Selling Products from a Design Blog with Douglas Bonneville

douglas bonnevilleDouglas Bonneville is a graphic designer based near Providence, Rhode Island, USA.

Douglas has made his living by creating designs for clients but also earns a great deal passively from a two products he’s created. Douglas’s story is one of finding a lucrative and non-competitive subject through blogging and creating products and selling them.

How did you get into blogging?

In 2009, it occurred to me (yes, I’m slow) that I can do this blogging thing and got the bug really bad. I posted nearly 100 articles in a short period of time. I think it was several months. To this day, several of my anchor articles written during that time period still bring the most traffic! There were a lot of duds too: poorly written or just dashed off. But I was experimenting and marvelled at how all this worked.

What key takeaways did you get from blogging during the early days?

The key takeaway from the early blogging learning curve is simple: make posts. Don’t post trash. Make an effort to do something unique.

If you pull off something unique, the Internet will reward you. This is a fact, and I’m glad to repeat that fact to anyone getting started.

Most of your early efforts will be “wasted” in one sense and “precious” in another. Meaning, you can’t get the knowledge you need to write great, effective, traffic-building posts without wading through the process of generating what you will come to regard as “waste”.

bonfx home-page

How do you define successful blogging?

Success in blogging is somewhat formulaic, but each of us has to find out what the formula is for ourselves. The principles of blogging don’t change though. I got a lot of great advice from great people back in the day and I can say one thing: I followed it!

So, back in 2009 when I started the blog, I had an absolutely singular vision. It was truly a vision, or else I couldn’t have mustered the energy to write so much and work so hard. My vision was simple: I was going to find a product to create, and I was going to sell it, and it was going to be a major supplement to my income.

I read and read and read all the major blogging blogs in early 2009 and became fascinated with SEO and how all this worked. I realized I could do it! All the advice from the best resources emphasized one thing in common: successful blogs required hard work above all. And I was willing to do that.

How did you stumble upon your font combination idea?

Just a month into blogging, after running through a lot material from my past in big “brain dump” articles (which really didn’t go anywhere but I had to write them!), I tried my hand at list posts. I wrote a few on popular fonts and made some graphics to go with them.

The idea for writing an article about font combinations came as a result of writing a few articles on typefaces. The third article I ever wrote for bonfx.com was Top 10 fonts for graphic designers. About a week later, after researching forums and non-sales data I came up with another article called 19 top fonts most preferred by graphic designers from around the web. With these lists in hand, and the realization that “font list” articles were always popular, the thought just occurred to me: how do I or someone else use these fonts together?

Some quick research yielded some helpful information, but it was all pretty old, as in years, or years and years. So not even a week after the second article went live, I wrote 19 top fonts in 19 top combinations which went live about two weeks after I started blogging! It was immediately retweeted by Smashing Magazine and got something like 7000 hits that day. Very quickly, I was in top position, or at least always in the top 10, for the term “font combinations” and other variations. To this day, it’s the most visited page on the site, and gets fresh backlinks weekly, through no effort of my own. There seems to be a kind of snowball effect.

It immediately became the anchor article for my blog and to this day 3.5 years later, it gets 500+ views a day.

bonfx iphone app

So how did you attempt to monetize this huge great traffic spike?

After it became clear to me that I had eyeballs, every day, looking for help on combining fonts, I had the idea to make an iPhone App. It took a few months of trial and error with Objective-C and the Apple iOS developer platform, but I got it submitted and it started selling immediately. It wasn’t going to help me retire early or anything but it was several hundred a month and maintains that, more or less, after a 2.0 release, just over 3 years later.

After that was released, I thought about the shortcomings of all apps: fiddling with the interface. I thought about how much I loved, back in my early days, before there was an internet for such things, the big collections of business card design books you could peruse at Barnes and Noble, Borders, and other books stores. I especially recalled typography books.

I thought that a really, really big book full of font combinations might hit a nerve just like the app did. But this would be a PDF, so I could make it as big as I wanted without having to worry about printing it, and it could be all vector so if people wanted to print pages from it, it would look great.

So, I started working on The Big Book of Font Combinations in the Spring of 2009, just after the Font Combinations App launched. It was a challenge to figure out the best way to produce such a large book. But, using the magic of InDesign, I got a system down that easily let me produce huge chapters. In fact, the biggest challenge after I got the system down was figuring out how to NOT make the book too big. I had half an eye on on-demand printing, so I didn’t want to make something impossible to print. I settled on about 400 pages.

bonfx ebook

We launched the book in September of 2010 and it immediately sold well and continues to this day, because there is no other book on the market like it. The closest (and that is an overstatement) book on combining fonts was from the early 90’s, long out of print, and much more limited in scope. The book is sold directly from my site at bonfx.com using organic search conversions. A few other outlets including Smashing Magazine and AppSumo have sold it. We continue to look for deal partnerships. In the meantime, we are considering making a print version available, and are working on other font resource books like The Big Book of Font Combinations.

I really appreciate your time, Doug.

Your help early on was, in retrospect, very critical. I owe a word of thanks to you, David Airey, and Jacob Cass, who took me under their wings at one point or another. We had some great offline email exchanges that were very exciting and so helpful. Bloggers and blogging designers are such an awesome community of great people!

You can do it

Look at the fantastic success Doug has had with an iPhone app and an e-book. Where did this success come from? Blogging.

Keep writing. And don’t just write generally. Write about specific sub-sections in your niche. The little nooks and alleyways that you’ve gone down in your professional life. This is where the gold is hiding. Thanks, Doug. :)

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