Have you ever considered selling products directly from your blog? Lots of the discussion here is about making some cash through advertising or affiliate type stuff but surely the big money is in having the whole revenue pie rather than the click crumbs that fall from Google’s table?
Of course people do “sell” off blogs all the time. Affiliate deals involve some sort of sales of products. Many blogs are there to create leads for service companies. Authors too funnel leads towards sales.
When Seth Godin writes a new book he will plug it, ever so subtly … or not so subtly, on his blog or even create a new one just for the purpose. When people say “Yes Seth please rush me a copy of your book” though he has to send the custom to Amazon or Barnes and Noble et al. He just gets his royalty as he normally would.
Then there is the merchandise tactic that Philipp talked about not so long ago. You create some designs and upload them to cafepress or similar. Even though this is a product sale, for example a t-shirt or a coffee mug, your reward is in effect a commission or royalty in the form of your markup.
What I am talking about here in this post is creating and selling a product where you get to keep all the profit. So rather than getting a few pennies off a click, or a small percentage of a sale, you get whatever you can make. The more value you create and the better job you do at selling, the more money you make.
The obvious starting point is electronic products. We discussed ebooks the other day and they hold a lot of appeal for me. Your electronic product does not need to be written content though, information products can just as easily be audio, software, design or photographic. Most popular though is probably the ebook.
- Skills – you already have all the skills you need. You don’t even need to buy any software to create the ebook as there are free PDF solutions available. If you want to get fancy with securing the ebook from tampering or creating advanced hyperlinks you might need to invest in software. To begin with though if you are just testing the water the free tools are fine and universally accessible.
- Delivery – as soon as you get confirmation the customer has paid up you can deliver the product. No weights to calculate, no wrapping or boxes, just a download. The customer is happy too as they get their goods right away instead of waiting days for a postman or courier.
- Profit – once you take out your time in creating the product it is all profit and in most cases providing the topic stays relevant the profit will last for quite a while.
- LTV – with information products once you have a customer you can usually if you do a good job sell them multiple products. Only your imagination and salesmanship will hold you back from repeat sales.
- Materials – there are no materials to buy therefore the only risk is your time.
- Manufacture – manufacture is just your creation skills employed on computer. No tools required, no workshop, no additional purchases necessary.
- Stock – the only stock you need is a file on your server so you can never run out and you can never get stuck with unsold inventory.
- Automation – you do not even need to be awake to make a sale, everything can happen automatically from receiving the order to delivering the product. Even customer services can be made less manual with FAQs etc for common problems.
- Affiliates – as well as selling the product yourself you can upload the ebook to services where your product will be made available to affiliates to also sell for a commission. You may not like people earning off your work but remember electronic products are almost pure profit and these will be sales you probably wouldn’t have made on your own!
- Piracy – the one problem with electronic products is they are so easy to copy, but where with physical products theft is a big problem for electronic products you can forget about it as it doesn’t really cost you anything and they were unlikely to buy it in the first place. Put in a bunch of affiliate links and you might still earn on the deal.
- Plagiarism – there is little you can do if someone wants to copy your ebook and sell it as their own other than be vigilant, just remember it is not as big a problem as it is made out to be (or feels when it happens) and follow the same advice as someone copying your blog posts.
Subscriptions and recurring payments
Another form of electronic product is the subscription. This could be members-only content, as in the example Andy mentioned, or it could be a members forum. Another option is the paid newsletter, stock tips, statistics. Something that works particularly well is the subscription web service, such as the blogging services, and tools such as Wordtracker and Browsercam.
Once built these services will pay but you do need to be careful that the product is worth the cost, that you have good uptime and availability and that the customer service matters do not soak up all your profits. Even though services such as these are online, people expect to deal with people when they have paid good money and they have a customer service issue. Customer service is always important but much more so when customers have paid directly rather than by clicking ads.
Physical Products do not have all the advantages of electronic products but do have one very big advantage. Although the percentage of the sale price that is profit is probably lower than an ebook, the actual amount might be much higher. The perceived value of many electronic products is less than something packaged nicely that you can hold in your hands.
You can create your own physical product and manufacture or have them manufactured, or you can buy a stock of products and sell them. Another option is to use a drop shipper. These are companies that sell wholesale but will take individual orders and handle all the logistics of getting it to the customers home. You deal with the sale and customer service, they handle the rest.
What sort of product you might create is up to your imagination, on the smaller side it could be simply your design printed on products or a self published book or CD all the way up to a new electronic gizmo. Just make sure you research well that there will be enough demand and a decent markup. Unlike electronic products there is a risk in terms of investment that needs to be put in before you get any return. Having said that, you will own all of the valuable assets so the company value that you create will be far higher.
Selling others products via stock or drop-ship has the advantage that people will be looking for the product already in most cases. As we will discuss later, seeing as you are selling from a blog there ought to be products you can rank for without messing about with SEO. I would recommend finding a good, trustworthy drop shipper rather than having stock right away. Profit margin will be lower and you will not have as much control but it is a lower risk entry. Once you have found a good supplier and the sales process works then you can consider stock knowing there is a market. Do some test orders before deciding on a supplier though, you need to know your reputation and financial stability is safe with who you work with.
As I said earlier, electronic products are ideal for affiliate sales but you can have affiliates help in your sales efforts in all the cases we have looked at. The main difference is there are ready made services all set up to sell your ebook, say, but a physical product would need to be either handled in the shopping cart process or you would need to use a third-party affiliate solution. It takes a big operation to have their products sold through the big affiliate systems such as Commission Junction et al so you would be advised to start small.
There are a few options for where the shopping actually happens. Any product niche blog will discuss product information anyway so the addition of a button to allow a purchase would not be a big change possibly. In most cases though bloggers choose to make the transaction happen off blog. This is not necessarily ideal and the other options do not need to be difficult.
- Off blog – send lead traffic to sales site which has been custom built for the purpose. The most common option but a bit of a cop-out. We can do better!
- Button – simple buy now button. Probably the next most common and a great start if the customer will only make one purchase per visit so no need for shopping cart.
- Blogcommerce – products listed within blog. This is the best combination, the power of blogs meets the revenue of ecommerce.
Why do it this way?
You might be thinking to yourself why go to all this effort? Why not set up a traditional ecommerce store?
There are many advantages to building a hybrid of a blog and ecommerce. First advantage is the natural search results you gain by blogging. Ecommerce sites are notoriously difficult to get search rankings because they often have wacky URLs with numbers in and people are reluctant to link to you voluntarily whereas blogs gain links naturally and are usually search friendly out of the box. By seperating your blog and your store you weaken the effect, if the blog IS the store you get the full benefit.
Another advantage is the software is pretty much right there to make a good ecommerce community. How did Amazon take a bog standard ISBN database and become the one place everyone links to when discussing books? Because they allowed visitors to add to the information. Rather than the original book cover blurb they allowed reviews, now even wikis. By allowing your readers to review and add information through normal blogging tools your product information will be much richer and useful.
We have all heard about cluetrain and how you need to be part of the conversation. These are reasons enough to go the blog route. In addition a community built up around your blog is much less likely to shop at a competitor so by fostering stickiness and community you are protecting your future sales.
So hopefully you can see the advantages to selling products this way. It is well worth considering as the revenue potential is way higher than advertising alone, especially if your product is a runaway success.
My next post will follow up on these ideas with step by step instructions for getting your first ecommerce capability into your blog and taking payments.