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Selling Spreadsheets Online
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Many of us develop Excel spreadsheet solutions for specific business tasks and analysis. Often, the resulting Excel model provides functionality that can be of benefit to many other business users. If there are no corporate restrictions on the distribution of the developed spreadsheet solution then it may be considered to sell it to other users online. In order to sell spreadsheet solutions online, we outline here a step by step guide in order to do this effectively and efficiently. |
Step 1 - Market evaluation
To maximize the potential sales on an Excel solution it is suggested to research both widespread needs and existing available solutions online. In order to evaluate the demand for a particular solution the quickest and most effective method is to analyze commonly searched terms and phrases. This can be accomplished typing into major search engines and analyzing the suggested searches that appear. For example, start to type "Excel " or "Spreadsheet " and then the keyword summarizing the solution in question, and the resulting suggestions will give an idea of what users are already looking for. Once commonly demanded needs have been established, these should be searched to understand what already exists, whether the market can be perceived as already saturated or whether there is a gap and opportunity to fill it with the Excel solution considered. Ultimately, the idea is to find a market niche and serve it with the solution.
The resulting analysis of commonly sought requirements can then be used to adjust the developed solution accordingly in the next step and serve for textual content and metadata in online material in the step after.
Step 2 - The Excel solution
The Excel spreadsheet solution to be sold online should be as generic as possible. If it has been originally designed to adhere to the constraints of a particular organization, then any such hard coded variables should be replaced by flexible input parameters so that the solution can be customized and tailored to any organizational structure. If the solution includes VBA macros, then they should also be standardized and parameterized to generic.
The Excel solution should be tested to be compatible with as many versions of Excel as possible (for both Windows and Macintosh) in order to maximize the potential market size and ensuring seamless compatibility for sharing and publishing end results.
It is recommended to have both a demonstration version with limited functionality and a full version so that users can try the Excel solution before making the decision to purchase it. An alternative is to implement functionality and/or time limitations on the solution through VBA code which are released once the user enters a valid registration code. This can be accomplished through registry entries by using the GetSetting and SaveSetting methods within the VBA project. VBA code should, of course, be protected from the end user in this case.
Step 3 - Preparing online marketing material
Images: There are a minimum of requirements to get an Excel solution visible online and listed on relevant download sites. Besides the solution itself, a screenshot and a 32x32 pixel icon are the minimum requirements. Other creative images, screenshots and demonstration videos will add value but can optionally created and published at a later time. The screenshot image can be made directly with the built in screen capture utility of the operation system such as the Snipping Tool in Windows. The icon should be in JPG, GIF or PNG format and can be made using simple free graphic software available online. More sophisticated graphics and creative material can also be made with relevant software, or this work can be outsourced for a desired price by posting the project requirements online.
Web content: A web page is required to provide details about the Excel solution along with other information including price (reference should be made to the next step before setting this), trial version download link, system requirements and contact link. The icon, screenshot and other graphics can also be used here. A free web hosting solution can be used here (such as Google Sites) or, for more a more ambitious project, a paid hosting with a dedicated domain name. The important aspect is to ensure that the trial version of the Excel solution can be uploaded and linked to. Excel file formats and accompanying files should be compressed into a single ZIP file. This should then be uploaded to the web host or, if not possible, to a free file hosting service.
PAD File: A Portable Application Description (PAD) XML file is highly recommended to be created and uploaded to the web host. This file provides information about the Excel solution download in a standard format that can be used to facilitate submission to download sites to gain exposure. The purchase information in this file can only be completed after undertaking the next step (ecommerce).
Step 4 - Ecommerce: optimizing the purchase process
In order to gain the most exposure for the Excel solution online, provide a confident purchase experience for the user and eliminate development of a payment system, it is recommended to choose a third party ecommerce provider specialized in software sales. The most prevalent options are RegNow, Share-It, Plimus and eSellerate. These solutions allow multiple payment options to users in multiple currencies and provide automatic access to a market place of thousands of affiliates who can resell the solution and dramatically increase its exposure.
In our own experience for Excel based solutions we recommend RegNow as a reliable, flexible and effective ecommerce solution. The service takes a small percentage on each sale however there are no upfront costs as it is completely performance based. Nevertheless, pricing should take into account that around 7-10% (depending on options) will be taken on each purchase and should therefore be factored into the price. Furthermore, if the product is available to the affiliate marketplace (which is recommended) then a further percentage (20% or more recommended) should be factored into the price for affiliate commission attractive so that affiliate sites are motivated to list and market the product. Sales made directly from the created web site will not incur the affiliate commission fee.
The full version of the Excel solution and accompanying files in a compressed ZIP file should be uploaded to the ecommerce system and the purchase link added accordingly to the dedicated web page.
Step 5 - Market the solution
Once the solution, web page and ecommerce system is in place it is essential to augment its exposure by obtaining links and listings on relevant sites and directories. The PAD file created in Step 3 will assist with this process greatly. Furthermore the presence of affiliate program information within the PAD file will increase the likelihood of listing and exposure due to the fact that the download site can participate in eventual sales from downloads.
The URL of the PAD file can be used manually to automatically populate software submission forms on generic download sites and specialized sites such our Excel solutions directory. Alternatively, this process can be automated by using third party software that automatically submits the PAD file details to multiple software repositories targeted based on submission preferences.
For more detailed advice and assistance please post your questions here, or contact us directly.
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