An Insight About Digital Products That Changed the Way I’m Building My Business

September 4, 2013 · 26 comments

As part of my efforts to systemize and streamline Socialexis, I’m working with business coach Charlie Gilkey. He’s helping me tighten up my team, put systems in place that will help us do better work, and navigate a few issues I wasn’t sure how to tackle on my own.

In one of our recent sessions, we took a proactive look at the company’s finances. Something came up during that conversation that changed the way I see my business, and it’s such an ah-ha that I want to share it with you.

Image: Who doesn't love a good idea?

Who doesn’t love a good idea?

Charlie and I were talking about the big topic of revenue, and how my products bring in between $2,000-$5,000 each month.

When we’re at the high end of that range, I explained to him, it’s usually because we’ve run a sale or developed a new partnership or released a new product. When we’re on the low end, we’ve typically done next-to-nothing on the product front but still see purchases come in from search, as well as readers who have bought other guides and come back for more.

“So you’re telling me,” Charlie said, “that when you do nothing, your products bring in about $2,000/month?”

That’s what I was telling him.

Sometimes you need someone else’s brains and fresh eyes to see the bright spots in your business. As Charlie and I talked this through, we identified two key takeaways:

1. Generating revenue from products takes far less work than client work that brings in the same amount of cash.

I learned when I sold my first ebook (which is still my most popular guide) that creating digital products is smart because of the high profit margin and low time investment after the initial work on the front end: you create something valuable once, then sell it again and again. But while looking at my company’s portfolio of clients and products over the last six months, I mistakenly saw client work — working on other people’s projects — as more lucrative than my own products, perhaps because that’s where we put most of our hours.

This might sound obvious, but when you offer a myriad of services to 10 clients and manage just as many team members, sometimes you forget to look at the big picture. And the big picture is that my products bring in as much as a client.

2. If I put just one hour each week into promoting my products, I could easily increase product revenue.

And if I could carve out time to release new products, that revenue could grow even more.

Unlike most clients, who pay the same retainer month after month unless they add services or we increase our rates, products have the potential to bring in lots more cash over time.

Again, this is something I knew — that my products have serious potential — but it got lost during the last year as the client side of the business grew. When someone wants to pay you to do something, it’s hard to say no! And in this case, saying yes to more clients had meant pushing my products to the back burner. This, by the way, is a perfect example of how sometimes you have to say “no” to an opportunity so you can make room to say “yes” to a smarter one.

But wait… It gets better

This is all good, right? Smart insights?

But here’s the biggie. Here’s what Charlie told me that changed everything:

“You need to treat your products like a client.” (Click here to tweet this idea.)

BAM. That was the ah-ha I needed.

Over the last year, I’d been doing the opposite, letting my own products fall through the cracks. I haven’t released a single new product because the client side of my business has grown so rapidly, and I was eager to meet that demand.

I have accomplished a lot of other things that will help my products succeed, like growing my email list through webinars, speaking at events, and launching The Write Life. And I’ve been working on new products little by little — a Kindle book on careers, an email productivity course, and an ebook with my accountant dad about all the financial stuff you need to run your own shop.

But I haven’t spent enough real chunks of time on these products to finish them. I’ve been working my butt off on other things, and I haven’t made my products a priority.

Ummm… Why’d you do that?

This conversation with Charlie prompted me to dig deep to figure out WHY. Why hadn’t I made time for products?

Here’s what I realized:

1. It was partly because of money.

I want to make money, and client work is lucrative.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that. I’m not against trying to make a good living; in fact, over the last few years, as I get to the point where I want to support a family, making good money is more important to me than it was early in my career. Plus, I love this business, and I love working with our clients, so I wasn’t choosing money over work I enjoyed. I was simply choosing to grow the more lucrative arm of the business.

Except I was wrong. I was wrong that client work is more lucrative than products. Even now, even after looking at the hard numbers, I have to keep repeating that to myself to truly believe it. Which brings me to the second reason…

2. I hadn’t given myself permission.

Me! After how much I write about why you deserve to love your job and the importance of creating a career that allows you to live the life you want, I hadn’t fully believed that I could really make a living selling products I loved creating.

Now, looking at my products in this new light, I can justify spending just as much time if not more on that side of the business — because my products make just as much money as a client and with less work. I can justify passing on a potential new client and instead put that time and energy into products, because it makes sense financially.

So how do I treat my products like a client?

It’s never easy to do for yourself what you do for others.

But here’s the truth: I need to schedule time to work on my products just like I schedule time to work on client accounts. I need to create a strategy and deliverables for my products and record them in our task management system, Flow, just like I do for our clients. I need to develop a system and schedule for my own social media, just like I do for our clients. And I need to figure out how to increase traffic to my own blog, just like I do for our clients.

I need to invest in myself and my products just as much — if not MORE — as I invest in others.

The first step…

You know I love action items and EXECUTING.

So this Sunday, I’m releasing a new course called Social Media for Writers. It’s an email-based course, one that will help writers finally make real connections and see big results on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Take a sneak peek here if you’d like.

This has been in the works since long before this ah-ha moment, but realizing the value and potential of my own products made me buckle down and actually GET IT OUT THERE. More on the thought process behind that new course on the blog next week!

Are you taking the time to invest in yourself? If you looked at your income and potential in a different light, how might you choose to move forward?

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Tatiana September 4, 2013 at 9:37 pm

This is really awesome!! I love your site and so much of what you write is really amazing!! I’ve been eager to create products because searching for client work can be time consuming (as well as actually doing the work!) but creating products has a chance to really be a gift that keeps giving.

Your insights are now my insights! aha (All I need to do is create something valuable for people. THAT’S the hard part). :]
Tatiana recently posted…I Know Why You Hate Positive PsychologyMy Profile

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Alexis Grant September 4, 2013 at 9:52 pm

Thanks, Tatiana! Yes — you’re right on — creating something VALUABLE is the hard part!
Alexis Grant recently posted…One Small Way to Invest in Yourself or Your Business That Will Yield Big ReturnsMy Profile

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Jim Hopkinson September 4, 2013 at 10:17 pm

Wow, Alexis, what a valuable, breakthrough post. So glad I saw this, since I’m in the same boat. I’ve regrettably put off things like my website redesign (which would lead to more product sales) and have my next product launch set for the generic timeframe of “fall,” but yet I’m doing client work that takes away from this. Fantastic post.

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Alexis Grant September 4, 2013 at 10:19 pm

Thanks, Jim. I was nervous to press “publish” on this one, so always good to hear it helps out a reader!
Alexis Grant recently posted…An Insight About Digital Products That Changed the Way I’m Building My BusinessMy Profile

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Jim Hopkinson September 4, 2013 at 10:22 pm

Are you kidding? The only reason to be nervous would be that everyone else will now have your secret. 🙂 Maybe your clients will read it, which will make them want to pay you more to to drag you away from your new strategy.
Jim Hopkinson recently posted…Laid off: The first 6 things you need to doMy Profile

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Alexis Grant September 5, 2013 at 8:32 am

Ha! It’s always nerve-wracking when you share real numbers.
Alexis Grant recently posted…One Small Way to Invest in Yourself or Your Business That Will Yield Big ReturnsMy Profile

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Sandra at DebutanteClothing.com September 4, 2013 at 10:43 pm

Hi Alexis! I have been reading your blog, newsletters and buying your ebooks for a while now. You are actually my guide that led me to write a free eguide to promote my new business – social media for vintage dealers. My free ebook got really good reviews and I am using it to grow my list.

After reading this I am more compelled to write more ebooks and guides for that site as well as my vintage site! Thanks for the inspiration.

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Alexis Grant September 5, 2013 at 8:32 am

Sandra — This comment made my day! So glad to hear you’ve executed on the free guide and it’s working for you!
Alexis Grant recently posted…One Small Way to Invest in Yourself or Your Business That Will Yield Big ReturnsMy Profile

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NOAEfame September 4, 2013 at 11:13 pm

You are amazing that is all I will say. There is so much strength in your writing.I will register for this course. Thank you so much.
NOAEfame recently posted…The Real Adjusted WorldMy Profile

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Alexis Grant September 5, 2013 at 5:04 pm

Great — Look forward to having you!
Alexis Grant recently posted…One Small Way to Invest in Yourself or Your Business That Will Yield Big ReturnsMy Profile

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Tim September 5, 2013 at 9:51 am

Treat your product like a client – I love it! Great insight!
Tim recently posted…9 Ways to Improve Your Life (and the lives of those around you)My Profile

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Alexis Grant September 5, 2013 at 5:04 pm
Nancy Hamilton September 5, 2013 at 1:19 pm

Hi Alexis. Just starting reading you blog. So simply put and so profoundly accurate. I’ve been advising clients for 25+ years one on one. First as a Head Hunter, then as a Financial Advisor, now as a Realtor. It is very time consuming and draining when dealing with problems & dramas out of your control. It is also extremely rewarding. Going fwd I want to still help people but more at once with less location dependence and devotion of one on one time. Definately need a healthy cashflow. Will be moving online soon. Working with Natalie Sisson Suitcase Entrepreneur. Looking fwd to reading more of your blogs. Cheers!

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Alexis Grant September 5, 2013 at 5:05 pm

So cool you’re working with Nat! Thanks for stopping by and weighing in.
Alexis Grant recently posted…One Small Way to Invest in Yourself or Your Business That Will Yield Big ReturnsMy Profile

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Shawndra Russell September 5, 2013 at 3:56 pm

This is exactly what I needed to read today. Been struggling all week to let go of the guilt of investing time into building and marketing products just because they aren’t “guaranteed” money like client work. Thanks Alexis!

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Alexis Grant September 5, 2013 at 5:49 pm

Such a good point, Shawndra. I think that’s why I felt like I couldn’t invest my time into it too — it’s not guaranteed. BUT, in some ways, it’s actually MORE guaranteed than client work.
Alexis Grant recently posted…One Small Way to Invest in Yourself or Your Business That Will Yield Big ReturnsMy Profile

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Rochelle September 5, 2013 at 4:00 pm

I am loving this post! I just started (like 3 days ago) offering free products to my readers. Now I am trying to put together products and services for purchase. At times I feel as though I’m being pulled in every different direction, like Stretch Armstrong, and I just don’t know which one actually deserves my time and focus. I was thinking along the lines you were, of services, but perhaps I ought to start first with an ebook or other product first.
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Alexis Grant September 5, 2013 at 6:07 pm

I know what it feels like to feel STRETCHED…
Alexis Grant recently posted…One Small Way to Invest in Yourself or Your Business That Will Yield Big ReturnsMy Profile

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Rebecca Fraser-Thill September 5, 2013 at 4:26 pm

This is so valuable, Alexis. As clients ebb and flow, I’ve often wondered in the down periods whether I should be using that free time busting my behind trying to drum up more clients or doing “something else.” Seeing your figures here, the “something else” is the no-brainer – and it should be creating products! Thanks for the insight!
Rebecca Fraser-Thill recently posted…Work and Career Are Not Synonyms (And Only One Matters)My Profile

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Leslie Forman September 5, 2013 at 7:17 pm

Yes! This is so true and so helpful. I’m just starting to treat my own brand like a client. I dropped a part-time job that was taking a lot of my time and energy without a lot of financial or business-building return, and now I am putting real work into building a new site with free resources and eventually a suite of products for global citizens looking to live and work abroad. I’ve been working to clarify the two specific groups of clients that I want to work with (one will be more through online channels and the other is more through local face-to-face channels….) Thank you for your honest and inspiring stories!
Leslie Forman recently posted…Flashback: How I decided to move to China after graduating with a Latin American Studies degreeMy Profile

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india September 6, 2013 at 4:36 am

Alexis, what an interesting post. I thank you for your transparency and also for lighting the bulb off in my mind. Is it just down to permission to allow yourself to earn an income that is somewhat passive? I wonder why there is a faction of people who find this so hard to believe (I am one of those), when I call myself a person who believes in the wonders of the Universe AND the efforts of persistence and work. I have met a few very successful business people lately and they think nothing of making money without direct and present effort. In fact this is HOW they set up their businesses.

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Nidhi September 6, 2013 at 9:10 pm

Looking forward to the ebook you’ve created with your dad!

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Alexis Grant September 6, 2013 at 9:49 pm

Thanks, Nidhi! ME TOO!
Alexis Grant recently posted…One Small Way to Invest in Yourself or Your Business That Will Yield Big ReturnsMy Profile

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Gene J. Horton May 11, 2016 at 6:39 am

Wow, you’ve created a complete step by step here

It seems the most obvious place to start is with an eBook. I have a lot of information already written in my blog and I can add to the articles and organize them in a way that it would be pretty quick and simple to do.

I love your ideas here & will definitely consider them when I sell my ebook online. I think it is very important to know what is in demand

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