A digital product that sells while you sleep is the ultimate dream, but you might be wondering how to create digital products in the first place.
What makes a great digital product, and how can you set yourself up for success?
Let’s take a look at why digital products are worth exploring and how you can start using them to follow through on your online business ideas.
What are digital products?
A digital product is any product that a customer can purchase and use online. In many cases, this includes some form of content, such as a newsletter, podcast, video, ebook, or course.
Most digital products are either entertainment (such as music or a storybook) or educational (such as a course or instructional ebook).
You may have heard plenty of people say that digital products don’t sell online anymore and that most consumers expect to receive their content for free. (We all know uploading an ebook to your website won’t automatically make it sell.)
However, the digital commerce industry is filled with multi-million dollar businesses that sell purely digital products.
Why create digital products?
If you’re considering selling a product or service, a digital product may be the best option for a few different reasons.
The first benefit of digital products is that you can reach a much larger audience without working any harder or accumulating more cost.
For example, if you want to help people cook healthier meals, you can offer cooking classes, but you’ll be limited to serving the people in your town.
Additionally, if you want to grow this business, you would have to hire more chefs and pay for more equipment and kitchen space.
However, an alternative option is to learn how to create digital products. You could write an ebook with your favorite recipes, sell it online, reach an unlimited number of people, and you’ll never have to increase your output — it’s one way to earn money freelance writing.
Another reason why digital products are excellent is that they require very little effort after the launch and will continue to help you make a living online.
With a service business, you only make money for hours you’re working. With an ecommerce business, people may send orders at any hour of the day, but you still have to fulfill them and keep the items stocked.
However, digital products can be purchased at any hour of the day and never have to be re-stocked. Therefore, it’s the ultimate business model for passive income.
Low startup cost
Finally, most businesses involve startup costs and overhead that can easily run a person into debt. Most people want to learn how to create digital products to avoid that headache.
For example, if you have an ecommerce business, you may have to purchase some of your products upfront. Therefore, you will have to pay for not only the products, but also the storage space.
Service businesses also typically have ongoing costs. For example, if you’re a personal trainer, you may have to pay to rent gym space, deducting from your profit.
With a digital product, you only have to pay for your website and any marketing costs (which are also costs you would pay if you had an ecommerce or service business).
Examples of profitable digital products
So, what kind of digital product should you sell?
In general, most digital products are educational (teaching people how to do something) or entertainment. Once you select a topic and know what you want to sell, you can use a few different models to deliver the content.
Here are the most common ones:
- Podcast (Joe Rogan – $30 million before Spotify deal)
- Ebook (Carol Tice $45,000)
- Online Course ($1 billion)
- Newsletter (The Hustle – $27 million)
- Subscription Content (Bloomberg, New York Times)
- Premium Video (Netflix – $30 billion)
While some of these forms of content are typically free, many people are willing to pay for them if what you offer is significantly higher quality or exclusive.
For example, there are plenty of free newsletters available, yet many people are willing to pay for premium newsletters.
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How to create digital products in 5 steps
You’re probably wondering how to create digital products for your own content ideas.
The web provides an unparalleled way to launch a business — small or large — with very manageable levels of investment and risk.
But just as you won’t learn how to become a freelance writer by thinking or reading about it — you can’t passively launch a new business. You have to take action.
At this point, I’ve seen hundreds (maybe thousands) of folks build viable businesses around an online product or service, and I’ve noticed five areas of focus that are crucial when you’re getting started.
Here’s what they are.
Step #1: Build an email list with an autoresponder
Probably no huge surprise here. We’ve been talking about email marketing for a long time on Copyblogger, because it’s the key mechanism you’ll use to pull your audience together and let them know what you have to offer.
I started with an email autoresponder on day one, and I suggest you do, too.
Why? Because it gives you a great way to capture the attention of every interested person you run across, and to turn those individual relationships into an audience.
It’s worth doing a good job on your autoresponder, but you don’t need it to be perfect, especially at the beginning. Come up with 5 or 7 messages that will:
- Help your audience member solve a simple problem they care about
- Give that audience member important information about why you do what you do
- Educate the audience member about why your solution is a great way to solve the issue they have in your topic
Each autoresponder message can do one or more of the above.
For various reasons, I like to create strong, interesting “teaser” messages in the email itself, with a click to read the full article.
The best time to get your email autoresponder going is about five years ago. The second-best time is this week. Forgive the business cliché, but that really is the first step in how to create digital products.
Step #2: Craft your cornerstone content
I like to build an autoresponder first so I can capture every drop of audience attention as it comes in.
So where does audience attention come from? Well, your blog post ideas, of course — but more specifically, from the cornerstone content that you create for your site.
Cornerstone content answers the most important questions, both:
- The questions you’re asked all the time about your topic,
- … and the questions you wish you were asked all the time about your topic
Again, they should be good, but they don’t need to be perfect — you’ll continue to evolve your cornerstone posts over time.
Step #3: Expand your network
One nice thing about really solid content is that it tends to attract people who can help your business. They might share your content, or recommend your work, or even be candidates for great partnerships.
But you don’t just sit back and wait for people to notice you. Start expanding your network now, to create the most possible opportunities for your new project.
Guest posting is still an excellent way to expand your audience and your network of professional writers. It won’t bring you overnight success (and neither will anything else), but it’s a solid, steady strategy to increase your influence and authority. It’s a piece of the puzzle when it comes to how to create digital products.
Social media channels are also good places to find other content publishers. Naturally, you won’t want to spam them with “Do me a favor” messages. Make yourself useful, be a good egg, and make sure you have solid content you can refer them back to.
Step #4: Seek market intelligence
A digital product is like any other product — you absolutely must find out what people want before you invest time and money in creating a product.
We’re very lucky to have great platforms for listening in on market needs and desires.
Social media is a good place to start. Remember to listen more than you talk.
- What problems are people wrestling with in your topic?
- Why do existing solutions frustrate them?
- Which objections prevent them from moving forward?
Remember, you don’t need to do all of your social media listening on your own page or site. Anywhere your potential customers are hanging out makes a great listening post.
Once you have an audience (even a modest one), you can supplement your social media listening by holding free Q&A calls. It’s helpful to gather questions in advance for these, and then deliver the answers in a live session.
This isn’t just a terrific way to find out what your market is hungry for. It’s also a powerful confidence booster for your business blogging. Conducting a few free Q&As will show you just how helpful you can be in your topic, as well as revealing areas you can get even better.
Step #5: Craft your Minimum Viable Product
All of your research on how to create digital products leads to this.
We’re big fans of the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) approach. It’s used by lots of software and technology companies, but it’s a smart approach for creating nearly any type of product or service.
How do you pin down what your first MVP should be? Answer this question:
What’s the absolute smallest product or service I can create that will offer a meaningful benefit for my audience?
Not every MVP is a paid product
Many small online businesses launch a few free offerings to test the waters, before zeroing in on an idea with traction for the initial paid product.
MVPs allow you to put a small amount of focused work into a product concept, then launch it to your audience and see how it goes over.
- Is this type of product something your audience wants?
- What do they like about it?
- What’s not working, either for your customers or for you?
Once you find an MVP that’s capturing some interest, you can start to optimize it — doing more of what works, and less of what doesn’t.
And if you launch an MVP that’s a complete dud — that’s valuable market intelligence. Something is off in your product concept or your marketing message. If you keep the MVPs small enough, this won’t frustrate you (too much). It’s just another experiment to learn where the wins are.
Best practices for creating digital products
Now that we’ve covered the five main steps to creating digital products, here are best practices to keep in mind as you go through the process of building and selling yours.
Naturally, you’ll start with brainstorming ideas for the type of content you’ll sell.
In general, creating educational or informative content is much easier to sell than entertainment (such as music). That’s because the quality of entertainment is generally more subjective and more difficult to measure than informational content.
Therefore, brainstorming your skills is an important part of learning how to create digital products. You might be surprised that many people are more than happy to pay to learn your skills.
Here are just a few examples of skills you might write down:
- Speak Spanish
- Personal experience with weight loss
- Video and podcast editing
- Knowledge of Shopify stores
- Cook healthy meals regularly
- Fashion styling
Notice that each of these skills can be turned into digital products.
If you still don’t think you have any skills, think about what you do on the weekends. Plenty of people are willing to pay money to improve their hobbies, so don’t write off hobby-related skills like chess or swing dancing.
Customer research is perhaps the most important part of the entire process. If you don’t understand your customer, it will be very difficult to sell your product.
Start by creating a persona for your customer. A buyer persona is a detailed description of the title/position of your customer and their personal struggles.
This will enable you to create more targeted marketing strategies and tailor the product specifically to their needs. It’s all part of the process of how to create digital products.
For example, you may decide to create a weight loss video course. However, targeting all people who want to lose weight is too broad and will likely not sell very well.
However, as you do this exercise, you may discover that your target audience is actually women who had babies about six weeks ago and need some motivation to get back into shape. Perhaps these women used to work out and are finding the transition difficult.
Notice that this niche is much more targeted and more likely to convert women who fit the description.
Here are factors to keep in mind as you create your buyer persona:
- Typical gender/age/title/income level of your target
- Key pain point in their life right now that your product solves
- Solutions they have considered/tried before they find yours
- What they search for on the internet before finding your solution
- Indirect desires they have that your product will solve (indirectly)
Here’s an example of this buyer persona in action with the weight loss example:
This helps you understand not just how your product will solve a single pain point (such as losing weight), but also how your product will impact their life (she will look like the perfect mom).
Note that you should be talking to potential customers to fill out this form rather than just guessing. If you’re guessing, you’ll miss out on a lot of key pain points and underlying struggles.
Pricing for your digital products
Your pricing point is essential, as a $5 ebook will require much less work than a $300 monthly subscription newsletter or $3,000 course.
In addition, some niches may not have a market for a high price point. For example, while many people would be happy to pay $1,000 for an SEO course, you may find that there simply isn’t a market for a $1,000 swing dancing course.
Therefore, the best place to start is by doing competitor research. Are there any competitors in your niche selling a digital product similar to the one you have in mind? If so, what’s the price point?
Note that the price point does vary drastically based on:
- The quality of the content
- How you present the product
- Additional bonuses (community, Q&A, etc.)
Therefore, even if you see an SEO course on Udemy for $100, that doesn’t mean that you can charge $2,000 for a similar course … even though some people will only pay for higher-priced products because they believe they have more value.
Just be sure you can find other courses in your niche similar to the price point you want to charge.
Note that most of the courses with higher price points are typically not listed on course websites, so you may have to Google around or ask in a forum like Quora for the best courses in your niche.
Pro tip for how to create digital products: validation
This is often an overlooked part of the process of how to create digital products.
Ideally, you want to see plenty of competition in your space (fitness, SEO, cooking, etc.). If there’s a lot of competition, that means that plenty of people have this pain point, and you’ll be able to tap into the market.
However, your course needs to offer some unique value that would make people want to buy it over other courses.
Therefore, you would take each of the courses mentioned above and look for reviews on them. What are the most common complaints? What are things people liked about the content?
For example, here’s some feedback on Brian Dean’s course that I found in a review blog post.
In addition, here are some questions people had on Reddit that they wanted to see in the course:
While this process is a little more difficult to do with newsletters or ebooks, you can ask people on social media or in Slack groups for newsletters/ebooks/podcasts in your niche that they have paid for and what they liked/didn’t like about them.
Now that you have a few ideas of unique selling points, you can create an outline of the course or your unique value proposition (if you’re doing a podcast, newsletter, etc.) and get people on a waitlist for the product or presell it (with an estimated timeline of when the product will be delivered).
Once people have handed you money for your product, then you can go and build it. If you try to build it first, you may find that you built a product that nobody wants.
So, if you’re going to do any step in this process, it’s validate your idea!
Typically, the best place to start validating your idea is with friends. (Note that while it may be awkward to ask friends for money, it’s essential. Simply asking if they like the idea is not the same as handing over cash for it).
However, if you have a B2B niche and not many friends/following in the space, you may want to build a quick landing page with a tool like Instapage, put up your offer (no, you don’t need a product to make the offer), and then run Facebook or Twitter ads to it.
If you have an email list, just send out a quick email asking people if they would like to purchase it at a discounted rate.
Here’s an example from Julian Shapiro:
Digital product creation and development
If you’ve already done the steps above, creating the product is fairly straightforward. If you have cash on hand, you might consider hiring people to help you out.
For example, you may outline the ebook and then hire a writer to write most of it.
If you’re doing an online course, you may record the videos and then send them off to someone on Upwork to edit them. The most difficult aspect might be figuring out technical aspects, such as uploading your podcast to Apple Podcasts or finding a great designer to help you with your ebook.
Here are some guides to help you get started with each of the various content types:
- Podcasting: How to Start a Podcast
- Ebooks: How to Write an eBook
- Online courses: How to Build an Online Course
- Curated Newsletter: Create a Curated Newsletter
Build an audience (quickly)
As you’re building your product, you should simultaneously be building an audience.
Unfortunately, building an audience usually takes time, which is a commodity you don’t have. Therefore, these tactics are the most effective way to build an audience as quickly as possible.
As a general rule, you should spend about 20% of your time creating your course and roughly 80% of your time building an audience for the course launch.
Get on podcasts
One of the best ways to build an audience quickly is simply doing podcast tours. Look for podcasts in your niche and tell them about your experience, results you’ve helped achieve, and pitch them an angle on how you can provide value to their audience.
For example, if you’re launching a fitness course for women with infants, consider getting on a podcast for moms.
The key is to pitch them a story and unique value proposition of what their audience would like to hear.
Run paid promotion
Another great way to start driving traffic to your website is to run paid ads (Facebook, Twitter, or Google) to a landing page where you can announce the launch and perhaps offer a snippet of the digital product for free in exchange for their email address.
If you keep growing your email list and nurture subscribers weekly, you’ll develop relationships and have at least a small audience by the time you launch. You can also offer to presell them the digital product.
Partner with influencers
If you can partner with an influencer to review your product and promote it to their email or social channels, you’ll generate some great initial traction.
The key to making influencer partnerships a success is to ensure that the audience aligns with your high-quality digital product.
One excellent way to partner with influencers is to include them in your product. For example, this could be including their quotes in an ebook.
Ideally, it should require little to no work on their part to be included in your product.
An excellent example of this is when Eric Jorgenson created an Almanack of Naval Ravikant, which he calls the Navalmanack. While this is a little extreme in that the entire product is based on Naval, it had a similar effect.
Eric didn’t ask Naval for anything, and Naval willingly promoted it, which made it a massive success. Having Naval as a backer also opened the door for him to acquire a forward from Tim Ferriss.
So, think about how you can creatively involve influencers. You can also always find a relevant influencer on one of these platforms and pay them to review or promote your launch.
Launching your digital products
Once you’ve done all of the work above, the launch should be relatively straightforward. Have a checklist for all of your social channels and email lists that you need to hit when launch day arrives.
Even if you’ve prescheduled everything, be sure to double-check that there are no glitches. If you’re working with any influencers, reach out to them on launch day and ask if they need any help.
In addition, you probably have at least a few followers now, so consider going live on social media and host a Q&A about the product.
The most important thing on launch day is to make sure that everything is working and people can easily download or access your content.
Long-term marketing plans
Once you’ve launched, you’ll probably close the offer again and then cycle your subsequent launches. Therefore, while the initial launch is done, you’ll want to keep building a strong online presence.
It will help your digital product get more exposure over time.
There are a few key components of a successful long-term marketing plan:
- Content marketing
- Social media
Each of these channels takes time to build, which is why they’re not top priorities in the first phase of building an audience, though they are essential to your long-term success.
SEO enables you to rank for keywords like “best fitness course” and “how to lose weight” on Google. Showing up for these keywords will bring ideal customers directly to your doorstep, so don’t overlook the power of SEO.
While you’re welcome to read our guide to SEO, the main components you should analyze are:
- Strong technical foundation
- Mobile friendly
- Great user experience
- Logical architecture
- Optimized for keywords
While SEO is a great place to start, the problem is that all of the other websites trying to rank for your keywords are also optimized.
So while SEO is necessary to rank, it won’t propel you to the top of search results. That’s where content marketing shines within the process of how to create digital products.
To properly execute a content marketing strategy, consider all of the searches your customers make in Google before buying your product.
For example, a woman interested in purchasing a course such as fitness for new moms might Google something like:
“How to get back to the gym with a newborn”
“Motivation tips for new moms to work out”
For moms who are ready to buy, they might Google something like:
“Best fitness programs for new moms”
To appear for these kinds of search terms, learn how to write a good blog post that includes informational content with tips and tricks.
Though before you start writing anything, do a Google search of your target keyword. Chances are, your competitors have already written something on the topic.
So, how can you outrank them?
The best way to outrank a competitor is to write better content. After all, Google’s goal is to present the best information to the searcher.
To produce better content, consider how you can:
- Provide more comprehensive information
- Include original stories and case studies that hold the reader’s attention
- Present the information in a more organized manner (headers, table of contents, better design, etc.)
- Add more visualized illustrations of the information
Finally, your email list will be essential to the success of your business. When people purchase educational content, they want to feel as though they really know the person selling the digital product.
Email marketing is the best way to build this relationship.
For example, Ramit Sethi sells almost all of his courses exclusively through email and has had launches range up to $5 million in just a week.
To build a strong email list, email regularly in a personal tone of voice that achieves the right balance of storyselling.
Create digital products that solve problems
Creating a digital product is relatively easy. The hard part is finding your audience and communicating why your product in particular is ideal to solve their pain point.
Even if you’ve tried launching a digital product before, these tips about how to create digital products will help make your next one a success.
If you take it seriously, and have a broad understanding of digital marketing, you could turn your idea into the next multi-million-dollar digital product.
The good news is that we’ve narrowed down this range of competence to three core areas we teach inside Digital Copywriter: It’s what I call the trifecta of core skills.
Business owners who implement these three core skills find that their businesses tend to grow more effortlessly. They attract bigger, higher-quality audiences who buy.
Interested in mastering these three core skills?