If you want to start creating and selling digital products – then grab your favourite drink and a notebook, because in this ultimate guide to digital products I’m going to give you the complete run down from the WHY to the HOW, and everything you should & shouldn’t do in between.
As a practitioner in your field, no doubt you love what you do! But when you work 1:1 your time limits the number of people you can help. The perfect solution to that issue is to turn your skills and expertise into products. They are not only help you deliver your awesomeness to a global audience and increase your reach exponentially, but can seriously boost your income too. This can be as both as a direct sale and increasing customer lifetime value (the amount of money a customer spends with you over time).
With the e-learning market worth an estimated $107 billion in 2015, business owners than ever are grabbing the huge opportunities and productising their skills. It isn’t unrealistic to quickly replace 10-25% of your traditional income, or perhaps like me completely project revenue.
Although, I want to be completely transparent. Selling digital products and making a consistent good income, doesn’t mean you won’t need to invest your time on an ongoing basis. A lot of people think the use of the term “passive income” means they don’t need to do anything for it. While it is true that it does reduce your workload, you’re always going to be doing some form of work to bring in consistent good income such as ongoing marketing, customer service, improving & updating products.
What kind of digital products are there?
Over the past few years, people are productising almost everything you can imagine so it surprises me when people ask me “What are digital products?”. You use them every day. In fact, if you think about it… the minute you use anything electronic you’re using your digital products.
From the most obvious ones… music, video, apps or ebooks to the ones that help you run your business such as templates, swipe files, workbooks or perhaps even spreadsheets!
Business owners are turning any skill, process or shortcut of value and turning them into digital products.
What are the most profitable products?
The type of product doesn’t matter as much as the problem you are solving.
But ultimately any product type that solves the pain point of a starving audience is going to be a winner. So its always important to make sure that whatever you create, you’re solving problems in the best way. Sometimes that might mean spending more time creating the product to get more profit back long term. For example by creating some great instructional videos.
Meaning that if you can solve a problem for your customers more effectively with an audio instead of video then that’s what you choose – that will mean a better product and more profits.
It’s also important to consider where your skills are best spent! If you are not comfortable in front of the camera, perhaps a video isn’t going to pack the most punch right now.
Ultimately if you want to create products of value to your audience and generate killer profits, then solve specific pain points of a niche audience. This is why the research phase is so important.
Stage 1 – Customer Research
1. Step into the shoes of your customer. Better still interview your potential customers.
- What are your customers pain points?
- What are their goals?
- What are their dreams / ambitions?
- Detail their typical day – what challenges do they face throughout?
- What are they already struggling with?
- What would they most like to learn right now? (Pain points can also be the desire that they want to experience, learn, do something)
It’s too broad to say “they’re short on time”. How about instead “they’re short on time because they don’t have any processes in place to help them run their business. This means they can’t grow their business, or spend time with family”.
Stage 2 – Brainstorm ideas
Next up, time to start brainstorming ideas to solve just one of those pain points. You want a shortlist of no more than 3. I always start on Google to see what works and what doesn’t in solving pain points.
Get back into the shoes of your customer. Think about how they feel at the moment when they’re trying to find help.
What question would they type into Google to find help with their issue?
What key phrases would they use to find information? (Remember your language may be different to what your customers use)
Make sure you carve out a good amount of time to do this and record your findings. Don’t forget to bookmark helpful content (I use Evernote web clipper for this).
Buy products, test them and work to improve what’s out there. Model but never copy!
You may not find digital products you can purchase, but what you might find is free content and you want to look at the engagement and reviews. Has this content helped your potential customers?
Pay close attention to reviews – you’ll get great insight into the transformation your potential customers need to experience with your product.
It’s also another great time to talk to your potential customers about their specific pain point this time. Get more insight into their challenges and ask them what they have tried and what would be their ideal solution. Then share how you would aim to solve that with your idea. You want to talk to people who have both solved / not solved the problem.
Listen to how people describe their problem (and the solution), as this will give you clues on how to pitch the product to potential customers.
Stage 3 – Testing ideas
There is no point in investing time and budget into the product creation if your audience is:
a) not the right audience for the product
b) not engaged with the subject itself.
The best strategy is to find products for your audience, not the other way round.
If you already have an audience that know, like and trust you they are more likely to buy from you. Already having a warm / hot audience means that you’ve already done most of the hard work with your marketing, as you’ve figured out what works.
Create content and freebies on the subject
To test your idea with your audience you simply need to create content on the subject of your product idea and a freebie to go with it in exchange for their email address. That is enough to know whether your audience are interested. It also doesn’t have to be in the format you plan to sell – it could be a simple PDF instead of a full blown video training series.
And the freebie can be a smaller splinter of the full product that you want to create if the product itself is quite meaty!
For example, perhaps you want to offer a course on how to make cupcakes, so the splinter of that offer might be a video tutorial on how to make your best butter cream recipe. The next obvious step for creating great butter cream is a cupcake course – the follow on product has to make sense. That video tutorial you could share on your blog, and that blog could be about butter cream flavours perhaps.
See how they all tie in?
Buttercream flavours blog >>> Buttercream recipe tutorial (freebie) >>> Cupcake course (the final product idea)
The key here is making the freebie content something your audience need to opt in for with their email address. Giving away your email address is an exchange of value, and the first step in gauging genuine interest. If they aren't downloading the freebie, they aren't likely to buy the final product.
And don't forget to get feedback on the freebie that you create as this will be invaluable when it comes to creating the paid product.
If your audience are engaging with the freebie, congratulations! You've now created an email list of potential buyers for the final product.
If no one bites, then congratulations too – you just found something that didn’t work and you tested an idea FAST. Don’t get disheartened if that's the case, get the next test up and running.
Stage 4 – Creating the product + tech / tools
So you’ve tested your ideas, got some engagement and good feedback. What next? It’s time to get creating and selling and it doesn’t need to have to be as complex as you think! If you have customers that you think would buy the product, you can actually sell the product FIRST before you even make it.
When I’m creating a new product, that would take a considerable amount of time, I pre-sell it at a discount and with some bonus products free. This means I’m actually getting paid to create the product – cool hey?
Ultimately there’s only 4 things you need to sell products –
- An audience. (Done! You established this with your testing)
- The product itself.
- A way to take payment.
- A way to deliver the product.
So let me share my favourite tools with you. Some are paid, but most are free or insanely cheap! Start off with the free tools and invest your budget into advertising. Once you’re generating some revenue, you can invest more into improving the sales process and the product.
People spend wayyyyy too much time and money on creating products early on which is a recipe for disaster.
- Launch fast and imperfectly.
- Get some initial sales.
- Get some feedback.
- Improve it.
- And then repeat that till SUCCESS!
Resources and tools to create the product
Don’t waste money on something you don’t need yet! Use free tools when you can. To this day I pay very little to create my products.
Graphic Design / text based – Creative Market (super low cost!)
Seriously, a $10 template from Creative Market will do in most cases. Looking to create an ebook / presentation / printable / graphic based product for example? Creative Market have some super cheap yet stunning templates to use! Search by “vertical presentation” and that will give you some great layouts that can be easily edited and converted into PDFs. Simples!
Tutorials / Training – Powerpoint or Keynote + Quicktime screen capture (FREE)
This is the exact combo I use to create all my tutorial based content for my digital products. Nothing fancy because its the content that truly matters. Combine this with a great template from creative market and you’re well on your way to professional feeling products.
Calculators / spreadsheets / checklists – Excel / Numbers for mac (FREE)
People love checklists, spreadsheets and calculators – and if you have a killer document created in Excel and Numbers, that will form a great product. Just make sure the instructions to use it are solid and you’ll have a product that delivers a tonne of value and is free to create.
Audio – iPhone + dictaphone app (FREE)
Want to create an audio based download? The dictaphone app on iPhone is free and you can then upload to email, Google Drive, Dropbox or OneDrive – I love this app for creating quick audios.
Graphics – Canva (FREE)
You can now create full (and very good looking) documents in Canva in next to no time for free. This is great for worksheets, cheatsheets, ebooks and planners and you can also save your work, duplicate it and create similar products with ease.
Drip fed video content – Email + Youtube (FREE)
Yep, you don't even need a members site. You can create unlisted videos in YouTube and share them in a email if you want to drip-feed content to your customer.
Membership site – WordPress + Paid memberships + Stripe (FREE)
Use this combo to sell products online and restrict access to the content for members, including recurring membership models and single products.
(note: I have moved away from this now as I use infusionsoft for my email marketing, and therefore use Memberium for my content protection)
Easiest way to take payment – Paypal button (FREE)
It is so freaking simple to create a Paypal payment link to take payment and email the product! Just log in and search for Tools > Paypal buttons.
Monthly membership payments (without WordPress or Stripe) – Recurly (FREE)
This is a super easy to use recurring membership software solution which includes payment pages. It’s free to get started, has a great admin tool and is super secure for your customers. Easy peasy!
My favourite combo – Learndash + WordPress (one off cost $129)
Want a super cool learning management system to deliver training? Then Learndash is your new best friend! It has a low one off cost, is so easy to implement (its just a WordPress plugin) and the support guys are very helpful. There are also a lot of really good plugins that bolt onto it to build a really cool members site.
Stage 5 – Selling the product
When it comes to selling the product, go with the low hanging fruit! Start off with your existing customers first.
Last year I generated over £10,500 in revenue from getting on the phone to my best customers and telling them about a new product I thought was a great fit for them – the product wasn't even created yet. Proving you don’t have to set up anything complex if you have a customer list and a phone.
- Search engines – Create content that people will be searching for.
- Social media activity – start conversations about the subject.
- Video sells! Get talking about your subject and product everywhere you can.
- Sell to your existing customers – get on the phone if you need to!
- Do lots more of what we did in the testing phase – content > freebie > sales page.
- Sell on digital product marketplaces such as Amazon, Etsy, Udemy and Groupon!
- Promote on your website.
- Sell on affiliate marketplaces like Clickbank.
- Add a shop functionality to your website and sell from your website.
- Add a shop app to Facebook to sell your products, such as Shoptab or Shopify.
- Create landing pages in Click Funnels and show Facebook adverts promoting it to visitors who have been to your site.
And when you’re ready to take things to the next level – I highly recommend following Jeff Walker and joining his program Product Launch Formula. He is the master of product launches, and that program helped me to generate £25,749 in sales in just 5 days from one of my products!
Stage 6 – Automation and scaling
Automated passive income is the holy grail for most business owners in the digital product niche. But it takes time and a lot of experimentation to move to this stage. Don’t be blinded by people online spouting things like “generate 6 figures while you sleep” because lets think about it… if they were really doing it while they slept, why would they constantly be promoting themselves?
Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that you’re always going to need to do some form of work. However, it is possible to generate amazing income from products on automation and with small amounts of regular monitoring and tweaking of your campaigns.
The tool I use for my own automation is Infusionsoft, which is an all in one ecommerce, email and CRM system. But you could use something like Click Funnels or Lead Pages which are more affordable and less of a steep learning curve. I would strongly recommend against using Infusionsoft unless you have enough budget to invest into training to fully utilise it or can outsource it.
What should you focus on automating first?
Without a doubt, you want to get smaller admin tasks off your plate. If you are manually taking payment and / or manually delivering the product, this should be your first port of call because once they are set up they won’t change much.
You should not attempt to automate your marketing straight away – it takes a lot of testing to get a great ROI (return on investment) with advertising online. Marketing is changing all the time, and what works for someone else might not work for you and vice versa. So its now time to start experimenting with different marketing strategies and see what gets the best results.
What works great for digital products is in a similar way as I recommended in the testing phase – create great content on the subject, create a freebie and send those users through an email nurture campaign and onto a sales page for the product. The focus ALWAYS on delivering a tonne of value throughout each stage.
So the best way to improve your product marketing is to test lots of different versions of each step above.
Once you've got your marketing to a stage that you're consistently profitable you can start to automate the marketing process, always with regular monitoring.
Top tips for creating & selling products
- Have actual conversations to help you with your research. A conversation is worth a hundred Google searches.
- Don’t get precious about your ideas. Give your audience what THEY want.
- Use free tools initially and invest your money into advertising.
- Don’t create your product until you’ve tested content & freebies with your audience.
- Don’t get disheartened if your idea doesn’t work – first time success in business is once in a blue moon!
- Use templates online to create your products. Invest more later on when you have the profits.
- Don’t aim for perfection. You’re only guessing on what perfection is to your customers, let actual feedback help you improve.
- Experiment with lots of different types of marketing strategies to sell your products.