This guest post is by Nathan Barry of Designing Web Applications.
It seems like every day you read a story about a blogger who released a product to their audience and made a ton of money overnight. But then after you read more details about their story, you learn that they already had a popular blog with a huge audience.
That’s the point in the process where I always used to feel disappointed. While I wanted to replicate their success, I didn’t have an audience.
My story is different. Yes, I managed to pull off a massively successful product launch, but I did it with a tiny audience. I hope this is a story you can relate to and learn from.
In June 2012, I had 100 RSS subscribers for my blog. Not 10,000, just 100. And I’d been working steadily on my blog, pushing everyone to subscribe by RSS, for over a year. Not great results.
But a few months later, on September 4th, I released my first product, an ebook called The App Design Handbook, which went on to make $12,000 on launch day and has passed $35,000 in total sales.
Now are you interested?
Focus on a big goal
What happened in those three months between June and the September launch? The biggest change I made was focus. Since I was working on the book I decided that my blog was going to be almost entirely focused on the topic of designing iPhone and iPad applications. So I started writing posts and tutorials that would be valuable to that audience.
I was hardly the first person to write tutorials about designing apps. In fact, there were many much more popular blogs out there. But I was one of the first to write an ebook on the subject. So when people came to my site and saw that I was working on The App Design Handbook, it gave me instant credibility.
Focusing on a big goal, in my case writing a book, will give you credibility and a reason for visitors to follow your progress.
Give people a way to follow along
At the bottom of each post I wrote from then on, I placed an email signup form for the book. It didn’t provide much information (it would have been better had I provided more), but I did give people a chance to hear about the book when it launched.
This list gradually grew to 795 subscribers by the time I released the book.
Watching this list grow gave me the confidence that my methods were working and encouraged me to keep writing posts on designing iOS apps.
It is really important that you give your readers a way to opt in and let you know they are interested in your work. I’ve found email to be the best way to do this.
Share valuable content
The posts I wrote were all tutorials about designing and coding better products. Nothing super-elaborate, just what I thought would be helpful to someone learning about design. My most popular post was titled “User Experience Lessons from the New Facebook iOS App.”
Facebook’s iOS application had been notorious for its mediocre user experience and slow speeds. So when Facebook released a new version, I took the opportunity to dissect all the design changes they made to see what I could learn. The designers at Facebook didn’t change anything major, but they made a lot of minor improvements that designers everywhere could learn from.
I hoped this post would do well on sites like Reddit and Hacker News, but it didn’t really get any traction. To my surprise, though, it started getting shared on Twitter. After three days, it had been tweeted and retweeted over 100 times, driving a lot of traffic.
More importantly, that drove a lot of email signups to my book list.
Create a good product
It would be a waste to spend months building up to a brilliant product launch, only to have a poor product. So, I spent most of my time in those three months actually working on the book itself.
It’s important to do the marketing and promotion posts (that’s the part most people ignore), but you still need to write the book or meet your larger goal.
Yet, like all things, it’s a balance. If you focus 100% of your attention on the product, you won’t sell any copies. So find the right balance between creating the product and marketing the product. I find my time is split 50/50.
The launch event
Some people say you should let people pre-order the product to test demand. While I really like this idea, I didn’t do it. I decided that the email list was enough validation that there was a demand from the market, and I wanted to create a lot of buzz by focusing everything to the launch day.
While this strategy turned out fine for me, I don’t know enough to make a recommendation one way or the other.
I do know that if you can make a big splash, a single-day launch can help sales.
Speaking of a big splash, I did some guest posting as well. My original goal was to have between 15 and 20 guest posts all go live on launch day. I didn’t even make it close! But five really solid posts went live on some great sites on September 4th, with one more the next day.
It just goes to show that if you set high goals, even your failures are still a small success.
None of these posts drove a lot of traffic, but I think they helped remind people about the book. That’s why I love a single-day launch event. The first time someone mentions a book on Twitter you may not pay any attention. But then if you see an article by the same author on one of your favorite blogs, the two impressions together may be enough to get you to check it out.
So, do guest posts related to your product launches, but don’t expect thousands of visitors from guest posts. Guest posts are more about building relationships and name recognition than they are about driving traffic.
Using the email list
A week before launch I sent out a sample chapter and the table of contents to my pre-launch list. A few people unsubscribed, but they wouldn’t have purchased the book anyway.
It’s important to stay in contact with your email list, rather than trying to sell to them out of the blue months after they signed up. If you’ve been completely silent until asking for the sale, the common response will be, “Who are you, and how did you get my email address?” rather than them remembering who you are, that they opted in to your list, and are interested in your product.
It would have been better if I had delivered valuable content to them for a couple weeks leading up to the launch, but at least I did something. Then on launch day, everyone was expecting the sales email. I sent it out at 6:00 AM Mountain Time and had $1,000 in sales within ten minutes. For me, that was absolutely crazy! I never expected success so quickly.
That’s the power of a good email list.
The total was $12,000 in sales by the end of the first 24 hours, and $35,000 after two months, all from a blog that was visited fewer than 100 times a day a few months prior.
Wrapping it up
I hope it’s helped to you to follow my process and see how your own blog could make money, even if you aren’t popular. You need to focus on a big project, give people a way to opt in and follow along, focus on delivering value, and make a big splash on launch day.
Got it? I’m happy to answer any questions in the comments!