In a letter to his son, Bond, legendary marketer Gary Halbert once wrote that when selling hamburgers, he wanted one thing more than anything else.
He didn’t want the best, tastiest, most succulent, juiciest burgers out there, that set peoples’ taste buds ablaze.
He didn’t want the slickest marketing campaign ever, complete with colorful signs and a goofy, loveable, memorable mascot.
He didn’t even want the best, friendliest staff available, who would cater to every customer’s most ridiculous desires.
No, the one thing that Gary wanted more than anything else in the hamburger business…
…was a starving crowd, ready to rip each other to shreds for a morsel of anything edible!
It makes sense when you think about it–when people crave something so badly that they’ll do almost anything to get it, you have yourself a product that’ll sell, baby, sell!
Not that the other things mentioned above are bad, not by any means. In fact, a lot of the things listed above (a high-quality product, marketing machine that drives traffic toward that product, and a fantastic user experience) will ensure that you eventually get a lot of repeat business.
But especially when you’re first starting out as an internet marketer, too many people follow the Field of Dreams paradox:
They build the baseball field, and expect thousands of people to immediately start lining up by the carload on dusty, Iowa roads.
Shocking as it may sound to you, that’s almost never the case!
For every “overnight” success story of someone who hits it out of the park the first time they release a product they’re passionate about, Clickbank is littered with literally thousands of others that are damned to a lifetime of obscurity for one simple reason:
There was no demand for the product before the product creator started making it!
It’s such a simple fact, one that far too many people take for granted, myself included. I’ve written hundreds of pages of content for products that ended up fizzling before I ever released them, because for years I had the process of product creation backwards.
So as my gift to you, I wanted to show you exactly how you should go about creating a product from start-to-finish, so that you don’t waste valuable time and money on a product that’s doomed from the start.
1) Pick a Niche, Any Niche (With Some Helpful Guidance That Might Shock You)
A lot of folks in the world of internet marketing give you advice like “Pick a niche that you’re passionate about.”
While it’s true that passion can carry you through some of the tougher times, when you’re plowing through auto-responder emails at midnight on a Friday, it’s also equally as likely that picking a subject that you’re passionate about for solely that reason can lead to burn-out!
Not to mention that there may not be a hungry enough crowd out there for the product you want to offer!
You may love birdhouses. Tens of thousands of others might love birdhouses, too. You may think that because you’re passionate about birdhouses, and thousands of others are, too, then all of these other birdhouse lovers will simply have to have your product.
Unfortunately, the real world doesn’t work this way. You might create the best birdhouse book ever, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll reach every birdhouse lover by putting it up on Clickbank.
It also doesn’t mean that those thousands of other birdhouse lovers will necessarily flock (bad pun not intended) to buy your product because they might not find your product valuable.
I know, I know–shocking stuff. But you’d be surprised at the number of poor schlubs out there like me who took years to fully grasp this concept.
What you have at work here is a combination of arrogance and laziness.
Arrogance to the extent that you assume that your interests necessarily align with other birdhouse enthusiasts. People tend to value things very differently, even within like-minded subgroups.
That leads me to the second cardinal sin that you’ve committed: laziness. In the birdhouse example, you didn’t take the time to research your chosen niche well enough.
You may love birdhouses, but do you participate in birdhouse forums online? Do you answer enough questions and posit thoughtful questions of your own to be considered an authority in the community? Do you find yourself answering the same questions over and over again?
If you answered yes to all three of those, congratulations, you might have a workable product idea!
If not, you still need to research your chosen niche a bit more. Read blogs voraciously, like you’re combing the business page for stock tips. Start participating in online communities and reading the products in your niche that are already out there.
Because you have to go through this process, my advice to you is simple:
Don’t pick a niche that you’re already passionate about.
Pick a niche that you’re curious about.
Think about it, if you’re curious about a niche, then that means that you’re already interested in learning more about it. So why not go ahead and start reading about it, and participating in some of these online communities right now? I’ve got news for you: you’re not getting any younger.
If your curiosity blossoms into a full-on passion along the way, that’s a great sign–it means you’re on the right track!
2) Research Until Your Eyes Bleed
Okay, maybe not quite that much, but you get the idea–pound the electronic pavement within that niche. Join all kinds of different forums, even if you only lurk in some. Start getting a flavor for community lingo, themes, and most importantly, common problems that people have within that community.
This is where you’re gonna have to divorce yourself from your ego a bit–like I said above, you may think that there’s huge demand for your revolutionary birdhouse handbook, but what if most other folks are fine without any kind of birdhouse handbook? Even if your birdhouse handbook might benefit them in some way, they may not be willing to shell out $27 (or more) for it.
Instead, what you’re looking for here is simple:
a) A Knowledge Gap:
To me, a knowledge gap occurs when you see a lot of similar questions pop up within a given community, but no “cure-all” solution put forward. These often occur when a general question is asked about a valuable topic for which there’s no one right answer, but plenty of opportunity for worthwhile advice, and the possibility for incremental advancement.
For example, “How Do I Make More Money?” is a good one–no one “catch-all,” plenty of opportunity for good advice, and people can always make more cash!
Same goes for “How to Date More Women?” or “How Can I Lift Heavier Weights?”
Of course, these questions are a bit broad, but what you’re looking for is:
b) An Opportunity to Fill Part (or all) of that Knowledge Gap With Your Own Experience (or an Expert’s Advice)
For example, I hang out on the Warrior Forum a lot. When I first started out, it was tough to know when to chime in. After all, a lot of the folks on there are huge names–what did I have to offer them?
So I observed for a while. I noticed a lot of questions from copywriters and product creators about how to publish an information product on Kindle. I’ve done this literally dozens of times before, so I wrote up a short, handy reply and posted it up there.
Then, I got to work writing an information product of my own leading people through the process, step-by-step. It’s not finished yet, but eventually, I’ll be able to sell it or use it as a free giveaway to build my email list.
The point is, I waited until I saw a knowledge gap that my expertise could fill, and developed something valuable around that.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “What if I don’t have any expertise to draw upon?”
First of all, I’m almost certain that you already do have some kind of expertise. Think about the jobs you’ve had, hobbies, interests–pretty much anything you enjoy doing.
Then think about what you’re good at within any of those activities. Spend a good half hour or hour just writing out any ideas that come to mind in a notebook. You’ll be surprised how much you come up with!
Secondly, even if you don’t have any useful skills or knowledge at all…you can still partner with someone who does! Maybe you have a friend who knows a ton about how to make awesome WordPress sites, or an acquaintance who knows a bunch of “do-it-yourself” ways to fix cars.
Or maybe you admire someone’s popular blog and think you have a great angle for them to monetize their knowledge or entertainment. If you do, go ahead and write them a thoughtful note/light pitch asking if they’d be interested in partnering on a great business opportunity. You’d be surprised how many folks get back with you!
What this does not mean is to spam bloggers with sales-y, “Once in a Lifetime!” offers, promising them the moon and delivering moon pies. Only target those bloggers who you legitimately like and trust, and with whom you’d be happy to work.
And also, keep in mind that you should have a few ideas before emailing these folks! Vague promises of “information products that will make you both rich” simply don’t work. Approach them with a few specific ideas for products where there appears to be a knowledge gap, just in case they pull the old “What Else You Got?” out on you.
Keep in mind throughout this process, you’re looking for:
a) That Knowledge Gap, and
b) An Opportunity to Fill That Gap With Valuable Knowledge
That is the MAJOR COMMANDMENT of finding a product that SELLS!
Also, this is the point in the process where it doesn’t hurt to start looking at competitors’ products, especially the ones that are doing well.
Now, I know from experience, it’s very easy to skip this step! As a product creator, you tend to develop a whole “out of sight, out of mind” attitude about competitors.
This can be one of the most dangerous things you can possibly do! If there’s a killer product out there already on this exact topic, it’s clear that either the product creator isn’t doing a great job of connecting with the target audience, or you haven’t researched quite until your eyes bleed.
What do your competitors do right? What do they do wrong? How do they price their product? What kind of value do they provide for that price? These are basic market research questions, but they’re absolutely crucial to any burgeoning product marketer–better to identify a potential pitfall ahead of time so that you can sidestep it.
Two great sites to check out competitors are Amazon (obviously–huge search engine of ebooks) and ClickBank. If you’ve never heard of ClickBank, definitely spend some time playing around on the site within your niche–if you log in as an affiliate, they show you all kinds of stats on what products are doing well, and which ones aren’t selling so hot. Take notes on both kinds of products–how can you be more like the former and less like the latter?
3) Write The Product…and Edit…and Edit…
By this point, you should’ve identified a great niche and researched the hell out of it. This process could take up to 100 hours or more (hey, no one said this would be easy!). With practice, and repeated success within a niche or two, it’ll start taking less and less time.
Now it’s time to get down to brass tacks and write the ebook! There are a lot of different ways to go about this. The thing to remember is that ultimately you’re going to want to output a PDF file (and maybe several different other formats) of your product.
For shorter “freebies” that are meant to build email lists, I stick with Google Docs. I work from two different locations on two different machines, so Google Docs is ideal for setting up a basic document, being able to work on it from wherever I’m at, and exporting the finished product as a PDF. This also works well for audiences who care much more about the product and a clean, streamlined presentation than something that “looks pretty.”
Some of the more design-minded folks out there prefer Powerpoint, since they can use all kinds of fancy color schemes and backgrounds. I’m pretty sure this is what Chris Guillebeau used for his early products, and he’s one of the most successful product creators I know of, so it has the potential to do gangbusters business for you if done properly. He has a couple of freebies you can download to check out the basic idea.
For longer ebooks, I use a program called Scrivener. I stumbled across Scrivener when I was writing my first novel–the Word file for it was becoming cumbersome and slow even at 30,000 words–less than 1/4 the way through the book! I searched far and wide for a program that could handle longer projects effortlessly–if it could output to Amazon’s .MOBI format so that I could upload the book directly to the Kindle Store, then all the better.
Scrivener was just what the doctor ordered, and then some! It handles enormous documents with ease (dare I say “grace?”), and outputs in all kinds of formats, from PDF to .DOCX, .MOBI, and .EPUB. For $45, it really is a steal, and probably the most value I’ve received out of any software purchase I’ve ever made.
Once you’ve picked the program you’re going to write in…you have to actually write the product! I don’t know how many people have said they’re going to write something, only to peter out well before reaching the finish line. Hell, even I have a bunch of half-finished products just taunting me on my hard drive.
Here’s a thought that’ll cure you of that bad habit really quickly:
Every product that you start but don’t finish is money left on your hard drive!
If you don’t finish anything, you have a 0% chance of helping people, and a 0% chance of making money off of that project. Sure, even taking the above into account, there are still a bunch of ways that your ebook could flop, but by not finishing the book in the first place, you’re guaranteed to be stuck exactly where you are now, with NO CHANCE to do better!
Is that what you want? Stuck in the same rut you’re looking to get out of, continually pushing that same boulder up the hill, day-after-day, all for far less than you’re actually worth?
I didn’t think so…
Instead, do whatever you have to to ensure that you’ll finish your product!
Set aside an hour a day to work on your product. Make a detailed outline so that the words just keep flowing onto the page once you start. Make a deal with a trusted friend or family member that you’ll give them (or even better, a charity you hate) $500 if your book isn’t done in three months.
The important thing is to make sure you finish what you start! If you do, you’ll be better off than 95% of people who want to start writing ebooks and information products.
The day you finish, go ahead and celebrate–you’ve earned it! You’ll feel on top of the world, with a sense of accomplishment that will make you feel like you’re floating for days.
Unfortunately, that’s still not enough! Once you’re done, you’ll probably have a barely-coherent, half-legible manuscript. Oh, you’ll think it’s great–you really will. But one of the best writing tips I’ve seen is from (of course) Stephen King in his wonderful book, On Writing.
He says to stick the manuscript in a drawer for a month or longer and work on something else, just let it clear entirely out of your head. Then, once you have fresh eyes, take a look through it again.
You’ll wonder what evil alien managed to get its claws on your beloved baby!
We all make a lot of mistakes the first time through a manuscript, and the connection between what our brain thinks we wrote and what actually ended up on the page is incredibly skewed. Allowing a break from the project, though difficult as all hell, is incredibly necessary to gain distance and perspective on your ebook.
Once you have that perspective, it’s time to edit. I used to think that anyone can edit their own stuff–after all, it’s how I always do things.
But through the years, I’ve come to realize that’s simply not true. Maybe 25% of people can subvert their egos enough to be able to look at their manuscript objectively and make the tough, but necessary, changes to it.
For everyone else, at the very least, you should get a professional proofreader. Nothing screams both “amateur!” and “refund!” quite so loudly as a typo-riddled information product.
If you have the extra cash, spring for a true editor, someone who will both proofread and re-organize, re-arrange, and clean-up your manuscript…and make it “flow” better so that the reader gets more value out of it. After all, a satisfied customer is far more likely to spread the word about your product and become a repeat customer.
(As an aside, I offer said editing services for very reasonable rates) 🙂
What? There’s More?
Yep. Even when you think you’re finished, there’s still a lot of work to be done! You need an eye-catching “cover” to attract prospects’ eyeballs, even if there’s no physical copy of the product.
You need a copywriter to write rich, compelling, high-converting sales copy that will draw readers in, and naturally guide their eyes down to the “Buy” button, making them powerless to resist it.
You need a designer who can make that sales copy look great online, and make you look like a professional with high authority in your field.
And perhaps most of all, even in a starving crowd, you need to do some modicum of marketing to let them know that the hamburger stand is open for business.
“Ugh–is that all?”
Hey–don’t get so down! I’ll cover all of these topics in future posts.
And yeah, creating a product the right way is a lot of work.
But as with anything else in life, you get what you pay for. If you create a schlocky product with misspelled words, poor sales copy and a cover that looks like it was drawn by a 5-year-old not named “Pablo Picasso,” then know that your results will be commensurate, even if you’ve found the hungriest crowd on Earth.
But if you take the time to invest in your product up front…
If you write an awesome product that you know is the best it can be…
If you research the design elements of the high-sellers and strive to duplicate what works…
Your chances of your product succeeding will be much, much higher!
Need help finding that hungry crowd? Ask away in the comments.
Until next time…
D.J. Gelner is a copywriter, editor, “product doctor” and marketing consultant based in St. Louis, MO. For a free editing consultation, contact him today at firstname.lastname@example.org.