Nicole St. Germain: Digital Product Creator [TCL 10]

The Creative Life (then Creative Stories) is a mini series where I sit with emerging creatives and seasoned professionals to know and share their stories. They show a side of the creative life that we don’t often see: vulnerability, mistakes made, questions about the way their industries work, and lessons they’ve learned, both the painful and the eureka moments.

Nicole St. Germain is a note-taking geek and a digital product creator. Her website, Take Better Notes, is all about taking effective notes, being productive, and achieving your goals. She’s also one of the first few people who stepped up and offered encouragement while I was going through Gumroad’s Small Product Lab course. This is her story.

Describe the journey. How did you start making digital products to improve one’s note-taking skills and productivity?

It all happened when I joined my mastermind group. At the time, I was running a beer, wine & spirits blog and looking for guidance because it wasn’t really going anywhere. I volunteered to take notes during our meetings, and one of my group members pointed out that my notes were pretty good and that if I ever considered teaching note taking.

The next time I was in the hotseat, my group helped me develop the concept. It was actually another one of my group members that introduced me to the first Small Product Lab, where I got to test my mission of “Better Notes.” I developed a template for Mastermind Meeting Notes, based on the notes I took in my own meetings. I made just a few sales, but they were my first online sales EVER, which was such an amazing feeling. It was during this challenge that I launched my website, takebetternotes.com, with one tutorial about how to use Evernote to manage an email challenge like the Small Product Lab.

For the second challenge, I pushed myself to make something 10x bigger, and also take what I knew about Evernote and share it with my fellow challengers. It was a lot of work, but the community makes it all so worth it. I made connections in both challenges that are definitely a part of any success I have.

Now that the second Small Product Lab is over, I’m committed to two things: continuing to improve and re-tool Evernote for Product Creators, and providing incredible free content and resources to my audience.

What are the main note-taking problems you + Take Better Notes are trying to solve?

Note taking is a skill that isn’t often taught, or at least very well taught. But it’s a skill we all rely on, to process information or to create something amazing.

I think there’s a lot of “Us vs Them” mentality with successful writers, students, and entrepreneurs. It’s easy to see a completed book or a successful launch or an A on a test without really understanding the process that made them successful in the first place.

I noticed compliments to my notes, or my organization would often come with negative comments about their own note taking abilities, productivity, etc. But I don’t feel that what I’m doing or how I write takes any special ability. I’ve just practiced. Of course I want to share my processes and tricks for making note taking easier, but most importantly, I want to increase confidence in my audience’s ability to be a Note Taker.

We met through Gumroad’s Small Product Lab where you created the guide, Evernote for Product Creators. Could you give us an idea of what the creative process was like making the course?

Tough! A lot tougher than I expected, especially to complete in ten days. The course was essentially an overview of how I use Evernote to create my own products. I did a lot of screencasts of my personal systems for research, promotion and writing. I might have made creating the course unnecessarily tough because the bulk of the work relied on one of my weakest skills, video editing. Basically, my workflow was this:

I brainstormed all the possible things I could cover in Evernote for Product Creators. I turned that into an outline. I broke the outline into lessons, and the lessons into videos. Then I turned each video outline into a script, and recorded the audio. Then I marked my videos for visuals. I made all the ‘slide’ visuals (using Evernote Presentation Mode) first, and then all my screencasts. Then, I started putting together the videos, one at a time. This process did require a couple ‘reshoots’ and ‘re-records,’ mostly because structure doesn’t work the same way visually as it does on paper. There where a couple spots where the transitions didn’t make sense as I had written and recorded them, so I had to re-do them.

If I had to do it all again, I would have marked the script before I recorded the audio, maybe even sketched out a storyboard. I relied really heavily on my outline, but I think I needed to be more thorough, especially because I was also teaching myself about video production.

Of course, I am sort of “doing it all again,” in the fact that I am retooling the product into a $100 product, rather than it’s current state of $19. But that means so much more that re-doing the videos. I’m adding a written guide, an audio component, and usable templates. I think that’s the beauty of a digital product is it is that it can continue to evolve.

Many of the Small Product Lab members attribute their successes to community. What insights did you take from being with other fellow creatives, as opposed to creating in solitude?

The community is always number one for me. It’s why, after the first Small Product Lab, I had to create my own product creator’s community, because I was craving that connection.

I think the importance of a community behind you is a diversity of insights. You have the benefit of someone else’s eyes and experience, giving you honest feedback about how your work affects them. Without that, you can get trapped in your own world view and create what you think the world wants, and launch to crickets.

A community is also support. I don’t know about you, but there’s not a lot I can share about creating digital products with people in the ‘real world.’ They think it’s uninteresting, or they don’t really care. Not only did these other product creators get it, they have insights about how they overcome similar struggles, or they celebrate your wins. They become your cheerleader, your supporter, and even your customer.

Do you have a piece of work that you consider particularly significant, that you have an emotional relationship with?

I wrote about the importance of mindset on my blog when I first started. I spent a lot of time on this particular post, because my mindset was the biggest difference between my old business and now.

Since I started working on Take Better Notes, I’ve been working toward the life I want to lead, not just working for the sake of work. And I was really starting to overcome my fear of failure, with the attitude of “no matter what happens, I can learn from this experience.” I wanted to share that philosophy with as many people as I could, because it’s the reason I had any success at all: like more than doubling my sales goal on my latest product.

What is your biggest struggle as a product creator?

I’m so glad you asked this question. I think there’s a lot of coded language in online business and marketing. We look to case studies and at data and with that, we are supposed to be able to replicate other people’s success, but we’re missing the key ingredient: the person. And I think a lot of male ‘gurus’ have the tendency to brush off differences in gender. They dismiss the idea that there isn’t an even playing field, and feel very strongly that “If I can do it, so can you.”

I find that I respond better to women entrepreneurs that embrace their womanhood and talk about what it means to be female and in business, someone like Marie Forleo or Kimra Luna. The most interesting thing about the way these two women build their community and create their message is that it appeals to men too, in big numbers.

I try to keep this mind when I’m building my own community. How am I creating a place where both women and men feel respected and acknowledged? How am I embracing my womanhood in my business?

One of the biggest challenges creatives struggle with is spreading the word, getting their work out into the world, and ultimately making that first sale. How were you able to get published/showcased/featured and build an audience around your work?

95% of my audience has come from Gumroad’s Small Product Lab, both the first and second. Of course we were encouraged to share our products, but I think I attracted people to my mission and list because I spent a lot of time in the group, giving feedback and encouragement, trying to help in whatever way I could. And I try to continue to give on my list and on my site, and create a culture and an expectation that I will give more than I ask.

And even within that community, it was important to me to build personal connections with other challengers. That’s how I connected with people I’m now working on creative projects with, or who are now my product affiliates.

What is the most important thing people should know about you as a creative?

I create with a lot of emotion. It’s a double-edged sword because it’s easier for me to connect, but it’s also easier for me to offend. I often edit twice: once for grammar and once for emotion. I go through blog posts and change my tone from directive “you should” statements to experience “I have” statements.

What do you aspire for? What steps do you intend to take to get to that point?

I want to create something that helps people, and make it big enough that it sustains the life that I want to lead. If one person ever tells me that something I said or did made a positive impact on their life, I would ecstatic! If multiple people did that, and that was my career, I would be so fulfilled. Ideally, this would be done with a couple courses, coaching clients, and live events each year.

Currently, I’m working to get there. The products I’ve created so far are the first step. They are tests, proving that people are interested in what I have to offer. The next step for me is bigger courses on building note taking skills. I’m also looking to launch a coaching service (which you are helping me test!) in the near future. These are all gigantic plans that I love to daydream about. I’m making them a reality by testing, and applying my feedback and lessons and testing again.

How do you spend your free time?

I’m a total TV junkie! Something about spending years with a character really appeals to the creative side of me. There aren’t a lot of shows on in the summer but I’m watching Astronaut Wives Club, Masters of Sex and old reruns of Shark Tank. I sometimes put on comedies in the background while I’m working, like 30 Rock, Parks & Rec or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

I just moved to Seattle, Washington, so I’m loving the chance to explore the food and craft beer scenes. I love all kinds of foods, but the burgers here are really fantastic!

What book would you recommend to fellow creatives?

I don’t read as often as I should be. Here’s a couple I’ve read most recently:

Since your specialty is productivity and better note-taking, what apps would you recommend other product creators and creatives use?

Evernote, Trello, and Zapier. There’s room for all three of the programs in my system.

I use Evernote for content management, brainstorming and research. I use Trello for list-making, and as an editorial calendar. I use Zapier to automate as much as possible. It can automate at such a high level.

Example: I have a spreadsheet I use in my Facebook Group, Digital Product Mastermind. Zapier can pull the information from each column and organize it on a Trello Card, so now I only have to check Trello to see if anyone new has signed up. I was so giddy when that zap worked!

Let’s flip that question on its head now. What are your favorite tool/s to use when creating work?

Evernote, Trello, Zapier. I practice what I preach!

What advice can you give to the young creative starting out?

Don’t be afraid to fail. Any sort of “failure” is a learning experience. Successful people have failed a lot, and they use that in their success. Also, write every day. Even if you don’t consider yourself a “writer,” all entrepreneurs have to write more than think. Write something everyday, and you will get better.

How can the community best support you and your work?

Join my community and be a part of what I’m working on! Give me honest feedback when things are going both wrong and right, so I can keep making better stuff.

If you like what I’m doing, tell your friends and get them to join my community as well. I have gotten to know the best people by them sending me a quick message and chatting, or vice versa. And I strive to be super open and honest about what I’m doing, so I want my community to feel like they can ask me anything.

If you’re into productivity and better note-taking, Nicole’s giving you special access to the first lesson of her latest course, Evernote for Product Creators.

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