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How I Made My First 100 Sales (photoshoplayerstyles.com)
139 points by chaosmachine on Jan 3, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 42 comments

> I spent a few days tracking down about 40 Photoshop bloggers, and sent each one a personalized email with an offer of free products to give away. Only one of them bothered to reply: "I'll do it if you send me $500 first".

Yeowch! chaosmachine, this has been the exact opposite of my experiences doing this. Maybe it is the way it works in Photoshop-blog-land, but most of the bloggers I've contacted have been happy to get a lead.

Just more proof that every situation is unique. You have to try _everything_ if you want to succeed.

I'd specifically track down 40 bloggers that weren't necessarily the largest in their space. And make it as easy as possible for them to participate. Plus, try to make your email as unformulaic as possible (sound like an underdog smallfry trying your amateur best to make an honest living).

I get emails to one of my sites offering deals and the reasons I ignore most of them are:

  - email reads like bulk spam
  - email is TL;DR
  - running the promo would require more than a few minutes work

If he wrote it like:

Hey, I don't read your blog but here is my shiny new product...

Then it'd have reached spam folder already. It'd be interesting to compare what you two wrote in there.

I think in part you may be having issues getting sites to link to you because there isn't much of a "story" with just selling layers.

You might want to try posting "How To" articles to your blog, even for things that you think are really simple to do with Photoshop. Maybe even a link on the front page of your site that just says flat out: "Here is how you would use these layer styles" (with lots of screenshots).

Also, you seem to have done a large amount of work to generate the actual texture files, are you selling them directly? I would guess that the market for texture files for 3D work or whatever is larger than the photoshop layer styles market.

Thanks for posting such an inspiring and detailed analysis of your launch and first sales.

I agree with this. How-to articles showing ways to use the layers would increase the value.

The short tutorial on your support page is nice - maybe you could expand that further and make the link more prominently say it is a howto/tutorial.

This might also impact sales to more novice Photoshop users; being able to see how to get great results from the product you're selling could be a big draw.

Feedback: your homepage could do a lot better in selling it. Have a look at 37sigs products. Also, let me quickly see what's on offer without having to scroll down.

The writing can be better too. For example, instead of saying "the unmatched beauty and unrivaled quality of MetalWorks Professional Photoshop styles" (bla!), say something like "I literally shot thousands of pictures, edited thousands of textures, and created thousands of styles." (as you do in your blog post). That gives me a much better feel for how much work this is gonna save me.

Feedback: your homepage could do a lot better in selling it.

I agree, but I'm not in the market so am not sure if what I'm about to say is constructive criticism or not ;)

The first thing I see on the screen is "ULTRA DELUXE" and to my untrained eye those words look pretty cheap and nasty, along the same kind of lines of the 90s-era styles mentioned in the blog post. It's a shame as the more that I click through I can see quality (again though - untrained eye) but the first impression would make me click away without investigating further.

Agreed. I'd suggest some A/B testing to see which copy performs best. Check out Google Website Optimizer:


"your site is ugly and you charge too much"

If reddit tells you that, it is a sign that you are probably doing okay.

This is a really terrific article, thanks for putting it out there. If I can make a comment about the "Everybody Loves Bundles" section: your idea of a discount for past customers is a great intuition. This is called an "upsell" - prove the excellence of your product line with a low-margin easy sell, capture the user data and permission, and use their high satisfaction to sell them on your high-margin, more difficult sell. Your most profitable future customers are the people you've already sold something to. Not all "build a list" advice is for shlocky affiliate marketers!

This is a follow-up to my launch post from a few months ago: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1589320

Interesting. Given what you learned about bundles, and your need for exposure, I wonder if there is a graphic designer equivalent to MacHeist? If not, why not start one - you could bundle your layer styles with brushes, fonts, other similar things for digital artists, offer them at a great price together to garner the exposure. You're probably not the only person in the game that needs help gaining exposure.

I wish there were examples of what could be done with your layers. For the novice, not only would we benefit from tips but also find inspiration.

Can you give me some ideas of examples you'd like to see? Something like this?


IMHO, that sort of presentation is much stronger.

I think there is a difference between telling us you have a product (most of your current site), telling us you have a product that is probably somewhat valuable (the details in your blog post about how much effort was necessary to produce your styles), and telling us you have a product that is probably useful to us (demo pages/case studies showing the work in action, in contexts we might actually relate to from our own work).

Other ideas, for whatever they're worth:

1. If ever there was a site crying out for a trendy JS slide show on the home page to showcase lots of large graphics in limited space, this must be it.

2. You might like to look at what font sites do to showcase their new products. Like your styles, interesting fonts only really start to look useful when you see them working in context. For example, see the galleries at MyFonts or almost anything on H&FJ:


http://www.linotype.com/1175/zapfino-family.html# (the "Usage Samples" tab)


No, show them how the layer looks at first, then show them how it looks after you apply a syle.

I think a video would be perfect here... like, "Here's some bland white text on a black background in photoshop." then take 3 seconds to drag a metal style onto the text and a wood style onto the background. "Wow, Amazing!"

"Here's some bland white text on a black background in photoshop."

I actually do have a page exactly like that: http://photoshoplayerstyles.com/tutorials

It's the "support" link in the main menu. It used to be labeled "tutorials", but I found it was distracting visitors and not helping sales. It's definitely something I should revisit.

So my biggest complaint is sorta like the other users. I just don't know what your offering and why it is worth my time to read further, and I am not sure how to find what your offering. Here is what I would recommend from a user perspective.

1. A long word for example maybe "photosensitive", and break the word in half. The first part being untextured, and the 2nd half being textured with your new layers that come in such handy time saving abilities. Then id put a video (link) right beside it that says, Click here to see how you can do this in 60 seconds. Then on the video landing page, after the video id briefly explain how much detail went into every "layer/texture" what ever they are called. And compare how much time it would take for a user to do this himself. Then I would show top sellers(fav products or what ever), and some testimonials from people who have bought from you (who loved the time it saved, and maybe even show of their work with the layers you showed them. Then a browse all products button.

I think your product is great, but I find your site is really hard to even tell where to start shopping. I thought the page was about blog post. I kept looking for a shopping button or a place to view all products. Even harder is your add to cart button being in the sidebar and not listed again down at the bottom(or top) of the page. This is a big no no imo. Again these are just my honest thoughts from a UI perspective. Hope this helps. (first post on HN).

>I actually do have a page exactly like that

To me, that page is about installation. The screenshot where you apply the style is way down at the bottom. You need that to show up right on your home page, above the fold. You're wasting 2/3 of my window width on a gray gradient; dump that and use it to strut your stuff.

An idea to get attention: figure out the 100 or so top opinion makers for Photoshop users, and mail them postcards with before-and-after.

Yeah, that page is sort of it, but it's buried and the distance between the before and after diminishes the impact. It should be front and center, and demonstrate that you can literally go from nothing to awesome in seconds. I want to see that so I "get" what the product is.

It would also be helpful to show case studies. Actual situations where your styles would be useful.

Have you considered contacting your existing clients, telling them that you want to create a showcase of people using your styles and asking them for links/examples so that they can be included? I think there'd be no better way to show off than with real-life examples :)

Yes. On Slidedeck's website, they have use cases that demonstrate their products in action. I wouldn't use the silver layer style as is. I would like to see it in context -- what would an actual blog page look like using it or what would an icon look like?

How long has it been since your first sale?

About 4 months. I didn't sell anything the first couple weeks, which was a little scary. The Drupal.org case study really kicked things off, and it's been steady since.

Time to go take photoshoplayermasks.com and create a whole bunch of free tutorials there and then link to free tutorials about layer styles you will also make on photoshoplayerstyles.com

Congrats John! Thanks a lot for writing about your experience. It's good to see a hard-earned success.

As a photographer and Photoshop user, I'd recommend getting the word out by targeting teachers of Photoshop / design / photography classes. I know the last photography class I took, the teacher probably inspired alot of the students to purchase denoising plugins (Noise Ninja or Topaz DeNoise), and he only talked about them for maybe 5 minutes. Probably not worth "I'll do it if you send me $500 first", but worth giving out some free copies. If not teachers, good idea to find out who the influencers are in your niche and target them. (Influencers =/= Google AdWords.)

"I wasn't interested in signing an exclusive contract and giving up half my profits to join one of the popular digital marketplaces."

Do all of the marketplaces really demand exclusive contracts?

Do all of the marketplaces really demand exclusive contracts?

Not all of them, but often the payout then drops to an even more outrageous amount. For example, ThemeForest pay out 25% for non-exclusive themes:


Maybe there's a market opportunity for a theme marketplace that takes a cut closer to the apple-like levels without requiring exclusivity (à la Apple)...

They don't, but their cut is even more obscene if you aren't willing to do it.

Good post, thank you for sharing!

How much of your traffic/sales has come from web searches? (you seem to hint that not much). What did you do for SEO?

How much time did you spend creating the layer styles before you started selling them? It sounds like you put a lot of effort into it and I'm wondering if you considered yourself done once you launched the site?

Several months. I probably spent too much time on the product, and not enough on the site. I originally launched with just the wood and marble styles, the metal and glass ones came later. I'm still not done, I have a bunch of other style packs in development.

Did you try referral marketing (like cj.com)? Did/would that help?

Love this article, and the willingness to share hard numbers is greatly appreciated.

Loved this article. Thank you for sharing.

I hope you don't implement any discounts for past purchases! People buying that without complaining means they value your product highly. Their valuation of your product probably increased after they used their first pack.

You should take this into consideration and beef up your try-before-you-buy marketing - given the data, I think your bundle is probably supremely undervalued right now.

Coupons distributed to existing customers are quite effective. You have a list of people who are already very interested in what you have for sale and you know are willing to spend money for it. I have gotten offers plenty of times when I wasn't actively in the market for the goods in question, but then started browsing and purchased something. It's also a good way to keep mind share with your customers.

good advice, I wish to expand on it with my experience:

It doesn't matter if the clients are complaining, as long as they are buying.

It's customers' job to complain about something - usually the price - and if the price is the only thing they are complaining about, you're probably doing great :-) If nobody's complaining about the price, it is usually a sign you're selling yourself too cheap.

I always look at how the customer is actually behaving, not what he is saying. If they stop buying, then change something - not before.

The offer of a discount to past buyers would certainly make a tempting offer to your email list I imagine.

Send them an email a month after their purchase and offer the complete collection on a discount.

Good luck!

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