So you’re probably hearing it from all sides that you should be getting into information products, and you probably have been for five years now. Yes? And you’re supposed to scale, right? And you’re supposed to stop “trading hours for dollars”? Get some freedom already? Somebody said something about making money while you sleep?
Right. Want to talk about that?
Here are seven things you need to consider before you get into info products. If, having done so, you discover you’re not really in a position to create them right now, feel free to shoot an email to the ninjas and they’ll hook you up with a signed permission slip saying you don’t gotta do them. (Make sure to bring it with you to that internet marketing webinar. You might need it.)
Information product question number 1: Can you create it?
Like, do you have the time and skill to write a book, record a series of audios, film those videos, or whatnot? To a degree, this is impossible to know before you try, but it’s completely possible to at least think about it seriously. My first ebook was all of 52 pages long and it just about killed me, and I was a professional writer and editor.
Had I known what it would take out of me to create it beforehand, I’m not sure I would have signed up for the job. (Then again, I would have also known how much money I would eventually make, and with that knowledge in hand, I probably would have taken the job. But if it had only gone on to sell 12 copies, you can bet your bottom dollar I never would have done it. I just about got divorced making that thing.)
You CAN hire the production of your info product out, but that costs money. The more you plan to put “in the box”, the more you have to pay people to do. To be safe, you should probably assume that your first three contractors are going to bail or fail at various points in the production process, and you’ll still have paid them for the work they’ve already done.
So if you hire it out, no matter who you are, how big your audience is, or what kind of info product you’re making, you’re going to have to sell a lot of those babies before you make your money back. This leaves an intelligent observer to think that for most ittybiz owners, if you can’t make it yourself, you’re better off selling those hours for dollars.
Information product question number 2: Does your product solve a definable problem that your audience overtly identifies as having?
Do they – right now, today – complain about something loudly enough that buying your info product would cause their spouse to weep with joy that they’ve finally shut up? If not, you probably don’t have a hot seller on your hands.
You may notice that some popular information products do not meet this criteria. You may notice that the creators of these information products have significant visible followings. You may think to yourself, “Well, they have a million fans and sold 100,000 copies. True, I only have a thousand fans, but then I’ll at least sell 100 copies, right?”
That is a very reasonable thought, and you are NOT stupid for thinking it.
What that thought does not take into consideration, however, is mob mentality. Assuming the creators are telling the truth about how many products they sold – and in some cases, that is a pretty erroneous assumption to make – one of the reasons they’ve sold so many products is because they’ve sold so many products.
Once enough people get on the bandwagon, a second and third and fourth wave of people get on the bandwagon because of the mob that came before them. It’s the Blarney Stone effect. How many people would travel three thousand miles to kiss a rock that millions of others had kissed if millions of others hadn’t already kissed it?
If you don’t have the initial mini mob, you will not get the mob. In the absence of a mob, you have to be really useful, and you have to solve a problem the potential buyer already says they have. Not “they already know in that special part of their soul that they have”. Nope. They’ve got to be bitching about it.
Some people have audiences that put up with less than that, but not many.
Information product question number 3: Speaking of audiences, do you have one?
Depending on industry and loyalty, assume that a well-launched info product will sell to 1-3% of your mailing list, if you have one, or 0.1-0.5% of your active blog readers/podcast listeners/video viewers.
That means that if you have 500 people on a mailing list, assume you’ll sell 5-15 copies. If you have 1000 listeners, you’ll sell between 1 and 5.
There are lots of ways to boost those numbers, but in the hands of an untrained beginner who has simply tried to reverse engineer what they’ve seen other people do, the odds that Suzie from Poughkeepsie will be able to pull off a better than average launch are, well, lower than average.
The launch of a first-time info product tends to go one of two ways. It will sell far more than it should (if the audience is loyal and happy for you and in the mood to be supportive) or far fewer than it should (if the audience doesn’t care that much and the product is lukewarm.)
That means launching your first product tends to resemble betting six months of your life on red. If it were me, I’d rather do that with an audience than without one.
Information product question number 4: Are you prepared to promote it?
If you’re still in the considering phases of launching an info product, you’re most likely in one of two camps. One, you’re a complete unknown with no existing paid offerings for sale. Two, you’re a service provider or coach being bullied and peer-pressured, or you’re feeling burnt out, jealous, and a little greedy.
If you’re in the first camp, and you’re new, there’s a very good chance you’ve never promoted anything of any shade in your life. What you’re going to have to do to promote is probably going to be a bit of a shock, to put it mildly.
If you’re in the second camp, if you’re a service provider and you’re any good at it, you’re probably used to getting a lot of business by referral. Karen is having lunch with her friend Lynn in Tulsa, and Lynn says she needs a [coach / copywriter / personal trainer]. Karen says she knows this great gal – that’s you, by the way – and in 80% of cases, you just scored a new client and maybe paid three months of rent.
Info products don’t sell that way.
Info products sell like mobile phones. You’re in the mall anyway, and you’re kind of bored, and you’re feeling soul-itchy, and you poked your head in the store, and you’ve been kind of thinking your phone is a piece of crap, and the guy’s good at cold-reading, and you come out with a $600 handheld mini-computer.
Karen in Tulsa won’t help you here. This, too, comes as a bit of a shock. If you want to sell info products, you have to sell them. “Sell” is a far more active verb than most people realize.
Information product question number 5: Can you take your ego out of it?
One of the reasons the indie publishing brigade likes to hate on “legacy publishers” is that the editors at the Big 6 expect a certain amount of marketability before they’re willing to sign an author. They, evil corporations that they are, are not interested in “books that could really help people” or “stories that need to be told”.
The indie publishing world has done a lot to thrive in the absence of the blessing of the New York publishing industry, but indie publishers have two things going for them that Suzie’s embryonic info product does not – Amazon, and a very, very, very low price.
Turn five dollars into fifty dollars and take Amazon out of the equation and you’re looking at self-publishing like it was twenty years ago – expensive, more than a little embarrassing, and quite likely to fail. The ones that succeed are the ones that are MARKETABLE. That means that, to an extent, nobody cares what Suzie wants to make. She has to make what’s going to sell, almost whether she like it or not.
Info products are not tools for the creator’s self-actualization. They are not there to make the creator feel good. They are products, and products are designed to sell.
Information product question number 6: Can your market handle what it would have to cost?
One of the key components of retail sales of physical goods is figuring out production costs, including salary, and adding a healthy markup. In the development stage, somebody is in charge of saying “Will the humans pay that price?”
If the answer is no, the product doesn’t get made, no matter how much the creator wants it to be. If Suzie’s cat hat with blue flaps is going to have to retail for $400 to make it worth production, well, those cat hats just aren’t going to see the light of day.
If your “book” has to cost a hundred bucks to make it worth creating, that book is going to have to solve a very big, very ugly, very painful and probably very embarrassing problem if it’s going to sell. “Get rid of your psoriasis” might sell for a hundred bucks. “Be a more fulfilled and passionate woman in this challenging time of transition” will not.
There is a cottage industry devoted to telling writers, authors and product creators that they deserve to get paid “what they’re worth”. Since the dawn of commerce, what something is “worth” has been defined by the marketplace, not by the creator’s best friend or business coach or favorite writing or business blog.
We must have reason to believe that people will pay what you’re charging. The rules for Suzie are no different than the rules for Coca-Cola.
Information product question number 7: Do you know why your buyers would self-identify as NEEDING this info-product?
“Want” is sufficient for $2.99 Kindle books. Start adding zeroes, and “want” isn’t good enough anymore. Your people have to feel they need it. Maybe they don’t need it to survive, or nothing would sell but air and water. But they must feel they need it to survive well, or to thrive. Consciously, they can be aware that owning this info product is optional. Subconsciously, though, it has to feel vital.
Some sellers are very good at convincing people they need things they actually only want. (Some are even good at convincing people they need things they don’t even want.) You would do well to assume you are not expert enough or amoral enough to pull this off.
As a first time info product seller, you need to know what they already feel they need, and why.
Let’s throw in a bonus number 8: Can you stand out?
An old saw in the marketing industry is that you have to be remarkable. Remarkable means “able to be remarked upon”. We’ll change that a little to read, “able to be remarked upon… without looking like a moron.” In Seth Godin’s book, Purple Cow, he makes the argument that a purple cow is remarkable, whereas a standard cow is not.
Sure, you can say, “Hey look! A cow!” but you’re going to sound pretty dumb unless you’re on your way up the Empire State Building.
The word we usually use is “noteworthy”. Noteworthy means “worthy of note”. “Hey look, another book about being more passionate and managing tricky times of transition” does not qualify.
It kills me to say that because I see a lot of wonderful books on this very topic, but if you hold all those books up in a row? Well, first of all, it’s a moot point because your arm would break under the weight of thousands of books on the EXACT same topic. But second, even Suzie’s “fans” would have a hard time truly distinguishing between hers and the other several thousands.
Standout means step-by-step where no step by step exists. Standout means a groundbreaking hook. Standout means a custom take. (Managing difficult transitions and being more passionate for widows is going to sell a lot more copies, and for a much higher sticker price, than it would if we took the last two words off. It’s heartbreaking, but it’s true.)
Standout means the product has to give people something they either couldn’t get before, or they didn’t know they could get it before.
Let’s go back to those evil publishing conglomerates. If you submit a book proposal, in addition to giving a DNA sample and the deed to your firstborn child, you’re going to have to answer two paradoxical questions.
First, you’re going to have to show which successful books on the market that your book is like, to prove that things like your book are already selling. Second, you’re going to have to answer how your book will be different from all those books that it’s apparently just like.
Like them or hate them, the book industry has been doing this for a long time, and it’s amassed some data over the years. You should probably assume that, absent a massive army of loyal fans, your info product should probably meet the same criteria as a book an expert believes will sell.
Sure, there are exceptions. I just don’t know how confident Suzie from Poughkeepsie should be that she’s going to be one of them.
I know these questions were hard. We promised you they’d be hard because everyone else is telling you this is easy.
It’s not easy. It is rewarding, and it can be very lucrative. It’s definitely worth working towards. But if something’s worth working towards, it’s worth working towards with your eyes wide open.
Too many people go to enough webinars that their common sense, which has always told them this might be harder than it looks, gets overridden by sheer volume and repetition.
It’s hard, but I believe that for you, it just might be doable. I believe that if you want to make info products, you can. I believe that if you work at mastering the process, you can be very successful. (And you can make a lot of money, even, yes, while you sleep.)