Blog

What I’ve been up to lately

This is my first reflective post in a while on Code My Own Road, I try not to do too many of them because I guess you guys will probably get a bit annoyed if I’m always talking about myself.

The reason I want to be reflective for a bit is because I have some great news. I recently left my full time position to start my own company.

My Company

The company is called Rymera Web Co. We do web development and optimization of websites.

It’s been a few couple of months now and things are really starting to kick along. I’ve been helping a few select clients with their sites and also scouting for new work. It’s good to be getting back into the service side of things and I’m super happy to be doing it for myself.

Starting a business has been a dream of mine for literally a decade and for some reason I’ve been hesitant to take the jump. Now that I’m here I’m wondering why it took me so long.

Looking back on this blog I’ve gone through phases of concentrating hard on service, doing lots of freelancing. Then I made a shift toward products and thought that was the holy grail.

Now I’m thinking somewhere in between is where I’d like to be.

At the moment all of my attention (full time and then some) is toward the service business. But I have some big plans brewing for products including a couple of apps in development.

As of right now though, I’m short on time because I am trying to land a few more website projects to build up the repeat customers. But it’s seriously fun times!

eBooks

In some of my downtime I have also been distilling some of my thoughts into Amazon Kindle eBooks.

This has been a really fascinating experience, I have to say. I’ve released 3 books so far, 2 of which are going well. Their prices are $2.99 up to $3.99 (they’re only short books).

It’s a revenue stream of around $100 a month at the moment from 2 books which I find extremely interesting.

I’m going to play around with this a bit more, I have one more book to write myself and then I’ll probably attempt to outsource some book writing. The one I’m writing at the moment is a mammoth though, so it’s taking a while. Nearly half way there.

Hiring writers

I’ve had a little shop around for writers and I figure I can get a book written (of around 15,000 words) for somewhere around the $300-400 mark. Which means all I have to do is write the book outline and give a bit of guidance and it will be out there making money.

It’s still quite an investment though and given that one of my books pretty much tanked (although in hindsight it probably just fell into the wrong niche) I will have to watch my niche selection very carefully.

I’ve heard of people earning $1k a month all the way up to $35k a month. Seems like it’s starting to be the latest craze, which is kind of why I want to get in early and create a few good ebooks before it gets filled with rubbish. I’ve started a new section on the site for ebooks, so I’ll keep you all posted.

ThirstyAffiliates and Simple Page Tester; my two premium WordPress plugins

ThirstyAffiliates, the WordPress affiliate link management plugin I released late last year is still going strong. I receive a handful of sales every month, but since I’ve stopped promoting it at all it’s beginning to stagnate a little (I can feel it).

Simple Page Tester, my split testing plugin for WordPress has pretty much slowed to a trickle. Just a couple of sales a month these days.

It’s not that it’s a bad plugin or anything, the technology behind it is quite good and the plugin works brilliantly.

It’s just that the niche itself is a tad dry and taken up by the big players (Google, Unbounce, and Visual Website Optimizer). So I’m starting to think about what to do with this plugin long term.

I had a crazy idea to implement some of the split testing technology into other plugins, even ThirstyAffiliates. But I’m yet to test if that will work and what market there would be for it.

Marketing is a massive time killer and I’m still no closer to automating that side of either of these plugins. Not from lack of trying. I’m open to ideas in the comments if you have them!

Teach Yourself Websites

This little web design ecourse I created about a year and half ago is going bananas. I’m getting 30-50 subscribers a day sometimes with new monthly subscriber amounts well into the triple digits.

The weird thing, I have done literally squat with this site since the start of the year. And even then, it was just to redesign the landing page a little.

It gets shared quite a bit by the subscribers because I ask them after they subscribe to share with their friends that they are taking the course (this has been a great tactic). Now if I can only replicate it’s success elsewhere.

So, what’s new with you?

Well that’s about it from me for now. I have plenty more going on but this is the important stuff.

If you need website help, especially WordPress, let me know. Otherwise, leave me a comment and lets chat about… stuff 🙂

InboundWriter Review: Professional Web Based Writing Tool

Recently I was asked to check out a writing tool called InboundWriter.

I’ve written about tools like this in the past like Clickbump SEO, so I was very interested in how this one would stack up.

InboundWriter is a little different and it’s a multifaceted tool. If I had to describe it I would say it’s a professional writing tool for people researching topics online and wanting to culminate all that information into an article.

To give you an overview, here’s a little video:

InboundWriter Review

There’s basically two parts to the product. Their hosted web interface, which is pretty amazing for a web app. Then there is a WordPress plugin for web dev junkies like you and I.

Here’s the web interface:

InboundWriter Review Web App

And here’s a look at the plugin which installs as a sidebar on your posts and pages:

InboundWriter Review WordPress Sidebar

As you can see the WordPress plugin is quite trimmed down (click the images to zoom).

InboundWriter Review Research PanelInboundWriter Review of the WordPress Plugin

I played around with the web interface, but then decided that the bulk of this review would need to focus on the WordPress plugin. So, being the practical person I am, I wrote an article with it for the blog on my product’s website (ThirstyAffiliates).

Turns out the workflow is pretty similar with the WordPress plugin as it is in the Web App, but I’d say that it’s a little more fluid in the web app because there’s more room to work and you get a bigger dashboard like interface.

You can also fine tune your targeting in the web app which you can’t quite do with the WordPress plugin.

Back to the plugin though, you’ll see on the right there that you start by plugging in some phrases that describe the topic you’re planning on writing about. when you hit “Start Research” the plugin then goes off and starts collating articles from around the web, analyzing them and figuring out what other types of terminology belong around your topic to help you as you write.

Once you reach 200 words, InboundWriter has enough to work with to begin helping you refine your content and make suggestions that will improve your SEO score.

InboundWriter Automatic SuggestionsIt’s not quite as aggressive as some other SEO optimizing writing plugins that I’ve used. This is actually a good thing, especially if you want your article to make sense rather than just looking like it’s stuffed full of keywords.

The top section starts peppering you with suggestions on what subtle changes could help your article, like moving the keyword you’re focusing on toward the front of your title. Or including more mentions of that keyword in the article.

It then gives you a rating out of 100 as to how well you’re doing. After I’d written my article on affiliate marketing I was able to get the score up to the mid-90’s but I couldn’t figure out how to get it to tick up to 100 and it stopped giving me suggestions of things to change.

I was only focusing on one term though to give it a good comparison with the other types of plugins I’ve used for optimizing articles for SEO. It seems to handle multiple terms quite well which is a big plus if you’re looking for more keywords to bring to your articles as a blogger on a certain topic. I know sometimes I get stuck writing about affiliate marketing and this is helping a lot.

Lastly I like the fact that it refreshes all this data in real time, so really all you have to do is write. Whereas in other similar plugins you have to safe your draft again to get the recommendations. This is great use of Ajax, more plugins should be doing this in WordPress.

InboundWriter Review Summary

So it seems that the plugin is simple and straightforward to use. I didn’t need any user manuals or anything so the feedback from the product was great. The web interface is even nicer to use.

Actually on thinking about it, I think the web app is definitely aimed more at professional writers as it has more tools for research and it seems more polished.

My only gripe is that they aren’t charging enough. It kind of breaks my heart that there’s this awesome writing tool which would really be great in the hands of a professional writer and worth potentially thousands to them in saved hours of research, but they aren’t even charging for the basic use of it.

I guess that’s probably just the capitalist in me. Currently with the web app if you want to optimize more than 8 articles you’ll need to upgrade your account. The upgrade option isn’t very well advertised though, you’ll find a little option on the My Account page to upgrade to a $19.95 p/m plan. I think they need to communicate what the benefits of upgrading are before asking for a credit card as well.

Overall InboundWriter’s product is very polished. As a professional writing suite it’s a godsend and for amateur writers like me doing blogging and research on various topics I’ve found it incredibly useful so far.

It’s no wonder InboundWriter is starting to get some traction around the place.

Click here to visit InboundWriter’s website and sign up for a Free account

If you’d like to check out InboundWriter I suggest you do it soon before they catch on that maybe they’re giving away too much for free!

UPDATE: A spokesperson for InboundWriter just updated me in regards to the pricing thing and here’s what she had to say:

We’re actually in the middle of reworking our website – the new site will better address your pricing questions. But, to answer them for you now, the free account gives you 8 documents/mo within the InboundWriter web application and unlimited WordPress posts WITH advertising – there’s a badge that is automatically included on your posts. The $20/mo account gives you unlimited documents — both for the web app and WordPress plugin — and NO advertising.

We’ll be focusing more on promoting the Pro account in the future as well. Our goal is to get people to try it for free and if they like it, they can get the paid account, and down the road, perhaps get their organization to use it too – this would be ideal for publishers/media organizations/interactive agencies and other types of online marketers.

So the future of this product sounds very promising indeed. If you don’t mind having a little bit of advertising to promote the product with the WordPress plugin you can stick with just using the WP plugin with unlimited articles. But if you want to use more than 8 articles and kill off all advertising just upgrade to the pro account. Click here to check it out and download the WP plugin.

How to Write SEO Articles Perfectly, Everytime

So you want to find out how to write SEO articles, hmm? Well, I’m not an expert, but I certainly have a few tricks up my sleeve when it comes to writing SEO articles and how to do it properly.

How to write SEO articles

There’s a lot of myths surrounding this topic with many people claiming they have the secret sauce of how to write SEO articles that will unleash an avalanche of traffic by using some hidden SEO trick. Keyword density must be this much %! Mention your keyword here! There! Everywhere! Name your images with your keywords! Shove another keyword in here!

I think you’ve heard the rhetoric before…

It’s high-time we bust through all that nonsense and really figure out how to write SEO articles perfectly, first time, every time.

Writing the perfect search engine optimised article doesn’t have to be some weirdly concocted string of sentences that only makes sense to robots. No, you can write great content, just like you always do, then optimise it just enough to give you that extra little nudge in the SERPs.

It helps to start with the basics…

Understanding on page SEO basics

The first part of how to write SEO articles is to ensure you’re starting with good bones. It’s no use optimising rubbish content because it’s not going to get you anywhere.

Your content length should be at least 300 words long and read naturally to a high school level or less. There are tools you can use to test this:

There is a level of over optimisation that you want to steer away from. Here’s a graph created by SEOmoz that illustrates my point better than I could in words:

How to write SEO articles

Source: http://www.seomoz.org/blog/4-graphics-to-help-illustrate-onpage-optimization

Specific action items for how to write seo articles

When you’re looking at keyword density like in the graph above, it seems that aiming for a density level of between 1% and 4% seems to be the going recommendation on how to write seo articles without being picked up as a keyword stuffer.

I would recommend sitting somewhere between 1% and 3% to be on the safe side and avoid using it in places where it doesn’t really flow with the text.

Stuffing your keyword in places it doesn’t belong is guaranteed to send up red flags.

One of the more obvious points is to use your keyword in your H1 tag for the page, and to ensure there is only one H1 tag on any given page.

In addition to this, you should also aim to use your key phrase in at least one H2 tag on the page and at least one H3 tag on the page.

Mentioning your keyword/phrase in the first sentence/paragraph and making that particular mention bold will also add a bit of weight.

Having an image on the page that has your keyword or phrase in the ALT and Title attribute can help, as well as naming your image file appropriately. For example, instead of calling your image DSC0002345.jpg rename it to fine-bone-china-cups.jpg (if that’s what you’re going for). Make sure it’s an appropriate image as well and that the description matches the content.

Finally, ensure your chosen keyword makes an appearance in your page’s title tag. This isn’t the heading tag, it’s thetag that appears in between thetags of your page. Try to put the keyword towards the front if it makes sense, if not, don’t stress about it.

And this is pretty much the 80/20 of optimising your on-page content. As per the graph, I wouldn’t take it much further than that. It’s best to make your content deep and well thought out than shallow and stuffed with keywords.

The search engines are getting smarter everyday and their filters will pick this stuff up quick smart. Don’t doubt that for a second.

What counts the most when writing SEO articles?

Given all I mentioned above about how to write SEO articles, the most important take away points are as follows:

  • Write great content. At least 300 words of it. Quality written, relevant, grammatically correct, optimised for a high school or lower reading level to make it easy to understand.
  • Put your keyword or key phrase in the title tag of your page, you want it to show in the title text when people find you in the search engines.
  • Put your keyword or key phrase in the H1 tag for the page, this immediately signals what can be expected on the rest of the page
  • Mention your keyword throughout your content, this is what the bots analyse semantically to figure out if the page is what you say it’s about. Make it sure it’s relevant.

Do these few things and you won’t have too many problems writing SEO articles.

My Secret Weapon: Clickbump SEO

Clickbump SEO When I was learning how to write SEO articles there wasn’t any of these tools about (or if there was, I didn’t know about them!).

Clickbump SEO is a WordPress plugin that gives you visual queues as to what you should be doing when writing your post and how to optimise it.

Personally I use it as a way to go back over my articles and just double check I’ve optimised it properly. It’s easy to miss a H3 tag, or forget to alt tag an image and this tool saves me from myself.

Your “SEO score” of your article starts at 10 for a completely unoptimized article, and you can optimise it up to a score of 100, meaning a perfectly optimised SEO article.

There’s many plugins available now similar to Clickbump SEO (I just happen to like its interface). Some people say that tools like this make marketers lazy, but to me, because writing great content is always at the forefront of what I do it’s more like a safety blanket that prompts me to check certain things.

Click here to read more about Clickbump SEO and what it can do for your writing.

Conclusion

I hope you now have a pretty good idea about how to write SEO articles that are optimised properly.

Remember that this guide is just that, a guide and things are bound to change in the future. Writing great content has always been at the forefront of what Google says to do and while it’s tempting to attempt to get the better of these search engines by employing “SEO tricks” it can often do more harm than good in the long term.

Writing perfectly optimised SEO articles doesn’t need to be difficult. There’s plenty of tools out there like Clickbump SEO, and even if you don’t use something like this you can come back to this guide and use it as a check list of things to do while optimising your content.

I hope you’ve found this guide on how to write seo articles useful, and if you have I’d appreciate if you left a comment and/or shared it on your favourite social service!

Introducing: Simple Page Tester

My Latest WordPress Plugin: Simple Page Tester

Here at Code My Own Road headquarters I’ve been quietly working away on my next WordPress plugin.

As many of you know, I have an incredibly outlandish goal of launching 6 premium plugins this coming year and this is the beginning of that avalanche.

Today I’m incredibly excited to announce the debut of it’s website and I’ll be looking to spread the word about it in the coming week.

I wanted to announce it here first so you guys could check it out.

Firstly, What is Simple Page Tester?

The Simple Page Tester plugin lets you easily split test posts and pages in WordPress without having to edit a single line of code.

The aim is to take the complicated task of split testing, an activity that is crucial to your success as a webmaster online, and make it as simple as possible.

As a testament to how well it works and how simple it is to use, I’m currently using it on a number of my own websites to maximize conversions to much success.

Check out the video:

If you want to find out more (as the handsome sounding gentleman in the video suggested.. *ahem*), just click here to visit the site: Simple Page Tester

This project has really been a labor of love over the last month or so, and I’ve written about how it changed my time budget significantly.

In short, it was well worth the time to accommodate it as I’ve found the whole process this time to be incredibly rewarding on a personal level.

It’s been an interesting time building this plugin and I think I’ve figured out the best way I work.

Anyway, I’ll leave the deep analysis for some other time. For now, I still have heaps of work to do to get this thing really flying.

Look forward to hearing what you all think in the comments!

How To Be A God At Evaluating Your Time And Estimating Projects Into Your Busy Schedule

Time budgeting and time managementI had an eery feeling that I was being a bit too optimistic with my goals of launching 6 premium plugins in 12 months.

But what’s life without a few time management challenges, right?

As programmers, we get asked to estimate things all the time and sadly most of us aren’t very good at it.

The industry as a whole tells us that much with IT projects coming in late more often than not.

So when it came time to estimate how long it would take to code my second premium plugin at the start of January, I physically cringed.

Time budgeting and managing your time

Like most of you reading this, I tend to go through ebbs and flows when it comes to working on projects outside of work hours.

I need to be careful to schedule something that I find personally realistic and achievable so that I don’t beat myself up if I don’t end up putting that many hours in for whatever reason (or even if I put more in).

I wanted to know, when I went back to work this year, what my schedule would roughly look like, and when I could realistically launch this thing.

Anyway, to make a long story short, I figured that once I’m back on the job, I’ll have a time budget of roughly 15 hours per week without burning myself out.

And since I’ve completely cut my freelancing at the moment I’m getting the most hours I’ve ever been able to spend on developing products which I’m finding really fun.

It’s great news, because I’m hoping this means that instead of a development and testing cycle that used to take 6 months+, I’ll be able to cut that down dramatically without all the interruptions of other jobs.

How to evaluate your time

There’s a number of things that you need to consider when setting a time budget for yourself and in this article I’m hoping to explore some of them to help you set your own (realistic) time budget that you can use to put toward whatever project you want to work on.

This is a bit of a look into an analytical mind’s way of figuring out what time you have for projects and when you’re going to get things done.

The first step of creating a time budget

You need to ask yourself these two important questions:

  1. When would you ideally like to launch (be somewhat realistic, but still optimistic)
  2. How much time you have to put towards your project per week (be pessimistic)

I’m going to use myself as an example through this because it’s the story I know best. Sorry if you’re sick of hearing it 🙂

I’ve been planning on launching a WordPress plugin and I’ve set my initial sights on 1st Feb. I also know I have 15 hours to spend on all of my projects per week.

So from the start of Jan that means I have approximately 65 hours (I’m rounding) to dedicate over all.

It’s time for you to do the sums, how much time do you have from now until your desired launch date?

Next, do a stocktake of all the things you have on the go

Now that you have your figures sorted it’s time to move on to finding out what you’re currently spending time on and how to adjust that for your new project.

For me I have a number of projects that take up time in my 15 hours per week.

I need to find out what’s going to happen with them so that I can accommodate spending more time on my new project, hopefully without ignoring my other tasks. I do suspect there will be some scaling back.

Here’s what my stocktake looks like:

  1. I have blogging here
  2. There’s my other product (ThirstyAffiliates) which I’ve already decided to put on autopilot which means just admin tasks
  3. I have various other websites that I run including writing content for some niche sites
  4. Ongoing SEO tasks for ThirstyAffiliates and niche sites
  5. Various other projects (of which I’m being deliberately vague)

I estimate that by culling and chopping tasks here and there that don’t have any real urgency to them I have at least 5 hours of duties during a normal week.

That leaves me with approximately 10 hours to put towards my new project per week.

Now it’s your turn. Open up a notepad and just write down in a very high level way like I have what things you’re currently involved with.

Now estimate your time remaining on tasks

Because 65 hours is the total time I have for putting towards all of my projects I want to do a big burst of productivity on my new project so that I can then scale it back and start paying more attention to my other tasks again.

This time I was a bit lucky that I was still on holidays for the first 9 days of January. I managed to squeeze out about 3 days of extra time.

With this extra time it means I’m going to have around 67 hours to do the full code, test and prepare for launch of the plugin.

If you haven’t read my end of year recap post on how to launch a product while still working a full time job, go check it out now. I detailed a lot of stuff on what I did to prepare for the launch of my first plugin and I’ll be repeating some (if not all) of these steps again this time.

Write down a list of things left to do on your project. It can be as high level as you like, we’re going to break it down later.

Here’s mine:

  • Code
  • Test
  • Design and implement website 1
  • Design and implement website 2 (for shooting the video, trust me this will all make sense when I launch in the coming weeks)
  • Script, shoot and edit video screencast
  • Sort out payment system and implement
  • Start on prelaunch activities

I know that I’m faster at some of these things than I am at the rest. But there’s some big items there too that I need to dig into.

Coding and testing is going to take a while because I’m really going through it with a fine tooth comb to make sure I don’t have any bugs on release.

There’s nothing worse than releasing a product and having to send out an update straight away to customers because you found a show stopping bug.

With the websites, I’m pretty quick at rolling these out because I do it everyday.

Video shooting is quick, but writing the script and editing all takes time.

And prelaunch, well.. yeah we’ll see how much time I have for that.

As you can see I was pretty much as the start of the process when I wrote this list. You might be part way through or like me you might not have started yet.

You need to write down these tasks now. Just get them out of your head and into a rough list because we’re going to use them in the next step.

Breaking down your tasks will help

Looking at the tasks in their “big form” like that can be pretty intimidating to say the least.

Two websites!, coding!, testing!, video!, zOmg!

It sounds completely bonkers.

Now is the time that you break down the tasks into smaller, more manageable pieces.

For recording and estimating how much time you have on tasks like programming you should be using a bug tracking/project management system.

I’m using an open source one I found in an installer on my Bluehost account called Mantis.

I’m using an extra addon for Mantis called Timecard and I was able to set this whole system up in about an hour. There’s heaps of paid web based solutions that will have you up and running in even less.

Now that I have a bug tracker, I can plug in every little task I think of that I have left to do and at the end of it I get a running tally of how much time is left on the project overall.

Giving estimates for each task is about 1000x easier than estimating a big chunk of work. This is because an estimate for a small bit of work is much simpler to explain and encapsulate than something overwhelming thing like “make a website”.

If you don’t have a bug tracking or project management system of some sort like this, then I highly recommend you set one up, even if it’s just a basic one like mine.

You will save a truck load of time trying to figure out if you have coded everything you wanted to code, plus you don’t need to hold it all in your head (a bad programmer’s habit).

All in all, by breaking down the tasks further than what you see above it is possible to determine exactly how much time you have left on each task. This gives you three major benefits:

  1. A realistic estimate of how much work you have to do
  2. The ability to see if anything needs to get chopped to make your release date
  3. The insight to know exactly what needs to get chopped

This is the point where you start chopping in order to make the date you’ve set for yourself. Or alternatively, you can extend the date to accomodate the project if it’s not too far out.

If you’re really, really far out then I think you need to reassess what you want to included in your version 1.0.

For me, by chopping some of my prelaunch activities and doing them throughout the launch I’m hopeful I can make the date or at least be within a week or so which I’m pretty happy with.

How about you? What are your project management tools telling you now?

Using your tools

Don’t forget to use the tools you’ve setup for yourself.

Sounds silly, but that’s what they’re for and it’s surprising how many people neglect them once it’s all setup nicely.

A good project management tool will let you compare how much time you estimated on tasks to how much time you actually did spend.

This is super useful as a benchmarking tool for estimating things in the future and has the added benefit of giving you the appearance of prophetic abilities when it comes to estimating how long typical tasks take.

Tell me how you do it

Now it’s your turn, tell everyone in the comments what tools you use for keeping track of your projects.

This is your chance to brag about your sweet setup and tell me how outdated I am and that I need to get on board with the tools you’re using.

And if you say “it’s just in my head” I will personally come down to those comments and kick you in your digital ass. Go re-read this post and earn your licence to being a time mastering, gantt chart dominating, time budgeting god.

Secrets of Marketers: Can you automate your marketing?

I’m in a bit of a crazy situation here, people. I’m working feverishly on my second WordPress plugin to try to release it at the end of the month.

Lately I’ve put hours and hours into coding this thing only to neglect pretty much everything else.

So while I’m coding away on this new product, what is happening with my existing product, ThirstyAffiliates?

Well, to be fair it’s pretty much running itself.

But here’s the pickle: Sales are slowing down because I don’t have the time to keep making contact with people.

It’s still making a couple of sales here and there, but at this point, I’m pretty concerned about my end of month report card.

How do I launch a second product while still marketing my current product?

Where the hell do I find the time to do everything?!

I’m wracking my brain because if I’m coding new products constantly – as I’ll need to do if I am to meet my goal of launching 6 new WordPress plugins this year – then I’ll eventually need to find a way to take my hands off the wheel when it comes to marketing everything.

And if you’re not able to read between the lines there, I desperately need to automate my marketing for my current product so I can focus on other things, and I need to get started on it now!

Where my traffic comes from now

At the moment my traffic for ThirstyAffiliates is largely coming from reviews of the product on other people’s websites. Which is great, and I’m totally thankful to everyone who has reviewed it so far.

It was this reason that my first thought was to just pay for advertising on sites like these and that will provide my with the traffic stream I require to make sales.

But this doesn’t really make sense to me.

Text and banner advertising on the net is sort of like making a bet

You’re betting the advertising placed on specific websites is going to drive enough traffic that there will be sales resulting from it that will at least cover the cost of the ads and hopefully make you some profits.

So my problem with this method is:

  1. The sites available for me to advertise on are more expensive than I wish to pay per month (I’d have to drop a grand at least to see any real traffic based on my experiments with ads in the past); and
  2. There’s no guarantee on the quality of the traffic and whether the visitors will be pre-qualified enough to actually buy my product. It’s really hard to find sites that are 100% exactly the kind of audience I want.

From what I can tell the only two ways pre-qualified traffic comes to your website is from either:

  1. People in your target market actively searching for information in the niche you’re trying to attract; or
  2. A recommendation from someone to check something out

I’m super happy to be proven wrong on that – let me know if I’m missing something important in the comments.

What I’ve been doing works

So far I’ve been employing the recommendation method and it’s been going great.

Lots of the sales I’ve had have come from recommendations, in fact I’d say a majority of sales are from the direct recommendation of other people.

But it’s too hard to maintain

It’s become apparent to me that I can’t rely on recommendations alone because I need to make new connections every month in order for the effect to keep going.

Recommendations seem to have an expiry date, so they are good for short term boosts.

So now I’m thinking there is two ways I can continue:

The first is to try to get listed in as many “tools” or “resources” pages as I can. This way I have a permanent link from someone’s site to mine and it will likely extend the same effect I’ve experienced from reviews.

The second is to capture people who are actively searching for information in my niche. That’s what has turned me back to SEO.

In the past I’ve thought of SEO as a bit of an inconvenience and something you setup and do once, then forget about as you go about doing your real business.

But thanks to watching a few Mixergy premium videos on traffic generation I’m starting to see why you would want to consider doing something more meaningful here.

SEO activities can save you a serious amount of money with the only downside being that it takes a long time to rank for the keywords you are targeting.

It also seems to pay dividends to look to the long tail. They say something like 70% of traffic comes from long tail keywords which is pretty crazy.

I think I’ll probably try to do both, and for now I’m poo pooing the idea of advertising unless someone here can put me onto a reason why I should do it.

Can you automate your marketing?

So what do you reckon? Can you actually automate something like marketing?

For me it’s a bit of a numbers game at the moment. I need eyeballs, dammit. And there’s two ways to do that, advertising, or working on your SEO. Both of which take time (that I don’t have, argh!), but it’s something that I need to sort out now because I can’t continue doing what I’m doing.

Would be really interested in hearing about what crazy things people have found worked for them trying to get traffic. Oh, and I’ll get into my SEO strategy at some point in the future here on the blog, stay tuned.

How to Build and Sell a Product While You Still Have a Fulltime Job

I’ve always had mixed results when trying to make products and sell them.

Aside from a smattering of ebooks, some niche sites that have done just okay and random affiliate product sales here and there, I’ve mostly made money online by trading time for dollars. That is, freelance programming.

Freelancing has been good to me and I still recommend it as a great way to get started making money online.

If you’re a programmer or creative person, then it’s the quickest way to make extra money by far.

For a little while now though, my new focus has been products.

I’ve always known that trading time for money is limited by my time.

My freelancing rates are already pretty high and I don’t think I could really justify putting them up much higher without going full time – which I’m not ready to do.

Productizing your skills however, is a strategy that caught my attention some time during the last few years.

I’ve just been hesitant to act on creating a software product out of fear that I couldn’t pull it off.

Given that this year is now pretty much over, I figured now would be a good time to share what’s happened over the last two months that has seen me net over $600 in profit of my first product.

The how (and why) of building my first product, ThirstyAffiliates, I’ve covered a little bit in the past. But this, my final blog post for the year, will go a little deeper into that story (which starts back in April, 2011).

I hope I can give you a few tips on how to do it too if you’re interested in launching your first software product.

How to Use Your Skills to Create a Product

ThirstyAffiliates is an affiliate link management plugin for WordPress. It not a totally new concept, in fact when I started there was a very clear market leader and a bunch of copy cat plugins already on the market.

Funnily enough, ThirstyAffiliates was made mostly to satisfy my own needs.

At the time I was ramping up a website called Hardware With Byte as a bit of an experiment in SEO. HWB is a computer hardware reviews website specializing in short, succint, but still quite useful reviews of the latest computer hardware.

The plan was to link up the reviews to Amazon affiliate links and hope that I could catch people part way through the buying phase. It worked, but that’s another story altogether.

It was starting to take off and as I was approaching the 50-60 reviews mark, I found that I needed a better way of handling the large amount of affiliate links it would take to make the site a success.

The site is built in WordPress (as are most of my sites), so I went on the hunt for a plugin that would give me really good control over entering affiliate links into review posts.

I wanted to cloak them with a redirect on my own server and even more I needed a way to manage the links so that I could change the destination URL of an affiliate link without having to revisit all the places I used the link.

The plugin that was the market leader had me most of the way there, but it seemed like the focus of it was on the wrong things for my situation.

After some more searching around I found a few similar offerings that all did the same sort of thing.

I concluded that it couldn’t really be that hard and decided to make my own. After a few days a very rough beta version was ready for testing on my site. It was rough as guts, but would do the job.

Nothing else on the market really satisfied my exact need so I made my own

One of the major things that struck me was that there was this massive gap in the existing market.

A lot of the existing offerings weren’t professional tools and focused on what I thought was the wrong thing.

They were trying to sell people on the “automatically make money on autopilot” pitch that we’re all too familiar with.

The core of it was that you plugin the keywords you want linked and it would crawl through your blog making every instance of that keyword a link to your affiliate link.

To me that seems a bit lazy. It’s not really affiliate marketing.

Where my plugin could come in, I thought, was as a proper professional tool that was actually usable for serious affiliate marketers. It shouldn’t limit them in any way and it should always try to remain as invisible as possible.

Identify areas that are lacking in the existing tools on the market

The very first thing I had to do was make a list of all the things that I wanted my plugin to do for me.

It seemed that a common complaint of people who had multiple blogs with hundreds or even thousands of links was that the existing tools didn’t give them a proper interface. They also made it really hard to import existing links across to new websites.

Affiliate marketers spend a lot of time setting up new websites. They can’t afford to spend hours and hours each time setting up links. They need to write content, do SEO, negotiate rates and a 1000 other things.

I came up with a list of 2 or 3 features that my plugin should address that the others weren’t and once I had my list of features I set to work refining the plugin until it was in a sell-able condition.

Leveraging your skills

I want to pause here for a second because this is a good time to mention something really important.

If you don’t read anything else in this post, read this.

I’m a programmer. It’s in my blood.

I studied to be a computer software engineer for years and years at a university. I work as a professional in the industry and I’ve been programming since I was 13 years old.

Why am I telling you this?

Because the number one tip I can give after making money online for a few years now is that to be successful you need to leverage your existing skillset.

My problem is that I’ve wasted so much time learning things that didn’t get me towards my goals. Granted I can now design a website in photoshop to an okay standard. I understand how Adwords advertising works and can fumble my way through a campaign. I can even lecture you on email marketing techniques.

But I have a talent for programming.

It only makes sense that I should use it to create cool things that other people can’t and spend my time on doing that.

WHY OH WHY didn’t I see this before now?!

Leveraging your skills is one of the most important things you can teach yourself how to do.

If you’ve been doing something for years like I have you can seriously cut your learning curve when it comes to applying new things around that core skill.

Sure, improve your other skills incrementally, but never forget where you came from.

Back to the story. So what happened next?

Well, in short. I coded and refined ThirstyAffiliates but I was still debating internally over whether I should release it or not.

I started coding in about April and tested it on my own websites – including Hardware With Byte – for about 3 or 4 months.

Finally, I decided to take the next step. And this is where I start getting into unknown territory.

7 Things To Do Before You Start To Sell Your Product

For all my talk about leveraging your skills, it’s kind of ironic that I found the effort distribution of launching a software product is about 20% coding and 80% marketing.

Here’s a tip: Don’t try to tackle that 80% all at once!

I’m sure you’re probably feeling overwhelmed at the thought of that much marketing.

Here’s what I did to get myself through it:

I found that by putting it all aside and approaching it like any other coding project, tasking it all out, it was nowhere near as overwhelming and I could tackle things in a logical order.

This made it all much more familiar and gave me heaps more satisfaction when I could strike things off knowing I was making progress.

Here’s my pre-launch steps for launching your own product (along with what I’d do differently next time):

1. Setup a Temporary Launch Site

The first thing I did was to settle on a name (yes, I still hadn’t really named the thing yet) so I could setup a temporary site to collect emails.

The name “ThirstyAffiliates” kind of walked into my head one day and as I told Shawn Collins in an email interview a little while back it sort of described the feeling I wanted to create behind my product. Staying thirsty for success as an affiliate. My plugin should be able to travel along with you on that journey.

That, and it sounded cool so I went with it.

So, the temporary site was built and it was basically a list of a few features, a really basic product tour, and a pricing page that led to an email capture form saying the product wasn’t released yet.

This worked kind of well, but I found it really hard to drive traffic to the website without having to pay for it. I collected about 25 emails which I was relatively happy with considering I only had less than a couple of hundred people to the site over the whole prelaunch period (a few weeks).

What I would do next time is simplify this into a single landing page and try to pump as much traffic to it as possible to collect more email addresses. The more email addresses you have the better your sales will be in the beginning.

2. Make a Massive List of People to Contact

Sometimes you gotta get in people’s faces.

Some of you might think reaching out directly to people via their contact forms with a standard pitch email is a bit rude, but in reality, it works and it’s by far been the best way of making new friends online for me.

The relationships I’ve made with people that I have contacted via their websites include some pretty well known bloggers in the WordPress/make money online niche and also in the affiliate marketing space.

Once you have that conversation going with someone it’s easy to keep it going into the future. I absolutely treasure these chats that I have with people, it’s my greatest asset.

The email I used to make contact with people (and still use today):

Subject: A tool you might be interested in: ThirstyAffiliates

Hi [name if I have it],

My name is Josh Kohlbach, I’m the programmer behind the new ThirstyAffiliates affiliate link management plugin for WordPress.

I’m just writing to see if you would be interested in featuring my plugin for a review? I can hook you and your team up with free review copies.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Cheers,
Josh Kohlbach

ThirstyAffiliates
http://thirstyaffiliates.com

It’s surprising actually, I get about a 60-70% response rate with this email.

I (unashamedly) stole the general format from Peldi of Balsamiq who used it when he was first starting out and customized it to suit my needs. I still use it today to contact people out of the blue.

I made my way through about 10 or 20 of the people in my list to contact before launching – less than a quarter.

What I would do next time is contact at least half of them and then the other half within the first two weeks. I guess the good thing is that now I’ve made some good contacts the next time I’m launching I already have a bit of rapport built up with people that could help out.

3. Locate your Main Competitors

Knowing what you’re up against in terms of competition is really important.

I found it gave me a chance to study what their sales funnel looked like, how they handled their sales process (yes, I actually bought their products as part of my research – using a fake name of course!) and what audience they were targeting specifically.

If you know what they are doing currently, you can plan your marketing strategy around what they aren’t doing but should be.

By knowing who my competitors were I could identify features that their users were actually asking for and build them into my product, I could use their basic feature set as a check list of things that I should also do at a core level, and I could formulate my pricing strategy around what was working for them.

There is literally too many benefits to this research to list.

What I would do next time is pretty much the same thing. I think I did this phase the best, but, if I had to be critical I think I probably would have researched even more competitors in more depth to really get inside my customer’s head.

4. Start an SEO Campaign

I think one of the things I did best during this prelaunch phase was laser focusing on the keywords I wanted to target and starting my search engine optimization process early.

Find your target keywords

Because I knew who my major competitors were I could target similar keywords to them, and also add a few that they hadn’t thought of.

The first thing I did was find out what major keywords my competitors were ranking for and analyse the amount of back links they had. If they weren’t overly optimized for that keyword but they were still ranking for it, I added it to my list.

Although the number of searchers in my niche weren’t too high (most keywords were less than 1000 hits per month), I still think it was an important step to take.

Good visibility in the search engines from day 1 is good to have and amplifies your word of mouth marketing as you launch.

I made a list of 3 major keywords to try to rank for and another 2 or 3 non-major keywords as a secondary goal. About 3 or 4 months later I’m on the top half of the front page for all of them in Google and I attribute this to starting this activity early.

Back linking strategy

My backlinking strategy was pretty simple and pretty closely mirrors the backlinking strategy that works by Pat Flynn except that I ended up outsourcing the social bookmarking and article marketing to people on fiverr.

This saved me a ton of time and meant I didn’t have to learn a bunch of new SEO tools that I was unfamiliar with. I probably paid about $50 total and it was worth every cent.

What I would do next time is get more aggressive in back linking for my target keywords and maybe add one really big traffic keyword to have a really solid stream of traffic coming in from the search engines. Funnily enough, more than 50% of the searchers that are coming in these days are around my ThirstyAffiliates brand.

5. Establish Why I’m Different

In a niche that already has quite a few players (which I always decide to take as a sign of a healthy space to get into) I think what is most important is to establish why you are different.

By having a different look, a different approach to development, a different pricing strategy, a different pitch, you are setting yourself apart from the other people selling similar products and screaming out to your potential customers as an alternative to consider.

Entering a niche second (or third, or fourth, etc) means you need to tell people why they should look at you as a viable alternative to consider. And it needs to be super clear.

Getting clear on this will help you formulate your sales pitch.

What I would do next time is create a clear list of reasons why I’m the different alternative they should choose. By creating this list, I’m making sure I tick off each of them in my product development. I think I did an alright job of this with ThirstyAffiliates as the brand response has been pretty strong, but I can always do better.

6. Getting Reviewers on Board Early

Securing well known people to review your product is really important when launching. In all honestly I was a bit slow with this as I could have made contact with a lot more people.

Reviews take a while to rank in the search engines, so you while you might see a few sales early on from their direct recommendation you’ll start to see the long term effects a few months down the track (which is what I’m starting to see now).

Use your list of people in your niche to reach out and ask for them to review your new product. Try to aim for 5-10 reviews all going live within the first week of launch. This does three things:

  1. Drives traffic
  2. Creates awareness about your product very suddenly
  3. Gets your brand to stick in peoples minds (be everywhere, as Pat Flynn would say)

In those first crucial weeks, you really do want to be everywhere your target market is.

In my experience so far, and although it’s still early days yet, the “reviewers strategy” really seems to work for building your brand and increasing awareness around your product.

What I would do next time is create more awareness across more channels. I think I probably focused too heavily on websites doing reviews, maybe I should get onto more podcasts? Get people to do Youtube reviews? Who knows. The sky is the limit.

7. Make a Plan to Execute for Getting the Word Out

If there is one thing that I’m lacking most with ThirstyAffiliates it’s a really concise plan for getting the word out. I now understand some of the benefits of having a marketing plan (at least a rough one) sketched out.

I work well with lists and timelines (as do a lot of programmers). If I have a schedule to work against and a list of tasks to do in a day I generally get onto them.

It’s the breaking things down part that usually gets me unstuck.

Luckily I conscripted my wife for this task and after some long conversations explaining what the hell my product is (she’s not an IT person) she helped me break things down into smaller pieces.

I still get her to help me sometimes for these kinds of things if I’m feeling overwhelmed, but since that first push I’m starting to get the hang of it a bit better.

What I would do next time is push myself a bit harder. I think in the months leading up to the launch in October 2011 I achieved quite a lot – probably more than if I was setting the tasks for myself – but I could definitely get through a lot more. I originally had a plan to launch this thing in November, so the fact that I was over a month early means I could probably squeeze in more tasks.

The Zen of Managing Only a Few Affiliates

I’m sure it seemed kind of ironic that I would want to keep my affiliate program under tight wraps given that I was releasing a product to the affiliate marketing niche, but it’s a funny thing.

I found that by having an affiliates page, but password protecting it and vetting who joined the program the relationships I’ve formed with the people who have been invited to join my affiliate program are much stronger than if I just had a list of faceless email addresses of people promoting me through means that I wasn’t aware of.

I’m sure I’ll cop some flak for this strategy and maybe, at the end of the day, I’m in the wrong on this.

I plan to test it the other way around (by having it wayyy open to anyone) with my next product in planning so we’ll see what happens there.

The people I’ve let join my affiliate program so far have been the people who I’ve approached to review the product. It’s a good way to ensure a post gets written and that it’s kind of favorable. That’s not to say that I only want favorable reviews I just prefer constructive criticism – which I’ve asked for and received in the reviews that have taken place.

Tools I’ve provided

There’s a few things that I think you should provide for people if you’re asking them to sell your product:

  • Your email address – you have to be contactable
  • A way for them to review the product at no risk to them
  • Any marketing materials they need such as colors, images and logos, ad images in standard sizes, videos etc.

I’ve had people ask me for specific sized images and answers to specific questions – being able to provide that to them strengthens the relationship and makes for a happy affiliate.

So my tips are (don’t hurt me!):

  • Exclusivity – get to know the people joining your affiliate program and make them feel special
  • Provide them with everything they need to do a great review of your product

How To Take Charge of Your Future

Now that I’m past the initial launch of my first product it’s time to buckle down. Writing this post has been a great recap to what has been a very exciting couple of months.

Although I know I haven’t made squillions with ThirstyAffiliates so far (and $600 profit might be pretty lame to a lot of you who make much more) it’s made me pretty happy knowing that I’ve created something that people are using and will continue to use as I improve it and iterate over it.

Next Moves

It’s important to keep innovating, so I’ve already started planning what I’m going to include into version 2.0 of the plugin.

For me improving my product is just as important as all the marketing work that I’ve worked my butt off doing.

I want to keep getting reviews, so I’m still contacting people I think would be good candidates.

Purchasing advertising could also be on the cards in early 2012. I’ve tried a little bit, but haven’t had much success. Truth be told I’m pretty nervous about this.

And finally, I want to just keep making genuine connections. I’m in this to make friends, sell some cool stuff and have fun, so the more people I can talk to merrier.

What Does 2012 hold?

2012 promises to be a really exciting year. I’m so happy with the direction everything is going and I’m really looking forward to sharing the experiences with you.

I’m hoping that I can share some income reports next year showing where I’m getting my online income from. It’s a really uncomfortable prospect for me, but I think would be good for my personal growth. Not to mention accountability.

Ideally, I want to build up a collection of plugins for WordPress that could be a nice little side business. Now that I’m aware of the “how” part of the equation to launching a product I have a lot of ideas to get out into the world as products.

I would be stoked if I could get a half dozen products out into the wild next year.

Why Passion is Really Important

I’ve tried a lot of whacky things to make money over the last couple of years and most of them have been pretty sporadic, with the exception of pimping myself out (freelance programming – not prostitution). What I want to do next year is get passionate about products.

I’m really excited about the prospect of releasing things and it’s the first time in ages I’ve felt this way. Knowing myself as I do, this is the zone that I work best in. Getting passionate about a goal is super important to me and it helps me climb the mountains I need to climb.

I guess I just have to keep my goals in sight, but remember to take one step at a time.

Thanks For a Fantastic Year

I’ve had a brilliant second half of this year. Learned a hell of a lot and make heaps of new friends.

I’m truly grateful to every single one of you who have supported me (especially my wife who has to put up with a lot!). Thank you, thank you, thank you.

If you want to stay in touch, subscribe to my rss to catch all my new posts next year or, even better, subscribe to my newsletter list below.

Thanks for reading and have a happy holiday season!

Josh Kohlbach
Productizing

PS. If you want to know more about ThirstyAffiliates or are interested in purchasing it click here.

PPS. Questions are welcome as always in the comments!

Can you explain your website in one second?

Go ahead, give it a try.

It doesn’t have to be exactly one second, but it shouldn’t takes longer than a second or two to say.

If you’re selling a product, offering information, or trying to get someone to take an action you should be able to describe what the single purpose of your website is in just a couple of seconds.

Let me have a go…

To be honest, I’m having a bit of trouble with my own site here.

Code My Own Road has always been a bit hard for me to define because it’s like my own personal dumping ground of thoughts. I’d probably go with business advice for programmers at the moment.

Here’s my attempt for a couple of other websites I own:

While I’m not the best at carrying over that single “phrase” into the site as the single “action” I want people to do, I think that figuring this out is a pretty place to start.
If you can nail explaining your website in 1 second you’re on the right track.

What about you?

Leave your phrase below in the comments that best describes the purpose of your website in 1 second and we’ll all check it out your site.

Is that single phrase representative of what you want people to do on your site? Let us know how you capture that, I think it’s really interesting to see people’s approach to this.