How to Sell Stuff on the Internet

Posted by – March 6, 2013

This website has become a random ragbag of my various experiments. So now I think I may as well just use it as a place where I can write down stuff I want to get off my chest. One of these things is the subject of how to sell stuff on the Internet.

I make a living from selling computer programming videos via my current main website, Cave of Programming. I don’t want to brag (or maybe I do), but at the moment I’m making a quite OK living from about an hour of work a day, on average, on this video stuff. But it took me a long time to figure out how to make a living doing very little work. It was my ambition to do this right from when I was a small child, since I really wanted to spend my time thinking about things and doing things that I knew wouldn’t pay any money. It took me till the age of 38 to figure out how to do it. Hopefully if I share the secret with you, you’ll be a bit quicker off the mark than me.

What to Sell

You can sell all kinds of things on the Internet; e-books, recordings (podcasts), footage taken with your video camera, photographs of household objects, videos explaining how to do stuff, other people’s products as an affiliate; the list is practically endless. I read of some woman who makes a living blogging about Jesus. She puts adverts on her site (or maybe asks for donations, I’m not sure), and makes a living from that.

None of this is at all technically involved. Selling as an affiliate, for example, just involves signing up to a site like ClickBank and finding a product you want to sell. There are websites that will handle all payment and downloads for you. All you have to worry about is, what are you going to sell and why.

My Anti-Sales Pitch

The reason I’m really writing this post is to say this: you know all that stuff that people do to sell stuff on the Internet? Hype, squeeze pages, popups soliciting emails, SEO, correct keyword density, promoting yourself as a world-leading genius etc, etc? Forget it. You don’t need it. You don’t need any of it. Look at my own computer site (listed above). I don’t do any of this stuff. I’m also very lazy, except when I happen to get enthusiastic about something — and I don’t get enthusiastic about money or sales. And I make a fine living, getting better all the time.

But there must be a reason why people do all this SEO hype stuff, right? If you don’t do it, what should you do instead?

The Secret

To successfully sell a product, you need to have a website that prominently offers that product for sale, and you need to have good traffic to the website. Only something like 1% of the people who visit your site will buy the product. So the key to selling something successfully is to get traffic to your website. That’s true even if you aspire to make money solely from putting Google ads on your site (difficult, but do-able) or by soliciting donations or selling a service.

Here’s the key to building long-term high traffic to a website: post interesting and/or useful stuff regularly on it.

That’s it. That’s the secret. You can post articles, or if you don’t like writing (and I actually don’t write much about programming), you can embed media into pages that have only a few sentences of explanation and a good title. For example, make YouTube videos at least once a week, or record audio files, or take photographs if that’s part of what you do, or whatever. Just make sure you are putting regular quality content on your site.

Other Important Stuff

There is other stuff that I should mention. It’s not quite that simple, but the above concept IS a powerful recipe for long-term success. It might take you two years to be able to fully support yourself from your website. You need to create good content, of course. The content you’re posting needs to be strongly connected to whatever you’re selling. You’re going to have to be quite enthusiastic to keep going, even when you’re only seeing an occasional sale initially. It will really help if you’re giving people information that they’re looking for. Use the Google keyword tool to find out what people are actually searching for; these keywords should be in your titles and pages, because that’s what people are looking for — and how else will they find your stuff? You can also bookmark your posts on places like StumbleUpon.

For me, YouTube has been a huge driver of traffic to my site. I give away “how to” videos for free regularly on YouTube; I mention the url of my site in the videos (which is a memorable url), and I paste it in the description of the video on YouTube too. The key is to do stuff like this regularly, and not expect too much for the first few months.

You can’t do everything at once; but if you do what I did — google for information about how to create and promote websites, and just keep going — you’ll get there in the end. What you don’t need to do, is engage in high-pressure sales tactics, SEO or weird psychological techniques. The best thing you can possibly do is treat your visitors like human beings and don’t be afraid to show who you really are. Don’t ever try to pull the wool over their eyes.

Don’t Focus on Sales

If you really want to build your own web-based business that will bring you money even while you sleep, don’t focus on making sales. Put sales into a corner of your mind, and make your primary focus your actual product. Make your website and whatever you create as good as you can. Focus on helping people and getting your message across. If you focus on sales and money, you’ll waste effort that you could have expended making your product or your website better. Forget it. Sales is a function of traffic, and traffic is a function of posting quality material frequently.

Don’t be afraid to give stuff away for free. Get your head around the fact that if someone is helped, somewhere, that’s a good thing. It improves the state of the world, whether or not the person you helped ends up buying stuff from you.

Your Dreams, Now (Well OK, Soon)

The Web gives us unprecedented opportunity to really make a living doing almost whatever we want. All it asks in returns is that you find a way to communicate what you’re doing effectively. You have to be patient, because it does take time to build traffic to a website or blog to the point where you can make a living off it. If you’re desperate to make a living independently immediately, go and teach your language somewhere or something like that. Initially you need to value every website visitor; one day you’ll get your first sale and it’ll be great. Then you’ll get another sale and another; it’ll build into a good source of “extra” income, and finally you’ll be making a living off it. You can make a living doing almost anything. Whether you’re into origami, Jesus, wilderness survival tactics, cat photography, cookery or whatever, you can probably make a living doing it within roughly two years, if you get your act together. Trust me, it’s worth the effort.

YouTube and Other Such Tools

One of the easiest things you can do is actually to make YouTube videos explaining how to do something. Ideally, make it something you know about, preferably that interests you. You can alternatively learn your subject as you go along if necessary, and be honest about learning it. People may well be interested in your learning experience. Connect with people. You can appear on your videos, or just talk and show slides or something. Use software like BB Flashback Express to record your screen if that’s appropriate. Post videos regularly and see how much traffic you’re getting after three months. Then ask yourself how many more videos you’d need to create if 1% of your YouTube traffic were buying your product.

If you’re creating videos, making sure you watch your own videos. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different tones of voice and ways of speaking. Aim to create a pleasing product; leave your ego out of it and ask yourself what’s going to be pleasant and interesting for the user to experience in your videos.

There are people out there who are building substantial traffic to websites without even recording or writing anything! There are illustrators, photographers, people who paste recipes or code examples …. believe me, if you’re able to read this, you’re almost certainly able to make a good living for yourself via the Internet. Just be genuine, be yourself, and let people see who you really are and what you’re about.

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