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WEEKLY ARTICLE - July 11, 2001
If No Shareware Professionals Are 100 Times Smarter Than You, Then Why Do Some Get 100 Times the Results?, Part 1 - by Steve Pavlina* 
Several months ago I decided to conduct an informal but lengthy study of successful shareware businesses.  The primary question I asked was this: Why are some shareware developers more successful than others?  I looked at dozens of shareware businesses, both ASP and non-ASP, with sales ranging from only a few hundred dollars a year to those with sales of over one million dollars a year.  This article summarizes the absolute best of what I learned. 
Most of us enjoy working on our strengths, myself included.  If you are a talented programmer, you may spend a great deal of time refining your programming skills.  Many shareware developers see themselves primarily as programmers, and this makes perfect sense, since that is how most of us got our start in shareware.  Unfortunately, I've found that the "shareware programmer" mindset will probably do more to limit your success than just about anything else.  Beyond a certain minimum threshold, programming skill becomes a fairly insignificant factor in running a successful shareware business. 
It is said that in every field, there are only a handful of critical success factors, such that if you master just those factors, you master your business.  This is no less true with shareware, which I believe has seven critical skills.  They are:  decide, create, promote, sell, serve, measure, and improve.  To the degree to which you fail to master any one of these skills, that is the degree to which you limit your own success.  I found that the most successful shareware businesses paid attention to most or all of these factors, while the least successful ones tended to focus on only a few while virtually ignoring the rest. 
So here are the seven critical success factors in shareware: 
1.  Decide.  Set clear goals, and make plans to achieve them.  Goal setting is of paramount importance in any business.  A famous study conducted at Harvard University found that only 3% of Harvard's 1953 graduating class had clear written goals with plans to achieve them.  Twenty years later, the same class was surveyed again, and it was learned that that same 3% was worth more in financial terms than the other 97% combined!  In addition the researchers found that the 3% had better health, relationships, and social skills. 
Goals must be clear, written, specific, realistic, and measurable, and every goal must have a deadline.  Making more money is not a goal.  Increasing your sales by 20% within the next 90 days is a goal.  Write your goals down, or type them up on your computer, and review them regularly, at least once a week if not every day.  You should set both short-term (one year or less) and long-term (one to five year) goals for your shareware business.  Then construct plans for the accomplishment of these goals, and schedule time to work on these plans.  Goals should consist of measurable outcomes, but plans should consist of actionable steps.  Increasing your sales by 15% may be a goal, and submitting your shareware to ten more download sites is an actionable step. 
The word "decide" comes from the Latin decidere, which means, literally, "to cut off from."  When you decide to set a goal, you are also deciding not to engage in all the possible alternatives.  When you decide to spend your week marketing your software, for instance, you are deciding not to spend that week on product development, email, web surfing, etc.  There is tremendous power is making absolute, committed decisions.  If you have a tendency to lose hours, days, or even weeks to unimportant email correspondence, web surfing, phone calls, or other distractions, then you probably have impotent goals that do not inspire you.  You will notice an immediate improvement in your effectiveness and attitude the first day you decide in advance how you will use your time, and commit to that decision.  Simply ask yourself at any given moment, "What is the best use of my time right now?" 
2. Create.  Develop high-quality products that people will want to buy.  Many shareware developers have mastered this skill, but it is only one piece to the puzzle.  Obviously if you are going to succeed in shareware, you need one or more products to sell, yet I've found that many of the most successful shareware developers spend less than 50% of their time on product development.  And you don't necessarily need a lot of products; many incredibly successful shareware developers have only one or two. 
Focus on creating assets in your business while minimizing liabilities.  Robert Kiyosaki's book Rich Dad, Poor Dad provides my favorite definitions of these terms:  Assets put money in your pocket, while liabilities take money out of your pocket.  It isn't really that difficult to find yourself with more liabilities and expenses than assets.  Magazine and service subscriptions, depreciating hardware, frequent software upgrades, development tools, web hosting and internet fees, taxes, and materials and supplies can whittle away your shareware income very quickly, especially when you are first starting out.  Your goal should always be to develop assets that are capable of producing income on their own.  If you aren't making money while you are asleep, then you probably have a job instead of assets.  Think of product development as investing, and strive to maximize your return on investment.  You are investing your time and energy to produce something which can generate income on its own.  The most successful shareware developers have spent their time building up strong assets; they make huge incomes even when they aren't working.  As you develop new products, keep in mind the goal of creating an automated income-generating system. 
3. Promote.  Market your business and your products, and distribute your shareware as widely as possible.  If you build a better mousetrap, you will only attract mice, but if you market a better mousetrap, you will attract customers.  This is an area where one finds a great disparity between the best and worst performing shareware companies.  Spending 15-25% of their time and resources on marketing is common among the best companies, with little or no marketing among the worst.  If you don't like marketing or feel that it is beyond your abilities, chances are that you've never tried it, or you are making false assumptions about what marketing work is really like.  This is a common excuse for not marketing, but it is a fear based on uncertainty and ignorance.  If you fear marketing or don't understand it, than the best thing you can do is go to and pick up at least one book on marketing.  It will open your eyes and get your mind bursting with new ideas and possibilities.  I recommend books by Jay Conrad Levinson and Al Ries / Jack Trout.  You should also read some of the excellent free articles at Jay Abraham's web site at; I've gotten many great ideas from his site, including the title of this article, which obviously worked on you. 
What are the two most powerful words in advertising?  If you don't know these off the top of your head, then you had better memorize them now.  They are the words "free" and "new."  Those two words have made more fortunes than any others.  You will see them used liberally in all types of effective advertising.  Sometimes just adding the word "free" to the title of an ad can double or triple the response rate.  Sprinkle these words generously throughout your web site.  Offer free downloads, freeware utilities, new releases, free contests, a free newsletter, new tips and tricks, etc.  Put them on your nag screens by offering free tech support, the newest version, free bonuses, etc.  As tired and cliché as these words may seem, their effectiveness in attracting customers remains unsurpassed. 
Marketing is not just uploading your programs to shareware sites, although that is certainly important.  Send out press releases using Al Harberg's press release email service (  It's only $89 for ASP members, and the first time I used it, it netted me over 100 additional sales, and it's still working its magic six months later.  If your web site isn't getting at least a few dozen hits a day from search engines, pay close attention to Dave Collins' articles about search engines.  If you aren't on a first-name basis with at least a dozen software reviewers, set a goal to make it so.  A friendly reviewer can do a world of good for your business.  I can credit hundreds of sales to software reviewers with whom I've developed a relationship over a period of months.  Host a regular contest on your web site.  They cost virtually nothing to maintain, and they continue to bring in new traffic month after month.  I have hundreds of people entering my contest each month to win just one copy of an old Windows 3.1 game.  Don't underestimate the power of contests. 
There is no reason not to have a newsletter, and if you don't have one yet, start one today.  You can set up a newsletter mailing list for free at in a matter of minutes.  ListBot takes care of all list management functions for you, and you can even collect demographic information on your subscribers if you choose.  I send out a very simple newsletter once a month, and it takes me less than thirty minutes to write each one.  Every time I send one out, my web site traffic and sales are measurably higher for the next several days.  And since new people sign up every day, each issue is more effective than the last.  A free newsletter is like guaranteed extra cash in your pocket. 
(the second part of this article will be published the next week). 
* Steve Pavlina is President of the Association of Shareware Professionals and CEO of Dexterity Software, an on-line game publisher dedicated to releasing retail-quality games through shareware channels. You can find Steve interacting with Dweep addicts at 
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This article: (C) 2000 Steve Pavlina - Used with permission 
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