I often meet first-time authors who are just getting started with marketing themselves online. They tell me they feel overwhelmed by all the options available to market themselves. They don’t even know where to start.
If you can relate, this post is going to tell you exactly where to start. What are the most bare bone essentials that you need to get going in marketing your book (or your services) to a large audience online.
Even better news!
To get started you only need two things! First, a website. Second, an email list. Why these two things? And technically speaking, how do you get each one? I’m so glad you asked.
Why do you need a website?
There are many reasons to have a website. Being Google-able. Legitimacy. Building name recognition. If you run Facebook ads in the future, you’ll be able to target them to people who have visited your website. Because having one makes you sexier and more attractive. But here is the most basic reason you need a website right now.
You need somewhere to put the signup form for your email list.
Ok, next question. What should you call it?
This is a very difficult question, that has a very easy answer. When in doubt about what to call your website, use your name. Or a version of your name as your domain name - aka what you call your website. For example, my domain name is loripuma.com.
The reason to choose your name and not your book’s name, or some made-up name as your domain name, is because someday, you’ll probably want to write another book. And if you get a new domain name, then you'll have two websites to keep up-to-date, or you'll have to figure out stuff like migrating content and redirects. Stick with your name, and you won't have to do any extra work.
Technically speaking, how do you get a website?
Once you’ve got a name, there are two technical pieces to getting a website. First, you need to choose a hosting company. In most circumstances, you buy your domain name through the hosting company you choose.
Second, you need a content management system, aka a CMS. What a CMS does is allow you to write and edit and add photos or videos your website. If you didn’t have a CMS, you’d need know how to write code in order to edit text or add photos to your website.
If you’re thinking, you know, Lori, writing just isn’t hard enough. I need another frustrating hobby that has me sitting in front of my computer for days on end and zaps all of my patience. Well, then, coding your own website is for you! Otherwise, get a CMS.
The two big name CMS for you to consider are Wordpress.org and Squarespace.com. Here’s a good article about the differences between those two systems. And here’s my take as a user and former worker at tech companies.
You’ll have access to plenty of blogs, tutorials, and courses. As of May 2017, W3Techs reports that Wordpress runs 28% of the internet.
Wordpress designers and developers are always making cool new themes (to make your website look pretty) and plugins (to make your website do cool new tricks, like say, accepting payments) that you can buy and add to your site.
You’ll have more options when you want to hire someone to do custom work for your website, because most designers and developers know it.
When Wordpress.org releases a system update, or when the theme you purchased releases a new update, or when that cool plugin you installed releases a new update, you are the one responsible for installing all those new releases. And making sure that none of those new things, break your site, or your other plugins, etc. This can be a huge time-suck and it’s super frustrating.
If you’re like, Ha! I will just never update anything. Well, then you’re going to be putting your website at a security risk. Which could be really scary if you are using plugins to collect personal information like emails and credit card info. Nobody wants to be responsible for someone else’s identity being stolen.
Because Wordpress.org is open source with A LOT of people and organizations making individual pieces (themes, plugins, etc), it can be hard to find qualified help when you have an issue. Yes, there are tons of people who know Wordpress, but how do you know if they know the piece that you need?
No pesky updates or plugins so in nearly two years, my website has never been down. (Whoohoo!)
Drag and drop interface shows you exactly what something will look like when published.
Their customer support is easy to find and very quick to help when you have an issue.
Fewer freelancers know it, so when you do need help, there are fewer options.
Fewer people use it, so there are fewer blogs, courses and tutorials devoted to helping you.
Less functionality. For example, awhile back, I wanted to make a quiz to help people figure out what their next marketing step should be. I found plugins that worked with Wordpress, but no ready-made solutions that worked for Squarespace. If I wanted to make a quiz for my website, I’d need to code it myself or hire someone to create it for me.
Why do you need an email list?
So many reasons. Here are the top three. First, because most successful authors (as well as other online business owners) generate a large chunk of their income from their email list. Second, email subscribers are much more likely to buy your book or hire you than a Facebook or Twitter follower is. Third, you own your email list. So when Facebook or Google changes its algorithm, you won’t need to worry about your content being pushed down in ranking, or worse, not being shown at all.
Ok, I’m in. Technically speaking, how do I get an email list?
You need an email list service provider. You don’t want to try and run an email list from a Gmail or Yahoo or Outlook or iCloud account. Because when you try to send a message with 101 people Bcc’d on it, Outlook, won’t let you send it. And even if you’re sending to fewer people, you’re still likely to bump into sending limits, as well as risking your account getting marked as spam.
Finally, there are laws about email distribution lists. If you’re running an email list from your Outlook or Gmail account, you’re responsible for figuring out and following that law. I’m sure, you’re like - Lori! The reason I took up writing was so I could read the CAN-SPAM Act and master the laws and regulations governing bulk email distribution.
Not so much? Then you want a legit email list service provider.
I always recommend people start with Mailchimp because it is free for the first 2,000 subscribers. It’s not as flexible as some of the other email list providers available. But part of what makes it good for beginners, is that it is limited, so you don’t get distracted trying to learn things that you don’t need yet. I started with it myself.
Once you’ve got an account with an email list service provider and a website with a CMS, the next step is to link the two together, by adding a signup form to your website.
If you’ve chosen Squarespace and Mailchimp, this is pretty easy. Here’s a great tutorial on the process.
If you’ve chosen Wordpress and Mailchimp, here’s a tutorial for you.
Now that you've got the basic set-up we can move on the fun stuff. What the heck should you write on that signup form?