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Content marketing is all the rage these days.

If you want to make money, you need to sell. To sell, you need people to be paying attention. Content creation has become one of the best ways to get people’s attention.

You might be producing free content because you think that’s what you’re supposed be doing, but it’s important that you do it within a context that makes financial sense.

Free content can’t just be something you make for its own sake. It needs to be a part of your business model.

If you only produce free content, you’ll produce yourself right out of business.

In this episode, we talk about how to sell. You’ll learn when the right time to start selling is, what is the ideal balance between paid and free content, and even how to sell something that you previously gave away for free (no, it’s not wrong).

We talk about different pricing approaches, pricing models, and different ways to generate revenue. Beginners will come away from this episode ready to sell their first product. Seasoned business owners will get new ideas for generating additional revenue.

Highlights, Takeaways, Quick Wins
  • There will always be people who get upset when you start charging for something.
  • The deeper the sense of relationship to a person, the more inclined they’re going to be to reciprocate.
  • Free content is a tool to get peoples’ attention. It’s not an end unto itself.
  • Your greatest cost is customer acquisition.
  • If you are giving something away, make it clear what the full price is.
  • You have to balance making money now with making more money later.
  • If people care about something at all, that means it’s valuable.
  • There is huge value in concision and brevity.
  • Repurpose free content.
  • If you’re providing value first, you’re always able to use the Rule of Reciprocity in your favor.
  • Backwards Building is not just just announcing something, it’s ramping up to it.
  • If you’ve been showing up, working hard, and you know your stuff, you deserve to make money.
  • All you need in order to sell is quality, confidence, and a single paying customer.
Show Notes
  • 04:06 Ben: I subscribe to the Rule of Reciprocity and using content marketing to provide value upfront, so I’ve started doing this in different ways. Some of it is through content marketing, some of it is through pro-bono work, and I fear that with some of the pro-bono work that I’ve done, I’ve set a precedent where flipping the switch feels a little bit awkward at this point. With some of the content marketing I do, I don’t know if I should have all along been preparing my audience for a time when I would sell. Or, am I right in leaving that out, and start talking about it when I have something to sell?
  • 05:06 Sean: That’s a good one. We had some similar questions in the chat that we’re going to get to a little bit later. Are people going to feel like you did a bait-and-switch on them since you’ve been providing all this free content and suddenly you’re asking for their money? You really can go about it multiple ways.

There will always be people who get upset when you start charging for something.

  • 05:34 This will happen right out of the gate or if you did a bunch of free stuff ahead of time and then start charging. Either way, you’re going to get people who don’t like it. That’s something you can count on.
  • 05:49 Ben: This is really interesting to me because I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. This might be a tangent into some philosophical territory, but when it comes to the Rule of Reciprocity, the reason that works is that when you provide value, you’re building a desire in your audience to reciprocate that value.

The Rule of Reciprocity

  • 06:09 Sean: The Rule of Reciprocity is something Robert Cialdini talks about in his book Influence, where if you give someone something, like a gift, they’re going to feel compelled to return that favor. It’s the natural human instinct. If you’re conscious of this you can use it to your advantage by going out of your way to give to people so that, when you sell something, they’ll be more inclined to buy it.
  • 06:39 Ben: This social rule is tied to the need we have to be connected to community. When we feel indebted to a person—and it’s different with organizations and businesses—people are totally fine with being in debt to an organization or entity, but in our personal relationships, when there’s indebtedness, it puts up a wall and separates us from community.
  • 07:05 Sean: The example I like to give is that when you buy someone a coffee, the other person feels obligated to return the favor. We don’t like the feeling of indebtedness so much that we go out of our way to completely wipe the slate clean. You’ll be more likely to buy someone else a lunch in return to make it really clear that you no longer owe them. Most of this is subconscious, but we don’t like feeling that debt. In a good relationship, there’s a give and take. You get your friend’s drink at the bar and he gets yours the next time. It’s usually a pretty natural occurrence, but it’s good to be aware of these things.
  • 07:52 Ben: All of that being true, it’s interesting to me that there are people who receive free value and don’t behave according to this rule. It makes me focus on the community aspect, on the relationship. They don’t feel a personal connection, they don’t feel like they need to maintain that connection to community through you, because maybe they have it somewhere else. That natural desire to reciprocate, that feeling of wanting to stay connected and to make good on that gift, doesn’t exist for some people.
  • 08:34 I think it has everything to do with their sense of connection and the relationship. What you’re offering is valuable, yes, but based on your personality, the way you communicate, the kinds of stories you tell, there are certain people who are more inclined to feel connected to you and to feel the depth of that relationship than others.

The deeper the sense of relationship to a person, the more inclined they’re going to be to reciprocate.

The shallower the sense of relationship is, the easier it is to ignore that reciprocation.

  • 09:14 Sean: That’s totally true. A contributing factor to people not feeling that social obligation very well could be the fact that the majority of media you consume, if we’re talking about content marketing, is delivered to you via ads. That’s how it’s presented to you, ads or sponsors—somehow, your attention is being sold. If you go to the movies, you’re not going to see a ton of ads or interruptions in the movie breaking it up so they can pay for it. You paid for a ticket, and that helps offset their costs. If you’re watching TV, they’re going to interject ads, because that’s how they’re going to be able to deliver it to you.
  • 10:10 A lot of blogs, shows, podcasts, or YouTube shows are monetizing by using ads and that kind of thing. A lot of people are used to consuming content and media for free, and there is no social obligation when there are ads or sponsors. You use Facebook, you are the product. Your attention is being sold, so you don’t feel a social obligation there. You don’t feel a social obligation when you watch people’s YouTube channels or you read their blog because they have ads. They’re selling you as the product, which is why you don’t need to feel that. That’s my theory.
  • 10:52 Ben: When you are providing free value, the reason somebody would ignore that rule is because they don’t feel like there’s a relationship there. That’s why I love the term Sean uses for this, which is Relationship Marketing. The focus is on building relationships with people, because you don’t get as much mileage out of these social rules outside of the context of relationships. When you’re building relationships with people, that’s when the power of these social rules comes into play.

What is the Best Balance of Free & Paid?

  • 11:33 Sean: Anneqah asks, “What’s the balance between free and paid content?” First of all, remember that you’re a business. You need to have a business plan. What is your business model? Free content is a means of acquiring potential customers. It’s a form of marketing, which is why we call it content marketing, and things take time and money to produce. If the content you’re putting out is a free eBook, free videos, a free podcast, a free blog, all of them, that all takes time and money. If it’s not your time, you’re hiring someone else to do it, which costs you money, and all of this you’re putting out for free.
  • 12:30 That’s an expense. You need to remember, first of all, that you’re a business, and this is marketing. The amount of free content you put out doesn’t have a perfect number, like x percent. The amount of free content you put out is determined by your capacity to create, the time/money you have to spend on creating free content, how well that free content is converting, and how long you’re willing to wait out your Return on Investment (ROI). There’s a lot of factors here. Free content can be really good in bringing people in, pointing them to your paid solutions, but it takes time, money, and effort. You need to have a business plan. You can’t just throw out free content and say, “Where’s my audience and where’s the money?”

Free content is a tool to get peoples’ attention and bring them into your world, where you have to decide what to do with them.

  • 13:52 Ben: When I look at what Sean’s doing with the seanwes platform, I think I recall Sean saying something like, “We’re putting out free content, providing free value, and we’re charging just what we need to keep the lights on.” Your focus right now isn’t on building a bunch of profit and saving a bunch of money. Sean’s just trying to keep this machine running. I would want so badly to get as far ahead as I could that I would probably be much more conservative. That seems like a very bold approach, but it is also a very long term approach. Think about all of the tokens Sean is putting in and what that’s doing for building his audience, how he’s connecting with people through that content, and the kinds of problems he’s solving for folks.
  • 14:58 Sean does have this paid stuff, and it’s enough to keep things going right now. At some point in the future, he could say, “Okay, let’s cash in these chips,” and he could have a big payday. Or, what I think is probably more likely, is that it’s just a part of Sean’s values that he gives. As long as he’s able to continue to sustain and grow the things he wants to, the less it’s about profit and the more it’s about being in a place where cashing in those chips allows you to make something else that is really going to help people.
  • 15:37 Sean: I like “cashing in the chips” metaphor because I love Poker. If you could fit our purpose, objective, and strategy into that metaphor, it would be that the antes are payroll. You have to ante up. You’ve got to pay to play. You can sit there and let it go around, but every time the big or small blind comes to you, you’re going to bleed a little bit. You can just sit there, but you’re losing money just sitting there. At minimum, you have to replace the money that’s going out, even if you’re not playing or making bets.
  • 16:31 You’ve got to at least have that much, and that can be difficult. If you’re so long game that you only bet if you have a really good hand, you put your chips aside to cash them out and leave a minimal stack here just to stay in the game, you can’t do that forever or you’ll bleed out. You do have to actually play a little bit. You have to invest some money in the beginning, and as you go, you have to keep it going. In order to do that, you need to sell. You can’t be completely long game, and that’s a lesson I’ve had to learn. You have to earn the right to think that way. If you focus on making money and getting paid right now, you’ll make more money.

You have to balance making money now with making more money later.

  • 17:22 It can’t be either one, it’s a balance. You have to survive now to cash in later. If you want to enjoy it later, you have to be around to enjoy it later. Many businesses give next to nothing for free. Take an attorney, for example. You walk into their office, and you’re automatically wracking up a bill. They’re not giving you anything for free. Everything is billed, and yet they’re doing just fine. They’re making tons of money. All they need is a dozen clients a year, and they’re multi-millionaires. That’s just how it works, but they’re not going to have a big audience. Know your business model. What are you going for? Why do you want this audience? What is your end game?
  • 18:17 You have to think about this stuff. Don’t just take other people’s strategies at face value and say, “I’ll apply this to my business.” What do you want here? If you want to make a sustainable living doing what you’re doing, maybe you should just start selling right now. There’s nothing wrong with selling. Giving away free value is a tool—a strategy for growing an audience that you can later monetize through various forms. The attorney doesn’t have a huge audience, right? If you’re giving away a ton of free content, that’s going to attract people. The people you look up to who are influencers, who have tens or hundreds of thousands of followers, they did that by giving away free content, by giving away value.
  • 19:12 The attorney doesn’t have this huge audience, but that’s not his goal. He doesn’t need it. He doesn’t need to give free value to create a sustainable business. You have to think about your business plan. My plan is to give away a bunch of value and grow an audience I can help and serve, and then offer paid things that go even more in-depth for the select people who want to purchase those things. As long as that sustains me, that’s fine. I’m okay with that model, but you need to be okay with yours.
  • 19:43 Ben: It’s not a one size fits all thing. It could be that you do need to start selling something now, and yes, that’s going to take some power off of your punch when you try to provide something of value later that you’re giving way, but it has to be part of your strategy because of the situation you’re in. Maybe you don’t have enough in savings to overlap for the amount of time you would need to invest… You have to look at all of those factors and take all of that into consideration.
  • 20:19 Sean: Charli asks, “How do I decide if a resource I’m making is something I should give away for free to build an audience, or something I can charge for?” You can do whatever you like. You can charge for small things and give away big things—it’s totally up to you, but you have to be purposeful about it. You need to be thinking about this: what is your goal? What are you trying to accomplish? What is your bread and butter? What keeps your business alive? What keeps you going?
  • 21:00 How does this move you closer to that? How does giving or selling bring you closer to your goal? If I’m going to give away a very valuable course that I could charge hundreds of dollars for, I need to have an end game in mind. I need to make sure I’m doing this purposefully. If I’m giving away a small free thing, don’t automatically assume that small things should be free. Maybe it should be a $20 product. Think about it. What is the purpose?

Sell to Grow Your Audience

  • 21:26 Marcus says, “What do you think of the method of selling a product to primarily grow your mailing list?” We’ll take that as an audience—to primarily grow an audience. I think it’s a great idea. We’re all focused on numbers, like, “How can we get 10,000 people to our site? How can we get 100,000 downloads?” It doesn’t have to be about views. Sometimes, it can be about depth. If you sell something like a $20 product, you have a list of people now that are qualified buyers. They’re people that have spent money. This makes a little more sense if you’re in the ad world where you pay to acquire customers, to get that attention, but if you understand that, you know that you pay to get those customers in. It’s not just about making money on this sale.
  • 22:28 It depends on how long-term your vision is, but the lifetime value of the customer is what people are looking at. If you have all of your selling systems and funnels in place where you’ve got up-sells, someone who buys this book might be interested in this course who might go to this event, if you’ve got all of this broken down, you can figure out the average lifetime value of your customer. A book might be $20, but a course might be $500. Some sort of limited, exclusive retreat might be $2,000. Even if 1% or 2% of the people who go through this upgrade to the next tier, over time you can figure out the average lifetime value of your customer.
  • 23:19 When you’re looking at acquiring a customer, the rates for some key words when you’re advertising are absurd. $15 a click? It’s insane. Think about that. If you’ve got all these people coming to your site, you have only a percentage of them actually buying or signing up, and yet you’re paying who knows what for keywords, like $10 plus per click, of which you might convert 2% to 5% on your actual page.

Even if a product is only $20, if you understand the lifetime value of a customer, you can justify selling it.

  • 23:57 This is how you need to be thinking. To Marcus’ question, should you sell a less expensive product to build your list? You absolutely can do that, because now you have qualified buyers, and your greatest cost is customer acquisition. That is your single greatest cost—getting a customer in the first place. The best place to make money is from people who have already spent money. They are the most likely people to spend more money with you. That’s why most of us who have Apple devices have more than one Apple device.

Price What You Give for Free

  • 24:45 Ryan asks, “Should you hold back giving away for free things that are on the same level as things you want to charge for in the future? Example, if I intend on selling a book, then should I never give away books before that?” If you are giving something away, make it clear what the full price is—full price or free (Related: e167 Full Price or Free). Don’t just say, “This is free!” If you’re giving it away, make the full price clear and say, “I’m giving it away for free, no strings attached.”
  • 25:18 Then, when you go to sell your next book for the same price, people get it. They think, “Oh, right. He gave away his first book for free,” but they know what the full price was. It’s the same with pro-bono. If you’re going to do a pro-bono job that would have been $2,000, don’t just say, “It’s free!” Show them. Do an invoice. $2,000, this is pro-bono. Show the tax on it and all of that, so they get the value on this. When they recommend you to someone else, they’ll say, “He charges $2,000. We got a pro-bono thing, but his rate is $2,000.”
  • 25:50 Ben: That’s something I’ve definitely neglected to do when I’ve done any kind of pro-bono work. I wonder, even if you’re putting out content, is there a way to articulate the value of that? Maybe talk about how much time it took you to do it, but you were happy to spend that time? Find some way to communicate the cost of that.
  • 26:14 Sean: I don’t know if you can actually do that with free content. If it’s an actual product that normally has a price tag associated with it, and you want to give it away, I could see doing that, but content marketing goes back to the reciprocity thing, giving people something of value. They’re going to value it how they’re going to value it.
  • 26:41 Ben: The invoice thing for pro-bono work is huge. I had never thought to do that before. It’s interesting, because you can tell people, “This is what I normally charge, but I’m going to do it for free,” but when they see it outlined on paper, they understand how the price is connected to your process, the time you spend on it, and the value of that thing to them.
  • 27:05 Sean: It changes your mindset and their mindset. This is a serious project. It’s not that he did a little thing for you for free. Treat the process seriously.

Can You Charge for Something That Was Free?

  • 27:22 Steve says, “Should you begin charging for things you’ve historically given away for free, or do you need to add additional value in order to justify charging money?” You absolutely can charge for things you previously gave away for free. You are absolutely allowed to do that. You’ve got several options. Let’s say you’ve been writing a blog every week for two years on a topic. It’s focused. You’ve established yourself in this industry. By now, you’ve got a hundred posts at 1,000 words each. That’s a 100,000 words, which is pretty long for a book. If you pulled that down into 40,000 words, you could make a book right there.
  • 28:12 Most people, all people, are not going to be bothered to go through the past 100 posts you wrote, read every single one, click, and wait for it to load. There’s no way they’re going to do that. Putting it all together, curating it, pulling it down, and delivering it in a digestible package, especially if you’re really being nit-picky about the editing and the storytelling and making sure things flow together, re-write it if you need to and make it something valuable, but that bringing-together is value. You might think, “Oh, it’s on my site.” No one’s going to do it. You could sell an eBook for $20 of things that are all on your site, I promise you.
  • 29:00 Number one, no one’s going to call you out, because the target audience for this is not the person who’s going to hit “next” 100 times and read it on a website. Number two, the people who have read bits and pieces will think, “Oh yeah, I remember when he said that.” Magic of 7, right? I’ve bought books that included content that was in an email course before, and I wasn’t mad. I thought, “Oh yeah, that is valuable. That’s why I paid for it, it makes sense in this context, and that’s value.”
  • 29:30 Ben: You watch comedians’ specials and you hear all of their jokes for the first time. This happened with one of the comedians I follow, Jim Gaffigan because he came out with a book and he re-used a lot of those same jokes. We listened to it on audio book and he was reading it, so he was delivering it and stuff. I still laugh at the same jokes. It wasn’t like those jokes suddenly weren’t funny to me anymore because I had already heard them. There is added value, but that value isn’t additional content. It’s your curation of the existing content.
  • 30:13 Sean: You can totally do that. Felippe says, “How do you make people understand the ‘new value’ of it?” You don’t have to justify it. It’s inherently valuable.

If people care about something at all, that means it’s valuable.

  • 30:30 The fact that you gave it away for free before doesn’t mean that it wasn’t valuable. The people you’re targeting with this are the people who value it enough to pay for it, which is not everyone. Not everyone will, but that’s okay. The exception is if you said, “I will never charge for this, it will always be free, I’ll never put a price tag on it,” then don’t go back on your word. Absolutely repurpose free content.
  • 30:53 It’s all about context here. We say a lot of really valuable things in this podcast. It would be absurd for me never to repeat any of the concepts we talk about in a paid product. It would be silly. There are so many facets to the value of this. Number one, they just purchased a product, which is them now investing. They’ve got skin in the game, so they’re paying attention. If you go to a lecture that you have to go to, you’re probably looking at your phone and daydreaming. If you paid $200 to be at this lecture, you’re going to be taking notes. The fact that they paid means that you have a kind of attention from them that you’ve never had before.
  • 31:39 It’s automatically a fresh thing for them. There’s also the new context, assuming that you’re not completely carbon-copying. We have plenty of tangents on this show. Part of the value of seanwes tv is distilling it down and giving people the nuggets without too much of the story or the in-between, which has a different kind of value, but it’s in a different format. Similar, with a course, it’s highly condensed, highly edited down, you don’t have to wade through things. Here you go, it’s right here.
  • 32:13 Ben: You charge accordingly. With the course, because it’s so condensed, because it’s pure value, the price people pay for that causes them to digest that stuff without the story. For the people who don’t pay anything or who pay very little, the story is very important, because they don’t have a lot of skin in the game. They don’t have the same kind of attention, so that story, though it serves a separate purpose also, keeps people’s attention and helps them track through and stay with you. That’s important. Someone who just paid a lot of money wants you to get to the point.
  • 33:03 Sean: The story is so good for selling. Story is something people can see themselves in, they can replace with their thing or their focus, and story helps sell you on an idea or a concept. Maybe they aren’t totally bought into curating, charging full price or free, or being selective with clients. They probably aren’t bought into this idea, and story can help bring them on board. Someone who’s paid for a course is on board, and they’ve just proven it with their wallet. They just paid for this. Cory and I had an hour long brainstorming session about Value-Based Pricing, the course I’m coming out with. We’ve got a webinar coming up on November 11th, 2015 and we’re going to be doing it live to people who subscribe. We’re going to be teaching them.
  • 33:54 You also get a mini video course when you sign up. We’re going to be announcing this webinar to the people on that list and nowhere else, and we’re going to be teaching on this webinar for free. We’re also going to be opening up the pilot program for the Value-Based Pricing course at the end of this webinar. It’s just for a few people who are really serious, who want to apply this. We’re going to be hands-on with them, going through step by step to show them how to apply Value-Based Pricing in their industry. They’re going to go out and do, they’re going to apply the lessons and modules we’re delivering as we go, week by week, they’re going to report back with results, and we’re going to work with them. We’re developing the course around their experiences.
  • 34:45 As Justin knows, he’s helping me produce this course and develop it, it’s pretty immense. It could be very in-depth and intense. It’s more than a college course, really. It’s to the point where it’s really just overwhelming. If we had a 25 or 50 module course with 5 lessons in each, that’s insane. Some people don’t want to go to college for this thing, but they want to know how they can apply it in their business. We’re trying to come up with a structure and a format for this. We could pick any one of these, dive into it, break it down, and list out bullets for each of those, going really in-depth, but at some point, we have to think about the value for the person signing up for this course.
  • 35:39 They’re bought into the concept, so we want to help them understand how to apply it. It’s really practical. Part of this is saving them time, so they don’t have to scour the internet to learn all of the facets and piece it together. Part of the value is us combing it down so it’s simplified. We tell them just what they need right when they need it.
  • 36:05 Ben: That’s worth the big price tag that he’s putting on it. Sean’s not just providing them with really valuable content, but he’s saving them time by the way he’s packaging it.
  • 36:15 Sean: We’re spending a ton of time to save them time. I always say, if it’s well produced, the shorter the content is the longer it takes to make it. It’s really difficult. I might spend two hours preparing this hour long show, but we’ll spend 45 minutes or more preparing a 5 minute episode of seanwes TV. There’s a ton of work that goes into it after.

There is huge value in concision and brevity.

Once people trust you and buy into your story, deliver to them in a short format.

  • 36:50 Don’t get caught up in thinking, “I’m charging a bunch for this, so I need to make it really long and arduous.”

Backwards Building

  • 37:16 Ben asked in the chat, “Should you set the precedent from the beginning that you intend to charge people for things, even though you’re providing free value right now? If so, how do you communicate that in a way that keeps you on the right side of reciprocity? Or should you avoid talking about selling until you have something you are planning to sell?” If you’re providing value first, you’re always able to use the Rule of Reciprocity in your favor. You can sell in every piece of content and still be working with the Rule of Reciprocity, because you’re providing value upfront and then you’re selling.
  • 38:04 You could actually sell in every single piece of content. You don’t have to, and you don’t want to fatigue people, but even if you’ve been providing free stuff all along, don’t worry about making a big change, switch, or announcement. Feel free at any point at the end of your content to pitch one of your things, to say, “Hey, check out this product.”
  • 38:29 Ben: If you don’t have something to pitch, should you even bother to say, “Hey, at some point, I’m going to be selling something”?
  • 38:39 Sean: No, unless you’re really purposefully Backwards Building, where you know that in 60 days you’re going to launch this thing (Related: e177 How to Determine What Your First Product Should Be, e160 Nailing Your Product Launch the First Time, Lambo Goal e20 10 Steps to Launching an Online Course). You could ramp up to that, but you don’t want to say, “Hey, by the way guys, at some point, I’m going to sell.” They’ll think, “What’s wrong with you? You’re some kind of slimy salesman.” You haven’t provided them with value, and the whole point of selling is to say, “I want to make your life better with this thing, and here’s how. Here’s why you should buy it.” You want to have that thing to tell that story to people when you do sell.
  • 39:15 Ben: That makes sense. That’s what I was thinking. I like the Backwards Building thing, because it serves a couple of purposes. One, it gives you something to talk about, and two, it puts your back against the wall. Now you’ve said this publicly, so you have to follow through with it, especially if you put a time frame on it. Don’t just say, “I’m writing a book and I’m going to come out with it sometime.”

Backwards Building is not just just announcing something, it’s ramping up to it.

  • 40:19 Sean: The first time you tell people about it, you’re kind of announcing it, but you’re not expecting people to care just because of the announcement. You’re ramping up to it, so you say, “This is what I’m going to make.” Make a landing page as if it’s ready to go. Pour some time and effort into this thing. If you’re selling a book, mock up the book design, talk about it, say who it’s for, what it’s going to do for them, make some illustrations, hire a designer, and have it all as if it’s ready to be purchased. People are going to be strolling through this page thinking, “This is me, this is me,” and they’re ready to buy, but you don’t have it yet, so you have a sign up box that says, “I’m working on it. It’s going to be ready in 60 days. Sign up, I’ll let you know. You’re going to be the first to hear about it.”
  • 41:03 They’re going to sign up. It gets more advanced. You can keep in touch with them over email. Backwards Building is telling people about something and putting up content that acts as if that thing is already made. This does two things. It makes a promise to people reading, a promise of what it’s going to be, and it also sets a goal and a milestone for you. One of the hardest things is finishing your product, book, or whatever. Now, there’s the flag, the stake in the ground, and you have to make this thing because it’s what you promised people. It keeps you on track.
  • 41:49 Ben: That’s the thing that’s the most attractive about it to me.

Pay What You Want

  • 43:35 Sean: Keshna says, “Should you go with the ‘pay what you want’ option? Does that ever work?” This is an interesting one for me. I tweeted publicly that I’m going to publish three books in 2016. I want some accountability here, because I shared this in the chat yesterday. Levi was asking, “Hey, do you think the fact that you haven’t put out The Overlap Technique yet has harmed your brand perception? It hasn’t harmed it for me because you put out so much value for me, but I was just curious.” I absolutely think that it was a mistake, a fail, to not deliver that book in a timely manner.
  • 44:34 I wrote the first 20,000 words and I didn’t feel like I had the right focus with the book. I felt like I was saying what I wanted to say and not speaking to people who needed to hear this, understanding their struggles. I scrapped those first 20,000 words and, over the course of doing this podcast, I’ve gotten a lot better idea of what people are struggling with, knowing those struggles more intimately. The idea for the book has evolved, and it continues to evolve, which really excites me. I’m seeing all these ways to apply The Overlap Technique in different areas.
  • 45:12 It’s also very dangerous, because the idea is never going to stop evolving, which means that the book is never going to get done unless I set a deadline and ship it. I had set for myself that I would write it over the winter and release it next year. The problem was that this was before the retreat I went to where everyone had an intervention and said, “Sean, you have to stop giving stuff away for free,” and I had already promised that my book is going to be free. I’m not going back on that, but when I do it, I need to give it away.
  • 45:42 I’m committing to publishing three books next year. It really scares me, but that’s the deadline, the challenge I’m setting for myself so that I get it done. The Overlap Technique will be the first book that I do. I don’t know if it will be over the winter, because I have to focus on paid things. My idea for this was that I said it’s going to be free, but I’m thinking of experimenting with a pay-what-you-want model. The book is free, but if you find value and you want to compensate me for it, feel free to pay whatever you like.
  • 46:21 Ben: Maybe I’m not remembering this right, but Sean, were you considering making hard copies and selling them? What if the hard copies were available at a conference like Creative South?
  • 46:39 Sean: I do plan on making hard copies but they won’t be at Creative South. I won’t go too in depth with the pay what you want model, but I’m going to be experimenting with it, and I’ll share my results.

One-Time Sale

  • 47:12 This is the classic pricing model. Someone buys a product, they get a product, they move on, end of story. The hard part is making a second sell. It’s hard to make a second sale when someone buys something and then leaves, to keep up that relationship. Like we talked about earlier, your greatest expense is customer acquisition. Getting them in the first place is the hardest part. You really want to maximize that return buyer. You want to get them to come back and purchase again. One way people do this, and we talked about this on the last episode, is the immediate up-sell. You could also experiment with not using immediate up-sells, but not forgetting to up-sell or cross-sell. You sell a t-shirt, and if you have marketing automation in place, you could have a campaign that says, if someone buys x t-shirt, in five days, send them an email that says, “Have you seen these other t-shirts that are related?”
  • 48:17 That can be a soft sell. You can do a hard sell another five days after that if they don’t buy. You can have all this conditional stuff. If they bought the shirt but they didn’t buy the related products, try different products, or try a bundle. Say, “By the way, if you buy these products together, it’s only going to be this amount.” You can experiment with things like that. That’s cross-selling and up-selling.

Subscription

  • 48:45 The golden model is the subscription model. Everyone loves the subscription model because it’s reliable, recurring revenue. It’s not automatic. No business is truly automatic. Even if you have a machine, you still have to oil the gears, because it will eventually break down. No matter what it is, you have to give it your attention. The Community is the opposite of autopilot. I invest and invest and invest in the Community. I’m here almost all day, engaging and talking with people, and a lot of us are. That’s part of the value. We’re doing these live shows every day. It’s not just like, “Here you go, guys. Here’s a chat and a mobile app. Keep paying us.”
  • 49:36 The value has to be there consistently. If you are building a subscription model, you need to create that value consistently. Over the past couple years, I’ve gotten really passionate about the topic of community and community-building. In the future, we are working on tools to help people build their own communities. I want to talk more about it and write more about it. I’ve got some ideas, but this is probably a few years in the making. A lot of people try to automate this whole thing, and I don’t think you can completely automate it. There are different methods, like dripping content.
  • 50:20 What people do is, instead of a course where you pay a flat rate to get access, they do a subscription. Instead of $500 or $600, it might be $60 or $80 a month, and every month, you get a new module. As long as you maintain the subscription, you can access the course. People create memberships around content or courses, and I guess that works for some people, but I personally don’t like it. I prefer to say, “Hey, this is a course. Buy it. Access it. This is a community, and the reason you’re paying every month is because you get fresh value every month, not just a piece of a reveal.” That doesn’t really resonate with me. You can try out that model if you want.

If you really want to build a sustainable, recurring revenue subscription model, you need to have fresh content and value every single month.

  • 51:21 This is the furthest thing from automatic. The automatic money, this gold pricing model of subscriptions, is not automatic. The money is more reliable because it’s recurring, because you’re putting in the work every month and making sure the experience is top-notch.
  • 51:41 Ben: I’m excited to talk more about the Community stuff. There’s so much to dive into. When I was first building my own platform, I was considering putting my own community together and getting a chat going. I had this idea in my head that once I got all this stuff set up, it’s rolling, and the subscriptions start coming in. I remember sitting down and having a conversation with Sean, and he was talking about how I needed to think about retention and all this other stuff, and I realized that it’s really not as straightforward and simple as I made it out to be in my head. It really is something you have to continue to invest heavily in. A lot of people have that perception of automated things, that you set it up one time and it continues to line your pockets with money. No, nine times out of ten, when I pop into the Community, Sean’s in there answering questions. He could get away with not being in there as often or giving as many features, but he’s focused on providing greater value.
  • 53:08 Sean: It’s like riding a skateboard. You get on the skateboard, and your left foot is on the board. I use my right foot to give an initial shove off of the asphalt and we’re rolling. Awesome! That rolling, that momentum, is your community sustaining itself. That’s people talking to each other and sharing things that are valuable with each other, and they’re getting a great experience. You know what starts to happen after a few seconds? It starts to slow down again. You’ve got to give it another push. You’ve got to stay in there, giving it momentum. As your community grows, it’s kind of like the ground beneath you starts to dip, and you’re going downhill slightly, so a little push from you goes a really long way. You can go quite a distance before you give it a second push.
  • 54:25 You could do two things here. You can coast, quite literally in this metaphor, or you can push as regularly and as hard as you were in the beginning before you had that incline. Guess what? You’re going to be going even faster.

Sell Something. Anything.

  • 54:48 Marcus says, “When your business has no income yet, can you start with a small item like an e-book and a few short videos? Or should you hold out for the big bonanza course a la Learn Lettering?” Sell something, sell anything. Don’t wait for something big. Don’t wait for that huge idea—people aren’t going to care. They aren’t going to notice. They will notice your 12th product, so get it out there. Ship it. Get one person to pay you something, anything. Don’t try to automate this and build all the systems—talk with one person and sell, old school style. Do it in an e-mail. If someone replies to you, “Hey, I liked your blog post. I’m struggling with this,” you say, “I just wrote a 10 page guide on this. It’s $7 on my site,” link. You just sold. You’re going to remember than transaction. You’ve got to make money.

If you’ve been showing up, working hard, and you know your stuff, you deserve to make money—you just have to grab it.

  • 56:25 Ben: As my wife started transitioning into selling some of her books and stuff, she’s been listening to, reading, and watching a lot of material. One of the stories we watched together was about a guy who did self-publishing, and his story went something like, “When I sold my first book, I only made $300 and something. The next book I sold, I made $2,000. The next book after that,” and it kept going up, and by his fourth book, it was hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even that first $300 is kind of a Cinderella story, and Cinderella stories are dangerous. A Cinderella story is when you see this guy and think, “That’s awesome, by his fourth book he was making $4,000. That could happen to me!”
  • 57:27 He did get into the nuts and bolts of stuff, but elevating those numbers and statistics really takes your focus away from where it should be, which is the nuts and bolts of growing things. When Rachel sold her first book, I think she sold two or three copies. As a story, that doesn’t sound very interesting or compelling: “I sold three copies and made $2!” But that’s a start, that’s a sale. You’re not going to bust out the champagne and have a party necessarily, but it’s a starting point. Everybody needs a starting point. If we look back at that situation and say, “Was it worth putting that book out?” Absolutely, it was.
  • 58:19 Selling three books is absolutely worth putting out that second book, because then you’re going to put out a third book and eventually, you’re going to have a page full of books. Your audience is going to grow, and they’re not just going to buy your latest release. They’re going to look back at the backlog of stuff. These products are assets. They aren’t just a one-time thing where you release this book and you only get three sales, that’s it. As your audience grows, they’ll reach back into your backlog of products. It’s working for you, so you’ve got to start.
  • 58:56 Sean: That’s why I think you should get something out and sell it. Don’t wait for the big huge thing. Don’t think, “If people are going to take me seriously, I have to launch with something big. It’s going to take a long time. Ooh, Netflix.” You’re never going to get it out there, and even if you do, as the first thing, people aren’t going to notice or care. It’s too early. I still think all of this is nothing. No one has even noticed, to me. I don’t exist at all. That’s my mindset, because I know that no one’s going to notice until that 20th product. Everyone says, “Wow, overnight you just made it.” No, of course not. We all start out awkward and sell two copies of our first thing.
  • 59:46 The people who eventually sell hundreds of thousands, make a really big launch, or get on a bestseller list are just the people who did it a bunch of times. They’ve done it a dozen times and they didn’t give up after that very first one. All you need is quality, which if you’re listening to this podcast, you have. You get it.

All you need in order to sell is quality, confidence, and a single paying customer.

  • 1:00:06 You have made a transaction, and that’s powerful. Have people complimented you ever on something that you’ve done? Have they asked you to help? Have they offered to pay? Have they asked you for more? If they’re asking you questions, they already see you as an expert, so sell something.
  • 1:00:37 Ben: It’s amazing the kind of momentum that gives you, too. Think about how you feel if you’ve never sold anything. Maybe you have a small product in mind, something you could put out there but you’re worried no one will buy. It’s the anxiety of the unknown. You don’t know what it’s like on the other side because you’re not allowing yourself to experience it. When you make that first sale, even if it’s just one, all of a sudden something clicks. You believe now. You’ve experienced it: “I can put a product out there, and somebody will buy it.” It’s amazing the momentum and courage that gives you to put out the next thing, and the thing after that.
  • 1:01:46 Pete Cory in the chat said, “You guys have inspired me. I’ve had a small product on my mind now, but I’ve always thought it was too inconsequential. I’m definitely going to put it together and start selling.”
  • 1:01:58 Sean: That’s what I’m talking about. Cory, have you sold anything?
  • 1:02:11 Cory: No, I haven’t. I’m trying to figure out how to, and what I could do with film. It’s an interesting industry.
  • 1:02:22 Sean: If you start out putting out some content, teaching things that you know, sharing everything that you’ve learned, look at people’s responses to that. We’ve talked about the method of putting out content and letting people subscribe for more. Give them a lead magnet, a reason for them to opt in, and then send them an email telling them who you are, what you’re about, what they can expect and when they can expect it. Ask them what they’re struggling with on that topic, so you know from their mouths exactly what they’re struggling with. That not only helps you create more content that people are going to love, it’s going to resonate with them, but you then know what you could make a product about.
  • 1:03:02 That takes hardly any time. You just have to start and commit to it a little bit. If you’re in the beginning stages, find out what people are struggling with. Validate it, and then make something simple and basic with a dollar sign on it. Put it up on your site. My first product was an image on a page with a PayPal button. I didn’t have an eCommerce store, so don’t get caught up in this. There are tools out there now to make it really easy for you. Make something, make a product, put it up on your site, and put a “buy now” button there with a price tag. It’s that simple. Just get it up there! I wish I did this sooner, because selling a product brings such a new and fresh energy for creating content.
  • 1:03:54 You think about who this person is and what this product is going to do for them. What problem is it going to solve? What stories can you tell around that? How can you help the people in this position get to the position you want to be in? Bring them to your product. If I had understood that, if I had done the work and made a product, I could have told that story in my content. All throughout the content, as I was providing value, I could have been pointing to the product and making money.