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Consumers Love “How to” Information

It’s no secret really.  People buy “How to” information in every niche, sub-niche, and marketplace there is.  Why?  I believe it’s because the human mind is curious and always seeking to find a new way of doing things.  In addition, men especially seem to gravitate toward fixing things, building things, working with their hands to make things just the way they want them.

Ladies, too, love to create, and do artful and craft-related designing and making.  In short, it seems, both men and women have a fascination and love for do-it-yourself (DIY) kinds of projects … and these are perfect opportunities for anyone to sell or give away “How to” information that teaches the skills to complete DIY projects.

The reason I wanted to address this topic is simply because consumers search for, purchase, and read (or watch) “How to” information online in their subject of interest without the usual apprehension and hesitancy that they might otherwise experience with other formats of reports, ebooks, courses, or videos.

Consumers understand the structure and sequence of “How to” articles and reports.  They have seen and already consumed them often and I believe, maybe subconsciously, they expect this step-by-step format to provide them with the exact information they are seeking. They know that they are going to get a sequential or natural progression of instructions or guidelines that will lead them from where they are right now to where they want to be in the future.

Providing “How to” information to your audience can be the very basis of your business if you desire.  In fact, there are very popular services online like (recently sold to LinkedIn), Teachable, and Udemy that allow experts to offer courses of instruction to targeted prospects in every niche imaginable in order to teach consumers “How to” do various tasks and solve problems or fulfill desires and dreams in the consumer’s life.  Regardless of the niche in which you do business, there will be many subtopics that can be covered or explained using this approach.  People in your marketplace will naturally gravitate to your “How to” information if the topic is one that interests them.

Here’s the key:  be sure to poll your audience so you understand the topics they want to learn about.  Stay abreast of news, events, advancements, trends and thinking in your niche so you know which topics are “hot” and on peoples’ minds.  Pay particular attention to the thought leaders in your niche — these are the people that influence the discussions and debates that others are reading and talking about on social media.  It’s important to keep up on the current dialogue that goes on among niche participants so you will understand the latest challenges, problems, desires, and wants of your customers and prospects.

If you are not offering “How to” information to your audience and subscribers, you should be!  The “How to” format or model seems to be universally accepted across all subjects and topics and it has some advantages over other alternatives.

  • “How to” information is relatively easy to outline, write, and publish.  As the creator of much “How to” information, I can tell you that it is a very intuitive and easy format to produce.  If you can create a list of steps in outline format, starting at the beginning and moving from one step to the next logical step through to the end of the sequence, you can create “How to” information.
  • “How to” information lends itself to all types of media … from articles, to short reports, to white papers, to infographics, to ebooks, to video, to audio, and podcasts, membership site content, and just about every other publishing format there is!
  • “How to” information allows the reader to quickly move through the information and spend more time on those steps that need further focus or less time on points that he has already accomplished or that he currently understands.
  • “How to” information is easy to “put down” and then come back to at a later time.  Steps can be checked off or highlighted as they are accomplished.  The information doesn’t need to be totally consumed in one sitting because the reader can simply leave the material and return later to continue progressing through the information until the end.
  • “How to” information lends itself to browsing and skimming.  It is an easy format to follow and to “pick apart” for highlights, key thoughts, important instructions, and quick consumption if that is the desire of the reader.
  • “How to” information lends itself to easy and enticing marketing.  Think about all the books and reports and articles you’ve seen over your lifetime that were titled “50 Ways to …” or “The 10 Best …” or “The Top 5 …”  Well, you get the picture I hope.  It’s easy to title your information and if you’re dealing in a marketplace of rabid fans and consumers, you have a ready-made template for much of your information.
  • “How to” information lends itself to lead magnets, teaser copy, summaries, and other snippets or shortened versions of the full “How to” information.  It’s very simple to include 1-3 ways, or steps, or tips, or tricks in order to entice the reader to want to see more … which can lead to a curiosity about the full document and process.
  • “How to” information can be published in many different formats (all at the same time, if desired) including on a blog, in a newsletter, in an email series, in membership sites, in books, reports, videos, podcasts … well, in just about any type of media there is!
  • “How to” information can be portable.  It can be taken with you wherever your go on your smart phone or a tablet or other mobile device.  That’s a huge advantage if you’re trying to physically do something away from your computer or home.  Let’s say, for instance, you’re trying to fix a sprinkler head out in the yard or maybe you’re trying to change a flat tire 25 miles away from the nearest town.  Isn’t it great that you can have step by step instructions on exactly how to do something yourself – right on site – when and where you need the information?  DIY or “how to” content can provide you with that edge!  Convenience is always a good thing!

Here are a few suggestions about how to find information and examples of this type of writing in your niche.

Go to Amazon books and look at the titles in any niche.  There is an excellent probability that some of the most popular books will include some variation of this format:  “101 Ways to ______________.”  or  “10 Steps to _____________.” or simply “How to  (accomplish something)  .”

Try all of these descriptors (and substitute them for “ways” or “steps” in the two examples above):

Ways Steps Ideas Secrets Facts
Rules Things Reasons Basic Tips
Best Popular Easy Simple Tricks
Hacks Amazing Proven Brand New Little Known
Fool Proof Professional Undiscovered Hidden Expert

Well, hopefully you get the idea of the various ways of setting up your “How to” information steps and instructions.  There are many more things you might say to introduce what you are going to “teach” or expose in your information.  You want your instructions to be simple, easily understood, and easy to implement without much difficult thinking (in other words – intuitive).

In addition to DIY steps, you might also try the “list” format for your “How to” content.  In this approach, the author presents lists of related material instead of step by step instructions.  So your content might be titled “29 Little Known Facts About _______________” or “The Twenty Most Popular ______________.”  This format is very popular with the leading media web sites because it offers a short and quick menu for the content that follows at a glance.  Viewers can randomly pick and choose what content they want to consume very quickly.

The Internet is the perfect vehicle for sharing your knowledge, your expertise, and your instructions if you desire to base your business on providing information to consumers in your niche.  It allows anyone with an Internet connection and a little bit of technical savvy to record and publish their “How to” material so that it can be presented to millions of people across the globe!

The Internet plus your valuable “How to” niche information can become the basis of a home-based business that will provide a very nice full-time income for its owner.  It’s a tried and proven business model that anyone can dive into!  If you are one that loves to do things systematically, loves to help others who are like-minded, and have a reasonable amount of skill in clearly communicating your thoughts, you are a great candidate for producing and selling “How to” information.

To your online business success,

Steve Browne

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Are Your Marketing Fears Real?

It’s been over 40 years since I earned a Master’s Degree, entered the workforce, and began dealing with small businesses on a daily basis.  That’s a fair amount of time helping business owners to be profitable, to expand, and ultimately to create jobs in the local economy here in central Utah.

I only say this so you’ll know what I’m about to tell you is not a guess, or a hunch, or just something I’ve read somewhere. It comes from years of daily exposure to small business owners and the personal struggles they have had to overcome. My own challenges in Internet marketing include most or all of these same fears that they have had and that you may be experiencing right now.

Every business owner has fears!  Fears serve an important purpose.  But fears are mostly irrational.  Fears usually hold us back and they must be controlled if we are to move forward in our businesses.

Here is my list of 10 very common marketing and business owner fears:

  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of the unknown or the future condition of your market
  • Fear of technology
  • Fear of being ridiculed
  • Fear of being rejected
  • Fear of law suits, judgements, or legal entanglements
  • Fear that your advice, product, or service isn’t worthy or “good enough”
  • Fear of breaking rules or conventions (accepted methods and practices)
  • Fear of competition or of big business putting you out of business
  • Fear of success (yes, this is very real to some people!)

(I’m sure there are others, but these I have witnessed firsthand in many business owners!)
Fears are simply an emotional response to a perceived threat.  They are the brain’s natural answer to warn us of potential danger in our environment.  Some fears are rational and justified.  The fear of heights, for example, is very common and serves to warn us that extra precaution may be important to our safety.

Other fears are irrational.  Fear of being struck by lightning is very common yet the National Safety Council gives the odds of a human lightning strike during your lifetime as 1 in 126,158.  (BTW, only about 20% of those struck by lightning die from it.)  The odds of death due to heart disease is 1 in 7 (that’s a fear that can motivate you to change), death by firearm is 1 in 7,059, death by hornets-wasps-bees is 1 in 71,107, and death by dog bite is 1 in 122,216.


What I want to tell you is that nearly all the fears (related to doing business) that I have had myself, and that I have observed in thousands of business owners, are very real to them but nearly always no danger actually exists!

Most people react to fear in one of two ways.  We confront the fear and try to overcome it (“fight”) or we flee from the fear thinking it might go away (“flight”).  You might be familiar with the phrase “fight or flight.”

Well I’m here to tell you there’s a third reaction to fear in Internet marketing.  Let’s call it “freeze” and add it to “fight” and “flight.”  We become paralyzed by our fears (“freeze”) to the point that we simply stop moving forward and do nothing.  You know, the “deer in the headlights” syndrome.

My advice to you is that most of our business fears are unfounded.  We worry and fret and stew over the fact that we might be ridiculed if we put ourselves out there, or a few customers will reject us (ask for a refund), or that we don’t know how to do something.

I have seen, first hand, businesses being flushed down the toilet simply because the owner froze when he met a technological challenge. Others have been stopped in their tracks because they didn’t believe their product was good enough or they were afraid to write on a topic because they weren’t an expert in the field.

You are not alone in your fears.  Confront them.  Get help if you need to in order to move on.  There is no actual danger to justify your fear.  Persist.  Figure out a way around, through, or over your business obstacles including your fears.

Here are several hints on how to overcome your fears from Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882).  Read them.  Put them into practice.  They will give you strength and at least a little bit of courage.

12 Thoughts to Overcoming Your Fears

  1. “Fear always springs from ignorance.”
  2. “Always do what you are afraid to do.”
  3. “Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.”
  4. “He has not learned the lesson of life who does not every day surmount a fear.”
  5. “Without ambition one starts nothing.  Without work one finishes nothing.  The prize will not be sent to you.  You have to win it.”
  6. “Don’t be too timid and squeamish about your actions.  All life is an experiment.  The more experiments you make the better.”
  7. “Whatever you do, you need courage.  Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong.  There are always difficulties arising that tempt you to believe your critics are right.  To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires some of the same courage that a soldier needs.”
  8. “That which we persist in doing becomes easier to do, not that the nature of the thing has changed but that our power to do has increased.”
  9. “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
  10. “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
  11. “The reward of a thing well done is to have done it.”
  12. “Finish each day and be done with it.  You have done what you could.  Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can.  Tomorrow is a new day.  You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”

Master your fears or they will certainly hold you back.  Internet marketing presents the business owner with a lot of new and unfamiliar tasks and procedures.  A lot of it is frightening and most of it is intimidating.  But you can do this!  Others have and so will you.

To your online business success!

Steve Browne


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Business in General

What Should I Sell Online?

Many would-be entrepreneurs get stuck on the most basic of questions before they’re even out of the gate with a new business.  They know they want to make money online but they have absolutely no idea how they’re going to do it.

Often these same entrepreneurs will have a list of niches and maybe business models that they’ve been thinking about trying but they’re not sure how to narrow that list down to the top choice that they’ll eventually focus on for their new business.

When you get right down to it, this same stumbling point and resulting paralysis is actually felt by most people when they contemplate going into business for themselves.  They ask questions like:

  • Am I getting into the right niche?
  • Am I choosing the right business model?
  • Is this something I am going to enjoy?
  • What kind of income can I expect from this niche?
  • How much competition is there going to be?
  • How much time will I have to spend to reach my income goal?
  • Will I be able to establish myself as an expert in this niche?
  • How much is it going to cost to start my business?

These are fundamental questions that you’d better answer before you think about products to sell or you start building a web site or spending money on promoting your business idea.

So here are my suggestions to begin narrowing down the field if you haven’t decided on your business topic yet.  These ideas aren’t new, they’re not secrets and they are not my original ideas . . . but they are universally effective:

1- Have you visualized what kind of business you want to create?

Are you going after a million dollar business or will you be happy making $5,000/month?  Do you visualize having employees working with you or are you a committed solo entrepreneur?  Do you see yourself working 50-60 hours per week in your business or do you want a lifestyle business that takes 20 hours per week or less to run?  You see, the answers to these questions are going to allow you to cross some subject ideas off your list right now.

2- Have you done your niche research?

If you haven’t, you’re not starting in the right place.  Some niches will support the kind of business you envision; other niches won’t.  Some niches are extremely competitive and present a great challenge to entry.  Others will be easier to break into.  Again, the likelihood of success in any of the topics you’ve been considering will become more apparent as you thoroughly research the niche market.  I would think a 30-minute dive into niche research in each of your subject markets would be time well spent and you will see where the best opportunity lies.  After you’ve identified the one niche that you’re going to enter you should jump into the marketplace again and do more thorough research knowing that this is the place you’ll be setting up shop.

3- What do you really enjoy doing?

Could you be happy immersing yourself in every one of the topics you’ve included on your list?  Surely, some of these topics hold your interest better than others.  You see, entering a subject niche that you really enjoy will help you to focus on becoming an expert in that topic without feeling like it’s an agonizing drudgery.  You will look forward to working in the niche every day.  It’s critical that you keep up your spirits and enthusiasm for the subject … especially in the early lean times when the business isn’t producing much and as a new entrepreneur you are more likely to give up or question if this career is really for you!

4- Where does your past training, schooling, and work experience lead you?

One of the key elements of a great business is owner knowledge and expertise for his/her business subject.  Granted, you can learn what you need to know in most niches in order to become an expert.  But believe me, it really does help and give you a tremendous head start if you already know and understand the topic.  Do you already speak the industry jargon?  Do you have experiences and dealings in the niche that you can share with other?  Do you have friends, contacts, sources of information in the niche that could be an advantage to you as a business owner?  If so, the niche is a prime candidate for your consideration.  But don’t be blinded by your mastery of the subject because lots of people have specialized knowledge in subjects that don’t monetize well.

5- Where does your passion lie?

This is related to #3 above, but a little different.  Are you really jazzed up and excited to get going on a particular business?  Is it something you like to delve into anyway (despite wanting to create a business in the topic)?  The fact is this: business owners that really have a passion for what they do seem to be contagious.  It’s easy for prospects to get excited about something if they see the genuine love and excitement that an owner has for what he/she does!  Passion for your subject means you’ll willingly keep up with the latest news, events, changes, and happenings in the niche and want to share those with your like-minded customers and prospects.

6- What is the outlook and trend for each of your potential topics into the future?

You don’t want to sign on as the captain of the Titanic in your chosen niche!  You don’t want to invest you time, energy, and resources into creating and running a business in a niche that is dying or even slowly drying up.  If you’re really in business for the long haul, you need to understand that your efforts are going to be rewarded for years to come.  Some niches are evergreen.  Subjects like health, exercise, travel, relationships, dating and marriage, small business, self improvement, making money, etc, are always on people’s minds.  A great resource for determining subject appeal to the masses is Google Trends.

7- What are the barriers to entry in these niches?

Finally, it’s critical to be aware of barriers that could potentially thwart your business creation hopes in particular niches.  Are there licenses that need to be gained in order to become respected or qualified in the niche?  Is the cost of entry for needed software or product creation going to be more than I can comfortably handle?  Is the niche already saturated to the point that I can’t identify a unique position in which to place my business?  Is the business subject seasonal, limited in any way (geographic, cultural, etc), or not socially acceptable?  Is the business subject something that is blackhat, underground, sleazy, hateful, discriminatory or of bad taste?  (I would caution everyone to stay far away from subjects like porn, gambling, lotteries, anything illegal, immoral, or in any way in poor taste.)

So I’ve given you seven “filters” to run your ideas through.  If you are serious about starting a real business, apply each of these filters to your list of potential subjects and it will soon become quite apparent which topics you should eliminate and which you can confidently move to the top of your list.

After you finish this little exercise, you may still have two or three ideas that have risen to the top and pass all the tests.  Don’t fret.  It may be that any of them that you choose will lead you into a nice profitable business.  What you’ll have confirmed is that any of these remaining topics can serve you well.  Just choose one and be on with doing some detailed market research!

A word of caution:  Don’t try to juggle two or more new businesses at the same time.  Sure, you can add multiple streams of income later, but only focus on one until it is running profitably and giving you the income you want.  Don’t dilute or water down your efforts at the outset.  It’s very difficult to divide your attention and become profitable when you’re trying to figure out how online business works!

To your online business success!

Steve Browne


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What to Do if Folks Just Don’t Respond

One of the most frustrating aspects of web business is trying to figure out problems to customer response rates on your web site. Why are my customers getting lost online? Why are they not responding to my ads? Why are my offers being ignored?

The challenge of this puzzle is figuring out what parts of the web site need to be fixed.

Is it the offer itself? Are my navigation signals unclear? Is my offering price too high? Is my offer language boring or uninspiring? Is there a problem with my ordering system?

You see, it seems that there are an endless number of little variables that could be hindering sales at the web site. Often, trying to figure out where the roadblocks are is a difficult and frustrating exercise.

If you are not getting the kind of customer web site response you think you should have, there are a number of starting points that you should consider in order to get to the root of the problem.

  • First, know your web site. Be aware of the traffic patterns of your online visitors. You can track where the clicks on your site are happening. You may find that your navigation is confusing – a real problem. Confused visitors are frustrated visitors who are not in the mood to buy anything. If your customer is confused about your web site, she might believe that your products will be confusing as well.
  • Lead your customer by the hand into taking the action that you want. Tell them or show them where you want them to go next. The “call to action” is one of the most important parts of your visitor ordering system. There should be no doubt about the progression of your intended path through the sale.
  • Make buying easy. If you have a long sales page, strategically place “buy now” buttons throughout the text. Sometimes the customer is ready to buy early on, sometimes mid-way through the offer, and often, not until the very end. Most of your clicks to purchase will come from the first and last opportunity, but your intermediate buttons will also get clicks. The point is, you want the customer to be able to pull the trigger when he is ready, regardless of where he is on the sales page. If he has to wait until the very end of the dialogue, there is a good chance the sale may be lost.
  • Be dramatic and bold with your buttons. Don’t leave any doubt as to how to respond to your offer or your direction to a resource or link. Don’t hide these jumping off points in ordinary text or tiny graphics. Leave no doubt about where the prospect needs to click to get somewhere.
  • Many web businesses don’t take the opportunity to follow up on a customer action with an email. Whether it’s a “thank you” email for subscribing to a mailing list or a “this is what to do next” follow up to a download, you need to take every opportunity to maintain and enhance your contact with the customer or prospect. So many businesses fail in this regard. Customers will notice your concern if you always follow up on their actions. This practice alone will set you apart from 95% of the competition. Yes, it’s a little more work to do this, but the results will be more than worth the extra effort.
  • Remember to offer options. Maybe your customers aren’t buying because they would like to try something out before committing to high price tag. Can you give them a two-week trial offer as an alternative to the full price offer? Can you give them a price point that’s significantly less than the regular price for a “lite” version? Sure, you want to try to get full price for a sale – but getting something is always preferable to getting nothing. And if the customer is pleased with his initial purchase, it will be that much easier getting her to come back to order the full version and even more!
  • Always test, test, test. It is really surprising what a little testing will do. Sometimes simply changing a color, a button placement, a new headline, or a little added text will mean a 100% increase in a response rate. It’s true! The only way you’re going to know what little tweaks will help your conversion is to test one thing against another and track results. Of course you know that there is a proper and a wrong way to test variables. That lesson is for another day . . . but just remember . . . testing and tracking will often turn money losing offers into money winning offers. Likewise, good results can be tweaked into becoming outstanding results.
  • Don’t be afraid to up-sell or cross-sell once a customer has pulled the trigger. Don’t be shy about taking advantage of the immediate time following a web site sale. To simply tell the customer “thank you” and leave him on a dead end page is to lose the opportunity to make additional money. The best strategy is to offer a very related product, a longer term, a deluxe version of what was just purchased, a greater supply of the product, a customer discount to an affiliated service, or membership in a “club” or user group.
  • One good way to jump into the customer’s shoes is to actually ask the customer for feedback on varying aspects of his web or buying experience. Ask if she has questions about a product or service. Ask if the price was the reason a prospect didn’t buy. Ask if any of your instructions were unclear or hard to understand. Feedback on why a prospect didn’t buy is invaluable because the chances are very high that other folks are feeling the same way.
  • Have a path to follow for those that say “no.” In other words, if a prospect is not ready to pull the trigger with your call to action on this visit, you should have an alternative path for him to get something else from you. Don’t let the customer leave empty-handed. Surely there is some kind of value that you can give the non-buyers for stopping by your shop. It could be a free download of “tips” in your niche, it could be a trial offer of a product, or it might simply be direction to a related resource. Whatever you decide, make sure the customer feels that her visit was worth the time and effort. You want the prospect to have a reason to come by again.
  • The internet is a great place to scan, but often a lousy place to read long copy. Given the choice, most people would rather read a physical book than sit at the computer screen and scroll through an online book. Think about it – when you come to a computer screen with lots of text, what do you do? Don’t you tend to do a quick scan to see if there are headings or bullet points or underlined text so that you can get the jist of what’s going on without having to suffer through reading everything? Most folks are that way, by far! I’m suggesting you cater your delivery of information to the style of the reader. Offer summaries, headings, bullet lists, shortened text, etc.
  • Here’s my last point for this installment: keep everything simple and brief. Don’t force the customer to do too much. Remember “easy,” “short,” “simple,” “summary,” “brief,” etc. When you ask for information, keep it to a minimum. When you give directions, make it simple. When you ask for a sale, make it happen in one click. When you want a question answered, give one to three options and ask which they would prefer. Remember what we said earlier: when a customer is confused or frustrated, he is not in a buying mood.

I hope you’ll remember some of these suggestions so that solving the non-response puzzle will be easier and faster for you than ever before. Often, you will find what the problem is sooner than later and you won’t have to scrap your whole project idea or offer because it’s not converting.

To you online business success,

Steve Browne


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