[ Go to September 1997 Table of Contents ]|
If you're thinking of offering your own shareware products, study these five points to improve your chances of success.
Pick the right product. Find a product you're excited about that isn't likely to have any killer competition. The excitement factor matters for a subtle reason: You'll likely spend many hours working on this program. If you pick one you don't like you'll be miserable, and it will show in the final product. The quality will suffer, the design won't be well rounded, and, worst of all, your would-be customers won't like the program, either.
Respect your users' resources. Make sure your program has the least possible impact on your users' systems and that it can be easily uninstalled. If a simple utility requires megabytes of third-party components, you're greatly reducing your chance of financial success. People are less likely to download large packages, and many experienced users (this includes most shareware purchasers) are cautious about making major and needless changes to their configurations for small programs, unless they're truly necessary.
Test! Test! Test! Your program has only a few minutes to make a good first impression. If it even hints at being poorly written or designed, prospective customers will delete it faster than you can say "Add/Remove Programs." This means you have to test extensively with as many configurations as possible (including different screen resolutions and font sizes), and with all versions of Windows you'll support. Another sure way to destroy your program's quality image is typos or cut-off text in dialog boxes. I've lost count of how many times I've seen this error and how many shareware programs it's made me dismiss after a cursory inspection.
Docs count. Users almost universally hate the documentation that comes with programs, and rightfully so. Most online documentation is abysmal, a situation that gives your product an even bigger opportunity to impress potential customers. A first-class online help file (with context-sensitive help for every dialog box and error message) will make your product look much more complete, and it will score many additional sales.
Version 1.0 is just the beginning. After your first release, you're far from done. Listen to your users' feature requests and then add as many of them as you can, even if they steer the product in a direction you don't like or didn't anticipate. The key is to add as many features as you can without compromising the program's usability. If you can manage that (and it's not easy), different users will find what they want in your program and ignore the features they don't care about. Remember, the most surprising thing about your software will always be the novel ways people use it. As long as your program meets their needs, you shouldn't really care which features made the sale. -Lou Grinzo
Contributing Editor Lou Grinzo is the creator of Stickies, an award-winning shareware program.