by Joan Stewart
If you’re new to digital publishing and the thought of creating a product intimidates you, start with something fast and easy: a five-page special report that goes in-depth on a very narrow topic.
That’s what I did when I started my business. And I learned quickly that low-price, snack-size special reports–on topics an inch wide and filled with content that goes a mile deep, have many advantages:
You can create one in just a few hours. You don’t need fancy graphics–or any graphics.
Because they’re inexpensive, these reports are a great way to let a website visitor sample your offerings without spending a lot of money.
Customers looking for help with a specific problem don’t have to wade through an ebook or watch a one-hour video. They can read your report and, in less than 15 minutes, find the answers.
Special reports can serve as an introductory product that upsells customers to a more thorough, more expensive digital or physical product.
Because they’re so inexpensive, customers will often buy several at a time.
The ease of producing them means you can choose a timely problem people are struggling with, and push your product to market in less than a day.
Unlike a print book, you can update special reports on the fly, at zero cost.
I Discovered Them by Accident
My success with special reports happened by accident almost 20 years ago, when I started my business and when digital publishing was still in its infancy. I had intended to write a print book but wanted to start generating revenue quickly.
Write a chapter at a time and sell each one as a $7 special report, mostly through my weekly ezine that had only a few hundred subscribers. When I had written 20 reports, I’d compile them into a print book.
I’m a publicity expert and chose narrow topics that focused on problems that my target audience found challenging. I have 52 titles. Here are the first five topics:
Special Report #1: Damage Control: How to Keep the Media from Making a Mess of Your Story
Special Report #2: Questions You Can Expect Reporters to Ask During an Interview
Special Report #3: How to Use Free Publicity to Attract and Keep Qualified Employees
Special Report #4: How to Write Crisp, Compelling Letters to the Editor that Promote Your Product, Service or Favorite Cause
Special Report #5: How to Identify Story Ideas Within Your Company or Organization
10 Tips for Creating Your Special Reports
1. Identify your audience’s Number One problem. That should be the topic of your first special report. Keep the topic as narrow as possible and limit the report to five pages in 10- or 12-point type. Resist the temptation to write everything on that topic.
2. Experiment with a variety of formats. Special Report #2: Questions You Can Expect Reporters to Ask During an Interview” is almost entirely in Q&A format. Special Report #40: 42 Publicity Tips for Authors and Small Publishers is a numbered list of tips.
3. Number the titles of your reports. It will be easier for you and your customers to keep track of them. Also, there’s something enticing about numbers. A few customers will be tempted to buy them all, just like comic book collectors want the entire set of Superman comics.
4. Do not offer printed reports. In the early days, I offered customers the option of receiving the reports digitally or in print. After hours standing over my printer and making many trips to the post office, I learned that that was a mistake. If they want a hard copy, tell them to print it from their own computer.
But that didn’t reproduce well as a smaller image that I needed for my new website. I now have a much smaller version.
6. Update the reports. Review your reports every few years and update them. If you don’t, customers will complain about bad links. Updating 52 reports at the same time is a herculean task. I haven’t found an easy solution. When you update the reports, let readers know what year you updated it.
7. Upsell customers to other products. I now host paid webinars that sell for $49.95 or $97. When I update the special reports, I include links to the webinar replays that are related to the topic of the report. You can also cross-promote from one report to another.
8. Use a proofreader. You scan still keep your costs at zero by working out a deal with a friend. You proofread her copy and she proofreads yours.
9. Use standard formatting for digital publishing. Short paragraphs, bulleted and numbered lists, and boldface make reading easy.
10. Give each special report its own page at your website. This will allow you to optimize the page for the search engines. I’m also considering excerpting part of each report for the sales page. This will give me more content, more keywords and hopefully more traffic.
Your Next Topic Is In Your Email
Pay attention to the questions people are emailing to you. When you start seeing the same questions repeated, that could be the perfect topic for your next special report.
Finally, here’s a killer tip that forced me to write special reports. When I saw a stack of unpaid bills in my office, and the meager balance in my checking account, I started to panic.
That’s when I’d include an item in my ezine telling my readers that, a week from now, I’d have four new special reports to sell. I listed the titles to whet their appetites.
That forced me to write them–sometimes all in one weekend. The next week, I had four new products for my inventory, and lots of orders.
Have fun writing and selling special reports–and finally paying all those bills!
This article was originally published on The Future of Ink and is reprinted here in its entirety for our Magnolia Media Network readers.