Dean: Did you know you can use your blog to make money offline?
Blogger: Offline? What is this “offline” you speak of?
Dean: It’s the opposite of “online.”
Blogger: (confused silence)
Dean: You know. Offline. Not on the internet. The real world.
Blogger: (shaking phone) Not only does this stupid phone drop my calls, now it’s translating them into crazy moon language.
The truth is, blogs have grown into a more powerful tool than anyone ever imagined. They’re ideal for making money online, of course. But they can also be used to generate profits for nearly any kind of business, including those that provide real services in the offline world.
This often means generating sales leads for a service or consulting business. This is how I use my copywriting business blog, which accounts for most of the new clients who call me these days.
Okay, sounds great. People read your blog and then call to hire you, right?
Well, not quite.
Are you selling a product or a service?
First, it’s important to understand that selling a service is not like selling a product.
When you sell a product, the process is usually pretty straightforward. Basically, you introduce the product, spell out some benefits, make an offer, and people make a buying decision.
Selling a service can be a little more involved.
Prospects first inquire about the service, usually comparing you with other providers. If the service is expensive, like my copywriting and marketing consulting, people are even more careful about their decision.
I’ve had clients take years to finally made the decision to hire me. And it’s common for people to start a phone call by saying, “I’ve been reading your blog for quite a while now. Do you have a moment to talk about a copywriting project?”
This shouldn’t surprise you. The more expensive the service, the more important it is, and the more commitment it requires from the customer, the more careful that customer is going to be.
Think about it. If you need your bathroom painted, you might spend an afternoon looking for a decent painter. If you need to build an extension onto your house, you might spend weeks or even months finding the perfect contractor for the job.
So if you provide a service, such as freelance writing, graphic design, web consulting, wedding photography, event planning, translation, or whatever, you can use your blog to attract prospects and begin the process of selling them on your services.
Create your sales funnel
Professional sales people often talk about filling their “sales funnel” or “sales pipeline.”
What they mean is that in order to make a sale sometime in the future, they want people to inquire today. They always want to have lots of people who are in various stages of readiness to buy.
To keep things simple, I like to think of the sales funnel as having just 4 simple steps.
1. Generate inquiries
This means getting people to contact you. Typically this is done by offering something of value in exchange for contact information.
For my business, I offer a free newsletter. If people go to my main website, I also offer a free white paper. In both cases, they have to give me some contact information before they get the freebie. I also provide a contact form and phone number for “hot” leads who are ready to talk business.
I get many inquiries every week. Most can’t afford my services. But a few are high quality and good candidates for future business.
2. Follow up
After you’ve delivered the freebie or provided whatever information you have promised, it’s time to schedule your follow-up, usually either by email or phone.
Because you are responding to someone’s inquiry, it’s not a cold call. You have a valid reason for making contact and have an opportunity to gauge how serious the person is. Are they just gathering information? Do they need your services immediately? Or are they somewhere in between?
The most serious are your sales leads. Everyone else is a prospect. You will want to spend more time on sales leads than prospects.
3. Nurture leads
This is the step most people are tempted to skip.
Like every other person selling a service, you want to make a sale right away. But while a few people will hire you immediately, most will not. Their interest needs to be nurtured until they’re ready to buy.
Find ways to regularly communicate with your leads. Over time, they will become more familiar with you and more comfortable with the idea of hiring you. People always prefer the familiar over the unknown.
There are many ways to nurture leads. You can send news or information they might be interested in, make additional offers for low-cost or introductory services, connect with them socially, and even seek their advice from time to time.
4. Close sales
This step is self-explanatory. A potential customer needs your service. You provide a quote or estimate, answer questions, overcome objections, and eventually close the sale.
This is your end game, the goal of your efforts. And if you’ve set up a good lead generation system and kept your sales funnel consistently full, it will actually be the easiest step in the process.
Easy ways to generate inquiries from your blog
The hardest part about generating sales leads is getting people to contact you in the first place. If you’re just starting out and no one knows who you are, this may seem impossible.
As a blogger, you may know a variety of ways to promote your blog. Obviously, the more blog traffic you get, the easier it will be to generate leads. But you don’t need a ton of traffic to make it work.
According to Alexa, my business blog is ranked at around 100,000 or so. That’s not bad, but it’s nowhere near superstar blogs such as Copyblogger. However, I get enough of the right kind of people reading it to generate a steady stream of inquiries for my services.
So don’t worry about becoming a top-ranked blog. To successfully sell your services, you just need regular inquiries from the right kind of people. The more specialized you are, and the more targeted your blog posts, the more likely this will happen.
Of course, bringing people to your blog is one thing. Generating inquiries is another. Here are some simple things you can do to make those inquiries happen.
Contact Form — If you have a blog, you almost certainly have a contact form. However, the standard contact form is not enough. You should modify your form to match the service you sell. Take a look at the highly specialized form I use.
E-Newsletter — This is an easy way to stay in touch with many people and provide great value while you’re at it. Since I specialize in copywriting for direct mail and direct marketing, my newsletter features articles and information on the subject. I have several thousand subscribers and about half of my new clients say they became pre-sold on my abilities by subscribing.
Free White Paper — While a newsletter requires an ongoing commitment, a white paper is a one-time effort. Write it, post a contact/request form, and send a link to the PDF when requests come in. You could also automate the process with an auto responder, but I like to fulfill these requests personally so I can watch for hot leads from companies I want to work with. My white paper on improving direct mail response generates many requests every week.
Information Kit — If you’ve built a blog or site around your services, you should provide plenty of information online. However, you can offer pricing, forms, a client list, and other information in the form of a downloadable PDF. Remember, when someone requests information, it gives you the opportunity to capture contact information.
Webinars — These days it’s fairly simple to put together a webinar using services such as GoToWebinar. You can also create non-interactive presentations with software like PowerPoint or OpenOffice. The idea is to provide something of value that enables you to collect contact information.
Videos — Using software and hardware built into many computers, you can create simple, informative videos. They don’t have to be fancy. Just look into the camera and talk. Or edit together simple footage demonstrating your work or how you solved a problem. Video can also be a helpful tool to encourage people to sign up for your newsletter, webinar, or other information.
Pay Per Click — If you write and promote a good blog, you’re probably getting a fair amount of natural traffic. But pay-per-click ads can give you a boost for people looking for your particular services. Your results will vary depending on the level of competition and amount you’re willing to spend, but it’s worth a test.
Just remember: Your blog is a means to an end. If you use your blog to attract the right kind of traffic, and follow the advice above to generate sales leads, you should see a dramatic increase in your business.