It doesn’t matter what kind of entrepreneur you are — a photographer, a designer, a consultant, a scrapbooker, an artist — YOU have something to teach people.
And as long as you have something to teach people, you have an opportunity to make money with digital products.
The reason why digital products are a good idea for any freelancer, solopreneur or small business, is because they give you the opportunity to have somewhat steady recurring income.
If you’re in a service-based field where you make money by trading your time (like a designer or photographer) then you’re often at the mercy of whether that next client lands in your lap. Product revenue can generate a great base income for you, taking some of the pressure off and allowing you to only take on the client projects that you’re SUPER jazzed about.
Aside from the money factor, it also helps you teach on a one-to-many scale vs. a one-to-one scale. As much as I used to love taking on branding projects and doing brand coaching calls, I often found myself sharing the same knowledge many times because I found my clients getting stuck in the same areas. By pulling together an offering that touched on those reappearing pain points (Better Branding Course), I was able to help several people at one time.
How do you know which digital product idea will generate revenue?
Maybe you’re already on board the product train. You know the benefits of bringing in recurring cash, but if you’re anything like me, you have about ten different ideas of products you could make. How do you know which one to pursue?
Is it an e-book detailing your camera settings for other amateur photographers? Is it an online course showing people how to paint with watercolors? Is it a group of Photoshop templates with design accents for people to snaz up their blogs?
My first e-course product, the Better Lettering Course, brought in $3,800 in revenue in my first month, and two years later, it totaled over $72,000 (for a $20 course!).
Did that happen magically? How did I KNOW that it was going to bring in substantial money before I created the course? Well, I’ll let you in on my big secret:
It’s a little thing called Product Validation.
I actually learned about Product Validation back when I was working with Jason on his marketing startup. We studied something called the Lean Startup Method, which is a methodology for building startups with the most efficient use of your resources. It involves getting validation from REAL customers to test your assumptions before you invest money in fully building out your business.
The idea is that you don’t want to invest time and money into building a product, only to later find out that nobody wants or needs it (and hence won’t buy it.)
Instead, you want to validate your idea before you ever invest that time and money to build it.
And that’s exactly what I did with my course. It started when I created a blog post called “Hand-lettering for Beginners” back in early 2014. When I posted it, I didn’t think much of it, but by summer of that year, the traffic coming to that one post was off the charts (like… 3,000 hits a DAY off the charts.)
That was my first clue that I had found an interesting topic and a steady stream of traffic interested in that topic.
BUT one popular post does not guarantee a successful course. This traffic was interested in free information (ie. a blog post), so would they be willing to pay for it? I needed to find out.
I put up an email sign up on the blog post letting people know that I wanted to create a simple online course teaching hand-lettering basics, AND I also said that it would cost $20. (Including the approximate price of your product if you can is important because the hope is that you’ll only get people joining your list that would pay at that price for your course. That doesn’t mean they will, but it eliminates people who definitely won’t.)
I told myself that if that list of interested people grew to 200 email addresses, then I would invest the time to start making the course. To my surprise, it only took one month before the list surpassed 200 and that’s when I knew the course would likely bring me some revenue, not to mention I had an ongoing steady source of qualified leads coming to that post that might be interested in purchasing.
And that is pretty much my base formula for every digital product I created with my original business Made Vibrant.
Blog post to test the waters >> email capture >> make the product OR shelf the idea
On the flip side of the validation coin, it doesn’t always work out this way. I had another idea for a simple daily Photoshop tip email to help people uncover new tricks to make their work go faster and more efficiently. So, I followed my own formula.
I created a blog post, and the post got a decent amount of traffic, but hardly anyone signed up for the pre-launch list, which told me one of two things: either they didn’t have a need to learn about the topic OR they don’t want to learn about it in a daily email format.
If I would have spent the time making ALL those daily Photoshop tips, even just one month’s worth, only to have 20 people buy, that would have been a colossal waste of my business resources (aka my time.)
So, I shelved the idea.
The reason I want to share these two examples with you is this:
When you’re building a business, there’s an opportunity cost to your time. Make sure you’re investing time in ideas that will have a return.
You can validate your product ideas in a number of ways, not just by using your blog/content marketing. You can use social media to drive people to a survey. You can interview past clients to see if there’s a common need between them.
Action Challenge: if you’re thinking about offering digital products (or products of any kind!) brainstorm ways that you can validate that product before you invest any time or money.
Then, make it happen! Send out the survey. Put up the email capture. Start getting feedback from your audience right away!