Technology Tools for Author Platforms
There is a common thread that ran through the 2000 plus authors that I’ve helped with their self-publishing efforts and that is technology usually isn’t one of their super powers. I want to stress that technology is vital to building a successful author platform however, you can keep it very simple and there is no need to get caught up in all the tech hype the 2min gurus peddle online.
In previous articles, I explored using the Marketing Pyramid approach to building your Author Platform. To recap the Marketing Pyramid consists of three frameworks:
Additionally, the three elements that make up the Systems Framework are:
- Marketing & Sales Process
- Tools to make it happen
Tools to Make It Happen
When it comes to the tools you need, you must first understand the issues surrounding the tools you own and the tools you borrow. Get this wrong and the author platform that you’ve invested considerable time and money in can come crashing down overnight through no fault of your own.
I’m a big advocate of owning as many of the tools as possible while accepting that there are some that must be borrowed and others that are a mix of owned and borrowed. When you own the tool, you retain complete control of how it’s configured but more importantly you control and own the data. Ownership usually requires more effort and cost initially but the upside is massive in terms of performance and risk minimization.
The following examples will help you understand the difference between borrowed and owned.
- Facebook is a classic borrowed platform and chances are, you’ve probably already experienced pain from arbitrary rule and algorithm changes. This is also an example of where you need to accept that risk as the marketing upside is enormous.
- Your website is a platform that you should own, or at least substantially control most of the elements. There are many low cost shared (borrowed) platforms that you can use but these are high risk. They come with a more than a few performance issues and if the company changes the rules or closes suddenly, a core element of your platform will disappear overnight and you will be back at square one as there is no back up you can revert to.
The following is a summary of the major tools you need to build a successful author platform. While this isn’t an exhaustive list and there are many alternatives as well, it’s worth remembering that you don’t have to start out with all the tools. I’ve excluded the latest and greatest “bright, shiny objects” as these will only add to your confusion. Finally, I’m working on the assumption that you have a reasonably modern computer (desktop or laptop, MAC or PC), a smartphone (iPhone or Android) and internet connection.
Your author platform will always be a work in progress and will evolve as your requirements change and as new, more appropriate tools come on the market. To illustrate a common evolutionary process, I’ll compare a basic set up for a new author with simple requirements against an author who is using their book to leverage into high paying coaching clients.
This is important as it will gain you much more control over your website and email address if you have your own hosting account. Some web developers will default you to their hosting platform which may seem easy for you however it adds considerably to your risk.
It’s best practice to use a webhosting company who’s servers are located near your primary market. For Australians, my preference is VentraIP which have amazing local support. I’ve used HostGator and Godaddy which are fine if US based however I found their support and performance in Australia to be lacking.
Register your own domain names. Don’t be tempted to have your web developer do this for you as they may not transfer the registration to you. It’s not hard to do yourself and again, in Australia I recommend VentraIP. If your outside Australia go with a local company and it’s much easier if they are also hosting your website.
I recommend that you pick up domain names that cover your book title and your author name. My preference is to pick up both .com.au and .com names if possible. If outside Australia, you should pick up your local domain as well as .com
The reality is you can start your author platform without a website however it should be on your medium term plans. Most of Intertype’s authors start with the landing page we build for them within our bookstore which is fine if you only plan on releasing one or two books. If you’re serious about making a living from your writing or using your book to leverage another business, then a website is a vital component of your platform.
My preference is to use WordPress. There are plenty of low cost developers / designers that can have a very sophisticated site up and running in no time at all. WordPress also has many plug ins that enable you to evolve your website as your needs change over time.
If you intend to sell books and other products from your website you will need to add ecommerce capability. There are plenty of WordPress plug ins that cater for this with my favorite being Woo Commerce.
You will also need to add payment functionality to the order taking process. I’ve tried eWay (in Australia) but found it very “clunky” and the support lacking, PayPal is good and I still use this but my favorite payment processor is Stripe. Stripe was supper easy to set up and works flawlessly.
I use Infusionsoft to manage my entire ecommerce process.
Customer Relationship Management
Building a list is a core element of your author platform. A list allows you to own the relationship with your readers / customers. Your list can be built on simple tools such as Excel however this lacks the functionality to effectively market to your list. A Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool on the other hand is where you need to evolve to. These tools when properly utilized will give you a deep understanding of each customer as well as enabling segmentation of your list.
There are many options you can use ranging from free right up to top of the range costing $200plus per month. Like anything in life, you get what you pay for so think carefully about the free platforms as I don’t believe the lack of functionality or the risk is worth it.
While you own the data contained within these platforms, it’s worth remembering that they are “borrowed” platforms and it’s good practice to regularly export a copy of your data just in case the platform ceases to exist.
I use Infusionsoft to build and manage my list.
The effectiveness of email marketing isn’t what it used to be however it is still a vital communication tool and will make you lots of sales if used correctly. If you’re just starting out some of the free and low cost platforms maybe all you need. Constant Contact and Mailchimp are two examples I’ve had experience with and both work fine. You can also use these as list building and management tools however the functionality is geared to facilitating delivering emails. A downside to these types of platforms is that email deliverability can be poor and your emails may end up in your customers junk email folders.
I use Infusionsoft for my email marketing
You don’t need sophisticated marketing automation when you’re starting out however as you grow it will save you an enormous amount of time and will enable your author platform to run on autopilot.
The marketing functions you can automate cover most of your marketing and sales process referred to in Episode 8. For example, you can fire off an email and/or SMS sequence that gently transitions a new contact to a sale. You can follow up after the sale to request a review and even a referral, all on autopilot.
I use Infusionsoft to manage my marketing automation, basically its core capability encompasses the major elements needed for an author platform, all in one application however it may not be suited to those starting out.
Social Media Marketing is another vital element for your author platform. With so many options out there the issue is deciding on which you should you use. The key thing to remember is that it’s impossible to be effective on all the platforms so you need to focus on a small number, ideally 3-4 maximum.
To start with you need to look to the platforms you already use. The chances are you only need to optimize those that you’re already active in and for which have a following. In earlier trainings, you defined your target market(s) and avatar(s). Were these people hang out socially will also influence the platforms to use.
My preference is to minimize the amount of personal and private materials I share but doing it in a way that still allows my authentic self to be visible. As authors, we must be mindful that we need to nurture our personal, book and business brands in a clear, consistent and thoughtful way.
I use the following which are a good start point for most authors
- LinkedIn, to strengthen your personal author brand and very important for non-fiction and if you use your book to leverage a business.
- Personal account to strengthen your personal author brand
- Pages for each book
- Groups for attracting and building a tribe (community) of like-minded people
- Instagram to share images of books and authors
- Pinterest to share images of books and authors
- While technically not a social platform it can still be a source of social interaction
File Management (inc backups)
File management is an often-overlooked aspect of author platforms. Over time you will be creating lots of content and building a large repository of data, images and video. When starting out your computer’s hard drive will usually suffice however you still need to organize and back up your files.
I use my hard drive supported by Google Drive. I use Drive for documents that I’m collaborating on with others, I free up space on my hard drive by using it to hold my archives and I automate the back up of my laptop direct into Drive.
Videos take up a lot of space and need to be hosted somewhere. The low cost way is to use YouTube, which by the way is the 2nd largest search engine in the World so you should be using it for that reason alone. Because it’s a free platform they need to raise revenue via advertising which can be annoying if you’re using it to host videos that you place in your website. To overcome this I use Vimeo to host any videos that are to appear on my website and those that I create to share on social media. Vimeo has some low-cost plans for those starting out.
This area can become endless, but be aware of “bright shiny object” syndrome. The airways are filled with tools and toys that are marketed by genuine as well as “2min” gurus. The reality is that most will soak up your time and money and will have minimal impact on your results. At the end of the day it all depends on what you already have access to and how you want to communicate to your audience.
Key Takeaways for Your Author Platform Technology Tools
- Stick to the basics and it works,
- Avoid “bright shiny object” syndrome,
- Evolve your tools as your platform evolves,
- Use automation to quickly and easily scale.
I know, building your Author Platform can seem daunting but it doesn’t have to be. In coming episodes, I’ll be exploring the simple, no BS and low cost approach to building a solid platform that you can leverage for many years to come.
Finally, I want to leave you with one piece of advice:
Your technology tools are an important element in building a modern author platform and your subsequent success as an author. Rather than rushing out and investing in the latest tech toy, I always advise to leverage what already have in your tool kit first otherwise you run a very grave risk of wasting an enormous amount of time and money on tools that want deliver the results you’re after.