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Saturday, 24 September 2011

Getting Your Readers To Advertise Your Blog

Swag, or Getting Your Customers to Advertise for You

On to coffee cups.  In addition to selling access to advertisers, it’s profitable to sell items directly to your readers.  Have you written a book, an ebook, or a research report??  Why not feature it prominently on your page?  Is your brand becoming famous?  Why not have a case of coffee mugs or t-shirts printed up and sell them on the site? If your readers identify with you and with your brand, selling swag is an excellent way to build upon that customer loyalty.

If you want to manage it all online, companies like Those Shirts will handle your sales and may even help design your swag.  They can even sell your shirts to customers coming from other sites.

A more profitable way to sell swag is to either install your own store software (not recommended for the amateur) or to set up a store through Yahoo!, Ebay, or a similar online merchant.  You promote your swag, passing your customers to your customized online store.  When they purchase your swag, your store manager processes the payment, giving you the money minus commission, and you ship the item out. Your local printer can certainly create all the shirts and mugs you can sell this way, and he’ll surely appreciate the business.

Swag, for a popular Blog Empire, can be the most profitable of all financial endeavors.  It builds customer loyalty; it gets your customers to promote your site; it tells you that your brand is valuable enough that readers want to become your allies.  But like any profitable business, the costs involved must be managed carefully.  It may be cheaper to bulk order T-shirts, but it will cost you more if they don’t sell.  The best way to profit from swag is to start small and establish a clientele, even if your profit at first is less than it might otherwise be.  Remember, think big but start smart.

Donations – “Ask and ye shall receive”

Have you ever visited a blog that displays your name in a banner ad?  Maybe your eyes have snapped across the page when you caught the sight of your own name, preceded by “Hello,” and followed by, “please make a donation.”  You’ve found a site that that is practicing the easiest way to raise money from satisfied readers: simply asking them.

 One popular system for soliciting contributions from readers is the Amazon Honor System.  The Amazon Honor System provides a secure process wherein your readers can make a discreet contribution by credit card to you for as little as one dollar or for as many as fifty dollars.

Once you sign up with the Amazon Honor System, you’ll receive HTML code to add to your blog. This code displays one of several non-intrusive banners with a button that allows the reader to get more information or make a donation (if your customers are Amazon customers, they’ll even display the customer’s name in the ad).  If that customer makes a donation, Amazon will collect the money, deduct their commission, and pass the rest on to you with a note telling you who made the donation.  You may want to make very occasional “thank you” posts (be very careful, however, about identifying givers and never reveal the amounts they donate).  This is a nice way to thank those readers who donate while reminding others that bloggers have to eat, too.

A second popular site for collecting donations is Paypal.  A Paypal button allows anyone who has a Paypal account to make a direct donation to your site. Like Amazon, Paypal allows the reader to make a donation by credit card.  Paypal, however, can also be integrated into another donation-type project you may also want to consider, that of special reports for your readers and a subscription or pay-per-view basis.

Subscriptions and Special “Insider” Reports

Most people are willing to pay for information they find valuable.  They buy newspapers, magazines, and books, so why wouldn’t they pay for your information?  The first reason is that you are giving it away for free. While some readers will voluntarily make a donation to keep you warmed and fed, the vast majority will not.

But if the information you provide is valuable, especially if it is of a financial nature, you may consider holding some back, offering special “insider” or “in-depth” coverage for those who wish to learn more.

One way to do so is to set up a special, secure website to archive your individual special reports.  When readers send you a subscription payment, you email them a password that will expire after a certain period of time.  A good example of this is George Ure’s Urban Survival, a blog dedicated to unusual and unorthodox economic trends.  Ure publishes a special weekly report, known as Peoplenomics, which lays out a weekly examination of one or more issues discussed in Urban Survival during the week. Back issues are cataloged on the site, so any subscriber has the right to go back into prior years, even when such reports are outside the bounds of their subscription period.  When readers’ passwords expire, they are simply removed from the master database.  Setting up and maintaining a separate list of passwords will not take a lot of time until you have dozens of subscribers.  By that time, your revenue will certainly cover one of the many commercial database management tools on the market.

The second way is to provide the reports through an auto-responder or via email.  With email, you simply create a list of email addresses and send your reports to them as they are written.  While this is easier at first than establishing a completely separate site, eventually your readers are going to request back issues or are going to lose emails, necessitating you spend a lot of time re-sending information  This manual process, if established, ought to be quickly transferred over to a dedicated site.  It’s a good beginning, however, if you’re just testing the market to see how your readers respond to the offer.

There are two caveats to consider, however, before offering special reports and information.  The first is that the commitment you are making must be kept, even if you have only one subscriber (and you will, at some point, only have one).  You must decide if the extra time and effort to make a special weekly report is worthwhile.  That subscriber is entrusting you with his money and expects that you will keep your end of the bargain by fulfilling your promises.  There’s no easier way to alienate your most faithful readers than by not giving them what they pay for.

Other than the time you spend providing the information, the most important consideration is whether the content is really valuable enough to demand a subscription.  If you have proven and useful insight that’s worth paying for, giving your readers access to it can be a paying proposition.  If you give the same information away on your blog two weeks later, or if your “insider” information is readily available elsewhere, your reader will rightly conclude that you have tricked them.

Remember, the long-term success of your Blog Empire relies on your integrity.  Keeping your promises, especially when they are directly tied to a financial contribution on the part of your readers, can make or break your reputation and your bank account

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