Last week I launched the manifesto 18 Months, 2 Blogs, Six Figures. I released the guide for free, with no opt-in or anything required. It’s simply a PDF download that is freely available to anyone who stops by.
Why the hell would I release 13,000 of the most important words I’ve ever written for free? I got that question from a lot of readers last week.
My answer is simple. There are times to release paid products and times to build your audience. There are also times to give back your community. This was an opportunity for me to both grow my readership and give back.
In this guide, I’ll share the results of my big release last week. I’ll also explain step-by-step how you can release your own free manifesto to build your audience and pave the way for much bigger things in the future.
I’ve mentioned a couple of times recently that I’ve gained so much over the past year-and-a-half from the generosity of other bloggers and online entrepreneurs. From free guides to value-packed blog posts to emails and even phone calls, so many successful (and very busy) people have been there with advice and help to keep me moving forward.
Since I recently reached a critical milestone (grossing over 100k from my business), I wanted to take this opportunity to give back myself. I figured my story would help you all who are hoping to build similar lifestyle businesses. I wanted to “pay it forward” so to speak.
Plus, I thought releasing the story for free would be a great way to build my audience even more.
The model I decided to follow has been successful for a number of bloggers I read and admire. Chris Guillebeau’s Brief Guide to World Domination and 279 Days to Overnight Success were particularly inspiring to me. Both are big free manifestos, and World Domination was downloaded by over 100,000 people.
I wasn’t aiming for 100k new readers, but even a fraction of that would be awesome (see the results below).
In addition to Guillebeau’s manifestos (that sounds strangely like Gulliver’s Travels to me, anybody else?), other free eBooks I used as inspiration for this project and my blogging career in general were (all of these are awesome, so check them out):
- Getting Real by 37 Signals
- Zero Hour Work Week by Jonathan Mead
- The American Dream is Dead by Karol Gajda
- The Beginner’s Guide to SEO by Moz
This wasn’t the first free book I’ve released, either. About a year ago I wrote New Economy Superstar, a free manifesto about how to become part of the “new” economy, the one that favors small businesses and individuals over giant behemoths.
That book helped establish me early on and I wanted to follow-up with something bigger and more personal.
7,986 Visitors Tell Me it Was a Good Decision
So, how did the launch turn out? During the 5 days after launching the book, I attracted 7,986 more visitors than I would have during an average 5-day period.
Sure, I could have sold the book, but would I have reached nearly 8,000 new people? No way.
Thanks to all of you who helped spread the word, I’m super pleased with the results. The posts announcing the guide were tweeted over 200 times, and I’ve received hundreds of comments, emails and tweets thanking me for sharing the guide.
I’ve also had conversations with clients and met some new bigger bloggers that I wouldn’t have otherwise all because of the report.
No doubt, releasing a big free manifesto like this can be a fantastic way to grow your audience.
How to Release Your Own Manifesto
If you’re convinced that releasing a free book like this is right for your situation, you’ll want to do some planning to make sure you get the biggest benefit from all your hard work. It would be a shame to write 13,000+ words (in my case) and have only a handful of people read it.
To begin with, what’s your idea for your free guide?
Just like a good blog post, you need to focus on providing killer value to your reader. If you think convincing people your 1,000 word blog posts are worth reading is hard, imagine asking people to give up an hour of time to read 70 pages.
Telling your life’s story isn’t going to cut it.
What’s something you know well that your readers would love to learn? Start thinking in that direction and you might be on to something.
This new manifesto I released has been more successful at launch than the first one I wrote. That’s due partly to how much value I decided to pack into this one. I didn’t hold back or release some watered-down freebie. I put some of my best online business and marketing advice into it, and the response has been great because of that. This was based on everything I’ve learned over the past 18 months.
Others, like Guillebeau’s World Domination manifesto focus not so much on the author’s individual experience, but more on an inspirational view of the world. If you go the inspiration route, make sure you say things that are powerful and important and not just rehashes of common points of view.
Think big, think bold and keep your reader in clear focus.
Title, Title, Title!
Again, just like with blog posts, headlines are everything. Only in this case you’ll want to spend even more time developing a perfect title because so much more effort will go into this book than you put into a typical post.
People often decide whether or not to read a book based solely on it’s title, despite what your mom told you about not judging a book by it’s cover.
People also often decide whether to share something on Twitter, Facebook, etc. based on the title alone. A catchy title can make a huge difference in your book’s ability to attract new readers.
I now think I totally fucked up the title of my first book, New Economy Superstar. I’m not sure what I was thinking at the time, but the title just doesn’t grab readers like it should. I’ve actually thought about re-titling it and releasing it again. I might just do that as an experiment.
What should your title convey? It should be grand in scale, intriguing, perhaps teasing and definitely should convey a hint of the benefits your readers will get from reading the book.
If this is truly a manifesto, as in “a public declaration of principles and intentions” than don’t hold back on the content or the title.
Writing Your Book
This part might seem a little daunting at first. My first manifesto took me three months or so to write, mostly because I procrastinated like a government worker being paid by the day.
Take a deep breath, don’t stress about the project before you even start, and put things into perspective. Your book doesn’t have to be War and Peace. In fact, I’d say mine was a little long at 13,000 words. Yours could be much smaller and still have a big impact.
In any case, let’s say you’re going for a nice round 10,000 words. That might sound like a lot, but how many words did you write last month in blog posts? Think about your book in those terms. If you regularly write 1,000 word blog posts, your book will be like writing 10 posts.
That doesn’t sound so hard, does it?
Side note, if you plan to earn a living from your blog by creating products, writing this book will be good practice. There’s probably a lot of writing in your future, unless you come up with something that’s all audio or video. Although scripts require writing as well.
Start with an outline that captures the major points you want to make. Break that up into manageable chunks that you can write drafts of in one sitting.
For this recent manifesto, I procrastinated for a few weeks before sitting down to write it. After I finally blocked out the time, I wrote the entire first draft in three 3-hour-long sittings over about a week.
Package it Up All Pretty Like
Now you have a choice to make. Do you design and assemble your book all yourself, or get an outside designer to help?
I designed and packaged my manifestos myself. If you’re decent with graphic design, this might be a good option.
The two main software choices, as far as I was concerned were Microsoft Word and Adobe InDesign. I’m sure there are others out there, so let me know in the comments if you feel like it.
I used Word for my first eBook, but it was cumbersome because of problems converting hyperlinks to the final PDF (on the Mac at least). InDesign was much harder to learn, but offered far greater flexiblity and options. Just beware that InDesign is not a cheap option. If you’re not going to do much designing yourself, you might find a designer for as much as that software costs.
If your blog is a serious business and you can afford to spend a little cash, a designer might be a good way to go. Men With Pens does eBook designs (they’ve done books for Leo Babauta of Zen Habits), and Reese does books as well (she did Chris Guillebeau’s).
If you don’t have the money but don’t know design well, don’t freak out. A simple, straightforward design will do. The important thing is that you get the manifesto out there. If the content is great, the design won’t hold you back much.
Getting the Word Out
If you’ve read Think Traffic for any length of time, you know that content comes first. But great content without effective promotion is a waste of effort.
Since you’re putting so much effort into developing your manifesto, don’t skimp on the launch planning. Just releasing your manifesto like a regular blog post would be a shame. You need to leverage this great resource.
Treat this launch more like the launch of a product. It’s important.
That means you should start hinting about the coming manifesto at least a week before it drops. Start telling people little details on Twitter or Facebook or wherever you hang out online. Maybe mention that you’re working on something big within a regular blog post.
Then, I recommend writing a blog post that officially pre-announces the guide at least a few days before it comes out (I learned many of these techniques from observing Chris Guillebeau’s hugely successful launches).
Tell people what to expect from your manifesto early, and why it will be so special. Get them ready for it by revealing some of the awesome things they’ll learn from the free report.
A day or two before launch, send your book to everyone who has inspired you along the way. Don’t ask the a-listers you email for anything, just tell them thanks and that you wanted them to get a copy of your project before anybody else.
Next, email your readers (you do have an email subscription option, right?) before everyone else gets a copy. In fact, I used this to help grow my email list by nearly 300 new subscribers around launch. Tell people in your pre-announcement post that they’ll get an early copy if they subscribe to your email list.
If you’re part of any blogger networks, be sure to let them know the manifesto is coming as well.
When you email your readers with a sneak preview, be sure to let them know when the manifesto will be officially released and ask them for help in getting the word out. Here’s a copy of the sneak preview email I sent out to readers.
Finally, on launch day, write a to-the-point post about your manifesto. Include the major benefits people will get from reading it, who it is for, and a call for help in spreading the word.
I also posted links to my manifesto on a couple of blogger forums I belong to, like Third Tribe. These can be great places to get a little extra publicity. And again, because your report is free and value-packed, people will be thankful you posted links (I don’t recommend doing that with regular blog posts however).
Asking for Help
Because you’re giving away something this substantial for free, you can certainly ask for help from your audience.
For my launch, I mentioned more than once that specifically, I would appreciate any Tweets, Facebook shares, comments or reviews/links from other people’s blogs. Don’t be afraid to be specific. The generosity of your report should make people more than willing to give you back a little love.
The specific request seems to have worked for me as so far 15 other blogs have written about and linked to the manifesto. That’s great for both attracting more visitors and search engine optimization.
The Legacy of Your Efforts
The beauty of a big free report like I’ve described here is that it will be a huge resource for new readers for months or years to come. You can use it to really express your point of view and why your blog is worth reading.
Your manifesto will hopefully give you a big boost in readers immediately, and then will keep bringing in new readers and encouraging them to stick around or subscribe. That’s been my experience at least. I’d love to hear the results of your experiments if you decide to unleash a manifesto too.
Oh, and if your first manifesto isn’t a big success, you can always do it better the second time like I did.
Questions? Thoughts? I’d love to answer any questions you might have. If you have an idea you want feedback on, feel free to ask in the comments below. I’m always happy to answer questions.