What Worked in 2000?
by Steve Pavlina,Dexterity Software
Hi Steve,Naturally, I was quite impressed with your accomplish-ments as outlined in your recent dues letter to the ASP member-ship. I’ve been a member of the ASP since 1990 or so and I’ve been publish-ing my shareware since 1985. I used to hang around the ASP forums on CIS, but when they moved to the internet, I never bothered to monitor them. It is at your "prodding" that I’m here now. Anyway, enough of that. I was won-dering if you could take a few minutes () an just list say the 6 or so things that you did that were _most_ responsi-ble for the increase in your sales over the last year. I understand that partici-pating in these newsgroups might be one of the things. But what I’m wondering is, if I had to pick the most important things to do to increase my business, what would they be?
Also, to get sales in excess of $100,000, what is your cash marketing budget, if you don’t mind me asking? And how do you spend that cash? Indus-try specific publications for your soft-ware? Finally , how many programs do you sell?
Thanks in advance and I hope this doesn’t rehash something that might have been asked before.
I’m glad my prodding is working. :)
I wrote a long two-part ASPects arti-cle that explains many of the most important things to do to grow a shareware business. It was in the May and June 2000 issues, so it can be found in the ASPects archive on the ASP site. But to give a more condensed version off the top of my head of the top six things I think really made the difference for me:
1) When designing a new product, forget about the money, and ask yourself what you can create that would be of real value to people, so much value that if someone else created the product, you would buy it yourself. If your product isn’t very attractive to end users, you will be fighting an uphill battle no matter how much marketing effort you put into it. If you don’t have a product that you’d be happy to sell to your own family members, you won’t have the right atti-tude towards selling it. Selling isn’t manipulative when you think you are doing people a favor by convincing them to buy. That kind of selling can really motivate you. If you have a product you aren’t proud of, then you’ll feel manipu-lative when you try to sell it, thinking you have to trick people into buying it. Selling becomes much easier when you really believe in the benefits of your product. So #1 is to take the time to create a product you honestly believe will benefit people. You can’t shortcut this step,if you don’t believe in your product, you will subconsciously limit your suc-cess on some level. If you want to make $100K per year or more, then you’ve got to feel you deserve it first.
2) Enlist the feedback of reviewers before you release a product. I have a system that essentially allows me to only release 5-star rated games from here on. I get several friendly game reviewers to check out my products before I release them and tell me how they’d review them. Then I take their feedback and keep working on the product until they absolutely love it. I did this with Dweep Gold and spent an extra two weeks add-ing features and making changes, so that the reviewers would love it. I honestly think that 5-star products will massively outsell 4-star ones, so just keep working until you get to 5 stars if you really want a product that can sell. The extra effort here is extremely cost effective. To take a 4-star product to 5 stars may not re-quire too much effort, but I think it can increase sales by an order of magnitude.
3) Design your site from the visitor’s perspective, and understand that the purpose of your site is to sell, sell, sell. Visitors should be able to reach your order form from any page of your site with just one click. Make a site that you’d be proud of. If your site wouldn’t impress you, then keep working on it until it does. Periodically visit your site and ask what you’d think of it if you’d never seen it before. Be totally honest, and use those impressions to create your web site to-do list. If you have trouble being objective, then enlist the help of a friend who can.
4) Make your shareware version sell the full version. Think of your product from the user’s perspective, and just use your brain to think logically about what would make people want to buy it. Don’t automatically use a 30-day trial just because everyone does. Run experiments and see what works for you. Sell the sizzle, not the steak. Features are logical, but benefits are emotional, and benefits are what sell. My products have many features, but what I sell are things like fun, family togetherness, victory, accom-plishment, and so on. Make it really easy
to buy. You must have a "buy now" button in your product that goes directly to your online order form.
5) Assuming you’ve got a 5-star product you believe in and a web site to sell it, the next step is pretty simple. Just let as many people as possible know about it. Use ADDS(www.a-direct.com),
Freelance Works (www.freelanceworks.com), Shareware Promotions (www.sharewarepromotions.com),automated submission tools, etc. to get it out to all the download sites. Send out a press release using Al Harberg’s service to let the rest of the world know about it (www.dpdirectory.com). Gradually create your own press list of web sites that would post news about your products (for me that means a gaming press list), and send your press release to them. For Dweep I spent about six weeks full time doing virtually nothing but this.
6) Upsell. If you sell a $20 product and can create a "pro" or "gold" version to sell for $30 and do nothing more than list it on your online order form, then marketing experts will say that you can statistically expect 30-6015533664057f your $20 sales to become $30 sales - forever! For me, I took a $10 product, raised the price to 25 gold version. When I first released the gold version, 8015731027545f new customers bought it. Now that’s settled down to about 60%.0 By upselling, I have more than doubled the amount of money my average sale brings in. Yet to create the gold version from the original version took only a fraction of the effort it did to create the original version from scratch. It’s a lot easier to turn a 20 sale than it is to attract a $10 customer in the first place. When someone has already de-cided to spend $20 with you, you should be able to convince that person to spend $10 more about half the time. Note espe-cially that upselling is not manipulative if you are truly offering the customer better value. I feel better about selling Dweep Gold vs. Dweep because I feel the customer is getting a much better deal. You get 35 levels for $15 or close to 150 levels (and rising) plus a built-in level editor for $25. For someone who’s al-ready decided to buy the $15 version, the $25 version becomes even more attrac-tive. As you can see, there really are no shortcuts. You can’t shortcut making a great product, a great web site, etc. You just have to be honest with yourself and put in the time. I think the biggest lesson I learned is to stop looking for the silver bullet and just create the kinds of prod-ucts I feel should deserve to make a lot of money. That approach works. I think that success in shareware (and probably in any business) is roughly 10% how and 90% why. Anyone here can earn $100K+ per year if they want to. If you don’t know how, just do what I do and read lots of books on business, mar-keting, sales, etc, and you’ll soon be an expert in all those things. A lack of knowledge of what to do isn’t what usu-ally holds people back though. It’s sim-ply a lack of purpose. That’s why I think the first step of creating a product that you will really want to sell is so impor-tant. I know a lot of people who create products that they don’t push because they really don’t think too highly of them. I’m certainly guilty of this too with my older games, so I never push them. If you create a product that you really want people to have, you’ll be motivated to learn the "how" to get it sold.
Also, to get sales in excess of $100,000, what is your cash marketing budget, if you don’t mind me asking? And how do you spend that cash?
This is where I do things a bit differ-ently. I rarely pay for marketing per se, but I am always willing to pay for results. It is so easy to throw away lots of money on marketing, even if you know what you’re doing, and something like 90%+ of all marketing is either ineffective or actually has an adverse effect on sales. So here’s a real-life example of what I do. A few weeks ago I was approached by someone responsible for securing content for a cable TV show about com-puter and video games. We chatted for a while about my games, and after check-ing out my web site, he called me back a few days later, saying that they were interested in featuring one of my games on the show. The catch, of course, was that they wanted me to put up about $15K for this "opportunity." I could actually afford to pay for this, but I never plunk down money like this. Knowing exactly where I was headed, I let the man go on for a while about how much money I’d make in sales from their millions of viewers. I told him this opportunity sounded incredible, and we calculated that I’d need to sell about 1000 copies of my program to break even. The guy seemed confident I’d sell a lot more than that. Well, I said, in that case, I’d like to give the studio a cut of the action. I offered to give them $10 per copy sold if they fronted all the cash, so our out of pocket cost was nothing. If the deal was as good as the guy was claiming, the studio would stand to make a lot more money this way, and my risk would have been nil. I told the guy that I had no idea whether the TV feature would be effec- tive in making sales, but if the studio was so confident in its effectiveness, then they should jump at my offer. Essentially I turned the situation around by using risk reversal on the studio. They are currently considering my offer. If they say no, I know it was probably a bad deal to begin with. If they say yes, I have nothing to lose and will probably make some decent money from it, as will the studio.
This basically sums up much of how I do my marketing. I never pay for ban-ner advertising, for instance, but I am happy to give someone a cut of the sales on the backend to keep my risk low. This is a great way to separate the bad offers from the good ones. Those who offer me bad deals to begin with will never accept a backend deal, but those with legitimate opportunities will often jump at the chance for a cut of the action. So I would gladly offer any ASP member
with a good opportunity a cut of the action ($10 per sale for Dweep Gold) if you think you can get a decent number of sales. For instance, if you have a newslet-ter, and you are willing to insert a sales pitch that I write, I would gladly split the sales with you.
So developing new win-win relation-ships is what I try to look for when doing my marketing. Otherwise, I spend very little cash directly on marketing (less than $300 per month total), and that’s only for ongoing things that are proven effective for me.
Finally , how many programs do you sell?
Five main products, with two more in development. Eight products if you count all the variations of Dweep.
Steve Pavlina is President of the ASP and CEO of Dexterity Software, an on-line game publisher dedicated to releas-ing retail-quality games through share-ware channels. You can find Steve inter-acting with Dweep addicts at www.dexterity.com.