Product Creation Methodology

Earlier this evening I was watching some Luke Cage episodes on Netflix trying to recover from a long day when I saw a question flash across my phone while scrolling through Facebook Groups.

Just a side note, this is how many of us watch TV now – we start a show on a streaming service and then we fire up our phones and scroll through Facebook while we’re watching the show.  It’s phenomenal really.  The ability for the human brain to adapt and filter so much information concurrently is unreal – I remember growing up, we actually sat there, staring at the idiot box watching the show entirely engrossed.  Now, I am usually chatting with people on IM, reading stuff in Groups and watching the show – all at the same time.

The human brain is incredible.

Anyway, got off on a slight tangent there…

This question from my friend, Cate Richards popped up because she’s doing research for a blog post on her True Entrepreneur site.  Cate wanted to know how people in this group created products.  The question was particularly appropriate for this group because it’s devoted to sharing insights and tips on creating and marketing info products online.

Cate got a few good answers – asking people via emails and in Facebook Groups, looking at what others are creating and modelling that and checking Google Trends were just a few of the answers.

But there were two that I wanted to talk about – one was my answer and the other was from another friend of our’s, Ilana Wechsler who runs a really good PPC agency at Green Arrow Digital.

We’ll start with Ilana’s because I think it’s the safest and smartest way to go about creating online products.  Ilana’s methodology was to have an idea for a product, create a skeleton of the idea and then sell it to your audience before creating it.  Once people commit to paying for it, you then do the work to pull the product together and publish.

It’s what I refer to as “Just In Time” product creation.

It works because you don’t really need to take a whole bunch of risk in terms of time and effort – you create an offer, put the offer to your audience and see what happens.  The initial customers get a really good deal because you offer it at an introductory price to entice people in and effectively underwrite your efforts.

The downside, of course, is that once you get a few buyers, you’re pretty much on the hook for delivering the product in a compressed timeframe.  What Ilana did recently was offer a Masterclass that she spread out over like 8 weeks or something, so she only had to create the content a week ahead of time.  This gave her the ability to test the waters and not have to rush to complete something.

I’ve used this model myself in the past with mixed success.

The first time I did it was back in 2011, I created a paid webinar series and recorded therefore recorded the product live during the webinars.  This was a good model five years ago because webinars still held enough intrinsic value and had event cachet so people were willing to pay $500 for a four-week webinar series that they got recordings of.

The second time I tried this model was in 2012 and it pretty much was an awkward failure for me.  I wanted to create a fairly comprehensive information product and so I presold the idea to my email list (some of you probably saw this back in the day).  I got a few sales, but not enough to actually warrant or justify the time to pull the actual course together.

I’d taken a few orders but not enough, so then I had to refund people and thank them but explain that I couldn’t really justify the time for such a small return.  A couple people were pretty cheesed off, but most understood and were happy that I didn’t put in half an effort just to complete it so I could keep their money.  I know for a fact that two of the first subscribers to the Casual Marketer Monthly Newsletter were people who signed up for that product back in 2012!

Off the back of that experience, I swore I’d never make that kind of offer again.  Looking back at it, the offer was muddled, I didn’t quite articulate the value correctly and my heart probably wasn’t into creating the product anyway.

There was a bunch wrong that had nothing to do with the methodology of preselling before creation.  Since then, I’ve kind of backed away from my “Never Again” stance and would look at under the right circumstances.

The product creation methodology that I shared with Cate as the one I use is the one I pretty much indirectly talk about with you in these posts.

I listen to my audience and the marketplace.  I try and glean what problems and issues people are having that get raised on a regular basis but don’t have a clearly defined solution.  Then I think about whether I know how to solve that problem and if I can articulate that solution cogently.  If I think I can provide a solution, then I work out whether or not there’s an actual financial return available from solving it.  Most importantly, I ask myself if this is a thing I want to work on or not.

If all of those things pass my qualification process, then I take the risk, create the product and pull together an offer to sell it once it’s done.  The big difference here is that I take the product creation risk BEFORE I sell it because I don’t like the pressure of “just in time” delivery.

Let’s break that down.

The number one problem I think product creators have is that they try and provide answers to questions that nobody is asking.  They put forward solutions to problems that people don’t care about.  Your research should consist of identifying an actual problem that real people are having on a fairly regular basis.  To achieve this, you have to hang out with your audience.

Slight tangent coming… The thing that irritates me more than anything about people who become successful selling information products is that eventually, they stop listening to the public.  They get so wrapped up in what they’re doing that they stop being apart of the community.  Inevitably you see them start creating things that nobody asks for or has a need for and before too long, they slip into being irrelevant.  To understand your audience properly, you have to be part of that audience.

The next part of my framework is to establish whether there is an actual solution to the problem people have.  Again, so many people raise issues for which there is no actual solution available.  You have to have a critical enough lens to be able to look at a problem and decipher whether there is an actual solution or not.

If there is a solution, do you know what it is?  More importantly, can you figure out a way to explain the solution to people that don’t understand?  This second part is pretty important – some people are smart, but they aren’t able to clearly articulate their knowledge and experience to other people in a digestible way.  In essence, they aren’t good teachers.  If you’re going to be creating information products, then you need to be able to look within yourself and establish whether or not you’re a good enough teacher to pass that information on in a usable way.

This just doesn’t apply to information products either.  When we started our content business, I knew people had a need for well-written content and not everyone was a good writer.  The work for me wasn’t to identify the need, it was to establish whether or not I could pull together a business model and process capable of turning that content around quickly enough and get a positive return.  The point is, pretty much everything I’m saying here can apply to services businesses and physical product businesses as well as information product businesses.

Once I know that I can solve a problem then I get serious and think about whether or not there is a positive financial return for doing so.  This is where the “just in time” model works well because you know upfront before you do the work whether people are willing to pay or not.  In my model, I think about the price I need to charge and I back myself in that I think I should be able to reach enough people with a good enough offer once I have the product done.  I then have the benefit of time on my side – I can get my return over a longer period of time because it’s done.

Lastly, and probably most important for me, I work out whether this is something I want to spend my time doing.  I’ve been down the road of doing things that stack up financially and that solves a problem in the market enough times to know that if I’m not at least a little interested in the topic, it won’t hold my attention.  I’m not one of those, “You have to be passionate about your topic” kind of bozos, but I do think you have to have a natural curiosity about solving the problem.

So that’s it – those are my thoughts around deciding whether to create a product.  It’s pretty high level, but the thing that I think is vitally important is that you have to PICK an actual framework for making your decisions and stick to it.  You need to be able to qualify yourself in or out of opportunities.  If you fail to do that, you’ll find yourself creating random things because it seemed like a good idea and you waste an inordinate amount of time.

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