report. Best of all, there are basically zero publishing costs. With as little as a dozen hours work, you can produce a downloadable reference that customers will love.

Video Products

Short video tutorials are an excellent way to convey information and— more importantly— flex your expertise muscles for an audience. They don’t require a lot of knowledge or equipment to produce; any smartphone or laptop camera will work. They don’t need to be very long, either. One 10 minute video or a short series of 3 to 5 minute videos will do nicely.

The trick is to plan them out. Outline and/or storyboard your video, and rehearse it before filming the final version. Use a quality microphone like the ATR 2100, which plugs right into any USB port, then simply shoot and edit on one of any number of editing softwares available. Be sure to make the final edit tight, especially at the beginning and end. Upload to Wistia, Vimeo, or YouTube.

Creating a great small informational product isn’t about making massive profits or skyrocketing to fame. It’s about putting something out there as an example of how your knowledge can be valuable to others. It’s the beginning of a new relationship between yourself and your audience, and proving that you’re worth listening to.

It shouldn’t be too difficult. It should be fun. It should be a way of expressing yourself with minimal overhead and zero complications. It’s the essence of starting small. Don’t wait around for the “perfect” product idea or a massive infusion of capital. Get started right now, with a true Minimum Viable Product, and build from there.

Categories
Business School Entrepreneurship Leadership Marketing Sales Uncategorized

4 Essential Teaching Principles For Business People

Teaching is the new marketing. Traditional marketing and advertising is useful, but they aren’t enough to stand out in a crowded marketplace. Today’s consumers don’t just want to know about the product. They want to know about where it came from. They want to know who it came from. And they insist on having their trust earned by more than just a pop-up ad.

That’s where teaching comes in. Making yourself into an effective educator is the most important part of being an effective salesperson. Offering valuable insights, information, and experience earns the trust that leads to sales. Proving your own value as an expert builds the credibility that inspires genuine brand loyalty. A great salesman can move product. A great teacher can earn “true fans.”

Of course you don’t need a classroom or a chalkboard to be a teacher. The entrepreneur teaches through blogs, podcasts, interviews, public speaking, tutorials, and all the other modes of content marketing. Whichever methods you use, there are few principles that will ensure your lessons hit home—and drive sales.

The 4 Essentials

I’ve been a teacher for most of my working life. Before I struck out on my own as an entrepreneur, I taught at the high school and university levels. I was also responsible for observing teachers to evaluate their effectiveness. Now that I’m in business, it’s no coincidence that my products are educational. In all that time, four things have struck me as being common threads in great teaching:

  1. Starting with a clear outcome in mind. Some in education call it “backwards design.” Essentially, the first thing you do in designing your “lesson”—your blog, your webinar, your podcast—is identify the desired result. What do you want your audience to know or be able to do when it’s all over? Once you know what that is, you design everything towards that end.

Remember, this isn’t about the desired outcome for you. The outcome for you will always be the same: earning trust, credibility, and eventually sales. As a teacher, you need to prioritize the outcome for your “students.” What will the audience walk away with? How will their outlook be changed? What skill will they possess? What value will they come away with? What will they want to thank you for?

Identify this. Write it down. Keep it as a mantra as you design and execute your content. Anything that doesn’t serve that end, get rid of. Strip your “lesson” down to only those things that lead to the outcome. That’s the difference between a simple sales pitch and a learning experience.

  1. Making it interactive. As much as possible, that is. A blog isn’t immediately interactive, but that doesn’t mean I’m writing this in a vacuum. This is coming from years of not only speaking to audiences, but listening to them. This is the answer to a question I perceive my readers to be asking, from countless exchanges with them.

The same holds true for any content. Videos, books, live events; all can be interactive if you make the effort. Everything you do should be one side of a conversation with your audience. Encourage feedback. Encourage questions. One of the worst mistakes a teacher can make is to be a simple lecturer.

Side note: This principle is why I believe so firmly in the power of webinars, and why we created our own webinar platform, Webinar Ninja. Webinars allow you to interact with a wide-ranging audience in real time through chat and Q&A features. I think this is the future of the “teaching” model of salesmanship.

  1. Having fun. Seriously. That’s not some vague New Age quasi-spiritual advice. If you’re not having fun with it, it’s not genuine. If it’s not genuine, it’s not honest. If it’s not honest, your audience has no reason to trust you. While I’ve said before that “passion” in business is overrated, you have to enjoy your work on some level. Why would anyone follow the advice of someone who isn’t making themselves happy?

Enjoyment is contagious. Enjoyment takes the “lesson” out of the lesson and turns it into something more meaningful on a human level. If you’re stiff or unhappy or unenthusiastic in your delivery, it builds walls. It creates a barrier between you and your audience that makes it impossible for them to see the “person” in the sales person. It’s simple, but it’s true. The fun comes through no matter the medium—be it a live webinar or a simple blog. Have. Fun.

  1. Following through. The last thing that has to happen is ensurance. You’ve got to make sure that the audience has actually learned—that the desired outcome from Tip 1 has been achieved. You’ll have to recap, to constantly put information in context. It may seem to you like it’s repetitive, but to audience members, it’s crucial.

Different people learn in different ways and at different speeds. In order to reach everyone, it’s important to break the information down into bite-sized, digestible sections. This not only makes it easier to process, but makes the content more dynamic. After each section, contextualize what you covered, always bringing it back to the desired outcome. Show a bit, show how it fits into the bigger picture. Repeat. At the end, sum it all up. Even blogs are broken into headings and subheadings for this very reason.

I understand that many people go into business not expecting to have to “teach.” You may have a great product, great marketing ideas, and even business experience. But as an entrepreneur trying to earn a following, there’s no way around it. You’ve got to be a good teacher.

If it doesn’t come naturally to you, work on it. Teaching is hard for most people; that’s why most people aren’t teachers. But it is a skill you can develop. It’s ok to be self-conscious at first. It’s ok to be nervous. When I was a new teacher, I could barely contain the fear and apprehension at first. Who was I to tell anyone else what to do? We all feel some version of “imposter syndrome” at the beginning. It’s normal. It’s natural. And it’s no reason to give up. Trust in your own expertise, and your own genuine intentions.

Donald Kelly, founder of the Sales Evangelist, has a philosophy: if you have the skills, experience or knowledge to help somebody, you should share it. If you have the genuine ability to improve people’s lives, it’s your obligation to tell people about it. Let that be the antidote to any apprehension you might have about teaching. You’re offering something valuable to your audience. With that mindset, you can’t go wrong.

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Entrepreneurship Marketing Sales Uncategorized

Making Money By Selling Ads

Is selling ad space on your website a viable business? The question comes up a lot when I’m talking to would-be entrepreneurs. After all, it’s the most basic and well-known way to make money from a website. I’ve heard countless tales (some of them true) of average people making thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars by building a great site that doesn’t sell a thing, except for a few strategically-placed inches for advertisers to occupy.

The reality is a little complicated. It all depends on the kind of website you’re running, the goals you have, and the time you have to reach them. Many people overestimate the earning potential of online ad space, and to them I advise caution. That said, it’s not impossible to build a significant revenue stream this way, provided you approach it realistically.

Big Money From Ads

Some websites make incredible profits from ads. Unfortunately for the budding entrepreneur, most of those websites are massive, nationally known entities. Yes, TMZ and The Huffington Post make bank on ads, but they traffic in such incredibly high volume that it’s impossible for them not to. HuffPo, for example, gets around 4 million unique visitors daily. No business starts out with that kind of traffic.

Even relatively successful independent businesses don’t get that many eyes on their websites, and therefore can’t count on supporting themselves that way. A business website that sells an actual product can survive on as little as 20,000 visitors a month- because they’re selling an actual product. Making a living on ads alone, however, is a horse of a different color. It can be done, but it’s one of the more difficult approaches to entrepreneurship.

There are some independent pioneers who make their sole living through ads. Joel Brown launched addicted2success in 2011 as a relatively simple collection of motivational blogs, quotes, and advice. He didn’t quit his job to do so, but eventually the strength of his content (and some savvy social media marketing) allowed him to. This didn’t happen overnight, but it happened nonetheless. With a million visitors per month- modest compared to juggernauts like HuffPo- Brown is able to pull six figures on advertising alone. It should be recognized, though, that this is a major feat.

5 Tips for Making Money Through Ad Space

In general, the ad space game is about traffic above all. A long, patient effort is required to build that traffic and make your website a prime target for advertisers, and the statistical odds of doing it are sobering. However, if you can pull it off, the earning potential is staggering. If you’re ready for the challenge, there are a few strategies that will increase your odds of success:

  • Understand that it takes time. You are very, very, very unlikely to make significant profits from ad space within a year. Or two. Or even three. Building that kind of traffic as an independent content producer requires a long, steady effort like the one Joel Brown made while still working his 9 to 5. It requires not just strong content and smart marketing, but sheer patience. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the Romans weren’t competing with TMZ.
  • Publish constantly. The content must flow like the Nile if you’re to have any chance of success. This doesn’t mean publishing content just for content’s sake; it has to be useful, unique, quality stuff. If you’re selling an actual product, content is a means to an end. To sell ad space, however, content essentially is your product, and you’ll have to devote much more time to it.

This requires creativity, diligence, and above all, time. The biggest content-only sites produce several articles per day, along with video, infographics, and the rest. Advertisers know that their customers need a daily reason to revisit your site, and it’s on you to give them one.

  • Use and (try to) understand Google AdSense. AdSense is a comprehensive way to bring advertisers to your site, but their decision to do so (or not) is based on a complex and fluid formula. Based on your website’s subject, target audience, and the likelihood of your site’s visitors actually clicking an ad, Google determines what your website is worth to advertisers. Unless you work for Google (and I suspect, even if you do) it’s almost impossible to predict what you’re going to make using AdSense.

However, just because it’s unpredictable doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable. AdSense is what helped catapult addicted2success from small independent blog to million-dollar juggernaut. How it works may be indecipherable to most, but that it works is beyond question.

  • Know that it’s better for creative endeavors. If your objective is to market a product, selling ad space is only ever likely to be a minor bonus to your overall revenue stream. Your time should be devoted to developing, producing and marketing that product, with ad space as an afterthought. For creative types, ad space is the best (and really only) way to monetize your work.

If you have a passion for a topic, or want to educate the public, or otherwise want to share a viewpoint, ads are the way to parlay that persuasiveness into a living. That’s why artistic, political, motivational, and educational websites are the best candidates. With ad space revenue being so very unpredictable, it’s the websites on which people spend more time being engaged that bring in the money.

  • You can solicit business on your own. While services like AdSense and AdRoll can be very helpful, there’s always the other option: selling your ad space yourself. Contact businesses whose products are directly relevant to your content, and offer your own custom advertising packages.

Put together easily understandable proposals that explain the terms of the deal, including where exactly on the website the ads are displayed, how they’re displayed (pop-ups, sidebar, etc), and the length of the contract. Matt Giovanisci at Swim University sells his spots directly to pool-care companies, cutting out the middleman. This way, he’s not only in more direct control, he can make more accurate revenue forecasts.

Selling ad space is a tricky, but achievable means of making money. For most, it’s merely supplemental, and not to be counted on when making serious predictions. It can, however, be a boon for those willing to put the time and work into building a high-content, high-traffic website.

It’s an uphill climb, but where would we be without uphill climbers?