How We Launch, Part 1

Welcome to day one of our many-part series where we walk you through how we did our biggest launches.

What is it all in aid of? Teaching you how to launch your stuff, keeping you entertained, and (when we first ran this series), calling attention to our 12-month class about launches, cleverly titled BIG LAUNCH.

That class is in session now, so this series is here for posterity.

Now, on to the show.

Let’s talk about OBS.

OBS was our first big launch. To some people, it was the first big launch in this industry. (It kind of depends how you define the industry.)

Regardless of how you define it, you know the big, sexy videos and the 48-page testimonials and the live webinars? You know the book trailers and the hordes of “this person saved my life” ad banners and four-figure affiliate incentives?

Yeah, none of that stuff was happening back then.

Back then, a few people being closely watched by the Federal Trade Commission were making some pretty insane promises and charging two grand a pop for a binder and a box of DVDs. That was “launching.”

Around the end of that era, I got it in my head to buy one of those binders, find what was good, take what was bad and fix it, and make my millions.

It didn’t work out exactly as I planned, for which I will always be grateful.

The story so far.

I launched OBS (short for Online Business School) because I decided I wanted to move to England in time for Christmas at my mother’s house. My then-husband, quite reasonably, said he wouldn’t do it without $50,000 in the bank.

This was October. I needed fifty grand by December.

By this point, I had done the grand total of one big consulting push earlier in the year, and sold one product, a $39 ebook called SEO School. (More on SEO School in a future installment.) When I sold SEO School, I sold it with email support. When I didn’t want to do email support anymore, I decided to take it off the market.

When I took it off the market, I made a fair amount of money. (Enough that I eventually wrote a 5-part series on the blog called How To Make $12,246 in a Day, which was the precursor to Dave’s and my book, How to Launch the **** Out Of Your Ebook.)

I figured if I could make 12 grand off a 52-page PDF during the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympic Games, I could probably make 50 grand selling something more expensive.

And OBS was born.

What the offer looked like.

OBS was a six-module course in audio, text and screen-cast video encompassing six online revenue models. (Service, affiliate marketing, niche websites, and so on.)

It was designed to be a crash course in the six most common (at the time) revenue models for a new business owner. (Note! This would be a FAR too general product to sell in the current market, but at the time, it was exactly what people needed.)

OBS had a two-part offer. The sticker price was set at $397, so launch pricing would be $197. (Half off at launch is pretty standard nowadays. At the time, it was more “the product is for sale until it isn’t anymore”, so there was no post-launch price.) Then one day I had an idea.

I sent an instant message to Dave – who, for the record, I would not go on to meet for years, but had chivalrously offered to set up my mailing list and administrative crap remotely anyway – saying:

“I think I have an insane idea. Like, actual insane.”

A few seconds passed and Dave (who, I think, was at work at Lockheed Martin at the time) sent his response:

“Those are the only kind worth having.”

(In hindsight, this was probably around the time I realized that I wanted to have his babies.)

It had occurred to me that while, yes, technically I needed $50,000 to move to England, it might be useful to have some of that money in advance of my arrival at the airport. So I thought, well, if I sell it at $197 at launch, could I sell it for $97 on preorder?

So Dave and I made up a “sales page”, long in advance of any launch content being created, and long in advance of affiliate involvement, saying that there would soon be a product that covered the six topics.

It was less than a page long.

It was two paragraphs, six one-line bullet points, one more paragraph and a buy button. Like, you didn’t even need to scroll, it was that short. It didn’t even have a headline.

I sent a blog post out linking to the page, saying that if you wanted to preorder the product sight unseen, we would strongly incentivize you to do so.

We sold 130 copies that way, before any launch content even came out.

It’s not a strategy I would recommend for an ittybiz owner without strong loyalty elements in place (keep in mind I’d been blogging 5-7 days a week for a long time, and a lot of people had bought SEO School), but if you’ve got a loyal audience, this can be a nice way to get some cash in the door before you start the spectacle.

Once the preorder period was over, the regular launch with the regular offer began.

Now, on to the launch plan.

So here I was, reading the Big Expensive Launch Product, telling me that in order to run an effective launch, I had to do over 100 things. Among them?

  • FedEx a glossy information package to every potential affiliate, even ones you don’t know
  • “Howitzer Method” forums and blogs by creating fake profiles months in advance, getting several fake people involved in communities so that when the product came out, they could talk it up and sound credible
  • Create sales page scripts that allowed every person’s sales page to be customized with their name and a false deadline

If you’ve been hanging out around IttyBiz for any length of time, you can imagine my reaction to this to-do list. For one thing, there are the ethical considerations. I’m pretty sure we don’t need to go into that in any level of detail. (In case we do, DON’T DO STUFF LIKE THAT. IT’S GROSS.)

For the other, oh my GOD, that sounded like a lot of work.

So between Dave and I – he had the other Big Expensive Launch Product – we went through the respective binders, videos, audio files, partridges and pear trees to find out what we could keep.

We discovered we couldn’t keep much, and it was time to figure it out for ourselves.

So what did we end up going with?

OBS was an affiliate heavy launch. We already had a lot of affiliates from SEO School earlier in the year, so we sent them an email letting them know that something big was coming, and to clear some room in their promotional calendars.

I was going to shoot a video for the affiliates in my oh-so-hip new apartment until I realized that new apartments with bamboo floors sound like caves and look like prison cells. S***. So on Hallowe’en, in a snowstorm, I filmed it outside, up against the brick wall of my apartment building.

I thought it looked cool and trendy. It didn’t.

In the video, I explained the launch plan. (Explaining the plan avoids the two biggest problems with affiliate launches – not knowing what they’re supposed to do and therefore doing nothing, and greedy, panicked overmailing.)

We would come out with our first piece intended to go mini-viral called Why We’re Broke (and How To Fix It). It was a blog post embedded with an affiliate link. So if you, as the affiliate, sent people to the blog post and they eventually bought a product when it was for sale, you got a commission.

(The blog post had an opt-in box at the end where people could sign up for more content so you as the affiliate wouldn’t have to keep sending them if they didn’t want to.)

This way the affiliate was able to send traffic to a non-commercial page, but still get credit for the referral if it ended up resulting in a sale. Nowadays, according to the FTC, these links must be disclosed as affiliate links, but a lot of our affiliates did that anyway, even though it wasn’t legally required at the time.

On to the interviews.

After Why We’re Broke, we ran an interview with one of my previous clients talking about his experience with the revenue model we set up for him, and a couple of other pieces of launch content that were completely non-memorable.

As the pieces went live, each piece was put on the original page so all of the affiliate’s links (and our own) would still be valid, and all the launch content was in one place for those just coming into the scene.

As each piece came out, the affiliates could mail or tweet or send carrier pigeons or whatever they wanted to do. And come sale time, they could mail again if they wanted to. But a key part of the strategy was that if they only ever sent to the very first piece, they would still get credit for any sales they referred.

By the end of the launch content period, we’d got 1600 signups from that page. Sweet.

At the time of the cart being open, we emailed the list letting them know that they could get OBS for half price if they bought within the launch window. Affiliates mailed, and did social media stuff for those who were that way inclined, and we did our first big launch.

So how did it go?

I moved to England on December 11.

Lessons learned.

  • If someone is big and sexy but a total sleaze bag, it would be a good idea to avoid letting them plan your launch. Dave and I both had the Big Expensive Launch Products, and they both espoused some pretty shady stuff. We were fortunate in that we both have strong marketing backgrounds and could just make up our own way, but if we had relied on the “turnkey” systems, our reputations would have been in tatters.
  • Affiliate launches can be lucrative, but they’re a lot of work, and you need to be ready to do some babysitting.
  • If you’re trying a new medium – video, in this case – practice well before you need it. Between the prison cell video and the screen-cast learning curve, the whole thing could have fallen apart more than once.
  • For the love of God, add an upsell. I didn’t, and I left a lot of money on the table. (Truthfully, this is a lesson I’ve never truly learned. You should learn it, though. “Do as I say, not as I do”, and all that.)

Next you’re going to learn about the second launch in our series, known as The Launch That Changed The Way We Launch Forever. You should go and read it right now.

Naomi writes more things like this in The Letter. Get it for free today. (It also comes with free marketing courses. You can’t move for free here.)

About the author: Naomi Dunford started IttyBiz in 2006. In her free time, she likes to… ha! Free time. You’re adorable. Learn more about her here and catch up with her on Twitter or Facebook.