Constant Contact, Topica & AWeber

Constantcontact_1We currently use Constant Contact, Topica and AWeber for our (and our clients’) email marketing campaigns. All three offer good service, reasonable pricing, great tracking tools and have been around long enough for me to feel comfortable that they’re not going to disappear overnight.

However, we recently started to move away from Topica towards Constant Contact, to the point where we’ve recently become resellers. In fact, we’re setting up all of our new clients on Constant Contact. (We still use AWeber, but I primarily use them for their autoresponder service, which I used to create the 7 Days to Search Engine Success e-course. We also continue to use Topica for the clients whom we set up there, and for one-time email blasts, such as "alert me when this site goes live.")

I chose Constant Contact for a few reasons, but mostly because we could create customized template "wizards". This allows us to design elegant HTML emails for our clients which they can use to send out their own newsletters. They can do this all through a Web browser, and not need to understand a lick of HTML. We weren’t getting this from Topica.

But here’s why I’m starting to get evangelistic about Constant Contact. Five minutes ago Kevin from Constant Contact called me to ask how the reseller program was working out for me. He had read the survey I completed and wanted to follow up on some specific issues that I had raised! He also told me about some new cool features that were coming out, but didn’t make me feel like he was selling it to me, more like he thought I should know. (The sign of a great salesperson.)

I’ve never received a phone call from Topica, and in fact, I don’t believe they have a phone at all. All their support goes through email. Not sure how they order pizza.

In any case, you can’t really go wrong with any of these outfits, but my vote goes with Constant Contact.

Rich Brooks
Constant Contact Reseller

Selling Informational Products Online: E-Books, Online Courses, Software and More

SELLING INFORMATIONAL PRODUCTS ONLINE: E-BOOKS, ONLINE COURSES, SOFTWARE
AND MORE

You can improve your bottom line by selling informational products online through your Web site. Informational products can include e-books, online courses, PDF’s, software, or any product that can be downloaded from the Web. It can also include teleclasses and other items that aren’t physical in nature.

Instead of going through a publisher for a book or manual, or burning software onto a CD, the Web allows you to distribute this information as a digital download. Adding a secure, online payment option requires little additional work to set up.

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a small business, or an association, selling informational products, also known as “soft goods,” can be a great source of revenue. They require low startup costs and little ongoing work. Generally, once the product is created, you can sell it an infinite number of times with virtually no additional cost.

In this month’s newsletter we’ll look at whether selling soft goods is the right move for you, and next month we’ll talk about some of the tools available to help you sell your products online.

Fee or Free?

The first question to ask is whether selling informational products will help you achieve your business goals. Putting a price on your knowledge may bar potential clients from doing business with you. Providing free advice may instead establish you as an expert, lure prospects, and convince them that they need your services.

Even if you decide to sell informational products, you need to provide free samples of your expertise in the form of articles or newsletters. There’s too much free information available on the Web for someone to take a chance on you without the opportunity to sample your wares.

Why Sell Informational Products Online?

  • Putting a price on something gives it a (perceived) value. Free information is often worth only as much as you paid for it. It may also come across as a blatant infomercial for your own services, as opposed to unbiased information that may help your customer. By selling your expertise you increase its intrinsic worth.
  • Informational products allow you to sell to do-it-yourselfers you wouldn’t have reached otherwise. There will always be a percentage of people who prefer to get their hands dirty. They do their own taxes, change their own oil, self-administer acupuncture. Rather than lose this business, you can help these self-starters reach their goals by selling them the information they need to perform specified tasks better, cheaper or faster.
  • Your primary business model may require one-on-one consulting time that you can’t provide to everyone. Let’s face it; you’re not Santa Claus. You can’t magically provide personal service to all the good boys and girls out there. By selling your informational product you can reach an infinite number of customers…and help them. 
  • Selling your information allows prospects to take you or your company for a test drive. Consider it a sample. Allowing people to buy some of your expertise may lead them to engage your service further. In addition, some people who thought they were do-it-yourselfers will realize–once they get under the hood–that they really need the help of an expert…like the one who wrote the e-book they’re currently reading.

Here are some tips for making your product irresistible:

  • Create a graphic of your product as a book, boxed software, CD or DVD. People understand that if they’re downloading your product they’re not going to get a cardboard box or a CD-ROM through their modem; however, showing an image of these items reminds people that they are getting valuable, tangible information.
  • Promote it on your Web site. Don’t hide it; it should appear on your home page and in your resources section. Also publicize it in your email newsletter, blog, and traditional marketing as well.
  • Don’t undervalue your product. Selling your product at a low price to spur sales is often a quick way to undermine its value. Instead, offer a money-back guarantee to anyone who isn’t completely satisfied.
  • Get customer testimonials. Whether they are about the product or your services in general, having quotes from paying customers will increase your chances at making the sale.
  • Sell your product’s benefits…and your readers’ pain. Make your product’s benefits clear to your prospects. If your information will help readers cut their heating costs by 50% make sure they know that they will lose $500 a year if they don’t buy your book, based on average heating costs. Whatever problem your product is solving, make sure your prospects know it and know the value it represents.
  • Accept credit cards online…securely. Whether you have your own Merchant account or you accept payments through PayPal, make it as easy as possible for site visitors to purchase your product. Having them print out forms and mail them in with a check will reduce your chances of making the sale to zero.

Next month we’ll look at some of the tools available to sell these soft goods online, automatically, while reducing the chance of people “sharing” your informational products.

If you’d like help developing your own informational products and selling them online, please contact us.

–Rich Brooks

President, flyte new media

Business Blogs and Email Marketing

I was having a meeting with a prospect yesterday and we were discussing the possibility of adding a blog and an email newsletter to his Internet marketing mix. He was (admittedly) not too experienced with the Web, and didn’t even do much surfing. Although he got excited about e-newsletters and blogs, he asked me a lot of intelligent questions regarding how they could help him succeed.

To paraphrase, I said they both had advantages, and would best be used together.

The email newsletter is helpful because it allows you to keep the conversation with your visitors going, long after they’ve left your site. If your Web site is engaging and helpful enough, it can convince a visitor to sign up for your email newsletter, allowing you to continue marketing to them months or years down the line. However, unless you archive your newsletters on your site, it can’t help you with any search engines, as the content is only available in subscribers’ mailboxes, not on the Web.

The blog is powerful because it can help attract people who have never heard of you or your business. As you blog (regularly) your posts get picked up by the search engines, sometimes very quickly. By creating a lot of links to your Web site from within your blog, you transfer traffic and some of your blog’s popularity (PageRank) to your site.

Keep in mind that with both these solutions you need to write. A newsletter should come out regularly: once a month, once every other week, whatever. A blog should get fresh posts a couple-three times a week if possible. Don’t despair! Blog posts can be short. Mine are long, but if you know me, you know you can’t get me to shut up.

You can leverage the power of the Web to establish yourself as an expert. Both the email newsletter and the business blog can help you achieve this goal.

Rich Brooks
Email Marketing and Business Blogger

Community Counseling Center, Portland, Maine

CccToday flyte launched a Web site for Community Counseling Center of Portland, Maine. The site was designed by Catherine Breer of Blackrock design and developed by flyte.

CCC offers individual, family or group counseling, as well as case management services, geriatric services and community programs.

Flyte helped CCC’s fund raising efforts by creating a PayPal "Make a Donation" button to increase online donations.

We also installed Radar, flyte’s site search tool.

Rich Brooks
Portland, Maine Community Member

Advice for Setting up a Bulletin Board

Bulletin Boards. Discussion Boards. BBS.

Whatever you call them, they can be a great addition to your Web site…if you do them right.

Personally, I see BBS’s as the half-way point between Ask The Wizard/FAQ pages and Chat Rooms. (Personally, I hate chat rooms. It’s AOL’s dirty little secret that all their chat room traffic goes to the chats with sexual content. So I’ve heard.)

Bulletin boards are a great way to build community at your Web site and give people an incentive to come back. Flyte’s built some successful BBS’s…and some others that have seen less traffic than we would have hoped.

Below are some suggestions for making your BBS all it can be:

  • Have enough traffic to support a BBS. Nothing is more depressing than an unused discussion board…except maybe an unused chat room. However, you can support a BBS w/low traffic if your visitors are passionate about your area of expertise. See next bullet.
  • Create a BBS around a subject your visitors will be passionate about. Seems obvious, don’t it?
  • Get the ball rolling. No one likes to be the first person who posts to a bulletin board…they’re worried it’s a waste of time. Call in the reinforcements. Get friends, family, colleagues, prisoners, whoever, to post questions and replies to your BBS. Don’t be above posting fake questions and then answering them yourself. Once the ball does get rolling, the BBS will take care of itself. The more "voices" people see at your BBS, the more likely they are to add their own. The BBS is like a plant; it requires a lot of TLC at the beginning, but after a while you can go away for the weekend and not worry about it dying. Or something like that.
  • Be aware of competing BBS’s. If you want to create a BBS on parenting, you’re going to be going up against some pretty established discussions from the likes of Parents.com, iVillage, and about a billion others. If you have a niche, focus on it. Examples might include, Parenting for Multiples, Single Mom BBS, Parenting a Bipolar Child, etc.
  • Make it as easy as possible to read and post at your BBS. Requiring people to login, create usernames, wait for passwords or approvals will diminish the number of posters. Certain subjects, such as a BBS for a temple or church, or a place for talking about stocks, may force you to at least require a login. I’d almost wait until there’s a problem before toughening up the rules for posting.
  • Don’t put your BBS in your Member Only section. I’m sure this occasionally works…I’ve never seen it, though.
  • Keep the forums to a minimum. Forums categorize your topics; at the beginning you may be tempted to create a forum for every possible topic. Resist. Instead, create one general forum for all posts. If a lot of the posts focus on one subject you can create a new forum just for that subject. In other words, let the BBS grow organically.  Too many forums separate the voices in your BBS; less voices, less chance a new visitor will add their own.
  • Tag someone as the admin. There is a certain amount of work involved with a BBS. Make sure someone on your staff regularly checks in, and is alerted if someone emails the admin. The most work will be at the beginning.

Hopefully this gives you a good idea of what you’re in for from an administrative perspective regarding a bulletin board. Please contact flyte about programming, cost or other setup issues for a bulletin board.

Rich Brooks
Bulletin Board Provider

Fake Business Blogs: The McDonald’s Fry That Looked Like Lincoln

For anyone who’s just waking up from a coma or is living on another planet, this past Sunday was Superbowl Sunday.

<editorial note>Go Pats!</editorial note>

As always–and this is getting tiring–as much attention is being paid to the advertising as to the game. In the past, this was because most Superbowls have been blow outs. With this year’s weak, bland, and unmemorable ads, I’m not sure why they get so much attention.

One ad that was blasted was the McDonald’s ad for the french fry that looks like Abraham Lincoln. However, in today’s Wall St. Journal, they talk about the fact that this was a viral campaign, complete with a fake blog about the fry and how it’s up for bid at Yahoo.

I’m not here to discuss whether this is a good marketing strategy for McDonald’s. I’ll probably eat the same number of fries whether they advertise or not. However, there is a growing buzz about fake (or faux) blogs being used to market products. In fact, here’s an entire blog category on the subject of fake blogs.

Since this blog is targeted towards entrepreneurs and small business
people, I guess the question is, can a fake blog help your business? There are two categories of fake blogs as I see them.

  1. Outright lying, or creating a fake person to try and create buzz about your product. Like this isn’t going to come back and bite you in the ass. Think Sony Pictures and David Manning.
  2. Making the blog part of a viral marketing campaign. This is more like the McD’s fry ad, or the I Love Bees campaign for Halo 2. Personally, I think the 15 minutes on this type of fake blog is just about up anyway.

The first option is bad for anyone. The second option has had some success in creating buzz. However, these campaigns cost thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, run by very expensive marketing companies. I have a hard time believing this is the best way to spend guerrilla marketing dollars for most of us.

Blogs can be a great tool in building your business, but a fake blog isn’t the right approach for most of us small business owners. Concentrate on writing or commenting on topics your prospects and customers are interested in, and then feeding that traffic into your Web site.

Rich Brooks
A Real Business Blogger from Maine

KeyLight Group – PR for Technology Firms

KeylightI know it’s Saturday morning, but the kids are in the other room watching Noggin, so I figured I’d launch  the Web site for KeyLight Group while they were spending time in Elmo’s World.

KeyLight Group provides full service marketing and public relations for technology firms. The site was beautifully designed by Karyn Nelson Design, providing identity, print, packaging and Web services. The site was built by yours truly of flyte, purveyors of fine Web development, email marketing, search engine optimization and Web sites for entrepreneurs.

KeyLight Group counts flyte new media among their clients.

Rich Brooks
Always Looking for Some Good PR

Are Blogs Just Hype?

Have you ever learned a new word and then seen that word used everywhere? Suddenly you read your new word in articles, see it on billboards and used ad nauseum by the color man during football games?

Now, was the word always there and you didn’t notice it, or has it just magically sprung into use while you slept? Or a combination of both?

I ask this because last night when I watching TV they said, and I quote:

Blog blog. Blog. Bloggety-blog blog. Bloggety-bloggety-bloggety blog. Blog. Blog, blog, blog, blog and blog. Blog. Blog…blog. Blog or blog? Blog. Blog, blog, blog.

 

BLOG!

 

And now, more blog.

O.K., maybe it wasn’t that bad. In fact, it was only one show on a cable station called Fuse. (Think MTV but with music videos.) The VJ was promoting the show’s blog.

And admittedly, I had spent the past hour reading posts on a great blog about business blogs by Rick E. Bruner called Business Blog Consulting.

It was at that moment that I got a sickening feeling in my stomach. That I had been turned into a promoter of yet another non-event in the history of the Web. That blogs were no more important and would prove no more durable than "push technology" from the late nineties.

However, then I got to thinking about why I first started getting interested in blogs, and why I think they’re important.

I’m a Web developer by trade. (Hmmm…that makes me sound like I’m part of some guild, and I just missed making the blacksmith team.) At flyte, our goal is to build effective Web sites for clients and then help drive traffic to those sites. That includes search engine optimization, email marketing and other Internet-based marketing.

From what I initially read, and what I’ve found to be true since then, blogs can really help with marketing a business site. I’ve seen my blog traffic steadily rise and my ranking on important key phrases at Google come up on the first page…sometimes even hit number 1. I’ll admit, I haven’t spent too much time trying to drive this traffic to our company Web site, or convert it into business, but our pipeline is full so it hasn’t been my first priority.

In short, blogs probably are going to explode and then cool as tools of Internet marketing, as far as industry pundits are concerned. There’ll will just be too much hype, even if most Americans don’t yet know what a blog is. Like the Internet boom itself, blogs will be touted as the answer to all problems, then dismissed as being nothing but hype. The truth, of course, will lie somewhere in the middle.

For the time being I will continue to promote blogs to appropriate clients as an important part of their Internet Marketing Toolbox. Blogs help by:

  • Allowing clients to make regular updates without the need of a Web master
  • Creating more incoming links to their company Web site
  • Giving a face or personality to their company (assuming they have one)

The more sticks in the fire, the more effective a site’s marketing will prove.

Rich Brooks
Web Marketing Blogger

Blogging in the News

Today there was an article in the Wall St. Journal about blogging; specifically, are there any rules or ethics bloggers should be following. What? You don’t read the Journal? But I thought you ran a business? Well, for at least today (1/21/05), the WSJ put this article in it’s free section…so check it out.

Although I didn’t really learn much new from this article, it’s just a long list of blogging articles I’ve seen recently. I can’t believe it took me so long to realize the benefits blogging could have for one’s business.

I had a meeting with a friend of mine yesterday about his upcoming Web site and I floated the idea of a blog. We got so excited talking about the possibilities and how it could help him we almost started yelling. (I’m passionate about this Web thing.)

Over the next few blogs (next week) I’m going to try and make a stronger case that most of my clients (and non-clients) would do well by themselves if they started a business-related blog.

Have a good weekend…and Go PATS!!

Rich Brooks
Blogger

Calls to Action: Are You Doing Enough to Make the Sale?

This morning I’m sending out the latest issue of our free email newsletter, Honey Roasted Peanuts. I really gotta change that name. Unfortunately, I’m having a brain cramp on what to call it. I circulated some possibilities to friends and co-workers, but no one gave the same answer.

I really like "What Works Online," but we’re calling the blog that. Online Success, Net Profits, Web Strategies…

I want something clean, clear, and not too-clever. I really like the name of this marketing newsletter I receive, "More Clients." It’s great. Tells you exactly what to expect.

Anyway, this month’s newsletter is about calls to action. How spending money on search engine optimization and pay-per-click advertising is a waste unless you can convert those visitors. It’s got some good tips on writing calls to action as well.

It was fun writing it; I got to revisit some fond childhood memories with the Choose Your Own Adventure books. Remember those? The site I found is great; even has the covers, which I completely remember from when I was a fourth grader.

Rich Brooks
Action Caller