Create and Sell Your Own Ecourses Part 4: Planning, Outlining and Naming Your Course

Create-and-Sell-Ecourses-Part-4

For the fourth part of this series, we’re delving into my favorite part of creating online courses: the planning, outlining and researching phase.

Sound the trumpets! Throw the glitter! It’s research time.

We’re also discussing naming your course, so if you’ve ever had an idea for an ecourse but couldn’t think up a decent name, keep reading. (I’ve been stuck in that ‘if only I could think of nifty name’ land so often that I’ve built my own hotel there. So, I’ve created a naming strategy that I’m sharing with you.)

If you’re reading this intro and wondering what the bananas is going on, you’ve probably missed the first three parts of this series on creating and selling your own ecourses.

Not to worry, my friend. They’re FREE and you can find them right here:

Part 1: Intro and Picking Your Topic

Part 2: The Tools and Software

Part 3: Step by Step Guide to Setting It Up

If you’re all caught up, let’s skedaddle on.

Through teaching 17 online courses, I’ve learned a trick when it comes to naming your course.

Drum roll please…

If you’re struggling with the name, skip it until you’ve got a grasp of the content. Okay, maybe that’s not the best “trick” and it didn’t deserve a drum roll but it’s actually a trusty technique that will help. Come on…take my hand…and let me guide you through it.

When you plan your first (or next) online course, your first step should be deciding what the biggest takeaway will be for your students. What are the students going to learn? What will they complete by the end? What skills will they master?

Knowing the big takeaway will keep you focused during everything else—outlining, naming, pricing, designing and marketing the course.

One of the biggest mistakes I see entrepreneurs making when creating and selling their first online course is trying to cram too much information into it.

For instance, let’s say that you want to teach a knitting ecourse.

You want to help beginning knitters, so you’re going to teach them how to knit a specific scarf, going through the steps from a to z. The big takeaway is that by the end of the course, the students will have learned how to knit while creating their first scarf (and getting hooked on knitting).

Knowing the big takeaway makes the outlining process feel effortless.

You only include skills that pertain to that project. It makes the process of creating, marketing and selling the course that much easier. You’ve got a distinct target market and a clear skillset students will learn.

Consider that you want to teach a knitting course for beginners but you don’t pick a specific project. How much more difficult will it be to decide what to include in the course? What about when you sit down to type up your sales page? How about mapping out an ideal customer profile?

You don’t have to pick an explicit project to teach, but especially in the beginning, the more specific the takeaway, the easier it’ll be on you.

Think of the confidence boost you’d get from launching your first ecourse with success within the next three months. When you complicate things (like the content), it can take a lot longer to actually put together and get out into the world.

Now, let’s talk outlines.

I always outline a course before creating the content. And, I’ve found that the more detailed the outline, the easier it is to create the content.

Once you’ve determined what your students will get out of taking your course, it’s time to start your outline. Personally, I like to outline and then name the course but you might like naming the course and then outlining it. Do what works best for you.

For this phase, set a deadline or else you might find yourself at the bottom of the research rabbit hole months from now.

When I get to the outline stage, I predetermine a due date. Research is a big part of my creation process. It’s one of my favorite parts, so I can get swept up by it if I’m not careful.

Here’s how I outline and research (this may or may not work for you):

First, I gather a stack of 4×6 inch index cards and start to jot down any content I want to include in the course.

I only write down one idea on each card (which means most cards include one sentence or small paragraph). For instance, if I’m teaching a course on blogging, I might scribble “how to add social share buttons to your blog posts” on one card and “how to make blog images pinable for Pinterest” on another card.

After I’ve written down all of my ideas, I start researching other things I want to include in the course.

I begin by making a list of books, blogs, podcasts and articles I want to consume. For example, if I’m teaching a course on copywriting, I’d probably read 5-10 books and 50-75 blog posts on the subject as well as listening to podcasts and watching videos on the topic.

This submerges me in the topic. During the research phase, I keep the stack of index cards with me. Each time I come across something I might want to include in the course, I jot it down on another card. This includes quotes, examples I want to use, interesting ideas (and who to give credit to for the idea) and ideas I come up with while researching.

By the end of the research phase, I usually have hundreds of index cards with notes on them.

Next, I pick out the main lessons I’m going to teach in the course.

For instance, for the blogging course, the main lessons might be: 1) Why you should blog 2) How to get started with blogging 3) Taking photos for your blog 4) Using social media to promote your blog 5) How to write with personality and 6) The importance of headlines and first sentences.

I would write each main topic on an index card and tab them so that I know they are the main topics.

Then, I sift through all the other index cards and place them behind the main topic they fall under.

For example, I would place the index card with “how to add social share buttons to your blog posts” written on it under the social media lesson.

Once I’ve categorized each index card, I go through each main lesson one by one, laying out all of the index cards on the floor or taping them to a wall.

Then, I can easily see the main themes that I want to cover and I add them to my typed outline.

Next, I group together index cards that should be covered together. This clarifies what I want to teach in each lesson and what order they should go in.

At this point, I’ve got a main chunk of the content of the course done. I’ll sift through the index cards for each lesson, adding more to the outline until it’s a complete outline to work from.

This is when I do my happy dance because I’m ready to create the course content which usually either means constructing Keynotes or recording videos.

This might sound dramatic but my index system is life, because without it, I would miss points I want to cover and things that are significant to the topic I’m teaching.

I usually give myself about one month to fill out the index cards and research. For bigger courses, I might give myself two or three months.

Once I’ve defined the bones of the course but before I’m done with the research phase is usually when I decide on the name.

Naming a course or product is my nemesis.

I’m not good at it. And, I’m not just being humble.

Because of that, I’ve created a strategy that makes the naming process less sucktastic. If you feel the need to gulp down a giant slice of cake with buttercream frosting when you have to name something, this approach might help you. I mean, you can still have the cake. I’m going to. But, anything to make this easier is a win to me.

Step 1: Brain dump.

Set a timer for 10 minutes and write down all your ideas. Include words that pop into your mind, even if they don’t neatly fit into a title right now. Use this as your starting point.

Step 2: Put together five combinations.

From the list you’ve made, compile some possible course names. I try to come up with at least five to start with.

Step 3: Make the thesaurus your bestest friend.

When I’ve got an idea in mind, but something still feels a bit off I look up the words I’ve used on thesaurus.com and I play with different options.

Step 4: Step away.

Once you’ve done this much, taking a break will help your creative process. You know that feeling that bubbles up in your chest when you’ve been thinking about a creative problem for too long? Your inventiveness starts to stumble, you keep coming up with the same solutions and the frustration mounts.

That’s when you need to step (or skip because skipping is much more fun) away. Sleep on it. Take a walk. Think about other things like whether you should’ve painted your nails eggshell instead of paper white or if Kaitlyn is going to end up alone since she slept with that Nick guy (Bachorlette fans what what!).

Step 5: Review your list with fresh eyes.

Once you’ve gotten some space, you’ll make a better decision. You’ll probably have a couple of new options you’ve accidentally thought of during spin class or while folding laundry. You might realize that your favorite option isn’t that great. You might notice an option that you’d ruled out in the beginning in a new way. Play with your ideas some more.

Step 6: Narrow down your options.

Do some research to see if anyone is using the course names you’ve brainstormed. You’ll probably have to cross some out and possibly change some of the wording to make yours different. Then, pick your top three.

Step 7: Get feedback.

If you’re in a mastermind group or a member of a supportive Facebook group (like the B-School group), share your three top choices and ask for feedback.

Sometimes you’re too close to things to see what someone else might. Someone might share a word choice that you hadn’t thought of or someone might point out something confusing about your favorite name. That kind of feedback is critical.

Step 8: Pick a course title.

At some point, you’ve got to stop the brainstorm phase and name your course. After you’ve compiled different options, taken some space away from them, and gotten feedback, you’re ready to choose the name of your course.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

1. A confused customer never buys.

And, a confused reader never clicks. Clarity should always win out over cuteness. If your followers don’t understand what the course is (at all) by the title, they might not click to learn to more. You’ll absolutely lose sales.

Some “cute” names work but they work because people connect to them. For example, Mayi Carles’ Life is Messy Bootcamp isn’t completely clear by the name, but her customers emotionally connect to the phrase “life is messy.” If the name will inspire your followers to click and read more, then you’ll be fine.

2. Shorter equals better.

And, it’s easier to remember. One of my courses is titled, Six Weeks to a More Passion-Filled and Profitable Business, and because it’s such a long title, most of my customers call it “six weeks” which won’t make much sense to anyone else who doesn’t already know what the course is about.

Sometimes, it’s necessary to add more length to your course name but if you’ve got a shorter option, go with the succinct one.

3. Keep your brand in mind.

When you’re trying to brainstorm a name for your next online course, it’s important that whatever you pick works with your brand. Ask yourself, “Is this name something my customers would find jarring or unrelated?” If so, it’s probably not the best choice.

I hope this helps you when you’re in the planning, outlining and naming phases of your course creation.

If you have any tips to add or have any questions you’d like me to answer, leave them in the comments below!

Come back next week cause I’m going help you with pricing your ecourse and writing your sales page.

Comments { 10 }

Create and Sell Your Own Ecourses Part 3: Step by Step Guide to Setting It Up

Create-and-Sell-Ecourses-Part-3

This week for Create and Sell Your Own Ecourses, I’m showing you how I set up ecourses through my own website using WordPress and WishList Member.

If you’re just joining the series, you can catch up right here:

Part 1: Intro and Picking Your Topic

Part 2: The Tools and Software

In the video, I show you: 1) how I install another installation on my domain, blacksburgbelle.com 2) how I install WishList Member 3) what I do within WishList Member to set it up for an online course 4) how I design the website using Canvas by WooThemes and 5) how you can integrate it with your shopping cart and email software.

I tried to explain things in an easy-to-understand way. If anything seems confusing, it’s helpful to get into the program and play around a bit. Please remember that this technical stuff isn’t my area of expertise, but I knew it would help you get closer to selling your own ecourses if I shared this process with you so I’m doing it anyways. (So, if it sounds like I’m scratching my head trying to figure out how to describe something to you, I probably am.)

Because the video is close to 50 minutes, let’s just leap right in:

I hope this helps you see that creating and selling your own ecourses isn’t as difficult as it may seem.

If you still have technical questions, you can leave them in the comments below, and I’ll try my best to answer.

Through watching this video, maybe you’ve realized that you want to stick to ebooks, worksheets and other PDFs for now. If you’re interested in learning the technical parts of designing and putting together worksheets and ebooks, you should check out my CreativeLive course, Create Digital Products that Sell While You  Sleep. I spent over an hour showing how I use InDesign and Illustrator to create those digital products in that course.

Check out the next part of this series where I help you with planning, outlining and naming your course.

Comments { 23 }

Create and Sell Your Own Ecourses Part 2: The Tools and Software

Create and Sell Ecourses Part Two

Welcome back to Create and Sell Your Own Ecourses!

If you missed the kick off last week, you can check out the introduction to the series, Create and Sell Your Own Ecourses. (You’ll want to read it before diving into what you need to make it happen.)

This week is all about the tools and software you need to sell ecourses through your own website.

First, I want you to take a DEEP breath, because when you look at this list, you might be overwhelmed.

Instead of going straight to “well I’ll never be able to make this happen,” I want you to remember how excited you got when you thought about creating an online course. That enthusiasm will help you push through the overwhelm.

Everybody who decides to create and sell ecourses gets overwhelmed when they first think about what goes into creating it.

Before we get into the list (some of you are probably thinking, “alright already…get to the good stuff), there’s something else important to touch on.

From the comments last week, I know some of you are looking for shortcuts. Maybe you don’t want to invest a lot of money into creating your ecourse. Maybe you’re a little nervous about putting in a lot of time and some money and then it flopping.

Here’s the thing: if you’re starting out with a negative mindset, you’re not going to get very far.

You’ll get out of it what you put in. That’s the truth I’ve found with working with hundreds of creative entrepreneurs.

You probably can’t put together a course that people gush over and that makes you a good chunk of money with just your smartphone. You need some tools and software. You need to be willing to spend time on this. If you aren’t, then this probably isn’t the right time for you to create your first ecourse. (And, that’s okay, too!)

With that said, you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to create an ecourse that your customers love.

Below I’m sharing the tools I use and some cheaper alternatives.

I want this be accessible if you have a limited budget, but keep in mind that what you can charge often correlates with the quality of product. Meaning that if you’re using your iphone to film the videos, you can’t charge as much as you could if you’re using a camera that gives you high-quality picture and sound.

You probably won’t need ALL of these tools. I don’t use all of them in the same course. It depends on what you’re offering within your course. For example, if you’re not hosting live calls, you don’t need a platform to host live calls.

Without further introduction (cause that was already pretty darn long), here’s the list of tools:

1. Computer

If you’re teaching an online course, you need a computer. I use a Macbook Pro (Mac girl for life!) and I love it, but you can do the same types of things on a PC. Use what you’ve got.

2. Website

If you want to host an ecourse, then you need a website to host it on.

What I Use:

I have a WordPress website and highly recommend using WordPress. The step-by-step tutorial video that I’m sharing next week is on creating an ecourse on WordPress website.

Cheaper Alternative:

If you want to teach an online course but don’t want to get into the technical bits of hosting it yourself, I suggest looking into other platforms such as Skillshare and Atly. Make sure you read the fine print because some platforms can remove your course at any time for any reason (without notice) and if that’s a main source of your income, you want to be prepared. Also, you give up control when you host your course on another platform and you have to share the profits. But, sometimes giving up some control and profits is worth it when you don’t have to do any of the technical set up or hosting.

3. Domain and Hosting

What I Use:

Instead of purchasing a new domain for each course, I install a subdomain onto my main domain: blacksburgbelle.com. If I can show you how to do this without showing any private information, I’m going to include it in next week’s video tutorial.

I use the program Fantastico (which I had to pay for separately but comes with some hosting packages) on my cPanel to install subdomains. I know that probably sounds confusing but it’s actually very easy. You’ll see next week! It’s a click of a button.

This is the cheaper alternative to buying another domain and paying for additional hosting for that domain. I do it mainly because it’s the easiest way for me to offer courses on my own website.

I buy my domains from Dynadot.

For hosting, I use Midphase and I pay $305.90 for hosting each month because I have my own dedicated server which means that my website loads much faster than it would if I was on a shared server. I DON’T recommend this for those of you starting out.

If you’re willing to invest in really good hosting, I suggest Synthesis. If you’re not ready for that, I suggest picking a hosting plan that’s less than $10 a month (such as Blue Host) and investing more in the future if necessary.

If you already have a self-hosted website, then you already have a domain and hosting. This is ONLY for those of you who don’t have a website yet.

4. Fantastico

I use Fantastico to easily install subdomains onto blacksburgbelle.com in order to host courses on their own site that is still connected to Blacksburg Belle.

Some hosting plans include Fantastico so check with your hosting provider before you invest in this.

Cheaper Alternative:

You could host your course on a password protected page on your website. If you pick this option, you can’t customize a website for your course because you’re using your main website. And, it’s not as secure, because someone could give out the link and password without you realizing it.

5. WishList Member

I use WishList Member for every course and membership program I sell through Blacksburg Belle. It’s user-friendly and secure. Next week, I’ll walk you through how I use WishList Member so you can see it for yourself.

Cheaper Alternative:

Same alternative as number four—using a password protected page on your website.

6. WordPress Theme

If you install a subdomain on your website, you have to set it up from scratch which means adding a theme and any plug-ins you want to use.

What I Use:

I use Canvas by WooThemes for everything including my website and subdomains. I love Canvas because I can easily customize my site with it.

Cheaper Alternative:

Free WordPress themes are always an option, but they often come with technical hiccups and aren’t easily (if at all) customizable.

7. Email Platform

In order to email your students (to give them course information, encourage them, update them on changes, etc), you need an email platform. Most online business owners already have an email platform that they use to email followers and subscribers. If you already use an email platform, you can use it for this purpose.

What I Use:

I’ve used AWeber for the past four years. Highly recommend.

Cheaper Alternative:

Within Wishlist Member, you can email your members, however, it’s very limited in what you can do. Simple emails…yes. Anything above very basic, you’ll want an email platform. I suggest using an email platform and if you don’t want to spend extra money, sign up with MailChimp because it’s free until you reach a certain number of subscribers.

8. Video camera

If your course (or sales page) includes videos (other than slides or screenshots), then you need a video camera to record those videos. I don’t recommend using your smartphone, because the quality is subpar. You don’t have to spend a ton of money on a video camera, but investing a couple hundred dollars will make a huge difference in your videos.

What I Use:

I use a Nikon Coolpix L620 which was about $250 when I bought it.

Cheaper Alternative:

Your smartphone, but again, I don’t recommend this. I’ve filmed videos with my iPhone and there’s a huge difference in the picture and sound quality when using a video camera. When I’m paying for something, I expect higher quality than smartphone videos.

9. Camera

If you’re using pictures in your course or on your sales page, you’ll need a camera. I suggest investing in a decent camera—not just for your course—but for your business. If you take product photos or photos for your blog, it’ll help you improve all of those areas.

What I Use:

A few years ago, I took the plunge and bought my first DSLR, a Nikon D90. It’s been a great camera for me.

Cheaper Alternative:

You can get some really nice photos with your smartphone or with a camera that isn’t a DSLR. You have to decide what’s worth investing in and isn’t (or what you can wait to invest in).

10. Video Editing Software

For the most part, you don’t need anything crazy when it comes to editing videos for your course. You probably don’t need special effects or advanced techniques.

What I Use:

My go-to video editing software is iMovie. After you get the hang of it, you can do a lot with it and it’s free with a Mac.

If you’re on a PC, I can’t really help you because I haven’t had a PC in years.

11. Studio Lights

If you’re filming videos and don’t have nice natural light (not too harsh—not too dark) or can’t film during the hours you get the best natural light in your home, getting studio lights will make your life so much easier.

What I Use:

In my last house, I had a sunroom with beautiful natural light so that’s what I used. When I moved, I realized that all the big trees surrounding my house meant that natural light for my videos wasn’t going to be an option anymore. I purchased this lighting package.

Cheaper Alternative:

Natural light.

12. Tripod

If you’re filming videos for your course, a tripod will make your life easier. It steadies the camera and makes it easier to get the height just right.

Cheapter Alternative:

For quite a while, I used a stack of books on stool as my “tripod.” It worked just fine. I upgraded when my husband found me a high-quality tripod at a flea market.

13. Screenflow

If you’re including videos in your course but you want to record slides while you talk through them or you want to record your computer screen, you’ll need screen recording software. I use Screenflow to record and edit those types of videos. It’s been a great program for me and it’s very user-friendly. You can download a free trial to see if you like it.

14. PowerPoint or Keynote

If you’re going to record slides, you need software to create those slides. I use Keynote because I’m on a Mac. If you’re on a PC, you’d probably use PowerPoint.

15. Illustrator

I use Adobe Illustrator to create visuals for my slides, sales pages and course design. I also use it to create worksheet pages.

One way to make your sales page look more customized is to create your own buy buttons instead of using your shopping cart’s default buy buttons. It can make a big difference. I design my buy buttons in Illustrator.

Cheaper Alternative:

Because Adobe offers the monthly plan, I think it’s totally worth it. For $50 a month you get access to so many programs that will up your business game. If you’re not ready for that kind of investment, you can create a lot of this stuff (but not all) with PicMonkey for free.

16. InDesign

I use InDesign to put together workbooks, multi-page worksheets and ebooks for my courses. I don’t know of a cheaper alternative for this one but it comes in the monthly bundle package through Adobe.

If your course doesn’t include workbooks, multi-page patterns or ebooks, then you probably don’t need this.

17. Photoshop

I use Photoshop to edit all of my photos. If you’re using photos within your course (example: to demonstrate the steps in your sewing tutorial), you definitely want to edit them. It makes a huge difference.

Cheaper Alternative:

Photoshop isn’t a need by any means. You can do enough with free photo editing software like PicMonkey if it’s not in the budget.

18. Photoshop Actions

I used to spend a ton of time editing my photos. Then, I found Photoshop actions. To me, they are well worth the investment, because they save me hours and hours and hours. Right now, I exclusively use Paint the Moon actions.

Cheaper Alternative:

Editing your photos manually. Or, Photoshop actions that don’t cost as much, but from my experience, you get what you pay for.

19. Video Hosting Platform

If you’re using videos (either kind), you need a place to host them.

What I Use:

Vimeo is my go-to for hosting videos. I prefer it over YouTube, because you’ve got more options to customize them, making your videos feel much more branded.

Cheaper Alternative:

YouTube.

20. Shopping Cart

You’ve got to have a shopping cart in order to collect money.

What I Use:

I’ve always used 1shoppingcart in conjunction with PayPal to accept credit cards and PayPal. 1shoppingcart works seamlessly with WishList Member, so when someone pays, they automatically get redirected to the course website to choose a username and password. I don’t have to send the course information to each customer manually.

Cheaper Alternative:

I’m not sure which cheaper shopping carts work with WishList Member seamlessly like 1shoppingcart but I’m sure that there are some that do. I’ve heard good things about SendOwl, which is cheaper, but I’m not sure how it works with WishList Member. That’s something you’d have to research.

21. Spreecast

If part of your course includes live calls (such as Q&A calls), then you need to pick a platform to host them.

What I Use:

In the beginning I used GotoWebinar, but I didn’t love it. I’m currently using Spreecast but I don’t love it either. There are pros and cons to every platform and each one seems to come with it’s own technical issues. I’m still looking for a platform that has amazing customer support and less technical hiccups, but the best option for me right now is Spreecast.

Cheaper Alternative:

If you have nine students or less, you could use Google hangouts for free. Unfortunately, at this time, it only allows 10 people to join a call so it doesn’t work for larger courses.

22. Webcam

If you’re going to host live calls, you’ll need a way for your students to see you (unless you’re only showing your screen/slides), so you’ll need a webcam.

What I Use:

I upgraded my webcam to the Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920, because I wanted a clearer picture. It definitely gives me much better picture quality.

Cheaper Alternative:

For years, I used the webcam on my Macbook Pro and you could easily use the webcam that comes with your laptop (if applicable).

These are all the tools and software I use to create and sell my online courses. I hope it helps you figure out what to invest in to get started.

Remember that you don’t need all of this stuff. It really depends on what you’re offering within your ecourse. My advice is to set a budget, invest in stuff that’s going to make the biggest difference to the quality of your ecourse and pick cheaper alternatives for the other stuff.

Then, you can upgrade as you go.

Do NOT let this list completely overwhelm you. Take things one step at a time and enjoy the process!

Think of anything I didn’t include? Add it in the comments below.

Check out the next part of this series where I walk you through how I set up an online course step by step with a video tutorial. I promise it’s easier than you think.

Comments { 28 }

Create and Sell Your Own Ecourses: A FREE Six Part Series

Ecourses-Part1

As a creative business owner, you’ve probably thought about teaching an online course at one point or another.

You might’ve only given it a few seconds of thought before deciding it’s not your thing.

Or, you might’ve wanted to teach an ecourse but you got lost along the way, not knowing where to start, what software to use or how to market it.

Maybe you’ve already launched your own online course but you were disappointed by the response from your followers.

Over the past four years, I’ve taught 17 online courses, most through my own website and three through CreativeLive.

Along the way, I’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t, how to make the process easier and what to avoid. And, I’m going to share it all with you in a six part series that starts today.

Here’s the breakdown of what to expect and when:

Part 1: Intro to the Series and Picking a Topic (This post–keep reading!)

Part 2: The Tools and Software I Use When Teaching an Ecourse (June 10th)

Part 3: Step-by-Step Guide to Setting Up a Course on Your Own Website (June 17th)

Part 4: Planning, Outlining and Naming Your Course (June 24th)

Part 5: Pricing Your Ecourse and Writing Your Sales Page (July 1st)

Part 6: Marketing and Selling Your Ecourse (July 8th)

Bonus: FREE Q&A Live Call on July 9th at 4pm EST. RSVP here by clicking the “remind me” button.

And, the best part is this is all 100% free.

Through teaching my CreativeLive course, Create Digital Products that Sell While You Sleep, I realized that many of you have thought about designing and selling your own courses. This series is all about helping you avoid mistakes I’ve made and simplifying the process of producing an ecourse so that you feel confident you can do it.

The series will include videos, worksheets and of course, written material.

If you’re on the fence about creating your own online courses, here’s why I think they’re a great addition to your revenue stream and business model:

1. Online courses are one of those things that you can create once and sell over and over.

It’s always smart to have digital products in your business model, so that you can make money 24/7 without additional work. When you have to make every product you sell (like knitted mittens or original paintings), your income is limited because there are only so many hours in the day. And, burnout is real.

2. It gives you the chance to work with other creatives without trading time for money.

When you work with someone one-on-one, you’re trading time for money (example: you coach them for an hour and they give you a set amount of money for it). With an online course, you often generate content that can be consumed by any number of people at any point in time. Instead of only working with one person, 348 people (or more!) can watch the videos or read the content you’ve created.

It gives you the chance to work with more people, without putting in more hours. That usually means that your customers don’t have to pay as much to work with you. Instead of someone paying $495 to work with you one-on-one, she pays $95 to take your course. It’s a win for you and win for your customer.

3. Technology has made it easier than ever to create and sell your own course.

I love teaching at CreativeLive (so much so that I’m going back this fall!), but when you host and sell a course on your own website, you have control over everything and you keep all the profit. Teaching ecourses can be a great boost to your income. Last year, online courses made up over 60% of my income.

4. Students can join you from all over the world.

The beauty of selling an ecourse is that your students can learn 24/7 from the comfort of their own homes, in onesie pajamas if they wish. I love teaching and speaking in person, but it limits who can join and learn from me. When it’s an ecourse, anyone can take advantage. This means your customer base can grow and grow and grow instead of being limited by the local community.

5. People are already trying to figure out how you do what you do.

You might decide that selling ecourses isn’t for you, and that’s fine. But when you start to succeed at what you do, you’ll always have a group of people who check out your website and shop, not wanting to buy your products but wishing to do what you do. Most of those people have the best intentions and aren’t trying to copy you outright. They want to learn your skillset to apply to their own personalities and brand.

These people are the DIYers and the aspiring entrepreneurs. Maybe they want to learn how to embroider so that they can make Christmas presents for their friends and family. Or maybe they want to open their own Etsy shop and sell embroidery. You don’t have to sell to them, but it’s something to consider.

Are you in yet?

If so, this week we’re starting simple.

Your first step: pick your topic.

Before you can do anything else, you need to know what you want to teach.

For some of you, your subject is going to be obvious.

If you’re a knitter, you’re probably going to teach knitting. You’ll have to narrow it down a bit more, picking a project to work on or a set of skills you’ll teach.

If you’re a speaking coach, you’re probably going to teach a course on how to become a better public speaker. Again, you’ll probably have to focus a bit more than that, but your topic is pretty clear.

For some of you, your topic isn’t as obvious.

If you’re a life coach, it could range from helping 20-somethings pick a career to helping women become financially confident to helping couples with intimacy.

If you’re a mixed media artist, you could teach a course on creating backgrounds for paintings or art journaling or painting a specific subject.

Here’s the easy way to pick a topic:

1. Start by making a list of all the course subjects you have the skillset to teach. Jot it all down. Don’t worry, you’re not going to use them all your ideas.

2. Cross off any that won’t appeal to your current target market.

3. Circle the ones that you’re the most excited to develop and teach. (Your excitement will sell the course more than anything else.)

4. Narrow down the circled ideas to two to three choices.

5. If there isn’t an obvious choice among your ideas, ask your followers. You can either create a simple poll or ask them to comment (or reply depending on the platform) with the one they want the most. Ask on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and your blog. Go with the most popular choice.

Now that you’ve got your topic, I want you to do one more thing before next week: start to clarify who the target market is for your course.

You can’t finish this step until you’ve gotten down some more details, but you can start.

Here are the questions you’ll want to think about:

1. Who would benefit from this course?

2. What will most of the students have in common? (interests, hobbies, likes, dislikes)

3. Why will they choose your course over other similar courses? What makes your course different?

4. What are their biggest pain points? (example for a course on learning to budget: lots of debt, feeling overwhelmed financially, feeling like they’ll never get out of debt)

Start to brainstorm your answers to these questions. We’ll do more with this later, but it’ll help to get your ideas flowing.

Next week, I’m sharing all the tools and software I use when creating and selling an ecourse on my own website.

I hope that you join me for this series. Even if you’re not ready to teach an online in the next few months, if you do the work during the next six weeks, you’ll be prepared when you want to get started.

If you don’t want to miss any part this series, make sure that you’re signed up to receive email updates from me (upper right-hand corner). Everything will be posted here on Blacksburg Belle, so you don’t have to sign up via email to get access but you’re probably a busy person and I don’t want you to forget.

You can go ahead and RSVP to save your seat for the live Q&A call. Just hit the blue “Remind Me” button to RSVP and get a reminder email.

If you know that teaching and selling online courses isn’t in your future, you could still get a lot out of: learning how to set up a membership site (because you can sell pretty much anything through a membership site—like monthly knitting patterns or downloadable prints), information on pricing (because we all have to do that no matter what we sell), and learning more about writing a sales page and marketing.

If you’re new to creating and selling online courses, I’d love to know: what you want to learn the most or what you’re struggling with the most. Tell me in the comments below and I’ll try my best to include it in the series.

Once you know your topic for your first (or next) online course, leave it in the comments below.

Who knows…others who are reading this post might be interested in taking YOUR course once you’ve launched it.

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My Love Affair with Writing (And, how you can improve your copywriting skills)

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For this blog post, I’m supposed to talk about how I use writing in my business.

Well, it’s pretty simple. Writing is my business.

Almost everything I do within my business includes writing: blog posts, email marketing, Instagram captions, Facebook posts, sales pages, tweets, Keynote slides, workbook pages and more.

You might be one of those people who cringes when thinking about creating a business that’s based on that much writing.

I know people who’d rather lick their spouses’ toenails after a long hike than spend most of their days writing.

For me, writing is my happy place. It’s my meditation, and my second true love after my husband.

I set out to build a business around the things that I love: writing, teaching and creating. The result is Blacksburg Belle.

The funny thing is that writing wasn’t always something I loved or even enjoyed. In grad school, writing became one of those “ugh…pleeeeeease no more” kind of things. But, that was mostly because writing grad school papers was all about figuring out what the professor wanted you to say, not really putting into words what you thought or felt.

It took me about a year after graduating to realize that writing for pleasure made me extremely happy.

And, once I found my writer’s voice and stopped writing to get an “A” on a paper, writing became this wondrous thing that I enjoyed so much that I’d call in sick just to have an entire day to write.

My love affair with writing began.

I started a blog, landed a bunch of freelance writing gigs, and sought more and more ways to spend my time writing.

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You may not love writing as much as me, but if you have an online business, you’ve got to get good at it.

I’ve made as much as $10,000 from one email. The only reason I made that much money is because my words connected with my readers.

To get to that point, I’ve learned a lot about copywriting. Practiced what I learned. Learned some more. Practiced some more. And, so on and so on. (And, if you’re wondering what copy is, it’s writing in which you’re trying to sell something or get your readers to do something like email marketing campaigns, Facebook posts, sales pages and blog posts.)

There’s no easy way to learn how to write copy that drives your target market to do what you want them to do whether that be clicking the buy button or sharing your blog post on social media or leaving a comment.

But, there are some shortcuts. The best shortcut is to learn from someone who’s really damn good at writing copy. Instead of trying to figure all of this stuff out on your own, I recommend you read books and take courses that help you get there much quicker.

That leads me to the point of this blog post.

This post is part of Kris Windley’s blog hop to celebrate the launch of her writing workshop. She emailed me a week and a half ago asking if I’d participate and I knew I had to try.

I first “met” Kris when she asked thought provoking questions during my first CreativeLive course. From the questions she asked and the comments she made, I felt like she was someone I needed to get to know better.

You know those people that you instantly connect with?

Kris is one of those people for me.

When I signed my second contract with CreativeLive to teach another course, one of the first things I thought about was the studio audience. I wanted Kris to be in it. We emailed back and forth a few times. I kept encouraging her to do what she needed to do to get herself to San Francisco.

She came and it was so much fun to work with her.

At the end of those three days, my content producer said to me, “Kris with a K…she’s going places. I can’t wait to see what she creates.”

I have been nagging Kris over the past six months to produce some sort of writing course or digital product, because she’s got so much to offer and she’s extremely talented.

Guess what? Her writing course, Craft Your Voice, starts on May 25th.

I often don’t do this. I hardly ever write promotional posts for other people’s stuff, mainly because I want to keep most of my blog posts full of helpful tips and advice. But, I couldn’t resist this one. (Plus, it’s really cool that Kris is giving away a scholarship and want you to have the chance to enter. Details below!)

You should check out Kris’ writing process challenge and her upcoming course if you want help with writing better copy. And, remember, better copy equals more money in the bank.

I’m participating in a Blog Link-up with Kris (With a K), from www.withakwriting.com, because she wants to hear about the role writing plays in our businesses.

She is giving a Writing Workshop for entrepreneurs and bloggers, starting May 25th, and she wants to give away a scholarship to one of the lovely bloggers who participate in this link up. You can participate and get a chance to win too.

Just copy and paste this bolded text into the introduction of your blog post answering the question, “How has writing been beneficial to your business, and what do you want to Craft with your Voice next?”

Finally, go back to Kris’s blog on or after May 12th to add your link to the link-up party there, and you could win a scholarship to her new course: Craft Your Voice. She’ll be drawing a name on the 18th of May for a COMPLETE scholarship to the 6 week writing course, so you can write and link-up your post any time before then.

Have other resources for improving your copywriting? Leave them in the comments below. (This is one of those things that it’s the more, the better!)

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Adventures in Watercolor (And, of course, a few business lessons)

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I write, knit, make jewelry, and love spending the day behind my camera, snapping hundreds of photos.

But, I’ve always envied artists. I’ve spent many hours painting with acrylics, creating patterns in Illustrator and doodling in my art journal. And, while I enjoy all of those things and will continue to do them, none of them have felt like ‘my thing.’

For the past six years, I’ve been on the hunt for my medium. Because I enjoy making art so very much, I kept thinking that I just hadn’t found the right format because nothing clicked and felt completely natural.

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Out of all of the options, watercolor was never on my list.

I thought I’d hate how unpredictable it is–how little control you have when painting with it. I avoided it, thinking that it was absolutely NOT my thing.

I don’t know why I finally decided to give it a go, but I told my mother-in-law that I wanted to learn how to paint with watercolors a little more than a year ago.

Since she’s an artist and taught art for many years, she gave me a lesson. I had fun that day, but it didn’t make me fall head over heels for watercolor. It became another medium that I enjoyed but didn’t adore to pieces.

I set aside the watercolors, not thinking much about it.

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Months later, I checked out Yao Cheng’s Beginning Watercolor class on Creativebug and something stirred in me.

I realized that the more traditional watercolor painting I created with my mother-in-law might’ve been the disconnect. I also figured out that while the inexpensive watercolor cake palette I was using was financially a good choice, the watercolor paint itself would make a huge difference to my experience.

Because I’m an all or nothing person, I decided to invest about $500 in the best quality paints, brushes and paper. I had this tugging in my soul that told me I was making the right decision while my wallet screamed, “don’t do it.”

When I painted my way through the activities of Yao’s course, my happy meter exploded.

I finally feel like I’ve found my medium–the one that I get giddy over and sweeps me up and away for hours at a time.

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I’m not a pro or watercolor artist by any means. And, I’m not trying to become a watercolor artist. Instead I’m using watercolor in areas of my business.

For example, I’m using many of my watercolor creations as the backdrop to workbook pages for my next CreativeLive course (eek! more details to come soon).

Throughout this process of trying to find my medium, I’ve learned quite a few things. Some of which might help you:

1) Play and experiment often.

You never know when you’re going to find your next passion.

2) Don’t dismiss things without giving them a try.

The thing you think you won’t like might be the thing you end up loving.

3) When creating your business, leave space for growth.

When I started Blacksburg Belle, I didn’t have a clue that it would include photography or watercolor or speaking engagements. I imagined business consulting and blogging. Thankfully, I didn’t box myself into a tiny casket with limited wiggle room. Although I don’t sell photographs or watercolor paintings (and I don’t think I ever will), I use them in my business. My photography is a big piece of my brand and I bet I’ll be saying the same thing about watercolor in a year or two.

4) Include all of you in your business.

So often I work with creatives who feel like they have to compartmentalize, leaving out parts of their personalities from their businesses. Your business becomes MORE unique when you put together more than one of your passions. I mean…I don’t know any other business consultant who has built her business around writing, teaching, photography and now watercolors. There might be another, but the more of ME I put into my business, the more unlike anything else it becomes.

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What about you? Have you segmented yourself for your business? Is there a creative way you could include another passion in your business? Have you already created something unique by combining your passions?

Share in the comments below!

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10 Business Lessons from Dancing With the Stars

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Up until this season, I haven’t been a fan of Dancing with the Stars. I always wondered what all the hype was about but never made the time to check it out.

Last season I watched a handful of episodes, because I thought it was interesting that one of the stars was a YouTuber.

The show pulled me in almost instantly.

And now I look forward to Monday nights, because Dancing with the Stars puts me in such a good mood. I can’t help but smile, sway in my seat and get excited when my favorite couples dance.

As I’ve been indulging in the show, I’ve noticed that there are a ton of lessons you can learn from it and apply to business. Whether or not you’re a fan of the show, these lessons can help you move in the right direction.

1. Practice is essential.

The stars who get the highest scores practice. A lot.

No matter what you do, if you want to succeed and be one of the best at your craft, you’ve got to practice. Then, practice some more and some more.

I’ve been sharing my watercolor experiments on Instagram over the past month, and the lovely Jenny Shih commented on one of my photos that she has a hard time making art, because she’s not yet good enough to display or use what she creates. She wanted to know what I did with all my play experiments.

I used to feel like this—like everything I created needed to be something I could use, display or sell. Now, I know better. If I don’t give myself room to create crap, I’ll never get to the good stuff.

Half of my watercolor experiments go straight to the trash and that’s okay.

2. Creativity breeds creativity.

The pros on Dancing with the Stars have to choreograph entertaining dances every single week. And, it seems like the dances get better and better each week, as if creating routines each week inspires more creativity.

When I tell entrepreneurs to give away their best stuff on their blogs, I can tell from the seat squirming and unsure stares that they’re hesitant. They think that if they give away their best stuff, that’s it.

Actually, when you’re sharing your best content and ideas, you’ll come up with more. Start to look at things from a place of abundance, instead of scarcity. Remind yourself that there’s always more where that came from.

3. Stepping out of your comfort zone pays off.

Most of the stars who come onto the show aren’t dancers. They’re stepping way out of their comfort zones, but the growth that they experience over the course of the show is amazing.

All of the times I’ve experienced extreme growth in my business have come when I’ve leaped out of my comfort zone: hosting a blog series, speaking at the Etsy Success Symposium, pitching a guest post to Design*Sponge, teaching at CreativeLive.

What have you done lately to get out of your warm, comfortable bubble?

4. Mind over matter.

On one of the episodes this season the host asked Derek Hough (one of the pro dancers) if he was tired, because he’s been flying back and forth between LA and New York. He films Dancing with the Stars in LA but he’s got shows every week in New York.

When asked if he was exhausted, he said, “Mind over matter. Mind over Matter.”

There are going to be days that you don’t want to do your work. There are going to be times when you’ve got to push through and finish when you just want to hunker down in front of the television for a marathon of Friends.

A lot of people don’t know that the first time I taught at CreativeLive, I got extremely sick. We had to pause filming a few times so I could throw up, brush my teeth and get back on camera. Often, the CreativeLive team would ask if I needed some time to relax before hopping back on camera and every time I told them no. It was all about mind over matter.

5. You should always stick to your values.

This week, Allison and Riker received a sexually explicit song by Missy Elliot as their song to dance to, but they asked for another song because it didn’t work with who Riker is as a person. They lost two rehearsal days because of it, but I respect them both for it.

Whenever you’re asked to do something that you don’t believe in, like promote a product you’ve never used, always say no.

When I was teaching at CreativeLive, I asked the student audience why they pick me to learn from, because there are plenty of business consultants. I’m definitely not the only one around. One of the reasons they gave was because I don’t have ads or paid promotional posts on my website. Because of that, they enjoy being on my website more and trust me more.

I get asked by companies to put ads on my website or write paid promotional posts every single day. I always say no.

6. Your “fans” matter.

There are stars who get booted off the show even though they’re getting the highest scores, because people aren’t voting for them.

If all of you stopped giving me your attention, I wouldn’t have a business. I truly appreciate you!

In return for your attention, I try to provide entertaining, valuable content that helps you get closer to the creative business of your dreams.

7. When you lack confidence, we can smell it like eighty-seven rotten eggs.

Whether you’re dancing on national television or selling a product, if you don’t believe in yourself or your products, everyone can tell.

You’ve got to believe in your business or your customers won’t. If you’re not confident right now, what will help you build that confidence? More practice? Taking some classes? Working harder? Revamping your products?

Whatever it is, do it.

8. Relationships can help you succeed.

On Dancing with the Stars, the relationships between the stars and pros matter. If the chemistry is lacking, the dance isn’t as good. And, if a star is dancing with a pro with his or her own fan base, that can take the star far in the competition.

Relationships can do amazing things for your business.

When you’re connected to some of the “big names” in your niche, your social proof exponentially increases. When you have an accountability partner, you’ll be more likely to follow through. When you’re connected to other creative entrepreneurs, you can get crucial feedback and support when you need it most.

9. You should focus on your strengths.

The pros who focus on the star’s strengths and build dances around those strengths do best.

It’s the same in business. Instead of spending lots of time on your weaknesses, focus on your strengths.

If you love Instagram and connect with your target market there but hate Twitter, stop spending time on Twitter and spend extra time on Instagram.

If writing isn’t your thing, publish video blog posts.

If your sales copy sucks, hire an expert to help you. And, focus on creating—what you do best.

10. Personality matters. YOU matter.

On Dancing with the Stars, the stars who put their own flare into the dances stand out. They’re more fun to watch.

It’s the same in business. Don’t worry about alienating the people who don’t get you. Focus on the ones who do, the ones who love your personality and can’t get enough. Instead of trying to be everyone’s cup of tea, just be you.

For those of you who also enjoy Dancing with the Stars, is there something that I missed? A lesson you could apply to business? Share in the comments below!

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10 Tips to Double Your Instagram Followers in 30 Days

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When I announced the Instagram Inspiration Challenge a couple weeks ago, two things happened: I realized how many of you also love Instagram and that many of you are semi-new to the platform.

My partner in crime (and business), Mayi Carles, tried to persuade me to join Instagram when the hype started. My reaction: groan, grumble, groan. I didn’t want to join another social media platform.

But, I should’ve listened to Mayi right away and not waited another eight months before finally biting the banana.

Instagram is my jam.

Spending the day taking and editing photos is up there with an Anthropologie shopping spree for me—that’s how much I enjoy it. Plus, my target market (i.e., creative entrepreneurs…you guys!) is all about that Instagram.

Like anything new, I dove in headfirst. I don’t know how to just dip my toe into anything…it’s not my nature. Thanks for that, Mom!

I’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t. What grows a following and what stifles it.

And, I want to share it with you, because if you’re a creative entrepreneur, you really should be using Instagram to grow your brand. It’s the place to be nowadays so bite the banana and let’s do this.

Over the past thirty days I’ve nearly doubled my following on Instagram and you can easily do the same if you spend some time improving your presence. You with me?

Drum roll….

Here are the ten tips that will help you improve your Instagram account and double your followers in one month:

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1. Keep it cohesive.

Out of all of the tips I give you, this one is the most important.

When I started my Instagram account, I was all over the place with the type of pictures that I was sharing: lots of sad selfies, flowers I found on walks, smoothies and doggies gone wild. That might’ve been fine if that represented my brand, but it didn’t.

If you scroll through my profile, you’ll see the exact moment I sharpened my focus. I recognized that if I wanted you to follow me on Instagram, I needed to get very clear on what you’d get from me if you did.

This doesn’t mean that I can’t share all different types of photos but they all need to feel like they belong. For me, that means I needed to combine two things in every photo: my distinct photo styling and editing. When I blend those two things, each photo has a similar “feel.”

The other themes for my Instagram account are: soft, white space with pops of color, and the combination of vintage and modern. Do you get that when you look at the most recent forty photos of my account? I sure hope so.

Those forty photos are how I’ve doubled my following in about thirty days.

There are tons of ways to make your account feel cohesive. You could focus on family and fabric or fashion and florals or patterns and color.

Whatever you decide, give yourself enough room so that you don’t feel creatively suffocated but focused enough that all the photos feel like they should be there.

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2. Edit your photos.

After building a cohesive page, editing your photos is the second thing you need to do before adding each photo.

On Instagram it’s obvious what stands out: beautiful photos. You don’t get that by publishing unedited photos.

My favorite apps for iPhone photos are: Facetune for selfies (see the magic that happens when you whiten your teeth, give your lashes a bit more detail and smooth over your crow’s feet) and Afterlight for everything else.

I find beauty in photos that are more natural, but even those photos often need a little tweaking whether that be boosting the light or getting rid of the bluish tint.

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3. Edit what you share.

Stop sharing every photo you take. Like my friend Mayi says, “You shouldn’t share the photos that only Granny really wants to see.”

Remember that you want to build a cohesive account.

For every photo you see me share, there are at least twenty that don’t make the cut. Keep those for your family albums.

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4. Take lots of photos so that you have lots to choose from.

When I’m sharing a selfie, I take at least twenty different options, trying out lots of different angles and light. You want to share your best self.

When I post a photo of vase of flowers, I can guarantee that I took at least fifteen different options and usually it’s more like thirty or fifty.

If you want people to follow you, you’ve got to work for it. Give them a reason to add your account to their feed by taking this seriously.

And, remember that your Instagram account is a reflection of your brand. You want it to be a positive reflection or what’s the point?

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5. Don’t just settle for the photos you take on your phone.

Another thing I did that made a huge difference to the quality of photos I share and helped me gain a lot more followers is posting photos I took with my “real” camera.

You don’t have to have a DSLR or anything fancy, but don’t just use photos you take on your phone. Use your camera to take photos for your Instagram account, edit them on your computer with Photoshop or Pic Monkey, email them to yourself, open the email on your phone, save the photos to your camera roll and then you can pull them up via Instagram. It sounds like a lot of steps but it isn’t really, especially when you do this in batches.

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6. Be social. Engage with your followers.

I get so frustrated when someone tells me that a social media platform isn’t working for her and I take a look and she isn’t social on it. Are you kidding me?

Instagram is a social media platform. Social being the operative word so get social. I spend about ten minutes a day clicking on the profiles of people who like and comment on my photos and like and comment on some of their photos. Spread the goodwill and it’ll come back to you tenfold.

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7. Write thoughtful captions and use hashtags wisely.

Even though photos on Instagram take top priority, your captions matter. The better the caption, the more likes and comments you’ll get. Take a few minutes to write something that’s filled with your personality instead of rushing to post. I promise you’ll see a difference in engagement.

You also want to take some time to think of the hashtags you use for each photo. That’s how people who aren’t following you will find your photos. When deciding on hashtags, try to think in specifics.

For example, if you use #pancakes for your hashtag, it’s gonna get buried much faster than if you use #blueberrypancakes #blueberrypancakerecipe and #glutenfreepancakerecipe.

Did you know that one of the top reasons people unfollow others on social media is the misuse of hashtags? It’s true. We don’t like spammy people who are just trying to get people to click on their photos. Only use relevant hashtags unless you want to irritate your followers.

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8. Join an Instagram challenge.

One of the main reasons I started the Instagram challenge for this month is to help all of us creative Belles find one another on the platform. And, it’s working! Not only have many more of you started following me, but you’ve also started following each other by searching for the hashtag #BelleInstaInspiration.

My husband is participating in the challenge because he’s just that awesome and supports his wife. Swoon. And, on the first day, I remember him saying that he got more likes and comments on his photo than any of his previous photos on Instagram.

It’s a social platform so you’ll be more successful if you join social things and connect with others who have similar interests and values.

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9. Plan things out. Start a content calendar. Be consistent.

I recently told a lovely creative entrepreneur that she should plan out the content she’s going to share on Instagram and I could feel the eye roll in her response.

Here’s the thing: when you plan this stuff out, it actually makes it easier.

It might sound like a lot of work at first, but it will actually cut down on the time you spend on social media. I pinky promise.

If you’re serious about growing your Instagram following and using it to promote your business, I suggest posting one to three photos a day. That way, people start to take notice of your photos and pay more attention to them. You build trust with your followers and that’s everything when it comes to marketing your online business.

I’ve set a rule for myself to post one to two pictures a day. But, I don’t take new photos for Instagram every single day. That wouldn’t be a good use of my time. Instead, I’ll spend thirty minutes twice a week taking photos for multiple days.

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10. Do something worthy of sharing.

The other big way to grow your following fast is for others to share your handle/profile and photos (regram) with their followers. If you want others to encourage their followers to follow you, you’ve got to do something worthy of sharing.

That could mean that you have a beautiful profile with gorgeous photos that people can’t wait to share. It could mean hosting your own Instagram challenge. It could mean that you give people a reason to use a hashtag and search for that hashtag to find others. It could mean hosting a giveaway—giving away something that everyone wants (like a Life is Messy Kitchen cookbook!).

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There you have it, my ten tips to improve your Instagram game and double your followers in one month.

I know this might seem like a lot of work, but if you want people to add you to their feeds and give you their attention, you’ve got to give them a good reason to do so. We’re all busy and everybody is vying for our attention.

Stand out among the clutter instead of adding to it!

I’d love to hear from you. Is there a tip that you’d add that I didn’t cover? What have you done to grow your Instagram following? Have you done any of these things and if so, did it work? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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Instagram Inspiration Challenge for the Month of April

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One of the questions I get asked over and over is: what type of content should I be sharing?

What should I blog about? What should I email my list about? What should I share on social media?

Sometimes we make this stuff way too difficult, because we’re overthinking it. It shouldn’t be that hard.

To get you inspired to share more photos on Instagram, I’ve created an Instagram Inspiration Challenge for the month of April. Creativity explodes when you’re given constraints. When you’ve got a focus, you’ll see that you come up with a lot more ideas. That’s the idea behind this challenge.

And if you want more people to follow you, you’ve got to be sharing new content regularly. Daily is even better.

Here’s how you participate:

1. Upload a photo on Instagram inspired by the phrase of the day. (Example: For April 1st, you want to publish a photo on Instagram inspired by “Life is Messy” and on April 2nd, you’ll publish a photo inspired by “Black and White.” And, you’ll continue throughout the month.) Do as many as you can…it’s okay to miss a day or two or more.

2. Include the hashtag #BelleInstaInspiration in the description of your photo so that we can find each others’ photos and follow each other!

3. Connect with the other women participating by searching for the hashtag #BelleInstaInspiration and like and comment on their photos. This challenge is about more than uploading content–it’s about connecting with each other and finding other creatives to follow on Instagram.

4. Download and print (right click and select “download linked file”) the list to keep at your desk as a daily reminder.

5. Comment below to let us know that you’re participating with the link to your Instagram profile.

And, because I want to make this challenge even more fun, I’ll be selecting a winner on May 1st.

That winner will receive: A Life is Messy Kitchen bundle ($67 value) that includes the digital kit, an artist signed copy of Life is Messy Kitchen and an exclusive coloring book with bonuses!

I’ll be picking the winner based on the person who participates the most and gives it her all. I’ll announce the winner right here on May 1st.

I’m publishing the list early in order to give you time to start planning and taking photos. I hope this challenge sparks your creativity.

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10 Most Frequently Asked Blogging Questions Answered

GlassesBowlsandJournal

I get emails every week with questions about blogging, so I’ve compiled the ten most frequently asked questions and answered them below.

1. How often should I blog?

There isn’t a perfect rule for this. You do NOT need to blog every day or three times a week, especially if your blog isn’t your business which it usually isn’t. If your blog is a tool to market your business and connect with your target market, try once a week.

Always choose quality over quantity.

2. Does my blog design really matter?

YES! You’ve got seven to ten seconds to make your first impression. Within those seconds, each person decides whether to spend more time with you or leave.

If you don’t hire a web designer, I recommend that you find a theme for your website that is simple and classy. And, do not add a bunch of clutter—less is more.

3. Should I start on a free platform or should I start with WordPress?

If you want your blog to look professional and you’re blogging for your business, you need your own website.

I recommend using WordPress. That means you need to: get a domain ($10+/year), pay for hosting ($5+/month) and pick a theme.

4. What theme are you using for your blog?

I use Canvas by WooThemes, because it’s completely customizable. I love it.

5. How do you deal with spam?

I use the plug-in, Askimet. It catches 99.9% of my spam comments. I have to delete about two spam comments a week which isn’t bad considering I would have to delete hundreds if I didn’t use Askimet.

6. How can I monetize my blog?

I spent an entire segment on monetization in my CreativeLive course, Build a Successful Creative Blog, because this a HUGE topic. To get you started, ads and promoted posts aren’t the way to go unless your business model is built on promoting other businesses.

If you’re a creative entrepreneur selling your own products or services, don’t include ads or promoted posts on your blog because it takes away from your business and that’s what you want your readers to focus on. Instead, use your blog to give your readers an inside look into your business and talk about your products in creative ways.

7. Can I use pictures I find online in my blog posts?

If they aren’t your pictures and they don’t have a creative commons license, you shouldn’t use them unless you get permission from the photographer. Don’t pull pictures off of Pinterest and use them on your blog unless you want to put yourself in a precarious legal position.

8. Where can I find pictures to use on my blog?

I suggest using your own pictures. It’s a way to strengthen your brand. If you don’t enjoy taking photos or don’t want to learn how to take good quality photos, you can purchase stock photos, find creative commons for commercial use photos, higher a photographer to provide photos or use free stock photos like the ones on Death to Stock Photo.

9. Do I need to pay attention to SEO?

SEO stands for search engine optimization and is the process of affecting how your website is found with search engines like Google. Yes, you should pay attention to SEO, because you want people to find you by searching for keywords online but you don’t need to spend a ton of time on it. I use plug-ins (All in One SEO Pack and Scribe) to help me with SEO.

10. What are the best ways to get more readers?

First, publish high-quality blog posts that your readers love and can’t get enough of. If your blog posts are good, your readers will share them for you!

Second, you have to market your blog like you do your products and services. You can’t build it and expect that they’ll come. The things that brought me the most readers have been: guest posting, speaking engagements, interviews, hosting blog tours and using social media to promote my posts.

Want more information about blogging? Check out my CreativeLive course, Build a Successful Creative Blog. I cover everything from what you should blog about to how to build a loyal readership to how to make real money from blogging.

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