Notes from the Gumroad ‘Small Product Challenge’:

About these notes:
For me, this all started with a song I wrote.

My first product as part of the Small Product Lab was a song about the participants of the first Small Product Lab.

It seemed like the best starting point for me as I’ve been a singer songwriter in my spare time since I was about 16 years old. Songwriting is something I’ve wanted to do more seriously, but work, life and growing a family have been the focus up to now.

I’ve worked in digital marketing full time for about 8 years. I tend to create corporate and business focussed marketing content, so this challenge was something I wanted to use to create the things I love to do — away from my day-to-day working life.

A song was a product that I knew I could create and launch to a very small audience in the time involved.

The nature of creating songs mean you have to open yourself up personally while writing. So I felt creating a special song about the challenge would be a product that could hit my challenge of generating $1.

Which I’m pleased to report it did!

What I discovered by taking part was far more valuable than just the $1 dollar target of the challenge.

My little song (which ended up being so much fun to write) has gone on to generate around 45 email subscribers through free downloads.

The pay-what-you-want pricing model unexpectedly generated over $10 dollars in kind support during the challenge launch week.

Keeping the ‘fun and free’ element to this product going, I then created a free to download instrumental version for people to use copyright free shortly after the challenge finished.

This too, has been downloaded a number of times. It was also utilised by other product creators in the second challenge, featuring in some of their screen casting and video sections of their products.

Through partipating in the Facebook groups, I’ve since realised a niche direction to grow a micro-business for more copyright-free music for video makers.

This idea then turned into my second #SPL challenge product 4 Tracks (4 copyright free music tracks for £4).

It generated a modest amount on the launch but felt rushed due to me being away on holiday while trying to complete the challenge.

However, I’ve got plans in place to take this new product idea forward for the next challenge and work on growing this outside the challenge as a micro business (or muse business).

What is more interesting to me, is that the first few products are continuing to generate residual downloads and sales since they were launched.

My email list has grown from zero at the start of the first SPL challenge to around 65 people across these three small products.

Which is surprising! As there’s been very little marketing done other than contributing to the challenge Facebook groups and some general tweets to my general twitter list or a few hundred followers.

Throughout both challenges, I took notes to help me understand and improve my future product launches.

These are notes I’ve referred to often, in order to help me learn from what others were making and doing too.

I hope these can provide some value to other creatives who are wanting to create their first product, or who are also in the midst of the SPL challenge — and are looking to grow their products into side projects and micro businesses.

There’s been some great results from other participants, some making over $1000 in their launch weeks, others selling only a few $’s worth.

The point for many of us is not just how much you make in the first week, but is about the act of creating and launching their first products, then growing sales over time.

Learning from each other about what works and what doesn’t, to help us get better at the whole process.

Refining the steps involved, so we can scale this up to larger products with which can make more income in the future.

Sales will grow over time.
More effort in marketing our finished products can be done later.

Having the product launch-ready in the first place is the stumbling block many of us have been trying to overcome.

This short 10 day challenge format is working well for many, and I’m looking forward to the next SPL challenge that’s coming up soon.

How about you, are you ready to launch you’re product online?

Before you do, please read through the notes below, and see it there’s anything that you find that helps you achieve your goal.

Good luck on your product creating adventures!
Robin.

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NOTES FROM THE SMALL PRODUCT LAUNCH CHALLENGE:

1) A product can be many different things:
It was only be seeing the end product of everyone’s creative endeavours that I fully appreciated that products are different things, to different people.

Our products ranged from Evernote templates to photoshop comic set ups.

There were eBooks and one page PDF cheatsheets. But they all shared the common element of ‘being useful to others’.

Each product was held some appeal to the audience is was aimed at.

Each was worth some value to this audience in the way of saving time, teaching skills, or day-to-day problem solving.

My preconceptions to product making probably come from my Art background.

I’d never think to sell my sketches — instead focussing on creating one single finished image.

But the idea of collating lots of smaller items to create a larger product value appealed to me more since doing this challenge.

Maybe there’s a style to many of my sketches which could be inspiring or relevant to others. Maybe they would make quick-to-use background images for someone else’s piece of art.

There’s more to what you produce than you might be able to envisage at first glance.

It’s worth exploring the idea of creating products out of things you already have part created, outlined or drafted. is there something you do naturally that generates its own content (writing poems, gardening, cooking)?

I really feel that my approach to what I now class ‘a product’ to be is less about what I think it should look like, and more about what people are telling me they want me to create.

In order to know what to create, I need to build an audience of eager followers first.

2) If you don’t build an Audience, you won’t sell your product:
10 days doesn’t sound like a lot of time, but you’ll actually have less time to create than you think. You’ll need to spend half your product creation time on marketing your product.

I was surprised to find that I spent half my time in the first challenge contributing to the Facebook conversations. Trying to help others and ask questions where I could.

This activity was part of my outreach but took more time than I first thought — as I wanted to engage in more detail than just a few word comments. I took the time to read people’s conversations and try to add value or supportive comments.

For the second challenge I already had planned in time to do this, on top of creating time for my product.

Remember! Without doing any marketing, you’re unlikely to actually sell your first product.

It’s a chicken and egg situation that many creators struggle with.

The good thing about this challenge approach is that you actively set up your follower page and pre-sell your product in advance of launching.

That way, you’re building an audience ready for when your product launches.

As someone who spends my day-to-day working life creating products first, it’s slightly alien to my thinking to start asking for subscribers before I actually create anything.

This is now something I’m getting more used to through each challenge. I’ve also done some in-between product launches that follow the same pattern. And it seems to work well.

Validating an idea for a product helps you save precious time and effort on your side.

My second challenge products (copyright free music for video’s and 4 tracks) came about through a comments on the Facebook group.

I was joking about putting out the instrumental, and someone said they’d love to get something copyright free for their video. Another person also commented that they struggle to get hold of copyright-free music too and that they would be interested, so I quickly went away and created the instrumental for pay-what-you-want pricing.

I had effectively got 2 customers who told me they needed a product. Which they downloaded and used straight away.

Listen carefully to conversations within the Facebook group, this will help you find a ready audience for new product ideas you might not have yet considered.

3) Start with just a single platform for marketing you can commit time to:
Throughout the challenge my main audience building was done through the Facebook group.

I wanted to discover what people were building, in order to help write the lyrics. As people were updating their pages and links from the start of the process, Facebook was the easiest and more detailed way to follow what people were doing.

For me, Twitter was too short to get into any detail or conversation. It has a more ‘quick update’ feeling. I need to ask questions and get involved in the conversations within the group. In this case Twitter was not something I decided to spend too much time with to help my first project.

As my project was music based, I could have spent more time using soundcloud, but my target audience were the people in the group, and I didn’t want to take people away from one platform where the conversation was, to another platform where they’d have to interact differently than the rest of the group was.

With hindsight though, if I had more time to market before the launch, I’d spend some time generating more soundcloud followers in advance and see how these engaged in the product once it was done. This is an action I’m planning to devote more time to in the next few months as I start to discover where my target audience is online.

For other types of product there are platforms to suit. Visual products can take advantage of Pinterest, Deviant Art (for comics), dribble, vimeo, youtube and plenty more.

For eBooks, there’s a host of platforms to get people to read and review advance copies, or to generate interest.

Remember, this takes time to set up, so perhaps this activity is something to do once the project is completed, or well in advance of starting the challenge.

Now I have an good understanding of the first platform, I can move onto new marketing platforms to help boost my next product launch.

4) A product helps build your email list:
A by-product of my focus on getting a song for the group launched was that I generated an email list of people who downloaded my product.

My personal goal with the first product was to sell $1 worth of product and get 10 people to sign up.

The great thing about Gumroad is that you can send updates and auto-responder email notifications to anyone who downloads your product.

This is what will be most beneficial for your next project and the ones after.

Your subscribers have a lifetime value that you can try to create products and market to over time, not just once.

Though I might not have made as much as other people because I chose a pay-what-you-want price, I did generate a lot more downloads than I expected.

I quickly generated an email list of around 40 people. Which is a lot more than I started the project with (I started with zero!).

By targeting a niche group of people (the creatives taking part in the challenge) I also know what type of products might help offer solutions to their problems. I can use this list to see how my next product should be built by asking for feedback, listening to conversations and keeping up with the community group in Facebook.

More importantly, I can test out ideas for new products and see what response I get — saving time on building products that people don’t want or don’t engage with!

I can also now look to create some regular email marketing campaigns to help move free downloaders across to my other paid products by offering deals and discounts.

5) Don’t try to do too much in such a short time:
Cutting things down to manageable size in order to make them easy to accomplish worked best for me.

The problem with any project is the size and complexity of what you undertake. This project was great because we had set time and schedules to create, market and launch within.

Open ended deadlines are the worse ones to work with.

By setting short term deadlines, you’re often more creative in how you deal with your product.

It stops you wasting time on making things look ‘too pretty’, instead focusing you in on creating the bare bones that you’ll need to launch with.

I heard a great statement from an interview I attended recently (I’m currently in final rounds of interviews for a new job!) [author update — I got the job :-) ]

In the meeting, I was talking to the person about how big projects that try to solve the big problem first often fail or get delayed. This costs the company lots more in time and budget than people first planned.

She summed up the same thoughts in a more eloquent manner. She said it was like ‘trying to boil the sea’.

It takes so much time and energy to try and boil all the sea water at once, when ‘bucket by bucket’ would be quicker and easier to manage.

I’m approaching my product creating ‘bucket by bucket’. It’s easier to accomplish, and with each successful launch, I’m motivated to create another, as it’s easy to accomplish and within reach time wise.

One or more successive failures in a row, and I find that my motivation drops off from creating anything. Keeping things within reach is a good way to get myself moving and keeping up the motivation to make more.

Stuck with you’re eBook? Take one chapter and create a smaller product instead.

Get this done a few times and then you’ve got your larger eBook completed!

6) The need for creative constraints:
Time is a great constraint for creativity. Another is a lack of budget. So too is your enjoyment!

Creativity is like a muscle, you can overstrain it, if you try to do too much — for too long a time.

If you don’t have money, you can often become super creative in how you change your perspective when looking at a solution to a project, or how you go about overcoming a problem.

My big constraint though is the fun factor.

Nothing fuels my ability to create more than an enjoyment in what I’m doing. I can work through the night and not feel knackered — as long as I’m enjoying what I’m doing.

If I’m not enjoying what I’m working on, then my, how time drags on. I lose motivation, empathy and energy on my work.

I struggle not to distract myself with other fun things like building the decking outside the back of the house. Anything else but what I have to do now — as I’m not enjoying it.

I best heard this described in the book ‘The Artist’s Way’ (my sister bought my a copy when I was in my Art degree and struggling to find motivation). In this book, your creative inner self is described as a 7 year old child. Your creative child wants to do fun things, but needs coaxing out of his/her shy self first.

To develop creative staying power, you need to build up to longer focus by encouraging your inner creative child in small steps.

You do this by accomplishing shorter, more fun, projects — that develop your creative confidence.

Setting too big a challenge for yourself, or by regularly not finishing what you started, means your creative child loses confidence, and doesn’t enjoy the process. Making it harder and harder to coax him/her out for future projects.

I tried to make this project as fun as could be (creating a song is what I enjoy doing). I also stopped worrying about how much to sell or how much it would make (instead setting a $1 target and a pay-what-you-want price).

It worked!

I surpassed my goal target, enjoyed the process a whole lot more than I thought, and feel like this small creative win can easily be built upon with another small, fun, project. Which it has.

What ways can you make your product making fun?
What ways can you make your launch more fun?

7) Get involved in the community:
The people you talk and interact with throughout the challenge will help you shape a product that sells.

I’ve read a lot about pre-validating your product idea before you even begin to work on the product. It’s still hard to get my head around.

I like to jump straight in and start making. Just like a lot of other creators, I then realise that what I end up with is not always what people want to buy.

This time round, I spent more time looking at ideas and boiling them down, then running them past the rest of the group.

By sharing what we were working on (one of the challenges of the 10 day lab) you could get direct feedback on your idea, even before you’d worked in creating anything.

Stating things out loud and in public is a powerful method, it commits you to doing something, but if you can get feedback from others before you work on it — they’ll likely respond positively or negatively. Giving you an indication if what you’re making is more ego driven than audience focussed.

8) Don’t be scared to ask for help:
Asking friends is a good way to see if your idea is a good one.

Though some friends might not be as adventurous as you, and might actually just reflect their negative experiences on your idea.

This small product launch group were all creative product people. So I got some nice comments when I mentioned doing a song about the project. This spurred me on to actually completing the product.

This was validation enough to know that I might not be able to sell this for much — if anything, but that people would have a direct interest in what I was doing as they were part of the group doing the challenge.

It was only when I got involved in the community that I realised that it would be more engaging for people, and make a better song, if I could somehow mention what other people were making too.

This changed the direction of the song, and made it more outward focused.

Which I think is why I got so many nice comments and feedback (plus some generous payments even though it was offered for free).

Getting people involved helped my project, but it’s harder to do when you’re used to working on your own thing.

That’s why a challenge such as this is a great idea to get involved with group of participants. Plus, I’ve now got a great circle of fellow creatives who we can all share our next ideas with.

We’ve since started a side group on Facebook so we can continue to reach out on future developments.

9) Share advice, tips and techniques:
We all struggle with different aspects of the product creating and launching process. And we all seemed to approach it in slightly different ways.

A nice part of getting involved in the creative community were the tips, tricks and time saving techniques that other people shared.

I learnt little tips and links that helped me look at things in a different way, or that saved me time and effort I’d have wasted on every project — until I knew about them.

We’ve all made discoveries about how to speed up some of the process, and by sharing these without purposely holding back I think helped strengthen our commitment to helping each other’s product succeed.

The by-product of a good community group is a handy list of links and tips that you can all share and work with in the future.

This is probably good enough to be a resource product in it’s own right. But somehow the free and open-sharing nature of the group made this feel nicer.

What are you waiting for? Get involved, start a community group yourself or find new ways to share advice and learning between others.

10) Inspiration happens easier in the company of others:
You find new ideas and direction from what others are doing.

I was very surprised about how many new ideas I had came from listening and reading about what other people were doing.

It wasn’t like I wanted to cheat and steal these ideas from them. Rather, what they were working on was inspirational, and pointed out new ways of thinking about what a product is (or could be).

I’d never considered looking at creating templates for programs I use daily — things that could be useful to others learning these same programs.

One page ‘cheat sheets’ were also a great idea that I’ve never really considered making before and well worth $1 to others.

11) It’s OK to change your mind mid-challenge:
A few people announced that they’d changed direction through the process.

This was something I did too, though I went from trying to create a 4 song EP of my own music, to simplifying this to just one song about the challenge.

Usually the results of feedback, time, and energy were the reasons that people gave as to why they were changing.

Some reduced the size and scope of what they originally wanted to achieve. A couple also changed product completely.

Either way, there’s no harm in changing your mind.

The great thing with this short term project challenge is that you can keep growing the product once the challenge is finished.

Spotting new product ideas through the collaboration process helps create something people want to buy from you.

There’s also the opportunity to collaborate and look at joint ventures or affiliate deals once you’ve launched your product.

Topics overlay, people you talk to might offer this, or you might see which products bridge the gap for your audience.

12) Using pay-what-you-want is more successful than you might think:
I was hesitant to offer my products for free, at first. What if I didn’t reach my goal of getting $1 in sales.

But I read up on some other creative experiences with this type if pricing that all seemed positive on its use. So I went with pay-what-you-want pricing on two of my products.

To my surprise I made around half of what I wanted to charge per sale — just by offering it for free!

I felt slightly guilty at first. Why are people paying me when they can get it for free?

I later realised that some people like to support what you do, even if they don’t need to pay- they still do.

Don’t worry about why they pay — instead use this as a validation that you’ve got something of value.

Cost can be a barrier to people downloading. Removing this barrier can get you more downloads and customers — but you might not make any money for your efforts!

Weigh up the point you’re trying to reach with your launch.

If you need to grow any audience, then offer something free and provide a value that encourages donations. But just don’t expect to get money.

If you want to make money, you’ll need to market heavily to help overcome the barrier that paying creates.

Why should people go through entering their card details for your product?

Have you really got the content to persuade the value in your product in place before they reach the checkout?

Focus on marketing and pre-selling your product through offering limited time offers and other deals. Just don’t expect to generate a massive audience (though some do both!).

It’s up to you how you approach pricing your products. Try a few different ways out and see what works for your audience (everyone’s audience is different).

13) Understanding the bigger picture to your creative efforts:
Lets face it. You’re probably not going to retire on the incone from one product.

At least not just yet!

Many small sources of income can create a sustainable income. So you’ll likely need to think about how to grow your product into something bigger, or what other products to create to compliment or augment the sales of each other.

Tiered pricing is an affective way to encourage larger purchases and support from fans, but you’ll need to help your audience understand the value for each step up in price.

This comes back to points raised onthe earlier notes about audience building, product creation and marketing strategy you choose to use.

My ultimate aim is to moce towards the 1000 true fans effect. A popular way to understand that a full time income from your efforts is attainable.

If you can build a solid audience of 1000 true fans — and aim to sell say £100 worth of products to them over one year, you gross income would be £100,000.

I learnt about this from musician friends of mine. Where the £100 per year breaks down into songs purchases, albums, artist merchandise (T-shirts, posters, other sellable goods), live gig tickets, and of course the artist’s back catalogue products.

When you look at all the options around a musical artist, it’s easier to see where the value can be generated for their true fans.

For digital product creators, you need to find a way to create the same kind if expanded product offering.

Tiered works well when bundling videos to an eBook. Interviews and case studies can also increase this bundle to a higher value proposition.

What other ways can be linked to offer more?

Do you actively promote your back catalogue of existing products with any new product launches?

Use email list building to help you engage and grow your ‘true fans’.

Remember that everyone has to start from Zero! Time and development as a creator will grow your list. There’s no instant solution.

List size is irrelevant if there’s poor engagement. Small, highly engaged lists often outperform large lists that are baiting people with general content.

Grow a back catalogue of products and keep looking for new ways to promote all across your products.

Use older products, and logically delivered content to help move interested people across to your new products.

What product can you make next to help build a back catalogue and promote your current product? Work through the next small product launch challenge with this product.

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Thanks for making it all the way down to this part!

If you’re interested in trying out your product creating skills the you can find out more information about Gumroad’s small product challenge here.

If you’d like to find out more about what I created in these challenges you can follow the below links to each of the products:

Only Ten Days — The unofficial song of the of first Small Product Challenge (£Free/£PWYW)

Copyright Free Music for Videos — Only Ten Days Instrumental version. (£Free/£PWYW)

4 TRacks — Get 4 copyright-free tracks for videos and screencasts every 4 weeks (£Free/£PWYW)

To view the full list of participants launch day products you can see all 100 products listed here! There are some great products in there :-)

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