10 Expert Tips for Selling Information Products Online

Critics will tell you that opportunities for entrepreneurs to make money online are dead. Ignore such pessimists. Here’s how you can use your expertise to gain online profits.

Over the years, the Internet has become a virtual world of freebies. You can read the news, browse your favorite magazine, and even watch your favorite TV shows without ever spending a dime. Internet users are savvier than ever and know how to navigate the World Wide Web to get whatever they want at no cost to them. So it stands to reason that the days of getting people to pay a pretty penny for online content are over. Right?

Well, not exactly. When the incentives are in place and the product is right, you can still build a content-focused online business that keeps the (metaphorical) registers ringing.

The Web can connect you with vast networks of customers, solidify your business image, and create continual growth. If you’re passionate and knowledgeable about something—whether it’s gardening or politics or investing in commodities—you can use the Internet to profit from your expertise. It’s all about providing valuable information and selling your knowledge in a way that people are willing to pay for.

As one of the world’s leading experts in making money online, I pass my knowledge on to readers in my  book, KaChing: How to Run an Online Business that Pays and Pays (Wiley, 2010, ISBN: 978-0-470-59767-5, $24.95, www.joelcomm.com). Packed with tips, tactics, commonsense guidelines, and real-world case studies, KaChing gives you the know-how that will build and maintain Internet-generating income for years to come.

In a bricks-and-mortar store, there’s only one way to generate a “KaChing” sound. A customer must agree to swap hard-earned cash for the product the store owner has agreed to sell. Online, your opportunity is much, much bigger. Sales come in all the time, from all around the world. All you have to do is learn how to turn your passion and expertise into a product that inspires people to click “Buy Now!”

KaChing covers many profitable ways to cash in on your online presence. It reminds readers that all websites rely on good content (e.g., informational blog posts, how-to articles, news articles, review articles, list posts, interviews, etc.)—whether their goal is simply to attract readers and have fun or to make money. It’s how you use that content that really matters.

For example, you might use your content to generate revenue by including cost-per-click ads, you might become an affiliate (selling other people’s products on your website), you might start a membership program on your website, you might become a professional coach…but all of that starts with building credibility and trust with your market online.

A great place to start is by selling your knowledge or what is known in the world of online moneymaking as “information products.” Below is some advice on how you can start hearing “KaChing” by simply selling what you know:

Start free. The best place for any Internet business to start is with a website. Fill it with great content—on photography or divorce law or celebrity gossip or whatever you’re passionate and knowledgeable about. Then, surround that content with ads using programs like AdSense or Microsoft’s Content Match, which will “read” your pages, serve ads that match the subject, and pay you fees that range from a few cents to tens of dollars for each click the ads receive. It’s the easiest way to start hearing that “KaChing” sound.

There’s another important reason I think that it’s a good idea to start with a free, ad-supported website. As you’re writing content, reading comments, and talking with readers on Twitter and Facebook, you’ll also be getting an idea of who they are…and what they need. That’s incredibly valuable information. Put up a blog post that no one reads and you’ll have wasted an hour or two. But you’ll also have helped your site’s search engine ranking and learned something about what your audience doesn’t want to see. You’ll have risked little and won a little. That’s the worst-case scenario, and on your path to starting a successful online business, it’s really not terrible.

Choose your knowledge wisely. There might be some risks associated with information products, but the costs are low…and the brainstorming is very simple. If you’ve created an online business in a field that you enjoy, that you understand, and that you’ve already spent time in, you should have a feel for the market. Your customers will be people like you, and you’ll have a sense for what you—and others with your interest—would be willing to pay to learn. Still, that doesn’t mean you should rush out and create the first information product you think of.

If you’ve thought of it, there’s a good chance that someone else will have thought of it too. You’ll certainly want to make sure that the product you’re thinking of creating isn’t already available and that there is room for your own take on the subject. Looking at those other titles will also give you an idea of what’s selling and what the market is used to seeing. All of that is important.

Listen to your readers. Remember, your readers are both a vital part of the market and a market that talks to you. The comments they leave at the end of your blog posts and the actions they take on your site give you tons of valuable information about what sort of information they might (and might not) be willing to buy.

It’s possible that some users will say specifically that they’d be prepared to pay for a book that would tell them how to build their own patio or how to cook dinner parties in a snap, but you can’t rely on those kinds of posts to tell you what information product to create. What you can do is look at the number of comments your posts receive to see which topics push people’s buttons the most.

Although there’s a difference between prompting people to write a comment and driving them to spend money, it is likely that controversial topics will help you to move more goods. The comment count will help you identify the subjects most likely to generate interest among your users.

Create by the stats. Your website stats tell you which pages are the most popular and how long users spend on them. If a blog post topic has generated lots of views and persuaded your readers to stick around and read through to the bottom of the page, that’s a good sign that people are gripped by the subject.

As you’re wondering what sort of topic you should use for an information product, take a few minutes to look at your site stats. List the ten pages that generate the most views, the ten pages that generate the most comments, and the ten pages that generate the longest views. You should find that there’s plenty of overlap, giving you a good idea of what attracts your readers the most.

Ask yourself, How can I deliver results? When you’re asking people to pay you money for information, they’re going to reach into their pockets only if they believe that money is going to come back to them. That ROI doesn’t have to be in cash form—although you can certainly find plenty of information products on the Web that promise to help people earn giant stacks of cash—it can also come in the form of money saved.

For example, create an information product that explains how to build a deck, and you’ll be able to tell people that they’re saving the labor costs involved in hiring someone to do the work for them. As long as you’re charging less than the amount that a buyer would have had to pay, you’ll be offering a bargain. Your buyers need to feel that they’re swapping the cover price for a later return of money or some other benefit.

Book it. There’s no one way to create an information product. Instead, there are a number of different ways of transforming the information you have into a format that can be sold online. Two great options are e-books and print books.

Creating an e-book is simple enough. You can write it in Word and convert it into a PDF format. Don’t worry about being a literary genius or trying to sound like a newspaper. Simply write the information the way you speak. You’ll want the e-book to be at least fifty pages. You’ll want it to contain solid, practical information that delivers real benefits. And you’ll want it to be priced in line with the competition rather than relying entirely on the perceived benefits the book will bring.

But think long and hard before you rule out going the print route. Print books can deliver two things that e-books can’t. The first is distribution. According to research company IBISWorld, the United States had around 34,000 bookstores as of 2008. Although the number is declining, that’s still a massive market that an e-book can’t reach. The second is the fact that being an established author gives you prestige. Few people can say they are published authors. Having a print book to offer to customers can be very impressive.

Star in DVDs and webinars. Once your site is up and running, and once it has regular readers enjoying your knowledge, you should find that many of your readers will want individual, one-on-one learning opportunities. A great way to offer that is through informational DVDs and webinars.

To create a DVD, record one of your classes (if you already teach a lot) or (if you don’t) put on a seminar for people in your area and record it. Pack the sessions with practical information, and you’ll be able to burn it onto DVDs and sell them online as an information product. You’ll make money once from the people who attend your seminar, and you’ll continue making money from the DVDs that you sell.

You can also create webinars and make them viewable for a fee, using PayPal or E-junkie to allow access. There’s plenty of software around, such as Glance (www.glance.net) and GoToWebinar (www.gotowebinar.com), that make the whole creation process very simple.

If you are freaking out at the thought of all this, keep in mind that as with anything, when you know how to do it, it’s a breeze. Creating DVDs and producing webinars doesn’t require any specialized knowledge. You just have to do it. The first time will be confusing. The second time will feel a little more comfortable. The third time you open the webinar software or upload your class footage to a DVD fulfillment company, you’ll wonder why everyone isn’t doing this.

Remember, copy is “KaChing.” Once you’ve created your information product—whatever kind of product it is—the next step is to build a sales page that pitches it. You don’t want to limit yourself to market to only your regular readers. You also want to bring in readers of other websites—anyone, in fact, who might have an interest in the information your product contains. You’ll want to convert them right away by persuading them, as soon as they reach your page, of the benefits of your product. That means creating a page filled with effective sales copy—and usually that means creating a one-page sales letter.

One-page sales letters that promote information products aren’t subtle. But they are effective, and they need to be well-written. You may very well want to hire a professional copywriter to write yours for you. It’s also possible to write sales letters yourself.

Although they look tricky, sales letters actually follow a rigid structure. You’ll start with a gripping headline that attracts attention, lays out the problem, indicates that you have the solution, and describes the benefits that your solution will bring. Subheadings break up the sales letter and introduce new benefits, while testimonials help to build the trust you’ll need to make the sale. If you do choose to write your own sales letter, keep in mind that there are some templates available to guide you online.

Build your shopping cart. As you may well know, online shopping carts allow your customers to choose the products they want and process a payment. As you might have guessed, that’s all been systematized, simplified, and made a breeze. A number of different companies can help you get started. One of the best is E-junkie (www.e-junkie.com), which comes with all of the features that you’ll find most useful, including buttons that you can just copy and paste, the ability to accept discount codes, calculators for sales tax, VAT, and shipping, and even an affiliate management program.

Launch for success. Properly launching your information product allows you to generate publicity, provoke word-of-mouth recommendations, and build the kind of buzz that brings even more sales. It’s your product’s birthday, a time to celebrate, throw open the doors, and get those cash registers ringing. The preparation for a launch begins a long time before the launch itself. Most of that work will take place behind the scenes, but when you leak small snippets of what you’re up to, you can help to build anticipation so that buyers are ready for your big announcement.

You don’t just want people to be interested in what you have to offer when you launch. You want them lining up with their wallets out. To make that happen, start creating a buzz weeks before your product launch. Post teaser information on Twitter and Facebook and post little snippets about what’s to come on your blog and website. This will allow your market to become more familiar with you and curious about what you have to offer, so that when launch day rolls around, they’ll have checked out your site, Facebook page, and Twitter. They’ll be willing to trust you, and they’ll want to be part of your success—and enjoy success themselves—by buying your new product.

There are fantastic opportunities just waiting for you on the World Wide Web. It’s a gigantic gold mine, and it’s one that everyone has access to. You don’t need to own a giant media company to take a share of that revenue. You don’t need a degree in computing, communications, or advanced nuclear physics to make money online. You just need to know how the system works and have the patience and the drive to succeed.

About the Author: Joel Comm is a bestselling author of the new book KaChing: How to Run an Online Business That Pays and Pays (Wiley, 2010, ISBN: 978-0-470-59767-5, $24.95, www.joelcomm.com). He is also an entrepreneur, public speaker, social media evangelist, and mobile marketing innovator. The leading authority on new media marketing tactics, Joel’s current specialty is using social media such as Facebook and Twitter to help companies market their brands. He has also created top-ranked mobile apps, including the most talked about iPhone app of all time. Not just another social media expert, Joel has been building profitable and cutting-edge Internet ventures since 1995. He is co-creator of ClassicGames.com, which was acquired by Yahoo in 1997 and is now known as Yahoo Games, one of the most successful multiplayer game sites in the world. He is the author of The AdSense Code (a New York Times, BusinessWeek, and Amazon.com bestseller), Click Here to Order: Stories of the World’s Most Successful Internet Marketing Entrepreneurs, and Twitter Power. Joel lives with his family in Loveland, Colorado.

About the Book: KaChing: How to Run an Online Business that Pays and Pays (Wiley, 2010, ISBN: 978-0-470-59767-5, $24.95, www.joelcomm.com) is available at bookstores nationwide, major online booksellers, or directly from the publisher by calling 800-225-5945. In Canada, call 800-567-4797.

Founded in 1807, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., has been a valued source of information and understanding for 200 years, helping people around the world meet their needs and fulfill their aspirations. Wiley’s core business includes scientific, technical, and medical journals; encyclopedias, books, and online products and services; professional and consumer books and subscription services; and educational materials for undergraduate and graduate students and lifelong learners. Wiley’s global headquarters are located in Hoboken, New Jersey, with operations in the U.S., Europe, Asia, Canada, and Australia. The Company’s Web site can be accessed at http://www.wiley.com. The Company is listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbols JWa and JWb.

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