Deep down, you know it’s true.
After you start blogging, creating a product is a natural next step for you as a blogger.
(It’s your best chance of making some real money from your blog too.)
But building a product is scary.
Not just because it means putting yourself out there for the world to judge – though that can be pretty terrifying. No, it’s scary because of all the things that can go wrong.
What if you spend hundreds of hours to build your product, and nobody likes it?
What if you invest hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars, and nobody ends up buying?
What if you pour your heart and soul into it, and the handful of customers who do buy end up asking for refunds because they never get the results you promised them?
These fears are more than justified; this is what happens to *most* people who set out to build a product.
But it doesn’t have to be that way…
Why Most Products and Courses Fail Miserably
The rewards of creating a successful product are many, but the hard truth is most products and courses don’t succeed.
The reason is simple…
Most failed products are based on an untested assumption about what customers want.
As a blogger, you know your audience better than anyone; when you have a great idea, you just know it will change the way your audience lives and works.
But most of the time, that gut feeling is not enough to guarantee success – and few people take the steps required to go beyond their instinct to make sure the product is exactly what the market wants.
When you have a strong sense of your audience, you also have preconceived notions of what will make a great product.
But… what if you’re wrong?
What if your audience doesn’t actually have the problem you think they do?
Or, what if you are correct about the problem they’re having, but your product isn’t the solution they are looking for?
Even if you think you have a great product idea, you place its success in the hands of fate if you don’t validate that the market will actually buy it.
By leaving this step to chance, you risk the most important thing to a blogger: your reputation.
Because if your product flops, what could happen?
- Your previously dedicated audience is disappointed, and they unsubscribe in droves.
- You ruin your relationships with some or all of the other bloggers and affiliates who helped promote your product.
- You suddenly find yourself back at step one, rebuilding all the relationships that took you months or years to build – if you can salvage them at all.
Even if a product flop isn’t a worst-case scenario, it’s still bad for you and your blog.
The Sure-Fire Strategy for Creating Winning Products
Despite the risk to your reputation if your product flops, there’s some good news.
You can take steps to insure your product against embarrassing failure, and even guarantee its success.
How, you might ask?
Put your preconceptions to one side and start listening to your audience. Find out what they really want – not just what you think they want (or, worse, decide they need.)
Because if you don’t listen to your audience, you risk a scenario like the following:
A technology blogger wants to build a product that helps people learn how to use the hottest new tech gadget.
Since it’s something he’s certain will be helpful for his audience, he decides to move forward with creating the product.
He doesn’t take the time to see if any of his audience members have actually been asking about the gadget, or if they have complained about not understanding how it works.
When the product launches several months later, he wonders why very few of his audience want to buy it.
Do you see the problem here?
The blogger went ahead and created his product based purely on his own idea, rather than identifying a real need.
In other words, he created his product based on an untested assumption.
Fortunately, a better way exists:
Find out what people seem to want, and quickly test to see if they really want it.
But that prompts the question: how do you find out what they want?
It’s easy – you spy on them.
How to Gather Vital Intelligence About Your Audience
I can hear you now.
“Spy on my audience? Isn’t that illegal?”
Unless you’re the NSA, then the answer is likely yes. 😉
But what we’re talking about here is less like agency-style spying and more like playing detective, as Leanne Regalla writes in her post on developing empathy.
Even if your blog doesn’t have much of an audience yet, you can still gather intelligence by spying on your desired audience in the places where they already hang out online.
Study comments left on popular blogs and forums related to your topic. What questions are people asking repeatedly?
Eavesdrop on conversations happening on social media. Which topics appear most often?
Create a Secret Dossier of Revealing Information
As you make observations about the topics and issues that come up most often, keep track of the data you gather.
Add this information to a spreadsheet, keeping track of which blogs or social media accounts the comments came from, and the exact language used.
As your spreadsheet grows, look for patterns. Does one topic area come up a lot? Within that topic area, is there a specific question that many people ask?
Before long, you will likely find a problem that you can solve for them!
And once you’ve narrowed in on a specific problem, it’s time to gather more in-depth information about it.
How to “Interrogate” Your Sources with Surveys and Interviews
The best way to gather information about what your audience wants is to ask them!
One way to do this is to create a simple survey, just one or two questions, asking what their biggest challenge is.
(For a more in-depth look at the subject, Linda Formichelli wrote a great post here at Smart Blogger on how to find out what your audience really wants.)
Share this survey with everyone on your email list, and also reach out to the people in your spreadsheet. You can also share the survey link on social media or advertise the survey online.
Take the information you gather from the survey responses and add it to a new sheet in your spreadsheet.
After you have gathered all the responses to your survey, you can go even deeper by conducting informational interviews with members of your audience or the survey respondents.
You can conduct these interviews over the phone or by video chat – and you’d be surprised how eager people are to share their perspectives with you, if they think you really want to know. During the interviews, you can go in depth about the topic and the problems they have.
Take the information you gathered from your in-depth interviews and… you guessed it: add it to your spreadsheet, on the same page as your survey data.
But What If Your Sources Refuse to Talk?
You may find yourself in the following situation:
You gather data for your spreadsheet by eavesdropping on blogs, forums, and social media feeds, but when you reach out with the survey questions, you get nothing but crickets.
Or, maybe you get a few responses, but they are all either off topic or unenthusiastic about the topic you asked about. Likewise, your offer of in-depth interviews was met with similar disinterest.
These are all strong signs you should go back to the drawing board.
Maybe you’ve focused on a problem people don’t feel strongly enough about. Or a problem they don’t believe anyone else can solve. But whatever the reason for the lack of interest, it’s probably time to move on.
But don’t be disheartened. This is actually a positive result. You just saved yourself a lot of wasted time and effort developing a product people don’t want!
Return to your spreadsheet. Eavesdrop in some new places. Gather more data. And repeat the process until you have a bunch of enthusiastic responses to your survey and interviews.
Remember that by conducting as much detailed research as you can in the beginning phases, you will avoid setting yourself up for a product flop later in the process.
By the end of this process, you should have quite a bit of data.
But what do you do with it all?
How to Get Laser-Focused on the Problem Your Product Will Solve
You’ll have collected a lot of data during the information gathering phase and it may seem like you have easily enough information to move forward.
But in truth, your data is still a little too raw to use for making important decisions about your product. You still need to do a little more work on it to ensure that your audience will respond enthusiastically when you make your eventual offer.
So your next step is to analyze the information you collected from your spy mission.
Open up the spreadsheet where you’ve been keeping all your data to the sheet with your survey and interview responses.
Here’s what to do next:
Sort the data by how in-depth the responses are and then discard the shortest answers. You’ll want to keep approximately the top 80 percent of the answers you received (i.e., remove the shortest 20 percent.)
Why Should I Throw My Hard-Earned Data Away?
It may sound counterintuitive to get rid of data that you worked so hard to gather, but the people who take the most time to respond and write the most detailed responses are also the most likely to pay for a solution to their problem.
After discarding the shortest responses, look at how many times each problem comes up, and see if there are patterns to the questions.
By the end of this process, you have likely uncovered the problem that your audience is practically begging you to fix for them.
But, before you move forward, one word of caution.
As you look for patterns, make sure you aren’t using the results to validate an idea you already have, or throwing out any data that doesn’t support that original idea.
Consider this scenario:
A personal development blogger wants to teach a course that helps her audience overcome childhood trauma, based on a method that worked for her personally.
To validate her idea, she polls a number of friends in the health care and psychology fields and some of her audience members. The data comes back with mixed responses, but she sees that some of the responses include the method she is familiar with.
Based on those responses, she decides to move forward with creating the course.
Only a few students enroll when the course launches several months later. When she factors in the time costs of creating the material, the course ends up barely breaking even.
Do you see the problem this time?
The blogger selected the data points that confirmed her own idea, instead of objectively analyzing the data to find out what her audience really wanted to learn.
How to Determine If People Will Really Shell Out the Dough
By this point in the process, you’ve discovered and validated a problem that your audience (or desired audience) wants solved. You may even have some clues about the direction the solution should take.
So you can finally start creating your product, right?
Let’s revisit the example of the personal development blogger. Not only did she let her own personal biases skew the data, but she also made another mistake. She created her course without validating the basic idea first. That’s why her launch was a flop.
Before creating your product, it’s crucially important to confirm it’s a solution people will pay for.
And the best way to do that is to sell a pilot version of the product.
What the Heck is a Pilot?
What we mean by a pilot is to offer a bare-bones version of your product or course to people who will be “early adopters.”
Most people won’t be willing to take the chance on your idea at this early stage, but that doesn’t matter. You’ll target those who are enthusiastic about getting in on the ground floor of your idea.
Your pilot members will be offered a significant discount off the eventual price of the full program in exchange for being actively involved in giving feedback as the product is in development.
To create your pilot, you’ll start with an outline of the material to be covered in the course, and only build out the course to what we call “minimum viable richness” – only as much content and supporting material as absolutely necessary to solve the problem for most people, and no more.
But, before you create any of that content, there’s one final level of validation: selling the pilot.
Let’s Sign Up Your First Paying Customers!
The ultimate validation of whether you have a viable product idea is to find out if people will actually open their purses and wallets to get it.
And the only way to do that is to offer your yet-to-be-created product for sale. Here’s how to do it.
First, you open a brief registration window for your course.
When you reach out with your sales pitch, you will want to use the same language your audience uses to describe the problem your pilot solves.
This is where the in-depth research you did in previous steps will really come in handy; look back at the survey responses and notes from your interviews. How did the respondents describe the problem? Use their exact words in your sales copy.
(We’ve created a free set of templates that can help you with the sales portion of your piloting process. These templates include a sales conversation script as well as email swipe files that you can use to entice your audience to join your pilot.)
You’ll base the number of spots available in the pilot on the costs you need to cover, balanced against the number of people that you feel comfortable supporting during the pilot.
While your registration window is open, promote it like crazy. Email your own audience, call in favors from other bloggers, and talk about it on social media.
Once your registration window has closed, and assuming you’ve reached the numbers you need for a successful pilot, it’s time to start creating the content based on your outline.
For many products – like training courses – you can roll the material out incrementally, module by module, collecting valuable feedback along the way. This way, your eager customers are not waiting months to get the product.
Once the pilot is complete, you can use the feedback to build out your full product and relaunch it – with an increased price tag.
What If Not Enough People Buy The Pilot?
If you don’t fill enough spots to make your pilot viable, then it’s a sign that your product is not a good match for the market.
This is disappointing of course, but not nearly as disappointing as creating the entire product and then finding out nobody will buy it! In this Kickstarter era, most people understand that not every cool new product sees the light of day.
So if you’re candid with your early adopters, thank them for their support, and (of course) issue a prompt refund, you should find they’ll be receptive to hearing about your next product.
Discover Your Perfect Product and Watch It Sell Like Crazy
This process may sound like a lot of work, and the truth is… it is!
Creating products that solve people’s thorniest problems requires time and effort.
Of course, as a serious blogger, you’re not afraid of working hard – if it gets results. So there’s one type of hard work you want to avoid at all costs…
Hard work that turns out to be wasted effort.
That’s why it’s much better to spend time up front to determine if your product will sell, rather than spending countless hours and dollars to create something that flops.
So what are you waiting for?
There’s an audience out there that wants to pay you to solve their biggest problem.
Go solve it!
50 thoughts on “The Sneaky Way to Create Products that Sell Like Crazy… from Day One”
You said something pretty interesting in the opening paragraph that sums it all up for me … “Not just because it means putting yourself out there for the world to judge – though that can be pretty terrifying. No, it’s scary because of all the things that can go wrong.”
That’s how I feel at times. But I know that in order to make money, I have to get over that.
But you’re right about failed products being untested assumptions of what customers want … same goes for blog posts. That’s why it’s important to do proper research to insure that your product has a good chance of succeeding. After all, the most important thing to a blogger, more than the list, is their reputation. And if that’s gone, it’s hell getting it back.
I like your suggestion to “spy” on your audience. I study forums all the time now and it’s really effective for coming up with blog topics. But recently I started listening to some problems that people are constantly complaining about and it’s given me ideas for products to create as well. So kudos on that tip.
Lastly, I like your suggestion about selling a pilot version. Some people whose courses I purchased this year, offered something similar and I was thinking to myself, “Why would you do this?” But after reading this post, I realize that it’s a sound strategy that’s basically testing to see if your product or concept is viable and would sell basically. Also, you get tons of valuable feedback on things to improve on, include, etc.
Awesome and informative post here, Danny.
Hey Andrew, I really appreciate the detailed feedback, and I’m so glad you got so much out of the post!
What’s your plan to apply what you’ve learned here? Is there a pilot offer launch we can look forward to? 🙂
Honestly, one of my goals wasn’t to focus on coming out with a product this year. I wanted to work more on building a list and building my brand.
Also, I know that Jon and many others suggest that it’s not good to come out with a product unless your audience demands or asks for it. So that’s another reason I haven’t done anything yet.
But, I know if I do some strategic research and at least try a pilot offer, I should be fine. So to answer your question, yes.
I’ll be trying to get out some type of pilot offer launch this year. And thank you for this guide that I’ll be using to guide me along the way.
Good to see you here Danny! Looking forward to your course. It’s interesting to see a new course take shape and to watch the process in action. Your idea to create give-away templates people can use as part of your promotion for this course is great. It creates allegiance to your course which in turn encourages enrolment as people think: “Well, I got these templates and they helped, so I’ll join the course because I got that help.”
I think your post shows that it’s the ground work that matters most and this starts right from the very start of a blog, maybe even before that, as you create and nurture your network and your target readers. These are vital links. The success of your products often reflects how well you created and nurtured your links. Because they’re the ones who’ll be promoting it.
I like the idea of starting off with a pilot because people who join in will be the best promoters, especially if they’ve enjoyed the course/product. If they have they often feel like it’s their baby too and proudly talk about it to everyone.
I think that’s a result to work hard to achieve: people talking about what you’re doing without first being asked. Except in the beginning, when you need to get the ball rolling to start creating those links.
Hey Tom, it’s great to see you here!
I’m glad you liked the swipe package – we really wanted to do everything we could to give people a real chance to get results before even announcing the product (which we’ll do next week). 🙂
This post makes me feel motivated to launch my own product. I just finished my ebook (free). Hopefully I would create my product sooner rather than later.
That’s great, Neil – now you’ve got to get it done, and get it out! 🙂
This post should be read by every blogger who want to monetize a product.
I rarely (for rarely, read never)gush over blog posts these days (I’m an old cynic!), but if I’d read this 8 years ago it would have saved me a lot of time and effort with my first two products.
Then I had posts on Brain Facts and Quotes go viral with almost 2 million page views and I thought,. “hang on a minute, people really love this stuff! Why aren’t I giving them what they want, rather that what I think they should have?”
Since then I’ve done 3 launches and each have done really well.
I’ll be sending the new Coaches from my G+ community over here. Awesome stuff Danny, thanks!
Hey Tim, that’s a big compliment, coming from you – thank you very much. Would love to connect offline, if you’re game! 🙂
For sure. Drop me a line at tim at a daring adventure dot come
Hi Danny, great post.
This is a topic that many people struggle with.
It doesn`t matter how good your product is or how good you are at marketing, if you market the wrong product to the wrong people.
No need to play clairvoyant and stare into the crystal ball.
You don`t know what your customers want.
I saw your intro video for your course.
Great video with a lot of useful information. That is content marketing 101 😉
I also liked the Superman t-shirt!
Thanks, Tor – glad you liked the shirt. It’s my favorite – what I wear several times per week! 😉
And likewise, I’m glad you liked the video. I hope it helps you get to a good outcome in your business. 🙂
This post and your course came at such a perfect time – I’m in the process of creating a course, and didn’t know or think about checking with my audience. Thanks a ton.
I’d love to try the pilot version of the program. But, I’d like a little more detail about this “minimum viable richness.”
I actually used the words used by a client when frustrated, to create my About page.
BTW, the above “free set of templates” link isn’t click-able.
Hey Raspal, the link looks fine to me – what happens when you try?
The idea with minimum viable richness is not to put more into the course creation than you have to, but make sure you still pass the minimum bars for it to be valuable and functional.
Does that make sense? 🙂
Probably something happened on my end and that one link wouldn’t click. Seems fine now.
A little difficult for me to clearly understand, although it does makes sense. It will probably get clearer from the videos. Thanks for explaining. 🙂
Just to add a marker without going on about it, in case anyone’s not aware: selling products, courses etc from your own site is more complex than it used to be due to new EU digital VAT rules. If you’re selling anything digital and EU citizens could buy it, you need to check it out because you’re probably liable. It does seem that this will be enforced more with sellers outside the EU. (My blog on this is on the website link.)
Thanks for the heads-up.
I should emphasize to everyone: I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. 😉
Your post sums up perfectly why I haven’t yet remotely considered created a product – not even a free download.
Because it’s hard. Very hard.
And then there’s the issue of subscriber numbers. If your follower count and engagement level are still low then you’re not going to sell much no matter how many people are crying out for it.
Unless you pay to advertise.
And, of course, the greater your following and the better you’re connected the more market intelligence you have to work with.
But building up an audience is one thing you and Jon are brilliant at.
So I guess it’s a case of keep watching and keep reading. And patience.
Hey Kevin, it’s a bit of both, actually – yes, it’s hard, but it’s the only way to be sure you aren’t barking down the wrong path.
And no, you actually don’t need a big audience to do this. You should watch the video attached to the free templates we’re offering – I explain how in detail. 🙂
Great post Danny. Wonderful to see you back on Jon’s blog where you first started! As someone who participated in the pilot for your latest product I can attest to the value of using a pilot to help develop and co-create the full product. From my point of view I got great value course from one of the best in the business. I am getting close to rolling out a pilot of my own now. The research part is fundamentally important because the confidence that it what people need allows you to market positively. I know that you got the benefit of clearly focussed co-creation with a large number of enthusiatic students which means anyone buying now will benefit enourmously too!
Thanks, Martin – and that’s amazing – I’m so glad to hear you’re so close to the filled pilot that you’re aiming for! 🙂
Danny, I’ve been creating and selling my info products for 10 years and I disagree with your premise that “the people who take the most time to respond and write the most detailed responses are also the most likely to pay for a solution to their problem.”
I’ve found in many cases that the opposite is true. Many people love to “talk/write” (complain) but they rarely actually “do” anything to solve their problem.
They are so focussed on (and comfortable with) their “story”, they won’t take action to change their situation. And when they do (ie purchase), they’re among the first to request a refund when they realize they’ll have to actually do something with the info they’ve just purchased.
Having coached hundreds of people over 10 years I think both can be true and it’s a valid point.
However, it’s always a dangerous game to presume our experiences define how something is and the availability heuristic means it’s way more likely you remember the people you describe and give them more weight rather than people who just get on with it.
Definitely valid points on both sides of this question. I want to emphasize, though, that I’m not saying you don’t read the responses and screen based on content – if someone is petulant, or unreasonably demanding, or more whiny than solution-oriented, those are all flags to you – but that aside, more effort in response tells you something about their level of motivation, definitely. 🙂
Great post, Danny! I love the way you tied together all the various posts on BBT on topics like surveying, interviewing, and monetizing to show people how important they all are to successful product and course launches.
Excellent stuff, and much needed. Thanks! 🙂
I’m the one who put out a product without reading this post first. I still call it a labor of love 🙂
This is GOLD!!! Thank you!
I was in your pilot group for the Course Builders and loved it! I learned so much that, when I offered my pilot program, it sold out. Now it will be an evergreen product in my funnel.
Thanks for a great post and a great course!
That’s amazing, Sue – I’m so glad to hear it!
If you’re interested, we’d love to give you some exposure as a case study – is that something you’d be interested in? 🙂
Awesome post! Comes in the exact right time for me- and probably lots of other bloggers because like you said, we all are thinking about this matter!
Thanks a lot, will start working on it right away!
Hey, Danny, this couldn’t have come at a more perfect time! I’m creating an e-course for people who want to learn How to Blog on A Budget, and this is resulting from an idea I had for a simple e-book. Thanks for the swipe files. You rock!
FYI, the sign-up list for How to Blog on A Budget can be found on its own special page on Wording Well.
Thanks for this,
i just had another idea on a great way of spying on our audience around the topic we re interested. Ive just been doing some SEO on my website and as part of that i ve been looking at key phrases that people use for the different areas of the work i do so that i maximise my site’s search results.
So im thinking it might be a good idea to use google webmaster’s key word and key phrase tool to see what phrases and questions are trending around the topic we wish to build our product on.
Im certainly trying it out. 🙂
I’m so glad you liked the post! And great idea – thanks for sharing! 🙂
I can’t think of anything useful to add to what has already been said, Danny, but I can thank you and wish you well.
You apply yourself with such energy and intelligence that I sincerely trust you will be rewarded in the fullest sense of the word.
Thank you and kindest regards.
Sometimes our assumptions get the best of us. I guess it’s an ego thing. We want some type of validation in order to feel good about ourselves.
But when it comes to marketing your own product or services, you definitely want to put your ego aside so that you can make room for your audience. You have to ask yourself, who is this really for? You or your audience. Well maybe both, but more so for your audience.
Your reputation is at hand, and you want to deliver the product or services that they want, right?
You came up with some great ideas on how to achieve these. When it comes to surveying, or as you put it “spying”, this would be a good time to put the ball in their court. Once you gather enough information, then you create your product/services based on their responses.
That’s how it all works! Thanks for sharing these valuable tips and I hope you have a great weeekend!
This is great advice. I’m learning a lot from this explanation. great posts on your blog!!
Excellent post Danny. I was just thinking about doing one of these little surveys to start putting feelers out. But what you are talking about is exactly what I needed to read.
Great post Danny. I downloaded your swipe file. I was impressed by how much you’re giving away for free. Good luck with your launch.
Hey Danny! Awesome article!
At what point do you think it’s optimal to create a product for your site? I just launched my blog. Should I make a product already, before I get traffic to my site and people on my mailing list? Or should I wait until I have like 1000 subscribers?
Hey Ville, I’m so glad you liked it!
It’s a great question, but it’s not an either/or kind of answer. You can definitely build your blog audience first – that’s a very valid approach.
You can also build your product first (following this methodology), as a way of validating that you’re on the right track, and attracting a bigger audience, faster.
It all comes down to what your timelines are – how fast you want things to happen, and how much time, energy, and money you want to invest in that acceleration. 🙂
I hope that helps!
Amazing post! Just downloaded your swipe file.
Some amazing free content. It’s true..
Yeah ‘Let’s sign up your first paying customer.
Ultimate Post Indeed!
Once I tried to sell one eBook that I wrote by heart but no one bought. Since then I am very disaapointed and never planned to sell courses online.
But after reading this post I think I should try again by offering PILOT as you mentioned. I wanted to create a course on affiliate marketing secrets and I hope this time it would work.
Hi Danny a great article there, very informative and helpful. I actually stumbled across your blog whilst building my own.
Check it out see what you think.
Hi Danny – I check the top views of forums for my post ideas…the ebook is the easiest and lucrative product to make…just like 10 years ago 😉
One more amazing article on this blog. Thanks for sharing.
The QUICK Move is a company that’ll perhaps you have out the exact same day and in by morning, and focuses on the crucial, high-use elements on any road bicycle.
This is a wonderful post! Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us! I hope to read more of your post which is very informative and useful to all the readers. I salute writers like you for doing a great job!
Selling products is never a breeze but reading this article and knowing the why’s and what’s of how to sell has certainly allowed me to think that I can sell products too.
Thank you for instilling hope in me Danny. Loved the post
Great post Danny! You have covered all the aspects of selling a product successfully. we should initiate what can sell the product in the real world and rely on data of what kind of feed back we are getting from our customers and have to place our self in our customer’s place.
This is all great info for me. I’ve blogged for years, but have really planned to make 2015 the year I see some blog growth. It’s true that after getting started on a serious level, you start wanting to create a product of your own. Right as this post debuted, I was working on my first product, a “getting-started-blogging” online course. I already plan to launch the next product differently though. I also like the idea of a pilot program, so maybe that’ll be a part of my strategy. So far though, my biggest challenge has been coming up with product ideas. I enjoy my blog niche, and I have a growing pool of contributors for my “Fresh Voice Friday” column, so that’s all great. But now, I want to start producing products to go alongside my regular content.