True confession: I built my online business in the most backward way possible. And I’m here to share my sordid tale so you don’t make the same mistakes I did.
I want to save you from years of frustration, months of waffling, and full days of stumbling around in a fog.
If only I had this information when I started!
But it brings me some consolation to know that you’ll have it. That you won’t need to experience the painful process of birthing an online business quite the same way I did.
Let’s start with what not to do.
Overachievers Anonymous, our meeting has begun
Back in late 2009, I signed up for Copyblogger’s Teaching Sells course.
I had been running my design and marketing firm for almost 20 years. I was longing for a change of pace and a new challenge.
And creating an online business based on the expertise I’d built up for decades seemed like a great idea.
So I dug into the full Teaching Sells course with the hunger of someone who needed to know everything. And it delivered everything I needed, and more.
I took many pages of notes. I bounced ideas off of other students in the forum. I tuned in to the Q&A sessions. I was all-in.
I was inspired.
And I decided, in all my overachieving glory, that I needed to build something similar to what I was experiencing in Teaching Sells.
I wanted to create an Interactive Learning Environment to teach my area of expertise: building a brand with the combination of good design and strategic marketing decisions.
And that was my first mistake. I bit off way more than I could (or should) chew.
The hard way to learn to test an idea first
You see, it turns out that it’s not a good idea to build an elaborate, complex, extremely thorough membership site around a topic you haven’t actually tested.
Stop laughing. I know this is obvious! At least, now I do.
But at the time, my overachieving tendencies took over, and I found myself pouring my years of experience into 20 lessons, complete with text, audio, video, printable PDFs, and a forum.
All without knowing for sure that people would be interested.
Technology was not my friend
It turns out that the worst part of the process was getting the damn thing to work. The membership software available at the time was … um … clunky.
I’m being diplomatic here.
It was terrible. Extremely difficult to figure out. Little-to-no online help. Time consuming to set up.
And that was only part of the problem.
In order to get my site to work, I had to not only learn to use this clunky membership software, I had to pay for and figure out how to use shopping cart software.
Then I had to get the two pieces of software to communicate with one another so when people signed up and paid, they’d be added to the membership site automatically.
For someone who’s not a developer, this was a daunting task.
And remember, this is all before testing to be sure this idea was going to fly!
You’re seeing the depths of my self-deception now, aren’t you?
Thankfully, it wasn’t fatal
I finally launched my program five months after conceiving it. I had a few lessons ready to go. As my members went through the material, I kept ahead of them, creating new lessons before they were ready to consume them.
And it wasn’t a complete failure.
Some wonderful people joined, and we had lively discussions both in the forum and on my monthly webinars.
But boy, it was a lot of work.
The most important thing I got from creating my membership site was a life lesson.
And thankfully, the life lesson I had to learn the hard way is now part of the way Teaching Sells guides people through building a business around their expertise and passion.
The Minimum Viable Product approach to online success
A few years ago, with Chris Garrett leading the charge, Teaching Sells started emphasizing the Minimum Viable Product approach to building an online business and selling your expertise.
The MVP approach espouses a few important ideas:
- Before you create a large product, test your idea with a smaller product
- Deliver real value in a lower cost and easy-to-create format
- Focus on gathering information, not on earning millions
This agile approach is a much better way to build an online business, because before pouring time and effort into an untested idea, you’re getting solid information about what will work (and what won’t).
That means you can move forward with confidence that you’ve got an idea worth investing in … before you invest in it.
Are you an overachiever? Learn to love the MVP
Minimum viable products come in lots of forms. And they’re the perfect antidote to the “I-have-to-create-the-most-epic-version-of-this-product-idea-ever” syndrome that afflicts a lot of us overachievers.
They can be as simple as:
- A tutorial video and a downloadable worksheet
- An ebook with an audio recording
- One-on-one coaching sessions (these are especially easy to put together)
- Access to a weekly teleclass with you, which includes a Q&A session
They’re fast and easy to put together, and they allow you to offer value in exchange for market research.
Your buyers give you feedback, and you use that feedback to create your high value, time-intensive product.
My online business was built backwards. I started by creating a frustrating, time-intensive online membership site without knowing for sure it would work.
Since then, I’ve embraced the MVP. I have a series of low-cost guides that sell consistently. I offer one-hour coaching sessions. I have moderately-priced products that solve specific problems.
It’s a less painful way to develop new ideas.
And it’s fun! You go from idea to finished product quickly — getting helpful feedback right away.
Here’s How to Create and Sell Digital Information the Smarter Way:
If you’re interested in taking the next step with selling online courses, ebooks, and other digital products and services, you should check out Digital Commerce Institute.
You can get started instantly with training that shows you how to enter the $15 billion a year (and growing) online education space, plus thousands of dollars in other resources for building a digital business. Check it out here and get started building your dream business today.