The internet is a powerful marketplace. Of course, sellers like Amazon, eBay, and overseas giant Alibaba have staked their claim to being the biggest online retailers. But that's only part of the story.
The sweeping scope of the web has given rise to a boom in digital products.
What’s so great about digital products you ask?
For one, they don’t require a factory, or a massive labor force, or a ridiculous amount of investment to produce.
Second, anyone with an idea, a laptop and dedication can create and sell a digital product (including you!)
If you’ve considered getting into the online retail game, but unsure of where to start, this guide is for you.
When talking about digital products or selling information or knowledge online, it is indeed a broad topic.
At its most basic, a digital product is something that is created once and sold over and over. Easy to scale and absolutely zero concern for logistics. Not to mention the overhead cost is basically nothing.
In other words, your product is downloadable.
Though the definition may seem elementary, the possibilities are endless. Here’s a list of ten very different items, that are all sold digitally:
That's just a tiny sample. Like we said, if you have an idea that translates into a digital format, you can sell it online.
To get started, let’s focus on products that fall under the digital knowledge category - ebooks, online courses, templates, white papers. Not only are these items easy to create, but they are among the most popular of all digital downloads.
When contemplating which direction to take your digital aspirations, you first need to figure out two vital points: what knowledge or interests do you possess and what does the marketplace look like for that subject matter.
The first point is straightforward. Are you knowledgeable in a particular field where your experience and insight proves valuable to others? Or is there a long-held interest of yours that you’d like to attempt to monetize?
From real estate to quilt making to marketing strategies, again, the possibilities are wide open.
The second concern though is where you’ll encounter the viability of what you want to share (and sell). To be successful, your idea should fall into one of three categories:
You can always do your own thing, but initially following one of these paths will help you find early success.
Next, research your interest and determine the exact market that exists for your digital information. Through reading articles, visiting social networks or blogs, and looking at product pricing and sales, you’ll figure out where your idea might fit.
Not only that, but the background info you pick up will help inform future decisions as your business expands.
Let’s assume that as a former real estate agent, you knew a number of people who were always looking for inside tips on buying and selling property.
Through your research, you found that the public is highly interested in ways to stretch their real estate dollar, and are willing to pay for that insight. The even better news is that few high-quality guides exist to help homeowners do it.
And thus the idea for your ebook is born.
We’re using the real estate scenario as a guide, but in your specific area, the key is to identify where your experience fills a need. Even with markets that might at first seem saturated, if the offerings are underwhelming, there is the opportunity to take advantage of a low-quality marketplace.
With idea in hand, it's time for the fun part - creating your digital product. For many, this is a daunting prospect, especially if it’s your first time to craft informational material. Thankfully, plenty of help is available when putting it together.
Before you start the process though, choose your medium carefully, and stick with it until you get that first project finished (we’ll talk about branching out shortly).
For our ebook example, you’ll spend time writing, selecting a handful of accompanying images, editing, and then polishing the final product before listing it for sale.
If you create an online course, it can be as simple as you voicing over a slide show or taking it up a notch and using video instead.
With any avenue you choose, there is plenty of help by way of software, freelancers, and other sources that make the creation process easy to navigate.
Creating an ebook? Write it in Word, save it in PDF, and sell from a website developed through Shopify. Shopify is an eCommerce platform, and using Shoptimized Shopify theme with its 29 conversion-boosting features can skyrocket your sales.
Not a writer? Hire a ghostwriter to give your ideas cohesion. Not a designer? Hire one from Fiverr.com for five bucks to generate your cover or other design materials.
The same thing applies to other formats. Know the tools available to you. Know where to get help should you need it.
Ultimately, creating your content comes down to two simple concepts - one, as already mentioned, make sure that what you offer is both valuable and compelling for your users. Then, whatever your creation, keep it simple - easy for your users to consume and understand.
With your product finished it's time to market and sell your digital creation.
Much like the development process, when it comes to marketing and selling, multiple options exist. A few successful approaches include:
Here you generate a list of subscribers either through your website or via a landing page and provide them with lower level content free of charge. The idea is that as they come to familiarize themselves with you and what you offer, you’ll flip that list into paying customers.
Affiliate marketing involves you paying out a fee or commission to an external source that brings you customers. For example, assume you sell your real estate ebook for $15. Networking with a group of realtors for 10% of each referral who purchases a book will cost you $1.50 per ebook.
In some ways similar to affiliate marketing, with an influencer, you rely on their built-in network of followers (whether through social media or an industry-specific news site) to generate your sales. To achieve this, you must convince the influencer of your viability, usually by offering your content to them for free. In turn, they will spread the word to their fanbase.
Arguably the most effective way to reach a wide audience (both general or hyper-specific), is through social media - particularly Facebook. Using the Facebook ads platform, you can develop targeted ads that reach your ideal consumer.
Beyond how you initially reach an audience, you can also automate your marketing by setting up a funnel. This method aims to help capture and develop a relationship with the interested party.
One possible scenario includes a prospect clicking a link from an email you sent or advertisement you created. The link directs them to a landing page you’ve set up to tout the benefits of the digital product and begin the closing process.
The advantage to automation is that you nurture the relationship for as much or as little as necessary. This includes the set up of triggers (like follow-up emails or retargeted ads) and communication as frequently as you see fit (or as the consumer requests).
Part of marketing your digital product includes knowing the best way to reach your potential customer. Research and take advantage of the methods and tools that will engage your audience.
As promised, let's talk about what happens after making that first sale. If your hope is for lasting, consistent income then one digital product is not enough.
In fact, one small idea can spark an entire business model, and keep your efforts fresh and popular with your niche market.
Let’s again use our real estate ebook as a guide and look at the options you have to move beyond your first effort.
So maybe your original ebook focused solely on real estate in Texas. Why not an ebook for real estate in Florida? Montana? North Carolina?
Again, once you’re in a place to expand, start offering a diversified selection of products that grow your customer base.
Your real estate ebook for homeowners was a hit, so capitalize on that by offering a course for would be realtors. Or wannabe home flippers. Or sellers in a buyer’s market.
See where this is going?
Take your single revenue stream product and transform it into multiple streams. Consider moving beyond one media type. In the case of our example, a monthly podcast not only adds a unique dynamic to your business but also may set you apart from competitors.
Perhaps your ebook kept its focus on navigating current trends and market conditions, but what about home purchasing principles that apply in any market, at any time.
Most digital material falls into two categories - current content which is more susceptible to trends and quickly becomes dated, and evergreen content, which is relevant in any space or time period. Creating pieces that have a shelf life beyond a few weeks or months mean always having something to offer new clients.
Finally, when looking beyond your first creation, network yourself and your business to grow your following.
Blog on your own website.
Guest blog on other websites.
Engage on social media through more than just advertising.
Don’t sit back and wait for the game to come to you. Go out, drum up excitement about what you’ve done and what your future plans are.
No doubt you’ve heard the saying you’re your own worst critic? Well, you’re also your own best cheerleader. So take that excitement to the masses and share your passion with others.
The more technology evolves, the more opportunities are available to make money online. Just remember these simple steps to success in the digital age:
Find your passion or recognize that you have knowledge to share.
Create something valuable your target audience needs or fill a void with something they want.
Engage them in the medium where they are most likely to respond.
Expand beyond your original idea and build something even greater.
Soon enough you’ll be creating your digital empire.
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