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How to sell profitable digital products in 2020

Want to sell a successful digital product? Learn what nine successful creators recommend you to launch a profitable product.

February 28, 2020 by Taylor Barbieri

Every night as you go to bed, digital product ideas run through your mind.

You spend your evenings researching how to make your product launch a success. 

You’re determined to make 2020 the year you release a profitable digital product. 

We are, too.

That’s why we sourced advice from 10 of the most successful creators on Podia to learn what they want aspiring entrepreneurs to know.  

We’re confident their advice will bring you closer to making 2020 the year you release a successful digital product (or several). 

So let’s dig in!

Tip #1: Conduct market research 

You probably have more than a few great product ideas. 

But coming up with a product idea first and conducting customer research second can be a backward approach to product development, cautions Justin Jackson of Transistor.fm

“People's current pattern generally determines their future direction,” Justin notes. 

“Look at what the market is already shopping for a course about X. Create that. The key is to respond to demand that’s already being demonstrated in the market.”

But merely identifying a problem doesn’t give you the greenlight to skip customer research. There are many stories of brands who found out too late that their assumptions were off the mark. 

Let’s look at Custom Tobacco’s example. 

One of the co-founders of Custom Tobacco was a cigar smoker. He thought other cigar smokers would enjoy custom-made cigars.

As they examined their sales, Custom Tobacco noticed something counterintuitive. Their biggest orders came not from smokers, but from people who were buying their products for cigar smokers.

After changing their target audience and marketing language, Custom Tobacco saw the sales numbers they had hoped for. 

Custom Tobacco’s story highlights the importance of gathering quantitative data. Quantitative customer data can reveal new information to complement findings from customer interviews. 

For instance, this entrepreneur said that customer interviews and feedback were helpful. However, they often contradicted customer data. In many cases, customer data led to better business decisions. 

Analyzing data may uncover patterns and preferences your customers never knew they had. 

For instance, many of your customers may have said they wanted a cheaper product.

But 63% of consumers said they would pay up to 15% more for a product or service if they were guaranteed a better experience. 

In fact, 84% of consumers have said their experience with a company is as important as that business’ products and services. 

Therefore, it’s worth taking the time to find out how to deliver a superb product and brand experience. 

For some, it may be around-the-clock customer support, more educational content, or a branded online community. 

Making your brand likable can help you win over customers, too.

To that end, you’ll want to understand your customers’ beliefs. Taking a stand on causes relevant to your audience may be beneficial, as well. 

75% of American consumers are likely to start shopping with brands who support a cause they agree with.

79% of Americans have said they’re more loyal to purpose-driven brands as well.  

As you’re gathering data, don’t feel pressured to create a product you’re not passionate about for the sake of profit. A business without an enthusiastic entrepreneur at the helm can quickly derail. 

As Danielle Thompson, founder of Freelance Travel Network, said, “A course is a chance to put a message out into the world, your message. You need to trust yourself when you’re going through the process. 

There are so many resources out there that will give you direction, but at the end, make sure you tune into your intuition for the final say. Trust yourself and know it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

And, on that note, don’t choose a topic that’s too broad -- niching isn’t just a good business move, it’s often the only business move.

Tip #2: Pick a business niche 

To create a profitable product, you’ll need to solve a specific problem for a specific group of people.  

After all, 99.9% of businesses (around 30.2 million) in the United States are small businesses. Having a niche is one key way to stand out from millions of other businesses.  

If you’re struggling to find a niche, you may want to follow Amy Hoy and Alex Hillman of Stacking the Bricks’ advice to check out groups you already belong to. 

“Instead of asking ‘What can I make or sell?’ start by asking yourself ‘Who can I reach, and how can I help them?’” Amy and Alex recommend. 

“Don't overthink this, either. Your best option is likely a professional audience you already belong to! 

While it's possible, it's 1,000 times harder to sell to an audience when you don't have the advantages of being an insider. 

And unlike video games, business doesn't award bonus points for playing on difficult mode."

Targeting a customer group you belong to can save precious time, effort, and resources. It could boost your chances of product success, too. 

Consider Bia Alvarez as an example. Bia went to school for design and then pursued a health coaching certification. 

While studying for her certification and designing her website, Bia decided to niche into design for health coaches. 

Picking a niche may seem like a profit-loser — I’ll give you that. 

But it’s by offering a highly specific solution that you can attract initial interest, sales, and word-of-mouth. As you get the ball rolling, you can expand into other niches and products. 

Besides, 91% of consumers are more likely to shop with brands that recognize and remember their preferences and provide relevant offers. That’s far easier to do with a small group.

Niching can also save you time, effort, and resources, too. 

Becca Tracey of The Uncaged Life felt she misspent months of her business trying to appeal to too many niches. She saw little financial return from her efforts. By niching further, she was able to grow her business. 

Likewise, Peter Akkies credits niching as one of the reasons why his first online course was so successful. 

Peter notes, “My first ever online course has now sold around €20,000. I’m pretty happy with that for my first course. 

Here’s why I think it is doing well, even though I did not start with much of an audience: My course is specific to one piece of software (OmniFocus). I teach people how to use this one app, so it’s very clear to people whether my course is for them.”

As Peter’s and countless other examples have shown, appealing to a niche can start your business off on the right foot. Doing so can maximize your profits, simplify product development, and attract enthusiastic customers. 

And, once you have a niche in your sights, you can pivot on our next tip a whole lot more easily.

Tip #3: Create a product prototype first

Many of the world’s top products started as prototypes. 

The photo-sharing website, Unsplash, started as a Tumblr blog with 10 images. 

Uber started off helping San Francisco commuters hail and pay taxi drivers.

Many companies start off with a basic product because customer reactions can be hard to predict. 

43% of retail professionals have said one of the hardest things about introducing new products was “understanding customer preferences”.

Now, customer research can give you an idea of what will perform well. 

But actually releasing a product? That can help you uncover mounds of insights you otherwise couldn’t have learned. 

Think of it this way: Customer research is like learning how to rock climb from watching online tutorials. It gives you lots of theoretical information, but no tangible or personalized advice. 

Releasing a product is like going on your first climb. It’s scary and exhilarating, and there will be unexpected adventures, but it will be a world-class learning experience. 

In testing your product, you could save yourself weeks or months of product tweaking -- or even product failure.

“Just because you think something is a sure thing doesn't make it a sure thing,” says Ryan Breitkreutz of Signature Edits

“The only way to guarantee success is to pre-sell your products and gauge demand in advance. 

This is a game-changer because you can use the questions, concerns, and feedback of your initial responders to cater your marketing, product, and solution to fit them perfectly, plus you don't waste months or years building a service nobody really wanted in the first place.” 

Ryan’s advice is spot on.

Pre-launching your online course (or any digital product) has many benefits, from building early excitement and interest to giving you funds to develop your product. 

Besides, many customers like being involved in the product development process. 

77% of consumers have said a brand asking for their feedback on future product ideas would increase the likelihood of them purchasing from that business. 

In fact, 66% of consumers wished there were more opportunities to share feedback with their favorite brands.

And even if your product prototype doesn’t launch to raucous applause, don’t give up just yet.

According to Dee Ingenito of Dee’s Divine Guidance: “When launching a course, do not quit if people do not sign up. The first few programs I offered flopped big time. 

Now, I am having 10-20 people sign up on my initial launches. Detach yourself from the outcome and realize that this is a ‘put it out there and see if it works’ type of game. Keep testing the market until you find something that works!”

Once you do find a winning idea, there are a few ways you could test your product and get feedback.  

Reuven Lerner started by creating online courses as lead magnets for his email list. Later on, he offered paid online courses. 

Or, like Sef Chang of House of Royalties, you could pre-sell your digital product and use the pre-sales to validate your product idea before proceeding with making your product. 

You could also sell a basic version of your product and see how your audience responds to it. As you get feedback, you could make incremental changes. 

Minecraft, a popular video game, was released with just six days of coding and a very basic premise. Despite that, it went on to have over 100 releases in its first year. 

If you’re concerned you may end up stuck in an endless loop of tweaking and re-releasing your product prototype, keep creator Carles Marsal’s advice in mind. Carles noted that it took about three months for his idea to become a launchable product. 

Carles advises, “Try to schedule something you can achieve. For example, for an online course, try to make one video a day, and after some weeks, you’ll have a great course that’s ready to be launched.”

Though product testing can take time, it’s better to slowly gather feedback and make changes than to launch it based on your internal timeline.

For both your prototype and final product, don’t worry about buying expensive equipment to create your product, either. It’s totally possible to create a profitable product on a budget. 

Christina Reeves of The Flawless Program noted that online courses are great products to design if you’re on a budget or crunched for time. 

“You don't need many resources, (I started with just a computer and internet!) and, time-wise, it's flexible on your schedule. The only thing is to make sure you have a good platform!”

Instead of pricey equipment, you can shoot professional-quality video on your smartphone and record videos for online courses at home. There are plenty of affordable and beginner-friendly video editing programs out there, too. 

To estimate how long it can take you to create your digital products and how much it may cost, check out these guides: 

Or, better yet, start our free product bootcamp challenge to get a step-by-step for building, polishing, and profiting off your new product:

Get more advice from creators like you

Join thousands of creators receiving our weekly articles about launching, growing, and thriving as a creative entrepreneur.

Otherwise, let’s dig into our last tip today.

Tip #4: Don’t quit your full-time job to start your side-hustle 

Quitting your job to start a side-business is like putting an oxygen mask on your fellow airplane passengers before yours is securely fastened. 

It may seem sensible to give your business all of your money and attention early on, but it may hurt you both in the long-term.

Keeping your day job can give you professional and financial stability as you grow your side-hustle. 

The co-founder of Supply, a men’s shaving and grooming company, worked on his company for two years before leaving his full-time position. 

One reason why so many entrepreneurs nurture their side-hustles for years is that trying to grow too quickly can backfire. 

For example, it may lead to making short-sighted decisions or building a business you’re not passionate about. 

As Dennis Moons of Store Growers advises, “If you're starting out with something new and are relying on it to pay the bills from day one, you put a ton of pressure on yourself, and this pressure can suffocate a business that's not quite ready yet.

My first sale felt great, but after that, it took me about four years to get close to a full-time income. 

So my advice is to give your business the space to develop by doing something that pays the bills in the meantime. 

While the slow progress might be frustrating at first, your business will be a lot smarter and stronger because of it.”

Dennis is right.

Relying on a new business may limit your funding and flexibility if you need to pivot or rethink your approach. 

Even if everything goes smashingly, you may still need several months to earn a sustainable income from your business. 

Research by Hiscox found that business owners spent an average of 19 months on their side-hustles before leaving their full-time jobs. 

The study also found that it took entrepreneurs an average of three years to earn as much annual income as they did in their most recent full-time position. 

Another study found that entrepreneurs who started their businesses while employed full-time were 33% less likely to fail.

With findings like these, keeping your full-time job while working on your business seems like a reasonable approach.

If you need more time to work on your business but can’t leave your full-time position, hire a virtual assistant (VA). See if there are business tasks you can outsource or automate, too. 

You could also ask if your current employer would let you work on a more flexible schedule. The founder of Product Hunt, as an example, worked part-time for six-months after deciding to leave the company. 

Look, starting a business doesn’t have to be hard, but it does require patience, experimentation, and willingness to go back to the drawing board. 

To maximize your chances of product success, keep your full-time job while running your side-business. This can give you the stability to grow your business sustainably. 

Achieve digital product success in 2020

Developing and releasing a digital product is not unlike raising a child -- your ultimate goal is to nurture it to become independent and successful without your around-the-clock attention. 

Four things to keep in mind to create a successful digital product include:

  • Conduct customer research so you can create a product your audience will adore
  • Niche your business so that you can reap the benefits of solving a unique problem for a narrow segment of your audience 
  • Build a product prototype so you can test your product idea and attract early interest
  • Keep your day job so you’ll have the professional stability and money to grow your side-hustle

To make your product creation and selling journey easier, join Podia for free today. Podia takes care of the technical hassle of running a storefront so you can focus on creating. 

And that is, I think most of us can agree, the ultimate goal of a creator -- to simply create.

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