The first time I created and tried to sell a product of my own was way back in 1996. My plan was to sell subscriptions to an offline newsletter about small business marketing.
Total disaster. I sold zero subscriptions.
While the venture was a complete washout, it did give me renewed respect for my clients.
It was the first time I had walked in their shoes.
Not their shoes exactly, but close enough for me to feel some of their challenges, stresses, disappointments, and pain.
To put that another way: before I tried selling something of my own, most of what I thought I knew about copywriting and marketing was from book learning.
I had learned the craft of copywriting from books and various mentors, but I had no experience of what it felt like to have skin in the game.
Nor did I really understand how everything fits together when you’re selling something. I knew about the words, the sales copy. But my view of the client’s experience was incredibly incomplete.
Since that time, I’ve sold a ton of my own stuff online, including ebooks and courses. Thankfully, some of those have done quite well.
And in the process of selling my own products, I have learned to become a much better copywriter and freelancer.
Truth be told, selling my own products has taught me more about the craft of online copywriting than any book, course, event, or expert.
Sell your own stuff and you learn by doing.
Allocate some time and money for creating a product to sell
You can create and sell a physical product if you want.
But you’ll probably find it easier to get started with something digital, like an ebook or short course.
Commit to spending some time and money on this. And invest enough that it will hurt if things don’t work out. Don’t put too much on the line. But enough to focus your attention.
This is the part about having skin in the game, and it’s the biggest lesson of all.
When you work as a freelancer for a client, the client carries almost all the risk. You do your work and get paid. And you’ll usually get paid regardless of whether or not the client gets a positive ROI on the work you did.
When your own money is on the line, you’ll find you pay much, much closer attention to every detail of your work.
Let’s get started
Imagine you’re going to create a short online course. The course will have 15 video lectures.
As for the topic, you probably have an idea or two.
But before you start spending too much time on course creation, let’s be sure you’re creating something people will actually buy …
Step #1: Find and listen to your audience
No, you can’t start creating yet. First, you have to start researching and listening to your prospective audience.
And no, choosing an audience of “everyone” is not an option. Identify a clearly defined group.
Find out who they are and where they hang out. Listen to them. Ask them questions. Spend less time getting excited about what you would like to teach. Spend more time finding out what they would like to learn.
It’s much easier to sell when you’re selling something people actually want!
Your clients go through the same balancing act: trying to match and adapt their own products and services to the desires and priorities of their prospects and customers.
Being mindful of that balance will help you write better copy and content.
Step #2: Create your course
This is hard work.
It’s also scary, because you’re investing many unbillable hours in a project with no guarantee that you’ll see a positive return on your efforts.
If it’s a book or ebook you’re creating, never skimp on design. Hire a great book cover designer.
Now you know what it feels like to have skin in the game, to be risking something.
If your client is a marketing manager, she may not be risking her own money when she hires you.
But she is risking her reputation and perhaps even her future with her employer. Respect that.
Step #3: Choose a course platform and enable payments
If you’re launching a course, you need a platform that will deliver it to your students. What’s your best option? Udemy? Teachable? Thinkific? Kajabi? A WordPress plugin like LifterLMS?
Welcome to my world! So much research. So many mistakes made along the way.
And once you choose the platform, you have to upload your lessons or lectures. And don’t forget to complete all the integrations with your email and payment providers, so the experience for your customers is seamless.
Your client has more on her plate than just the copy or content you’re writing for her.
She’s juggling a lot of responsibilities, so it’s important that you deliver your best work, on time.
She’s depending on you.
Step #4: Create a product website or page, then write the sales copy and content
Maybe you’re going to create a whole new website for this product, or perhaps just a new page on your existing site.
Either way, get to work!
And write the launch copy and content: the sales page, emails, and social media updates.
When you’ve invested hundreds of hours and maybe thousands of dollars into a project, you’ll approach the sales materials you write with a great amount of care.
Do the same for your clients.
Step #5: Launch your product
It’s launch day!
Send out those emails. Publish a few posts. Promote your offer on social media. Spend a few dollars on Facebook advertising.
You could even ask your friends and colleagues to give you a friendly mention.
There’s a very slim chance that you’ll have a blockbuster success on your hands within the first week, but the first week is just the start. It’s the beginning of a longer journey.
There are a ton of moving parts when it comes to selling a product.
Everything has to work together. Every word of sales copy matters.
This is the world your client lives in. So be aware of her struggles. Be kind, be supportive, and help her succeed by doing your best work and being a good team player.
Step #6: Return to your desk as a more seasoned copywriter, ready to serve your clients a whole lot better
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan and other books, tells an interesting story of the lives of bridge engineers in ancient Rome.
Back then, if you designed and built a bridge, you were required by law to take your family and live underneath the span of the bridge for at least one year. If you built a shoddy bridge and it collapsed, you and your family would be the first to die.
That’s what it means to have skin in the game.
And that’s why I think you can become a better copywriter or freelancer if you create a product of your own.
You’ll get a real sense of what it feels like to live in the shoes of your client. You’ll know how it feels to risk something.
Trust me … when it’s your own money, success, and reputation on the line, you will never, ever be satisfied with anything less than your best work.
And once you know just how good your work can be, you can deliver that same level of quality to your clients.