Let me tell you about the best $69 I’ve ever spent. You should know I take parting with my hard-earned cash seriously, so I don’t toss it willy-nilly into the wind or flush it down the nearest available toilet. Oh, no. You have to earn my money. You have to prove you’re not a phony, that you’ve actually done what you teach for a while and have the results to prove it.
Before I click “buy,” I want to see your bonafides. If I could’ve written the book or course myself I won’t buy it. And if I do buy it and I feel as if a toddler has written it, trust I’m going to shout your shadiness from the rafters.
For over a month, I set aside my ego and sat quietly while someone else taught me how to do the thing I teach others — write a book. Finally, I finished a book I didn’t think I could because I’d bought a methodical framework that was so good I couldn’t help but stick with it.
I believe in Regina Anaejionu so much (few people have truly shifted the way I think about and approach marketing), I joined her private community and even dialed into a Zoom call this past weekend to connect with actual humans, which is hard for me because I’m terrified of new people, especially a lot of people. In one place. Doing human things like breathing, speaking, etc.
If there’s anything you take away from this article, let it be this — don’t ever think you’re above learning even if you do the thing, are an expert at the thing, or teach the thing. Always strive to be a curious, non-complacent student. Know your ego is guaranteed to be your ruin.
In a little over a month, I wrote and sold a profitable eBook. I’m not sharing actual dollars because it does nothing other than to make you salivate over numbers, and this isn’t that kind of party. All you need to know is this project was profitable.
This is how I did it.
1. Select The Topic
One would think this would be an easy task, but apparently there are a lot of subjects I can’t shut up about. I considered doing a book/mini course on income streams, book writing, career shifting (I did partner with a publication on this, though I have to be mum for a while), etc. I sat down and asked myself:
- What are my objectives with the project? What am I looking to achieve?
- How will this project help or augment my brand? Is it in alignment with what I do and create? Does it jibe with my values?
- Do I have enough meat on the bones? Writing one article is cute, but do I have enough to sustain me for a longer work? Do I have case studies, worksheets, exercises, and frameworks I could share.
- Could there be a business opportunity beyond the book? Meaning, could I use this as an up-sell vehicle for people who want to buy coaching engagements or my service suite?
- Who do I want to serve with this book? Who would buy it? And is this customer someone I’d want to potentially sell adjacent products in the future?
- What value would I be creating for the end consumer? What problem would I be solving and is it a problem I often see in my business?
- How does the customer benefit? What will they be able to achieve as a result of buying my guide? Am I confident I could deliver on the result?
- Most importantly, what project could I commit to without getting bored or wanting to move on to something else? What could I stick with when I’m formatting 200 pages in a Canva document and trying to edit a video in 16 applications to then realize I’m a fucking moron when it comes to video editing and I might as well pay a teenager to help me?
Like every book I write, I have to feel connected to the work. How much am I willing to sacrifice to tell this story because I believe in it so much? I have to be willing to sit still with this fucker for a while. And this consideration is sizable since we live in an attention-starved age and I have an allergy to commitment.
After I went through the questions, only one idea was left — creating stories that capture, connect, and convert a customer in a human, non-basura way.
These questions are not only important to vet the idea, but they’ll be the blueprint for creating the thing and selling it because people want to know:
- What they’re buying (is this for me?);
- Why they want or need what they’re buying (problem they want to solve);
- Who they’re buying it from (are you a fraud or the real deal);
- What they’ll achieve/learn/can do as a result of buying (transformation they’ll experience);
Because I answered these questions, I knew how to shape the content within the book:
- I made a point to consistently address product and service providers and share case studies and examples for each so people could see how my framework and exercises can be applied to their business.
- I used simplicity to communicate complexity since my customer won’t likely understand marketing jargon and minutiae.
- I created video and audio supplements in the places where I thought people might be stuck from either a mindset or complexity perspective.
- I tried to pare down to the essentials while teaching them along the way. My “How To Build a Brand” series ended up being a 256-page guide on its own. I cover five formidable topics (including worksheets) in 201 pages.
2. Build An Outline
Building an outline comes easy to me because outlines are how I start any project — whether it be writing a book or creating a marketing plan. Always start with a roadmap even if you know you might veer off or change course. An outline ensures you have a start and end point, which is important if you plan on finishing the thing.
Although Regina A. referenced a few different outlining methods and techniques (using post-it technique, narrative arc, etc.) in her course materials, I went with what I know. I created a five-part structure that took my customer through a journey and I broke each part into multiple components. Below are snaps from my messy outline because I start everything longhand because old.
In all seriousness, doing this by hand forced me to consider every step a person would need to take to achieve the results. I had to think from the perspective of someone learning something new versus me (with the knowledge) teaching it.
At each stage, I asked: would someone know what this means? What questions might they ask? Where would they get stumped? Where should I add visuals, case studies, and examples to bring more obtuse or heady stuff to life? I printed out the comments from every article I’ve written in the past two years on content, brand strategy, and storytelling and reader questions helped me understand where I needed to take my time with teaching and where I could speed up.
Just because you know how to do something doesn’t mean you’re necessarily good at teaching it to others.
I created a five-part structure for my guide:
Introduction: Why they’re here, what they’ll learn and achieve, and who I am.
- How to Build a Human Brand: I revisited my 8-part series and updated it pretty significantly and simplified it. I made it more relevant for the COVID era in the way consumer behavior and priorities have shifted. I went deeper on values, vision, and purpose, and used data and studies as proof-points. I showed people how to compose stories that have meaning.
- Know Your Customer: I shared how to learn everything about your prospective customer through simple online tools and customer conversations to more complex methodologies like customer segmentation. I also introduced customer journey maps, which are vital. Don’t skim over this part because if you don’t know how your customer buys something, you won’t be able to create content that addresses what they’re thinking, feeling, and doing at each stage, and publish that content in the places they reside. CJ maps aren’t cute marketing jargon — they’re a real way to get inside your customer’s head so you can serve them better.
- Bridge Brand to Customer With Stories: Stories are the conduit for connection, and I broke down the psychology and science behind storytelling and frameworks for how to build stories that center your customer. Then, I share the tactical operations behind content creation: creating calendars, content marketing processes, finding content resources, images online, etc.
- Distribute Those Stories & Engage With Customers: Content means nothing if you don’t consider it in the context of distribution. You have to publish content where your customers reside on and off-line. And then you have to engage with them like humans, not dollar signs. There’s a lot of folk on this platform talking about providing value and serving their customers, but they can’t be bothered to answer ANY questions in the comments. Come now. How is that cultivating a connection other than connecting their dollars to your wallet?
- Measure The Results: How to assign metrics to your strategy and build a baseline so you can measure if what you’re doing is working.
Once the outline was built, I inventoried everything I’ve written and determine what could be repurposed and what had to be gut-renovated. What I’ve learned from creating eBooks or course guides is that you can’t just throw a bunch of articles together with a cute transition slide. The tone, cadence, rhythm and materials have to feel cohesive, coherent and stand on its own. Throughout the guide, I reference other sections and pages and I probably couldn’t have done that as effectively if I were throwing this together.
I also wanted to make sure people felt as if they were getting something they couldn’t get anywhere else.
Within the exception of maybe 1–2 sections, everything has been re-written or composed as new.
Within each section, I included exercises, worksheets, audio & video guides so they can actively apply what they’ve learned to their business. My videos ranged in length from 5 minutes to 30 minutes depending on the complexity of the subject matter because sometimes you need to talk it out rather than type it out.
3. Pre-Sell The Book
I decided to pre-sell the book, which not only gave me incentive to complete the thing, but it also made me excited that people wanted the thing. My idea was validated by the interest people had in it, which is powerful. If no one had bought the book, I would’ve wondered if:
- Was I communicating clearly what I was selling, what they would get, and the transformation they’d experience?
- If so, is this something people would actually buy? If they’re not buying, I have to go back and question the topic.
In pre-selling, I had to determine:
- Platform for selling: I used Gumroad to host and sell my digital product. I also used it for my sales page (though I’m not hot on their template — I’d much rather have used leadpages.com)
- Sales page copy: Remember the questions I posed at the very top of this piece? Well, the answers went into my sales page copy. What I was selling, who it’s for, how they’d benefit, and what they’d achieve as a result of buying. I also shared my framework and a 30 page-sample so they could get a preview of what they’re buying. Here are other cool sales pages from the community I’m in.
- Sales vehicle: For me, it’s email. I have a small, but mighty list, which I comb regularly for cold subscribers. My list is highly engaged and I make sure I provide value in each dispatch, but also relay that at some point they will be offered something to buy. They could receive my emails and read my work for free without ever buying from me and that’s cool. But I’m clear in my onboarding email sequence what they should expect. Nearly all of my pre-sales came from my list. And I don’t have a bananas email list.
I am putting together a long-term marketing plan for this guide, and I’ll refresh this page with the intel once it’s developed.
4. Write The Book
Ironically, this was the easiest part?! I did have to maneuver this around my client work, so I:
- Scheduled weekend writing sprints where I’d spend full-days on one particular topic. The sprints were reserved for the meatier topics that required thinking, writing, editing, etc.
- Time-blocked during the week and defined which sections of the book I’d be working on during that period. Time-blocking works for me because I claim a time and get specific on what will be achieved and written during that time.
Unlike fiction and narrative non-fiction, I’m able to write in a linear way, so I worked through each section (and sub-sections) in chronological order (though I admit I started the book writing the section I was most excited to write so I could get moving).
Also, I made sure each section had:
- Case studies and real-life examples;
- Ways this can applied to your business whether you’re a product or service provider;
- Worksheets and/or exercises to apply the learnings to your business;
- Pages that had more white space or varied in design so folks didn’t get too overwhelmed. My book is the kind where you’ll work at it in sections over a period of time — it’s not meant to be consumed and completed in one sitting.
- Stats and studies to back up key claims;
- A little humor because although this is serious work, we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously. The tone throughout is consistent with what you read here — I make sure you hear my voice come through in the writing.
The hardest part was the formatting and design, which is not in my zone of genius. If I hadn’t already dumped a pile of money getting my core marketing collateral designed, trust I would’ve had this professionally done.
- Canva (the Pro package) for my cover and interiors using a design I purchased off Creative Market. I tried using Adobe InDesign, and I’ve learned there are many things I’m good at — Adobe suite and video editing are not part of that party. In the past, I have used Keynote to create eBooks, but I wanted something a little fancier in terms of design. Canva isn’t hard though you can only create 100 pages per design.
- Videoleap for iPhone to edit my videos. Honestly, this was so hard for me, I nearly hurled my laptop against the wall exporting 1GB videos from that rat bastard iMovie software. Note to self: hire people next time to do the stuff you’re inept at doing.
- SmallPDF/Adobe PDF (trial): Compress the files, merge the various Canva books.
- Google Drive: Host sample pages and all my audio/video content.
- U.S Copyright Office: I filed my application for a registered copyright, which means if people steal my work I can go after them for compensatory damages.
Once I completed the book, I set it aside and went through two edits — one for content, and the other for line edits. I’m sure there are still a few typos because I’m human and I’d rather be done than perfect.
5. Publish The Book
When I hit the release button on my pre-orders, I gulped. Overnight, I saw a profit from one-month’s work because of my engaged email list (small, but mighty!) and I had something people wanted to buy. I knew this because I’d done my research — I read people’s comments and questions, spoke with prospective customers and listened to client feedback on the tools they wish they had for their teams.
My next steps are:
- Continued marketing of the eBook to prospective customers and old/existing clients
- Gathering feedback from the process, which will help design better books and more comprehensive courses in the future. One of my big goals for 2021 was to shift my business from 1:1 client work to education. This was my first major foray and I believe in starting small and scaling. I’m not ready to build a full-blown course just yet, but the most important part of this process now is getting feedback.
- Map out my next project.
I want my work to set a certain standard, to be a counterpoint to what exists in the marketplace. I could complain about the faux marketers and the garbage eBooks and courses retailing for $1997, or I could create. I could produce that which I want to see in the world and find the people who would be receptive to my weird vibe, the fact I can never be brief about anything, and my passion to share what I know with others.
Creating this book is a core part of my values in how it was created and priced. I’ll never offer something that is unattainable by most — I reserve the 1:1 client work for the high-ticket items. I also believe in sharing what I know in hopes that it can educate and inspire others just as I’ve been inspired by my teachers.
And yes, these books can make a nice bit of money, but cash isn’t what bolts me out of bed in the morning, it doesn’t feed my soul or make me better at what I do. Otherwise, I would’ve stayed at an agency in New York clearing a healthy six-figures.
I create because I’m forever a curious student. Money is always the back-up dancer to the Beyonce creation.