What Plans to Create?

Here are my completely un-scientific findings on what sells and what does not. Please keep in mind that the only sampling I have actual numbers for are my own plans, so “your mileage may vary”. First, in general, jig and fixture plans are more popular than project plans. My Folding Router Table is far and away my best seller, and only one project-type plan even comes close, my No Miter Picture Frames. Which brings up another point: Find a problem and solve it!

Folding RT Cover PhotoJig and fixture plans sell (In my opinion) because they help your customer improve their shop capability. Jigs built from these plans will be (hopefully) used across many projects your customer will build, so the cost of the plans can be justified easily. If you think about it, the No Miter Picture Frames also fill that need. Everyone needs nice frames for artwork, diplomas, awards, etc, and everyone thinks that because you have a shop, you can make frames. But honestly, frames are a pain, and cutting really nicely fit miters requires really accurate set ups. The No Miter Frame plans sell well because they are REALLY easy to make and you can whip up several frames in different sizes and styles in a weekend using one jig. So again, they solve a problem.

I did not know any of this when I started out. I simply made plans. Some will probably never make enough money to justify the effort put in, which is why I am sharing this with you. Learn from my mistakes. Another tip: again, I have no real proof, but I highly suspect that plans being sold with nothing but computer renderings instead of actual photos do not do well. You pretty much do need to actually build the plans you want to sell. I have access to really powerful 3D modeling software. I have actually modeled complex designs in the computer and been able to test fit and even checked movement of parts before cutting any wood. I can also tell you that once you start the actual build, thinks will change. Your potential customers want to see the actual project you built. It helps convince them they too will be able to make it.

Cover 2How I choose the plans to create varies. I knew my Guide Track Plans would appeal to woodworkers who wanted a track saw, but could not justify the cost. I spent a lot of time and built several prototypes before I found a way to make an accurate track system that could be shop-built successfully without spending too much. My Frontier Logs Play Set, on the other hand, took a very different path. I had seen quite a few folks on various woodworking forums asking where they could find plans for making their own popular brand name log based building set. I searched for such plans myself, and found only the most rudimentary version online, so I decided to see if I could come up with a viable set. Again, it came down to solving problems for your customers. Not only did I need to figure out the proper sizes and spacing for the logs parts, but accurate and safe methods for cutting the notches, even on the fairly small filler logs. By solving those issues, I created plans that have sold well if not spectacularly.

So, give some thought to these issues, and in the next blog I will discuss sources of inspiration and settling on your first plan idea. Please feel free to comment here on the blog, by email or on Facebook.

Getting More from Your Shop

Assembly 8I make my living as a woodworker, but NOT by making items for sale. A fair portion of my income is made through selling woodworking content I produce. I write blogs and newsletters, create project and product videos for my client’s marketing efforts, I write books and I sell plans. For the foreseeable future, this blog will be providing tips and hints as to how I go about all of this. You, the reader, may or may not want to make a full-time living out of your shop, but who among us would not like to generate some extra income from our shop? That is exactly how I started out, way before the internet was big, and before YouTube even existed.

IMG_0350In my opinion, the fastest and easiest path to generating income out of your wood shop is by selling plans online. You do the work only once, then sell it over and over. The plans are digital, so there is no cost of goods sold, and best of all, someone else does most of the marketing, all of the sales, collects the money and simply deposits checks into your account once a quarter! Sawtooth Ideas is the “someone else” I am referring to. I have been selling with them since nearly the first day, and am currently one of their top sellers, so this is where the blog will start. Why do I use Sawtooth Ideas?

Well, when I first started selling digital plans, I created my own shopping cart and sold them myself through my website. This worked just fine, but the only way folks found my plans was through my website. Sawtooth Ideas began shortly after I began selling on my own, so as a test, I sold my plans through both channels. Sales were about the same since we were both just starting. Then Sawtooth Ideas introduced their IdeaRoom software, and that made up my mind for me. IdeaRoom is a FREE 3D viewer that anyone can download and use on most any device. When someone buys a set of plans on Sawtooth Ideas, they get a PDF version of the plans (which I sold on my own) AND a 3D computer model of the project viewible on IdeaRoom. I could not compete with that so I went all in with Sawtooth Ideas and have not regretted it. If you want to see how cool IdeaRoom is, check out my video explanation.

Starting with the next blog entry, I will be sharing what has worked well for me so far, starting with how to come up with ideas for plans and choosing the best to try selling. I invite you to share your comments and questions here on this blog, by email or on Facebook.

Creating Great Content, Be Brief

Click to view video

Many folks will tell you that people today have very short attention spans, and often blame the internet. I don’t know if attention spans in general are shorter or not, but I do know that your online content is competing for whatever attention span your audience has with literally millions of others. So rule #2 for creating great online content is: “Be Brief”.

Keeping your content in ‘bite sized’ chunks will be an advantage to you in many ways. Written articles that run much more than 300 words are far less likely to be read. In fact, on many woodworking forums I participate in, the code “TLDR” is shorthand for “too long, I didn’t read it”. With video, viewer attention begins to drop off after the 60 second mark, and falls dramatically after 90 seconds, so your 4 minute sales pitch is largely going unseen. In addition, your greatest challenge in creating great content will be coming up with ideas! So by presenting information in shorter formats you can get more mileage out of each topic.

Click to view video

[Being brief may be most important for your instructional or FAQ content. Your customers or audience want to be able to quickly find what they are looking for. Having your FAQ set up with a number of specific questions each with a short answer will help them. Instructional videos are no different. Rockler contracted me to make an instructional video for their CNC Shark system to take a new user through the process of completeing a simple project. Rather than creating one 15 or 20 minute video, I broke the process down into 12 specific steps of 60-90 seconds each. Now if a user needs a refresher on a specific step in the process, they can watch a minute or so of video and be back to work rather than having to search through a long file to find the topic needed.

Polonious in Hamlet told us that “Brevity is the Soul of Wit.” Keeping your content to 300 words or 90 seconds of video forces you to stay on point, and to edit out the fat. People feel rewarded and smart when they get what they are looking for quickly, and they will be more likely to share your content with their social or business network.

Please feel free to comment here in the blog, find me on Linkedin or Twitter, or email me if you want more info at rbagnall@consultingwoodworker.com

Creating Great Content, Keep it Real

I firmly believe that your web marketing goals should be to build a community around your product or service, and that your web presence should be the “clubhouse” for that community. Making your site a place where your community can come to chat, show off, learn and play means that they will visit regularly. This is far more powerful for you than hoping that they remember you next time they want to buy, or spending a lot of money and effort to artificially improve your SEO rankings. Nothing will improve your SEO better than having great information that your customers comment on and share with their friends who need your services. It’s not about getting unique visitors to your site, it is about getting engaged, interested potential customers to visit over and over. Providing great content that is targeted toward your customer’s wants and needs is the foundation of creating this destination website. My 7 Rules for Great Web Content are the basics I have learned in providing content for my own website as well as a number of major players in the woodworking industry.

Rule #1: Keep it Real

These are the rules for GREAT content, not the rules for lots of SEO keywords. Trust me when I tell you that the first time your website shows up at the top of a customer’s Google search and they are dissapointed to find some generic piece that either does not answer their questions, inform them in some way or entertain them, they will never click on your link again no matter where you appear on Google. Here is an example of what I mean. The headline is: “Where to Find DIY Woodworking Plans”. It only takes a few seconds to realize that it is a marketing piece with no real new information. The over use of keywords makes it read like the author’s command of English is not great, and a potential customer that chooses to click the link on your recommendation is likely to feel cheated. You may never have the chance to regain that lost trust.

Worse yet, Google and other search engines are constantly upgrading their algorythms to detect this sort of thing and penalize sites that use it. So Keep it Real and provide your audience with relevent, interesting and useful content. If you are a cabinet shop, what cool storage solutions can you show? If you sell to the woodworking hobbyist, what tips, tricks or skills can you provide that help them make their work better or easier? If you sell B2B, what insights can you share with your clients to improve their sales or profits?

Take a look at Lee Valley’s Woodworking Newsletter. They are very strict with themselves about not directly selling in the newsletter, but by providing a mix of how-to articles, what tool is this? features and general interest content keeps readers coming back. If Lee Valley tools are shown in the hands of craftspeople making beautiful things, that is just a bonus for them.

This needs to be your goal. To provide a place where your customers can go to explore and learn without being innudated with sales pitches and certainly without feeling that they have wasted their valuable time. Give good value for the time they are “spending” with you and they will come back again and again.

Stop Chasing Your SEO Tail

To begin with, a few notes:
I have been remiss about keeping up with this blog and posting as frequently as I ought to. I hope to remedy that at least for the next several months. One reason I believe that I can do better is that I just found out that I will be presenting a new seminar at IWF Atlanta this year entitiled; “7 Rules for Great Web Content”. Without giving away the store, I intend to use this blog to work through the details of that seminar, so those of you who follow will get much of my thinking on this for free and ahead of the attendees at my seminar.
Another thing that I want to bring to your attention is something sort of new to YouTube. No, I am not talking about the “new look”, but an often overlooked fact which is that YouTube now allows for live links within the video descriptions. This is big if you have YouTube content already. What it means is that by simply going back through your older videos and adding your website address (you must include the “http://”) you will increase the number of links to your website, AND can dramatically increase the traffic to your site with no cost and virtually no effort! I went back and added mine and saw an immediate increase in traffic to the website. I recommend adding the link at the top of the description as shown in the photo above. The new design only shows the first few lines of the video description so even if the viewer does not click the “Show More” button, they will see the link.

Now on to the title of this blog. I try to keep up with SEO issues as part of my work with clients, and I have to tell you, there is just too much! Every day another social media site comes out, or someone tells you that you MUST be using Google + or else you are DEAD! Forget it! Stick to the basics, do what you know and are good at, and concentrate on your core audience and you will be fine.

Having half a million Twitter followers, ten thousand “likes” on your Facebook page, or even seeing a million visitors a month on your website is worse than useless if they are the wrong audience. If they are not inteacting with you, passing your information along to others or not buying from you, then they are just taking up your time and bandwidth. Far better to have 100 really engaged customers than 10,000 that are just “noise”. The days of mass market advertising are pretty well over. You do not need to reach 100,000 people hoping that some fraction of a percentage of them will pay attention to your message. With a little care and effort, you can now directly target the audience you want and get VERY high conversion rates. My newsletter only reaches about 260 names with each issue, but I average a 50% open rate and nearly 50% of those click on the links in my email.

I may well be biased since a good portion of my income is earned by creating content, but I (and my customers) are convinced that content is still king and the secret to reaching the right audience for your business. I work largely with woodworking retailers and manufacturers. The goal is to create a web presence that the customers see as a destination unto itself rather than the place we hope they remember when it is time to order. For example, I write many of the blog posts for Rockler, arguably the biggest retailer in the industry. We use the blog to teach and instruct, especially for newer woodworkers who are specifically looking to learn more about their craft. A recent series of blogs showed different methods of bending wood. The readers learn new techniques, actually read the blog and comment on it, and begin coming back regularly to learn more. Along the way, Rockler gets to show and link to tools and materials on their website, and add ing any number of keywords that will enhance their SEO organically.

The organic part is very important. If you have a follower click on a link to one of your articles and it is obviously fluff written only to enhance SEO, (you know the type I mean) it does not matter if your website is link #1 on Google, they will not be fooled again by you. In addition, every day Google and the other search engines are building better and better filters to penalize the irrelevent fluff posts. SEO for SEO’s sake is going to hurt more than it helps.

So spend your time, effort and money creating great content for your target audience. Trust me, if you do it well, the SEO will come. Creating great content is not all that hard nor does it have to cost much. I will be discussing how I do it over the next several blog posts.

Please feel free to comment here on this blog, get in touch with me at rbagnall@consultingwoodworker.com, follow me on Twitter or connect with me at Linkedin.

Of What use is Video to Me?

I know it has been some time since I posted here, and I promise to try and be better about getting new posts up. The truth is, I have been VERY busy, and much of my time is being taken up by producing videos for my website and my clients.

More and more companies are beginning to realize the value and even the necessity of adding video to their marketing efforts. And it is not just about sales videos! When I got started producing videos, the focus was less on sales and more on the “how-to” of the product. Most videos were of router bits, which can be expensive. The focus of these videos were to show potential buyers the bits in action, and suggest alternate uses where possible. They were the answer to a customer’s question; “Will buying this bit solve my problem?”

I have produced a number of these videos and continue to do so, but was asked if I could also create sales videos as well. The products and their videos are much the same, but the focus is a bit different. Sales videos are more geared to introducing the product to a customer and pointing out the features and benefits of owning it. Video allows this to be very quick and even entertaining.

I also produce videos my clients are using for FAQ pages of their website. This can be VERY valuable to a company, especially if your products are technical in nature. An FAQ video can be accessed by your customers worldwide and 24/7. If properly executed, it can help reduce technical support calls and emails, taking strain off your staff by answering the very basic questions which allows your highly trained and cometent staff to deal with more in-depth issues.

A note: While I believe all online videos should be limited to apporx 90 seconds in length, with FAQ videos this is even more important. A customer is not going to scrub through a 20 minute video to find the answer to his basic question. Break that information up into short videos that are clearly labels so a customer can easily find the answer they want the same way a written FAQ page is broken up into individual questions.

Interviews are another great type of video for marketing your business. Are new laws or regulations of concern to your customers? Film a short interview with an expert and post it! Typically you can find someone who is willing to do this for free. after all, they will get publicity from the interview and your promotion of the video, and they get an added credence from being presented as an expert. Interviews can be recorded in person, or via video chatas long as the connection is good. I have even seen the questions and answers recorded separately and edited together. My advice for interview videos is do not rely on the micraphone built into your video camera. Even pocket video cameras like the Kodak Zi8 that i shoot with have a jack for an external microphone. This will greatly enhance the sound quality.

Video is here to stay for the foreseeable future, and technology has made it inexpensive and easy to use for your marketing. If you do not have the time to do it yourself, then find out what it costs to have it done for you. It can cost far less than you may think, and I have customers that are very happy to simply tell me what they want, and not have to worry about anything other than posting it once I send them the finished file.

As always, I invite you to comment or ask questions here on the blog, via Twitter or Linkedin. I’m always happy to discuss!

Video is Not for You, Huh?

Ok, I get it! Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and now Quora? Who has time to keep up with all this stuff, let alone getting caught up with YouTube videos! I know that everyone is telling you that you HAVE to do social media, and you just do not have the time!

Ok, take a deep breath…. let it out slowly…. and take a breather for a few while you enjoy a quick video:

Feel Better? What you just watched was a review I shot and produced for my own website. Rockler sent me a set of Bench Cookies just after they debuted at AWFS in 2009.

Please note that I have invested less than $1000.00 in total equipment to be able to produce that video. Please note also that as of this writing, that video has been viewed 25,000 times in 18 months! How does this matter to you? It shows two things that you should know:

First, it shows that shooting, editing and posting video does not have to be very expensive, or time consuming, or difficult. It can even be fun! And that video brings traffic to my website when people find it in their YouTube searches, and when they view it ON ROCKLER’S WEBSITE. That’s right. My amature review video is hosted on Rockler’s website, right on the product page, alongside their own demo video. And that brings me to point number two:

The second thing you should know about getting video onto your website is that you DON’T HAVE TO DO IT YOURSELF. There are millions of people out there shooting video with webcams, digital video cams, cellphones and whatever. Yes, 99% of the “footage” shot is complete crap, but 1% isn’t, and 1% of millions of postings is a BIG number. That 1% is also looking to be shared, and is usually FREE for the asking!

It is important for you to understand that the entire point of Youtube is sharing and passing along content. Anything posted as “public” on Youtube is searchable, linkable and the owner will likely be thrilled to let you use their video on your site. Hmmm, sound to good to be true? Let me show you how it works!

I created and posted this video review to my website. As of this writing it has been viewed 220 times. Not bad, but not stellar either.
Recently, an online retailer, who is adding the Magswitch products to thier website was searching YouTube and found this video. They contacted me and asked if they could embed it on the Magswitch product page of their website. I gladly said yes, with the ONLY conditions being that they post it without editing, and that a link to my website be included. No money needed, and now they have video content that their customers can watch when considering their purchase, and I have another link feeding viewers back to my content, which is SEO gold!
Oh, and this is in many ways better for the vendor than using Magswitch’s own video. (They will likely include Magswitch’s videos as well, they’d be fools not to.) Every customer knows that the vendor or manufacturer’s videos will talk up the product. An amature video (we call it USER GENERATED CONTENT) is often more powerful as a marketing tool because it is essentially customer testimony. It is, in fact, “word of mouth” advertising that can reach a great many more people than used to be possible.

So, start thinking about video again in this new light. I recommend that your marketing message should contain both your own video and user generated video whenever possible. In the next several blog posts, I’ll be discussing such questions as who should generate your videos, how easy or hard getting great results can be, and ways to use video to get more SEO into your site. Hang on to your hats, the ride is just starting!

Please feel free to comment here in the blog, find me on Linkedin or Twitter, or email me if you want more info at rbagnall@consultingwoodworker.com

Home Depot Does Social Media and Customer Service Very Right

We love to complain about them, we bash them, and especially in the Woodworking community we refer to large home retail chains as “The Borg”. But to give credit where it is due, Home Depot this past week went all out and did it all right, and I think you should know about it.

Just after Christmas, Home depot decided to clearance a very popular tool sharpening system, and listed them at about 25% of the normal retail price. As you might expect, word got out on the woodworking forums, and a number of people placed orders with Home Depot. (read the original thread here) I’m not sure what the mistake was on HD’s part. It was a sale to reduce inventory and should have been limited to stock, but somehow folks were able to back order the item at Home Depot’s online store. When stock ran out, Home Depot cancelled the back orders without explaination. New threads were immediately started on the forum complaining and calling “foul” on Home Depot.

One member of the forum who’s order had been cancelled emailed Home Depot’s CEO, Frank Blake. (Read thread here) Not only did Mr. Blake read the email, he forwarded it to Tish Pollard, Home Depot’s Resolution Manager who contacted the customer and overnight shipped him one of the sharpeners for free! But Tish and Home Depot didn’t stop there.

Tish ended up signing up to be a member of the woodworking forum, and posted an apology on the board! (Read Tish’s Thread) In her post, Tish also stated that HD had made a deal with the sharpener manufacturer to aquire enough stock to honor all of the original back orders at the advertised price!

As a consultant who works with several large retailers in the woodworking retail space, my hat is off to Home Depot, Frank Blake, and Tish Pollard. Mistakes were made, but Home Depot took full responsibility, and demonstrated an unusual understanding of the social media space to correct the problem. This is a model your business should study and your CS team needs to know about.

Ralph Bagnall

Deeds, not Words (5 Reasons Continued)

The second reason you don’t need to learn Japanese is because Lean is about actions not words. The only words to know are “Can we do this better?” But even that very powerful question is useless if action is not taken to back it up. We all tend to get into a bit of a rut, ignoring the details we see every day. Asking “Can we do this better?” should be a wakeup call to look more closely at those details and decide if we can find improvement there.

JFP offers dovetailed drawers for clients who want them, and economy plywood box drawers where cost is the driving factor. Building these economy boxes was a standard practice that they had been doing for many years, but the cost difference was not as large as they thought it should be. This is the sort of day in, day out task that gets ignored since human nature is to look for the big score, the “home run” that will save the company bundles of money. By walking the shop as an outsider, none of these details are day to day to me. I inquired about the economy boxes, asking how many they make a year, and how they are processed. Once we began working the numbers, it became clear that this was an area where significant savings were possible if we could find a more efficient process. Since these economy drawers were boxes with applied fronts, we decided to set up a dedicated router table with a drawer lock bit for joining the boxes. Both sides of the joint are cut with the same set up, so boxes can milled very quickly with no lead time.

JFP makes literally thousands of these boxes per year, so saving even a dollar a box represents real money, but more importantly, man hours were freed up to be applied on work that can be applied to more skilled (and higher paying) work. It is deeply important to think about being lean, but it is more important to jump in and try to implement the improvements. The drawer lock bit cost about $30.00 USD, and building a dedicated table took about half a day. Small enough risk to try something new, and that small risk is still paying dividends every month four years later.

As always, I invite your comments and suggestions. You can reach me by email at: rbagnall@consultingwoodworking on Linkedin, or on Twitter as @Consultingwood

Lean is Simple (“5 Reasons” continued)

In “5 Reasons You Don’t Need to Learn Japanese to Become Lean” I promised to elaborate on the five reasons. Here is number one; Lean Is Simple:

I was in Jamaica this month working with one of my long time clients. They have come a long way in the last four years, and are looking forward to still more success. We have long since picked the “low hanging fruit” and done most of the easy stuff…or had we?

While there for two weeks, I had numerous opportunities to help them find low to no cost ways to improve their efficiency. I saw two workers in assembly building a bench seat for a restaurant. They were setting a central pillar in the bench frame, one trying to hold the part in place while the other measured and screwed it in place. We discussed how cutting a couple of dados in the stretchers would hold the pillar in place making the task quicker, easier and more accurate. Since the parts were already being cut on the CNC machine, adding the dados was a simple and easy fix. We discussed with the team the idea that any time they had to measure to locate a part in an assembly, they need to think a minute and ask; “Can this be done better?”

Some prototype parts were being cut on the CNC, and one team member noted that the edges were rough and would require much difficult cleanup before they could be shipped. He literally asked; “Can this be done better?” I instantly gathered the CNC operators, the programmer and management. First, I pointed out to the operators that they certainly should have questioned the edge quality with the FIRST part. The programmer and I discussed strategies for cleaning up the cut by reworking the tool path, but most importantly, I made a positive example of the team member in front of everyone. His attitude and response were exactly what I want every worker to adopt. He asked the question to himself, but then took the important step of taking the question to the chain of command. Again, a simple solution that cost a few minutes of programming time will drastically reduce the finishing time needed on these production parts.

Throughout my stay, we constantly reinforced the idea of asking “Can we do this better?” and are devising a simple and immediate reward system to encourage all the workers to bring their ideas to the table. Every day, with every task, answering this simple question will improve your bottom line.

As always, I invite you to share your thoughts here in the comments, by e-mail to rbagnall@consultingwoodworker.com, through Twitter at @consultingwood or on Linkedin