by Rick Holzgrafe
"If you build it, they will come." I'm here to tell you they won't. If you don't advertise what you've got, few people will notice or buy your products. Promotion (also called evangelism) is the art of shouting good news about your product, and getting other people to shout good news about it too. It takes some time and effort and perhaps a little money, but it's essential to your success. Here are some ways to go about it.
If you have the bucks, you can get everybody to notice your product. Just buy advertising everywhere: in magazines, on Web sites, on TV, in inserts in other people's commercial products.
The trouble with that idea is that it takes a barrel of bucks. Advertising is hideously expensive, and few shareware authors can afford it. In my first fifteen years of selling shareware, I never paid a penny for advertising: not because I don't approve of advertising, but because a penny buys precious little ad space and I've never had the ton-weight of pennies it would take to buy any significant ad. Ads in major magazines, for example, cost thousands of dollars, and even in my dreams I don't have enough money to consider TV.
Lately an alternative has appeared that might be worth considering. Many major web sites support themselves by selling ad space, and the starting rates can be quite low: perhaps still too expensive for anyone on a real shoestring, but not out of the question for everyone. I tried it for a while recently, and found that the increase in sales pretty much exactly paid for the ads, with no increase in my net profit, so I pulled the ads and stopped the experiment. But all publicity is good, so if you can afford a small Web ad, it might be worth the try.
Set up a Web site of your own. This won't cost you more than $20 or $30 per month from most ISPs, and you may be paying for it already. If not, you should be: this is a case of spending a little money in order to make more. If you can't hack raw HTML, then invest in any of the good HTML editors that are now available -- there are dozens, just pick one.
Your site should give the same information that's in your Read Me file. Unlike the Read Me file it's primarily an advertisement, so organize it differently: put the boring (but important) info near the bottom, and put your advertising brags and puffery near the top. Don't go wild with huge graphics; many users won't sit around and wait for a big page to load over a slow modem. But do make the page as good-looking and professional as possible (just like your product). You can put big screen shots and such on separate pages for people who are willing to put up with big downloads. On your main page, put some smaller screen shots or thumbnails, along with your company and product logos.
Unless your Web site's host has good performance and doesn't mind the heavy traffic you hope to generate, you should offer download pointers to as many different sites as you can find. Mac authors should offer pointers to Info-Mac and UMich mirrors around the world, for example. A dozen or so such links, carefully selected, will include a couple of sites reasonably near to almost any possible customer. Redundancy is good because not all sites are available 100% of the time -- if one's busy or down, your visitors will want another choice to try right away.
If your product becomes popular, your $20 Web site may not be able to handle the load. When that happens, go find a more expensive site that can take the traffic. Again, it's worth it! When you can afford it, register a domain name of your own. Most Internet hosting companies can do this for you, and it's usually quite inexpensive. A domain name will make your site easier to find ("www.semicolon.com" is all it takes to find mine) and you will be able to move to a new site, when you need to, without invalidating everybody's links and bookmarks to your old one.
There are a zillion web sites in the world these days, and some of them attract the people who should be your customers. Some of these sites are shareware sites, some are sites concerned with the kind of work or play that your product offers. Find these sites and send mail to their webmasters. Give them your elevator presentation, ask them to link to your site and promise to link back to theirs, ask them to review your product. Evangelize! Be polite, but get their attention.
Netnews is a great, free way to spread the word. But be careful -- you will anger a great many people if you use newsgroups for blatant advertising. Newsgroup readers will generally put up with brief, to-the-point announcements of your new releases; they'll regard those as public service announcements. But if you post every week with "Check out this great software!" you will soon be drowning in hate mail. Respect the news: only post when you have news, and only post in appropriate newsgroups. Down with spam!
A press release is a wonderful way to blow your own horn. News organizations want you to send them press releases; it's one of the major ways they get news about the business world. Rather than try to describe what a good press release should say, I've put up one of mine for you to look at. (And if you know of any ways to improve it, please let me know!)
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