Beth Hayden |

The Marketing Maven List: Better Testimonials, Entrepreneurial Flourishing, and a Fabulous Image Creation Tool

Every couple of weeks, I publish a list of three of my favorite recommendations from the world of online marketing and entrepreneurship. If you’d like to read more about this list got started, click here.

On today’s Marketing Maven list, we’ve got a wonderful tool for creating compelling social media images, an inspiring ebook from the world of positive psychology, and a simple way to get better testimonials from your clients and customers.

Let’s dig in!

The Marketing Maven List: Better Testimonials, Entrepreneurial Flourishing, and a Fabulous Image Creation Tool

TOOL: Stencil

I am CRAZY about Stencil right now. I’ve been using Stencil to create fun visual badges for blog posts and social media, similar to the one in this post. If you’ve used Canva or PicMonkey before, it’s similar to that – but in some ways, it’s BETTER.

One of the things that takes me a long time when I’m creating badges using PicMonkey is that I have to search through a separate stock photo image site to look for the right photo to use as the background for my badges. Then I have to buy that image, download it, resize it, and add it to PicMonkey. It’s a pain, and it takes a long time.

When you use Stencil, the stock photo images are built in – you can search for (and add) images right in the tool, and there’s no extra charge for the images. Then you can add shapes, text, icons, and all sorts of other cool things to your badge, all quickly and easily.

There is a free version of Stencil, but if you want all the background photos and graphics, it’s $9 a month.

And here’s the best part – resizing your images for different social platforms (and your blog posts) is a snap in Stencil. All the ideal social sizes are built right into the tool – meaning if you want to create a badge that is the perfect size for Pinterest, you just click a button and it resizes your image to 735 x 1102 pixels. If you want a correctly-sized image for a Facebook page (851 x 315) you just click the “Facebook Cover” button. It’s so slick! Note: The link to Stencil above is an affiliate link.

EBOOK: Michelle McQuaid, Author and Positive Psychology Expert

I recently discovered Michelle McQuaid, an Australian woman who is an expert in the field of positive psychology and human flourishing. I am absolutely FASCINATED by her work.

The reason I recommend looking into Michelle’s content (and positive psychology in general) is because entrepreneurs often have trouble taking care of themselves. We often work too hard, exercise too little, and we’re exhausted much of the time. That’s true for me, too!

Michelle’s work offer’s some lovely and inspiring ways to inject a little joy into your life – and you’d be amazed at what a difference that can make.

I highly recommend her free ebook, How to Move from Functioning to Flourishing.

This ebook is a wonderful introduction to Michelle’s approach, and it gives you some fast and easy ways to give your wellbeing a boost. And when I say “fast,” I really mean it! Some of her suggestions take just a few minutes to implement, and they’re FUN.

When you sign up for her ebook, you also get access to a wonderful and rich library of free content on her site.

ARTICLE: Getting Persuasive Testimonials from Your Clients

In online marketing, nothing is more persuasive than a great testimonial. Testimonials offer solid proof – in your sales copy, emails, social media updates and other online content – that your services help people and your methods work.

But the problem is, there’s a huge difference between a great testimonial and a ho-hum one. And mediocre testimonials don’t do much for you when you’re trying to sell products and services.

And it’s more difficult that one might think to get a powerful testimonial you can use in your marketing materials — so I was pleased to see Sean D’Souza’s highly useful article, 6 Questions to Ask for Powerful Testimonials.

The art of getting a great testimonial all starts with asking better questions – and Sean gives you six great questions to start with.

Got ideas for the Marketing Maven List?

If you have a tool, blog post, podcast or other idea you’d like me to consider adding to future Marketing Maven Lists, feel free to submit it to me using this page. Just tell me a little about your submission and why you recommend it, and make sure you include a link.

The Marketing Maven List: Malcolm Gladwell, Smart Bookmarking, and Getting More Instagram Followers

The Marketing Maven List: Malcolm Gladwell, Smart Bookmarking, and Getting More Instagram Followers

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point, he says there are three types of people who contribute to the spread of ideas and trends in our society today: Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen.

Ever since in read the book, I’ve been fascinated with Mavens. These are the information specialists – the folks who gather knowledge, then enjoy sharing what they know with other people.

Recently, people in my community have been telling me that I’m a maven, which of course I think is an enormous compliment.

In that spirit, I’d like to start sharing my resources with you here on my blog. So periodically I’m going to share some my favorite things in a curated blog post series called “The Marketing Maven List.”

All the items in these blog posts will be related to online business management or marketing in some way, although some of them may pull marketing lessons from unusual sources (like Broadway musicals, television or other pop culture sources).

So without further ado, here’s the Marketing Maven List for Saturday, August 7, 2016:

1. PODCAST: Malcolm Gladwell’s new show, Revisionist History

Speaking of Malcolm Gladwell – you’re going to love his new podcast, Revisionist History. It’s a 10-part show, and in each episode he examines a person, event, or idea from the past that has been misunderstood or overlooked. 

The reason I think this podcast is fascinating from a marketing perspective is that Gladwell is such an incredible storyteller. He’s meticulous with his research, and manages to lay out even the most mundane ideas in absolutely fascinating ways. And he always manages to weave stories together in a way that makes you think, “I never looked at it that way!”

I’ve always been a big fan of Gladwell’s writing, and this podcast is proof positive that podcasters will really need to be great writers and storytellers, too. If you’re thinking of starting a podcast, this show should be on your “required listening” list.

2. ONLINE TOOL: Pocket

For years, I used Delicious to store all my online bookmarks, but Delicious started going downhill about a year ago and never recovered. So I switch over to Pocket instead.

I can save a bookmark quickly and easily, and categorize any bookmark with as many tags as I want. Then I can go back into Pocket at any point and easily find any link by searching for a particular tag.

I used Pocket to save all the blog posts, articles, online tools, videos and other links I need to run my online business and stay up to date on my rapidly-changing industry. I even have a tag called “Maven” that I use to file all the resources I’m going to use for future Marketing Maven List blog posts!

If you’re still using the bookmarking tool within your browser (and you keep forgetting where you filed certain links), give Pocket a try. It’s completely free and really easy to set up.

3. BLOG POST: A Guide to Getting More Followers on Instagram: How We Got 10,000 Followers in 2 Weeks

I finally got sick of my own stupidity about Instagram marketing, so I jumped on a recent webinar with the Nathan Chan, the founder and publisher of Foundr magazine.

He had some smart things to share in that webinar about how they built an enormous Instagram following for Foundr (they currently have over 800,000 followers), and he shares those tips in his blog post, too. Definitely worth a read if you want to attract a bigger audience on Instagram.

Got ideas for the Marketing Maven List?

If you have a tool, blog post, podcast or other idea you’d like me to consider adding to future Marketing Maven Lists, feel free to submit it to me using this page. Just tell me a little about your submission and why you recommend it, and make sure you include a link.

How I Changed My Mind and Learned to Love Pop-Ups

I know, I know. You hate pop-ups, right?

I did for a long time, too.

For years, I took a pretty strong stance against pop-up opt-in forms. I kept hearing that you could bring in a lot of new subscribers with them, but to me, they just weren’t worth it. I wasn’t willing to annoy my readers and risk making a bad impression on my new visitors.

But over the past year, I’ve also been watching how many successful marketers use pop-up boxes to invite people to become subscribers – and how a lot of those folks seem to be growing gigantic lists. These are ethical, reputable people who have gotten past their own hang-ups about pop-ups, and seem to be reaping all the benefits without any major downsides (at least, none that I’ve seen).

And as part of my list-building challenge, I promised myself I would revisit the idea of using a pop-up box on my site, and figure out if I could use one in a way that didn’t make me feel slimy and sleazy. This was difficult for me, because I’ve been so adamantly anti-pop-up for so long.

But declaring to the world that I am trying to reach 16,000 subscribers by the end of 2016 has been massively motivating, and it required that I revisit some previous list-building assumptions.

So I took a look at the data that’s out there regarding pop-up forms (which I’ll share in this post) and decided to give them a shot on my site. I wasn’t convinced they would be part of my long-term online strategy, but I was curious to see what happened, and I wanted to share my experimentation with you.

I got some rather surprising results, and now I’ve started to change my thinking about pop-up boxes.

So let’s take a look at what pop-up opt-in forms are, why they work, what the argument against them is, and what to think about if you decide to use them.

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What Are Pop-Ups?

For the purposes of this article, I want to make a distinction between pop-ups and other types of opt-in forms.

What I’m talking about in this piece as pop-up opt-in forms that appear automatically, without the reader having to click on something or take a particular action. A pop-up normally obscures part (or all) of the screen, and the reader can’t consume the content on your page (or do anything else on the site) unless they fill out the form or close the pop-up form.

You can see an example of the kind of pop-up I’m talking about by going to MarieForleo.com and waiting about 10 seconds. Marie’s pop-up looks like this:

MarieForleoPopUp

These days, we usually see pop-up boxes that ask readers to join the site owner’s list. Sometimes the business owner is advertising a free giveaway (like Marie’s free audio training, above), and sometimes they’re just saying, “Sign up for free updates in your inbox!”

Another popular style of pop-up is a “Welcome Gate” or “Screen Filler” opt-in form. These opt-in forms temporarily take up the full screen (and sometimes they’re transparent, so you can see a little bit of the site behind the form). You can see an example of a Welcome Gate form right here.

No matter what style you’re using (or what you’re offering) the goal is clear – pop-ups are designed to capture visitors’ email addresses.

Why Pop-Up Boxes Have an Understandably Bad Reputation

Pop-up advertising has been around for a long time. Back in the mid-1990’s (right around the time people were regularly starting to create and view web pages), companies started deploying pop-up advertising on their sites as a way to get more eyeballs on their ads.

Remember when we had to virtual whack-a-mole with endless pop-up ads, just to read a web page? Regular pop-up advertising has mostly gone the way of the dinosaur these days – so we rarely see them as a mechanism for delivering banner ad-style advertisements. They’re certainly not as big of a problem as they were in the early days of the web.

But there’s one place where we still consistently see pop-ups, and that’s in the world of opt-in forms (like what we’re talking about in this post).

I get why they annoy people. I really, really do – especially given their sordid history.

But the trouble is – pop-ups work.

This study on CrazyEgg found that pop-ups drive 1375% more subscribers than sidebar opt-in forms.

Darren Rowse (of Problogger) implemented a pop-up on his hugely popular digital photography blog, and saw an immediate increase in his daily sign-ups. He went from getting 40 daily email subscribers to consistently bringing in over 350 – every day. And he got that increase without seeing a noticeable drop in readership or engagement.

Long story short: People say they hate pop-ups. I’ll probably get some people who express their utter hatred for pop-ups in the comments section of this post. But our behavior says otherwise, when we put pop-ups to the test.

When you look at the data, people seem to mind pop-ups a lot less than we think.

My Pop-Up Experiment

After looking at these stories and carefully considering the potentially downsides, I decided to go ahead and experiment with using pop-up sign-up forms on my site.

I really like the pop-up that Neil Patel uses, so I looked for a similar “Welcome Gate” style for my first pop-up.

I set up my Welcome Gate pop-up so that people could click out of it easily, and then not see again for a specified number of days (in my case, 30 days). That was important to me, because I didn’t want to constantly badger people with my pop-up.

I also put a second, slightly different pop-up on one individual article on my site – my controversial post on Facebook Page Likes.

This post consistently pulls in a steady stream of visitors, so I created a free giveaway called “8 Ways to Get More Facebook Likes (Without Annoying Your Family and Friends)” and created a delayed pop-up that would offer that free gift after the visitor has read through most (or all) of the article.

Here’s what the pop-up looked like:

FacebookPagePopUp

So I put my two pop-ups in place, took a deep breath, and waited.

The results

The Good News: 

The Welcome Gate pop-up has been a rousing success. Nearly 400 people signed up for my list-building challenge via the Welcome Gate — and that’s just since the end of May.

Granted, some of those people weren’t brand new subscribers — they were people who were already on my list, but wanted to join the special list I started for my challenge. But what’s clear is that the pop-up is converting well and that people are responding to the offer.

Better yet, I’ve had NO complaints about the Welcome Gate. It seems that people who aren’t interested in the challenge simply click out of the opt-in form, then go on to read the content on my site. This result backs up the data that I’ve seen, which says people don’t mind a couple of seconds of delay if they’re interested in what you have to say.

My conclusion: To me, this Welcome Gate opt-in form has been worth the potential risk. It’s converting very well and I’m adding new subscribers every day. Since I’ve had no complaints and no drop in overall readership, I’m going to keep it in place for now.

The Bad News:

The not-so-great news is that the delayed pop-up box I put on my Facebook Page Likes post did seem to have a negative effect.

According to my Google Analytics data, the average time a visitor spend on that article, (when they landed on it from a social site or a search engine) was approximately 6 minutes. After I put the pop-up in place, it dropped down to zero – which meant people were landing on the post, then clicking away right away.

I thought this was kind of strange, considering I put the pop-up on a 60-second delay, but something was definitely wrong. So I dropped the pop-up from the page, and within a day, my average time on the article came right back up to its pre-pop-up levels.

My conclusion: I’m still trying to figure out what the issue on that pop-up was, because I would like to put additional content-specific pop-ups on some of my most popular pieces of content. I’ll keep you posted on my progress as I test out more ideas and techniques.

4 Things to Remember If You’re Going to Try Out a Pop-Up Box on Your Site

You need to decide for yourself whether or not you want to try out a pop-up opt-in form on your site – but given my results during this experiment, I’m definitely going to recommend that my clients consider doing a pop-up trial to see if they get positive results.

If you want to try out a pop-up, here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. Give something away that is valuable to people. It’s far easier to get people to sign up for your list (regardless of whether or not you use a pop-up) when you’re offering a free incentive like a tutorial, cheat sheet, report, video, or audio training.
  2. Consider using a delay timer, if you can. I still think it’s a good idea to let people consume some of your content before you hit them with a pop-up offer.
  3. Test your pop-up on desktop AND mobile devices. People need to be able to get rid of your pop-up quickly and easily if they’re not interested in your offer, regardless of what device they’re using. I’m continually surprised by the amount of people who put pop-ups on their sites that are impossible to close from a mobile device. Don’t make this mistake – test thoroughly.
  4. If possible, change the settings on your pop-up so that when people close the pop-up without taking action, they won’t see it again for at LEAST 30 days.

If you do try a pop-up (or you already use one, and you’re getting good results) I’d love to hear about it! Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

This month, participants of the list-building challenge got my recommendations for the best tools for adding pop-ups to their sites. Do you want to get the inside scoop, too? Click here to join us for the challenge, and get list-building advice I’m only sharing with the challenge community!

The #1 Thing You Absolutely Must Have If You Want to Make Money Online

One of my clients recently told me a story that broke my heart.

This client (I’ll call her “Sasha”) had just spent 3 months developing an online product. She worked diligently to put together the online course she thought her audience needed, and put her heart and soul into every lesson.

But when she finished the course and launched it to her list of 100 subscribers, only 2 people bought the course.

She was devastated after her failed launch, and she was also in a BIG financial bind. She’d been counting on the income from her course launch to offset the many months she’d spent in course-building mode (when she wasn’t making any money at all).

The #1 Thing You Absolutely Must Have If You Want to Make Money Online

And just a couple of days later, I heard a similar story from another client. Jack is a fiction author who had launched a book six months prior to our call, and he was disappointed with his lagging sales.

He’d worked for years on this first novel, and when the big day came to launch his book, he sold a few copies (mostly to his friends, family and social media followers) but the book didn’t rank well on Amazon, and after launch day the sales had trickled down to nothing.

These two client anecdotes might sound like completely different situations, but at the heart of each of these two stories is the exact same problem.

What went wrong, you ask?

Neither of these folks had the most important thing you need when you’re selling something online – whether you’re selling a book, an online course, a service, or a physical product.

What you need if you’re going to make money online is an audience.

What do I mean when I say “audience”?

I mean a group of people who visit your website, receive your email messages, or follow you on social media. Preferably, you want to attract a group of people who do all three.

I’m talking about a group of people who like you, like what you do, and can’t wait to buy from you.

The Radical Transformation That Happens When You Have an Audience

If Sasha would have had an audience in the first scenario, she might have been able to run a pilot version of her course before she built the whole thing — so she would have known whether or not people were interested in that topic.

She could’ve gotten feedback on the course as she taught it the first time, and made sure the idea and the course were 100% validated before she tried to do a major launch. And when she did launch the full version of her course, she would’ve had a large email list of people who couldn’t wait to buy it, so she potentially could’ve have had a 5-figure course launch.

And if Jack had attracted a large following of people who loved his work and couldn’t wait to buy his book, his book launch would’ve gone quite differently.

He could’ve sold hundreds (or thousands) of copies during his book launch, could’ve ranked better on Amazon for his book topic, and might have been smiling and collecting royalty checks 6 months after the launch, instead of scratching his head and wondering what the heck went wrong. He could’ve started working on his next novel, knowing he had a hungry audience of people who were excited to buy his second book.

I’ve been doing a LOT of one-on-one coaching over the last year, and what I’ve noticed is that almost everyone I talk to has the same problem: They need an audience.

If you want to fill webinars with hundreds (or thousands) of passionate participants, you must have an audience.

If you want to have a 5-figure (or 6-figure) launch of your first online class, you must have audience.

If you want to get support and donations for your non-profit, you need an audience who care about what you’re doing and are willing to support you.

If you want to make money from affiliate sales or online advertising, you must have regular, consistent traffic to your site (which means, you need an audience).

If you want to sell a physical product, WordPress plugin, or piece of software, you must have an audience of people who want to buy it.

I sound like a broken record – right? I repeat it because you ALWAYS need an audience, no matter what you’re trying to accomplish with online marketing.

So how do you build an audience? How do you attract a community of people who know, like, and trust you? Folks who absolutely can’t wait to buy from you?

Of course, that’s the tricky part. Growing an audience is not easy, and it’s not for the faint of heart. But it is hugely rewarding, and when it’s done right, it can be incredibly lucrative, too.

The 4-Step Process for Building an Audience

Here are the four steps you need to take if you want to build an audience online:

  1. Publish high-quality content on your website.
  2. Drive traffic to your content.
  3. Convert a portion of your website visitors into email subscribers.
  4. Cultivate relationships with your subscribers by sending them regular content via email.

From there, you can do anything you want. You can:

  • Sell online courses
  • Sell your services as a coach, consultant or freelancers
  • Launch your book
  • Offer a physical product
  • Create a membership site and sell spots using a monthly subscription model
  • Offer relevant affiliate products or services

The sky’s the limit, once you have an audience — but there are no shortcuts. You can’t jump ahead, and you can’t skip steps.

You also can’t put the proverbial cart before the horse. Before you starting thinking about launch strategies, sales pages, promotional webinars, conversion rates, or A/B testing, you MUST build an audience by following these four steps.

Most people approach online marketing backwards – they build a product, program, or book first, then start looking around for people to sell it to. No wonder folks are frustrated when they can’t make progress!

The other thing we need to be clear on is that you need to consistently keep doing steps 1 through 4, even after you’ve started offering products and services. When you’re an online marketer, audience building never ends.

Building a strong community is a marathon, not a sprint. You ALWAYS need to be doing list-building and audience-building activities, no matter what niche you’re in or how you’re trying to make money online.

Discouraged? There Is Some Great News

There is good news, though. Because you know you must build an audience before you can make money online, it takes a lot of the mystery out of online marketing.

Having audience building as your first priority helps you decide what you should and should not pursue, when you’re considering different online marketing options.

Perhaps you’re considering re-writing the copy on your sales page for the tenth time. You can ask yourself, “Is my sales page the problem, or do I not have a large enough audience?” If the answer is the latter, you need to spend your time on audience-building activities, rather than grabbing your red pen for another edit.

Same with launches of any kind – before you write that book, create that course or build that physical product, ask yourself, “Do I have a community of people who can validate this idea, to make sure I’m on the right track?” If the answer is yes, GREAT! Ask them what they need, and build your product, book or program around their suggestions.

If the answer is no, focus on audience building first, before you go into your Creation Cave to begin building your widget.

Where to Go From Here

Audience building is a 4-step process – but of course, each of those steps can be complicated, especially if you’re just starting out.

I’m about to launch an intensive course (tentatively called “Online Marketing 101”) that focuses on how to implement these four steps, and it’s perfect for anyone who needs to build an audience. You’ll hear more about that over the next few weeks.

But for now, I want you to ask yourself, “Do I have a substantial audience of people who want to buy from me?” and if the answer is NO, I want you to go back to steps 1 through 4, above, and get cracking.

Your audience is out there, and they’re waiting for you to put out the word. Don’t let them down.

Focusing on growing your email list can be a great way to build your audience. If you want specific, actionable advice on how to get more email subscribers, join us for the Great List-Building Challenge. I’ve challenged myself to get to 16,000 subscribers by the end of the year, and the List-Building Challenge Community will get all my best tips and tricks along the way. If you want to build your list, click here to join us.

Introducing the Great List-Building Challenge!

When it comes to running an online business, having a large list of loyal subscribers can make a HUGE difference in your bottom line.

You may have heard online marketing experts say things like, “The money’s in the list,” and to some extent, that’s true. If you have a large list of loyal subscribers, it means you’ve got a community of people who support your work — and those folks are far more likely to buy from you!

But list building is challenging. It’s difficult because:

  • List building is something you have to work on constantly – it’s not something you can do once, then forget about
  • To get loyal subscribers who are true fans, you must follow spam regulations and ask permission before you add people to your list. This results in a better quality list, but it means your list grows more slowly
  • It’s not easy to consistently find potential subscribers and convince them to sign up for your list.
  • There’s always going to be a certain amount of turnover on your list, so you will usually lose a certain percentage of subscribers every month. That process can make you feel like you’re taking one step forward and two steps back.

What does all that mean for us, as online marketers?

It means we need to be patient when we’re working on growing our lists, but we can’t rest on our laurels, either. We’ve got to take focused action every month to attract more subscribers.

And that’s exactly why I’m excited to announce that I’m doing a list-building challenge for the rest of 2016 – and you can join me!

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How the List-Building Challenge Will Work

Right now, I have 5,300 email addresses on my subscriber list. I did a big list purge last summer, and now I feel like I’ve got a good quality list of people who like my content and are fans of my work.

My goal, by the end of 2016, is to have 16,000 subscribers on my list. I picked 16,000 because:

  • It’s a little over triple my current list size.
  • It seems a little bit crazy to me, so it will really be a challenge to reach that number.
  • I feel like adding that many community members to my list would make a significant difference in my business.

To reach my goal, I’m going to be experimenting with a number of list-building techniques – some old, some new.

I’ll be using some tried-and-true methods, like:

  • Guest blogging
  • Joint venture webinars
  • Pinterest marketing

And I’ll also be experimenting with some new techniques, such as:

  • Adding unique opt-in forms to my site
  • Changing my site design
  • Publishing a Kindle book
  • Creating slide decks for SlideShare
  • Syndicating and re-publishing my posts on sites like Medium.com

To make the whole challenge a little more fun – because it’s always a good idea to try to turn stuff like this into a game — I’ve created a little tracking chart to hang on my wall.

Here’s what the chart looks like today:

ChallengeChartCropped

Wow. I gotta admit – that looks pretty daunting. But I believe I can do it — especially if you join me and play along in the Great List-Building Challenge!

How You Can Join In and Play Along

I’ll be posting Challenge updates every month here on the blog, so you track my progress and see what I’m up to. I’ll be sharing my numbers every month, so you’ll see how many subscribers I’ve added and how close I am to reaching my goal.

And if you want the real insider scoop on the Challenge, join the special List-Building Challenge community. I’ll be sharing special updates, tutorials and insider tips with that group, and you can only get those updates by signing up right here.

I also encourage you to play along, and do your own list-building challenge! Here’s how you can join us:

1. Set your own goal for how many subscribers you’ll add to your list between now and the end of 2016. Announce your goal publicly in some way (you can start by putting it in the comments below this post!)

2. Consider creating your own tracking chart, so you can mark your progress as you add subscribers to your list. Make this challenge more fun (and more motivating) by figuring out a cool and interesting way to chart your progress. Try gold stars, a fundraising thermometer-style chart, or whatever you want! Post your tracking chart somewhere you’ll see it every day.

3. Pay more attention to list building this year, to attract more subscribers. You can try to use the techniques I’ll describe during this list-building challenge, or use your own! There are tons of ways to build your list, so experiment and try to find ways that work for you. I’ll be giving you some help in the List-Building Challenge Community, too.

4. Keep in touch and let us know how you’re doing with your challenge! Report your progress in the comments sections of my monthly updates, or send me your own Challenge blog posts via email, and I’ll try to link to them in my posts.

I’ll be telling you more about how you can get involved as we get started, so look for more updates from me, and make sure you join the Great List-Building Challenge community to get special tutorials and behind-the-scenes messages from me.

Will you join us for the Great List-Building Challenge of 2016? Or do you think I’m a little nuts? Let me know in the comments!

The 6-Step System for Publishing Top-Notch Guest Posts on Your Blog

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You’re starting to get some traction with your blog.

People are visiting your site, you’re attracting some comments, and your visitors are sharing your content on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

That’s fantastic news! Way to go!

Now you might be thinking about trying to bring in some guest writers, to help create content for your blog.

How exactly do you find those guest bloggers? How do you start attracting people who are good writers – folks who can create content that is a good fit for your audience?

First, let’s describe what guest bloggers are, how they can help you as a blogger, and when you should start looking for them.

Why You Should Attract Guest Writers for Your Blog

A guest blogger is someone who writes a piece to publish on YOUR blog, instead of writing for his or her own site.

Guest bloggers don’t usually get paid – they typically write guest posts for exposure, and for the links back to their sites.

In my business, I talk a lot about guest blogging from the flip side. In my Blog Traffic School program, I go into detail about how to get your own guest posts published on popular sites in order to get attention, links, subscribers, and relationships with big bloggers.

But today I want to look at guest blogging from the other angle. What’s the best way to attract guest writers to publish top-notch content on your site?

Having guest bloggers publish content on your site helps you in many different ways. Guest bloggers:

  • Help you feature new and different voices and points of view on your blog.
  • Create content for you (which means you have to write fewer blog posts).
  • Help you get traffic to your site, because they share their guest posts with their own community members.

Keep in mind that guest blogging is quite different than ghostblogging. When you bring in a ghostblogger, that person writes articles on your behalf, and they are published under your name (not the original writer’s name). Ghostblogging is a paid service, and ghostbloggers usually sign on to work with you for a longer period of time (like 3-6 months or more).

The Step-by-Step Method for Attracting Quality Guest Writers for Your Blog

Here’s the process you should follow if you’d like to attract talented guest bloggers for your site:

Step One: Make your site as appealing as possible for guest writers.

Guest bloggers typically write guest articles for free, in exchange for exposure and a link back to their site. Because they’re writing for the exposure – and hopefully some subscribers – it’s worth your while to make your site as appealing as possible for those potential writers.

The more comments and social shares your post has, the more enticing it’s going to look to potential writers — so try to get as much traffic as you can. Encourage your subscribers to share your posts on social media. Nudge people to comment.

That said, you don’t need a TON of traffic or subscribers or social shares to attract a guest poster or two. But it’s a good idea not to try to get guest posts when you’ve just started, you’ve got zero traffic, and you only have ten people on your list. You want to offer the best possible situation to your guest bloggers, so put some effort into make your blog appealing by building your traffic.

No need to stress out over this step, though. Do your best, and move on to Step Two.

Step Two: Write out a simple document explaining your guest post guidelines.

If you want people to write for your site, tell them what kind of submissions you’re looking for, and how they should submit their ideas or articles.

If you want people to submit ideas or outlines first, tell them that. If you’d rather see full posts, that’s okay too – spell it out.

Then explain what’s in it for them. Will you send a link to the post out to your entire mailing list? How large is your list? Will you share it on your incredibly popular and engaged Facebook page or Pinterest profile? Say that.

Be clear on what kind of link you’ll give in the byline of the article, and show an example, if possible (even if that example is from another site).

You want people to want to write for you, so this is no time to be modest. Spell out exactly what they’ll get by becoming a guest blogger for your site.

If you want examples of guest blogging guidelines from other sites, check out CoSchedule and MarketingProfs.

Step Three: Publish your guidelines on your site.

Add a link to your guidelines to your navigation bar, perhaps under your “About” page in a drop-down menu.

You can add a link to your guest post guidelines in the footer area of your site, too. You could call the link “Write for Us,” “Guest Posting Guidelines” or something similar – just make sure it’s labeled clearly. This is no time to be cute or clever.

Step Four: Spread the Word About Your Guest Posting Opportunities.

The people on your email mailing list are some of your biggest fans, so it’s a good idea to let them know you’re looking for guest writers. Send a note to your list saying you’re looking for guest bloggers, and include a link to your guest post guidelines.

Next, reach out to people whose writing you respect and admire, and ask if they would like to write for your blog. Make sure the people you reach out to write content that is a good fit for your audience members.

Step Five: Pick the Best Blog Posts for Your Site.

You should only accept a guest post for your site if the content is well-written and the topic is a good fit for your audience.

You may receive guest post requests from people who are just trying to promote themselves, who don’t actually have anything useful or interesting to say. Or you’ll get requests from people who want to write about topics that aren’t a match for your audience. You should say no to those folks.

It’s also not your job to give people guest post ideas. Refer people back to your guest post guidelines (Step Two) so they know it’s their job to bring guest post topics to the table.

If you’re not sure about a particular writer, it’s okay to say “maybe” to his request. If you’re concerned about writing quality, ask him to go ahead and write the article, then submit it to you so you can look it over before you make a decision (or ask for previous writing samples).

Long story short: It’s your blog, so it’s your decision. Don’t agree to anything you’re not comfortable with, and always keep your readers in mind when you’re deciding about a guest blogger.

Say “yes” to articles that are a good fit – articles you’d be proud to publish on your site – then move on to step six.

Step Six: Promote the guest post and develop relationships with your guest bloggers.

When you publish a guest blogger’s article on your site, do your best to promote it! Send the article to your mailing list, promote it on social media, and ask influencers to share the piece with their audiences.

Make sure the guest blogger is replying to comments and promoting the piece to her audience, too.

If the blogger did a good job and the piece was popular with your audience, you can ask the blogger to contribute another article for your site.

The same rules still apply for repeat guest bloggers – make sure the piece is high quality and a good fit for your audience.

How to Make Guest Content Work for You

As you publish guest posts on your site, you will probably get more requests for guest posts. Hopefully you’ll have tons of quality submissions to choose from.

Take note of which types of content get a lot of social shares and comments (and which ones don’t) so you can add more information to your guest post guidelines. Remember – the more specific you are in the guest post guidelines, the better your guest submissions will be.

And whether you decide to publish just a few guest pieces, or make guest bloggers a regular feature on your site, your readers will appreciate the high-quality content they’ll get from you.

Guest bloggers can be a breath of fresh air into your solitary blogging world, so if publishing guest posts seems like a good fit for your site, start making your site appealing to guest writers and putting together your own guest post guidelines.

And have some fun with this process! Guest bloggers can take some of the content creation burden off your shoulders, and can really help build a large and loyal online audience. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.

Free Writing for Bloggers: A Miraculous Tool for Content Creation

Have you ever heard of timed writing practice, or free writing?

Shortly after I moved to Boulder in 1998, I discovered the work of author and writing teacher Natalie Goldberg. Ms. Goldberg teaches timed writing practice (also known as free writing) as a major part of her informal writing curriculum, and the technique has helped millions of writers be more productive (and more free) with their writing.

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Here are the rules for free writing:

  • Give yourself a time limit (say, 10-20 minutes). Set up a timer for that amount of time, and begin writing.
  • Keep your hand moving until the time is up. Don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t read over what you’ve written – just keep your pen moving (or keep typing) until the timer goes off.
  • Pay no attention to grammar, spelling, punctuation, neatness, or style in your writing. Nobody needs to read your timed writes, and the only thing that counts is that you keep writing. The correctness and quality of what you write do not matter; the act of writing does.
  • If you get off the topic or run out of ideas, keep writing anyway. If necessary, write nonsense or whatever comes into your head — anything to keep your hand moving.
  • When the timer goes off, put your pen down, or stop typing.

Creativity and writing coach Cynthia Morris (of OriginalImpulse.com) describes free writing this way:

Free writing is a method that can be used for all genres of writing, for both seasoned and new writers. Free writing allows for a safe, fun exploration of your true voice. Modeled after Natalie Goldberg’s free writing methods in her book, Writing Down the Bones (Shambhala Publications, 1986), free writing allows you to get your words out without judgment or concern for correctness.”

I’ve used free writing to complete blog posts, copywriting projects, personal essays, and major sections of my book on Pinterest marketing. It’s a huge reason I was able to complete a major 30,000-word writing challenge last August. I absolutely LOVE free writing.

Cynthia Morris teaches a class a few times a year called the Free-Write Fling, which is a month-long course in which students do free writing for 15 minutes, every day, for 30 days. Free-Write Flingers get structured support and accountability from Cynthia and the other members of the group.

I’ve been hearing about this course for years, but last year one of my blogging clients (Linda Tate) signed up for the program and got some AMAZING results from it. I was amazed at what she was able to do during her month of free writing, and I decided I wanted to share her story with my community.

It’s not often I get to feature one of my favorite clients (Linda) AND one of my favorite teachers (Cynthia) in the same post, but today I get to do just that! I conducted little mini-interviews with Cynthia and Linda about free writing (and the Free Write Fling program) and how bloggers can use free writing to create content. You can see those interviews below.

Cynthia’s next Free Write Fling starts tomorrow (April 1, 2016). I highly encourage you to sign up – as you’ll see, the program can be incredibly beneficial for any blogger or online content creator. Note: I am a proud affiliate for Cynthia’s business, so the links to the Free Write Fling in this post are affiliate links.

Even if the Free Write Fling isn’t your thing — keep reading! I think you’re going to be really inspired by Cynthia’s insights and Linda’s incredible success story, and they both give helpful advice about how bloggers can use free writing to create content.

Questions About Free Writing (and the Free-Write Fling) with Cynthia Morris

1. Why is free writing a good practice for writers, in general?

Free-writing is a great way to:

  • Listen to our truth
  • Develop our unique voice
  • Get a lot of writing done
  • Work on an existing project
  • Explore new topics
  • Push creative boundaries

2. Do you have to be a fiction writer to get the benefits of free writing?

Free writing is a method of writing that is useful for ALL kinds of writing. I have written non-fiction books, blog posts, marketing copy, coursework and my novel using this method.

3. How can free writing help bloggers?

Free writing can help any kind of writer, both seasoned and newbies. Bloggers who must generate fresh, insightful content need to shake off the pressure of looking good, smart and authoritative, and free writing helps you do that.

Blogs also require a fresh voice, and with the inner critic sitting on our shoulder, it’s hard to tap our authentic voice.

4. How can a structured program like the Free-Write Fling help bloggers?

Bloggers need to generate a lot of consistent writing. The Free-Write Fling is designed to help writers sit down daily to get their thoughts out of their head and onto the page.

This class helps people know their writing flow, when their ideal writing time is and what the length of their writing sessions is. It doesn’t take long before bloggers get into their groove. Using free writing generates more ideas so bloggers never run out of content.

Questions About How to Use Free Writing to Create Blog Content, with Blogger Linda Tate

Tell us about your blog. What kind of blog posts do you write?

StoryWeb: Storytime for Grownups is a weekly blog and podcast. Each week, I feature a different storyteller and story. Visitors to StoryWeb will encounter novels, poems, films, songs, and more!

Each blog post (and podcast episode) gives background on the storyteller and the featured story. At the end of each blog post, there’s a multimedia clip. Visitors might be able to listen to E.B. White read from “Charlotte’s Web” or watch a clip from Julie Dash’s film “Daughters of the Dust.” And for a bonus treat, sometimes I read from the selected work. It’s great fun!

What got you interested in free writing, to help with writing your blog posts?

I found that I was always putting off writing my blog posts. I post a new “episode” every Monday morning, and when I was depending on inspiration or waiting until I “felt” like writing, I’d find that I had often waited until the last minute.

I was a university English professor for 26 years, and I knew the power of free writing to unlock stalled writing. I thought it was worth trying free writing to see if I could get over that initial hurdle of sketching out a post.

Why did you sign up for the Free Write Fling?

The Free Write Fling makes me accountable. I know that I “have” to write every day. It’s just for 15 minutes, but it has to be every day.

Of course, Cynthia’s not holding a gun to your head. There are no real consequences to not following through on your commitment. But just knowing that I’ve made a commitment and that Cynthia (and others in the Fling Zone, as it’s called) will notice if I don’t post keeps me on track.

Also all participants who complete every single day of the Free Write Fling are entered into a random drawing for a free hour of coaching with Cynthia. I would love to win that free hour, and that usually motivates me to write even when I don’t feel like it. I haven’t won yet, but I will keep trying!

Can you tell me about your experience during the program?

I have done the Free Write Fling four times, and each time I generate tons of ideas for my blog and podcast. At the beginning of the month, I create “prompts.” That is, on an index card, I jot down a storyteller and story I want to feature. I create about 35 of these cards, so that I can pick a storyteller and story at random. I put the index cards in a box and draw one each day, then set my timer for 15 minutes.

Often, I look at the prompt and think, “I don’t have anything to say about this topic! Why did I include this as a prompt?!” But then the free writing takes over, I’m off and running, and more often than not, I’ve generated good material when the timer goes off.

One other fun note: When my timer goes off after 15 minutes, I often keep writing. This always prompts my husbands to imitate a schoolmarm. He says, “Pencils down!” Cracks me up every time.

How did the FWF help you, as a blogger? What benefits did you get from the program?

I do the Free Write Fling twice a year. This allows me to generate raw material for a full year’s worth of blogging and podcasting (note from Beth: Holy crap!).

Of course, during the 15-minute free write, I don’t come up with a finished blog post or podcast episode – but I do get over the initial hurdle. Then when I sit down to craft the blog post and podcast episode each week, I’ve got the raw material I need. I move right into revision and polishing – because the material I develop during the Free Write Fling is usually pretty much right on the money.

There are 30 days in most months, and I do the Fling twice a year. That gives me 60 chunks of raw material (each chunk on a different storyteller and story). I only need 52 episodes, so that gives me some room for “clinkers!”

Would you recommend free writing and/or the Free Write Fling to other bloggers? If so, why?

I would highly recommend the Free Write Fling for bloggers. It’s such a relief to know that I’ve got lots of material to draw from as I face my blog post and podcast episode each week. Besides, it’s fun! Cynthia’s Fling Zone is a very welcoming place.

You don’t actually share what you’ve written – but you post “about” what you’ve written. Cynthia always chimes in with great cheerleading support. Her enthusiasm keeps me going!

Try Your Hand at Free Writing

Whether you join a program like Cynthia’s, or try free writing on your own, a timed writing practice can add a major boost of adrenaline to your blogging efforts.

So grab that timer, set it for 20 minutes, and prepare to change your blogging journey forever!

The 5-Step Process for Creating a Successful Author Blog

Author and blogger Michael Hyatt (of MichaelHyatt.com) currently has 615,000 subscribers on his mailing list, and he runs one of the most popular websites on the web.

On the first day of his most recent book launch, Michael’s fans cleaned out Amazon’s entire stock of the new book. Michael actually had to email his list of subscribers to give them some alternate vendors where they could buy their copies.

Great story, right?

Here’s the not-so-secret background story behind this amazing book launch tale:

Michael Hyatt’s blog is the reason he’s become so successful.

Michael’s site is one of the top three business blogs on the web, and he attracts over 500,000 to his blog every single month.

Michael says his blog is the engine behind his entire business — and his business includes multiple bestselling books, a popular membership site, and numerous online courses.

Mr. Hyatt’s blog is the foundation of his hugely successful online business. He currently has:

  • 270,00 Twitter followers
  • 117,000 Facebook fans
  • 250,000+ podcast listeners

Most of the biggest, most successful writers on the web have built their platforms around their blogs – folks like Joanna Penn, Seth Godin, Scott Adams, Neil Gaiman, Cory Doctorow, and Nora Roberts – and starting a blog is one of the best things you can do to launch your first book, or sell more copies of your current book.

Let’s take a look at why blogs are so important for authors, and the critical steps you need to take to create your own thriving author blog.

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4 Reasons You Should Start an Author Blog Today

It’s clear that a blog can be the foundation for your success as an author – but why (exactly) are blogs so important? Why does having a blog help your book sales?

Here are the reasons why you should start an author blog as soon as possible:

  • A blog makes you visible to potential fans and readers. In our crazy busy online world, your blog gives you a way to stand out from the crowd and let people know who you are and what your message is.
  • Your blog content will help you rank well in the search engines. Having a blog enables you to quickly and easily create online content, which helps you get found in the search engines. Google rewards sites that regularly publish relevant content, and your blog platform is your best tool for doing that.
  • Building a quality blog helps establish you as an authority in your field. Creating online content (and developing a large audience for that content) is a great way to let the world know you’re an expert in your topic. Building your online authority can lead to multiple book deals, speaking gigs, guest posts, joint venture partnerships, and other high-visibility opportunities.
  • Having blog visitors allows you to build a large email list and a sizeable social media following. Want to build a big list of loyal subscribers and potential readers? Publishing a blog can definitely help you do that. Your blog content can also help you gain followers and friends on social networking platforms like Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.

No Matter What Kind of Author You Are, a Blog Can Work for You

If you are trying to get a traditional publishing deal, publishers will be looking at the size of your overall author platform to decide whether or not to offer you a book contract.

That will include the number of visitors to your site, the amount of subscribers on your email list, and the numbers of fans and followers you have for your various social media profiles. A blog is the #1 way for you to increase all of these statistics.

Bottom line: If you want to get a traditional publishing deal, having an author blog is a must.

If you want to self-publish your book, you need a loyal fan base of prospective readers who can’t wait to read your book, and having a thriving blog community is the #1 way to bring in those prospective readers.

Bottom line: If you want to self-publish your book, having an author blog is a must.

And what if you’re a fiction author? Starting a blog is still your best option for building your fan base of potential readers. Some of the most popular novelists in the world use their blog as the foundation for marketing their books.

Fiction writers need readers, too, and the best way to reach potential readers is by developing a strong online presence.

Bottom line: Blogs are the best marketing tool you can use, whether you write fiction or non-fiction books.

The 5-Step Process for Creating a Wildly Successful Author Blog

Let’s walk through the 5-step process for launching and nurturing your author blog.

Step 1: Do some critical thinking before you begin.

 Unfortunately, this is the step that gets skipped by most authors.

Many authors hear that blogging is a good way to sell books (or they’re trying to attract a traditional publishing book deal), so they decide to start a blog. They launch their site, then sit down to write their first posts.

Only then do they ask themselves, “What should I blog about?”

This approach definitely puts the cart before the horse.

Instead, you should ask yourself some critical questions before you decide on a blogging tool, pick your domain, or start creating your first post. Those questions are:

Question #1: “Who is my intended audience?”

What kind of readers (and potential readers) are you trying to attract with your blog? Are they teenagers, senior citizens, or middle-aged people? Are you looking to reach women or men? What are their interests and hobbies?

The more you know about your audience, the easier it will be to create relevant content for those people.

And remember – the audience for your book is the same as the audience for your blog. You should create blog content specifically for those potential readers, so spend some time thinking about who these people are and what’s important to them.

Question #2: “How will my audience benefit from my blog posts?”

The best thing you can do to attract your ideal reader is create blog posts that are useful, interesting and entertaining for your audience members.

So consider this, before you start writing: Why would you blog reader benefit from your content? Can they learn a skill from you? Be entertained by your stories? Gain insight into the human condition?

The most enticing benefits for most people are things like health, wealth, freedom, better relationships, and peace of mind. If you can write content that provides one (or more) or those benefits to your readers, you’ll be well on your way to building a blog community of people who know and like you, and can’t wait to buy your book(s).

Question #3: “What kind of content will I be able to write consistently?”

When you start a blog, you need to publish great content consistently, so it’s important that you consider what kind of content you’ll actually enjoy writing.

Don’t create a interview-based blog if you’re an introvert who doesn’t like interviewing people.

You have lots of choices for the type of content you create – you can do how-to advice, frequently asked questions, book and movie reviews, curated content, and much more – so it’s really important to consider this question before you begin.

Once you’ve pondered these questions and jotted down some notes about your answers, it’s time for you to move on to the next step.

Step Two: Pick your blogging platform.

These days, you have lots of good options for blogging platforms (also known as content management tools).

I personally recommend using WordPress.org, which gives you the most flexibility and power, but SquareSpace and Typepad are also good choices. I would highly recommend steering away from Blogger (Blogspot) for professional blogs.

Make sure you pick a blogging platform that lets you start simple, but can grow with you as your blogging community develops over time.

Step Three: Integrate blogging into your writing life.

I hear a lot of authors say things like, “I can’t waste time blogging. I have to get my real writing done.”

This is a HUGE mistake. If your blogging philosophy is “let me get through this blog post as quickly as possible, so I can work on the writing that really counts,” you are setting yourself up to fail as a blogger.

Publishing content on your blog is a critical part of your book marketing strategy, and as such, you need to integrate it as part of your overall writing career.

Your blog is not some redheaded stepchild of your “real” writing – it’s what enables you to write and sell your books!

You must schedule time for your blog writing, and give your blog posts your best effort as a writer. Don’t assume you can your blog writing into your spare time – because if we’re being honest, none of us really have spare time, right?

Stop thinking there’s a distinction between blog writing and “real” writing – it’s all real writing, and all of it is vital to your success as a writer.

Step Four: Consistently publish top-quality content.

Potential readers will come to your blog because they like your content.

They don’t come for fancy design, or search engine optimization, or any of the other myriad of other things you can spend time and energy on as a blogger.

If your content isn’t good, you aren’t going to succeed as a blogger. Period. So your blog must be useful, interesting, or entertaining for your reader.

If you’re a non-fiction author, use your blog to teach your reader more about your area of expertise. Think frequently asked questions, tutorials, how-to posts, infographics, and recommendations.

If you’re a fiction writer, you can do interviews with other authors, make book and movie recommendations, tell stories, and talk about your life as a writer.

As soon as you possibly can, start writing a list of possible blog post ideas. Keep it in your computer, your phone or tablet, or even a little notebook in your purse or briefcase. Once you start brainstorming ideas, you’ll be amazed at the ideas that come to you!

Then use those ideas to publish top-quality posts on a regular basis – it’s the most important thing you will do as a blogger.

Step Five: Build your traffic and your email list.

As you publish content on your blog, you’ll also need to promote that content and take steps to build your email list.

You can attract more traffic by doing blogger outreach, finding guest blogging opportunities, hosting webinars, optimizing your content for search engines, and using social media in smart ways.

One of the very best things you can do to get more traffic and build your platform is work on building your email mailing list.

Your email subscribers are the folks who are most likely to visit your blog, share your posts on social media, comment on your posts and buy your books – so it’s definitely worth cultivating your list as part of your book promotion and blog growth strategy.

The Inspiration for Starting Your Own Author Blog

If you are willing to invest some time and energy into your blog, it can be your new best friend as author.

Your blog can help you build your online platform, which will make you highly attractive to traditional publishers. Or if you’d like to go the self-publishing route, your site can help you attract passionate buyers for your book.

Follow these steps to creating your own successful author blog, and you’ll be able to do anything you like with your platform – whether that’s publishing books, creating online courses, getting high-paying speaking engagements, or anything else you’d like to accomplish in your career as an author.

All you need to do is get started – so dig in, and begin your journey as a blogging author today!

How to Protect Your Blog From Hackers, Tech Gremlins and Things That Go Bump in the Night

You pull up your blog first thing in the morning, ready to create a new post. You’re feeling creatively inspired, and can’t wait to start writing.

But when you try to log in to your blogging tool, you can’t get in.

In fact, you can’t see your blog at all. It looks like the whole site is just….gone.

Imagine how you would feel if you feel if your blog simply vanished. All your carefully written posts, your hand-selected images, your comments — all of it disappears in a flash.

This isn’t a ridiculous, impossible idea. It’s completely possible – and it happens more often than you might think.

Bloggers can be the victim of hacking attempts, hosting problems, miscommunications with Google, and other technical issues – all of which have the potential to wipe out months (or years) of a blogger’s hard work.

But there is good news.

There’s one fairly simple step you can take to avoid losing your site. That step is backing up your blog on a regular basis.

How to Protect Your Blog from Hackers, Tech Gremlins and Things That Go Bump in the Night

All the major blogging platforms have simple ways to do regular backups of your work, and some platforms even offer ways to automate the process.

In this post, I’m going to explain how to run backups on the five biggest blogging platforms – WordPress.org, WordPress.com, Blogger, Typepad and Squarespace – so you’ll never need to wake up at night in a cold sweat, wondering if all your hard content-creating work might’ve just gone up in smoke.

Let’s start with the world’s most popular blogging platform: WordPress.org.

Why WordPress.org Sites Get Hacked – and Why It Matters

There are a lot of advantages to blogging with WordPress.org. It’s flexible, fast, and full of fantastic tools and themes you can use to grow your email list, check your visitor stats, and customize the look and feel of your site.

But WordPress.org has one major disadvantage, and that’s hackers.

WordPress.org sites get hacked all the time, because WordPress.org is a wildly popular, open-source platform.

Hackers can add all kinds of malicious code to your site, causing issues like:

  • Creating obnoxious pop-ups to come up on your blog, advertising stuff you wouldn’t want your mother to see
  • Adding malicious code to your site to get access to your email list, credit card information, or other data
  • Locking you out of your WordPress.org dashboard
  • Bringing your site down entirely

Sometimes, hackers do really weird things to your site. Last year, I got hacked, and the only thing the hackers did was transform my most recent post into an x-rated article full of links to porn sites. They kept the title and the image of the article the same, so actually it took me a couple of days to realize what they had done.

One of my developers, Michelle Panulla, couldn’t stop laughing when I called and asked her to try to fix it – she said it was one of the cleverest hacks she’d ever seen. I can laugh about it now – but I wasn’t laughing back then!

Thankfully, was easily able to restore my site, because we run regular backups of my entire blog.

And you should never assume that because your site is small (or about a topic that’s not controversial) that you won’t get hit. WordPress hackers don’t discriminate – they’ll hack your site if they get the chance, no matter how small your site is, or how much traffic you attract.

How to Back Up a WordPress.org Blog

Want to decrease the damage hackers can do to your blog? The best thing you can do is perform weekly backups of your entire site.

That includes your blog posts, pages, theme, comments – everything on your site.

When you back up your site regularly, you won’t necessarily prevent hackers from messing with your site, but you will make it easier to restore your blog once it’s been hacked.

My favorite tool for performing regularly backups for WordPress.org sites is Backup Buddy, a premium plugin that allows you to set up automated backups of your entire site. You will need to pay a yearly fee to use this plugin.

Here’s a tutorial that walks you through the steps of configuring Backup Buddy, running your very first backup, and setting up automated backups.

VaultPress and BlogVault are two other (paid) options for running automated backups of your WordPress.org blog.

An Important Security Issue for WordPress.org Bloggers

Doing regular backups is great, but what if you want to avoid getting hacked in the first place?

One of the best things you can do to avoid getting hacked is regularly update your site to the most recent versions of WordPress and all of your plugins.

As the WordPress team spots security problems in its code, it regularly fixes them by releasing new versions of the WordPress.org software.

In years past, you could often go for years without updating to the latest version of WordPress – but these days, not updating your blog (and continuing to use an ancient version of WordPress) leaves you highly susceptible to hackers.

Many hackers actually look for bloggers who haven’t updated their sites recently. Right now, running an a really old version of WordPress is like rolling out the red carpet for these malicious weenies.

If you’d like someone else to take care of backing up your site on a regular basis AND keep you running with the most recent version of WordPress and your plugins, it’s a great idea to sign up for an ongoing maintenance service with a qualified WordPress developer.

Having a developer handle monthly maintenance for you is actually cost effective, too. Consider these potential costs, for trying to manage WordPress security on your own:

  • Buying a license for Backup Buddy, which is your best option for backing up your WP site on your own ($90 a year)
  • Managing your own WordPress and plugin updates, which can take several hours each year and will pull you away from doing more important business tasks (around $300 a year)
  • If your WordPress update fails, you’ll need to pay a developer to help you sort out the problem ($250-$500 each time)
  • If your best security efforts fail, and you get hacked anyway, you’ll need to pay a qualified developer to help you restore your site and remove all malicious code (Usually $400+, depending how bad the hack is)

Since most developers charge between $35 and $50 a month for ongoing WordPress maintenance fees, it actually saves you money to let someone else manage your WordPress security efforts.

If you’re looking for a WordPress specialist who can keep your site safe by managing your updates and putting up barriers to getting hacked, I highly recommend Tim Falb.

Tim offers a monthly WordPress maintenance service called Eagle Eye Updates, and right now he’s offering a low price for my community members of just $30 a month, or $300 a year. Check out Tim’s site for details on his services.

Note: I am an affiliate for Tim’s services, so I do receive a small commission if you sign up with him. I have worked with Tim many times in the past, and he’s a highly reliable and ethical developer.

Now let’s move on to WordPress.org’s closest cousin: WordPress.com.

How to Back Up a WordPress.com Blog

Here’s what the WordPress.com support site says about running backups:

“If your blog is hosted here at WordPress.com, we handle all necessary backups. If a very large meteor were to hit all the WordPress.com servers and destroy them beyond repair, all of your data would still be safe and we could have your blog online within a couple of days (after the meteor situation died down, of course).”

This sounds awesome, right? And it probably is.

However, as someone who usually errs on the side of caution when it comes to technical stuff, I still recommend running your own manual backups. It will only take a couple of minutes a week, and it’s always better to have too MANY backups than to have too FEW.

Here’s how to export your site and create your own manual backup in WordPress.com:

  1. Go to WordPress.com and log in to your account.
  2. Click on “My Site” in the upper right corner of your screen.
  3. At the very bottom of your left navigation bar, click on “WP Admin.”
  4. Hover over the word “Tools” in left navigation bar of your WordPress Admin dashboard, until you see a dropdown menu appear.WPCom1
  5. Click on “Export” in that dropdown menu.WPCom2
  6. Click on “Start Export” under the “Export” section on the left side of your screen.WPCom3
  7. Choose “All Content,” then click on the blue “Download Export File” button.
  8. Save the file to your computer. It’s a good idea to start a folder for blog backups, because this is something you’ll be doing on a regular basis.

For more information on exporting your site to create a manual backup of your WordPress.com site, click here.

How to Back Up a Blogger (Blogspot) Blog

Because Blogger (Blogspot) is a totally free platform, their tech support can be really hit or miss. That means if you’ve got a problem and your blog disappears, you don’t have a reliable tech support team to call or email to help you sort out the problem.

That’s all the more reason to consistently create backups of your site if you’re blogging on the Blogger platform.

To create a backup in Blogger, you’ll need to export your blog to a file, then save that file on your computer to keep it safe. When you follow this process, you’ll get a .xml file that acts as your backup.

Here are the steps you should follow to export your Typepad blog:

  1. Sign in to Blogger.
  2. Select the blog you want to export.
  3. In the menu on the left side of your screen, click on “Settings,” which will open up some additional options under that word.Blogspot1
  4. Click on the word “Other” under “Settings.”Blogspot2
  5. Under the “Import and back up” section at the top of your screen, click on the “Back Up Content” button.Blogspot3
  6. When you click on that button, you’ll see a pop-up box appear. Click on “Save to Your Computer,” and your exported file will be downloaded automatically.Blogspot4
  7. Make sure you save the file somewhere where you’ll be able to get to it later if you need it. It’s not a bad idea to create a folder called “Blog Backups” somewhere on your computer, and always save your backup files to that folder.

How to Back Up a Typepad Blog

Typepad apparently does some periodic backing up of their sites, but it’s definitely a good idea to create your own manual backups, too. Don’t rely on their backup process to protect your content.

You can export your Typepad blog to create a manual backup. Here are the steps you should follow to export your Typepad blog:

  1. Log into your Typepad account.
  2. Click on “Settings.”
  3. Click on “Import/Export.”
  4. Scroll down to the “Export” section.
  5. Click the “Export” button to generate your export file.
  6. Once the export (backup) has run, you’ll see a link to download the file and save it on your computer.
  7. If you are a Windows computer, click on the link with the right mouse button and choose “Save Target As” or “Save Link As” to save the file.
  8. If you are on a Mac, hold down the “Option” key while clicking, and choose the “Save Link As” menu option to save the file.

Learn more about the Typepad export process by clicking here.

How to Back Up a Squarespace Blog

According to their support website, Squarespace reportedly performs extensive site backups on your behalf, so they say there’s no need for you to manually back up your site.

I still think it’s good idea to perform your own backups. Servers fail, and problems happen that are out of your control, and I’d always rather you be safe than sorry.

You can export your SquareSpace blog to create a manual backup. Here are instructions from Squarespace, for doing your own backups (including a nice tutorial video.

The Most Important Weekly Appointment on Your Calendar

We’ve talked about the unique security issues of WordPress.org, then walked through the process of backing up your blog with the five most popular blogging platforms.

The most important message of this entire article is to make sure you regularly perform backups of your blog content.

Weekly backups certainly won’t prevent every problem. Hackers will go on being jerks, and tech gremlins will still crop up. But if you’ve backed up your site, at least you can rest easy, knowing you always have a way to restore your site if something catastrophic happens.

And that’s a compelling reason to create a weekly appointment with yourself that’s called “Weekly Blog Backup.” Then make sure you always honor that appointment, and create a backup of your site every single week.

Otherwise, all your hard work on your blog can disappear like a puff of smoke.

And your backups can shield you from ever having that happen to you – so you never again need to sit down to write a blog post and have to say, “My blog is gone!”

Picture your weekly backups like the antidote to hackers, hosting problems and other catastrophic blogging problems. Perhaps they won’t prevent your blog from ever getting sick – but they certainly can prevent the illness from becoming a fatal one.

How My Mom Became a 67-Year-Old Entrepreneur (Plus, a Fast and Free Way to Crop and Resize Images)

My mom has been an artist for as long as I can remember. For years, she’s created incredible paintings, cross stitch projects, jewelry, and clothing. She’s also a prize-winning quilter, and there’s nothing she can’t do with a sewing machine.

A few years ago, Mom turned her creative attentions toward a new passion: hand-crafted dolls. She started making unbelievably adorable elf and Santa dolls, and as it turns out, she’s got a knack for that, too.

She started selling her dolls at Pennsylvania craft shows, and last year she launched her own Etsy shop.

Check out some of her creations here:

How Mom Became an Entrepreneur

How Mom Became an Entrepreneur

How Mom Became an Entrepreneur (Plus, a Fast and Free Way to Resize Images)

I’m incredibly proud of Mom for starting her first online business at the age of 67. Her story proves that is absolutely, positively NEVER too late to follow your dreams and start your own online business (if that’s what you’re called to do).

Now Mom is studying online marketing, to learn how to successfully sell handmade items on the web. I’m having a great time supporting her entrepreneurial ventures by giving her marketing advice.

So when Mom asks me for my help with email list building, using Pinterest, or anything else related to online marketing, I try to teach her everything I can. She’s learning quickly, and I have no doubt she’s going to be hugely successful.

The other day, Mom asked me to proofread a marketing email before she sent it out to her list, and I noticed that she had attached three images to the email. She wanted to include the images in the email to give her prospects a sneak preview of the new dolls in her Etsy shop.

And it was a good idea. But the problem was, the images were huge (each one was more than 3000 pixels wide), so I knew it was going to cause problems.

Some of her prospects weren’t going to be able to receive her email at all, because the attachments were so large, and if the messages did get through, the images were probably going to be stripped out.

So I told her to either remove the images, or resize them to a small, more workable size. I gave her a link to my favorite image editing tool, PicMonkey.

How to Resize (and Crop) Images Using PicMonkey

Then it occurred to me that if Mom needed to know how to resize images, other people in my community probably needed to know that, too.

Have you ever need to resize (or crop) an image, so you could use it in a blog post? Ever need a fast and free way of doing some basic image editing?

If the answer’s yes, this is the perfect little video for you. I created this little tutorial to walk you through the process of cropping and resizing images using PicMonkey. It’s fast, painless, and fun!

(click the four arrows in the lower right area of the window, to view the video full screen)

PicMonkey is a free tool you can use to do all kinds of things with your images, including cropping, resizing, adding text, and using filters. If you want a free, fast and flexible photo editor, this is a great choice.

After you’ve watched the video, tell me in the comments: Do you have other entrepreneurs and business owners in your family? If so, how do you support each other?