For the past 15 years Kit Riley Cassingham has been the top consultant and trainer to the bed and breakfast industry.
If you want to start, grow, or acquire a B&B, you would either attend one of her two- to four-day seminars or visit her offices in Boulder, Colorado, for one-to-one training. For years business was booming -- clients flew in from all over the world.
But then September 11th changed everything. Suddenly, clients weren't interested in traveling to Boulder for services. And, like many of us, Cassingham began to consider her own quality of life. She decided to take the plunge and move to the countryside home of her dreams... even though the distant location would make it much harder for remaining clients to travel to her.
The only way to keep the business going would be to take it almost entirely virtual.
Cassingham suspected becoming an online-merchant could work because since the late '90s, nearly 100% of her real-world seminar attendees had admitted they learned about the class through her site.
In response, she'd already cut her traditional print advertising budget in favor of online marketing. Now it was time to move the business further online. But how?CAMPAIGN
Cassingham decided to mitigate risk by offering a broad range of services and price points to online customers.
If one product flopped, other offerings might make up the difference. Also, to make the business more recession-proof, instead of focusing on high-ticket sales from a few big spenders, she targeted lower-ticket sales from a wider pool of customers.
Offering #1. eBooks via PDF and CD-ROM
Cassingham spent 60 days of intensive work, translating her seminar content from speeches and workbooks into a useful report in PDF format. A straightforward transcript would not be valuable. Instead, she decided to mix content from her regular speeches and handouts with additional materials in Q&A format, including lots of devil's advocate questions.
To make the product appeal to twice as many people, she divided the report into five different PDFs by subject. Shoppers could purchase just the one topic, such as Marketing or Operations, for $19.97 each or they could get the five-PDF set. Since the set was a fairly large file to download, she also offered a CD-ROM version.
We love this -- Cassingham didn't want to undercut the perceived value of her content (or the resulting income) by making the set price lower than each PDF added up. Instead, she priced it at $99.85 but, to encourage sales, tossed in an extra bonus PDF "Cooking In The B&B Lady's Kitchen."
How did she come up with the price? Her shortest in-person seminars (which lasted just one day) were $125, not including T&E. So, she figured a virtual-version would be worth a bit less because there wasn't any physical face-to-face presence.
Next, Cassingham set herself a schedule to continue creating one new PDF product on a regular basis. That way she'd have something new to offer past buyers, and a wider range to tempt new ones.
These were often $10 worksheets, such as useful hiring and operations checklists. It's fairly evergreen content, so it would hopefully produce income slowly but surely over years to come.
Offering #2. "Ask Kit" Pay Per Use Virtual Consulting
"My problem is I love talking about this topic," says Cassingham. But as site traffic increased, so did emails and phone calls from folks who wanted her to answer just one question...
"It was really hard for me to stop answering people for free. I had a guy call and pick my brain for an hour, and I thought, 'I'll never see a penny for this hour.' How do you draw the line? How can I say I don't work for free without hurting their feelings?"
So, using Paypal, Cassingham launched a pay-as-you-go consulting offer online called "Ask Kit."
Again, she offered multiple options suiting different budgets to capture as much business as possible. Visitors could either pay $27 to get a personal, emailed answer to a particular question or they could pay Cassingham's standard rate of $150 per hour (sold in hourly increments) for a one-to-one telephone consulting session to be scheduled after payment was received.
If someone sent in a generic broad question to the $27 form, such as "how do I start a B&B?" she refunded the money and replied with a polite, canned answer basically telling them to check out her PDF seminars, etc. If someone sent in a question she didn't have all the answers for, she promised to include useful reference links in her answer so they'd know where to turn to next. If the customer sent in a follow-up question that was a clarification of the first, she tossed in the answer free of charge.
How did she come up with the $27 per question price? "I figured it would be equal to about a 15-20 minute conversation, but I get to work in my own timeframe." So, she discounted her normal $150 hourly rate by roughly 30% for that convenience-factor, and broke it into quarter hour increments to estimate an appropriate amount.
Then she chose a price that ended in the number seven due to direct marketing folklore that sevens tend to do the best.
Offering #3. Carrying Google AdSense Ads on Commission
Cassingham had been an AdWords user from the marketing end. Starting in March 2004 she decided to see how much income she could make by carrying Google AdSense ads on her site.
To maximize the income from this and the other revenue streams, she needed to increase traffic. So she posted four year's worth of back articles from her email newsletter to the site, which helped with search engine optimization.
Plus, she also made a targeted list of the 25 most critical keywords for her business, and then tweaked header and headline copy on each page to make sure at least one of those exact terms was included. (Note: You don't want to feature more than 2-3 key terms per page or it could actually hurt your rankings. Search engines don't appreciate keyword stuffing.)
Also, she uses a "little trick" to get faster attention when she posts new content such as articles to her site. "I have a Google toolbar in my browser window. When I click on a newly loaded page, the spider is soon to follow."
In just one year, Cassingham's revenues have switched from 100% in-person seminars and consulting to 67% virtual offerings, including Ask Kit and PDFs sold via her site.
Here's a rough breakdown of her online revenues:
- 59% PDF kits and CD-ROMs
- 22% virtual consulting sold via "Ask Kit" form
- 11% virtual seminars
- 8% Google AdSense pay-per-click commissions
Cassingham says there are some drawbacks to selling your seminars via PDF reports. First of all, the cash flow can be slower than you're used to. Attendees don't have a deadline to purchase a ticket by... so sales tend to drift in rather than clumping. However, the evergreen nature of the content means that once you've created a PDF, you can get a slow but steady revenue stream for years without much more work.
Also, Cassingham notes that when you switch to virtual, you do lose a certain amount of energy and inspiration that comes naturally from in-person meetings and seminars. You're more distanced from the marketplace, and less likely to pick up on little remarks that can help your business grow.
She laughs about one aspect of her success as the online B&B Lady, "I realize I'm in the travel industry, but I'm encouraging my clients not to travel." Luckily no one seems to mind.Useful links related to this article:
Samples of Cassingham's PDF sales page, Ask Kit order form and email newsletter:
Sage Blossom Consulting