Today’s post is a very personal case study about how I started selling my first infoproduct. My hope is that it inspires you and gives you an idea of how easy it can actually be for us “normal-sized” folks to start making money by creating and selling awesome things for people we care about.
Please note this is not a comprehensive step-by-step post on how to do infopreneuring correctly. That’s coming up soon…a fairly intense crash course on infoproduct creation and marketing.
For now, this is a small case study about how I personally got started with a simple product, how I basically did everything wrong, and still ended up taking a bath in large-denomination bills.
Just kidding. I don’t take baths.
First, let’s set the scene…
I want to tell you who I was – and pretty much still am – when I launched my first infoproduct. Because none of us like it when someone says, “Making money online is easy! I made six-figures with my first launch!” Then you find out he had a mailing list of a zillion people and had been working on the launch for a decade. A lot of people lie about that shit to attract interest. A lot of people also report large revenue numbers, not telling you that ad spend ate up all of it and they actually made zero.
That’s not me. I want to make very clear that I’m not one of those online marketer types.
Yeah, I know, that’s exactly what you’d expect an online marketer to say. “Seriously, I’m not an online marketer. Just ask my best friend Frank Kern!”
But I’m really not. And I don’t know Frank Kern. I’m basically the opposite of an online marketer. If you want to know what my “online empire” looked like when I started, here’s an actual photo of it:
I didn’t and don’t have a big circle of online marketer friends to spread the word about me. I’ve never been to events like South by Southwest, the World Domination Summit, BlogExpo, or SEO YabaDabaDo. (I made that up, but if you want to use the name just send me dollars.)
I don’t have affiliates, nor do I have a coach or mentor.
“Well then you must have had a huge email list!” Nope. At the time of launch I had around 80 people on my newsletter list, but that doesn’t actually even matter because I didn’t use my newsletter.
Why? Because up until then I’d never done anything with it. Not a single mailing ever. And I figured it would be rude to use my first ever newsletter to make a sales pitch. (And I was right. That was one of the few things I did correctly. Don’t just use your newsletter to hustle shit. That’s what Gary Vaynerchuk says, and he’s another person I don’t even know.)
I also did not have the all-important launch sequence, or any launch sequence at all.
You know how everyone talks about pricing tiers nowadays? Welp…didn’t use those either. I sold one book for one price.
As far as websites go, I have this one you’re on and Charfish Design and that’s it. At the time of launch they were pulling in about 170 and 400 unique visits per month respectively.
I don’t have a Facebook account for my business, nor have I ever used Facebook ads, Google AdWords, or advertising of any sort.
I don’t really use Twitter much, other than to make jokes. My LinkedIn page is probably nothing more than dust and cobwebs by now.
Hopefully you’re seeing the point. In this day and age of “Be Everywhere” advice, I was basically nowhere.
Despite that I was still able to get a product out there that made money and continues to.
Some infoproduct “rules” you must observe
There are some hard-and-fast, nearly-absolute rules you must know if you’re going to make money with info-products:
- You don’t have to be everywhere but you have to be somewhere. You cannot be invisible and make money. That’s basically impossible. But you don’t have to be on every social media site, podcasting, making YouTube videos, Tweeting, amassing an army of people who Like and Heart and Thumbs-Up all your stuff. Instead you can, like I did, pick and choose the places you actually want to hang out. For me, that was my two websites, their comment sections, and my email inbox. More on that later.
- Don’t fuck with people. Fucked-with people do not like being fucked with. Nor do fucked-with people happily buy things. Moreover, fucked-with people will destroy you on the internets. If you’re dishonest, unethical, fraudulent, or a peddler of garbage products, you’re going to run into trouble forever after. Don’t do it. See next rule and adhere to it like it’s your religion.
- Your product has to be something people want or need. Another way of saying that is you need to be helpful. The more you can offer your fellow man, the better off you’ll be. Not to mention you’ll be happier, but everyone knows that already.
- At some point, you’ll have to do a job of selling. If you haven’t done it before, it’s hard to say, “Hey I wrote a book. Go buy it!” You feel naked and exposed. You think every error you’ve ever made is going to be outed on the internet and you’ll be drowning in refund payments. But don’t worry, you’ll be fine. Honestly, you just need to confront it and get over that feeling. That concern you feel is a negative emotion, but remember that you can always alter your emotions with action.
- You have to communicate. People buy things from people they trust. What builds trust? Good communication. You don’t just walk up to strangers on the street and tell them to buy your stuff. It’s rude and ineffective. It’s similarly rude and ineffective online. So be nice to other people, be interested in what they do, and congratulate their successes. When people write you, write them back. When you ask questions on social media and other people respond, say “thank you.” Manners go a long long long way online. People often forget that because they’re staring at a computer monitor and not at a swanky dinner party with the Duchess of York.
Those are the “rules” I followed. There might be exceptions to those, but I sure as hell don’t know of any.
What did I sell?
What I sold was a book called The Human’s Guide to Freelance Living. It was about freelancing (duh) and is more of a manifesto than a how-to book. Which is one reason it doesn’t sell like hotcakes. If it were more of a how-to book, it would sell better.
One thing about the book is that it is not like any other freelancing book out there. At the time (and pretty much still to this day) freelancing books were pretty bad. Not well written, super uninspiring, and focused on setting up email accounts and LLCs and bookkeeping. I didn’t understand why authors had to make such an exciting, expansive, and emotional topic and sound like a long-winded course for CPAs. No offense to CPAs.
So I made my book funny, short, and even slightly poetic at times.
Important: By the way, I decided to write with a loose, humorous, and purpley style, precisely because that was the style of most of my blog posts as well. My readers loved that, so I figured that was style research done. Check.
(Case in point…the first chapter is about me peeing my pants at Track and Field day in school. Not a typical freelance chapter…which is why it rocks.)
And it paid off, because the vast majority of feedback that I have received for the book has been along the lines of, “Wow. This is such a one-of-a-kind book,” and, “For a freelance book this is goddamn funny.”
That’s the kind of feedback you want, so do something unique. Anyone can write a book about business. Hell, even people who don’t run businesses write books about business. Don’t do that. Pour your real heart and soul into your projects. People will know it’s authentic because you can’t fake that shit.
If you closely copy someone else’s product, it’s just not going to have that sort of juice behind it. People won’t care about it as much and it won’t sell.
By the way, if I were going for some monster launch and massive onslaught of income, this book isn’t necessarily what I would sell nowadays. There are other niches and other topics that would perform much better. I’d still sell it because it does have a very valuable message, I just wouldn’t put a massive launch process behind it to try and generate six figures.
Because it wouldn’t, I’d be disappointed, and would end up crying over huge bags of cookies and watching reruns of MacGyver for a week. Not healthy.
Where did I sell it?
I wanted the book to have a place to live by itself, so I created a landing page for it. The landing page is just a subdomain of Ignite Living.
I designed the landing page myself and coded it with simple HTML. Took an afternoon. No big whoop.
How did I sell it?
Well, as I said I didn’t advertise it other than putting some sneaky ads on my own site, one in the sidebar and another in the footer. That was actually it.
Monstrous advertising campaign, eh?
By the way here’s what the sidebar ad looks like:
And here’s the ad that shows up after my blog posts:
One successful thing to note here. You may notice that the book cover, the ads I designed, and the landing page all look the same. This is very important and is definitely one of the things I did right.
When someone sees an ad image and clicks on it, it’s vital that he ends up somewhere recognizable.
A very common mistake I see when consulting people on their products and launches is that they confuse their customers with design disconnects. Meaning, their product looks different from the ads; the ads look different from the landing page; the shopping cart looks yet like something else.
This confuses the customer. They’ll think they clicked the wrong link or broke something. This confusion interrupts their excitement and desire for the product. This absolutely can, does, and will affect overall launch numbers.
Your ads, product shots, landing pages, shopping cart (if possible…it’s not always), and even your copywriting should all fit together nicely wherever they appear.
The thing that actually sold the most books at the time was this. When I’d remember, I’d add something fun to the end of my weekly blog posts such as:
“Hated this post? Well, my book is much much better. Go get it.” Or,
“My book is about 1,000 times better than this post was.” Or,
“If you liked this, there’s even better stuff in my book.”
Those links were usually pretty funny and they got a lot of clicks. Which makes sense when you think about it. Someone just read an entire post, liked it, and now you’re showing him how to get more. Of course that’s gonna work, right?
So those links were responsible for most of the sales back in the day. They still do all right, but the best conversions I have now are through my newsletter. “The money is in the list,” they say, and that ain’t no lie.
Speaking of blog posts, let’s talk traffic. My blog was getting around 170 visitors per month back then. No…that’s not a lot. But I did have fairly active commenters and a lot of friendly engagement. And a lot of people would get in touch with me through my contact form and ask questions about internet-related things. I would write them back and thus build trust and authority.
So…some things I was doing right:
- I was friendly and communicative with people.
- I would always always always write people back.
- I was putting information out that people wanted and needed.
Nowadays, in the footer of my newsletter there’s an ad image that links to the book’s landing page.
Oh, and as far as the payment processing goes, I use Gumroad because it’s the awesomest.
Analytics and sales stats
Analytics?! Yeah right. If you guessed by all the fuckery I’ve been describing that I didn’t use analytics you’d be absolutely right. It’s not that I didn’t care, I was just too busy doing everything wrong to even think about it.
Philosophically and idealistically, I am a bit of a stats whore. They get really important during big launches where lots of income is on the line. For example, a headline that pulls in an extra 1-3% conversion during a big-ass launch can mean quite a chunk of change.
As far as sales numbers go, I know all the “transparent” marketers out there talk specifics. Well…I just don’t know if I’m that transparent yet. I kind of like the idea and see the appeal, but part of me also thinks it’s not very classy. So while the jury’s out on that, I’ll just be slightly translucent instead.
That means no specific sales numbers for you, but I will tell you that every time I write a blog post or send out a newsletter, the book sells. Every. Single. Time.
It seems like magic, but really it just comes down to Rules 1-5 above.
Pricing and stuffThe book is set at a $12 minimum base price. Gumroad also let’s you use a pay-what-you-want option where people can pay more if they wish to. I use that for the book and it awesome. Apparently people really like to throw in a few extra bucks.
Here are the incredible results on that:
- 38% of all purchasers have paid extra for the book. Wow, right?!
- Of those, two-thirds paid around 25% more.
- The other third paid nearly double!
All of which goes to show you, people are really really cool and supportive.
Because I did all the writing, editing, and design myself, the book has been 100% profit. That is, aside from hosting and a teensy transaction fee I pay to Gumroad. So more like 99% profit.
And all proceeds go to a charitable foundation called my bank account.
A quick summary of my first info-product “launch”
I know…we shouldn’t even call it a launch. More like an “Apathetic and Lukewarm Product Offering.”
Despite the massive ineptitude with which I handled the launch, the book sold and continues to sell every week.
I also learned a lot. Mostly I learned that even when you screw things up royally, you can still come out on top.
Some important takeaways to…uh…take away:
- Don’t be a clone. If you look like everyone else and do what everyone else is doing, it’ll be hard to differentiate yourself and attract your true fans.
- Design matters. People do judge books by their covers so make a good one.
- Cohesion increases sales. Everything from the book’s design, product shots, advertisements, copywriting, and landing page are all extremely cohesive. There’s one look and one tone that everything shares, so nobody gets lost or confused along the way.
- The topic matters. Freelancing is a topic a lot of people are interested in. A Human’s Guide to Collecting Rotten Garbage probably wouldn’t have sold so well.
- Very important: When I’m not selling stuff, I don’t conduct myself like a douchebag.
- Also very important: When I am selling stuff, I continue to not conduct myself like a douchebag.
- Attitude. In case you slept through those last two, don’t act like a douchebag before, during, or after the sale.
- Manners count. If you sell a lot of product, the individual buyers tend to get lost in a nebulous cloud of “them”. But never ever forget that only individuals make purchases. And those individuals are looking right at you because there’s only one of you. So don’t be a prick.
- Social media is for being social, not for setting up your one-man show.
So that was my first product launch, and I really appreciate you taking the time to read about it. As a closing note, I want to reiterate one last thing that might have snuck past.
Nearly all of my clients share one big frustration. They feel they need to amass a huge following or get internet famous before they do anything of value. It seems a terrible Catch 22: I’m not selling anything because I don’t have followers; I don’t have followers because I’m not offering anything.
But that Catch 22 is a lie. The truth is:
You don’t need to build an empire before you start building an empire.
I hope you see now that you can be a little guy in a big pond and still make out quite well.
Remember it only takes ONE visitor to make a sale. And I tell you, man, when that one sale happens it will mean the absolute world to you. You might even cry. I certainly did.
My “launch” happened with no mailing list, no ads, no affiliate army. It started with good manners, a friendly attitude, and a couple hundred website visitors per month. If I can do it, a goddamn aluminum can probably could too.
Speaking of you doing it too…you really can. And I’m going to show you exactly how in a new comprehensive course I’m creating. It will show you how to find exactly what infoproducts your audience wants, how to create and sell them, and ultimately escape the nine-to-five rat race. Definitely sign up below to get notified when it’s ready ↓.
Thanks again for reading. Let me know if you have any questions. I always love hearing from people and I always write back.
If I don’t hear from you, I hope you’re out there kicking ass!
Profit From Your Passions
Create and market infoproducts and courses your fans will happily pay you for!