It isn’t any mystery how popular bloggers make money.
They send 27 different emails to their list of 100,000 subscribers with any old offer they’ve cooked up, and boom! Some of them buy.
Or they pop AdSense ads all over their blog, and make thousands a month in affiliate commissions.
Unfortunately, it’s not so easy for those of us with a smaller blog audience. We have to go about selling a different way.
But small bloggers can earn very well. You don’t need to go massively viral and acquire a giant email list — if you build a close relationship with your audience, and sell products or services that are exactly what they need.
I know, because I started earning six figures from my blog back when it had less than two thousand subscribers.
How can small blogs earn big? Let me unpack a few tips the big gurus don’t tend to mention, that help low-traffic blogs rack up serious money with their own offers:
1. Don’t jump the gun
I recently reviewed about 100 of my readers’ blogs. Know what I saw, over and over? Tiny, startup blogs with no audience, no comments, no social shares — but covered in advertising.
When I asked if those ads were bringing in any real money, I didn’t get a single ‘yes.’
That’s because selling the moment you launch a blog is a bad plan.
Selling is not step one in building a blog that earns. It’s down the road.
First, you need to envision a focused niche for your blog, where you see other blogs earning well. Once you’ve launched your blog concept, just focus on attracting readers — and getting them to subscribe.
Work at that until you have at least 100-200 of them. If you’ve got 300-500, that’s even better.
Now, you’re in a position to begin thinking about what you could sell, and figuring out what to charge for it.
Here’s how you answer those questions:
2. Don’t guess — ask
Now that you’ve attracted some readers who’re interested in your topic, you can take the first essential step toward earning without a huge list: Bond with your readers. Give them free goodies. Send them exclusive emails with useful or inspirational ideas that don’t appear on the blog.
Once your readers are raving that you are their go-to source for info on your topic, you can develop something to sell them.
How? Start asking questions. One of the advantages of being a small blogger is that you can get closer to your readers than the big guys.
If you have an idea for a product or service you think would be useful to your people, don’t assume your idea would be a hit with your audience. Don’t create your offer in a vacuum!
Instead, ask readers. Take a poll. Create a question-based blog post. Start a discussion. If they’re local, take a dozen of them out to breakfast to chat (yes, I’ve done that). Find out what they may have already purchased and what they thought of it. Discover what’s missing from the marketplace that they wish they could get their hands on.
While you’re at it, ask them how much they’d expect to pay for this item — and do some market research on what other, similar offers cost.
Important final question to ask, if you’re developing your own unique offer: How would your people like this delivered? You don’t want to bust your hump creating a video series if they’d prefer PDFs.
You may think just a hundred or so subscribers is too small of a sample for this market research to be useful, but in my experience, it’s not. I created a service that earns over $300,000 a year with the data from an 80-person survey.
Even with a small sample, you’ll be miles ahead compared with simply guessing at what product or service to create. Gather all your input, refine your idea, and then you’re ready to move forward.
3. Preview your coming attraction
Now that you’re no longer fantasizing about what your audience wants and have real data to work with, you can create a first version of your offer. Don’t worry if it doesn’t have every bonus or feature you’d like — just get the fundamentals of it together. Next, recruit beta-testers to try it out.
If you’re like me, you’ll get a ton of valuable feedback from that process, and refine/expand/alter your offer based on that input.
While all this is going on, you are slyly engaged in preselling your offer. For low-traffic bloggers, preselling is critical.
You’re mentioning your offer and describing it, when you recruit volunteers for the beta-test. Maybe you’re posting sample covers of that e-book on Facebook. You can email and let people know how the beta-test is going.
You might create a free case study from your course, or a sample chapter of that e-book to give away. More useful preselling.
You’re not overtly saying, “Buy something from me” during all this, but you’re educating your audience that a paid offer is coming. The more you do this, the easier the next step will be.
4. Be a low-key seller
Now that you’ve built all this vital groundwork ahead of your sale, selling should be fairly easy. The only trick is not wearing your small subscriber list.
Remember those 27 emails I mentioned up top? I never send that many — and most of my subscribers only see a few messages about any particular offer, unless they express some active interest.
Here’s a typical segmentation sequence for one of those premium course marketing cycles I describe above:
- Presale email: Waiting list only — The offer you wanted is ready — here’s a special price on it
- Email 1: All subscribers — I have a free event coming up, save the date
- Email 2: Only those who didn’t open email 1 — ‘Don’t want you to miss this’
- Email 3: Useful post or email exclusive on the topic, with banner or link to offer
- Email 4: Only those who’ve opted in — ‘Here’s how to get the most out of this free training’
- Email 5: Email everyone the day of free event
- Email 6: Only opt ins — Here is the replay link
- Email 7: All subs — ‘last day to sign up for replay/registration open now’ email
- Email 8: Only those who opened recent campaigns — FAQs or a success story about the product
- Email 9: Only those who’ve clicked nothing yet — A ‘lifestyle’ message about how the offer will make readers’ lives better
- Email 10: Everyone gets a “last day to sign up” email
- Email 11: Opt-in list only — gets a second last-day email 4-8 hours before closing
You can see that with this method, most subscribers don’t get very many emails, and the whole email sequence is shorter than what the big bloggers often do. You avoid annoying your readers this way.
If you’re still getting a lot of unsubscribes despite segmenting your list during your email sales cycle, there’s one more tactic you can use: Offer them an ‘opt out’ box they can check to not receive any more emails in this sales cycle.
Yes, that means they don’t buy now — but it also means they don’t unsubscribe. They stick around and may buy your next offer.
5. Price for volume sales
If I see one more training about how you’ll never earn well until you have a $10,000 product, I’m going to puke. Price points like that really fail for small-audience blogs. We just don’t have enough prospects, and can’t hit our lists as hard as you need to, in order to sell a pricey offer.
Instead, drive volume sales with crazy-low prices on an offer that delivers high value. This has been the whole secret of my success — most of my sales are from products and services that cost $25 or less. With fewer readers, you need a higher percentage of them to buy than the popular bloggers do.
Especially if it’s your first offer, you should be pricing it super-low. Think $1-$5. The point of this first product is just to start people buying, not really to make money. Use this as a ‘previous buyers’ list you can hit harder when you sell the next thing.
To sum up, if you haven’t attracted a few hundred subscribers yet, just concentrate on making that happen. Then, involve your readers in creating your offer. Presell it, and then soft-sell it. You shouldn’t have to work harder than that, if your readers were instrumental in creating your product.