I closed the doors on beta access to Paid to Blog Jobs just a few hours ago. In the four days that the doors were open, we managed to attract a total of 75 members, each paying $20 per month.
While it’s far too early to call PtBJ a success (my definition of which I’ll get into later), enough money in the bank to cover my financial outlay after the beta launch is a good start.
In this post I want to reveal the steps behind the creation of PtBJ. If you’re thinking about launching your own membership site, or are simply interested in knowing the process I went through, keep reading.
PtBJ is an idea I’ve had for absolutely ages that I didn’t act on until quite recently. To be more specific, “recently” was at the tail end of last year, when I re-released my freelance blogging guide as an online course.
At the time I wanted to create a real value proposition within the top package, which I was planning on selling for $150-250. I felt that a curated job listings board and paid guest blogs resource could be that value proposition.
But my inspiration goes back before then. For example, I’ve known about Carol Tice’s “Junk Free Jobs Board” within her Freelance Writer’s Den since late 2011 – you could probably call that my original inspiration.
However, I felt that I could do something different to Carol’s offering. First of all, her focus was on freelance writing in general, and from my personal experience she has a strong focus on “offline” writing – trade publications, magazines, etc. Meanwhile, my focus is on freelance blogging – that’s how I made my money.
So, I felt I could do something similar to Carol’s “Junk Free Jobs Board,” while creating something that was uniquely valuable to my audience.
The inspiration for the paid guest blogging opportunities came courtesy of Sophie Lizard’s free signup PDF on Be a Freelance Blogger: The Ultimate List of $50+ Blogs (and its predecessors). Sophie did a great job with it, and actually gave me permission to use the original list in the first incarnation of Paid to Blog.
As with Carol’s alternative, I knew that I had to offer something above and beyond what Sophie had going on in her free resource.
These two resources formed the central basis of what eventually became the top tier version of Paid to Blog. However, I wasn’t happy yet.
Evolving My Idea
Although I felt my “Job Listings Worth Pitching” and “Paid Guest Posting Opportunities” resources within Paid to Blog were really valuable, I knew that they could be so much more. Also, I quickly realized that they suited a periodical payment (rather than one-off) model. After all, with jobs and opportunities being added and updated every day, it paid (literally) to keep up.
So, I started thinking about adapting those two resources for use within a membership site and retiring the top tier Paid to Blog offering.
But first, I needed more information. I wanted to make sure that what I created would be truly valued by my subscribers, so who better was there to turn to than the people would potentially become members?
So, I published my intentions on Leaving Work Behind and got interested parties to join a standalone email list. I then emailed my new list (which only had ~150 members at the time, from memory) with a link to a simple survey I created over at Survey Monkey.
My survey started with a brief introduction:
I am currently working on a membership site for freelance bloggers and I plan for it to eventually feature the following:
- A regularly updated, curated list of freelance blogging job opportunities from across the web
- A regularly updated list of paid guest blogging opportunities (i.e. getting paid to guest post)
- A Q&A section, where you can ask me and my freelance blogging colleagues anything you like about freelance blogging and are guaranteed a response. Furthermore (and subject to your approval), questions and answers will be published so that you can search through what will inevitably become a huge resource of frequently asked questions relating to freelance blogging!
- Customizable email updates for all of the above. You can choose what to receive and how often to receive it.
That’s not all though. I want you to have your say on what the site includes and how much you should pay for it! All you need to do is fill in the following short survey. Although the more information you give me, the better a site I can create for you, please note that only the first two questions are mandatory.
I then asked a few questions:
- Which features would you be interested in?
- What would you be willing to pay (per month) for each feature?
- As a freelance blogger, what subjects do you (or would you like to) write about?
- What’s your current rate (per word)?
The survey results were really interesting, and not entirely what I expected.
Around 90% of respondents were interested in both resources, which I expected. Only 76% of people were interested in a Q&A section, which surprised me (I thought it would be more popular). Most surprisingly, only 53% of people were interested in customizable email updates. I thought that would be a big draw, but I was wrong.
I also got some good guidance as to how I should price the site. Most people were willing to pay between $5-10 per month for freelance job listings and paid guest posting opportunities (each). What really surprised me was that 50% of people weren’t willing to pay anything for a Q&A section, and 78% of people weren’t willing to pay anything for customizable updates.
For the first release of the site, that made things simple for me: given that a Q&A section and customizable email updates would’ve been the most costly, time-consuming and technically challenging elements of my proposed site, I decided to give them the chop.
I also got some useful information on what kind of rates people were looking for and what subjects they were willing to write about.
I cannot understate how useful this information was. Without that information, I would’ve created a completely different site – one that wouldn’t have been as good a fit for its members as it is. When it comes to creating just about any online resource, I heartily recommend that you start by trying to gather a few interested people (even if it’s only a handful) and tap them for as much information as you can possibly get. It’ll make a huge difference.
Now I knew what I wanted to complete, I needed to handle implementation. There were two aspects to this: technical and practical. Let’s look at each in turn.
When it came to the Content Management System I would use to create the site, my choice –without hesitation – was self-hosted WordPress. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a huge WordPress fan.
Beyond that, I did a fair bit of research and decided to use MemberMouse as my membership site plugin. It’s an incredibly functional and powerful piece of kit and had all of the features I needed.
To make my life easy, I decided to use the same design for PtBJ as I had for Paid to Blog. I commissioned my always-awesome developer to copy the site over, set MemberMouse up and get things in place, ready to run. If you’re not technically-minded and need help with this kind of thing for a very reasonable price, go with Tito (just have Google Translate at the ready ;-)). I used Fiverr to get an amended logo based upon the original.
I used TablePress to create the job listings – it is easily one of my favorite ever WordPress plugins, and completely free to boot.
Now came the hard bit: providing the value.
I wasn’t going to have the time do the main element of the research, so I knew I needed to find someone really good to help me out with it. Lo and behold, my new Community Manager is an experienced researcher!
I asked Jo if she would be interested in working with me on the project, and she said yes. I referred her to Paid to Blog and previous posts I had written on finding good quality job listings. Most importantly, I referred her to the video in this post.
She got to work. We got a great system going in no time – she does all the legwork, finding one decent opportunity amongst thirty (on average!), and presents me a provisional list for me to work through and approve or decline. So far, Jo has done an awesome job, finding job opportunities I never would have. I don’t know how she does it – I’m not sure she does either!
Jo is also working on the paid guest posting opportunities – finding new ones and making sure existing opportunities are up-to-date.
Part of me worried whether I would be able to offer enough value with this membership site, but after I partnered with Jo, I knew that wouldn’t be an issue.
However, to make sure I was on the right track, I made a list of all of the benefits of PtBJ:
- A curated list of the best freelance blogging job opportunities from across the web.
- A 75+ strong (and growing) list of the best paid guest blogging opportunities from across the web.
- Search and filtering options for both of the above.
- Exclusive job opportunities not available elsewhere on the web.
- Opportunities to work on my ever-expanding writing team.
- In-depth PDF guides to pitching for jobs and guest postings, including template emails for each.
- 30 Day Money Back Guarantee, no questions asked.
- No contract, no obligation, pay as you go.
Then I asked myself two questions:
- Would I, circa September 2011 (when I was just starting out as a freelance blogger), have subscribed to this resource?
- Would I, circa December 2012 (when I was doing well as a freelance blogger, but still wanted to earn more), have subscribed to this resource?
The answer in both cases was an emphatic “Yes!”
So, biased as I was, I felt I was onto something. Now I just had to figure out how to sell it to people.
If you know me, you’ll know that I’m no good at marketing. I like creating things that I think will help people, but I’m not so hot on convincing them to buy them 😉
Thankfully, prior to the beta launch of PtBJ, I had got to know a LWB subscriber called Emils. He had originally offered to help me with my Paid to Blog sales page further to me publishing this post, and I jumped at the offer. He has a dedication and enthusiasm for marketing that I simply do not possess. It’s vital to have people like Emils to bolster your weak areas.
Emils did a great job, not only with working on the sales page, but also on email strategy. I’m really pleased with the way we approached the beta launch. It certainly wasn’t perfect, but I’d say that it was my most well-organized and thought-out launch to date. All because I was willing to bring someone else on board to help me in an area in which I really needed help.
Our marketing plan was pretty simple. I mentioned the upcoming resource here and there on Leaving Work Behind, always including a signup form so that people could register their interest. I also mentioned it to the LWB email list (~4,500) subscribers on a couple of different occasions.
By last week I had around 500 subscribers to that list, which I felt was a pretty healthy number. Of course, you may not be in the position to draw that many people to a list, but there is no “magic number” you need. Besides, if you’re creating something of true value, you might be surprised how many people are interested, even if you have no audience to start with.
I started communication with the list by emailing them a week before the planned beta launch, letting them know that it was coming. This was coupled by a blog post on Leaving Work Behind.
During launch I sent three emails:
- The first on Monday, announcing that the doors were open
- One at 12pm on Thursday, announcing that the doors would be closing in 12 hours
- One at 6pm on Thursday, announcing that the doors would be closing in 6 hours and reminding people of the 30 day money back guarantee
As you would typically expect, there were a spike of signups on the Monday, a trickle on Tuesday and Wednesday, then another spike on Thursday (especially in the last few hours, perhaps underlining the value of two emails at the end).
The doors are closed now, and I am committed to giving all of the 75 members my personal attention and making sure that they are as happy as possible with the site.
I’ve had one refund request so far, and that’s for reasons I don’t really understand, so I can’t take much from that in terms of feedback. One request out of 75 seems pretty good to me at this stage.
I’ll be sending a fresh survey to the existing members next Thursday, with the hope of figuring out what they like/dislike about the site. I can then use that information to make PtBJ even better.
I’ve already got more ideas ready for implementation, such as a “Getting Started” flowchart, a “Jargon Buster” PDF for unfamiliar terms in job listings, more unique jobs listings, a “flagging option” for out-of-date/incorrect listing, and more. I plan to get all of the above implemented in time for the main launch in a few week’s time.
Beyond that, Jo and I have even more ideas for a version 2.0, but I’m better off focusing on the present for now. The beta launch went really well, easily beating my 50 members goal, and now I want to make sure that I do as much as possible for those 75 members!
I mentioned earlier that it’s too early to call PtBJ a success, and I stand by that. But what do I define success as? The answer is simple: helping as many people as possible earn far more from the resource than it costs them. If I constantly strive to do that, for as many people as possible, I feel like everything else (like making money!) will fall in place behind it. That’s the approach I try to take to everything I do.
If you want to know when the doors next open on Paid to Blog Jobs, find out more and sign up here. And if you have any questions or feedback, please get in touch via the comments below!
Joey Kissimmee interviewed me last week for his Income Press podcast. If you don’t know Joey yet then take it from me — he’s one of the good guys. We really hit it off and it was a genuine pleasure to share my story with him.
But what really got my juices flowing was the revelation that Joey’s site makes about $5,000 – $8,000 per month. He told me he manages this with around 500 – 1,000 visitors per day.
In May I made a total of $2,031 (nett) and received on average 784 visitors to my site. Compared to Joey’s earnings, this tells me one thing: I’m not making the most of this blog’s potential to make money. In this post I want to reveal the plans I have to make amends for that.
Joey had one suggestion right off the bat that was simple enough to incorporate immediately — the introduction of a banner for my freelance writing guide on all posts with the “Freelance Writing” tag.
Now if you click through to a freelance writing post on LWB you will see something like this:
This should hopefully boost the percentage of visits to my information product’s sales page as a percentage of total visits to my site — a key metric for measuring the income-producing potential of my blog. A simple trick and one I should have implemented a long time ago.
Joey followed up that suggestion with another: use a link tracking plugin. This is actually something that has been on my list for a long time but I have neglected to implement it until now. I chose the excellent Pretty Link Pro on the recommendation of several internet marketers and I’ve certainly not been disappointed yet.
The plugin enables me to set up trackable links for all of the affiliate products I recommend and also for my freelance writing guide. This means that I can see how well links (such as that connected to the banner in the screenshot above) perform in terms of directing visitors. With that information I can optimize my site which should lead to increased earnings.
I’ll probably follow this up with a more in-depth post on how to make the most of Pretty Links Pro in the future.
Making the Most of My Information Product
For the past few months my information product has made around $1,000 per month. While it has effortlessly outperformed my original goal I do feel that it has the potential to make more.
With that in mind I plan to instigate a new split test with a drastically different sales page. The existing sales page is pretty bland to say the least:
I had my web designer guy draft a more colorful sales page with edited sales copy and I plan on testing that against the above over the next few weeks. I am hoping that a more colorful and dynamic sales page will result in a higher conversion rate.
Beyond that, I may have another crack at split testing the pricing structure of my guide. Although I have tested this in the past, the results were somewhat inconclusive.
Boosting Affiliate Earnings
My affiliate earnings have been on a bit of a roller coaster ride since August 2012 (when I first made any kind of real money). I have broken $1,000 in both of the last two months but income was down ~$450 in June compared to May. This inconsistency in earnings hardly fills me with confidence.
My approach to affiliate marketing has been quite soft as I have always been wary not to portray myself as yet another money-grabbing “make money online” type blogger. However, upon reflection I think have been far too cautious. In reality, I think I have a lot of value to offer in terms of teaching people how I use the premium products that I love — doing so can help them. And if I make some money at the same time, everyone’s a winner!
With that in mind, you can expect more from me in terms of actionable tutorials in the near future. I am hoping that publishing such posts will provide a healthy boost to my affiliate earnings.
Increasing Traffic and Subscribers
The above methods focus on optimizing the site so that I can make more money out of the same number of visitors. On the other hand, the alternative approach is to get more traffic and subscribers.
In the past I have fooled myself into thinking that I work hard on building traffic and subscribers to LWB. However, over the past few months at least I have done very little. Sure — I have published posts and dabbled in social media, but how much time and effort have I put into an organized marketing strategy? Very little.
Leaving Work Behind’s consistent yet modest growth through 2013 so far.
I’m hoping that the release of my book in September will have a huge impact in this area. I feel like I need to something big and bold like publish a book in order to take this blog to the next level.
While I have enjoyed steady growth since this blog started in May 2011, I want to see Leaving Work Behind get much bigger. I hope that the book goes a long way in achieving my goals on that front.
If blogging has taught me one thing, it is that often the best solutions are those most obvious and yet most easily missed. With that in mind, I’d love to read your suggestions as to how I can enable Leaving Work Behind to make more money.
There’s no such thing as a bad idea as far as I am concerned, so please fire away in the comments section below!
My freelance writing guide has now been available for just over a month and I am really happy with how things have gone so far.
With over $3,500 in sales I have already smashed my sales goal of $3,000 over the duration of the guide’s lifetime. And the future looks bright as I have plenty of ideas which will help me establish a consistent flow of sales in the future.
However, this relative success was borne out of uncertainty. I had absolutely no idea how the guide would sell and the same questions kept rotating through my mind — did I have a big enough audience? Would the end result be worth all of this effort? Will people actually buy it?
I think anyone who is creating their first information product asks these same questions. Fortunately, in my case, they were all answered with an emphatic “yes, and then some”. And that is why I want to talk to you today about why you should put serious consideration into creating an information product.
Why Create an Information Product?
I think that the easiest way to make a decent chunk of money in the blogosphere is to create and release your own information product.
Sure — you can do affiliate marketing or put advertising on your blog, but you’ll need a high volume of traffic to generate a decent level of income. You don’t need a huge audience to produce a relatively successful information product. In fact, with a small (yet loyal and captive) audience, it can be an entirely worthwhile process.
And I say that not only in financial terms, but also in terms of growing your blog and your brand. I have learned that actually creating something and putting a value on it actually opens you up to greater interest (and by extension, greater scrutiny). If you produce something of value, this can only be a good thing.
Should You Create an Information Product?
I am not saying that anyone with a blog can create a profitable information product, but I am saying that it is something you should give serious consideration.
I’d recommend that you do what I did — estimate (roughly) how long it will take you to create, how much you will need to invest, and how much you would like to “earn” for every hour that you invest into the project. From those numbers you can calculate the lifetime amount of income that your product will need to produce in order to “break even”. In my case, that calculation was as follows:
- Estimated time taken to create and promote the guide: 50 hours
- Desired hourly rate: $50
- Financial cost to produce the guide (design etc.): $500
( 50 * 50 ) + 500 = $3,000
Don’t worry about being too precise here — one of my biggest motivators was the fact that even in the face of failure, I knew that I would have learned a great deal. I cannot stress enough how valuable the entire information product creation process has been for me in terms of expanding my horizons.
But how do you calculate if the final figure is realistically achievable? In reality there is only one way to answer that question definitively (i.e. create and release a product), but you can look for specific markers to determine your chances of success. Although there are potentially many considerations, I believe that the following three questions are key.
Can You Produce a Product of Real Quality?
Without wanting to beat around the bush, do you have the knowledge and experience that will allow you to create a product that is on a par or better than products currently available? Confidence in the product you are producing will be necessary in order to take you all of the way through the process.
How Big Is Your Audience?
This is the million dollar question — what most people look to. But whilst the size of your audience is of course a key factor, it is not the only factor.
For instance, Emilie Wapnick made $4,000 in the first month of her product launch — to a list of just 500 subscribers. Meanwhile, my four day pre-launch to a list of just 225 people resulted in $1,835 in sales.
Are Your Audience Evangelical and Loyal?
Perhaps a more important consideration is how much your audience actually cares about you. Are they truly engaged with your blog? Do they consider you an authority on your topic? If the answer to either of those questions is no, you may find that asking them to fork out money is a bridge too far.
Why a Disastrous Launch Doesn’t Have to Be a Disaster
I don’t think that a lot of bloggers necessarily fret about spending a lot of time on a product only for it to fail. More specifically, they worry about the effects of that “failure”.
Think about it — as startup bloggers, we are used to producing a lot of content for little reward. You have to put in a lot of hard yards before you reap the rewards — I can certainly attest to that. So working hard isn’t such a big deal, but there’s no going back from an unsuccessful launch, is there?
On the contrary, I believe that an unsuccessful launch is almost entirely inconsequential. By its very nature, an unsuccessful launch is not going to be noticed by many people. At the very worst it gives you an opportunity to analyze what went wrong and put things right for a re-launch down the line. As long as you create a product of fundamental quality, your time will almost certainly not be wasted in the long term.
As it is, my launch was successful. However, I made many mistakes and there is plenty of room for improvement. I will be working hard over the next several weeks to optimize and add to my guide in order to make it as appealing a prospect as possible.
The moral of the story is this — putting the time into creating the guide is just the first step. A failed launch isn’t the end — it can be the beginning.
Where to Start with Information Product Creation
In creating my own information product I almost exclusively referred to two awesome resources:
- How to Launch the **** Out of Your eBook
- Publish Your Book on Kindle
Furthermore, I documented my progress in a series of posts here on the blog. I think that those three resources will provide you with everything you need to create a successful information product.
Now please ask yourself — what is to stop you from creating your own information product? If you have been running a blog for a while but are not sold on the idea of doing so, I would love to know why. Please share your opinion in the comments section!
Creative Commons image courtesy of jurvetson