When my wife and I started having kids, I began to recognize the importance of having multiple income streams.
I became the sole breadwinner. And the idea of being fully dependent on client work felt a bit risky for my blood.
That’s when I began a quest to find options to diversify my income.
My first foray was an e-book I wrote in 2005. I had developed a reputation for finding inexpensive but great tasting wines, so I wrote an e-book about it. The book wasn’t a huge financial success. It was more of an experiment. But that’s when I caught the info product bug.
In 2008, I followed that with a PDF guide titled Stop Wishing and Start Earning: A Low-Risk Plan to Escape 9–5 and Launch a Profitable Copywriting Business.
This was my first real info product. It contained all the lessons I’d learned when transitioning from my day job to full-time freelancing.
Little did I know that this 160-page guide would be the genesis of a six-figure info products business a few years later…
The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.
Online Learning Is Now Mainstream
For freelancers, creating and selling info products can be a fun and rewarding way to earn extra income or make a full-time living.
It can also be an excellent way to diversify your income. That’s because info product sales can take some of the pressure off your marketing efforts and client work. And they can add some much-needed predictability to your cash flow.
Fortunately, the market for info products—and specifically for online courses and online training programs—is growing and showing no signs of slowing down. Consider these interesting developments:
- Market research firm Global Industry Analysts projects that the global market for e-Learning will exceed $241 billion by 2022.
- LinkedIn spent $1.5 billion in 2015 to acquire online education company Lynda.com, which publishes online courses. At the time, this was LinkedIn’s largest acquisition by far.
- Companies like The Great Courses, MasterClass, Skillshare, CreativeLive and Udemy are popping up everywhere. And investors are funneling a significant amount of capital into these businesses.
- Even Oprah has gotten in the game with her OWN Lifeclasses!
The good news for those of us who create (or want to create) info products is that the concept of online courses and online learning is no longer obscure. It’s now mainstream. You no longer have to explain the idea to prospective customers. They already get it.
And despite appearances, there’s plenty of room for small players like you and me to make a good living publishing and selling info products.
Two Paths to Success
You can find a lot of advice about how to start your info products business online. But most of this advice lacks context, and most of it is very generic. (It’s either geared to everyone OR geared to people who already have a blog or online property.)
For people like us—freelance writers and copywriters—I’ve found that there are two proven paths that work well:
- Building an audience first and then launching your product.
- Creating your product first and building your audience as you go.
Option A: Build Your Audience First
Typically, the genesis of this approach is a blog and/or newsletter. It may even be a podcast or YouTube channel.
The idea is to publish awesome content and give it away for free. Usually, you do this for anywhere from three months to (in some extreme cases) three years before selling anything.
This approach has some advantages:
- You’re under less pressure because you’re not trying to sell anything initially
- You get to know your audience well
- You can refine your message and positioning before you launch a product
- It’s a great approach if your goal is to sell books and speak for a living.
But it also comes with some disadvantages:
- You won’t collect a financial return for a long time
- It can be costly in terms of time, tech and resources
- Your audience can come to see you as an “everything is free” resource
- It can easily lead to procrastination
- Your motivation can wane over time
- Guilt, fear and impostor syndrome can be strong barriers.
Option B: Create Your Product First and Build Your Audience as You Go
This is what I did. And it’s by far my preferred and recommended method.
In my case, I really had no choice. I had very little time. And I needed to see results sooner than later. Besides, I didn’t have the temperament to spend two years building a list.
This approach also has some advantages:
- It forces you to create a minimum viable product. (The concept of rapid prototyping.)
- You get results faster
- You gain confidence sooner because you’re making sales earlier
- This incremental, baby-steps approach is more natural and congruent with how most of us are wired and motivated
- You can refine and pivot sooner
- You get momentum earlier, and it’s easier to maintain that momentum.
It also has some disadvantages:
- You don’t have a good-sized list to start with, which can create fear and paralysis
- There’s more pressure to generate sales
- It requires more trust from your limited audience.
However, the advantages of option B far outweigh the disadvantages.
When you go the audience building route (option A), it’s easier in a way. You don’t have to put yourself “out there” as much. But at the same time, it’s way too easy to stay in that mode and never “ship” your product.
You need to see results to stay motivated. When you focus on building an audience, you’re seeing results in a way. But it’s not nearly as motivating as getting a few sales.
Everything I do in my training and coaching business is centered around two core concepts: Incremental confidence improvement and rapid prototyping (“Ready, fire, aim!”).
Option B checks both of those boxes because you ship your product sooner—setting you up for quick wins (incremental confidence improvement). And you refine as you go (rapid prototyping).
Business coach and strategist Dan Sullivan explains that if you wait for confidence before taking action, you’ll never execute. Instead, commit to the goal first. That will give you the few ounces of courage you need to take the first few steps, which will start building the capability you need to get results. And that will give you the confidence you need to keep going.
I have a very deliberate approach for this particular success path (option B), which consists of seven steps. It’s all centered on the idea of creating your product first and then building your audience.
Those steps are:
- Define your best product topic and target market. (For help with this, download our free cheat sheet on this page.)
- Validate your idea and build a starter list
- Position, name and price your product
- Create your product
- Set up the rest of your technology
- Launch to your Hot List
- Build on your foundation (iterate!).
The main key is to iterate. Focus on creating just one info product to start. Then work on doing the best job you can on just that one product. Get it right and get it out there. Then get feedback and refine it to make it better.
Once you have that first product in the bag, you have a real asset you can leverage.
Don’t worry about setting up your technology, your blog or any of the other assets you think you’ll need—at least not at this early stage. If you instead spend too much time on technology, you’re likely to encounter obstacles that will cause you to quit—way before you have an asset in hand.
Both Approaches Take Time and Patience
We’re conditioned for instant gratification in Western society. If an app takes more than two seconds to refresh, we get frustrated. If we have to wait in the checkout line for longer than three minutes, we pitch a fit.
I get it. But building a viable and consistently profitable info products business takes time AND a good amount of work.
Even if all you want is an extra few hundred dollars a month in income, you’re still going to have to create and market the product. And that’s going to require some effort. It doesn’t happen magically.
Don’t fall for claims about four-hour workweeks and five-minute workdays during your first year as an info product creator and marketer.
You’re not going to wake up one day and find that you mysteriously made $88,631 while you slept—or while you sipped Chianti and wrote poetry under the Tuscan sun.
But if you’re looking for a way to develop a solid and reliable income stream—something that can take pressure off your client work … help pay for your kids’ college tuition … make up for shortfalls in your retirement income … or finance two or three very nice family vacations every year —then creating and selling info products is a great option.
And as a writer or copywriter, you have a HUGE advantage over everyone else. You already know how to create great content and/or copy!
If you’d like to create a secondary income stream for yourself, I’m about to teach a few ambitious freelancers how to create and launch a successful info product.
If you’d like to join us, email me [ed at b2blauncher dot com] … put “INFO PRODUCTS” in the subject line … and I’ll reply with all the details.