How to Have Zero Sales and Still Make Money

Published June 12, 2014 by Jane Portman
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One thousand words of encouragement for those who are starting out with products

Here’s a typical scenario. You are a designer or a developer who set out to create your first thing, most likely an infoproduct: a book, a course, or a webinar.

You spend plenty of time writing quality content. You also study books and do marketing: set up a landing page to collect email addresses, build your own email list, publish good content on your blog and write guest posts for popular resources. That all takes plenty of time, too.

Then you launch it according to the best practices: write a solid email sequence, have another splash of guest posts, build anticipation, give discounts, etc.

By the time you launch you have already spent hundreds of hours on the project. You reasonably expect it to be successful. There should be an obvious cause-and-effect relationship between your effort and sales numbers. But there isn’t!

You end up with miserable sales and bitter feeling of regret.

The marketing reality bites hard

Are you a solid craftsman who spent many years perfecting your skill? Then I strongly doubt you are a marketing guru. And it’s highly unlikely you have a large audience.

The reality bites: you have to set your expectations very low. It takes enormous effort to make people do virtually anything online — even sign up for a freebie, not to mention buying a product.

Even if you “follow the books” and put many hours into marketing, there is no guarantee for success. Take my word: if you do good promotion, your sales will be low. If you do poor promotion, you won’t have any sales at all.

Then why is everyone still doing products? Well, we are all chasing our dreams. But not only that. Products have many indirect benefits that allow you to make money even if you have zero sales.

The long-term fun starts later

The typical launch scenario seems sad, but it’s by no means a failure. This is an awesome way to begin a long marketing journey that has worked for many professionals. And it worked for me, too.

So how do you use your product after the launch applause calms down and sales trickle out?

Find courage and stop pumping your marketing efforts into this single product! Instead, use it as a tremendous marketing asset for your core business.

Hike your rates

Your product might not bring immediate revenue, but it serves as a multiplier for your main source of income.

What’s that main thing that has been paying your bills for years? It’s still there! But you are now an accomplished author who can charge twice as much.

If you do consulting work, merely setting up a book landing page can be a solid reason to hike your rates.

When you actually launch the product and start selling it for a good price, you shift to entirely different league of accomplished professionals who are able to do serious business and ship things.

Build public authority

Your product is a great proof of authority by itself, but it also gives you endless material for writing and speaking in public.

Now I have authority to talk here about marketing and product development. But half a year ago this would have been mere speculation with no experience to back it up.

Gaining traction is hard and slow. But your product will help you grow from humble guest posts to endless interviews and podcasts.

An interesting product can also become a subject for public discussion and skyrocket your popularity. Nick Disabato (my favorite role model) became well-known for Draft Revise, as his new productized consulting format was widely featured by reputable sources.

Samuel Hulick picked a fantastic niche idea for his book, User Onboarding. His name is now unmistakably associated with this topic.

You can probably name a dozen great examples that prove the same thing. Products work magic for publicity.

Use your product portfolio as a sales funnel

Congratulations, you now have the first item on your product shelf! A product portfolio is a hard thing to build, but is a great thing to have. Besides being an explicit proof of authority, it also serves as a dream sales funnel.

My first product was a book, Mastering App Presentation, which now represents the middle range of my product line.

Then I published Coefficiency — an email course on managing designers, which now works perfectly well for acquiring new subscribers.

My latest consulting product, Correlation, now represents the top tier of the product line. The productized consulting model has multiple benefits: it provides solid recurring revenue and helps to establish a comfortable ongoing relationship with a client.

And more importantly, it has a fixed price tag, which makes my services more approachable. Many clients find it intimidating to contact a popular professional because they are afraid that the costs will spin out of their control. A fixed-price package is an easy way to combat such concerns.

These three products — an email course, a book and a consulting package — provide a steady marketing path from initial customer acquisition to the ultimate high-touch consulting services. It took me about half a year of dedicated effort to build this line, but it’s the best investment I can ever recommend.

Such a sales funnel can lead to your most expensive product, high-touch consulting service, or your core SaaS business. In any case, it’s a thousand times better than the traditional “inquiry-tour-sale” model (not to mention freelance job boards). People reach out for your ultimate product organically. They know you so well that “the sale” becomes a mere triviality.

Practice marketing in your own sandbox

You never know how it feels to market your own product until you actually do it. Growing your list to the first hundred subscribers, launching a product, giving your first interview — it all feels like a first kiss. Except this time it’s even more exciting!

I’ve been giving marketing advice for years, but it wasn’t until I tried launching my own products that I could really add “marketing” to the list of my professional skills.

Marketing knowledge often makes the difference between a mass-market freelancer and an exceptional consultant. Use your first product as a sandbox to master these skills!

A final word of encouragement

By now it should be clear that any product benefits your business more than you think. And all the benefits have very little to do with actual sales!

So you shouldn’t be disappointed with low numbers — after all, it’s your first product launch. Now you have a shiny new weapon in your hands. Use it wisely! And build more products.

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