The new American dream is to make money while you sleep. And at the risk of sounding like a late night infomercial, I can tell you that this is entirely possible.
However, the myth of passive income is that it’s easy. It’s not. It requires a ton of hard work up front, and it might even be years before you see truly passive income, where you check your email and find that you’ve literally made money while sleeping.
There are lots of different ways to make money online—it’s not just through selling your old stuff on eBay—and that’s because we’ve moved through the agricultural age and the industrial age and we’re now in the information age. The information age is great because, yes, everybody can be a content consumer and, yes, everybody can become a content producer— which is exactly what you need to do to start your freelance career, and start your online business, and become a full-blown entrepreneur.
Something else about making money through an online business: It’s not magic; it’s math. If you have only ten subscribers, ten people caring about your business, then get to know those ten people. Reply to their emails, ask them questions, take an interest in them. Because that’s exactly what everybody else won’t do (it’s not scalable, and it takes up too much time, and whatever other excuse they want to use). Doing this will separate you from your competition, and when the time comes for you to release your own product, your “true fans” will be excited to buy from you.
Want to create an online business? Read on.
It’s two thirty in the morning, and you’ve woken up from your sleep to feel the bedside table vibrating ever so slightly. A notification on your phone is making a white shadow dance across the wall next to your bed. You know you should go back to sleep, but on impulse, you grab your phone and flick your groggy fingers across the touch screen.
It’s a Gmail notification bubble. Normally this could wait until later—who the hell has time to respond to emails at two thirty? Then, you read the subject line of the email:
Subject: You just received $1,297
You realize this is not spam; it’s real. Holy shit! You just made almost $1,300 without lifting a finger.
What would it be like to have this happen every single night? How would it change your life to know that you have a business that pays you automatically every single day, whether or not you decide to “clock in” for work that day, no matter what country you’re in, for the rest of your life?
How would your life change if you had the ultimate security of knowing that you had an army of salespeople working around the clock to make you money and you didn’t have to pay them a dime?
To some people, this might sound like science fiction—or worse yet, a sleazy late-night infomercial. If you’re rolling your eyes all the way to the back of your head right now, I get it. Trust me, I do. I thought the same thing. Then I discovered the power of starting an online business. And I can tell you one thing: All this, and much more, is possible.
Want to learn how I created the life of my dreams (and nearly unlimited income) building online products?
Of course you do. Keep reading . . .
I’ll admit the above description of online business is a bit “hypey.” Full disclosure: I took it straight from one of the sales emails for my premium training on building an online business, Startup from the Bottom. But despite being a bit over the top in its approach and copywriting, for the most part it’s true. Online business is where it’s at.
Something strange is happening in the business world right now. Social media is expanding to dozens of different platforms, and brand-new online startups are growth-hacking their way to massive success. More and more people are becoming customers of new products and services. It seems like there’s something to fit every need:
- Sick of going to the mall? You can order a pair of jeans and have them shipped to your house the same day.
- Tired of driving yourself to the airport? You can push a button and a car will appear out of thin air to pick you up.
- Need to learn a new skill without paying $150,000 to some university to get a degree? You can learn virtually anything from the best professors in the world from the comfort of your home.
Businesses that were unheard of even a few years ago are making BILLIONS. Shit is getting wild, folks! Can you imagine what John D. Rockefeller would think?
Yet despite the consumption of these new products and services, hardly anybody actually knows how to go from consumer to producer. In other words, we are happy to spend our money online, but we have no idea how to make money online.
That ends now.
I’m going to lay out for you exactly how I turned Rich-20Something from a simple blog with very humble beginnings to a million-dollar empire in just a few years. In the process, I’m going to expose some of the myths about passive income and help you shift your mindset from that of a mere spectator to that of a participant in the biggest global business revolution since the industrial era.
Learning how to make money while you sleep is the new American dream. Let me show you the way.
Freelancing versus Entrepreneurship: Is There a Difference?
A few years ago, I was watching an interview with Seth Godin, who is one of my heroes in the business world. He was explaining the core differences between entrepreneurship and freelancing. I was getting heated just listening to him!
Here’s how Seth explains it:
Freelancers get paid for their work. If you’re a freelancer copywriter, you get paid when you work. Entrepreneurs use other people’s money to build a business bigger than themselves so that they can get paid when they sleep.
When I saw this interview, I was busting my ass (and making very good money) as a freelancer, and I had always considered myself an entrepreneur because I had an entrepreneurial mindset. So understandably, I was a bit upset over the semantics.
“He doesn’t know what he’s talking about! I am TOO an entrepreneur!” I grumbled.
Looking back on that, I have to chuckle. The reason I was upset was because of the value and meaning I attached to the word entrepreneurship. I saw entrepreneurs as free thinkers, people who created their own destiny and didn’t just take what the world handed to them. Not thinking of myself as an entrepreneur when I was working so hard to make money on my own fucked with my self-identity.
But Seth did have a point.
Look, there is a reason that I chose to put freelancing BEFORE online business in this book, and the answer is pretty simple:
I think freelancing is an essential step in the entrepreneurial journey.
You have to learn how to find clients, talk to them, and get them to pay you. You have to learn how to develop skills and ideas and test them in the marketplace. And freelancing is great, because for all intents and purposes, you can get started immediately.
I wouldn’t be where I am today without freelancing, and if we were chilling on the porch drinking a beer together, I’d advise you to do it too. That being said, freelancing is only halfway there. It’s a necessary bridge to get you away from your day job and into independent living. On the other side of that bridge is full-fledged entrepreneurship.
In my eyes, the main difference between freelancing (aka “self-employment”) and pure entrepreneurship comes down to time. In most cases, freelancers still exchange time for money (albeit for much more money than in a traditional job). Entrepreneurs depend on systems and employees and automation that work without their direct involvement.
The key question is: “If I take myself out of the equation, does the business still work?”
If your business could presumably run without you— assuming you hired someone to take your place or delegate your responsibilities to a team—then you are a true entrepreneur. If you can create enough momentum in your business that you’ll still make money regardless of what you do on a day-to-day basis, then you are a true entrepreneur.
This is the holy grail. This is where you want to end up. Unlike any other business medium, online business allows this type of setup. Some people might even call this “passive” income. But does making money while you sleep really equate to passive income?
The Myth of “Passive” Income
Will an online business really make you passive income? Yes and no. A big part of the allure of building an online business is that you can make money from anywhere in the world at any given time, and the sheer thought of being able to travel while getting paid has spawned an entire industry of Instagram accounts shouting the praises of passive income.
Pictures of pedicured toes dangling in the surf with a laptop nearby are industry standard at this point. Yes! The freedom lifestyle!
But what is passive income, really? I don’t think the instaquotes ever go into precise detail, but I can make some assumptions about what most people think. If “active” income means you have to work for your money, I’m guessing the general public believes that “passive” income means money will come to you without working. Most people take the whole “make money while you sleep” thing to mean that you’re not actually working for the money while you’re awake.
Umm . . . yeah. That is false.
To be clear, there are plenty of legitimate sources of passive income. When Bill Gates or Warren Buffett check their bank accounts, the deposits they see are most likely passive income. That’s investment money that’s building upon itself and multiplying as a result. Or when members of the British royal family check their bank accounts, the money rolling in there is passive. Their salaries are just small pieces of the interest from an enormous amount of wealth accumulated over hundreds of years. That’s super-duper passive.
As an online business owner, unfortunately, you will not really make passive income—at least not in the beginning. You’re still going to have to work hard for your money; it’s just a different type of work. Just like anything that makes money, building an online business is a job, and you can’t expect to get promoted overnight. It takes time. It’s not for the lazy or unmotivated.
After several years of running an online business, I’m only now beginning to see a bit of strictly passive income rolling in.
Here’s the key to making money passively: It requires a shit ton of work on the front end.
You’ll have to push the boulder uphill before you can let it coast down the hill. When this book flies off the shelves, I will get a royalty from the publisher for every copy sold. That money will be deposited in my bank account for years after the book is completed. I suppose that’s passive income. But it still took me over five years to find an agent, get a publishing deal, write the damn book, and promote it. A lot of work has to go in on the front end to make money somewhere down the line.
Online business works the same way. Generally speaking, making money passively requires three things:
- A lead-generation system that finds customers automatically
- A system that promotes your products or services and collects payments automatically
- Time and experience in the game, so that you know what works
Can you take a guess on which of these three is most important? You’re going to have to devote a significant amount of time if you ever want to create an online business that truly and consistently generates money while you sleep. There’s really no way around that. It just takes time, my friend.
I’m clarifying this not to discourage you but to encourage and prepare you for what’s to come. If your expectations are aligned with reality, you’re much more likely to stay the course. Remember this as I dive into the elements of online business: It’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon. One day in the future, you will wake up, check your bank account, and see a deposit for something that you did months or years earlier. It’s going to feel amazing. But it may not feel entirely passive.
How the hell does an online business actually make money?
I have to admit that when people ask me what I do, I’m very nonspecific. I usually say something like, “I do stuff online.” I say that because I’m lazy and generally don’t feel like explaining, “Well . . . I make online digital courses to teach people how to master certain skills.” That usually gets me the squinty-eyed look, as if they’re saying, “Sounds cute. What’s your real job?”
If I had to have that conversation with every Uber driver, I’d probably kill myself. So I tend to keep quiet.
For some reason, whenever you mention that you have an online business, people start to get confused. They often assume that you’re a tech nerd, that you have a Silicon Valley– backed startup, or that you’re doing porn. The media paints all of the online world with one brush. You’re either an online entrepreneur or an offline entrepreneur. There doesn’t seem to be an in-between in the public’s eyes.
In reality, there are a TON of ways to make money online, and for the most part, you can make money in many of the same ways online as you can anywhere else. The online world is just a different medium to sell your products, ideas, and services.
Recent studies show that the average adult spends over twenty hours online every week. That’s a part-time job—you might as well get paid for it! If we’re spending that much time in the online world as a society, we should make it our responsibility to truly understand how to make money from all that time we are investing. Starting an online business shouldn’t be a mystical process anymore. You don’t need to be a tech wizard, programmer, or celebrity to make it work for you. Here are seven different ways that online businesses make money.
(Note: This is not an exhaustive list—simply a collection of some of the more popular methods. No need to email me with all the ideas I didn’t include. There are a lot. I just want to give you some perspective.)
Online Business Type 1: e-Commerce
Examples: Amazon, eBay, your own website
In the good old days, if you wanted to open up a clothing boutique, you’d have to find a storefront space and open up a physical brick-and-mortar location. You’d have to worry about overhead like rent, employees, and inventory. You’d have to be in a prime location to ensure that you got enough foot traffic. And you’d have to physically go to the shop every single day.
Not anymore. Nowadays, you can find or make physical products, and rather than sell them in a “real” store, you can just sell them with the click of a button. There are lots of pre-existing platforms that allow you to list your items for sale without going through the time and hassle of opening up a real storefront. This is especially useful when you’re a new company and only have one or two products to sell. Selling on another company’s platform is especially great once your products begin to get traction, because the rating system on websites like Amazon generate more exposure for your business. Most online retailers also have their own websites, where they sell their products directly to the consumer.
One of the downsides of selling physical products is that the production and manufacturing costs tend to eat up a lot of the profit margin; plus, you’ll actually have to ship the item, another logistical hurdle and expense.
Online Business Type 2: Affiliate Marketing
Did you ever have those contests at school to see who could sell the most chocolate bars around the holidays? Every year, my school did these ridiculous fundraisers. They equipped an army of ten-year-olds with catalogs full of chocolates, wrapping paper, and “gourmet” popcorn and set us loose upon the community. The kid with the most sales at the end of the fundraiser got some sort of prize. I think it was usually a pizza party for his or her class. Honestly, I can’t remember because I was never good at these contests. There was usually a lot of pressure from teachers and administrators to sell at least a few, so I’d just hand the catalog to my mom and she’d get a few of her coworkers to buy some.
That, in a nutshell, is affiliate marketing. Somebody else has a product. You have a list of people that you offer their product to. The more sales you make, the bigger your reward. Usually for adults, the reward is money, not a pizza party.
This is a very attractive model for beginners who want to break into the online world, because it seems so easy. All you have to do is sell someone else’s stuff, sit back, and collect. There are even platforms like ClickBank that list thousands of products with affiliate programs. You sign up for an affiliate program, you receive a special link, and whenever somebody buys the product through your special link, you get a commission (typically 50 percent).
You CAN make a lot of money doing affiliate promotions. That part is true. But what most experts leave out is that you’re going to need several other elements in place to successfully run a profitable affiliate campaign. You’re going to need a decent-sized email list (or enough money to send paid traffic—a whole ’nother monster); PLUS, you’ll need to have a decent working knowledge of online marketing so that people actually want to buy the damn thing. And most importantly, whatever you sell has to be a great fit for the people you’re pitching to. The entire process can become considerably complex, and it definitely wouldn’t be my first option if I were to start a brand-new online business.
Online Business Type 3: Google AdSense, Banner Ads
If you ever visit a massive site like Entrepreneur.com or Forbes.com, you’ll most likely notice prominent banner and pop-up ads all over the site. Sometimes they are rather innocuous; sometimes they are incredibly annoying. (While writing this, I checked Forbes.com, and they’re all over there. YUCK!)
Now, it’s much harder to make this model work. In order to get enough click-throughs to make a difference, you’ll need hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of visitors. This is hard enough for big sites like Forbes.com to achieve. As a primary revenue generator, the model is not smart. There’s also a fair amount of technical know-how required for setting this up, and it’ll take a bit of time to get off the ground. So unless you have a website with one million unique visitors a month or more, don’t consider this. And even with that many visitors, oftentimes the ads significantly water down the customer experience. I’m not a huge fan.
Online Business Type 4: Drop-Shipping
Example: “white label” products
Dropshipping is, in many respects, a subset of e-commerce, as it can be done via a platform like Amazon. The primary difference between drop-shipping and other models of online business is the “white label” effect.
Here’s how it works: You find a product that you want to sell, something that’s in demand. Then, you find a generic manufacturer who can make the product, and you brand the product as your own. Essentially, the order comes in from the customer, you send that order to the manufacturer, and they put your label on it (thus, “white label”) and send it out from their factory directly to the customer, as if it’s coming directly from you.
For instance, let’s say I wanted to make my own brand of protein powder. There’s no way I have the capital to source all my own ingredients, build a laboratory, hire staff, and manufacture the product without a significant amount of funding. Instead, I can find one of many private laboratories around the country (and the world) who are willing to ship out their protein powder as “Daniel’s XTreme Protein Burst,” complete with my own label. I pay the cost for the materials and shipping, then mark up the price for the customer and make the difference.
I’ve experimented with this model and have had some friends who’ve done very well with it. If you’re dead set on producing a physical product, it could be a good road for you. One of the things I don’t like about this model is the inherent barrier between the company (you) and the customer. Since you’re not the one directly producing and shipping the product, you’re essentially just a front, which means quality control is often out of your hands. Again, not the worst model in the world, but not my personal favorite.
Online Business Type 5: SaaS (Software as a Service), App Development
Examples: Uber, Facebook, Netflix, Instagram
Everybody wants to build the next Facebook. That’s the running joke. Most people who think of present-day entrepreneurship think of companies like Facebook, Uber, and Netflix as the standard. They’re sexy, they’re mobile, and most of them have some legendary “started in a garage” story. There are so many different services being offered at the touch of a button nowadays, it’s astounding. One of my favorites in Los Angeles is an app called DoorDash. All I have to do is open up the app, select something off the menu from one of hundreds of local restaurants, and food comes hot to my house in about forty-five minutes. No need for takeout. I’ve gained at least ten pounds since discovering this gem!
SaaS businesses and apps are the rage in Silicon Valley because they are relatively lightweight and don’t require a lot of overhead to run. All they need is scale. Just prove the concept, get the users, and keep pouring dollars in to keep growing. The reality is that the competition in the marketplace is fierce! And the average customer (at least in my experience) doesn’t have a ton of loyalty. They are looking for the cheapest, fastest service. If the prices on Uber are too steep for me to catch a ride, I’ll go to Lyft without reservations. If Door-Dash doesn’t have what I want to eat, I’ll go to GrubHub without a second thought. This means growth has to be constant to dominate the space you’re in; it’s very hard to survive with a small, niche audience.
There’s also the technical aspect. If you’re not a developer or if you don’t have a good developer by your side, it’s going to be challenging to create something that’s worth taking a second look at—by either a potential customer or an investor (which you’re most likely going to need).
And most of these products and services don’t become profitable for quite some time, if ever. One of the best-known Silicon Valley sweethearts, Uber, only recently become profitable in the United States, after almost ten years of operation and after seeing hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue and over fifty billion dollars in venture funding. And that’s just in the United States. They’re losing over a hundred million dollars in China every year. The company itself isn’t in grave danger of failing; this is just a dramatic example of the fact that going the venture route with software can have some very unique challenges.
If you’re 100 percent certain that this road is for you, then you already have your work cut out for you. Be my guest. But personally, it sounds like a massive pain in the ass.
Online Business Type 6: Content Partnerships
Examples: YouTube, podcasts, etc.
There was a time when you had to get signed by a major record label or production studio to get your content heard; these guys were the only ones handing out the big checks. Now, the model is completely flipped on its head.
If you do something creative, you can build an audience on a platform like YouTube and get paid to produce YouTube videos if enough people begin to watch. If you watch as much YouTube as I do, you probably hate the advertisements before
the video (Come on, come on . . . just start already). The creators of those videos are getting paid to run those ads. There are so many different channels online, with hundreds of thousands, even millions, of viewers, which makes this type of business possible.
Everything from fitness to beauty, to cooking, to comedy— if you can make great content that people want to watch and share, you can get paid quite well. The top YouTubers are making hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, of dollars simply from their ad partnerships with YouTube. Often-times, many other endorsement deals and opportunities come as a result of this exposure. It’s a pretty sweet deal.
In a similar respect (though not to the same extent), you can do the same thing with podcasts. If you can create a podcast with a raving fan base and hundreds of thousands or even millions of downloads every month, advertisers will be knocking down your door to get in front of your audience. And it makes sense: You’re essentially an independent, hyper-targeted radio station.
There aren’t that many cons to this business model, except the fact that, as with building an app, it’s hard to survive with a niche audience. Since you’re making money for the amount of views, subscribers, and listens you get, it’s going to be very hard to make a significant amount of money until you have a considerable amount of traffic—typically at least a hundred thousand subscribers/viewers. That’s a LOT of potential customers, and in my opinion, if I have the eyes and ears of a hundred thousand people, I want to be able to market and sell to them directly. With a platform like YouTube or iTunes, you can’t reach out and contact your audience directly in their inbox in order to sell to them, so you’ll have to work doubly hard to build both the content platform AND the email list.
If you really want to make YouTube videos or run a killer podcast, that’s great. You should do it—and they are incredible tools to blow up your brand. But if you dropped me down in the desert with nothing but a laptop and told me to make money, it wouldn’t be my first move. It takes too long to build momentum, and the ROI (return on investment) doesn’t really start to increase until you’re far down the road.
I can already tell what what you’re thinking: So basically what you’re saying is, all online business is difficult to start and hard to make money from?
Ha! I’ve spent a few pages ripping six online business models to shreds. But that’s because I’ve saved the best for last. I honestly believe that creating digital information products is the absolute best way to get started in online business— especially for a beginner. And online business type 7 (below) explains why.
Online Business Type 7: Digital Information Products
Examples: Freelance Domination 2.0, Startup from the Bottom, and other Rich20Something courses
First there was the agricultural age. You can guess how people survived and made their living in this era. Then came the industrial age. Now we’re in the information age. Unlike in years past, the most valued commodity in our era isn’t a particular import or raw material; it’s knowledge. I think the reason is fairly obvious: Information travels faster than ever nowadays.
The smartphone in your pocket is a perfect example. Who could have envisioned that we’d have a device that would literally contain the sum of human knowledge, the weather, and the final score of last night’s Yankees game in the palm of our hand?
We want to be able to learn more about our world quickly, unimpeded by traditional mediums. And we don’t want to have to attend a university to learn a new skill or idea. We want autonomy over our own education. A simple example is YouTube. How many times have you caught yourself using that platform as a mini trade school, searching for different how-tos in order to solve a small but pressing problem? I know that I’ve looked up everything from how to change a timing belt on my car, to how to correctly slice an avocado. This is simple knowledge that would have been transmitted directly from one person to another before, but that can now be learned in a fraction of the time by just entering a few search terms.
Of course, it goes deeper than cars and fruits. The information industry at large has literally ballooned over the past decade into a multibillion-dollar space that everyone seems to be getting a piece of. Online universities like Udemy and Coursera teach vital skills like design, marketing, and psychology for a fraction of the price that you’d pay a university, and you can build your own course load à la carte. Specialized platforms like Treehouse, which specializes in web development, focus on teaching just one skill set deeply and taking a beginning student from amateur to professional for a nominal monthly fee. Many Ivy League universities, like Harvard and MIT, have released a portion of their curriculum online for free, completely breaking down the barrier to higher education.
If you want to learn a skill to improve your life, the information is out there and within reach of the average consumer. All you have to do is put in the hours.
So where does this leave us as entrepreneurs?
The beauty about the info boom is that everybody can be not only a content consumer but also a content creator. Information products and digital courses are all about teaching somebody how to do something that they couldn’t do before. And all of us have something unique that we can teach others. If you can learn how to package that knowledge and direct people to it, you can help the world by providing people with valuable skills—and you can help yourself by making money from what you already know.
Look, the other six online business models I listed could make you a millionaire. There’s no denying it. But there are several things that are uniquely different about digital information products that make them ideal for a first (or second, or third) business:
- The learning curve tends to be a bit lower than with other business models, because you’re essentially working with what you already know.
- There isn’t too much confusing tech to work with: If you can check your email, you can handle 99 percent of the software required to grow an info product business.
- Info products require almost zero start-up capital, and the risk is very low. You’ll have to buy a domain name and a few other things to get started, but you won’t need to go looking for investors.
- The ROI is crazy. Since you don’t have to worry about overhead or inventory, the majority of the money you make will be pure profit.
- You can easily automate the systems so that your products sell 24 -7 without you even being there, which opens up the possibility for the “work from the beach” thing, if you desire.
- Scale is much easier with info products. In many cases, you acquire your customers at zero cost through free content, so your growth potential is virtually unlimited.
The BIGGEST benefit of this business model is the ability to completely dominate in a niche market. While many other types of businesses revolve around large traffic numbers or third-party middlemen to sell for you, you can build a successful six or seven-figure info product empire with a very small list of customers who are highly targeted and really care about your work. If you knew how many basic, seemingly unpopular blogs were making a hundred thousand dollars a year or more, you’d be astonished!
I could go on and on about the benefits of info products, and yes, it’s obvious I’m biased because I’ve had a lot of success in this market. But let’s go a little bit deeper so that you can see exactly what type of potential you could have with a very simple product.
How Information Products Work
There are tons of different information product businesses with slightly different models, but they all revolve around the same basic format to find new customers and make sales.
Content■☛ Opt-In ☛ Email Marketing ☛ Sales Page ☛ Sale
Content: You’ll start by creating something that people want to consume, typically for free. This could be written content (like a blog), audio content (like a podcast), or video content (like a YouTube channel). The idea here is to find people who are interested in what you want to talk about, and get them engaged in your conversation, so they, ultimately, decide that they want to hear from you on a regular basis. This decision is called an opt-in.
Opt-in: Once you’ve provided some awesome content, it’s time to take the relationship to the next level by getting people to sign up for your email list. If you receive a bunch of email newsletters like I do, you’ve opted in to other people’s content before. It’s free to do so, and the idea behind this is that by giving your email address, you’ll receive even more content, ideas, and updates in an area that interests you. Oftentimes, there will be an opt-in “bribe” that is given away to increase the likelihood of your signing up for the newsletter. If you want to check out a quick example, go to Rich-20Something.com and check out the opt-in bribe on my homepage.
Email Marketing: Once you have the potential customer’s email address, you can start marketing to them. But savvy email marketers don’t usually start with a pitch immediately. The key is giving even better free content than before— showing the reader how good your material is—and then, when the time is right, offering them a product that will interest them based on what they’ve read so far.
Sales Page and Sale: After a certain amount of time (it varies from business to business), you’ll offer that email subscriber one of your products. Price ranges vary depending on the market and the type and quality of the product. There are super-low-end info products, like e-books, that cost ten to a hundred dollars. There are minicourses that can range anywhere from a hundred to a few hundred dollars. And there are big-ticket items that can cost in the thousands. Courses can use written material, videos, slideshows, and audio to communicate information. Typically you’ll record all the information and put it somewhere where the customer can access it at any time. We’ll cover the specifics of this process later in the chapter.
You can also use your email list to sell private coaching on a specific topic or even sell live events. The possibilities are only bounded by your imagination.
The Shocking Reality of Scale (aka, “How Much Money Can I Make?”)
I think the number one thing that surprises most people about info products is how much money you can make with a relatively small email list and halfway decent marketing.
Here’s a quick example: Let’s say you’re a bombass photographer who wants to teach beginners how to get started in the industry. You decide to create a relatively inexpensive minicourse that will teach step-by-step instructions for taking great wedding photos and booking your first job. Simple enough, right?
You set up a blog and start writing about your photography ideas, and slowly, people start signing up for your email list. It doesn’t happen overnight, but as the months roll by and you keep writing, the subscribers trickle in. After six months, you have your first thousand subscribers.
You make the course and price it at two hundred dollars, then promote it to your list.
The reality of any sales situation (not just online sales) is that only a fraction of people will end up being buyers. And that’s OK. You don’t need everyone to buy; you only want people who are engaged and interested.
Assume that of the thousand people on your list, you get a conversion rate of 5 percent, which is not unrealistic for a small, engaged list:
5% of 1,000 = 50 sales
50 sales at $200 = $10,000
That’s ten thousand dollars from a small email list, after sending out just a few emails! I don’t know about you, but that’s a LOT of money to me. It’s more than most people make in several months, and you’ve done it all automatically from your laptop. You didn’t need a lot of customers, and there’s not a ton of support needed to keep them happy.
But let’s play with the numbers a bit.
Perhaps you want to turn your course into premium, all-inclusive flagship training in the photography business. It will have everything from how to turn the camera on, to how to become a full-time photographer making six figures. A program of this depth is going to require a lot more time on your part, and it’s going to offer a lot more value to the customer, so you’re going to charge more.
This course is going to be priced at two thousand dollars (with an option for payment plans to make it easier on people). Assume that since the price is much higher, the conversion rate is going to go down from a healthy 5 percent to 1 percent, which is industry standard for a course of this price. Look at what happens:
1% of 1,000 = 10 sales
10 sales at $2,000 = $20,000
After tweaking your prices, even with drastically reduced conversion, you’ve still doubled your money. Twenty thousand dollars is a significant fraction of most people’s yearly income—and you’ve managed to make that by simply creating a product that people need and finding ten customers somewhere in the world that are willing to pay for that value.
As your email list grows from one thousand to ten thousand, to a hundred thousand, so will your profits. But it’s all based on the same basic model of giving value up front for free with content, directing people to your email list, and offering them new, paid content.
It’s not magic; it’s just math.
Imagine that you took the same photography product and made it into a recurring product where new content was continually added and users paid fifty dollars per month to access it—similar to the Netflix model. Now, assume that your email list continues to grow and you’re able to continually get people to buy this product. Some people will drop off and more will sign up as the year progresses since it’s a monthly payment, but your average retention rate is about six months. Since the barrier to entry is considerably lower at fifty dollars per month, let’s assume that you can keep a hundred people in the membership program at any given time.
Here’s what those numbers look like for the year:
100 people x $50/month = $5,000 per month $5,000/month x 12 months = $60,000 per year
Do you see what just happened there? By creating a fifty-dollar product, you’ve just made a NICE yearly salary with only one hundred people. Imagine if you got two hundred people! This is why creating information products is so powerful: It allows you to scale your knowledge and make incredible amounts of money with a small handful of customers in very small niches. This is a POWERFUL business model. (As I write this, I’m also beginning to realize why some pastors are driving Bentleys. If every member of the congregation gives twenty dollars per week . . .)
Note: I’m purposely simplifying the math here so that you can understand the opportunity at hand and the general process for creating an information product business. This isn’t some late-night infomercial where you just set it and forget it—at least not in the beginning. It’s going to take a lot of hard work to get everything set up—but this will be the case for any business. Hell, it’s hard to clock into work every day and work for someone else, isn’t it? If you’re going to be working on something, doesn’t it make sense to create something with this type of flexibility and unlimited potential?
The Secret to Standing Out in a Cluttered Online Market
My biggest fear with starting an online business was that my work would end up obscured in some distant corner of the Internet, collecting dust and dying a slow, painful death. And I was right to be afraid. That’s not an unreasonable fear. There are a LOT of other websites out there. More than ever before. There isn’t one single niche that isn’t saturated. Health and fitness, beauty, money, relationships—every category of human need has been addressed. You’ll probably never create a piece of truly “new” content.
And you know what? That’s OK.
So the first question to ask is, why you? Why would people be willing to visit your site, listen to your advice, or buy your products when there are so many other businesses out there doing the same thing? The answer is community.
I learned this early on, but only now am I realizing how true it actually is. You have to create a community around your work and a space for people to improve themselves that is about more than you selling to them. More so that with any other business model, building a business around digital products requires you to create an environment that people want to return to often. As the owner of the digital business, you have to treat it like a physical storefront and welcome people to your humble little shop, even before you have merchandise to sell.
Remember the show Cheers? No? I don’t really remember it either; I’ve just watched the reruns on late TV. But the main lines from the theme song are something that everybody is familiar with:
You wanna be where you can see our troubles are all the same. You wanna be where everybody knows your name.
At a core level, we crave togetherness. We need a place where we can feel understood—like somebody “gets” us. When we can find that place, not only will we frequent it, but we’ll bring our friends to it. That’s how a community is grown: person by person, one at a time, until everybody there is somebody you’d love to sit and have a beer with. In the digital world, this translates to interaction and engagement. You have to be present.
I did this aggressively in the early days of Rich20 to build my community. I would respond to every comment on my blog, often asking a follow-up question to incite more thoughtful discussion. I would answer people by making.
personalized video responses on YouTube and emailing them back. I would pick up the phone and call people to thank them for reading and chat about what they thought I should write about next. And this was when I barely had a readership—maybe less than five hundred email subscribers total. If you want to see examples of this, go to Rich20Something.com and scroll back to some of the earliest posts.
I responded to every single email until the day I physically could no longer keep up with the volume. And that took a few years. This was not easy work. I was specifically, purposefully, intentionally doing work that was NOT scalable. Yes, automation is part of the sales process when it comes to Internet business, but you’ll never get the opportunity to sell to people if you don’t first make an impression and build a relationship. It’s up to you to cultivate that relationship.
I treated everyone not just as an avatar but as a person. Because, duh, that’s what they were. It’s easy to get obsessed with numbers when your business revolves around clicks, likes, and subscribers. But behind every one of those digital actions is a real, breathing human being who came to your work for a reason. And if you acknowledge that, you’ll get the opportunity and the privilege of offering them something in exchange for money.
That’s why they’ll pick you. Not because you have the fanciest site (I didn’t and still don’t). Not because you are the smartest person (I don’t consider myself a “guru”). And not because you’re the most persuasive marketer on the planet (although I like to think I’m fairly convincing!). Not because of any of that—but because they feel close to you. The people at the beginning of your journey are your “ride-or-dies.”
These are your one thousand true fans, and in the digital product business, this is often enough. Watch over these people carefully, because they will be the people who stick with you as you grow. As you gain more momentum and your audience expands, you’ll begin to attract “tire kickers”: people who just want to poke around, take some freebies from you, and bounce. Not everyone will be as engaged as they were before. But that core group, those one thousand true fans, will stick around and buy, time after time.
Now that Rich20 has grown to the point where I can’t respond to every single email, tweet, and ping, I still operate with this mentality, but from a different approach. I created a private “readers only” Facebook community, to give my readers an outlet to support each other and to give myself an opportunity to be present in everyone’s lives “at scale” so that they get a chance to know the real me. This is a key element to the success of our business, and I’ve found something very interesting as a result of starting that group. We have about 150,000 people on our email list as of this writing, and on any given day, our emails get about a 10 to 12 percent open rate. That means at least 15,000 people are reading each email.
And guess how many people are in our Facebook group? About 15,000. There’s a very high probability that the people reading my emails largely consist of people in the Facebook community. This is why engagement is so important. In the beginning of your journey, go out of your way to meet your readers, fans, and followers, as you would new friends at school. Even when you only have ten people reading your work, learn everything you can about those ten people.
Another strategy I used to engage readers in the past involved a CRM (customer relationship management) tool like Highrise, essentially a database to track customer information. Whenever I had a conversation with someone via email and they mentioned a personal detail, I would make a note of it in the CRM and follow up with them later. If your birthday was coming up, I’d send you a quick email wishing you a happy birthday. If you mentioned you’d just gotten a new puppy, I’d email you in a few weeks and ask how it was doing, mentioning it by name! One reader emailed me and told me she was going in for gallbladder surgery in eleven days and was a bit nervous. I emailed her the day before to wish her luck and tell her I was thinking of her.
Who does this stuff ? Nobody, that’s who. And that’s why they’ll pick you when you eventually decide to sell something.
Something else to remember: Just because your customers buy another product from a competitor doesn’t mean that they won’t still buy a product from you, even if the product is about similar concepts. Would you only buy one book on marketing? Would you only watch one action movie? I actually encourage people to buy products online from all different places, and it doesn’t worry me if they buy from someone else as well, because overall, I think it’s good for the info product market. The more money people spend on digital products, the more normal it feels and the more money they budget for these types of expenses. Don’t freak out. Just do you. Do your best work. Connect with your community, build a tribe, and treat them like family. That’s how you’ll get them to come back to you every single time.
Building the Machine
There’s a very specific reason why I decided to save the actual how-tos for last, and it reminds me of my very brief tenure as a pickup artist.
When I was in high school, information products were just becoming a “thing.” Even the concept of an e-book was revolutionary. What . . . a book, that you read on your computer? Marvelous! Shall I print it out?
Traditional marketers and old-school, Ogilvy-esque copywriters were still learning how to apply their knowledge from direct-mail and print advertisement to this newfangled online phenomenon. There was obviously money to be made, and of course, one of the first niches to get real traction was dating. Since the beginning of time, guys have wanted to know how to get girls. (I’m still working on it, actually. Anyway . . .)
The big guy in the dating space at that time was named David DeAngelo, which was actually a pseudonym for the brilliant marketer Eben Pagan. His claim to fame was an e-book called Double Your Dating. When I saw there was a step-by-step guide to teach me how to get more girls, I was instantly sold. The only problem was, well, I was sixteen! I didn’t have much money of my own, not to mention a bank account or a credit card. But what I lacked in money and financial structure, I made up for tenfold with determination and overall horniness.
At that time, you could still buy online products with a money order in the mail. So I scraped together the ninety-seven dollars—god knows how—and I rode my bike up to
the post office to get a money order and send it to some sketchy PO box, hoping they would email me the e-book within seven to ten business days after receiving my check. That’s a ton of money for a sixteen-year-old, but I really wanted to get girls.
As luck would have it, I finally did get the e-book, and I was hyped to start tearing through it. I was expecting to unlock a treasure trove of secret lines, body language cues, and ninja “make her wet with this one weird trick” techniques. Alas, I was sorely disappointed. Of the one hundred pages, the first eighty were devoted almost entirely to psychology and talking about things like “mindset” and “limiting beliefs”! I’m already taking AP psych, bro! I don’t need another syllabus. Just give me the damn pickup lines!
I wanted tactics! Unfortunately, that’s where most people start, and stop, building their online business.
I get it. You want the juicy nuggets, the how-tos and the “do this” of actually making money—and we will, for sure, 100 percent, get to that. But first you have to understand the backbone of what you’re doing. None of this makes sense, and it certainly won’t make money, unless everything else is in line first.
So, that being said, let’s talk about the core element of any info product business first: content.
Content: The Backbone of Your Business
We’re in the vast blue ocean that is the Internet, and your content is the bait that brings three very important types of people to your work:
- Fans: the readers, listeners, and watchers of your work
- Prospects: the small percentage of those fans who may buy from you because your content is so damn good
- Customers: the prospects who “cross over” and become paying members of your community
It all starts with free content. Once people read, watch, or listen to your free content, they have the opportunity to become part of your little corner of the Internet, and it’s this relationship that will be the backbone of your online business. I think the “free” part is what throws most people off. It’s very easy to imagine that you should be compensated for every piece of material that you make. After all, you’re putting hard work and effort into crafting the material, right?
Wrong. In today’s oversaturated world, everybody knows that there’s no shortage of free content. It all started with Napster in 1999. The idea that you could share music for free when you’d normally have to go to the record store was revolutionary, and ever since then, the public has had an insatiable appetite for free content. We stream music without buying albums, watch videos without buying DVDs, and read articles without buying a subscription to the paper. We expect free, and for the most part, despite the most valiant efforts of the world’s big businesses, we’ve gotten our wish.
So how are you supposed to make money with your content or sell digital products if everyone has been conditioned to expect free work? Step 1 is to create incredible, world-class, way-above-average free content. Your content has to be so ridiculously good that it inspires the following thought in all your fans: If THIS is what I get for free, what do I get when I pay?!
And that’s the mentality that will result in them buying from you when the time is right. Choose your medium to produce and the topic you want to discuss; there’s so much to pick from. The type of content you should create is really dependent on how you like to express yourself.
I’ve always enjoyed the written word, so blogging made the most sense for me in the beginning.
Note: I’m intentionally NOT going to go too deep into the tech or setup for blogging, podcasting, or YouTubing in this book, for a few reasons: First, that would be pretty overwhelming on the page, and I don’t want to distract from the scope of the material. The main idea is getting an overview of what’s going on and actually taking action with the knowledge you have at hand—not obsessing about the technology. If you’re reading this book and have the ability to navigate Facebook and email, you are savvy enough to set any of these systems up.
Rest assured that everything you’ll need to learn to set up a blog, podcast, or YouTube channel is specifically designed for beginners. These sites were designed with nontechies in mind. I’d recommend reading through this chapter, then googling or YouTubing any of the tech tools and terms mentioned here. You’ll get a very clear understanding of how to set everything up. Conversely, if you don’t feel like spending the time fiddling around, I’ve also developed an entire program to help you learn exactly how to launch and grow an online business, called Startup from the Bottom. You can get more info at www.StartupFromTheBottom.co. Plug over.
Blogging started off in the late nineties as a way to keep a public journal of sorts and since then has extended to basically mean any type of writing published online. Individuals, groups, and businesses big and small have blogs. If it’s written on a page in the form of a post, it’s a blog. And yes, there are a TON of blogs out there already; some stats report north of two hundred million in existence. The caveat here is that most of these are inactive, as the owners abandoned them within weeks or months of starting, leaving a trail of mediocre, half-finished journal entries to litter the Inter-webs forever.
But that doesn’t have to be you. The main idea behind blogging (and all content development) isn’t to come up with material that’s never been thought of before. It’s not to “break” a story, or be ranked number one in Google. Your objectives in writing a blog are to:
- Write something that’s uniquely yours, from a perspective that only you can provide
- Create content that’s extremely helpful to your readers and that’s highly actionable (when possible)
- Produce work consistently to get people to come back to your writing
Compared to other mediums, blogging is probably the hardest place to find your “voice” in the beginning and to get into a groove, because of the simple fact that there’s nothing to distract people from your content (as there would be with a podcast or YouTube video). It’s just you, writing on a page. And in the beginning, your writing is going to suck. That’s a guarantee. But after you’re a few dozen articles in, you’ll begin to find your flow.
Setting up your blog is pretty straightforward, and almost free. You’ll need:
- A platform to write on. I prefer WordPress because it’s free, it has the most customizability, and it’s easy to set up quickly.
- A hosting service to place the blog’s database on. I used Bluehost in the beginning. It’s extremely easy to set up and very reasonably priced. I think you can get a hosting account for less than $3.50 per month.
- An email service provider so that people can subscribe to your newsletter, become engaged in your community, and, ultimately, buy from you. I’d recommend MailChimp as option number one, since it’s free. But I also like AWe-ber, which usually costs about nineteen dollars a month for beginning users.
For a good example of how it looks when everything comes together, check out our blog at www.Rich20Something.com/blog
Some people prefer to create and express themselves with audio content, which makes sense. There’s something very intimate about speaking into a microphone and knowing that somebody out there is listening to your voice in the car, at the park, or while working out.
I think the most interesting thing about podcasts is that while traditional radio seems to be splintering and fading away a bit due to streaming music and other technology, podcasts are more popular than ever. When you start a podcast, you’re basically starting your own radio show. You can do, say, or be anything you want, and you have the biggest platform in the world to find your audience with: the Internet!
You can run a professional-quality show entirely from your house, and since hosting the content on iTunes is free, you won’t need to worry about supporting the broadcasts with advertisements (until you’re ready to make more money, that is).
But there’s a hidden networking power to podcasting. The number one advantage of podcasting is the ability to bring guests on your show. Nobody really highlights this, and I’m not sure why. When you invite guests on your show, you get to “pick their brain” in a way that just isn’t possible on a regular basis. Imagine being able to connect with heroes, celebrities, and experts in your space; sit down with them for an hour; and learn everything about what got them to where they are. That’s the power of the podcast.
As you continue to put out great content, your show will climb the rankings, and it will be easier to secure bigger and better guests. I’ve seen my friend Nathan Chan from Foundr magazine do it time and time again, interviewing megastar entrepreneurs like Richard Branson, Tony Robbins, and Daniel DiPiazza. It’s probably the best way to meet people who are “out of your league.”
Check out the Rich20 Podcast and subscribe so that you don’t miss an episode at www.Rich20Something.com/the-podcast.
People sometimes ask me what I would change if I could start all over again producing content, and I almost always tell them that instead of blogging, I’d probably start a YouTube channel. Yes, writing tends to be the way that I naturally express myself—thus, the reason you’re holding this book in your hands and not watching the Rich20Something documentary.
Still, I think that YouTube has the biggest potential for growth of all the platforms out there. For one, visual media is just rich; there’s so much you can do with it. And videos tend to go viral a lot more easily. They are easy to share and fun to watch. But additionally, YouTube itself is a search engine. When you’re trying to figure something out, one of the first places you look is YouTube, to see if somebody made a video explaining it. Video is also great for more artistic content, like music, dance, and spoken word material. Just as podcasting is akin to starting your own radio station, YouTubing is akin to starting your own television station. And it’s all free.
In Los Angeles, where I live, I constantly see billboards for popular YouTubers, which tells me that Google (which owns YouTube) is investing a lot of money into helping popular brands succeed. More and more frequently, we are seeing popular YouTubers transcend the Internet and move into more traditional media and movies, knocking down the gatekeepers that held the old guard in place.
And guess what? It’s still free to start making this type of content. All you need is a laptop with a webcam and a free YouTube account. You can record the videos on your computer and upload them. Within minutes, you’re up and running. Of course, you’ll improve your content and upgrade your equipment as you keep going, but the point is that it’s free to start. So what are you waiting for?
As my YouTube channel, Absolute Motivation, started to grow, I realized it was bigger than me. It was about creating a place where people can go, in their darkest hour, and realize that they’re not alone.
Founder of Absolute Motivation (with 350,000-plus subscribers on YouTube as of this writing!)
How to Produce Content That People Want to Read, Watch, or Listen To
The first decision you’ll have to make is what you want to talk about. And this applies not just to written content, but to all content. What are you good at? What could you talk about enthusiastically for days from many different angles? It could be one thing or a collection of things, but find those core ideas.
For instance, the core idea and focus behind Rich20Something is helping young people live better lives by upgrading their wealth, health, and happiness. I use my own experiences to write about how you can make more money, become more well-founded, and feel better about yourself.
This could take the form of:
- Step-by-step how-tos for starting a freelance business
- Case studies of successful readers and students who’ve left their boring jobs to become entrepreneurs
- Thought pieces on my philosophy behind improving your self-confidence and psychology
- Interviews with successful people
- “Ask the reader” pieces where I want to hear a consensus from my audience on a specific point or idea
Then, within those broader areas, I could even find different ways to talk about the same thing. For instance, if I wanted to write about how to start a freelance business, there are several different angles I could approach this topic from:
- A step-by-step guide to making your first thousand dollars freelancing
- Breaking down the biggest myths about self-employment
- Ten helpful tools for starting your freelance business
- How to raise the rates in your freelance business
- How to come up with a good idea for a freelance business
- An interview with three successful Freelance Domination 2.0 students
You can see that we’re not reinventing the wheel here; we’re simply looking at the same problem or idea from different angles. Some approaches are more appealing to people than others, so covering a topic from several different perspectives allows us to hit everyone in our potential audience.
To create content that feeds your online business (selling digital products), you’ll need to keep two important things in mind:
- Above all, you must be consistent. Since content is so easy and cheap to produce, you have to demonstrate that you’re willing to show up every day, no matter what. Even before you’re getting paid to do so—which could be for a while. Create a content schedule and stick to it. Without exception, I send out blog posts three to five times per week on Rich20, and have been doing so for years. If you want this to become a business, you have to treat it like a business.
- You must include a call to action (CTA) back to somewhere where people can learn more about your ideas and sign up for your email list. In this business, collecting email addresses is EVERYTHING. In many cases, having a small, dedicated list of email subscribers is more valuable that a giant social media following or millions of eyeballs on a viral video. Your email list will allow you to capture the attention of your audience long-term, deliver value consistently, and create a relationship over time that will generate money for years to come.
Email Funnels and Sales Processes
Have you ever changed the oil in your car? It’s a pretty basic skill that surprisingly few people actually know how to do. If you have, you’ll most likely have used a funnel before. The main idea behind a funnel is to cast a wide net that you can pour the viscous liquid into without spilling it all over the engine block. The oil flows through the wide top end of the funnel and is neatly deposited into the narrow bottom end, filling your engine up so that the car runs smoothly.
In the Internet marketing world, we also have funnels. Their purpose is to cast a wide net and find people across the web who might be interested in our material, then get those people to neatly file themselves into our email database so that we can provide them with valuable content, market to them, and eventually make some money.
Getting People to Opt In
Once a member of your audience has interacted with your content, it’s time to get them on your email list. This might seem challenging at first, but think about your own inbox. How many newsletters have you subscribed to?
The average person subscribes to anywhere between twenty and thirty different free newsletters from a variety of businesses—anything from a department store doing a semi-annual sale, to the Nissan dealership giving away insane deals on the 2018 Altima, to content-based emails about things that interest them. At one point, they weren’t receiving emails from that business, and now they are. How does that happen?
In most cases, people sign up to an email newsletter to get something for free. This is called an “opt-in,” and it’s your bread and butter if you want to build an online business— especially one that’s based on information products.
Getting people to sign up is relatively simple:
- Set up a basic landing page using WordPress. A landing page is just a simple one-pager that offers something for free and has a place to input your email address in exchange for that free thing. Check out Rich20Something. com for a basic example. There are many different specialized softwares for helping marketers do this. Some of them are free; some of them are paid. As of this writing, Rich20Something uses two different software services to set these pages up: Leadpages and ClickFunnels.
- Create a free opt-in bribe to give away when somebody signs up. This can literally be anything that you think might interest a potential customer. It could be a free e-book or checklist. It could be a few free videos on a topic that they care about. It could even be a complete mini-course to teach them a concept. All of these have worked well for Rich20 in the past.
- Drive traffic to the landing page to start collecting email addresses. In the beginning, before you have a lot of traction, this will probably be your biggest hurdle. If you have a bit of money to play with, you can experiment with Facebook ads. But this is also where high-quality content really comes into play. The better content you make on your blog, podcast, or YouTube channel, the easier it will be to get people to check out your landing pages and sign up for your email list. Great content creates better SEO, gets shared much more often, and naturally boosts your social media presence. This is where a long-game mentality becomes especially important, because the process will take some time. Focus on building up great content and consistently encourage people to go to your landing page by linking back to it whenever you produce a new piece of material. Make sure to give them a strong CTA, referencing all the benefits they’ll get from the free download. In the meantime, use your existing social media to promote your work and start making connections with other influencers in your space. Over time, your following will grow, and it won’t be hard to get more people on your email list.
Providing Value via Regular Content and Selling Your Material
Once people opt in to your email list, they expect to hear from you. So don’t disappoint them! Now that they’ve given you permission to email them, impress the hell out of them on a regular basis with incredible free content in the form of blog posts, podcasts, and videos. In the beginning, you’ll probably ramp up a bit more slowly; sending something once a week should be fine. But as you continue to grow, there’s nothing wrong with increasing the frequency to several times per week. Generally speaking, as long as you’re providing great content, people will want to hear from you.
The purpose of your content should be twofold: You want to provide something that genuinely improves your reader’s life, but you also want to build up enough goodwill to earn the right to sell to them. There’s nothing worse than people who have just met you and yet are already trying to hawk their goods at you. You have to start with some foreplay!
I started Rich20Something in 2012 and sent out content for over a year before I attempted to sell anything. During that time, I was getting to know my readers and determining the best way I could help them. I was trying to understand their needs and pain points, and building trust so that when I finally decided to sell something, they knew I wasn’t some fly-by-night scamster; I was Daniel, the same guy they’d talked to and trusted for months. Even then, I didn’t really get serious about turning Rich20 into a full-time business until late 2014. My readers had plenty of time to get to know me. This is the necessary work that you’re going to have to put in if you want to be able to successfully sell a product online. Don’t rush the process.
On the other side of the coin, remember: This is about business. You can’t be afraid to sell. Some people will spend years writing content, doing podcasts, and producing videos, but are afraid to send a sales email because people might unsubscribe. This makes no sense.
Yes, the reality of sales is that not everybody wants to be sold to. But what’s the point of building an engaged audience if you aren’t going to monetize it somehow? You’re spending valuable time to create meaningful work for people, and you deserve to be compensated for it. If some people don’t want to buy—or even worse, they get upset and unsubscribe from your list—that’s totally fine. You’ve just identified and smoked out the noncustomers from your community. Don’t ever feel embarrassed or ashamed to charge for something that’s designed to help people.
In order to sell people a product, you’re going to have to engage them with a series of messages that pique their interest and speak to them on an emotional level. You should introduce the problem (or make them aware of a problem they didn’t even know existed), then show them how your product could solve that problem quickly and painlessly.
To illustrate how this works, let’s create a sample product. Something simple.
A Sample Week-Long Sales Sequence for Selling a Digital Course via Email
Let’s say we’re selling a digital course on how to play the guitar. Why did I pick that? Well, I just looked around the room and saw my guitar. But this doesn’t even have to be an information or course-based product. It could be a physical device or a service offering. The guitar course is simply an example. Use the framework and ideas here to create something unique based on what your audience wants and what you have to offer.
ASSUMPTIONS: We’re going to assume a few things about our demographic and email list to guide our example. Do your own research for your market and email subscribers. For the purposes of this case study, let’s assume our audience is:
- Primarily male
- Twenty-one to thirty-five years old
- Earning a fifty-thousand-dollar average annual income
- Native English speakers
- Inexperienced at playing guitar (either no experience or at a beginner level)
Following is a day-by-day bulleted breakdown of how the email sequence might play out. (I’m not going to write the entire funnel out for you because, damn, that would take a long time and you can’t afford my copywriting services. But I’ll give you enough to paint a clear picture.)
NOTE: As you start reading, you’ll notice that I linked the skill of guitar playing to attracting women, because of the assumptions about my hypothetical demographic. This is an arbitrary decision I made because linking things to relationships, sex, or social pain can be powerful. You definitely don’t have to take that type of positioning.
Monday: Emotional Story
SUBJECT: I watched from the sidelines as he impressed her . . .
- Emotional story about your high school experience. Relatable.
- One guy was so cool—always played guitar and girls swooned over him.
- Looked so rugged playing in the back of his pickup truck. Held “parking lot concerts.”
- He wasn’t smarter or better looking than you; he just had a cool, in-demand skill.
- Pain of having no attention, not even knowing where to begin.
- CTA: Email me back—have you ever been envious of the attention somebody got because of a unique skill they had? Do you find yourself STILL thinking about it years later?
- PS: Tomorrow, I’ll tell you exactly what I did to snap out of my “mental haze” and actually start learning guitar—and start getting more attention.
Tuesday: Overcoming Obstacles
SUBJECT: The moment I held my first Fender
- Narrator makes a decision that he’s going to learn, no matter what.
- Goes into music store, picks up a Fender guitar.
- How it feels in his hands. He’s inspired and a little afraid.
- But then, realizes that he doesn’t have to master this overnight; it’s a process.
- Crunchy tactic: Take learning a new skill one day at a time.
- Once I had this realization, a feeling of ease.
- Now I help my students get that same feeling, and it actually makes them see success much faster.
Wednesday: Sales Email 1 (Soft Open)
SUBJECT: Finally . . . it all started to “click”
- Narrator starts playing, slowly, painfully, but progress is there.
- Starts to learn one of his favorite songs, and actually gets it!
- Not 100 percent confident, but brings the guitar to school, where the cool guys are.
- Starts playing and attracts a little crowd.
- Girl he likes says, “OMG, I love that song!”
- He can’t stop smiling, and at that moment, it “clicks.”
- He realizes guitar isn’t about the instrument; it’s about self-improvement and expression.
- His confidence is up 1,000 percent, and he keeps learning and getting better.
- Why did he wait so long?
- Now, he wants to teach other people how to have the same amazing feelings, so he developed XYZ course.
- CTA: I’ll be telling you more this week, but if you’re sick of waiting for this transformation, you can check out the course here.
- LINK TO COURSE.
- Course will only be open until XYZ. Add LINK.
Thursday: Sales Email 2
SUBJECT: XYZ course is now open—learn more here
- Yesterday I told you about my turning point, blah blah blah, and now I want to tell you about the course I put together to help you get there even faster.
- Here’s a tactic/strategy you didn’t know
- List features of course.
- List benefits of course.
- What if you had this? How much better would your life be?
- CTA: Click here to join the LINK T
- PS: Tomorrow is the last day. LINK TO SALES PAGE
NOTE: The difference between features and benefits: Features tell what the product does or consists of; benefits tell how it will help or change the user’s life.
- Feature: “Ten hours of modules in HD video, plus weekly emails to help you.”
- Benefit: “Learn to play your favorite song two times faster than you could trying to teach yourself.”
Friday: Sales Email 3
SUBJECT: Is XYZ course right for you?
- Identify all objections and prove they are wrong
- This course is right for you if . .
- This course is NOT right for you if . .
- “Future-casting”: Where will you be six months, one year, five years from now if you don’t take this step?
- Testimonials from current customers, if you have any.
- LINK TO SALES PAGE.
- PS: Scarcity: Course is closing Sunday—get it now! LINK TO SALES PAGE
Saturday: Sales Email 4
SUBJECT: XYZ course is closing tomorrow!
- Hazards of not taking action (doom and gloom!).
- Examples of people who were skeptical but for whom it worked!
- Challenge yourself. You have nothing to lose.
- This is the last time you’ll hear about this for a while.
- Brief recap of benefits.
- LINK TO SALES PAGE.
- Sometimes a personal video works well with this pitch. Just open up your laptop and speak openly and honestly.
Sunday: Sales Email 5
SUBJECT: Last chance to get XYZ course!
- Last-chance scarcity.
- Emotional call to action, reminding them of what they could do with material.
- Brief and to the point.
- LINK TO SALES PAGE.
I should stress that this is a simplified version of a sales funnel. Some sequences last for a few days, some for a few weeks. The duration and content of what you write will depend greatly on your level of experience, your relationship with your list, the price of your product, and many other factors, but the core elements are there.
First, build your relationship with your subscribers. Spend time nurturing your list and building a community. Figure out what you can sell them. If you’re not sure, simply send them an email and ask them, “Hey, I’m thinking about making a product about XZY—is this something that you would be interested in?” Then use their answers to validate whether your idea is worth pursuing.
If you want to be even more confident, you could even pre-sell the product first, before you even make it. Send your readers sales emails first, see if people actually buy, and only make the product if you can turn a profit. The biggest validation for your idea is somebody actually pulling out a credit card and purchasing it. This is a no-lose scenario for you, because you won’t have to lose time or money making something that people don’t want, and you can do this ethically by refunding people if you decide not to go through with it.
Building Your First Information Product
So what type of product should you build, and what should go in it? It all depends on how much time you want to put into the material and how much you would like to charge for it. Generally speaking, the more interactive the content is, the more you can charge. As you become more skilled at marketing, copywriting, and positioning, you’ll learn how to enhance your presentation to charge even more.
Here are five types of products, what elements they might include, and the approximate price point you might charge for something at that level. We’re not going to bother naming what the actual product would be here; that’s not the point. The point is to give you an overview of the possibilities and a good idea of the potential for what products can make at each level.
Product Type 1: T he “Tripwire” or Self-Liquidating Offer Price Point: Anywhere from $1 to $50
The “tripwire” is fundamentally an impulse buy that a customer won’t think twice about buying. It should provide a simple solution to a basic problem. Typically, it’s one of the first offers that they see from you; sometimes it’s even offered directly after the user signs up for your email list, on the “thank you” page (thus, the term tripwire). These types of offers are great if you are running paid advertising to your landing pages, because if even a small percentage of people who opt in end up buying, it will pay for some or all of your advertising expenses. Some experts also say that these offers are great for “conditioning” users to buy more from you later down the road, since they already feel a sense of security, having bought from you once before.
Typically this type of product is just a short e-book or a handful of basic videos explaining a topic.
Product Type 2: Entr y Level
Price Point: Anywhere from $100 to $300
Entry-level products are relatively low-cost, but still highly valuable. They are designed to solve one or two very specific pain points and generally aren’t comprehensive, but they are in-depth enough to be appealing. At the higher end of this range, the profit can really start to add up. For instance, if you sold a hundred copies of a $297 product over the course of a year (about two per week), that would be an additional $30,000 in revenue. Not bad! The material for this type of content can be PDF and/or videos. And you don’t really even need to place products of this caliber inside a special membership platform.
Product Type 3: “Bread and Butter” Price Point: Anywhere from $300 to $500
“Bread and butter” products are the go-to for many online marketers. The price point is a sweet spot between affordable for the customer and highly profitable for the business. At the higher end of this spectrum, the customer usually expects some type of membership platform that they can log in
- Products of this caliber could include audio, video, and text. The subject matter usually encompasses more material. Many info product businesses subsist off products in this category alone.
Product Type 4: Flagship
Price Point: Anywhere from $500 to $2,000 plus
These products are premium. They should cover an entire topic from top to bottom and include a wealth of material, and they are almost always hosted on a membership back end where students can log in to access, download, and ask questions about the content. They’ll typically provide HD video, as well as audio and text components. In some cases, there will even be a live component that includes webinars with interaction from an instructor to supplement the material. They are more expensive, so they tend to be a major purchase for the customer. As such, customer support needs to be really good, and you’ll need to work harder to sell courses of this caliber. But when you figure out the formula for selling courses at this level, both you and the customer win.
Product Type 5: Recurring Subscription
Price Point: Anywhere from $20 to $100 per Month
Recurring products or “membership” products are designed to provide continually updated content to the user every single month. The main purpose of these products is to consistently create something new that users will want to access on a regular basis. Just as with a gym membership or your Net-flix subscription, you continue to get billed while you continue to use the service.
While the initial price point on the product seems small, the recurring revenue per user really begins to add up. For instance, at fifty dollars per month, the average user will spend three hundred dollars after just six months, but the effect will feel negligible compared to spending $50 up front. This gives the user a much lower barrier to entry, while giving the business consistent month-to-month revenue. Typically these sites also have a membership back end where the user can log in, and the content can be any mix of material.
The Membership Back End
At some point you’re going to have to actually make a product. It’s not as hard as you might think. Almost all info products can be made with simple, consumer-friendly software that is easily managed, like WordPress. It’s not like building an app or something else that requires more involved programming; there are many inexpensive WordPress template options out there, and you can use them to create high-quality, professional-grade digital products that look like they cost thousands to make. You’ll even be able to password-protect your content so that noncustomers cannot access the material. If you can set up your website in WordPress, you can build your first product.
Rich20 uses a software called SamCart to accept payments. It is easy to set up and get running immediately. We use WordPress plugins called OptimizePress and ClickFunnels to build everything from tripwire to flagship products. They are inexpensive to purchase, offer great functionality, and look very professional.
Want more? Daniel is releasing a book called: “Rich20Something: Ditch Your Average Job, Start an Epic Business, and Score the Life You Want“. You can pre-order it here and learn more about what it takes to create passive businesses online.
The above was an excerpt from chapter 8 of Daniel’s book.