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Welcome to The Unconventional RD podcast, where we inspire dietitians to think outside of the traditional employment box and create their own unconventional income stream. We’ll talk all things online business to help you start, grow, and scale your own digital empire.
What to expect from this episode
If you listened to the podcast last week, you’re probably super stoked and excited to get started with some new passive income streams in your business.
And if the idea that you have involves a product of some kind, maybe an online course or a membership site or something like that, or even like a peer to peer product, you might have some hesitations in the back of your mind of, okay, I have this idea… I think I’m ready to try it, but like, what happens if I put it out there into the world and no one buys it?
And that is a real thing! It does happen. So that is not an unsubstantiated fear. It has happened to me personally, and to be quite frank, when that happens, it blows. It’s not fun to put a lot of time and effort and energy into creating something and then be really excited to put it out there in the world, just to have it fall on deaf ears and have no one or maybe one or two people purchase it.
It can be a little demoralizing and discouraging about the whole online business industry. So since I have gone through all of that personally (and if you don’t know my story, please check out the introductory episode of this podcast, where I kind of walk you through all of my wins and losses that have gotten me to where I am today). That’s a good story for putting everything into perspective….
But today on the podcast, I’m going to share with you some tips that I have learned along the way for creating a product that people want to buy. So foolproof product creation, essentially. How to create something that your audience truly wants so that you’re not wasting your time, your money, your energy, your effort, and your entrepreneurial spirit on something that doesn’t have a good chance of succeeding.
So in today’s podcast episode, we are going to:
#1) Review the first steps of product creation – ways to help you brainstorm product ideas.
#2) Then we’re going to highlight three popular ways you can validate your idea and why it’s very important that you validate before you get too far into the process.
#3) I’ll share some real-life examples of wins and flops so that you can get a realistic look at what happens when you do or don’t follow these validation steps.
And I’m talking about this because honestly, creating a successful business is hard and most people don’t get it right the first time. And that’s totally okay. But if you take the tips that we’re going to talk about in this episode to heart, you are going to be way ahead of the game. So that’s great news for you. Just by listening to this podcast episode, you’re going to be planting some seeds in your brain that will help you when it comes time to launch your very first product out there in the world.
How to come up with a product idea
So, first up, let’s go over the 411 on product creation. How the heck do you even come up with a business idea in the first place?
Step 1: Brainstorming
So step number one is brainstorming.
If you want to have a successful lucrative online business that’s selling a product to the world, it is essential that you are solving a problem.
This is the number one most important thing to nail down, because if you aren’t solving a problem, you don’t really have a business. So then the question becomes, what problem am I solving?
And to be quite frank, this is where I was hung up for probably like two or three years when I first became a dietitian. I knew that I liked dietetics and I particularly loved food, food science, reading about science, and content creation and teaching. Those were kind of like the common threads.
But it took me years of dabbling and trying a bunch of different stuff to figure out what problems I like to solve for people and not just what problems, but how I liked to solve them. So like the mode in which I help people and spoiler alert, it does not have to be one on one work. You can help people in so many other ways, including creating a product like we’re going to talk about today.
So if you need to catch up on brainstorming in this area, I highly recommend listening to episode 17 of this podcast. I think I call that episode “what to do when you don’t know your niche” and that can help you not only come up with an area that you’d like to work in, but also, like I said, how you want to help people.
Essentially, you want to be thinking about what are you good at? What comes naturally to you, but might be difficult for others. What do people already ask you for? And what are you trying to create? A product? A service?
When you’re coming up with your idea, think about the profitability margins, the scalability of the offer, and also the flexibility that it will give you in your life and your business.
Step 2: Market Research
So now that you have an idea, you’re not done yet. It’s very important to do some market research as well. So we want to basically nail down the details of what we’re offering and really what we’re doing and what problems we’re solving for our ideal client.
Once we know who our ideal client is and who we’re potentially trying to help, we’ve got to find those people. So if you don’t already have an audience of your ideal client, you need to go out there and find those people. And you want to be as specific as you can with who you’re trying to help here.
And then when you find those people (either your own audience or maybe you found some Facebook groups or whatever where you can connect with these people), if possible, you want to be able to talk with them and ask them questions and get them to tell you in their own words, the details of their struggles so that you can then make sure you’re hitting on all of those things when you’re designing your product.
So you could do something like a reader survey where you can ask your audience to give you feedback. You’re probably not going to get a super high response rate when you’re just putting a survey out there, unless there’s some sort of incentive behind it.
If you have your own private community or email list, maybe offering some sort of giveaway raffle as an incentive for filling out the survey, like you’re giving away a couple of $20 Amazon gift cards, you’re going to raffle it off, pick random winners, from whoever’s filled out the survey by the end of the week. Or maybe you’re giving away some books that you love or something else, like a tool or a subscription to something that your audience would really like, that can all help.
Just make sure that if you’re gonna do an Amazon gift card giveaway, for example, then you want to make sure that you’re not posting the link for your survey in places where people other than your ideal client would see it and be able to answer, because then you’re going to get really messy data from people who just want to try to win the gift card, who aren’t your ideal clients. So either make sure your incentive is purely aligned with something that your ideal client would love, or that you’re only showing your survey to people who you already know are your ideal clients, like people on your email list, for example.
Another thing you could do is kind of like a market survey. So find people who are in the niche you want to serve and see if you can set up a phone call with them. I’ve seen people do this even on their social media channels. I have never personally done this because for pretty much all of the businesses that I ended up creating that were successful, I was basically solving my own problems, so I already kind of knew what I was looking for, but if you’re not solving your own problems and you’re solving the problems of someone else who you want to get to know more intimately, it really can help to set up a phone call with other people.
I was listening to a podcast a while back with this guy Dane Maxwell, and he shared some top questions to ask when you’re on the phone call. He recommend starting out by asking, “What is the most important aspect of _______?” So whatever problem or area that you’re going to work with these people on… maybe it’s taking care of a child with celiac disease, or nutrition and sports performance, baby led weaning or whatever niche it is that you’re about to embark on, ask the person on the phone, what is the most important aspect of this?
And then they’ll give you an answer. Let’s use the example of taking care of a child with celiac disease. Maybe they say the most important aspect is making sure that they’re not accidentally getting glutened in any aspect of their life. And then your next followup question is, “Is there any pain associated with that activity?” Most likely there is. And so this is when they give you that golden information of where they’re struggling in that area that you’re an expert in.
And they’re going to give you at least one answer. And then the fun part you just get to keep saying, “And what else? Tell me more. And what else? Tell me more.” until they really genuinely can’t think of anything else.
And as you’re talking, make sure you’re taking copious notes. Maybe you can even record the call. This can just be like a 15 minute call. Just something brief. If you’ve built up any sort of following, a lot of people are excited to hop on a call with you. You can be extra clear it’s not a sales call. You’re just trying to chat with people and learn more and help.
Like you’re trying to connect with them so that you can help them better. Frame it that way so they know that it’s not some weird spammy sales call that they’re getting on. But it’s just an opportunity to chat with somebody for like 10 or 15 minutes, ask them what they’re struggling with in their own words, write all those things down, keep digging and digging until there’s nothing else. Say, thank you, great to talk to you and then move on to the next one. Maybe do this with like, I don’t know, 10 or 15 people, and you’ll get a great understanding, a deeper understanding of what’s going on with your ideal customer.
So we want to write down those problems, use the language that you’re getting from interviewing people and be as detailed as possible. And then as you’re looking at all of this stuff, ideally a solution will pop out at you. But you really need to get this deeper understanding of your market through and through, and then let their problems guide you to figuring out the solution.
It will always work better if you understand the problems that your ideal customer has and then you create the solution, rather than thinking you know the problems that people have and also thinking that you know the solutions and then just appearing out of nowhere like, “Hey, buy my thing!”
Like that doesn’t generally go over as well. It’s better to understand and connect with and learn about the person you want to serve for as much time as you can before you create the product, rather than creating the product and then popping out of nowhere and being like, Hey, like, look at me, I have this to sell you.
That doesn’t generally go as well. So we want to try to find a solution to these people’s problems that will be a win for you and your life and your goals and a win for your potential future customers. So at this point, you should have some sort of idea for a product and an understanding of exactly what problems you’re solving for somebody and how.
Step 3: Validate
And so now this is another place where people often go astray. They’re like, cool, got it done. I’m just going to go bury myself in a cave for three months. I’m going to put this product together. And then I’m going to reappear in the world with it for sale.
And that doesn’t really work. Even if you already have an audience, that’s really a dangerous place to put yourself in. It basically means that you are stepping away from building a connection with your audience and you’re putting all of your time and your energy and your money into secretly building this product that no one knows you’re working on.
And then you’re going to come back out into the world with a full fledged sales page and ask people to buy it. And yes, you can do that. And I have done that, but it has not worked well for me. So what I always recommend is, before you do any work on this product idea, why not take the extra step first to validate it?
Make sure that people want to buy your product or service before you build it so that you’re not wasting your time and your money and your energy, making something you think the world wants only to find out that that’s not something that people are interested in. So in my opinion, it is important to validate with actual sales transactions before you go all in.
Three ways to validate a product idea
There are three ways that you could potentially validate. I’m going to walk you through those three ways and then I’ll share some stories of my own experiences to help kind of flesh this out.
Validation method #1: Sell a Freebie
Validation method #1: You could validate something with a freebie first.
You’re like, what? A freebie? Aren’t I selling? Well, yes, but if you’re not sure that your target audience wants the thing that you’re thinking of selling, you could create something for free first and see if there’s even interest for people to sign up for free.
Create a killer free webinar or maybe a mini e-course on a small sub topic of whatever you’re going to help people with. Present it live for free. But even when you’re doing an event like this for free, yes, it’s free for the person coming, but it’s not free, free, free. They still have to give you their email address in exchange for attendance. So you’re at least growing your email list by doing this, which is wonderful and valuable.
So maybe put like a couple hours of content for this free training, a free webinar, a free mini eCourse of some kind. Let people know that when the live event is over that they’ll be able to purchase the recording at the end if they want forever access. Remember this is a live event. There’s no recording unless they buy it. So that’s an incentive to help people make the purchase. And if they really don’t want to, of course, they can show up live, and that can still show you that there’s interest in the topic.
And then you can do something like add on an additional bonus or something for people who buy to encourage purchases. Like maybe that’s how they’ll get access to the handouts. Maybe you have some extra worksheets for people or slides. And if you want to try to naturally bake in those little calls with your ideal customer, this could be a good spot as well to offer like a little 15 minute call with you. Obviously you might have to cap that, depending on how big your audience is, to a limited number so it doesn’t take up all your time, but that could be a great way to get on the phone with people and ask those questions that we talked about earlier.
And this could also be a great way to funnel people into whatever community you might be building. Like if you have a Facebook group or anything like that, where people can interact, you can use your free event to funnel people into that as well.
So what can you expect when you’re doing something live, as a freebie, and then selling the recording on the backend?
Well, let’s pretend you’re going to sell the recording for $97. And let’s say out of all the people who signed up, 30% are going to show up live. And of the people who show up live, a 10% conversion rate from your live audience is considered good.
So let’s say you get 400 people to sign up for the webinar or the event or the course, whatever it is. And 120 of them show up live, let’s say (so 30%). And then 10% of that would be considered a good turnout, if that’s how many people bought. So if you made 12 purchases from 400 people signing up for your event and each one was selling for $97, you could expect to make a little over a thousand dollars, $1,164.
And that’s a great validation that people are into your idea. And remember, if you book those little 15 minute calls with those 12 people, that gives you the ability to do one on one market research over the phone.
Benefits of this method:
#1) It establishes yourself as an authority on a topic, and that’s step one of building long term fans and customers.
This is you planting your flag in the sand and saying, Hey world, I know what I’m talking about on this topic. I want to help you. Come join my thing. It’s free to show up live. If you want to purchase the recording, like definitely go for it, get bonus worksheets, implementation tools, like whatever.
#2) If they buy, this can validate that people will pay for this info. And that’s what you’re looking for. You’re looking for confirmation that you’re hitting on a problem that people care enough about to pay for to solve. If people show up live, but not one person buys, maybe this isn’t a big enough pain point that you’re really hitting on and you need to go back to the drawing board.
#3) It also gives you low stakes practice with selling. It helps boost your comfort level and your confidence. But I know when you’re first starting out, asking people to buy from you can be hard. So this is a pretty like low stakes way. It’s like, Hey, this is actually free, but if you want to buy the recording it’s here for your enjoyment and to help you implement and blah, blah, blah. So it’s a pretty easy sell.
So that’s method number one, create something for free, live, and then sell the recording to validate that people want to pay for this.
Method #2: Launch a Beta
Another way that you could validate that’s pretty low risk is by launching with a beta. What’s a beta? A beta is kind of like a lower-priced unpolished, first-round version of your product.
So when people are doing a beta launch, they’re usually like, Hey guys, I have this idea for a course, but I’ve never done it before. So I’m looking for people to be founding students, like the first class to go through this program. And this is going to be my beta launch.
And as part of joining your beta launch, your students get a discount on what will be the higher price full, fully fleshed out product. They’re getting a discount in exchange for going through it live with you and giving you feedback.
So usually this is kind of like an exclusive offer, probably limited to a certain number of people, which introduces scarcity and gets people excited to sign up. As I said, beta members get to go through your course live with you as you build it week by week, and then each week as they go through the content, they provide feedback and suggestions for improvement. So it is really important that you only allow people into your beta launch who are serious and ready to implement.
What can you expect when you’re launching a beta? Well, usually courses are pretty involved, so you’re probably going to make several hundred dollars per sale, even at a discounted rate. I would say offering it for like maybe 50% off is typical. So 50% of whatever you hope to sell it for later when it’s fully done and polished.
To get the highest quality people through your beta, you can consider vetting your registrants with an application process. So it’s not something where they can just send you the money and they’re in. Maybe you have an application where they have to say why they’re committed and interested and want to be in the beta. And only those that are highly motivated and interested can join.
So they have to be invited to join. That also adds some exclusivity and some motivation for people to want to be in it. And yeah, then as you go through, you create the content week by week and release it to your beta group and you meet with them and you get feedback. So either you could do like group calls and get feedback, you could have a private Facebook group to collect this information. You could do one on one quick calls, email stuff, however it works for you, but make sure that you’re getting the feedback from people on all of your content and what could be better for the next time.
And then they should also be implementing whatever you’re teaching along the way as well, so that you can collect testimonials at the end. And that’s going to help you when you’re ready to do your real official launch, because you have social proof. And then as you collect this feedback, you can improve your content based on their feedback, and then prepare for your legit launch.
The benefits of doing a beta:
#1) It holds you accountable because you have paying members showing up every week or every month or whatever frequency you put out content, and you have to deliver. So you cannot procrastinate. It’s really holding your feet to the fire. Like this is it. This is happening. I cannot procrastinate on myself any longer. There are people out there waiting to hear from me.
#2) Your customers understand this is a beta launch. They’ve gotten a pretty big discount. That means that I don’t have to be perfect. It takes some of the stress off. They know this is a beta. I know this is a beta. They are here to help me make this better. So all you really need to do is show up, do your best, and then be open to the feedback that people give you so that you can make your stuff even better for the real bigger launch. So it’s a win- win. Your ideal customers are really excited to join in at this lower discounted price and get to work with you more closely. They get the transformation that you offer at a lower price, and you get feedback and suggestions for improvement before you start selling to the masses.
#3) And as I said, it’s great for testimonials, which will help you sell more when you do the official release.
Method #3: Do a pre-sale
And then the third method, which is my favorite, is the presale. And this means you straight up sell your product before you make it. Which is crazy, right? You’re like, how can I sell something that doesn’t exist yet?
All you really need to do is make a sales page on your website or wherever you make your landing pages that highlights the transformation that you’re going to provide through your product.
Outline the structure of your course or your product or whatever it is you’re making, but don’t make that the main focus. That’s a mistake a lot of people fall into. They throw up a sales page and they’re like, “There’s 12 modules. Each module is 10 minutes with slides.” And people are like, “I don’t care about that. Tell me what you’re going to do for me. What problem is getting solved? What relief am I going to feel? Put me in the shoes of where I’ll be three months from now, when I’m done going through your course.”
You want to highlight the transformation, the benefits, the outcomes, how they’re going to feel, or what they’ll achieve after going through your program. That’s what you want to focus on for the bulk of your sales page. And then you want to say when the course or the product is going to be available, and you say like, Hey, like this is going to start on XYZ date, but if you sign up now you get an exclusive, lowest price that I’ll ever offer (maybe 30 to 50% off).
If this is a recurring payment, like an annual fee or something, you can tell them, Hey, you’re going to get locked into this low presale price forever, which is a really big incentive. Cause if they don’t like it, they can cancel. But what if they love it? Then they get this 50% off discount potentially for life. Like, that’s amazing. So you’re kind of rewarding your biggest fans for jumping in early and believing in you. And this is what I’ve done for a lot of my products. And I’ll elaborate on that in a second.
But basically the idea is you have your idea,what problems you’re solving, what transformation you’re providing with your product. and you can say to yourself in your head, okay, I’m going to put this idea out there. I’m going to spread the word to my social media following, my email list, everything. And I want to get X number of sales in order to validate that this is a good idea that I want to pursue at this moment.
So remember, even just 1% of your audience purchasing is considered to be really good for the online world. So if you have an email list, let’s say of 2000 people, making 20 sales with an audience of that size would be great. If you have an email list of 200, making two sales would be great. So keep that in mind when you’re setting your expectations and your minimum number of sales.
Um, but it’s generally not going to be some like astronomically high number. Just a handful of sales might be enough to validate the idea for you. You just don’t want it to be like one or zero. Cause then it’s probably, depending on the price point, it may not actually be worth your time to go full in and create this product at this moment.
If you aren’t able to hit the sales goal, because again, what we’re trying to do here is prove to ourselves that we have a good idea that our audiences interested in that they really want to take cold, hard cash out of their wallet and give it to you right now. And if people are not willing to do that, you’re not ready for prime time. Something is wrong in your system and you need to go back and figure out what that is and fix it.
So if you don’t hit your minimum number of sales, you can simply refund those people and say, Hey, there wasn’t enough interest at this time, but thank you so much for believing in me and I’ll be sure to circle back around and let you know first when this opportunity comes back again if we refine it and reoffer it again in the future, and go from there.
If this happens to you, if you try to pre-sell and no one buys or one person buys or something like that, things to look at…number one, and you have to be honest here, do you really have an audience? Are you jumping the gun a little bit? This was a problem for myself. If you have 200 followers on Instagram and 50 people on your email list and that’s it, you just might not have the audience yet to create a really successful online product. Maybe you do if you have a really strong connection with those few hundred people, but on the other hand, you might not. So if that’s you, maybe go back and see, have I really been clear about my niche? Am I attracting the right people? Am I attracting anyone? And if you’re not really getting a steady stream of new people in your audience, how can you work on establishing yourself as an authority in your space, building trust and expertise in your field, putting out content that helps people makes them want to come back to you?
Another thing that might be wrong, perhaps you’re not really solving a true problem that people are willing to pay for. Going back to that question when you’re interviewing people, another thing I forgot to mention at that time, when you’re interviewing your potential ideal customers on the phone or in your surveys, you can even ask them “how much money have you spent on solving this problem already?” And if the answer is zero or they’ve never tried anything to solve this problem, even free stuff, it’s like, that’s a sign that maybe this isn’t a big enough problem that people are really driven to solve, and you might want to pick a new area to focus on. So that’s something to think about too. Like, are you really actually solving a true problem that someone has?
And then maybe you need to go back and look at your sales page. Like, are you really focusing on the benefits and the transformation and the outcomes that people will get? Or are you focused on like, this is an online course with three video modules. Like that’s not exciting, that’s not persuasive. So maybe take a look back at your sales page or your email copy.
And then double-check are you speaking your customer’s language? Did you really do a good job of going back through those interviews and those survey responses that you got from people and making sure that you’re relaying their problems and the solutions back to them in their own words? And this can be a problem with healthcare professionals or any technical field. Really like even myself, I catch myself doing this with website related stuff. It’s like, you know what you’re talking about because you’ve worked in this space and you know all the technical language. But your ideal customer might not.
So just myself as an example, if I’m ranting and raving about SEO all over my sales page, but my customers are like, I don’t even know what SEO stands for. What are you talking about? Like, that’s going to hurt my sales, but if I use their language and the way that they see the problem, like maybe they see the problem as, I publish blog posts and no one sees them. That’s a problem that they understand and I also understand and I can reiterate in my sales page and be clear that with my product, I help their blog posts get seen and actually get eyeballs and traffic to them so that they’re not wasting their time publishing stuff that two people read, because that’s not a good strategy for anyone, right?
And same thing with health care related stuff. If you’re going on and on about hyperlipidemia, people are like, I don’t know what that means. I’m checked out. So how can you rephrase that in a way that laypeople understand?
The benefits of pre-selling:
#1) It holds you accountable because people paid you and on your sales page, you set a launch date. So you said, sign up now for this special discounted rate and we launch on this date. So you have to deliver at that point. You have a due date to built in.
#2) By pre-selling, you can use the money that you generate for product creation. So if you need to purchase tools or a video camera or pay a developer, or you need to take time off, let’s say, from your regular business activities to create this new product, getting the revenue upfront can help you do that. So that’s definitely something that I took advantage of in the past, and I’ll explain in a little bit when I go over my examples.
#3) It avoids wasted time. So especially something like an online course, that takes a lot of time and effort to create. And pre-selling and validating that there’s enough interest to make this worth your time prevents you from sinking lots of time into this idea with no return.
My launching wins and losses
So let’s close out this episode with some examples of my failures or my flops and some examples of my wins. And then I will compare and contrast why they flopped or why they worked out so that you can learn from my mistakes and see some of these suggestions in real life.
Flop #1: The Body Bliss Program
Flop number one. And again, if you’ve listened to the intro episode of this podcast and you’ve heard my story, you might know some of this already, but flop number one was my attempt at creating something called The Body Bliss Program. I just have to laugh when I even say it out loud right now.
This was my first online product. It wasn’t really actually my idea. This was an idea that was brought to me by a Pilates instructor that was in Marie Forleo’s B-school at the same time as me. I guess she found me in the shared Facebook group for students. And she reached out and was like, Hey, we both live in LA. This is my idea, like I’m a Pilates instructor and I want to do this online at home workout program, but I’m looking for a dietitian who might want to pair up with me and help make easy recipes to add along in the course.
So her proposal was that we’d work together on this project and then co-promote it to both of our audiences and get people to join this 10-week online course where we have at home workout videos that she would make and then recipes, and kind of like mindful eating prompts and stuff that I would make and some videos that we would both film. So that was the idea. And, we called it “the simple workout and nutrition program for busy women”, which looking back it’s like so vague and not exciting. But this was our first go around for both of us.
So the results were, we spent three months, all summer, creating the content and the videos for this program. And we created everything before we sold it, which, Oh my gosh was the worst mistake ever. So we spent three months, like a lot of time each week for those three months, putting together this program and then we put it up for sale for $297 per person. And we sold three.
So why didn’t it work out? Well, Looking back, hindsight’s 2020, but…
#1) We really didn’t have an audience. So we were putting the cart before the horse, like way before the horse. We had this idea that, Oh, you attract people to your business and get people excited by offering a really great product. Not thinking about how really you need to show up and serve people for free with your social media content, your blog content, your podcast, whatever, you need to show up and be present and public and show that you have an authority in your space before you can just pop out of nowhere and be like, Hey, buy my thing. So we didn’t do that. We had almost no one in our audiences. We probably had 200 people total between the two of us on our email list at that time.
#2) We had no know-like-trust factor. Again, putting the cart before the horse. No one knew who we were or why they should listen to us or why, more importantly, they should buy from us. So that’s another reason why it didn’t go well.
#3) Were we really solving a problem with this product? No, not really. We had not done any market research. We weren’t niched down enough. This was a generic program. Like what did we say? We said “a simple workout nutrition program for busy women”. But we weren’t even specifying like the age of the women. We didn’t specify that these were like helpful videos that were at home with just body weight. Like there’s so many more benefits that we could have capitalized on and baked into our marketing, but we went like the most generic because we just didn’t know, we didn’t have enough experience. We didn’t understand copywriting.
We just thought we didn’t want to exclude people, I think, from our marketing. So we went way too vague and no one knew what the point of this program was or why they should buy. And she had, I think, two people buy that were former one on one clients that she had worked with.
And my one contribution was like my aunt who bought it. So then that just goes to show how much we put the cart before the horse. We didn’t even have one person from our online audiences who didn’t actually know us already buy. So if that’s you and you don’t quite have authority in your space or a clear niche, or like what you’re known for, or what problems you solve for people, you’re probably not ready yet to start launching an online offer.
Flop #2: The Dinner Club
My next business idea was something called The Dinner Club. And this was when I was trying to be a food blogger. And so my idea after the flop of The Body Bliss Program was The Dinner Club.
And I was like, okay, I’m going to try to make a meal planning program online that benefits bloggers. Cause I was a blogger and I wanted to have bloggers get paid to have their recipes included in this meal planning program and also help my subscribers figure out what to eat for dinner and have a grocery shopping list and everything.
So I made this thing called The Dinner Club and it was five dinners and a shopping list that were emailed out every week. And I had basically networked with other food bloggers cause I knew a decent number at this point because that was what my niche was. So I networked with other bloggers, some were dietitians and some were just food bloggers. And I said, would you let me link to your recipes in my meal planning program? And in exchange, I’ll pay you, I don’t remember what it was. It was like 20 cents per recipe that I featured per subscriber.
So the idea being, the more subscribers that I had, the more they could get paid per recipe that I featured. It was just letting me use one of their images in my email that goes out for the meal plan and then a link for the person to get the recipe on the other person’s website. So they’re getting traffic, they’re getting money, and they’re getting exposure. So it was kind of like a win, win, compared to a lot of these tools where they just kind of like take your work without compensation.
And I was charging $19 a month for my customers. And then of course, paying the bloggers whose recipes I was featuring, based on the subscriber count. So that was my idea. Again it flopped, but not as badly as the last time, because this time the product was a weekly PDF and email that went out. It was an email of the recipes and a PDF of the shopping list. Um, and so I launched it and I obviously didn’t have to work on it until I had at least one paying customer, which I got right out of the gate.
So I spent one day a week, I’d say, working on it. Finding the weeknight-friendly recipes that I liked and putting those into an email and then curating the shopping list and then paying the people whose recipes I featured. So just one day a week working on it.
And after a few months I had, I think, like 10 subscribers. So I was making, what is that, $190 a month from this service, which, might be great for some people, but the problem was I could see people’s email open rates and what they were clicking on with the emails. And I know I only had a sample size of 10, so it’s not great, but I could see that even the people who were paying me $19 a month for this product, they weren’t even using it. So they were maybe opening the email, but like there were weeks where no one clicked on the shopping list. So it was like, I was doing all this work, but I just had this gut feeling of like, these are pity purchases from my friends. No one’s really engaging and using the service, something’s not quite right.
I knew that it needed to be better to be valuable, but to be honest, I lacked the time, the interest, and the resources to build it out in a way that it needed to be, to be better.
So overall… why so I think this one didn’t work.
#1) Again, I had a very small audience at this point. I personally had maybe 300 people on my food blogging email list.
#2) Again, I didn’t do any market research. I wasn’t niched down enough. Like what kind of recipes was I sending out? Who is my ideal client? What problem was I solving with this, product? Maybe if it was niched down a little more… where I was helping curate recipes that are more difficult to find or certain specialty recipes, I don’t know. I’m just coming up with an example off the top of my head, but, maybe I could have niched down and said, recipes for people with corn allergies or something, and just take the mental load off for meal planning in that specific niche. But no, I did not do that. I just said these are recipes and they were all kinds of recipes, vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, meat-heavy. The only thing that they needed to be was like somewhat easy for a weeknight. And that just wasn’t good enough.
#3) And in addition to that, it was way over priced. If I had looked at my competition, probably $10 a month, max should have been where I was at and I was charging $19 a month. And now looking back and as I started to see how people were using the service, I could see the problems. And I did collect member feedback to get even more clarity on these problems. Butbasically people were struggling with, Oh, I don’t have time to make all five recipes this week. And they would say, Oh, I’m just going to make these two. But then the way that I generated the shopping list was completely by hand in a PDF.
So if they only wanted to make two of the recipes, there was no easy way to like redo the shopping list, just to include those two recipes. So then the shopping list was like completely useless and they weren’t getting value out of it. So, and in my head I’m like, okay, I know there’s probably a way you could make something to where they could select the recipes they want and auto-generate the shopping list, but I’m not a developer. I don’t know how to do that. So that would be an expensive and labor intensive thing to fix. And it just didn’t… it just didn’t feel like a winning business idea after I had done it for like maybe six months or so. So I ended up closing that down.
Whew. So those are my two flops and those are the reasons why they didn’t work. And I didn’t really pre-sell or validate or do any market research for either of those, which I’m sure contributed to their non-success.
But I just want to close out this episode by sharing my two wins because they are helpful and inspirational and you can see how I eventually learned through falling face first, into understanding how to better launch my products in a way that would make sure that they were going to be successful and worth my time.
Win #1: The Functional Nutrition Library
So the first one is my membership site, The Functional Nutrition Library, and this is something I created in the summer of 2017. So after the previous two failures.
And this was at a moment in my life where some of my side gigs were kind of winding down and I was like, okay, like, I really need to like get serious here and create something that’s going to work and not waste my time. Like my feet are kind of being held to the fire here. It’s like sink or swim.
I need to make some money online or I need to get a job. I really didn’t want to get a job, so I racked my brain about what am I going through as a dietitian? What struggles am I having? And can I solve anything? Or, and what problems might my peers be having that I could potentially solve and help myself out and help my peers out at the same time?
I think I was like two years into being a dietitian at this point. And at that point in my career, I had started to see clients online. I was starting to get more into the functional nutrition realm and learn how to work with people from that perspective. But I felt honestly really overwhelmed learning and trying to implement functional nutrition practices…. and all that I knew of at the time were some wonderful, but very expensive online training programs that I couldn’t afford at that time. So I was kinda like out there on my own doing my own research, collecting my own notes, and trying to stay organized and keep up to date with nutrition practices for various conditions, interpreting labs and everything.
I was watching webinars and taking notes and reading papers and had all this info collected in Evernote. And just connecting with people through Facebook groups and answering questions and communicating with people on various topics, sometimes I’d be like, Oh, Hey, like I had a client with this exact question recently. I did all this research, here’s what I found. And I’d like, share my notes with another dietitian and they’d be like, Oh my Gosh, these are amazing. I would buy these. Thank you.
And then after a handful of people started telling me that I’m like, wait… Am I sitting on a business idea here? And I don’t even know? I like ran it by my boyfriend (now husband) and he was like, Yeah, that’s a great idea. You should totally monetize these notes that you’re creating. Like they’re just sitting on your computer basically. Like why not? And this was kind of one of the first times that I actually got the positive feedback that he thought the idea was good. So that was a good sign too.
I was coming from the perspective of, I do not want another body bliss program on my hands here. So what I’m NOT going to do is to build out this entire website with all my notes and then be like, Hey guys, here it is. And then have no one buy. Like that was not going to happen again.
I couldn’t afford to have that happen again. I did not have time to waste on an idea that wasn’t going to work. So I said, I have nothing to lose. I’m going to throw this idea out there. At this point I had launched The Unconventional RD Facebook group and I had been running that for just a few months, less than six months. And it, it had maybe a couple hundred people in the group and I was like, okay, well, this is a group of a couple hundred of my peers. This is an idea that I have. I’m just going to post about it in the Facebook group and be like, this is what I’m thinking. If you want to buy it, here’s the page.
You could buy it at a really significant discount. I think I was selling annual memberships. It was going to be a membership site where I had all my notes and people could buy in at, I think like 50% off for the annual membership. And this was a presale. So I made just a sales page on my website.
I used a plugin called MemberPress to collect the payment and protect the content. And that did take me some time to set up. Even just the sales page was a little bit complicated at first, but now I understand that program and I could set one up really easily, but I spent the time just to make the bare minimum sales page where I could collect payments and have people’s information on my website. And then when I was ready to launch, they would get access to the content when it was available.
I think I gave myself like a two month or six week leeway, where I was like, okay, you can buy this now but it’s launching on XYZ dates. Like here’s a great offer, like 50% off. You want to sign up now and buy in. And I was telling myself if I could get just a handful of people to buy, then I would consider this worth it. And I would continue with the idea.
So when I launched it, again, I pre-sold it before I built it. I wanted to get my goal was to get 10 people to join. And I think at the time when, when it was going to go live at the regular price for the presale, I only let people buy annual memberships for like 60 something dollars, which was like half off (correction – it was actually $95!). And then when it went live at the date that I said, it was going to be $11.99 per month or $119 per year, and that was my pricing.
So I thought if I could get 10 people to join, that would make it feel worth it to me. So again, I created a sales page, I emailed it out to my list of 60 people. I had a Facebook group of about 500 and I got 23 signups. So about 4% of my audience purchased and I made over $2,000 in one day or one week or however long the sales period was.
And I was like, Oh my gosh, like, I’ve never made this much money online. This is so exciting. And I was just hooked. So then I got to build to work building it. And I had that $2,000. So I was able to say, okay, I could take two days a week for the next six weeks to build this thing out and not feel like I’m in the red. So that’s what I did. And then after it launched six weeks later and all the content was ready to go, people were able to buy monthly or annual memberships.
That first year I made $10,000 and I was only working on it one day per week, just making little small updates to the content. Maybe I’d watch a webinar or read a new paper and I’d add some stuff to the content. They were pretty minor, weekly updates. Then after that first year, I was like, all right, this is legit. This is a business. I’m ready to move it over to its own website.
I had actually launched it on my food blog because I didn’t have any extra money to waste, so yeah. I couldn’t even afford to start a new website. So I had just made a tab on my food blog for launching it initially. Um, but then after that first year and I made the $10,000, I was like, alright, I’m ready to invest, move it over to its own website. I started doing biweekly in depth updates. So maybe in any given month, I was working on it five or six days a month. And that second year I earned $30,000 and this is with no paid advertising, a hundred percent organic. And then the third year I was on track to earn at least $40,000 from the membership site, but at this point I had already launched The Unconventional RD courses and I was like really spread thin and burnt out.
And when I sat… (this is a technique that I use sometimes if I’m struggling to make a decision), I’ll just kind of like sit with it and ask myself the question and then like, try to feel the answer in my gut.
Like what feels good? What feels light, what feels joyful, what feels heavy, and what feels not great. And when I was weighing the two options between spending my time working on the unconventional RD stuff and working on the functional nutrition library stuff, the unconventional RD stuff was like pulling me towards it. And so I made the decision to not focus on the functional nutrition library, even though it was growing and it was getting more customers and profit year after year. I decided I was going to stop taking annual memberships in 2020. This was going to be my last year of working on the product as is.
And then in January, 2021, I’m gonna take all that content and eventually start dripping it out on my blog and try to build traffic through just my free blog posts and implement ads and affiliate links and try to monetize it in that way, because that’s what I love. And I don’t need a course and a membership site. I’d rather have a free blog.
And then my course is where I can share my insights from blogging with you guys in the courses at the unconventional RD. So that’s what I decided to do. So now it’s kind of been stagnant, around 30-something thousand dollars this year. Cause I stopped taking those annual memberships and I just said, Hey, once your membership expires, you can just have it for free for the rest of the year. So that’s, what’s been happening. And then in January, 2021, it’s going to become a blog. So I will definitely keep you guys in the loop on how that all goes.
But why did this product work?
#1) I had an audience. Not a huge one, but I had an audience of around 500 dietitians who did know, like, and trust me and had been in my Facebook group for, well, I don’t know, four months maybe at this point. And I had been posting almost daily in the group, building camaraderie and networking with my peers. So they knew who I was, they trusted me, and so that helped.
#2) I was really solving my own problem of feeling overwhelmed with trying to learn functional nutrition strategies and finding reputable resources. So I knew my own problem and how to solve it and how to speak to my ideal customer because I was basically creating a product that I wished existed when I was getting into the functional nutrition realm.
#3) I sold it before I built it to validate the idea. So before I had done one iota of work, beyond just like the sales page, I said, Hey, this is my idea. Threw up a sales page with an actual pay button that works, that would take money from people’s credit cards into my bank account to validate the idea, and that worked. I generated a couple thousand dollars and that was enough to validate for me.
#4) It worked because I launched it as a minimum viable product, an MVP. So I did not let perfectionism get in the way. I said, I was clear on my sales page, like this is a work in progress. This is a collection of notes that will continually get updated for infinity basically. And like, this is what I have. I put some samples of my own notes and was like, this is what I’m offering. I even said, I think verbatim on the sales page, like this is not an exhaustive or complete resource, but it’s something that I’m just starting and launching and growing and this is an opportunity to get in at a really affordable price. And enough people bought, so that was great.
Win #2: The Unconventional RD Courses
And then last but not least, win number two, the unconventional RD business boot camp courses. So this is my favorite. I mean, you’re listening to this podcast right now and the unconventional RD podcast. You probably know that I have some courses available to help dietitians learn how to get traffic to their websites, learn how to monetize that traffic once they have it, and then how to automate their sales with email marketing.
And this idea, those three courses, I actually originally launched as a membership site. So I was thinking, I had experience with a membership site already with the functional nutrition library. So I initially was like, Oh, I’ll just create another membership site on this other topic for dietitians who want to create passive income.
And my initial idea was, Oh, I’ll do three trainings a year on different topics. And the first one was going to be on SEO and I wanted these trainings to be focused on implementation and action. So not just fluff, but like, Hey, here’s what to do. Here’s a video on how to do it, go do it. And then we’ll support each other in this private Facebook group.
And at the time I was going to charge $49 a month or $490 a year. And again, I was clear that I was going to pre-sell it, because if this wasn’t something that my people actually wanted, I didn’t want to spend my time doing it. So I, again, pre-sold it. This time, I pre-sold it a lot further in advance, like six months in advance or something. Um, actually, no, it looks like I’m looking at my notes. I launched it four months in advance. So I did my very first pre-sale where I offered annual subscriptions to this supposed membership site. I was super vague in my descriptions. I did that in August before I launched, which I think at this point was like about two years ago. So about two years ago, I did my first pre-sale – annual subscriptions at a discount.
I was very vague. It was just like, Hey, join my upcoming membership site that’s gonna launch sometime in the next few months. I didn’t even have a date.
But I had built enough trust with my audience from just running the Facebook group and my email list that I made $5,000 in that pre-sale and I was like, sweet, this is awesome. That’s enough. And so then I started to get to work on it.
But then I was thinking, okay, it’s going to take me a couple months to put together the first training, but then that was going to put me around the holidays, like November and December. And I was worried at the time that that would be a bad time to launch. Like people would be busy. They wouldn’t have time to do a live training or they wouldn’t have the money cause they were spending their money on other things for the holidays. So then I decided to push back the official launch until January.
So I did a Black Friday sale in November of that year where I offered the presale offer again, but at a slightly higher price. But with more details this time, this time I had clarity on what my first training was going to be on (SEO) and I had clarity on a launch date in January.
So I did an official launch in January of 2019. Yeah. January, 2019 was my first launch. And I did another 5k in sales then. So between the three times that I sold it, I did the vague presale in August, and I made $5,000. I did a Black Friday sale in November, I made $7,000, and then the official launch where I started the first training was in January, 2019 and I did another $5,000. So all in all, I made $17,000 from this product before I had ever released or created one module. That’s crazy, Right?
And then I just made the training live, so week to week, in January and part of February that year, I just created modules every week and I did live office hours and I did the whole thing just like by the seat of my pants.
I had, of course, like previously made outlines of what I want it to do, but I was creating it week to week and just getting feedback from people. So that was great. So that was a huge win at the time. That was the most money I had ever made online from an offer.
But after I did that first SEO course and realized like how much work I had put into that first training, I was like, okay, this is not just a simple training that’s like something quick and I can do three times a year… I ended up making a full-on online course.
So I switched business models after that first training, I decided I didn’t want to make a membership site. The thought of having to create trainings at this level every four months for infinity was not something that sounded good. It’s not practical, and also would be completely overwhelming for anyone who was trying to learn from me. And not to mention a lot of the stuff I was teaching was really technical and would require me to go back at least every six months or so to just update stuff cause tech changes.
So I decided to make each training just a course that I would sell outright and I would do the three from that year cause that’s what I had pre-sold and then that would be it. I would just have my three courses. And at the time I decided to sell them for $390 each. They’re now $590 each, but that’s what they were then.
So I created those three courses in 2019. I honestly don’t recommend that. If I had to do it again, I would make one course and I would nail that down and make sure it was a highly efficient, automated income stream before ever expanding. Um, but that’s what I did. I created those three courses and then in 2020 I live launched each of them again.
Except now that I’m nearing the end of 2020, I’ve decided I’m going to go evergreen with them. So I haven’t done a live round of the email course this year. I’m instead trying to transfer everything over to be evergreen. And in 2020 I also raised the prices. So as I did each live launch, I raised the prices to $590.
And as of today, the end of September, 2020, so about one year and nine months since I launched. And about two years since I did the presale, these trainings have brought in about $175,000. So that’s just freaking unreal, honestly.
And why did it work so well this time?
#1) Well, number one, I had a much larger audience. So when I did that, pre-sale, my Facebook group had over 4,000 people in it. My email list was over 2,000 people. Now, almost two years later, I have more than twice as many. I have like 9,000 something people in the Facebook group and my email list is almost 5,000 people.
#2) Again, I was solving my own problem. Like that’s really been the sweet spot for myself, but not to say it’s the only way to do it. Definitely not, but solving my own problem and teaching others what I had learned and implemented myself was really successful.
People always say, Oh, the best way to master something is to teach other people and I find that to be true. And I just love teaching, so that probably helped too. I’m good at teaching. I used to be a tutor for a really long time. So I get to take that skill and put it into my courses.
#3) It went well because I sold it before I built it, to validate the idea. Again, I made $17,000 before I did one iota of work. So that’s great.
#4) I had spent the time to build the know-like-trust with my audience before I created a product. So I had been running the Facebook group for free for nearly two years at that point and I was getting feedback that even just the things I was sharing in the Facebook group were so helpful. But as the Facebook group continued to grow and the feed got busier and busier, I started noticing people asking the same questions again and again, and it was unorganized and there was no formal guidance or help.
And I could just see, like, this is nice, but it’s not the difference that I want to make and I know I can help make in our industry. So then I was like, you know, F it, I’m going to see if people want to learn from me. Like if they think that I would be a good teacher. And I put up the sales page for my training ideas and people bought it and it’s continued to be honed and refined and improved since then.
So just go for it, man, just do it. I hope that this was inspiring going over these examples today.
Your action items today
My action items for you today at the end of this episode…
#1) Join The Unconventional RD Community on Facebook.
Number one, if you’re not already in the unconventional RD community on Facebook, go join it. This is your place where you can go and share your ideas with me and your peers and other nutrition professionals and students and interns, get feedback, brainstorm together, share your wins, share your struggles and let’s help each other, elevate the profession and get more visible online and create more online offers to help more people.
So search for the unconventional D community on Facebook and request to join. And when you’re joining, there’s going to be a spot on there where you can leave your email address. And I highly highly recommend doing that. You will get weekly emails with links to the most popular discussions in the group. So you don’t miss anything, job and volunteer opportunities, which are posted pretty frequently. You’ll get links to the new podcast episodes that come out and a summary of the latest online business news.
So if there’s ever like an algorithm update, some new SEO news, some new platforms available for selling digital goods, whatever it might be, you will know about it first.
#2) I want you to set aside one hour this week to work on your own passive income product. So take some time reflect on this week and last week’s episodes and then also maybe catch up on episode 17, if you haven’t listened to that one, on finding your niche. And I want you to work at least on nailing down your niche and connecting with your people so that you can figure out what problem you’re going to solve with your product and how you’re going to solve it.
Then I want you, if you’ve already done that step, then I want you to think about how are you going to validate your idea before you get started? And remember we talked about three options.
Number one, offer it as a freebie and then sell the recording. Number two, launch a beta version with live participants where you’re building it out week to week and getting feedback, or number three, presell the offer before you start creating it. Say, Hey, this is available. We start on XYZ date. This is a great exclusive discount just available right now. Let’s get going, and see how many people sign up.
So there are so many ways and opportunities for you to make sure that you’ve come up with a good idea that’s speaking to your audience and then go out there and create it and feel confident knowing that you’re creating something, not only that your people want, but that’s going to be successful. That you’re proving to yourself and to your audience that people want to pay for and having that little boost of confidence and that little boost of money to invest in the product or invest in taking time away from other gigs to create it, is just so helpful and so encouraging.
I know this was a little longer of an episode, but I hope it helped you guys, and I will catch you next week. Next week we are talking with dietitian Jen Hernandez, about the slow build to entrepreneurship and taking the pressure off of feeling like you need to be an overnight success. We’re going to walk through a real life example of someone who slowly built their business over a couple of years.
Like that’s what I did. That’s what so many people do. And I want to normalize that and get into some of the details, and help pull back the curtain on what it looks like to slowly become an entrepreneur, in a low-risk way. I think that’s going to connect with a lot of you guys, so hopefully, I’ll see you next week with the next episode!
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Erica Julson is a registered dietitian turned digital marketing pro. She has over 12 years of experience blogging and building online businesses and has taught over 900 wellness professionals inside her signature program, SEO Made Simple.