“How do you bring in a chunk of money, fast (within one to two months), for a Cool Business Thing, without burning out your list (and without spending a ton of time you don't have)? For bonus points: you've tried “run a sale” and the results were distinctly underwhelming.”
Hi, Ali! Thanks for the great question. I shall divide it into two parts and then masterfully combine them at the end.
First, the underwhelming sale.
Underwhelming sales happen for a few reasons. Assuming your expectations were reasonable in the first place – and knowing you, I’m sure they were – there are a few factors that could be responsible:
First, sales page problems.
Sometimes products do well in launches but not so well after the fact in sales and promotions. This is especially likely to happen when you have a loyal audience. The audience likes you, and likes what you make, so when you come out with something new, they’re jazzed to get in on it. The most loyal audience members (read: the most likely buyers) buy immediately, generally without paying too much attention to the sales page.
When it comes time to sell the product after the fact, the loyal don’t-even-bother-to-read-the-page buyers have already bought, and there’s no launch timeliness going on anymore. That leaves… the sales page. If the sales page is lackluster, less loyal fans look, say “oh, neat”, and go back to their Instagram feed.
Second, a large (relative) buyer base.
If a relatively high percentage of your list is made up of people who really like you, that means a relatively high percentage of potential buyers have already bought. There’s nothing left for them to buy. (More on this later.)
Third, you’ve been friendzoned.
(For those who don’t know the term, being friendzoned is a dating metaphor. It’s what happens when one member of a friendship wants to take the relationship in a romantic direction, but the other person only sees them as a friend.) The business equivalent of this happens a lot in content marketing. You have a bunch of people who really, really, really like you, but they see you as a nice, helpful friend – not as a vendor of goods and services. Sometimes this is so entrenched that they will actually get in touch with you to communicate how happy they are that you’ve made a product or introduced a service – but it would never occur to them to avail themselves of it.
Many people don’t know they’re in the friendzone if their products are reasonably priced and they tend to drop their prices at launch. The hype of launch will encourage friends to buy “to support you”. But that’s the only reason they do it. They’re being supportive of your enterprise, but they don’t really self-identify as a customer of that enterprise.
How to deal with the friendzone is a bigger topic for another day, but it is a contributor to lackluster sales.
Next, how to make a chunk of money without burning your list.
(If you’re new, burning your list means exposing the people on your mailing list to so many sales messages – of one thing, or of several – in a short period of time that they experience burnout. Sometimes it’s a little burnout, where they’re overwhelmed and need to pull back for a bit. Sometimes it’s a big burnout where they think you’re a big fat selly-pants and they unsubscribe for good.)
Since you’re looking at something short term, and you’re looking for a chunk of money rather than a whole new revenue stream, here are some thoughts.
1. Consider running something in beta.
Burn happens more with intensity than with quantity. You know when someone’s doing a big new launch, or they’re rebranding, or they’re trying to “get serious”? And the first thing (email, launch, promotion, whatever) is pretty cool and interesting? And the next one is pretty cool and interesting? But soon enough, it’s exhausting just to read the emails, let alone consider buying something?
Lists can handle a surprising amount of sales content if it’s not… serious. Or heavy.
Running something as a beta or trial has a lot more lightness to it. Beta is fun. Beta is interesting. We run betas on things that are new and different. There’s an experimental, playful quality to beta offerings that can be refreshing in an otherwise Very Freaking Serious marketplace.
Betas and trials are also good if you want to do something that is noticeably different than what you normally offer. If you’re doing something new and fresh, it may not be easily slotted into your normal offering lineup, and people can get confused by your direction. If you make it a trial or beta, they don’t have to put your offer into their neat little box. It’s a beta! It’s supposed to be weird!
(We also associate beta offerings with heavy promotion, too, which means you have room to promote pretty hard if you want to. More on that in a sec.)
2. Be more personal than usual.
If you take a different tone than you usually do, the peek behind the normally professional scenes can make an otherwise list-burn-potential promotion interesting rather than exhausting. If you’re more casual in your language, more personal in your communication, more transparent in your approach, that can mitigate the burn.
(Steve Pavlina is an excellent example of this. He just lays it all out there. He’s very personal in his promotions – which are all super weird, and I buy all of them. He explains his rationale for everything he does, even including his pricing. The personal aspect of his communication makes me feel like he’s a cool guy doing something neat, not a slick business owner out to get my $300.)
3. Try for intrinsic scarcity.
Of course, scarcity sells. But as you may have found in your underwhelming sale, some scarcity sells better than others. In general, naturally occurring scarcity prompts decisions far more effectively than engineered scarcity.
Imagine there’s a musician you like. They will be playing in a town near you next Friday, and tickets are $20 each.
When you find out about this show, you have a decision to make, and you MUST make it quickly. Do you want to go? Or do you not want to go? Decide now, or the decision will be made for you. The scarcity is real – the concert is on Friday. You don’t get to decide in May, when you’ve got more time to think. You must make one simple decision now.
Now imagine a different scenario. The same musician has a new double album coming out, something different than they usually make. It’s going to be $50 for the snazzy collector’s edition thingamajig, but if you buy in this particular window of time, it’s $40.
This is a more complex decision. You’re going to decide if you want the double album, yes, but you don’t have to decide – now or ever. You can wait. You can wait theoretically forever. Sure, you can save $10 by making a decision now, but $10 isn’t a high enough amount of money to make it worth rushing the choice.
So you have to decide if you want it and if you want it right now. It’s not going anywhere. The fee for deciding later is only $10.
In addition to this, we have an intrinsic comprehension of calendars. If we know you’re not usually a big fat selly-pants but you’re bugging the crap out of us right now because Friday is a-coming, we usually don’t mind too much. We know it will be done soon enough. So we don’t blame you for hammering us. It’s the calendar’s fault, not yours.
So if you want to create something to make money in a short window, and you don’t want it to overly tax your list, try for something with intrinsic scarcity. That’s going to either be something with a legitimately, honest-to-God limited number of copies (tough to pull off in a digital world) or something live that occurs at a particular time.
4. Make a hell of a fuss.
All that being said, this is a good time to cause a bit of a scene. Mail a little more often than you usually would. Be extra strategic with your subject lines and headlines. Push a little in social media.
If you’re doing something in beta…
and you’re being more personal than you usually are…
and you have legitimate, intrinsic, organic scarcity?
This is why God invented Making A Fuss.
You’re allowed to be proud of what you make. You’re allowed to cause a bit of a scene.
So… My Advice.
Make something new and fresh.
Use beta or trial language in its presentation.
Try for something like an event rather than a product.
And raise some hell.
Those are your best odds.
Thanks for the great question, Ali, and good luck with your Cool New Thing.