30 Lessons I Learned By Making Over 30 Products

As promised, here’s part 2.

(You can read part 1 here.)

16. You only need half as much content as you think you do.

Churchill (or someone of that ilk) once started a note to someone with “I apologize for the long letter – I did not have time to write a short one.”

I’m with Winston. For those of you who are IttyBiz veterans, you’ll have noticed that over the last few years my products have become leaner and more streamlined. (Which is my ego-protecting way of not saying “I stopped explaining concepts with endless metaphors and got to the point.”)

Buyers appreciate it when you keep your products as brief as you can get away with, while still being useful and valuable. “Brief” doesn’t mean short – it simply means “not bloated in any way.” No rambling and overexplaining and rabbit trails.

You, as the creator, will eventually appreciate the pressure this takes off of you.

The 1-Hour Content Plan is (probably) my best attempt at this. Short, simple, direct. It’s on track to being my best-selling product of all time, and it just came out last year. (Wish I’d learned that lesson earlier.)

17. Buy products often to remember what the customer experience feels like.

There was a period of about 5-6 years where I stopped buying information products online. (This mistake cost me a lot of money.)

But saying “no” to new products is not uncommon when you reach a traction point with your IttyBiz. Things are working out all right. There doesn’t seem to be a downside to just rolling along. Nothing major seems to need “fixing” or “building”. You don’t “need” to buy another product.

But when you don’t buy products for a long while, you lose your sense of what it’s like to actually be a buyer. You lose your ability to know, intuitively, what creates a great experience – as well as what feels frustrating when you’re the consumer. And your products suffer for it.

So I started buying products again – some that I wanted, some that I didn’t – just to go through them and gauge my own reactions to them. I took notes. I noticed little touches people put into their work that had a high-impact on my experience, and I started to find ways to incorporate similar things like those into my products.

I also saw things that were annoying and frustrating and realized OH MY GOD I HAVE BEEN DOING THAT FOR YEARS. I started fixing those speedy quick.

18. Buy products that cost what YOU want to charge.

Many of you want to sell higher-priced offerings. $500? $1,000? $2,000, maybe?

Good for you. If that’s the case, buy at least 2 or 3 products from other people that cost that much.

(…crickets chirping)

Wait, where’d you go?

Ah… there you are, behind the couch.

If you are going to sell something high-end – and you would like other people to buy it – you have to understand what they go through when they’re considering the purchase. What they need to see, hear, and have explained to them in order to come out from behind the couch and feel safe dropping two grand with you.

Selling became easier for me when I started dropping more money on products and services. I got savvier on what kinds of things made me feel comfortable with larger purchases.

19. Humor does so much more than you can imagine.

Many people approach books, courses and other informational products with some level of daunt and intimidation. Learning (and doing) can be a grind.

If you can take the edge off of that, you’ll get an amazing response from customers. (Do it consistently, and you can build real loyalty as well.)

Touches of humor boost attention (and retention) to a degree we rarely appreciate. They’re like little breathers and water breaks in the middle of a long hike. They spark the brain and refresh a weary learner.

They also take some of the formality out of the situation. When a product creator can inject some humor into what they’re creating, it creates an environment where people can relax. And your products start having a “special feel” that customers rarely get from other sellers.

Humor is also a very wide spectrum, and you can settle in where it feels right for you. What Jerry Seinfeld accomplishes with an dynamic whine, George Clooney can do with a knowing smirk. You don’t have to be a clown to be funny. (But be a clown, if you like.)

20. You can’t have too many visuals.

All my products are digital downloads (or live classes), so there’s nothing physical that changes hands. As with all digital downloads, that means it’s particularly hard for a buyer to conceptualize what’s inside.

Sales go up when you can show pictures of what’s inside. That’s true with digital products as much as it is for physical products. If you’re in the market for a new food processor, words on a box will only entice a person so far. Every additional picture or “peek inside” will help increase their chance of buying.

As a rule, we don’t like committing to (read: purchasing) the unknown. Simple screenshots of key pages / components of your product will take you far.

Create sections of your product that are picture-worthy. Hell, make it all picture-worthy, if you really want to boost sales. Then pepper your sales pages and ads with those images.

21. Take leadership of how people move through your product.

When you’re making a comprehensive product, it is surprisingly easy to overload people with information and things they “could do”.

You’re sitting there, diligently creating what you think will be the ultimate course to help people do X or Y, and you’re packing in everything you can to make sure they get amazing value for your purchase.

Awesome.

Well, not awesome. Your customers say “That course was amazing! I learned so much!” While they’re also thinking “Dear God, where do I start with all the stuff?” (Ask me how I know.)

Your customers need you to take leadership of the process of doing the thing you’re teaching them to do. Give them a compass so they can navigate the implementation part.

“Do these things in this order.” “Do this part first.” “Here’s a flowchart of the big steps and checklists for the details.” That kind of thing. Lead them by the hand so they don’t just sit down in overwhelm.

Leadership = higher implementation = more testimonials, referrals and more lifelong customers.

22. Give yourself a “margin for suck” (and take it).

You will create far fewer products (or blog posts, or videos, or emails) if you get wrapped up in making everything your best work. “Basic standards” are fine. Perfectionism is not.

What we, as creators, consider to be our “best work” is subjective and based on our mood that day. When we’re in a good mood, we create something and think “Yay, that’s pretty rad.” When we’re in a not-so-good mood, we think “NO! It has to be better than this!”

Sometimes you are correct. Sometimes the slice of what you are creating in this very moment is sucking to a degree that it’s embarrassing. That’s usually accompanied by a head scratching and a “No, this isn’t working.” You already know how to fix that.

But if you’re feeling afraid that you’re sounding lame, or that this section of your product might not be AMAZING, cut yourself some slack. A healthy portion of what you do will not be your best work. And that will be true no matter who you are.

You will produce an uncomfortably large amount of mediocre work. Allow yourself a “margin for suck” – and keep moving on. That’s how you eventually get through to creating the above-average stuff.

23. Feed yourself a steady diet of non-related content / products.

Your best ideas and inspirations will come from outside of your industry – in ways that you cannot possibly predict. We all lament about how “it’s all been said and done before”, but it has NOT all been said and done before.

Julia Cameron created the idea of “artist dates” – a regular habit of going out into the world and consuming creative work to refill your internal well of inspiration. Movies, museums, books, music, conversation – anything that’s not related to the projects you’re working on.

The workflow and layout of The 1-Hour Content Plan came to me after I started playing a new board game. I thought “Cool! Little cards that tell me what to do in what order”. The 300 ebook began to evolve after reading a book about plotting novels.

You never know where your next big idea is going to come from. But it is, in all likelihood, going to come from some random place that has nothing to do with your industry. The more content and products from outside your sphere that you consume, the more easily that can happen.

24. Scrapping ideas can save your butt.

There will be times when the product you’re creating just isn’t working out. Maybe it’s too hard to produce, maybe your premise was flawed, maybe you bit off more than you can chew.

You have three options: Delay, double-down, or bail.

Delay is nice if you have the margin for it. If it doesn’t truly matter when your product is released, you can take your time.

Doubling-down isn’t my favorite. It’s backfired more often than helped (because when you’re working twice as hard for an extended time under a tight deadline, what can possibly go wrong?).

I prefer the bailing option. Once you say, “Screw it, I’m not making this product anymore,” you can free up all that mental energy to think about what might be easier to make. You can start again with a fresh mind and produce something new and potentially more fun to create.

You are allowed break up with a project. It’s often the catalyst for something amazing.

25. Ask for help when your feeling stuck or stressed.

If there’s anything I wish I had internalized sooner, it’s that throwing yourself at someone’s mercy with complete and brutal honesty can fix EVERYTHING.

No whining. No winging. No angsty “The thing is, I’m stressed at all my work and I don’t know what I should do and it’s so hard and I’m just all scattered!”

No.

Call up a friend, and tell them the complete truth and explicitly ask for help.

An example:

“I am sitting here in my bathroom about to throw up, I’m so worried I can’t make this thing. Please help me calm down and get some perspective because I can’t do it myself. I’m falling apart and I need someone to be strong right now.”

I have been at both ends of this phone call.

Say the thing you are afraid you can’t say, and people will move mountains for you.

Being an entrepreneur is hard. You will have big scary Dark Nights Of The Soul, and mini, project-related dark nights of the soul. And not just a few of them.

When they come, call in help. It gets you through to the other side so much faster.

26. Picture where THIS product fits in your ultimate lineup.

You will create many products over the course of your business’ lifetime. They will eventually fill a store or a sidebar or a catalog.

But they are not there yet. You’re going to have to create them, one at a time.

That will happen way too slowly if you focus too much on THIS product, rather than your ultimate lineup. You’ll stall, you’ll delay, you’ll get caught up in other things.

If you know what your next few products are going to be, you can focus on getting this one completed so you can move on to the next one. You can keep momentum going and progress much more quickly.

Fiction authors are often told, “you won’t start making real money until you have 5 or 6 books out there.” The message: Don’t overthink book 1, or book 2, or book 3. Just get the damned things done. You are creating a body of work, not just “this next book.”

You have to be able to finish one product and move on to the next. That’s easier when you know what “next” looks like.

(The same applies to blog posts, list emails, and any other projects on your plate.)

27. “Outcome Independence” makes better products.

If you’ve never heard the phrase “outcome independence” before, the simple definition is “not caring about whether a specific outcome happens.” When you check your inbox to see if there’s anything new out of curiosity (but your hopes aren’t up for anything in particular), you have OI nailed.

Outcome dependence, on the other hand, is bad news. It stresses you out. It makes you less resilient. It makes you second-guess all your decisions. As soon as you care, you lose.

Getting attached to an outcome only makes it less likely to happen. When you NEED this product in particular to make you a lot of money now, when you NEED this product to be your big splash, when you NEED this product to be the best thing anyone has ever seen… it’s not a pretty scene.

The products I made when I had that NEED feeling were hard to make, hard to promote, and stressful. The products I made when I truly internalized “It will sell what it sells… regardless of how I feel” were easy to make, and sold surprisingly well.

(“Dance like nobody’s watching”, indeed.)

You have a staggering number of products in you. Any particular one doesn’t have to carry the weight of your hopes, dreams, and goals. Once you can let go of the NEED, once you can just create and release and see what happens, your output will skyrocket and your products will be better.

28. Keep your ****ing files organized.

At some point, you will have to come back to your product’s original files to make edits and adjustments.

You might change your branding. You might change your name. You might change the name of the product. You might need to edit portions of it to account for a change in your industry.

And these changes might not happen for 2 to 3 years.

When you are done with a product, for the love of all things holy take an hour or two to organize all the files and make them easy for you to understand later.

When you are making your product, you will make sloppy choices regarding what a file is named and where you save it. Who cares if you’ve saved key files in 4 different places, 2 of which you don’t even remember because you open them via Word’s “Recent Files” menu?

It’s not a big deal now because you’re working on this product now.

But in 16 months, when you have to change covers, and edit sections, and make new PDFs, you’re going to face a spaghetti mess from hell.

On average, this will happen more than a few times before you finally start learning from it.

29. Read from a script.

Some people swear by transcription services. I swear AT transcription services. Every word of every video or audio I make is prewritten ahead of time. This is because I tried to do it the other way around for BIG LAUNCH and, well, I don’t want to talk about it.

Your mileage may vary on this one. Some people find prewriting so intimidating that they give up on the whole affair and watch a Gilmore Girls marathon. If you think you’re better riffing it and making it the transcriptionist’s problem, feel free to ignore me and do this one your own way.

30. Don’t mention the name of the product in the product.

It is not uncommon to decide to change the name of a product mid-stream. (Or, truth be told, days before release.)

Sometimes you discover your product’s name is confusing, not as clever as you had hoped, or (ack!) already in use by someone else. Or you change your branding, and therefore want to rename your product. Or, at the last minute, you come up with a name that’s pure marketing gold.

If you’ve already peppered your PDF with your product’s name, you’ve got an tedious editing job on your hands.

If you’ve already recorded a whack of audios or videos… oops.

If you can avoid saying your product’s name in any audio or videos, do so.

If you feel like you must state it out loud, then do it in a way that’s distinct and separate from your main file (dedicated intro voiceover into for audio, or dedicated intro splash for video).

That way if you need to change it later, the part where you say the name of your product won’t sound “off”.

That’s what I’ve got for today.

There you have it.

30 things I learned the hard way, so you don’t have to. (Again, part 1 is here if you haven’t read it yet.)

Good luck with your products – each and every one of them.

(And if you have a second, click one of those share buttons down there. Gracias!)