Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Blog as Income Stream

One of the big challenges of doing “the affiliate thang” is that it’s often difficult to get people to “do the deed”. By that I mean, you might get them to click from your site to your affiliate site, but getting them to actually BUY something can be a bit of a challenge.

Glossary Item, for those that have been hiding under a rock for many years, or just barely got on the ‘net: An Affiliate Program is a way for a smaller website to refer people to a bigger retailer website, in exchange for commissions.

Here’s how it works. Site A is a small website, maybe an informational site without products or even a merchant account. Site B is a big retailer, like Amazon.com (who put affiliates on the internet map, so to speak). Site owner A signs up with Site B’s affiliate program, and gets some HTML code. That gets pasted into Site A. Visitor C comes to site A, and, their interest piqued, clicks to Site B. Visitor C buys something at Site B. Site B’s affiliate tracking system notes that Visitor C came from Site A (usually that’s encoded in the URL of the link from Site A to Site B). Finally, the accountants from Site B, pays a commission/finder’s fee to Site owner A (usually 5 to 15% of the purchase).

It’s a very easy way for a site owner to add more products to their site. It’s also a very easy way to make some cash. It can be done very profitably. It can also be done wrong.

One of the worst ways to do affiliates is to put a general affiliate link to an irrelevant “Site B” on your main page. Say, I have a website where I sell sports car accessories. If I were to put up on my main page an affiliate link to, say, a toy store, that wouldn’t be too relevant, now, would it? My visitors would not be likely to think, “Oh, my gosh, how convenient. I’d forgotten to buy Johnny that Ninja Turtle figure for his birthday, and now I’ve got the chance at this sports car site to go do that!”

How much better would it be if my site were about children, to then have the link to the toy store.

And how much better would it be if I’ve got a content article on the site about the history of the Ninja Turtles, and, presto, there’s a link someone can click on to jump to the page in the toy store where they can buy that very Ninja Turtle figure. I write about it, I recommend it, and I send people there to buy it. Doesn’t that sound much stronger?

Well, people are discovering that and taking advantage of that. Take, for example, Manolo’s Shoe Blog. He writes about pop culture and fashion, yes, but especially about shoes. And each time he writes about a shoe, there’s a link for the reader to go buy it.

He writes with a certain credibility, and also with a lot of flair. He’s flat out fun to read.

So, why not have a product blog? Or a review blog? The fact that you’ve created a website with a focus gives you an audience. Tap into that audience. Here’s how:

1. Establish a blog

Use the Clicksite Builder to create a blank page, and establish your blog on that page. Use Blogger.com or Xanga.com to create an externally hosted blog.

2. Choose your focus

This should be something that relates to the audience of your site.

3. Find products in that focus

Decide on some specific products that you can comment on. These could be externally sold, through an affiliate program, or even sold through your own website.

4. Find affiliates that sell those products

There are lots and lots of websites out there that have affiliate programs, and products are available in almost all areas. Look in refer-it.com or just Google “Affiliate Directory”, and begin visiting the sites that come up on the list. Look for the products you’ve chosen. Sign up with those sites and get your link codes. Try, most of all, to find affiliate programs that, like amazon.com, allow you to link directly to individual products instead of just their main page.

5. Write reviews and commentaries on the products

The more clever and insightful your comments and reviews, the more your audience will grow, and the more they’ll respect your opinions.

6. Include the affiliate links.

Make sure, above all, to remember the link to the product. You want your readers to be able to link right in and buy it.

There are a lot of really good reasons to explore affiliate product blogging. You can grow the audience for your website and your products. You can establish yourself, over time, as a credible and valuable guru or guide to your audience. And, you can generate some cash flow. That’s always a good thing, isn’t it?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Scarcity v. Abundance

A new way to look at Competition

A quick case study:

Pepsi and Coke. Which one is better than the other?

Well, according to 2004 numbers, Coke had about 43% of the US market share, and Pepsi had about 32%. The remaining percentages were taken by other companies, mostly Cadbury Schweppes, who makes Dr Pepper and 7-Up. Interestingly enough, both of those numbers were down from previous years.

What all this demonstrates is one philosophy of competition. This is the paradigm of scarcity. It says that there are only so many consumers with so much money. That is fixed. And all of the players in the business game are all competing for those same consumers. So, “market share percentages” show who’s winning and who’s losing. If one company gains market share, then the others have to lose. It all only adds up to 100.

So, a lot of money and effort is spent trying to convince the buying public that one is better than the other. Taste tests, market research, celebrity spokespersons… Every strategy is thoroughly tested.

The problem is that it assumes that the market is saturated. That means that everyone that possibly could know about the product has already been reached, and now it’s just all about brand loyalty. This approach has been with us for many, many years, and has been perfected in our general election system.

But there’s another philosophy as well, one that is often more difficult to grasp, more challenging to implement, but ultimately can be much more profitable. It requires a total change in paradigm, a complete adjustment of perceptions. It’s the paradigm of abundance.

This approach says that there is plenty of business for all. “What if,” it says, “instead of fighting and competing amongst ourselves for narrow slices of the pie, we were to work together to make the pie bigger?” What if efforts were made to increase the overall size of the market, rather than carving it up into chunks. Then the percentages could fall where they may, but as the overall markets expand, each company would still be growing.

Let me give you a personal example. When I was struggling, trying to establish myself in the Salt Lake area music scene and recording market, I very definitely had a scarcity mentality. There were only so many recording projects “out there”, and it was my job to pound the pavement and find them. I had to bring them to my production company, and quickly, because if I didn’t, someone else would get them. I worked very hard, and stressed myself very much trying to “beat the other guys”. I was very secretive, and clung very tightly to the clients I did get, because you can’t go sharing that kinda stuff.

Then I was introduced to the concept of the “Win/Win” world. The idea that we can all come out ahead. We don’t have to fight each other for the scraps that are around the table. When you look outside your narrow view, there are plenty of projects, plenty of customers that you didn’t even know existed before.

Previously, I was focusing on bringing bands into the local studios. Bands are very exciting to record. They’re usually working on fresh, original music, and they often have some fans that are eager to hear the new recordings. But the problem is that few bands are working enough to have the steady income necessary for the bigger recording projects. In short, they rarely can afford to come to the studio. In addition, there were lots of studios trying to attract the few bands that did have money. That’s where the scarcity mentality came from.

I saw the availability of other markets. Rather than just compete for “my cut” of the band niche, I started looking at doing arrangements and demos for songwriters. That’s not as prestigious as a band gig. When a band puts out a CD, you can hang it on your wall. Your name goes in the production credits. When a songwriter finishes a song, it gets sent off to publishers and producers, and hardly anyone sees it. But there were a lot of songwriters. I also began exploring the market for jingles and production music. Instead of just griping (although I did my share of that, too), I also looked for ways to expand the pie, to make the overall market bigger.

Sometimes, when I look at Coke and Pepsi, I realize that they’re just trying to be in business. They’re working hard to keep the money flowing and keep their bottom lines profitable. I can’t begrudge them that.

But then I look at all the money and effort they’re spending competing with each other, and I can’t help but wonder what could be accomplished if that same amount of investment were spent on something truly productive.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Supporting the Troops

Generally speaking, when I get emails that have been forwarded a hundred times, I used to delete them. Now, if it’s fun and/or appropriate, I’ll forward it with my signature ad, doing a little bit of viral marketing.

The problem I have with most of these forwarded messages is that they’re usually bogus, or based on flawed or faulty information. I rely pretty heavily on snopes.com to help me sort out the truth from fiction.

But recently I received one about the soldiers in Iraq, a suggestion that we all wear red on fridays, to show our support for them. Here’s the text of that email:


Very soon, you will see a great many people wearing Red every Friday. The reason?

Americans who support our troops used to be called the "silent majority". We are no longer silent, and are voicing our love for God, country and home in record breaking numbers.

We are not organized, boisterous or over-bearing. We get no liberal media coverage on TV, to reflect our message or our opinions. Many Americans, like you, me and all our friends, simply want to recognize that the vast majority of America supports our troops.

Our idea of showing solidarity and support for our troops with dignity and respect starts this Friday -and continues each and every Friday until the troops all come home, sending a deafening message that..

Every red-blooded American who supports our men and women afar, will wear something red. By word of mouth, press, TV -- let's make the United States on every Friday a sea of red much like a homecoming football game in the bleachers.

If every one of us who loves this country will share this with acquaintances, co-workers, friends, and family. It will not be long before the USA is covered in RED and it will let our troops know the once "silent" majority is on their side more than ever, certainly more than the media lets on.

The first thing a soldier says when asked "What can we do to make things better for you?" is...We need your support and your prayers. Let's get the word out and lead with class and dignity, by example; and wear something red every Friday.

I sent this out to everyone on my email list. Will you?




There’s nothing bogus here, nothing trying to scam me into buying Viagra substitutes or transferring money from a Nigerian bank account. I’m not going to get money from AOL or Microsoft for every person I forward it to. In fact, if I were to wear red this Friday, I won’t get a dime for it from anyone.

I used to be cynical about it all, too, until I read the blog of a good friend. She’s trying to manage raising a family (also with a special needs child) while her husband is stationed in Iraq. I have enough troubles trying to be a parent to my kids without thinking of doing it alone for a year or so, wondering if my spouse were ever going to come home.

Anyway, in her blog, she mentions that it’s important to know what “Supporting the Troops” means and doesn’t mean. I liked the things she said. It changed my paradigm regarding the whole ordeal. Here’s my list of what it means and doesn’t mean:

“Supporting the Troops” means respecting that they’re willing to fulfill the agreements they made when they joined our armed forces. Even if that means giving up their life.

It doesn’t mean that I have to support the politicians that decided to send them there. It also doesn’t mean that I have to support the politicians that don’t want them there. I can be Republican, Democrat, independent, red, blue, green, and even orange with pink polka-dots, and I can still support the troops.

It means that I should send one or two of them a letter or email. I’ll bet that everyone reading this knows at least that many who are there.

It especially means that I should help support their families while they are gone. I can stop by and see what help they need. I can shovel the snow off their driveway while I’m doing my own. I can see if they need extra babysitting.

I can be sad when I hear that bad things happen there. It’s a war, to be sure, and bad things are bound to happen, but I can allow myself to feel that along with them.

I can be happy when good things happen. When I hear about schools being built and successful elections, I can celebrate here in America as well.

Whether or not Americans as a people agree with THE WAR is something to be sorted out at Election Day. But in the meantime, let’s celebrate that people are still willing to stand up for what they believe in.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Worth a Thousand Words

One of the challenges that Internet commerce has always faced is the lack of tangible interaction between customer and product. When I go to a store, I can see the product, pick it up, heft it, and see how it works. On the internet, that’s more difficult.

This isn’t a new problem. Actually, catalog and mail-order companies have been dealing with this problem for decades. A major key to overcoming this challenge is the product photograph. Having a good photo (or more) of each product on your website is very important to being able to sell it.

But where do you get those pictures?

If you’re reselling a product that someone else is supplying, then usually they’ll provide you with pictures. Those are usually all ready for the web, and can be downloaded from their website or are sometimes provided on a CD-ROM.

But if it’s a product that’s handmade, or something that you’re supplying yourself, you’ll have to take the picture yourself. That can be a challenge in and of itself. Hiring a professional product photographer can yield excellent results, but it can also be cost-prohibitive.

Here are some tips to getting good product pictures:

1) Go digital. Get a digital camera. The picture will be shown digitally, and taking the picture digitally in the first place saves a step. In addition, you’ll be able to set up the picture, take it, load it into your computer, preview it, and then be able to make adjustments to the setting and the lighting to get a better picture immediately. You won’t have to wait for the pictures to come back from the lab.
2) Create a setting. Cut the top and two adjacent sides off of a large home appliance box, and drape some cloth in the inside corner it makes. Put a couple of books on the base under the cloth to support the object.
3) Get lots of light. The most common error I see in home-shot pictures is poor lighting. The brighter the light, the more of the product you’ll see. Low lighting also causes color distortions, like a blue or green cast. Using a flash brings all the light directly from the camera, off the object, then right back to the lens. This leaves no shadows to shape the object, and one big harsh shadow right behind it. Two very strong lights, one on either side of the object, and above it, will light the object very well and create gentle shaping shadows.
4) Take several views of the object. This will give your customers the opportunity to look at it from many angles, as if they were holding it in the store.
5) Try lots of things. Move the lights around. Move the camera. Try different draperies for the background. Test and see which gives you the best results. Then duplicate that with other products.
6) Once it’s in your computer, edit it. Don’t be afraid to adjust the colors. Does it look to blue? Too red? Remember that if you do something that you don’t like, you can undo it, or start over with the fresh picture.
7) Resize the picture. It will likely come off a digital camera much, much larger than this. Set the resolution to 72 dpi. For web display, make it no larger than 200 or 250 pixels on a side. A great freeware graphics editing program can be found at http://irfanview.com
8) Once the picture has been resized, do a “Save As” command. I usually just add the letters “sm” to the end of the filename to remind myself that it’s the “small” version. I keep the larger, high-res version on my computer, because I might need it someday for a poster or printed brochure.

These tips can help you get some great results and display your products as good as possible, whether you’re selling them from your website or on eBay!