Monday, 12 October 2015

How To Build a Successful Business by Blogging and Creating Free Content

Hello Ashley!

This guest post is written by the awesome Ashley from Nosegraze. She's a kick-ass web developer who loves herself some Wordpress, books and hot chocolate on the side. (Make sure you check out more about her after you're finished reading this amazing post!)

If you're starting a business, the best thing you can do to grow and find more clients or customers is to run a blog. It's the ultimate marketing platform.

A blog itself will not earn you a full time income, simple.

If you expect to be able to start a blog, throw adverts on it, and earn enough money to pay your bills, think again. Advertisements bring in pennies. Your blog has to be massively successful (millions of monthly page views) in order to make you a full time income. It's just not realistic. That's why your blog shouldn't be seen as the income source. Instead, your blog drives traffic to a different product or service. Use your blog to draw in your ideal audience, and use valuable free content (blog posts) to build trust and eventually convert the readers into clients.

In other words, what you should/could do is:
  • Start a service or product based business.
  • Launch a blog that is somehow related to that service or product.
  • Offer free, valuable content on your blog that draws in readers.
  • Convert those readers into paying clients/customers.

Your blog is just one step in the journey. It's what attracts your readers and brings them onto your site. From there, you lead them to your business. Your blog acts as a fuel for your business, but it's not the business.

Providing content for free is the best way to make money.

That almost doesn't make sense, huh? But I promise, it will! I'll use my own business as an example.

I'm a book lover slash web developer who specializes in WordPress. On my blog I post a lot of WordPress tips, book reviews, book discussions, coding tutorials, and free plugins. My most popular product is the Ultimate Book Blogger Plugin.

Let's say my goal is to create more sales for the Ultimate Book Blogger Plugin.
First, I need to figure out who my target audience is.

Figure out what kind of person buys your products and target them.

My customers are people who:
  • Love books
  • Blog about books and publish book reviews
  • Use self-hosted WordPress
  • Value their time and want to be as efficient as possible
  • Are tired of formatting blog posts

In order to attract these potential buyers, I need to speak directly to them through my blog. I need to solve their problems and build their trust.

Use your knowledge of your audience to create free, valuable content that solves their problems.

I worked hard to position myself in the book blogger community as "the WordPress guru". I didn't exactly do it intentionally at the time, but looking back, I can see that I naturally made all the right moves. Here's the general line of thinking:
  1. You provide free content on your blog that solves the reader's problem.
  2. The reader starts to see you as a trusted resource. Since you've provided so much valuable content for free, they get this idea: "If their free content is this good, just imagine how awesome the paid stuff is!"
  3. When the reader is ready to take the next step, they're going to come straight to you because they trust you to do the job well.

If someone looking for a new blog design is asked to choose between: a designer they don't know, but they have a website with prices or a designer who's been providing valuable free content (tutorials, graphics, etc.) on their blog for months, they're going to choose number two!

Even if they don't know that second designer personally they might feel as if they know them via their blog. Maybe they've downloaded some of their free graphics and love them, or followed some of their design tutorials. Either way, the trust has been built up. This person is confident that designer #2 will get the job done well, but they have no idea about designer #1.

So let's go back to my scenario targeting book bloggers. I use my blog to:
  • Find common WordPress problems in the book blogger community and solve them.
  • Convince people to move to WordPress. This builds up my potential customer base.
  • Create "lite" versions of my Ultimate Book Blogger Plugin for free (like Rating Report and What I'm Reading). People who love the free products will be fully prepared to upgrade to UBB when they have the spare money. They already see that my free product works, so they're confident that the paid product will be worth it.
  • I post tips and tricks on how to improve your book blog. This draws in my ideal market: book bloggers who want to save time, get better at what they do, and streamline their process. Saving time on formatting their reviews via my plugin is the next logical step!

The only way to be successful is to not hold back.
Provide real, valuable content that's actionable.

If your blog posts are salesy or riddled with "pay to upgrade" type of text, then your business is not going to take off. People don't like being bombarded with sales pitches and upgrades - I know I don't! Your posts should be 90% awesome, free, helpful content, and no more than 10% sales.

If I'm Googling for "how to format reviews as a book blogger" I don't want to click a result just to see:
  1. Step #1: Buy my product.
  2. Step #2: Install my product.
  3. Step #3: {blah blah blah}

That's ONLY a paid solution. And I don't know this person so I have no intention of whipping out my credit card right now. Or, maybe there is some free content but it's shallow. If the free content doesn't actually help me, then it's no use. If you're going to offer free content, make sure it's actually VALUABLE. Don't offer some shallow, wishy washy content that doesn't actually help anyone. A solution like this is much more enticing:

"Here's a free step by step process of how to format your reviews."

... {tutorial here} ...

"If you're looking to save time, you can do all this automatically with my paid plugin."

This option is good because it provides a free option (as a tutorial) and then an optional paid "upgrade" at the end. The free option actually solves the person's problem 100%. It shows them how to format reviews... manually. The paid option is the same thing, just bigger and better.

If I stumbled across this post, my behaviour might look like this:
  1. Read the post.
  2. Follow the tutorial and implement it on my blog.
  3. Check out the paid version, but probably not buy it yet.
  4. Read through the blogger's other posts. Hopefully they have other tips like this that are equally as awesome.
  5. If I love the other posts, I'd probably subscribe to their blog.
  6. I start to trust this person, so I take another look at their paid product. This time I'd seriously consider buying.

You can see the steps I go through to absorb the free content, start to trust the blogger, and then slowly work my way to becoming a paid customer.

Don't be overly pushy or salesy - it will turn people away.

Using my free What I'm Reading plugin as an example, here's what I DON'T want to do:
  • Riddle my post with flashy, bright advertisements for Ultimate Book Blogger.
  • Have an advert directly in the plugin to advertise the "UBB upgrade".

I'd consider those methods to be pushy. I can't say for sure that they wouldn't work, but they're definitely a more pushy form of marketing. I know that they'd turn me off as a potential customer. But here's what I CAN do to promote my business:
  1. Have a subtle message saying that this feature (and MORE) is included in the Ultimate Book Blogger plugin. This also serves as a notice to UBB customers that they don't need to download this free plugin because they already have it.
  2. Release the plugin as a content upgrade. This means it's free, but you provide your email address in exchange for the free download.

Utilise automated email marketing. If you use a service like MailChimp (paid version) or ActiveCampaign, you can set up automated email sequences. As soon as someone downloads my free plugin, I can put them into an automation sequence. One week after their download, they'll receive an email asking how they're getting on with it and if they have any questions. Two weeks after, they'll receive an email with tips on how to use the plugin better. Four weeks after, I'll tell them about the extra features in UBB.

Related: Why I Choose ActiveCampaign Over Mailchimp

Use this automation sequence to be helpful, offer advice, show off your valuable customer support, and finally pitch your product (or the "upgrade"). Be sure to offer unsubscribe options to comply with CAN-SPAM and so people can opt out if they're just not interested.

Take the first step!

If you're ready to start promoting your business, here are your action steps:
  1. Identify your target audience. Who are your ideal clients/customers?
  2. Research your audience. What common problems do they face? What solutions are they looking for?
  3. Create valuable blog posts that solve these problems. Tutorials, guides, and case studies perform well.
  4. Try to position your product or service as a bigger, better, easier solution.

Here's a real life example of #4 on that list:

Let's say you're a web designer. You can publish tips and tricks on how to build a brand and design a website. But building a website is A LOT of work. It takes skills, talent, and knowledge to do it well. Your blog posts will serve as a guide for people who are interested in trying it themselves. Your services will cater to the people who realize:
  • They don't WANT to do it themselves.
  • They did it themselves but it didn't turn out great. You have more talent so they know you can do it better.
  • They don't have time to try to learn it themselves.
  • Don't see your free guides as "giving away all your secrets" because that's not the case. Your guides are a real life demonstration of your skills and knowledge. They're proof that you know what you're doing and you're damn good at it!

Yes, some people will just use your free guides and never hire you, but you're not necessarily losing clients by offering freebies. Those DIY folks would have found a way to make it happen on their own, with or without you. But by offering free content, you will convert at least some of those readers into clients because they're impressed by the value you provide.

Have you ever thought about starting a business?

Are you more likely to trust and hire someone who provides valuable content for free?

The Mind Behind The Masterpiece - Meet Ashley!

Ashley is a 24 year old California girl living in England (she fell in love with a Brit!). When she's not blogging at or reading, she's coding up a storm. She's the creator of the Ultimate Book Blogger Plugin and a hardcore WordPress fangirl.

Download her free tips for marketing your new bookish business.

Check Her Out: Nosegraze | Twitter | Goodreads

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  1. This is SUCH good advice! And, from a reader/customer perspective, I totally do this. I'm way more likely to buy stuff if I know the person and trust them, because I also want to support them! I'm kiiiind of hoping I'm on the track of doing this so that eventually, when I publish a book, I'll have an audience who enjoys reading my blog (for free) and will like to buy my book and see how I tell stories! SO YEAH. :D Great post, Ashley! :D

    1. Thank you Cait! I think you're positioning yourself perfectly. I know a lot of people who love your blog and will probably read any book(s) you publish. :)

  2. Love this post! Always love hearing what Ashley has to say. I'm loving her latest quick tip emails, which are so enlightening and interesting! Fantastic advice and thank you both for sharing this with us. Definitely something to think about :D

  3. I enjoyed reading your article :) PLease continue publishing helpful topics like this. Regards, from

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