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?

Business School Entrepreneurship Finance Sales Uncategorized

Spending Your Profits Wisely

So you’re making money. Revenue is outpacing expenses, and there are a few more zeroes in your bank account. Your labors are starting to bear fruit, and you’re at the point where all your “needs” are covered, and the door to “wants” is finally open.

This could be a problem.

The challenges of success require no less careful thought than the challenges of adversity. As an independent business person, you want to be prepared to make the right moves when the momentum is carrying you forward. You’ve got to be prepared for success, so that you can not only parlay it into even more success, but so that your business can maintain the identity and character that you envisioned. Most importantly, it’s necessary to define your priorities regarding wealth, work, and overall happiness.

That’s why this post is about “spending” rather than “investing” your profits. Investment is one way to spend your profits, and it’s definitely worth considering. At some point, however, you’ve got to pay yourself. Deciding how to do so in a way that’s consistent with your broader goals is part of the entrepreneur’s challenge, and an important component of maintaining long-term success.

What Are Profits For?

Let’s say, for the simplest example, that you’re a solopreneur with an online product. You’ve sold enough eBooks and courses to more than cover your overhead, and you’re left with a sheer net profit of $8k. What’s the best way to spend it? Do you have to plow it back into your business? Is there a certain ratio of business use to personal use that allows you to enjoy your life while still being a responsible business owner?

That all depends on you, and your own priorities. Naturally, what you pay yourself has to cover basic necessities like rent, food, and Netflix. Beyond that, what you choose to do with your money should be informed by what kind of business you want to run, and what kind of lifestyle you consider enjoyable.

What kind of growth are you ultimately looking for? Did you get into business hoping to build the next Google, or do you simply want the freedom that comes with supporting yourself on your own labor? Do you want to manage a business with multiple employees, or do you enjoy the peace and solitude of solopreneurship? Are you trying to maintain your current lifestyle, or are you preparing for the next plateau?

It’s important to ask yourself these questions as early as possible, rather than waiting to cross that bridge when you come to it. Having some guidelines as to the business and life you want to create will allow you to make decisions about your profits that will help you realize your own unique goals, not just some vague notion of “success.” The more specific your vision for yourself is, the better prepared you’ll be to turn profits into positive results.

Spending vs. Reinvesting

When you’ve got some extra capital on hand, the temptation to spend it is strong. Some people will want to spend it on luxury items like cars, clothes, travel, and fine dining. There is surely nothing wrong with that, if that’s what you want. But knowing you want those things is different from assuming you want them, and balancing those desires with your business goals is something that requires careful forethought.

The key is to decide on a ratio of personal spending to business reinvestment. What that ratio is will depend on how large you want your life to be, and how large you want your business to be. If you have that $8k in the bank, and all of your necessary expenses are met, try splitting the profits between your business and yourself. If $4k worth of equipment or training could elevate your business to the next level (and you want your business to be on that next level), then there’s nothing wrong with spending the other $4k on a much-needed vacation. If, however, you’re doing roughly the amount of business you want to be doing, and you’re financially secure, then spending all $8k on something personal may be a perfectly legitimate reward for yourself.

Types of Reinvestment

If you choose to devote some or all of your profits to reinvestment, make it skillfully targeted reinvestment. This breaks down into two categories: growing sales, and growing the business itself. These are related, but distinct categories.

For example, new equipment, a website overhaul, training, or hiring is an investment in the business. Investing this way doesn’t directly promote sales, it simply enhances the size, capacity, or capability of your company. This can be a precursor to more sales, but not necessarily. It could simply result in improved product quality or a diversification of your product line.

Directly boosting sales calls for a different kind of investment, generally a marketing one. Advertisements, email offers, promotional discounts (the decreased revenue from the lowered price being the cost of the promotion), and other forms of direct outreach are sales boosters. They may bring in loads of new customers, which you’ll then need the capacity to serve in the long term. This means more success, more profit, and more work- it that’s what you want.

Which form of reinvestment you choose depends on your own business plan. Do you want a big, sprawling business that serves as many people as possible? Would you rather have a niche business with a small, loyal following that prioritizes a more personalized approach? Neither answer is “correct;” it’s your business. But knowing which you prefer is crucial in deciding where to funnel your profits.

The Lifestyle Question

I’m fortunate enough to have had a few great mentors and guides in the world of online entrepreneurship. Michael Port taught me how to communicate. Noah Kagan taught me how to develop software. Another major influence in my approach to business has been Thrive’s Gary Vaynerchuk.

Vaynerchuk has made millions as a creative business thinker and entrepreneur, but his approach to personal spending is what had the most impact on me. He specifically avoids conspicuous consumption, eschewing flashy cars and other obvious signs of wealth. That’s not to say that conspicuous consumption is somehow wrong- it’s to say that a pre-determined notion of what lifestyle makes you happiest is a better goal than simply wanting “more.”

“More” is a vague and limitless goal, which is to say it’s not a goal at all. If the cost of a Porsche could buy your business the capacity it needs to sustain a modest, but stable revenue stream for the foreseeable future, a person with modest, but stable goals would do better driving a perfectly good Honda. If the cost of a Honda could allow you to see the French countryside, then someone with a travel bug would do better booking a plane ticket.

A lot has been written about how to grow your business and make as much money as possible. What you do when those efforts start to produce results, however, is something entrepreneurs might need to spend some more time considering. Start by defining what matters most to you, and as your business grows, balance the need to profit with the need to reward yourself for doing so. Rather than an open-ended quest for revenue in general, remember why you went into business for yourself in the first place- to build the life of your choosing.

Entrepreneurship Marketing Sales Uncategorized

Spotting Business Scams: 5 Red Flags

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Internet. The ability to share and access information has brought us incredible value, fantastic products, and instant education. It’s also given an incredibly effective platform to a whole new generation of snake-oil salesmen, ready to promise you the world in exchange for your hard-earned cash. Friends, there are vipers in these woods, and those of us trying to go into business for ourselves need to know how to spot them.

I have personally spent more money than I care to type out loud on products that were at best useless and at worst utter cons. That’s money that could have been invested in my business. I want that experience to have some use for my audience, so this is my guide to avoiding less-than-legitimate products. I have wasted my money so you don’t have to, and if it stops just one of you from being cheated, it will have been worth it.

Pardon the heightened emotion, but this topic hits close to home. At Business Republic, we’ve committed ourselves to the notion that being forthright is the best overall business strategy. We truly believe that honesty is the best policy- not just morally, but as a means of making money. Too many online “businesses” have made this approach difficult by abusing people’s trust. Too many of them have put the bulk of their resources into their marketing, rather than creating a product worth buying. Some of them will be very angry about this post.

Here are the five biggest, reddest flags, the sure signs that a product isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. If you see any of these, run, don’t walk, to another website.

1. They make specific promises about revenue. Here’s the truth: no product or service can guarantee any particular amount of profit for your business. There are too many variables beyond their control for that. They can point to people who attribute some of their success to their product, they can demonstrate a spike in sales that correlates with use of their product, but they can’t (honestly) claim to be able to magically bestow a certain number on your bank account.

This type of scammer usually starts the conversation with a promise of how rich you’ll be after you’ve used their product. “Become a millionaire in one year.” “Earn $5k a week!” They’ll even include a screenshot of a PayPal account with the balance garishly highlighted in yellow. They try to seduce their audience with numbers, because seducing is easier than selling.

2. There’s no risk-reversal. If a given company doesn’t offer a trial period, free content, or a money-back guarantee, that speaks to a lack of confidence in the product. When someone truly believes that their product is worth what they’re asking for it, they don’t just say so. They prove it. At Business Republic, we establish our credibility through content marketing and a free course. Other outfits do limited-time trials or trial versions of software. The idea is to take the risk out of the transaction for the customer, because we don’t want our customers to gamble; we want them to win. Whatever the product, always look for some form risk-reversal. If the company isn’t willing to put its money where its mouth is, why should you?

3. They don’t produce free content. Naturally, I’m partial to content marketing. My business model is built on trust, and trust is earned through the conversation in which I engage the audience through blogs, podcasts, and videos. The scammier sort of businesses don’t bother with this- they simply create and launch products. They create, they launch, they sell, they repeat. All the while they don’t bother to let people know who they are. This is because if you knew who they were, you wouldn’t trust them with your money.

In the end, they don’t really give a hoot what their audience thinks of them, because they don’t plan on having a very long relationship with them. Once the money’s transferred, they’re on to the next victim.

4. They’re impossible to contact. One surefire sign of a legitimate business is that they’re willing to engage with you personally. If there’s no feedback form or question submission process, suspicion is warranted. If your emails get no response, or get only auto-replies, whoever’s behind the curtain doesn’t consider you worth their time. Worse, they see your problems as exactly that- your problems.

Naturally, it becomes harder to personally respond to every customer as a business grows. However, many of us still manage to do so, even the wildly successful ones. Myself and my business partner Nicole, Paul Jarvis of, Noah Kagan of AppSumo, and many other business founders still personally reply to emails, tweets and Facebook queries. If we can’t, we make damn sure that someone does- someone human who is authorized to address the customer’s needs.

Anything less would constitute hiding from our audience.

5. They’re not vouched for by other credible supporters. You may notice that in both my blog and my podcast, I regularly reference other leaders in the entrepreneur-empowerment industry. I link to their websites, I bring them on the podcast as guests, and I knowingly help to promote their businesses as eagerly as they promote mine. This isn’t because we’ve made some secret back-room agreement to give each shout-outs from time to time. It’s because we share the same approach to credibility-based marketing, and are happy to help establish each other’s trustworthiness to our respective audiences.

Each industry has a community of colleagues and even competitors who vouch for each other- not just for the sake of mutual benefit, but out of mutual respect. Often, we’ve even used each other’s complementary services, like I’ve used Michael Port’s invaluable public-speaking training to help sell my products. If you’re considering a product, and no one you know or respect is willing to put their name behind it, that might be because the product or the company is new and unestablished. It might also be because it’s well-established as garbage. It’s worth taking the time to find out which.

The Internet is a wonderful and a dangerous place for budding entrepreneurs. Bad actors are unfortunately around every cyber-corner. That doesn’t mean we should be paranoid of unwilling to give new products and companies a shot. As long as businesses in question are forthright about who they are and what they do, we should experiment with different products. Some may be exactly what we need, some may be flawed- and that’s ok.

As long as a given company can establish its good intentions, they deserve a shot. If they can’t, or won’t be accessible and up-front, beware. The enticing ad you see may represent something that’s all wrapping and no gift.

Entrepreneurship Marketing Sales Uncategorized

4 Ways to Reinvigorate Slumping Sales

Slumps suck! Unfortunately, everyone hits them from time to time. They don’t have to signal the end of your business. They’re probably not a sign of incompetence. They’re not the world’s way of telling you to wake up from the dream of entrepreneurship. They’re the market’s way of saying it’s time to roll up your sleeves, dust off your idea book, and innovate your way out of the downturn. Instead of being the beginning of the end, slow sales can be a catalyst that reignites the fire of your motivation.

When sales plateau, you may be tempted to think something negative: that your initial success was due only to the novelty of any new business. Could that be the case? Yes. But often, it’s not. One major truth that eludes a lot of entrepreneurs is that novelty is always a factor in driving sales. If the initial novelty has worn off, that doesn’t mean it’s time to pack it in. It means it’s time for some more novelty! With innovative, attention-grabbing marketing, you can ride the natural roller-coaster of the business cycle back to the top.

When you recognize that you’re in a slump, it’s time to communicate, promote, and introduce a whole new audience to your product. Fortunately, there are some tried-and-true methods:

1. Have a Sale

Could it be that simple? Well, no. While having a sale is one of the oldest tricks in the book, it will only truly reinvigorate business if there’s a creative twist to it. This twist has to create a sense of urgency about your product, and generate real excitement. That’s why it should be time-dependent. Structure your sale so that the sooner a given customer takes advantage of it, the better the deal will be.

For example, you can place a specific time limit on a sale, such as a 48-hour sale, a 24-hour sale, or even a 12-hour sale. The shorter the sale, the more urgency it creates. One effective (and very inventive) sale model uses incremental pricing: slightly raising the price of your product as the sale goes on, creating a race among customers for the best deal. Outside-the-box entrepreneur Jason Zook’s Bumpsale software works this way; each time a sale is made, the price goes up until it reaches a maximum just below full retail. Everyone gets a deal, but the earlier, the better.

2. Host a Webinar

The new frontier in online marketing, webinars are the ideal way for online companies to drum up business. They are the best way to earn credibility, build trust, and generally prove the worth of your product to an audience. Not only do they build rapport with people, but (when done right), they lead to big sales conversions.

The key is to make the webinar as valuable as possible for your audience. Use webinars to showcase your expertise while giving your audience something they’ll truly appreciate. Be sure to use chat features to interact with your audience and answer their questions. Make it a group experience, and foster a real connection with attendees.

At the end of the day, people prefer to buy products from sources they trust. Webinars create that trust more effectively than any other form or marketing. Both myself and my partner here at The $100 MBA believe so firmly in the power of webinars that we’ve created a sister company, Webinar Ninja, which offers exclusive webinar software. To decide if webinars are right for your business, feel free to check out our free course on webinar hosting.

3. Sponsor an Event

Another great way to build up some hype, especially for physical businesses with real-world locations, is to sponsor an event. This can be done by online businesses as well; you’ll just have to find a venue. A decent party can go a long way towards generating buzz about your product, and lead to an uptick in sales. Invest in some food, some drinks, and some entertainment, and a party with as few as 20-30 guests can get your business’ ball rolling again.

Make your event relevant to your local community. Choose a venue that’s familiar and well-known. If you have a physical location, hold it there and use the event as a way to reach out to your neighbors. Consider sponsoring a charitable event, like a fundraiser for a local institution or a local family in need. The good will you build will come back to your business.

Too often, businesses throw big Grand Opening parties and are never heard from again. Sponsoring regular events can not only be a fun and effective way to build relationships, but a wise investment that keeps your product on people’s minds.

4. Launch Something

You can’t replace the original “newness” of the company you’ve already built, but you can inject some new newness into it! Launch something. Maybe it’s a new product. Maybe it’s a major add-on, plug-in, or alteration to an existing product. Any significant development has the power to draw new attention to your business and stimulate sales.

It doesn’t have to be drastic. Launching a new avenue of marketing can also make a big splash. Launch a YouTube channel. Launch a new podcast. Create a blog, if you don’t have one already. Even a radical redesign of your website can create a ripple effect, so long as there’s a fresh reason to check your business out. Short of a total rebranding, there innumerable ways to give your business a rebirth. Whichever you choose, include new, valuable content to reward those who check out your new development.

In martial arts, there’s a concept known as “beginner’s mind.” What it boils down to is the ability of someone who’s already well down the path to approach their development with the same enthusiasm and open-mindedness that made them start training in the first place. Entrepreneurs can apply this idea when their new business isn’t so new anymore, and the danger of stagnation is looming. Look at sales plateaus not as setbacks, but as challenges. Learn to enjoy the dynamic struggle of reinvigorating your sales and breathing new life into your passion. If you can learn not to fear the low points, the highs are right around the corner.

Marketing Sales Uncategorized

The Effectiveness of Free Trials

The free trial: it’s a business strategy as old as…well, I’m not sure how old it is exactly, but at least since the first time a month’s worth of forging was offered free at Ye Olde Blacksmith’s, businesses have tried to get people through the door by letting customers experience the product before they pay for it. But the question remains: does it actually work? Is the free trial a viable move that actually leads to demonstrable gains in sales?

If you guessed that the answer is “it depends,” you must have read this blog before. Different kinds of businesses do it, but it doesn’t work well for all of them. In fact, I’ve personally found it doesn’t work well for my own business (more on that below). That doesn’t mean it can’t work for yours. The real questions are: when does it work, and why? In the cases where it doesn’t work, are there alternatives?

When Free Trials Work

Certain types of businesses are perfect for the free trial. Generally, these are offline businesses with a real-world location. They sell a service that requires the customer to come to their location, rather than a product or service that’s deliverable. They get paid for this service on a recurring (usually monthly) basis. The free trial is a game-changer for these businesses, because they depend on getting people quite literally through the door, week after week and month after month.

Gyms, yoga studios, dojos, and even cooking classes benefit the most from the free trial. This is because these kinds of businesses can only thrive by convincing people to create a habit or modify their lifestyle. This commitment is understandably daunting, so allowing customers to get started in a risk-free way does wonders for generating sales. The customer tries the service without spending a dime, they build it into their schedule, and most importantly they get accustomed to it.

Ultimately, the customer signs up for the real thing at the end of the trial period. Ideally this is because they loved the service, found it a perfect match, and were so impressed that they couldn’t imagine giving it up. Sometimes, though, the customer has simply gotten comfortable. Even if they’re not blown away by the particulars of the business, people tend to stick with what they’ve been doing.

The free trial brings the customers in. Familiarity, a feeling of community, and simple habit keep them coming back.

Using Free Trials Online

Online businesses are trickier when it comes to free trials. Generally, online service businesses with a recurring payment system have the best chance at converting trials to sales. and treehouse are two prime examples. Both offer training; treehouse is mainly an online code-writing clinic, while offers tutorials in everything from marketing to cooking. Both offer free trials for new users, and both get sales conversions out of it.

To smoothly transition customers from the trial phase and ensure conversions, both sites require a credit card number to begin the free trial, despite there not being anything to pay for at that point. At the end of the trial, the customer is automatically enrolled and the card automatically charged each month, unless the customer actively opts out of the service. This is the best way for an online business to turn trials into sales- by leaving little or no gap, no interruption between the trial period and the real deal.

It’s important to note that this model is not to be confused with free trial scams in which a customer is unknowingly charged after the trial period, or in which opting out of the service is made difficult or impossible. A legitimate arrangement is clearly communicated with the customer from the outset, and cancellation is as easy as a few clicks of the mouse. When using this model, it’s vital to be explicit about the terms and ensure that the customer knows they’re secure.

Our Free Trial Experiment

Of course, I wouldn’t feel qualified to give advice on free trials had I never offered one myself. About a year ago, the $100 MBA experimented with a free trial, and to put it bluntly, it didn’t go well. That’s not because there’s anything wrong with free trials. It’s simply because free trials aren’t compatible with our business model. Mostly, the price structure of the $100 MBA doesn’t really lend itself to getting customers that way.

Technically, it was an “almost free” trial, since we offered temporary access to our programs for $1. For the cost of an arcade game, new customers could get the $100 MBA experience for a week. We didn’t know how it would go, but we knew the analytics would tell the story, and they did: after 6 months, it was clear that it was a dud. We simply saw no significant increase in customers overall, nor could we attribute many of the new signups we did get to the promotion.

While we didn’t get the sales, however, we did get valuable lessons.

The Alternative: Content Marketing

The reason for our free trial’s outcome wasn’t the promotion itself, but the facts of our normal sales model. The $100 MBA is a membership service, but we have a single fee for lifetime access. As mentioned, free trials work best in convincing customers to commit to recurring charges, rather than to making one purchase. Besides that, there was already a better way for customers to find out if our product is up their alley: our content marketing.

Simply put, we already give away free content. Lots of it. Regularly. Anyone who visits our website, reads our blog, or listens to our podcast is already getting a pretty clear picture of what we do. We even offer one of our most popular courses (on idea validation) free to anyone who wants it. At the end of the day, a week of access to everything else isn’t likely to convince anyone who wasn’t convinced already. Combine that with our arguably insane titular price tag, and it’s no surprise that a free trial didn’t send units flying off the virtual shelves.

In the end, the experiment confirmed our belief in content marketing as the best strategy for our kind of businesses. Blogs, eBooks, videos, trial versions of software, and webinars are all great ways to forge relationships with customers. By simply putting the content out there, with zero obligations on the consumer, we build the trust that supports sales. In a way, it’s a sort of never-ending, ongoing free trial that we work to refresh every day, producing new content to draw new members in.

Content marketing is also a good strategy for online businesses that sell physical goods. By constantly sharing their thoughts and ideas on the industry they’re in, or the activities their product supports, online retailers position themselves as people to be trusted, and give their products the stamp of expertise. Combined with a customer-friendly, no-risk return policy, content marketing can make customers feel as comfortable as any trial can.

Whatever your business is, I’d encourage you to experiment with all kinds of promotional strategies, including free trials. After all, if you’re not experimenting, you’re probably not innovating. Not everything you try will work out, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. The key is to gather and keep data, and use analytics to determine what works best. Give trial periods a…well, trial period of at least 6 weeks, and see what happens.

In the best-case scenario, you earn a significant amount of business. In the worst-case scenario, you learn something you can carry into your next experiment.

Entrepreneurship Marketing Sales Uncategorized

Should You Upsell?

There’s a controversial practice in the world of online sales that’s got some consumers crying “scam.” Those who defend the practice say it’s nothing more than honest (if aggressive) salesmanship. Like some other sales practices, it seems to tread the line between an offer and an attempt at manipulation. I’m talking about upselling.

Upselling is about as old a practice as selling itself. Customer buys something, salesperson tries to get them to buy something else while the wallet is already out. Simple, right? But in my experience, upselling can in fact be scammy and dishonest. As in so many things, it’s not a matter of whether it’s right or wrong to upsell. It’s how you go about it that determines whether or not it’s ethical.

For example, at almost every restaurant, the server will wait until you’ve reached what you think is the end of your meal, but just as the plates are cleared comes the inevitable question: Dessert? No one complains about this. Some people like dessert. Some people light up at the mere mention of it, because somehow, no matter how many times we go out to eat, we manage to forget it exists until a waiter reminds us. Some people never order it, but they’re not offended by the suggestion. The point is, nobody sees a few tantalizing descriptions of pie as an act of deceit.

Likewise, every electronics store, used car outlet, and sporting goods store upsells insurance. No one in the last 20 years has purchased a TV, used Honda, or a treadmill without being offered some kind of extended warranty. The actual value of these warranties is more than debatable, but again, no one seems to think they’re being hoodwinked. The offers are simply expected, and mostly rejected. No harm done.

So what differentiates a legitimate upsale from a predatory act? I’ve found that there are certain markers or signs that make it pretty clear that an upsell is crossing the line between selling and scamming. Once you know the signs, they’re fairly obvious. That makes it easy to avoid being scammed, and can help you be honest with yourself about your own upselling practices. There are three major red flags:

1. The upsell is necessary to use the product. If what’s being upsold is a necessary part of the original product sold, somebody isn’t playing fair. For example, while it’s not considered scammy to upsell an extended warranty on a TV, it would be foul play to “upsell” the remote. The TV can’t function, at least not fully, without it, so it should come as part of what the original price covers. An extended warranty on a car is optional. The steering wheel isn’t. Upselling dessert? Fine. Upselling a fork? Shame.

Anyone who lures customers in with the promise of a certain product being able to do a certain thing, then withholds a key component, isn’t selling. They’re holding part of someone already paid for hostage, and it’s a bad way of doing business.

2. Extreme pushiness. There is nothing more irritating when you’re at a point of sale than being harassed by repeated attempts at upselling. To be asked once if you want to apply for a store credit card is one thing. To be asked four different times if you want additional items is quite another. Online, repeated pop-ups or other obstacles placed between the customer and the checkout is not only abusive, it’s counterproductive.

The extra time a website forces a customer to spend in the checkout process doesn’t increase the odds of selling more product. It increases the odds that the customer will abandon the cart and take their business somewhere where a transaction goes according to common rules of decency. When someone checks out at the $100MBA or our sister company, Webinar Ninja, for example, it’s a one-page affair. The customer buys what they buy. We try to get them to buy more by sending a follow up email, but mostly by making sure our product is so good that they’ll want more. That’s it.

3. A lack of transparency. Whenever a business isn’t being clear about what exactly they’re selling, especially regarding what’s included in each purchase, it’s a bad sign. A common scam is for a business to include something only temporarily; somewhere in the fine print it says that the customer only gets this or that service for 3 months, after which they’re on their own. Again, if it’s a superfluous enhancement, that’s fine- but too often it’s something the customer needs in order to use the product.

Be clear about what you’re selling, and what you’re upselling. Make sure that the customer knows that what you’re offering on the side is optional, and that what you’ve already sold them is all they need- even if they decide they want something extra. Playing games with the components of your product may put customers in a position to have to give you more money in the short term, but you can be assured the resentment will catch up to you.

So in the end, should you try upselling tactics to increase sales? Personally, I don’t do it. I like to think that we earn return business by making a good product, and by keeping non-stalkery lines of communication open with our customers. That doesn’t mean it’s not possible to upsell ethically. Before you commit to doing so, the best thing to do is ask yourself how it feels. Does your gut tell you that something isn’t right? Do you have doubts that you can’t shake?

Remember that anything that doesn’t foster a business culture of honesty, transparency, and mutual benefit isn’t worth doing- even if it makes a few extra bucks. In the long run, your honesty will earn you a following that will sustain your business for years. That’s a far better investment.

Entrepreneurship Marketing Sales Uncategorized

The Right Time to Launch a Product

When is the right time to launch a new product or service? As a business educator, I hear that question often. Like everything in business, the answer is complicated. It’s highly dependent on who’s asking and what kind of business they’re in, and it comes with a string of “ifs,” “ands,” and more than a few “buts.” The shortest possible answer would have to be “it depends.” The longest possible answer would fill a textbook.

Is the product ready?

To start, the best time to launch is generally As Soon As Possible. I’m a firm believer in Eric Ries’ Lean Startup philosophy. According to this strategy, trying to launch a perfect product is a fool’s errand, and wastes critical time. Instead, release what Ries calls the MVP: minimum viable product. Basically, the product has to work. It has to perform the stated function, and that’s all.

Bells, whistles, and other additions can be added later or included in future iterations of the product. Every product should be released as soon as it can be used, and all of the honing and perfecting you might be tempted to do beforehand can be accomplished while it’s already on the market. This is cost-effective, because it allows you to start profiting from your product before you start tweaking it, and it allows you to take advantage of the excitement your product creates to sell more refined versions later.

That’s not to say you should release something inferior to the public, of course. It simply describes a different way of looking at product development. Namely, product development should be a never-ending process, a lifelong struggle for perfection that’s never actually achieved. Knowing that, why not make money as soon as the product is viable? If Apple waited until the first iPhone could do what the latest ones can, we’d still be flipping open our Nokias.

Sales Cycles

With a minimum viable product ready to launch, the exact time of the year, month, and even week you choose can make a difference. For instance, most sales experts agree that Monday is not a good day for a product launch. Consumers are too focused on the coming week, with its responsibilities and expenses, to be in a buying mood. Fridays are problematic, too. The weekend is coming, and people are in social mode, not consumption mode. Therefore, mid-week, from Tuesday to Thursday, is statistically the best time. Not as overwhelmed as on Monday, but not as carefree as on Friday, consumers are in a headspace conducive to a purchase.

The time of year matters as well. Naturally, there’s lots to be bought and sold in the weeks leading up to holidays- but launching a product on Christmas day is unlikely to work out. The same goes for minor holidays as well. July 4th or Memorial Day are just as bad a time to launch as New Year’s Day, for the same reasons. The key is to avoid days or weeks in which people have reasons not to buy, either because they’re too busy, or they’re financially stretched.

Of course, the product itself will determine when the best time of year is to launch. January, for example, can work well for fitness equipment or other self-improvement products that may help fulfill New Year’s resolutions. Spring and summer are best for outdoor products. Statistically, May and June are the top months in which cookware and other home goods sell, given that so many weddings take place in the summer. August is best for laptops and other things students will need come September.

It all comes down to what car salesmen might call the Convertible Rule: never try to sell a convertible when it’s snowing. Always look for the right seasonal conditions to move your particular product, and the odds will do a lot of the selling for you.

Your Schedule

Choosing your ideal launch time will also depend largely on your own schedule. Don’t plan a product release on your anniversary, or your kid’s birthday, or during the season finale of Game of Thrones. If you can, try to schedule the launch when both your personal life and your business have as little going on as possible, so that you can devote whatever time and energy will be needed to the launch.

It makes sense to prioritize product launches over other considerations. You only get one shot at this, after all. Inevitably, there will be glitches, customer service issues, press release management, and a host of other unpredictable demands on your attention. It’s important to have all hands on deck, and yourself at the helm, ready to execute the launch with 100% presence. No matter how well you plan it, there’s no way to put a product launch on auto-pilot.

Launch Conditions

When it’s a rocket ship, the good folks at NASA wait for a clear day and a particular alignment of the planets. Just so in business, where there are conditions that have to be met in order for a product to be launched successfully. These conditions have nothing to do with the calendar, but rather with having certain ducks in a row in order to facilitate the best outcome.

First, you’ll have to have established your brand’s credibility enough to justify excitement for your new product. Have you advertised? Sent out emails? Hosted a webinar? If you haven’t already given your consumer base a reason to trust you, it’s time to lay that groundwork down. This way, more customers will be willing to gamble whatever the price of your product is on the certainty that it will meet their needs.

Secondly, make sure that your business infrastructure is prepared for the jump in sales, lest you risk the “catastrophic success” of having loads of orders without being able to fill them efficiently. Is your distribution system in place? Is your payment system glitch-free? Do you have team members standing by for customer service and tech support? Anticipate success, and you’ll guarantee it.

Finally, time the launch in relation to existing products and their performance. Does your product address a shortcoming in something the competition has on the market? Can it supplement another good product, working in tandem? Even your own product’s performance should be taken into account. The best time to launch a new product of yours is when another product of yours is reaching the peak of its success, so that you can ride that momentum into the next wave of sales.


Launching a product can be as stressful as actually creating one. The best way to ensure that your launch goes well is, first and foremost, to have a unique and creative product in the first place. Beyond that, it’s a matter of communication. Stay in touch with your audience. Use email and social media to build excitement around your product, and be there to usher it into the market.

Expect the unexpected, and be ready to handle questions, concerns and other feedback from your audience. Be open to it, and respond to it quickly and professionally. Step your customer service game up for the occasion, and be honest and straightforward as the response to your launch rolls in.

Stand by your product, and listen carefully for all the notes it hits with your audience. You’ll need to know what went well, and what didn’t- because the day of your big launch is the day you start preparing for the next one.