As part of my ongoing series on content marketing and blog monetization, I’ve been covering the strategies, the skills, and the actions content producers have to take to make their blog make money.
In that time, we’ve still only scratched the surface of the thing that actually makes the money. Let me be clear: it isn’t the content. It’s never the content.
The content is a medium to leverage your audience into taking an action. That action is almost always buying something.
In this blog, I’m going to list the top three ways to use your content to sell products. This is the most direct way of making money online.
Each approach requires infrastructure, skills, and strategies to be successful. Through this, you’re going to discover where your skillset best sits across the three categories, and decide if selling products is really for you, and if so, what products best suit your skills.
What’s more, I’m going to split them into levels of difficulty: Easy, Challenge and Expert modes. This ensures there’s an approach for you, no matter what level you’re at.
So, roll up your sleeves. We’re going in.
Easy Mode: No Product
I’m not kidding. You can actually sell things online without having them in your hands in the first place.
How you might ask? By selling other people‘s product of course. This is a popular method known as affiliate marketing.
Affiliate marketing is a way for you to monetize your blog without having to worry about the product end at all. With affiliate products, that’s all someone else’s problem!
That said, it’s a win for them too. It’ a way for those with a product to sell it without worrying about the marketing. If you’re a content blogger with an audience, you can turn that audience into money, and split it between you and the product creator.
So How Do I Do Affiliate Marketing?
Essentially, you promote the product online via your blog, social media or email list; any avenue you can. Common way of doing this is by writing reviews of the product or tie them in naturally in your own related content.
You use an affiliate link, which directs individuals to the product with your digital signature attached.
If your readers make a purchase via your link, you earn a commission. Earn enough in commissions, and you just successfully monetized your blog.
And readers get their product. Everybody wins!
Almost everyone has an affiliate marketing program. Even better, there are Affiliate Networks, which offer the opportunity to promote thousands of different products. You can be as broad or specific as you like.
Some notable affiliate marketing platform:
- Amazon – Amazon is a name that needs no introduction. Its affiliate program give you access to over a million products you can offer to your audience.
- ClickBank – Arguably the biggest player in the affiliate marketing world, ClickBank focuses on digital products such as SaaS, ebooks and online courses.
- JVZoo – JVZoo is best at giving you profit from affiliate product launches. Affiliate product launch happens when a new product is announced and affiliate can get extra reward and bonuses from sales during that period.
MunchEye – Not exactly a marketing platform on itself, MunchEye is the place you go to keep track of upcoming affiliate product launches you can tap into. Works great in conjunction with JVZoo.
- Earn while you learn – You need no qualifications to begin affiliate marketing. What’s more, you can start right away. That means you can earn money even while you’re still figuring it out. As you hone your strategy, your sales increase.
- Paid for your passion – If there’s a topic you’re passionate about, chances are there are products related to it. If there are products related to your passion, chances are there’ll be an affiliate scheme that will pay you money to sell them. Mountain biking, chess, anything! This will make it way easier to make money from blogging, because you’ll be blogging about the stuff you love.
- Passive income – If you’re smart and leverage SEO effectively, you can use strategies like those in my previous blogs to create organic traffic to your website, and automate it’s running with low-cost overheads. This will enable you to get as close as possible to a passive income in the long term.
No start-up costs – Assuming you already have a blog and an audience, you have everything you need to start selling right away, and all it will cost you is time.
- No Customers – Once the sale is made, you have no commitment to anyone who bought through you. They’re the product creator’s problem now.
- Low commissions – Generally speaking, the easier it is to sell, the lower the commission. Equally, the lower the price of the product, the lower the commission. Find something with the right balance of challenge and reward.
- Reputation – Your audience are your customers. This means you should genuinely believe in the products your selling, to avoid disappointing them. Their trust is crucial.
- Hijacked Links – hackers can download software onto user computers that will change your affiliate links for their own. Plugins can be bought to counteract this, but it’s important to be aware of.
- Businesses Shutting Up Shop – Businesses you’re promoting can shut down like any other. As such, a well-established business is better, or if they’re new, ask to see the business plan. It’s a long term game.
- Time To Establish – It can take six months to a year to establish yourself successfully as an authority in that niche with a proactive audience and regular buys.
Who’s Doing It?
This is Why I Am Broke found a unique way of presenting affiliate marketing, and it paid off to the tune of around $20,000 a month.
David McSweeney published a case study on his own success, around $4,000 a month, which is a long but good read if this seems like it could be for you.
Is It For Me?
If you are:
- A good decision maker
- A self-led person
- A skilled marketer
- Good with people
- Really productive
And if you have:
- A unique blog angle
- An engaged audience
- Data analytics tools
Then you’re in a perfect position to start making money from affiliate marketing.
Challenge Mode: Digital Products
Digital products come under three main categories, each of which offers a different way to sell to people. This means three different opportunities to make money.
Creating and selling your own digital goods allows you to profit without having to think about the logistics of physical products.
Again, I’ll stack them by difficulty:
- EASY: E-books – E-books are the simplest way for bloggers to make money from writing. These can be relatively quick to write, whether it be simply to collect and elaborate upon material already created, or to go in-depth on a crucial element of a topic you’ve omitted from your work before now. They can even be a fictional piece designed for entertainment.
- CHALLENGE: Software & Tools – these help people solve problems in much the same way as physical products do, but in the digital realm. If software can help people do something they couldn’t do before, it will have value. Check out our headline generator, for instance.
- EXPERT: Online Courses – these can help people get a deep understanding of something you are a specialist in. They’ll also help you develop a personal brand. What’s more, you can hold back your secrets and get paid for your most valuable content. Online courses mean you have to put your money where your mouth is when it comes to authority on a topic.
How Do I sell Digital Products?
Fortunately, there are a great many all-in-one solutions that can help individuals sell any kind of digital product, so you won’t have trouble there.
- E-Books – Amazon enables individuals to upload e-books to the largest platform for e-books in the world, taking a modest cut of the profits in return. This service is best for those who want to make the greatest number of sales, but you can also host them on your own site.
- Software and Tools – Codero Hosting offers dedicated, managed cloud servers that can take all the effort out of the management and let you focus on the selling.
- Online Courses – Online Courses require a much wider range of touchpoints: multimedia, live broadcasting, written information and even interactive exams. If you want an Amazon-like solution, Udemy is the best place to get that additional support. If you want a greater chunk of the profits, Digital Chalk is a great resource for those with the knowledge and a plan for a course, but who don’t have the coding skills to cover to develop all the applications needed.
- Immediacy – You can leverage impulse buying much more effectively when your product is instantly in the hands of your customer.
- Redownloads –Redownloading enables individuals to access a fresh copy if they lose theirs for any reason, making it easier to say yes to.
- Cheaper Infrastructure – Digital infrastructure costs a fraction of the cost of physical infrastructure.
- Unlimited Proliferation – Unlike physical products, once you’ve created one copy, you’ll have as as many you’ll ever need.
- Competition – Because digital products are easy, everyone is doing them. Make sure your product has an impressive unique selling point or USP, or develop your personal brand so you are the USP.
- Constant Care – Digital products mean a lot more time spent dealing with existing customers. This is especially true with online courses. After sales are as important as sales.
- Redownloads – The downside to redownloads is that people will only ever buy one product once. If a physical product is broken or lost, people have to buy it again.
Who’s Doing It?
E-Books – Everyone. Brilliantly, there’s actually more competition (over 1,000,000) in free titles than in paid titles (650,000). That said, Barry Eisler turned down a publisher to commit to self-publishing.
When it comes to bloggers making money from eBooks, Sarah Mae is a great example. $20,000 in sales every month.
Software & Tools – We are. SEOPressor has started to create SaaS (Software as a Service, used through a browser so individuals needn’t download) solutions for SEO and content marketing challenges. If you need another example, Business Insider has 25 of them. Free trials and ‘freemium’ software that creates a paywall for certain features are both great ways to get a first foot in the door with customers.
Online Courses – There are a lot of successful online course providers out there. John Azzi and Eliot Arntz made over a million explaining app development. A maths teacher made over a million in just nine months, across courses on four different programming topics. If you’re a great teacher, you can make big money.
Is It For Me?
Much like in the other categories, digital products require a different kind of person to sell them successfully, depending on what they are.
E-Books – If you are:
- An expert, aficionado or enthusiast
- A professional writer
- An established authority on the subject
And if you have:
- A topic you know a lot about
- An insight you can’t find anywhere online for free
Then you can make money from e-books. They’re the easiest thing to sell, because their inexpensive to develop and therefore inexpensive for consumers to buy. They’re also shorter than regular books (75-120 pages).
Software – If you are:
- A software or app developer
Or if you have:
- A clever idea on solving a problem digitally
- A programmer if you can’t code yourself
Then you could make money this way. It’s not as straight forward, but it can make you a lot of money.
Online Courses – If you are:
- An expert in your field
- A confident public speaker
- Fully immersed in your topic
And if you have:
- A background in education
- A degree or academic experience
- Time to invest in students
Online courses are for you. Online courses are the opposite of e-books, expensive, with a relatively small number of customers buying them. They require more of your time as a trade-off, but it’s been proven worthwhile.
EXPERT MODE: Physical Products
Physical products are anything you can hold in your hands. They make up the entirety of our possessions, and are still essential to our daily lives.
Selling physical products requires extra effort but also rewards you the most.
Physical products often solve definite problems in immediate ways. For bloggers, some of the most popular physical products to sell online include supplements, gadgets and niche items.
Fair warning: physical products take the most setting up, but they also yield the highest potential rewards.
How Do I Sell Physical Products?
To sell anything, you need a store, a way of taking payments, and a product to sell. We covered this briefly in a previous post.
Store – Stores like Amazon, eBay, and Etsy are places with established audiences where you can easily create an account. Equally, you can use Shopify and WooCommerce to quickly establish your own unique online store on your website. I’d recommend doing both, to maximize your chance of finding new audiences.
Sourcing – You’ll need a wholesaler or an original equipment manufacturer (OEM), and the best of these are usually in China. You can use Alibaba, a wholesale site, to either buy existing products to customize or find OEM’s. Strike the right balance between quality and price, and the world can be yours.
Fulfillment – Fulfillment reduces overall cost by combining storage and distribution for your products. Amazon offer fulfillment, as do Red Stag.
Drop Shipping – Drop Shipping is an alternative for bloggers, who can partner with manufacturers to sell their products without having to keep any in stock. The blogger simply passes orders onto the manufacturer, who then distributes direct to consumers. Check out Inventory Source and Dropship Commerce. This would be my recommendation, it’s almost as easy as affiliate marketing but you sell your own products.
- Easily demonstrable – physical products that people can see and touch can be shown to customers, and the way they work can be demonstrated easily, often with a definite end point that shows the change the product can make.
- Higher perceived value – because people understand physical products need to be manufactured individually, stored and distributed, people value them more highly than they do digital products.
- Original – if a physical product is an original, and it does something no other product does, then you can set the price however you like.
- Lower Aftercare – Unlike digital products, you can ship a physical product with instructions and let the customer get on with it. With physical products, if it works, it works.
- Fewer Competitors – Because of the cons (below), fewer people get into physical products than digital products. Less competition = more market share.
- Older Generations – older generations still buy only physical products online, meaning there’s a whole demographic who won’t be interested in anything else.
- Manufacture cost – every physical item must be created individually, and this is a much higher cost than any digital product.
- Inventory cost – you need to have enough stock at all times to ensure your demand never exceeds your supply. Otherwise, you risk supply chain difficulties, delays and customer dissatisfaction.
- Storage cost – you need to have a warehouse to store the products in, and this comes at a much higher premium than digital storage.
- Distribution – Often, because there is a ceiling on how much people are willing to pay both for a product and for postage, this eats into your profit margin.
Who’s Doing It?
Neil Patel used a physical product, a fish oil, in his project to make a blog earn $100,000 every single month. He achieved it, but the product was only a small part of the process that generated these results.
Is It For Me?
If you are:
- A gifted marketer
Good with logistics
- Passionate about customer pain points
And if you have:
- Retail experience
- A product of your own
- A niche few people are serving
Then this can work. Physical products need the most investment up front, and that’s a risk, but the money coming in can make it all worthwhile.
In short, digital products are easier for you to manage. Physical products are easier to sell to customers. Affiliate Marketing is easiest overall, but low risk means low reward.
In part 2, I’m going to show you the ways you can monetize your blog successfully without having to get products involved at all, in a discussion of the services you can leverage through a blog.
Updated: 22 January 2017