Example

Yesterday, I received an email from one of the companies that I am an affiliate with that should have a lot of bloggers incredibly nervous.

With the impending passing of the California Budget which includes an Affiliate Nexus provision we have begun the process of removing all publishers located in the State of California.  From what we understand the Governor needs to sign the bill by July 1st and that when he does it will become effective immediately, if the Governor does not sign the bill all publishers will be reinstated to our program.

This is not something new. North Carolina and Illinois have also passed similar laws that allow for taxes to negate the money that companies use to pay affiliates. As a result, companies like Amazon.com have pulled their affiliate programs from these states because those programs are no longer profitable for the company and the bloggers.

For the bloggers that were depending on these commissions to support the bulk of their income stream, they are now without cash!

Diversifying Income Streams For Long Lasting Growth

I think I have probably told this to every blogger I run into and mentioned it in every presentation I have ever done…if you want to be successful over the long haul, you have to diversify your income streams. Business changes from day to day. What was great today could be gone tomorrow.

You have to ask yourself one simple question. If my #1 source of income was gone tomorrow…what would I have left?

If you answer is nothing, you are in a lot of trouble as a law like this…or some companies choice to leave the market completely…could leave you broke and penniless.

Successful companies are successful because they continue to grow and expand. As market conditions change, the economy does its thing and people’s tastes adapt to times, there are going to be periods in which certain areas that generate income for your business are up and down. When you diversify into multiple, related areas, you are able to handle the swings. When one is down, another one may be up. If one goes away completely, you are able to make up the difference in other areas instead of starting back from square one.

As a blogger, you have a lot of areas outside of just affiliate revenue that you can diversify into to keep your ability to go the distance healthy.

  1. Make Your Own Products and Services (eBooks, consulting, membership sites, physical products)
  2. Sell Direct Advertising
  3. Pay Per Click and Pay Per Impression Advertising (Adsense, Contextual, etc)

By jumping into different income options and expanding your offerings, you are taking the steps to insure that your blog is always generating income. Perhaps the best and longest lasting of these would be to create your own products and services that not only make you money…but strengthen your brand name at the same time.

Not Every Income Stream Is Right For You

Now…with this said. Not all of these areas will work for your blog. Just because you want to diversify, that does not mean to keep things going that do not work. In some markets, PPC/PPM advertising payouts are horrible and not worth the screen real estate. Choose what you implement carefully and test how they perform on your blog before deciding whether or not it is worth the effort and space.

And…like most things in life…this too can change so you have to be willing to test out income producing assets of your blog even if they might not have worked well in the past. With new knowledge and new market conditions, they could be a viable option now when they weren’t before.

Do Your Market Research

What is working for your competition? Is that an option for you? What are they not doing that might work in your market that you could capitialize on and set the bar?

These are all questions you should be asking yourself as you look for unique ways to produce income. While it is always good to look at what your competition is doing to make money on their own websites, sometimes it is even better to try what they are not doing as you might have found a hidden gem in your industry. It is always a good idea to keep tabs on the people around you for ideas.

How I Diversify On My Blogs

All of this theory is great, but how do we implement it in practice. On Bike198.com, I diversify my income streams with the following assets:

  1. Direct Advertising
  2. Sale of Review Products
  3. Affiliate Advertising
  4. CPC Advertising (2 banners)
  5. My Own Products (Ramped Riding eBook, 29er T-Shirt, Riding Kits)

As you can see, there is a lot to pull from to generate income. All of these avenues produce consistently month over month.

How do you diversify your income streams on your blog?

Example

An interesting article by David Risley titled, “Is Blogging Broken? Is The Future Of Blogging Paid Access?” stirred up some ideas I have had for a long time and generated some conversation sparked by DR and I on Twitter and Facebook. The reality is that this is not a new idea by any means. Several large bloggers including Gary Vaynerchuk have already said it is coming and there are premium, paid sections of many popular sites that produce exclusive content for a price.

The question becomes…can the blogger use this same model and apply it to blog content?

The Blurred Line: Magazines and Blogs

As we move forward with online publishing, the line between blog and online magazine is continuing to get blurred even more than in the past. Magazines are starting to look towards digital delivery and online publishing as their only way to expand business and bloggers are looking outside of traditional blogging to add more value for their readers. I wouldn’t consider Bike198 a blog in the truest definition of the word…it has really become a free online magazine.

Even my favorite magazine, Bike, is delivered to my iPad via Zinio…so where does the line cross between magazines and blogs these days anyway? One side is getting a fee for their content while the other is giving away everything for free.

Bloggers And The Free Concept

Bloggers learned a long time ago that by giving away the farm for free, you are able to grow your audience faster. With more traffic, pageviews and subscribers…you were able to command more money via direct advertising and generate more money with affiliate sales. It is the simple law of numbers…with more targeted eyes you get more money.

However, this has created one big problem within blogging…everything is free.

With the over saturation of bloggers all trying to compete for the same eyes and the readers looking for quality content but hit with an extreme amount of free content, eBooks and other free online hooks…readers have very little in the way of distinction between quality and quantity in their search for online content. In my opinion, bloggers take the “give away the farm” mentality a little bit too much to heart, so with more bloggers entering the market on a daily basis…there is a massive over saturation of content.

What does this do to the blogger?

You become a hamster in a wheel generating massive amount of content and products for free without seeing any real return. You are told it takes a lot of work and to be patient, but the competition out there is so much harder these days that you could literally spend years giving away everything for nothing. Eventually, you give up and look to other forms of income generation as that one obviously didn’t pan out.

So when do you draw the line and jump ship to a paid content model?

Reactions In and Outside of Blogging

Before we jump straight into what I think…lets take a look at a couple of reactions on the web yesterday when I posted the question to Facebook and David and I hit up Twitter.

My Facebook Comment to People Outside of Blogging:

“There have been some interesting rumblings around the blogging world about going to more “magazine style” formats. ie. subscription models. What do you think about monthly, paid subscription models to online content?”

Some of the better responses:

I’ve been wondering when blogs are going to take on a more magazine look/feel as well. I’d be more than happy to pay for content, if its good and does one of two things. Entertains me or makes me some money! Just my two cents.

Nothing personal, but I don’t think I’d pay for blog content. While many (including yours) are very informative for some things, a lot of the content may not apply to me. I think blogs are less viable as a subscription service, as now they are competing with magazines, books, etc, that have a lot more resources to provide content.

Of course, that’s just my opinion, and I’m not a huge blog reader (only 5-10 that I routinely read).

I’ve never been able to get into blogs- either reading or following. This is just a random thought, but I wonder if that applies to a great percentage of people who went through most of their formative years without internet/email. I was a senior in college before I had an email acct, and it was infrequently used at best. (Maybe we were behind the times, but we’re talking early 90’s.) I still prefer a hard copy, old-school magazine for lots of things. Okay, I’m definitely old. 🙂 More randomness: I subscribe to two photography websites that have everything from forums to mini-blogs. I use them mostly for the interaction with other photogs from all over the world. I doubt I’d continue to pay for them if they went to a strictly blog format with no forums and classifieds and stuff. Maybe future generations will pay for blogs without giving it a second thought…?

if they incorporated rich media and it was well organized and flashy like the magazines I would pay for specific ones

I think there’s already a ton of this out there that is similar. For example ESPN has the Insider and many newspapers have online content that is subscriber only. Almost all major magazines deliver substantial free content and many of them put their printed content online for free after awhile.

I think for it to work, the user would have to feel like they are getting some very exclusive, well developed content. It would have to go far beyond the “expert with an opinion” content that most blogs deliver. Even then, I am skeptical that it would work well. I know that I wouldn’t do it. There is too much free content to choose from and that’s not going to change any time soon.

The magazines don’t seem to be doing a terribly good job at it with falling subscriptions and struggles with finding an online model that works. I don’t see loan bloggers who typically put out less than a magazines worth of content a month can take a broken model and find success with it. Where there is a will there is a way I suppose.

Mine and David’s line on Twitter (inside the blogging world):

“Question: What would your reaction be to a high quality blog that switched from free to paid content? (2 to 3 bucks a month)”

@gracejudson: It completely depend on the *relevance* of the content – not just the quality. If I was consistently using the content – maybe.

@ericabiz: You’re way undervaluing it at $2-3/month. I wouldn’t subscribe because I would assume the info isn’t valuable…(when asked if 9-10 dollars would be enough) At least. I pay $30/mo for Doberman Dan’s. And he stopped blogging to do that, too 🙂

@Murlu: I think when people quite literally tell you they’d pay for what you just publish – you’re on to something 😀

@nhangen: they would be a goner.

@christiantjr: my initial question would be “can I get the same quality elsewhere for free?”

As you can see by the responses, they vary all over the map from basically a “hell no” to you are not even charging enough.

The Law of Numbers and Blogging Income

For a long time, the law of numbers has played a drastic affect on blog income. The more numbers you have, the more money you made. However, what if I were to tell you that you could cut your traffic and subscribers down to a 1/4 of what they are now and you will make 5 times the income? My bet…99% of you would not do it because you are conditioned to the free/high traffic model.

When you are looking at going to a paid subscription model, you are basically doing just that. As much as you would like to think that all of your readers are grasping onto your words like the gospel…that just isn’t the truth. If you were to hit the switch to a paid content model today, my guess is that 10 – 25% of your readership would participate and you would lose the rest, but if your income went up 5 fold…it would be worth it. That is when bloggers think like bloggers and not business owners. They would rather keep the large numbers at lower income than lower numbers at higher income.

The scary part…you have to hit the switch on the whole idea before you will know if it will work or not. It takes that leap of faith and testing.

Your Readers Are Already Paying For Content…Why Not Your Blog?

The reality of your situation when you are looking at moving to a paid subscription format is that you are going to have to compete with bloggers that are still giving away quality content for free. That is not going to change, so how do you battle this fierce competition?

It all comes down to the perceived value of the deliverable.

Readers are already paying for content on a daily basis. From eBooks to members only sections of websites, readers are not only paying for content…but they are paying more than you would charge as a subscription! Why is this? The perceived value of eBook content is higher than that of a blog. Every day, I sell eBooks that contain content not found on my blog that helps my readers achieve their goals. Whether it is becoming a better mountain biker or getting in free stuff to review on your blog, that content sells consistently and provides value to my customers.

Switching to a paid subscription model would be no different…except…you would have to change the delivery method. I do not think…at this time…just access to your blog can be a paid for commodity. You would have to change the deliverable of your content to something that is email driven or a PDF magazine that contains your content plus a better design that online publishing can not provide. This way you are giving more value to your customers outside of just hitting the publish button several times a week.

Just like with ESPN and other newspaper websites, you would still need to provide regular, free content on your blog to attract new readers, but the meat and potatoes would be delivered off site to your paid subscribers.

Blogging for free…even if you enjoy the hell out of it…can not live for forever. Eventually life gets in the way and you will have to cut down on your online time unless it is providing a specific value (in this case…money). As blogging continues to grow and adapt, it will have to find a way to generate income outside of the law of numbers game.

Paid subscription models might be the answer, but we will not know until the switch is hit. At that time, will the paid models be able to withstand the competition of free? My personal opinion is that question really comes down to the quality of branding, content and perceived value.

What do you think?

Example

One of the more popular ways to make money blogging is to offer something for sale on your site. Typically, bloggers look towards digital products like eBooks and coaching programs as their first jump into the sell your own products realm, but physical products are not outside the list of options when you are looking to grow your business.

One of the biggest hurdles bloggers run into when they are looking to expand into physical products is high upfront cost of development, minimum orders and carrying inventory for fast shipping. This is a real fear as you can watch your income causally sit in your home office just stagnant…and that is never a good thing. When you are looking to jump into the world of soft goods (t-shirts, hats, etc.) or niche products, there are ways to get rid of your fears and tackle the obstacles in front of  you in a way that promotes growth and provides another resource to your readers.

As with most things on Blogging Labs, I am going to show you how I launched a new t-shirt line on Bike198 without using a single bit of operating capital (my cash) and was able to stock all inventory in the process.

Gauging Product Interest

As with any product you are going to release on your blog, you are going to want to gauge the interest of your readers to see if what you are about to release has any actual value to them. If they are not going to buy it, there is no reason to move forward and you need to find something your audience is actually willing to spend money on. This goes for any product including digital ones.

For the t-shirt line, I already knew that my audience likes to buy shirts related to the sport of mountain biking. There are companies that are completely dedicated to it so I had to find my niche in the sea of shirts to set myself apart. I decided to attack the sub-niches of mountain biking as riders are pretty passionate about their gear and trails. The first on the chopping block was “29ers Size Does Matter” and for those of you that don’t already know…29ers have a larger wheel size than typical 26″ bikes that we are all used to.

29er Size Does Matter T-Shirt

It had been a good review product week, so I sold a part on eBay and paid my product designer Adam Allen (adam-allen.com) to draw up the concept. He provided me with the initial comps and I went to my email list, Facebook page and Twitter account to start gauging interest on the shirt. While I did have to front the money for the design, I still didn’t want to go to the market with something that people didn’t want to buy. Luckily, interest in the shirt was great so we needed to move forward to the pre-sale process after I got the pricing nailed down with a friend of mine that owns a t-shirt printing company (scrappymusic.com).

The Art Of The Pre-Sale

A pre-sale can serve multiple purposes for bloggers. For example, you are releasing a coaching program and you want the forum to look active to new members, you can have a pre-sale to get your program populated before the launch. In my case, I needed to raise the funds necessary to complete the first order that would fulfill the orders for the pre-sale, give me stock to sell from and to get me the best price possible by being able to order in large quantities. Since I already knew the shirts were going to sell based off the interest I received from my readers and other riders, it was time to move forward and make the jump.

The Hook: How To Get Early Adopters

When you are asking a reader/customer to buy on a pre-sale, you are asking them to deal with longer lead times and uncertainty as they have zero testimonials or proof from others before they buy. Because of this, you need to have some added value for your customer for participating in the pre-sale process to encourage sales. In my case, I offered the shirt at $5 dollars less than the regular price during the week of the pre-sale. This gave a discount to my readers for buying early and helping me get together the necessary funds to make the order.

You can also throw in bonuses, free items and other hooks to get your readers to jump on the bandwagon early.

Time Is Running Out

With any pre-sale, there needs to be a sense of urgency. You are on a time-line to get the project or product live in its final form, so allowing a pre-sale to go on for too long can have a negative affect on earnings and overall perception from other readers or customers. For my t-shirt release, I set the pre-sale for one working week (starting Monday and ending on that Saturday). This also allowed me to add in the lead time for the actual order to let my customers know exactly when they could expect the shirts to ship. The sense of urgency and the definite shipping date calms any wonder on whether or not they are really going to get their shirt in the mail.

Leveraging Your Blogging Assets

At the beginning of the pre-sale process, I emailed my newsletter subscriber list through Aweber, I hit up my Facebook page, I tweeted and I sent out press releases to the major sites and forums in my niche. I even contacted manufacturers of 29ers and asked them to post about their shirt in their social media outlets announcing the pre-sale and the discount for ordering early. As you could probably guess already, my newsletter subscribers were my highest converting into sales (another reason you should start a newsletter with Aweber today if you haven’t already).

By leveraging my assets that my blog has built over time, I was able to draw readers and potential customers to my sales page and have them complete an order during the pre-order process. At the end of the week, I had enough sales to cover all of my costs including stock…so the order was placed and we are off to the races.

The Pre-Sale Timeline

What you have just read is my step by step process of the pre-sale, but there is also a defined time line that you need to be aware of when you are going to release a product in this manner. A pre-sale has an interesting component to it that affects how you react with your readers. Your “pre-sale week” or however long you choose it to be is going to see the following order process…

  • Day One: First initial order swarm
  • Day Two – Day Before The Last Day: The trickling in effect (lower quantity per day than day 1)
  • Last Day: Ending process order swarm

Your readers that order on day one are looking to get their order in fast so they don’t forget. They know they are going to order it anyway so they might as well get it off their mind and do it now. The readers that trickle in during the middle part of your launch process are typically ones that saw the email at work and had to wait until they got home or just saw the email at that point in time. Your readers that order on the last day at the last minute probably saw and read your first email, but they wanted to wait until the last day to place their order because they are lazy or they didn’t want their money tied up for an extended period of time without anything to show for it.

Because there are a large quantity of people in the “last day” part of the process, it is vital that you send out a second email to your subscribers, followers, etc. 24 hours before the pre-sale ends. That gives your email enough time to hit their inbox and allows your reader adequate time to order it online. You have no idea how many responses I get from readers thanking me for sending that last email because they had forgotten about the pre-sale end date. Your product is not the most important thing going on in the lives of your readers, so a casual reminder at the end of the week is a very effective closing tool.

Selling Physical Products On Your Blog

As you can see by this process, I was able to release a t-shirt that is the start of a complete line without having to put it on a credit card, pull funds from the bank or use personal income to fund the process. By simply selling a piece of review product and launching an effective pre-sale process, I was able to get everything accomplished and cover all initial costs. Now, my blog has another asset to sell that also promotes my brand. When you are looking at what your readers want to buy, do not rule out physical products as they can provide you with additional income, but…more importantly…they can jump start your credibility within your niche with a huge promotional tool.

You can buy the t-shirts here.