The tricks of creating a successful digital product
As a tech world insider, digital products have always stood out as an ideal revenue stream for both budding entrepreneurs and small business owners looking to diversify. This is especially true since all you need to get going is a laptop, an Internet connection, and a great idea.
Despite this, I’ve observed reluctance from people with great ideas to pursue their digital product goals.
That’s why I want to let you in on the secret to creating a successful digital product. I convened my exclusive list of business leaders who launched successful products to get the inside scoop on how exactly they did this, from do’s and don’ts to the lessons they’ve learned along the way. These leaders are:
- Christopher Fitton, the creator, and host of Sleep Cove podcast, currently the third-largest health and wellness podcast in the world
- Dimi Baitanciuc, Co-Founder and CEO of Brizy, the first multi-platform (WordPress and Cloud) website builder
- Emily Jacob, founder of ReConnected Life® Ltd, trauma-informed coaching for women who want to move past their past, now available to thousands of people
- Anne Gould, owner of the TikTok 1000 for Midlife course, helping students garner millions of TikTok views
- Vee Tanner, creator of the Sew Bee Yourself Online Sewing Programme for budding dressmakers who want to sew gorgeous clothes for themselves
- Sue Revell, Personal Leadership Coach and Host of the Women on a Mission, Listener’s Choice Award runner-up at the Podcasting for Business Awards 2022
“Digital product” is a broad term and can be a little tricky to pin down, but for this article, it will refer to any intangible good or product that exists only in digital form. So, the possibilities for success can really be endless, but don’t let that overwhelm you.
Read on to find expert tips for creating, launching, and marketing digital products, as well as general advice for making your business work.
How do you come up with a great digital product?
It’s an age-old question for wannabe entrepreneurs everywhere. While there’s no magic formula yet (if there were, I’d know about it!), a clear pattern emerged when liaising with my expert contacts. To create something truly great, you need passion, a unique selling point, and to know your audience.
Truly believing in your digital product is crucial if you want to persevere and maintain interest in what you’re creating. Because if you don’t, as Christopher Fitton revealed to me:
“Your initial startup interest may wane and your dedication to the product succeeding could drop.”
Next, you must offer something that nobody else does. This doesn’t mean reinventing the wheel and creating a product nobody has ever seen before, but you must bring something new to the table. As Dimi Baitanciuc points out:
“If you don’t have the product to sustain the marketing and pricing, customers leave. I think that no matter how crowded a space is (in our case, the website building tools space), there will always be room for products of unique quality which solve a problem.”
But when all is said and done, knowing what your potential audience wants and needs will go a long way when creating a successful digital product. Emily Jacob knows this very well:
“It doesn’t matter how good your product, or your marketing, or your pricing, if it’s not answering a need for your customers. Understand your customers, that’s the key.”
Don’t wait to launch
A common theme that may surprise those just starting out was the advice to get your product out there as soon as possible — even if it isn’t finished. To my network of savvy and successful business owners, launching a minimally viable product is better than no product.
Dimi told me that launching a bare-bones product would allow you to “put functionality in the hands of the users” and improve the product as you go. He said you can “test certain things that you might not be sure of, and then adjust, fine-tune and fix along the way.” Dimi is adamant that the ability to be agile is crucial in the competitive startup space.
This is in keeping with what both Anne Gould and Vee Tanner revealed to me during our talks. Anna first offered her course as a low-fee pilot and made the content as she went. This allowed her to learn people’s “stumbling blocks” and refine the course accordingly. Meanwhile, Vee pre-sold her sewing course before creating it and asked customers three onboarding questions at the point of purchase. This allowed her to make content based on their wants and skill levels.
Getting your product out there
Marketing is an integral part of creating a digital product. After all, if nobody knows about it, how will they use it? How you market your product will depend on your specific niche and potential audience. Some good, old-fashioned market research will help with figuring that out. Then you’ll need to evaluate what kind of marketing your audience will respond best to. Should you focus on social media marketing, influencer marketing, or email marketing? Maybe a mix of all three? Whatever you decide, you’ll find everything you need to know in this Online Marketing Guru Guides.
Beyond traditional marketing methods, my sources were adamant that no small business owner should underestimate the power of “word of mouth”. Don’t neglect your existing network — they’ll likely be more fruitful than you’d expect.
Sue said that in the launch week of her podcast, she used all her existing communication channels to promote it.
“I talked to everyone I met about it, way more than anything else I’ve ever launched!”
Vee promoted her course to audiences on Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok, and email. As she told us,
“I also reached out personally to everyone in my personal contacts who expressed an interest in learning to sew from me or who I thought this might be a good fit for.”
Emily began her marketing journey by exploring similar Facebook communities, asking people to answer a survey, and then conducting interviews. While she initially grew her audience through successful PR, placing blogs in national online publications, and speaking at activist events. She’s now having great success licensing her product to organizations, with word of mouth becoming integral to her growth.
Mistakes are part of the process
Every business owner has things they wouldn’t do again, but they needed to make mistakes in order to learn from them. For Emily, this was launching her product to a small audience and speaking to members of an organization who couldn’t agree to sales themselves. Now, she only tries to speak directly to decision-makers.
Creating false expectations is also another big no-no. Dimi learned this the hard way:
“Because of the excitement, we’ve announced some features and functionalities way ahead of time, creating false expectations. Those developments turned out to be harder to tackle, or delays occurred, and naturally, these created some unwanted negative attention from the community.”
Furthermore, you should always research apparent opportunities before committing to them. Sometimes offers can sound more lucrative than they actually are, as Christopher discovered when a podcast advertising agency wanted to sign him up in the early days of his podcast:
“I had a year contract, and at the time, it seemed amazing that I was going to be able to monetize my podcast with advertising. I soon realized that this agency didn’t deliver on my expectations and frankly weren’t very good.”
While I don’t think budding entrepreneurs can ever get enough general business advice, sometimes it helps to get a bit more specific. If you’ve ever wondered about the best way to get started with launching a podcast, online course, or software, here are some top tips from my resident experts.
Creating a great podcast
Don’t be afraid of getting help. You can’t be an expert in everything, and by enlisting the assistants of people with years of experience, you can play to your strengths and offer a better product, which is what Sue found:
“For me, the biggest success has been creating a small production team that allows me to work to my strength. I am able to focus on creating inspiring content, based on the questions that clients and other women on a mission need and want answered.”
Having the right tools goes a long way, especially when it comes to producing podcasts. Sue recommends Libsyn for podcast hosting and distribution. She has also found The Podcasters Podcast to be an excellent resource for anyone wanting to learn more about launching and growing their podcast.
Christopher used the free software GarageBand on his Mac computer and a very simple USB microphone to produce his podcasts. It was a steep learning curve, but worth it in the end:
“It felt very hard at the time, but I now realize that it was quite simple compared to the more complicated types of software out there. Just being able to do these basics gave me the confidence to proceed.”
Top tips for creating an online course
For Vee, starting small and giving students only a few options from the get-go is essential to launching an online course. When she began Sew Bee Yourself, she gave everyone a free choice on the type of garment they wanted to make, which turned out to be a mistake:
“They all chose totally different garments with different challenges/skills to teach. That had an impact on the teaching time within each session which was much longer than I had originally planned, which also impacted the time available to ‘sew along’ and get their garments sewn whilst on the live session. Which meant that nobody finished their garment during the 4 weekly sessions as I had originally envisioned.”
To avoid this sort of impact going forward, she reduced the garment choices and focused on one at a time in each batch of classes.
Getting your software product off the ground
For dipping your toe into the software world, Dimi revealed that being API-driven and opening up for third-party development right from the start is essential:
“Gathering a development community around your product early on, I think, is very important for growth.”
He also advises utilizing sites like AppSumo, a daily deals website for digital goods and services, and using influencer and affiliate marketing to get your product out there. If you plan on operating under a freemium model, preselling a PRO-version with extended functionality is an effective way of funding development and creating “buzz around the product.”
Remember: success is relative
All my liaisons agreed that creating your own measure of success is imperative. No two businesses’ metrics are the same, so comparing yourself to anyone else is a waste of time. Many businesses measure success using key performance indicators such as monthly recurring revenue and customer retention scores. For others, success can’t be quantified by numbers alone. For Sue, simply making an impact and inspiring other women has felt like success to her.
The time it takes to achieve success can also vary dramatically. Emily launched her coaching program in January 2017, and it didn’t become successful in terms of revenue until Winter 2020/21. But for her, that wasn’t the most important thing:
“I considered it successful the first time just one person was helped by what I had created.”
Meanwhile, Dimi defines success as:
“Ease of use for agencies, freelancers and B2B partners to create more websites faster, easier and increase their client turnaround and profits. This would mean we’ve been successful all along.”
For Christopher, success was turning his podcast into a self-sustaining business that allowed him to give up his full-time job.
As you can see, success can encompass a variety of metrics and is individual to every business owner. You’ll need to take the time to figure out what success means to you. In the meantime, this blog post on How To Measure What Matters for Your Business should help you get started.
Don’t let doubt win
The most important thing to remember when creating and launching a digital product is that everyone has doubts sometimes. You might be tempted to give up at some point during the process. Even some of the experts we interviewed were tempted to but stood strong in the face of potential failure.
For Emily, the initial launch flopped, and she felt very despondent. But she didn’t give up:
“It was a chance conversation with the CEO of a charity who said they would be really interested in offering it to those on their waitlist that helped me to see the bigger potential for helping more people. And then the pandemic encouraged charities to want healing they could offer online.”
For Vee, engagement dropped during her promotional campaign, and she might have given up if not for the encouragement of her mentor. She made sales up until the final day and realized that people were watching even if they didn’t always engage.
For Sue, the thought of letting her listeners down keeps her going. When she has doubts or fears, she uses them in her favor:
“I’ve had many guests talk about the importance of making your mission bigger than your fear. I think that applies here too… keeping my vision for the show (and who I might one day get to talk to!) bigger than my fears definitely keeps me moving forward!”
So, as you go forth into the world of digital product creation and launching a new business, always keep in mind that the difference between success and something that never really gets off the ground is those who were brave enough to keep going.
And if you’re looking for ideas for your next project, be sure to check out some of our favorites!