launching a digital product

Launching a Digital Product: My Exact Process and What I’ve Learned

Chris Schwartze
October 9th, 2017

Launching a Digital Product is an article that exactly outlines how I launched my first digital product with minimal requirements. You’ll learn how I made my first sale, what software and funnel I’ve used, and how I dealt with technical hiccups.

This article is a birds eye view of my exact process from $0 to $2637,87 in sales in one month using (dirt) cheap tools and a small email list.

If you’re interested in monetizing your blog in the future than keep on reading.

But first, a little back story.

This website, Grooow, started as an experiment.

It allowed me to test design and other cool little marketing tricks against a small group of people.

A lot of the things I practiced worked and I copied elements from that to my day job. Which saved me a bunch of time

Great and all, but I was looking for ways to make myself more (for a lack of a better word) passive income. I also decided to give my dad a MacBook Pro for his birthday. I’ve never been able to give something back money-wise and I felt this was a great opportunity to do so.

Happy birthday, dad, you deserve it (mom if you’re reading this, you’re up next).

Arthur Schwartze MacBook-squashed

A lot of case studies on the internet make you believe you need to be an established authority.

Not true.

Now, I wouldn’t recommend launching your digital product to absolute crickets.

And to be at least somewhat of an expert in your niche also helps.

But to give you some perspective. I launched the digital product through an early pre-order launch.

I started the pre-order on a Tuesday and ended the sequence on Friday evening.

Bear in mind that in this stage I was only validating my idea. Nothing was built yet.

The pre-order launch did $557,27 in sales in four days, completely automated, against a list of 400 subscribers. 

Launching a digital product Google analytics eCommerce view

On that list, I had an average open rate of 32%, which means not even half opened the campaigns.

With that validation in mind, I built out the entire product in 10 days. Straight after we ran an official launch which generated another $2252,87 in profit in less than 2 weeks.

Google Analytics Official Launch window-comp

Whilst this is nothing for a lot of internet marketers, for me, this was a big deal.

This isn’t about the money but about achieving milestones in my business and personal life. I’m happy to serve others around me and provide a lot of value.

For the record: The product that I’m selling is, not an internet marketing product that teaches you how to do internet marketing. Which is then based on my experience of selling internet marketing products. You see this a lot lately, and the brutal truth is that I tend to avoid consuming any of this material, whether it’s free or paid.

In case you’re wondering, Essentials (the thing that I’m selling) is a library of pre-built templates for a specific WordPress theme.

Why you should sell in the early stages of your blog

Before we jump down the rabbit hole of digital product creation. Here are the three reasons why you should decide to build a product in the very, early stages of your blog.

Your bills are stacking up

My recurring payments to various SaaS companies, such as Zapier, went through the roof.

I can’t help it, I love shiny tools!

Later on, I realized I didn’t need most of these.

I wrote down a list of all the software I was using and eliminated everything that was redundant or was creating unnecessary stress.

For example, my subscription, to Ahrefs, aka a $99/mo beast, whilst I only had published one article. Absolute madness.

The good news is, I learned and recovered from that mistake.

It’s actually fun and challenging to keep a business as lean as possible.

It gives me the huge piece of mind when I crush the numbers every month and know it only takes a few dollars to keep Grooow running.

What subscription can you end today?

Tip Checkout Minimalism a documentary on Netflix.

Push your subscribers towards a sale

On my first ever article I had more than 100 subscribers opt-in for the lead magnet.

An amazing feeling, but it kept me thinking. What is the end goal? What can I do with these new subscribers?

I concluded that I had nothing to push them towards beyond educating them.

If your ultimate goal is to monetize your audience, why not start now?

It keeps you sane and motivated

Every time a new sale happens, I get a notification in Slack.

It looks like this:

Slack Sale Notification-squashed

The next thing that happens is that I do a little victory dance around the room.

Julia (my girlfriend), usually has no idea what’s going on. But I’m pretty sure she thinks that one of my crazy ideas paid off again.

But in all seriousness, rewarding yourself with a scant of confidence every day gives you the power to continue the hustle.

There are times where you want to give up and wonder why you’re in it for. Yes, this whole entrepreneurship thing can get lonely sometimes. Especially when you’re working a 9 to 5 and trying to build a business on the side.

A reminder, as little as a new lead or as big as new conversion can restart your engine again.

Okay, my emotional rant stops here.

The riches are within the…

Essentials—my first digital product—is for a specific WordPress theme and plugin. As you can imagine, this is a small niche plus my idea wasn’t a new kid on the block.

There was competition right outside the door, one Google search away…

The latter made me uncertain at first and wonder whether I should pursue my idea. But then I realized that it’s a good thing, it means people are buying.

Furthermore, it allowed me to take a peek inside a competitors kitchen. Guess what? Turns out they already did a ton of the ground work for me.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t about beating or even copying competitors, but it’s about how you can provide the most value in your niche. If you deliver something outstanding than the money will follow. And you’ll beat your competitors while doing it.

What is your angle? How can you provide a trunk load of value in your market?

Perhaps your product looks like no other. Or maybe the customer support is outstanding.

Nurture your audience from the start.

One of the mistakes I made at the absolute start of Grooow is that I didn’t nurture my audience. Not even a single welcome email. Bad dog!

During a the pre-order launch, I’m positive that this resulted in fewer opens and clicks. I’m sure most of my subscribers opened the email and their first response was something like: “Who the heck is this guy.”

If you haven’t setup any automation for your new subscribers, then I urge you to make this a priority on your to-do list.

Build at least an Introduction Funnel where you introduce yourself, the mission and a couple emails of your best stuff.

If best blog posts is not an option, then create a summary of articles that changed your life or a best resources list.

Don’t be a robot. Write as if you’re writing to a friend, and show that you’re vulnerable. I’m not the best copywriter, but I try to speak the language of my target audience as much as possible.

A trick that I use (can’t remember who told me) is that I try to write as if a good friend is sitting in front of me and I’m trying to get my story across. Now this might not work for every single audience, but you catch my drift.

Below are some quick ideas to get your creative juices flowing. In every email in your Introduction Funnel, try to have at least one call to action.

  • Email 1 – Quick introduction. Who are you? What have you accomplished?
  • 3-day delay
  • Email 2 – Your mission with this blog. What will your subscribers learn?
  • 7-day delay
  • Email 2 –Resource 1: My top 5 best articles
  • 7-day delay
  • Email 3 – Resource 2: 2 Articles that changed my li
  • 7-day delay
  • Email 4 – Resource 3: And so on…

I also recommend to prime your audience and prepare them for premium products that you introduce down the road (e.g. e-book, course et cetera).

If some leads unsubscribe because of that early prime then don’t worry, they are not your ideal fans anyway.

Extended reading: A 1000 True Fans by Kevin Kelly

Finding your idea

If you haven’t come up with an idea yet than don’t stress.

Pack your bags! We’re going on a Safari and we’re looking for places where we can find your audience in their natural habitat. Reddit or Quora are excellent places to spot potential pain points. Jot down as many ideas as you can and continue to Facebook Groups.

What product can you create—that’s still rather small—but that can solve a huge pain point?

One hour coaching sessions? A huge swipe file? An e-book?

Find out what your competitors are selling, can you do it better? If you cannot find a product similar to your idea than it might be the case that competitors abandoned the market or that it’s not profitable. Be careful, this might make the validation process much harder.

Also, ask yourself; would I pay for this? If the answer is no than you should probably go back to the drawing board.

Validating your idea

Validating your idea is a critical step to take to avoid wasting time and money building a product nobody wants.

This seems like an obvious step but many skip this crucial part.

As mentioned earlier, my idea already had a fair amount of competition.

That didn’t stop me from validating my idea.

Why?

  • The learning process: What it’s actually like to do a pre-order launch. This helped me to understand the process and automate or remove parts, would I decide to do it again.
  • Optimising the campaign: Learn what works and doesn’t so that you can change your messaging or price. Let’s say you have a list of 2000 subscribers. Send the pre-order announcement to a small segment of your list first. Gauge the initial responses and act accordingly.
  • Funding: If necessary you could spend a small amount of the pre-order money on manufacturing. But, I didn’t end up doing this.

Pro tip: A way to go about optimizing your campaign would be to A/B test your subject line to 10% of your list and pick a winner. Then use your winning subject line and A/B test the body of the email to another 10% of your list. Pick a winner and send the optimized campaign to the remaining 80% once you’re ready.

If you have a very small email list then you should go out and talk to a handful of your potential customers. Turns out a lot of people are eager to help if you include them in your product creation.

Validating your idea is a critical step to take to avoid wasting time and money building a product nobody wants.Click To Tweet

In the early stages of my idea, I (amongst many others) did a Google search first on digital product launching.

One of the articles I ran into right away was by Bryan Harris from Videofruit. In his article he explains how he did $10,000 in 24 hours by pre-selling his product.

I tried it the Videofruit style and it completely flopped. Side note: this doesn’t mean that it should for you

Perhaps it was my messaging but not having an introduction funnel set up as explained earlier in this article wasn’t helping either.

Instead of throwing in the towel I decided to take a different swing at product validation.I started dropping images of my MVP (minimal viable product) in a targeted Facebook group.

People got excited ?!

Comments and likes started happening. Was I onto something?

A few send me a message on Messenger and that’s when I went into full sales mode and tried to close.

I managed to get 4 early adopters, worth $209. Not bad.

Straight up ask for the sale, what is there to lose?

Worst case scenario you learn why they did not buy. And even then it’s still great intel that you can use to pivot your product.

Tip: If you know someone in your area that has done similar product launches shoot them a quick email. Buy them lunch or coffee (I like both), bring a notebook and find out what you need to know.

What do you need to launch your digital product?

Now bare with me, things will get a bit more technical from this point on.

Here’s a list of WordPress plugins and other software I’m using to sell my digital product.

We’ll touch upon each and in the next series, we’ll take a deep dive into every moving part.

  • Free; WooCommerce: Optimized for digital products.
  • Paid: WooCommerce Zapier: Send customer details to your email service provider.
  • Free: Mailerlite: Free email automation up to 1000 subscribers (!).
  • Free: Google Tag Manager: Deploy conversion tracking, site analytics, remarketing, and other types of scripts.
  • Free: SparkPost SMTP: Ensure deliverability of transactional emails.
  • Paid: Zapier: Zap customer information to email service provider of choice. Send new orders to a Google Sheet and a sale notification to Slack.
  • Free: Crisp: Live chat
  • Free: Hotjar: Heat Maps and visitor recording

The Setup

The Checkout & Pre-launch Landing Page

To ensure we don’t make any mistakes, we’re going to do some heavy testing on our website. I built the entire pre-launch page and checkout process on the X Theme and WooCommerce. Before pushing the sales page and checkout live I did several tests on my localhost using Local by Flywheel.

It’s common practice to run an exact duplicate of your website on a local machine and flip the switch once ready.

Google Analytics: Tracking data

Tracking data is important, especially from the start. I decided to use Enhanced eCommerce Tracking by Google Analytics.

Every event is tracked by Google Tag Manager who passes the data onto Google Analytics.

I recommend learning the basics of Google Tag Manager and Analytics.

It’s a viable skill you can use time and time again. Some use cases are firing Facebook pixels, tracking button clicks, and much more. We will talk about this in one of the next articles.

Zapier: Pushing new orders to Mailerlite.

Zapier homepage-squashed

After tweaking and testing, I managed to get all the right data to work in Google Analytics.

Next up I needed a way to pull in new customers to my email service provider; Mailerlite. With Zapier we can automate our funnel and segment customers.

Side note: I recently switched to ActiveCampaign as I needed more robust features to fit my needs.

Nonetheless, Mailerlite is a great way to start and offers free automation (!) up to 1000 subscribers.

If you’re on MailChimp, then you’re in luck they announced that automation will be free up to 1000 subscribers. Personally, I prefer Mailerlite, as it’s quicker and easier to use.

Unfortunately, there’s no direct integration between WooCommerce and Mailerlite.

That’s where Zapier comes into play.

In the case of Mailerlite, what you need is a custom field that updates every time a customer purchases.

This allows us to use the Condition step in Mailerlite, and ensures we don’t send any emails to existing customers.

Quick note: There are better ways to automate this, and many checkout solutions integrate directly with an ESP (email service provider). However, at that time, I wanted to spend as less money as possible.

Live chat

Lately a lot of live chat startups started popping up. Think Drift, Intercom, Crisp and the list goes on.

A lot of companies are using live chat so that visitors can talk to a real human and solve problems fast.

I decided to use Crisp, as they pretty much plug and play.

After deploying the script on Google Tag Manager, and downloading the iOS app I was off to the races.

During the pre-order launch, I found out (thanks to the chat) that some of the Order confirmation emails were not delivered.

I got three complaints in total and was able to solve the issue by installing SparkPost SMTP which improves emails sent from WordPress.

Here’s a breakdown of other things you might discover using live chat:

  • Unknown FAQ opportunities.
  • UX / UI Improvements.
  • Product opportunities.
  • Identify (unknown) customer pain points.
  • Get a sense of where most of your visitors live.
  • Goals of the visitor: Why are they looking to buy?

Pro tip: If you have a lot of traffic and are planning on running Crisp via Google Tag Manager, I recommend only triggering it on the sales page and checkout. Of course, this depends on your industry, but for me, as a blogger, this makes a lot of sense.

Hotjar

Hotjar Heatmap Essentials-squashed

Finally, I’m using Hotjar’s free plan to get a sense of how visitors behave on the sales page and checkout.

Again, this software is plug and play. Deploy the script using Google Tag Manager, input the URL you would like to record and start collecting visitor data.

Here’s a snippet of the Heatmap of my sales page. After the pre-order launch, I realized that there were too many calls to action, and scaled it down to one.

The Pre-launch Funnel

Pre Launch Funnel

Finally, the part where most people get fired up about.

SPOILER ALERT: this pre-launch funnel isn’t going to be super complex.

Think about this, should it?

The truth is, I don’t think so.

A lot of people are going all in, meaning; Messenger bots, advanced segmenting, lead scoring, deadline funnel, timed buttons, you name it. While that might increase conversions a bit, there’s nothing wrong with a simple setup.

Launches are chaotic: Zapier stops working, your hosting decides to shut you down without telling you. Oh, did I mention that the internet exploded that day too?

If you’re familiar with you’re setup like no other, then most of the time you can solve problems fast. Especially when this is your first time launching a digital product this is key.

Later on, you can start and experiment with more crazy bells and whistles. Or even turn your pre-launch funnel into an evergreen funnel so that it run can over and over again. That’s another article though.

If you’re unable to convert your list with a simple automation, then it’s time to get back to the drawing board. And adjust either your messaging or product.

Remember: In this stage we have not built our product yet. The point is to get as much pre-orders as possible and work towards a hard deadline and ship the product. If you’re not comfortable shooting this at all your subscribers than instead, you can shoot it to 30-40% depending on the size of your list.

Here’s a summary of my 4-day pre-launch funnel. Feel free to adjust and move bits and pieces around. I included a 30% discount on all pre-orders as my list was a mix of cold and lukewarm audiences.

Don’t forget to mention that it’s a pre-order. This is crucial, you don’t want to piss people off. Just setup a simple autoresponder after they’ve become a customer, that again, explains that it’s a pre-order and that you’re thankful for their trust.

Tuesday – Email 1

  • About the creator.
  • Why you’re building this product.
  • Include a one-time 30% discount.
  • Soft pitch

Wednesday – Email 2

  • Introduce 3 exclusive bonuses
  • Remind them about the one-time 30% discount.
  • Medium pitch

Thursday – Email 3

  • Reminder about the bonuses and that’ll disappear on Friday along with the discount (scarcity)
  • Hard sell

Friday morning – Email 4

  • A reminder that pre-launch is closing soon and that bonuses and discount will be gone soon.
  • Hard sell

Friday evening – Email 5

  • Just before closing another quick reminder.
  • Hard sell

Download a high-quality image of the pre-launch funnel here.

What’s next?

Glad you made it this far!

I’m confident this will help you during the launch of your digital product or finding and validating your idea. If you already own a digital product, share your insights below.

Leave a comment if you’re excited to learn more and I might cover certain parts of this article more in-depth soon.