Far too many ittybiz owners never get around to creating their first product because they think the process is going to be too hard. (And if they get through that first product, it’s such an ordeal that they avoid ever attempting another one.)
This is tragic, considering how much money you can make from a product – not only from the initial launch (or release), but also from the passive sales that can pad your revenue for years.
Products don’t have to be hard to make. If you’re feeling inspired by an idea – and you keep your scope small – creating products can be surprisingly easy. (I explain how in Product In A Weekend, should you be interested.)
Products can be easy to make, if YOU don’t make the process hard.
When you’re making products, your biggest obstacles are the ones you put in your own way.
These are the things you look back at and say, “Damn, I wish I’d approached that differently.” They seem obvious, but only in hindsight.
After creating over 30 products in the last 10 years, I’ve had a lot of opportunity for hindsight.
I invite you to learn from my mistakes – and from how I’ve corrected them.
There are 15 of them in this post, and I’ll tell you the other 15 in an upcoming one. (Get on the list if you want to be automatically notified when it’s up.)
Ready? Let’s dive in.
1. Plot out your key selling points BEFORE creating your product.
When you write your sales copy, there are going to be about 3 to 6 key selling points you’ll use to say, “Hey, this thing is really worth buying, because [this thing] is part of it.”
Does it come with templates? Does it show you (specifically!) how to do X, and Y, and Z? Will it solve a small set of specific, high-value problems? These are your key selling points – the core reasons your buyers will want to send you money for your product.
Get a sense of those up front, even if it’s just a bunch of bullet points on a Post-It note. 10 minutes spent doing this will keep you focused on making those parts of your product truly brag-worthy, and help you say “no” to getting wrapped up adding other things that create product bloat.
2. Learn what your “creative work sweet spot” is.
There is only so much time you can spend in a day doing true creative work. (In my experience, it caps out at about two hours, max, unless the Muse has decided to stay for an evening of cocktails, catching up and creative seduction.)
Once you pass that sweet spot, continuing to create starts becoming hard. The kind of hard that feels like rolling a boulder up a hill.
Important: Rolling A Boulder Up A Hill hard is NOT to be confused with Regular Everyday Hard. Regular Everyday Hard is normal. You want to make a great product? That’s going to require thinking and decision making, which isn’t always easy. You just work through it, one step at a time.
But you will, without fail, reach a point in every work day when your creative brain gives up the ghost. Pay attention to how long your particular creative “sweet spot” lasts. Don’t push past that. Keep your brain fresh, pace yourself and you’ll avoid burning out – and your product will get finished a lot faster.
3. Think about actions, not categories.
A new product has a whack of moving pieces, which you’ll organize into categories like “launch” and “sales page” and “videos”. This is wonderful. Those moving pieces have to be sorted into categories you can manage.
But once you do that, you have to stop thinking about the categories themselves or your head will start to spin when it’s time to get to The Doing Part. “I’ve got to work on the sales page” will compete with “I’ve got to work on the videos” and feel overwhelming compared with “I’ve got to work on the launch.” (I’m overwhelmed typing that, and I’m not launching anything.)
Don’t think in categories by default. Think in next actions. Write the opening paragraphs of the sales page. Set up video lighting. Write the first email in the launch sequence. It’s a lot easier to figure out what to do (and to feel like that task will end) when it’s an action versus a category.
You can “do” an action. You can’t “do” a category. If you can use the word “stuff” to describe the type of work you need to engage in next, it’s not an action.
4. Learn new tech early so it doesn’t compete with product time.
Thinking of making eye-catching graphics with Canva? Or building your next sales page in Instapage? Fantastic. Tools like these are easy to learn and can add a lot of punch to your promotion.
They do have learning curves, though. If you save those curves until the end, they’re going to add up and start competing with the time you should be using to finish your product.
Tech learning curves are great things to work through when you’re past your creative sweet spot time. You can shift out of writing a new chapter of an ebook and just play around figuring out how to get your fonts paired in Canva without the time pressure of a looming deadline.
5. Be willing to reposition your product if you hit a surprise snag.
Sometimes you’ll be working on a product for a while and you’ll hit a certain kind of roadblock called I’m Not Sure This Idea Is Gonna Work Out. This is not a particularly pleasant experience, and it generally happens about 25% of the way into product creation.
Usually this happens because you had a really cool idea, you started creating the product, and you realize that your idea was not as robust as you thought it would be. (Ask me how I know.)
You imagined a 16-part video course, and you’ve kind of covered everything major by video 4. Or you thought you’d teach people how to do this really cool thing, and it’s a bit anticlimactic how few words it takes to do so.
A workaround for this is to step back and figure out how you can reposition the product type so it can still work. Maybe it was going to be a 4-week bootcamp-style product, and it looks like you don’t have enough material to support that kind of thing. You could turn it into a simpler 1-Day intensive or a DIY home study kit, and reduce the scope of your original vision. The bug becomes a feature, and you still have a great product to sell.
(A note from personal experience: This is also helpful if you have an unexpected schedule blow-up. You were going to spend 6 weeks on that Bootcamp and you’re waylaid for 3 weeks? Simplify, reposition, and create a different incarnation.)
6. Come up with 3 to 5 different names for your product early on.
This goes hand-in-hand with the previous suggestion – come up with a variety of different names for your product before you begin creating it. I personally like to go for 7 to 10 when I’m in the mood.
This is less to help with marketing and more to help with getting a feel for what shape the product will take.
There have been times when just coming up with a different name made me look at the product in a new way, and that gave me a flash of inspiration for how to make the product simpler to create or easier to use. (This is what led to The 1-Hour Content Plan instead of my original idea, The Content Planning Masterclass.)
There have also been other times when making that list of names made me think of an even better product than the one I originally envisioned. A potential product tentatively titled About Pages That Sell inspired The Ultimate Digital Marketing Template Pack during that name-game process, and that product made me a lot more money than the first one would have.
7. Become besties with Most Important Tasks.
Back to the “doing” part of your product. With all those moving pieces to work on, it’s easy to get paralyzed by the feeling that everything is important (and urgent).
Once that happens, you can’t decide what you should be doing NOW, because you’ll feel guilty that you’re not doing the other things.
This is a glitch in the brain. Everyone’s brain, not just your flawed and ruined self. Fortunately, there is a workaround, and that is picking your three “Most Important Tasks” for the day. (This is a thing, by the way. You can Google it if you want. Or you can trust me.)
Picking your three MITs for the day will not be easy at first. Your brain will rebel, saying, “No! Everything’s important! I can’t just do three things!” But you don’t have to only do three things. You just have to make sure to do these three things. Once you do those three, you can pick another three.
Unless you are on an unbelievably tight timeline (hours or days), you’re not going to have tasks that can’t wait at least a while. And if you’re paralyzed, those tasks weren’t going to get done anyway. Pick three for today, and you can break that cycle.
Just tell yourself, “If I don’t pick three things to do today, then I’ll never get any of them done.” Then pick anything. It really doesn’t matter. They’ll all get done eventually – and if you do it this way, they’ll get done a lot faster.
8. Alternate hard tasks with not-so-hard tasks.
Preventing burnout should be one of your top priorities when you’re creating a product – if you begin to hate the work or you just can’t keep grinding through it, you’re going to do the natural thing and bail.
Give yourself plenty of breaks from the hard parts by switching over to something that feels easier to do – or potentially uses the opposite part of your brain. Shoot a video, then go chat on social media for a while. Work on your sales page graphics, then answer a few emails or organize some files.
When you’re creating your product, think of it like moving into a new house. If you’ve been lugging around heavy boxes for two hours and your arms are tired, unpack some dishes or organize a bookshelf or something. The more you alternate tasks, the quicker your recovery time will be.
9. Give wiggle room for anything that requires back and forth with other people.
If you’re working with other people on parts of your product – the sales copy, website setup, graphics, etc. – everything will take longer than you think it will.
If the graphics guy said he’ll be done in a week, plan for two. If your VA says they’ll have your proofreading done by Friday, expect it by Wednesday. (Maybe of the following week.)
Other people have just as wonky a schedule as you, and they’ll overcommit on when they can deliver things by. This doesn’t mean they’re screwing up. (Well, it kind of does, but it’s within the range of normal.) Expect delays, and set your deadlines involving people earlier than you need them to be to give you some breathing room.
10. Stick with your current skills, “plus one”.
If you stick to the skills you are already good at, you can create products faster, more easily, and with less stress than if you’re incorporating a number of new core skills. But sometimes you really want to up your game by adding something new, and that’s great.
But new skill-building comes with that awkward growth phase where you’re really not sure what the hell you’re doing (or if you’re doing it well).
Video is a good example of this. When a person’s never done a video before, and they decide to make a video course, they’re all nervous on camera. They’re stammering over their words, they don’t know what to do with their hands, and you can see that they’re privately hoping they don’t look like a total idiot.
The same is true with upgrading graphics skills. Because the skill is new, it’s not surprising if an enormous amount of time is spent second-guessing cover design or trying to figure out if your font combinations look ridiculous.
That’s going to slow you down and reduce your confidence in your product. Not a winning combination for sales. If you’re going to incorporate a new core skill into your product creation – something you’ve never done before – limit it to one to reduce the impact. You can up your game one step at a time.
11. Make other parts of your business pay for your learning curve.
If you have an epic vision, the last tip will be tough to swallow. You want to make something completely amazing, and I’m telling you to add one skill at a time? Ugh.
If you really want to add all the cool things, here’s an alternative. See if you can add those new skills that you want to include in future products in completely separate parts of your business in advance.
You want to do a video course, and you have no experience on camera? If you started creating low-stakes, casual video as part of your content plan, that would take the pressure off of your product. You could get used to the process and make all your required, inevitable, rookie mistakes well in advance. Got a grand vision for audio? Make a podcast series in advance. Start making your jazzy graphics now, for your blog posts and social media images.
Then, when you’re ready to put the skill to use in your product, you’ll be amazing levels of better at it, and it won’t count as your “+1”.
12. Don’t throw in the kitchen sink.
I probably should have made this item number 1 on the list. When you’re starting out with products, you’re probably starting out with less confidence in yourself than you’d prefer to have.
This can lead you to compensate by throwing more and more stuff into your product to try and impress people. (And, if we’re honest, reduce the refunds you’re dreading so much.)
Don’t do this. Make your product, make it well, and let it stand on its own merit. Make something that keeps the promise of what you’re selling, and don’t add extra bells and whistles because you’re afraid people won’t buy it as it is.
Less is more.
13. Defer things you can fix later.
While we would all like perfection in our products, it will rarely ever happen.
Mistakes will be made. Imperfections and little things that make you wince will appear – especially at the last minute – that will take a while to fix.
If you fix every one of these before releasing your product, you’ll delay it forever.
You buy products all the time – online and offline – that have imperfections that you forgive readily and without thought.
Your customers will be just as forgiving. If video #6 isn’t quite as well lit as all the others, but you can still see and hear everything fine, you can ship that.
As long as the imperfection is forgivable, consider putting it on your list of things to fix in the few weeks after release.
(A little inside secret? The majority of buyers won’t open your product for a week or two anyway, so if you have to re-upload a file, almost nobody will be aware of it.)
14. Leave room for a version 2.0.
We all have times when we wanted to include something and just couldn’t make it happen. But it’s important to remember, if you can’t include something that was part of the original spec or vision? Its absence is known only to YOU.
Nobody knows what you “meant” your product to be like.
You, for example, will never know if I originally wanted to have this post featuring pictures of me holding up signs saying, “Leave room for a version 2.0”, or a downloadable content upgrade.
Let’s say that I did. If I leave them out because I’m not ready to create those things, you would never know. You’d just see a nice blog post.
The same is true with your product. If you really wanted to have a set of audio meditations with your ebook and you can’t fit it into your schedule, you don’t have an “incomplete” product. You have a product. One that’s ready to sell, and from the buyer’s perspective, looks absolutely complete. (Just make sure you didn’t reference the meditations in the ebook. More on that in Part Two.)
If you’re hitting time issues, you can always save that cool thing you wanted to do for version 2.0 down the road. (And when you do include it, you have a great opportunity to re-promote your product with Awesome! New! Features!)
15. Create products that invite upsells and cross-sells.
Ideally, you don’t just have buyers. You have loyal, repeat buyers who keep enjoying the process of sending you money for stuff.
It is easier for buyers to become repeat buyers when your products complement each other. As they come to your store, they kind of want to “collect them all.”
It is also easier to get repeat buyers if these products can upsell and cross-sell well. Products can refer to each other to increase awareness. You can create bundles and 1-click upsells.
For example, in my store you’ll see The 1-Hour Content Plan, Product in A Weekend and The Ultimate Digital Marketing Template Pack sitting side by side. That’s very much on purpose. People who buy one are very likely to want the others, especially when incentivized to do so.
Think a few products ahead and ask yourself what other related products people might want to buy after purchasing – and loving – your next release. A small amount of forethought could make you a large amount of money.
Creating a product is real work and you are awesome for doing it.
Part two of this post is coming soon, but in the meantime, there’s something you should know.
When you put a product up for sale, you’re doing more than just making some money when it’s released.
You’re giving new visitors a chance to check out what you’re like behind the paywall. (This is especially helpful for selling consulting or higher-priced offers later).
You’re giving existing fans something exciting to consider buying (or saving up for).
You’re reminding people that you are a for-profit organization, and that helps them take you more seriously as a seller.
You’re making something YOU can be proud of, which can help you bring more of your best self to your business.
Products aren’t just “products”. They’re like nutrients that feed all the other parts of your business.
I hope you make a whack of them.
Save this page to look back on when you’re making your next product, and you’ll save yourself a lot of easily avoidable heartache.
(Oh, and if you’re not on the list already, sign up to be updated when part 2 comes out.)