This guide is the fourth lesson in my Ship It Introductory Video Series, and was inspired by the question How long does it really take to get an idea off the ground?
Are you dreaming about productizing your expertise into a book, course, consulting service, or software application? Not sure what it’s going to take to get started, or how much time or money it will really take? Well, the goal of this guide is to answer those questions and more!
The first benefit is starting on the side. This is a huge benefit if you’re not sure you want to start a company or business. There is nothing wrong with building a product on the side. You’ll learn all the steps it takes to create a product and can decide if you want to transform it into a business.
The second benefit is that as you share your expertise with others you become a go-to resource in those areas, and discover what resonates with customers.
The third benefit is that it can give you a much-needed sense of self-efficacy. If you’re early- to mid-career and looking to level up, then showing your employer or future employers what you’re capable of doing on your own time is sure to impress them!
The fourth benefit is financial gain. You can generate income from day one depending on the type of product you start with, which helps if you don’t have funds to start a full-fledged company or business. It’s also a great indication that people want what you have created, and that you are capable of building a product and eventually turning it into a business. You can use the revenue to start funding your business.
Hi! I’m Poornima Vijayashanker, the author of this guide!
I know there are a lot of folks out there who talk about building and shipping products, and I encourage you to check them out. To help you out, I’ve included some of the people in the resource section at the end of this guide. After all, you need to find the voice and resource that resonates with you.
Here’s just a little bit about why I know a thing or two about productizing. I have been building, shipping, and scaling products since 2005.
So yes, I’ve been around the block a few times ;)
In the last few lessons I kept telling you to hold off on building anything or productizing your idea. If you haven’t watched those lessons I’d encourage you to do that first, before digging into this guide.
Hopefully, you took my recommendation to heart and had some conversations with your customers, analyzed your competition, and held off on building.
The reason I want you to review those lessons first and avoid jumping into productizing is because when we jump right into productizing we become overly concerned about the form- factor: building an app, writing a book, etc.
Whether or not we have expertise in creating such a product, the implementation of the product consumes us, and we neglect to think about whether the solution we are offering is one that people need/want and will pay for!
For example, you might invest time into building a product when you could have started with a service that helps you monetize from the beginning.
Or you painstakingly built a software application, when customers might have been happy with a book.
What you want to do is figure out how you can provide a solution in a form that is acceptable to a customer. It doesn’t mean you are limited to only creating that product, it just means you can start with a simple offering and then grow from there.
In this guide, I’m going to share four ways of productizing your expertise into a solution people will pay for.
I’ll start by talking about what is the same for each product. Next, I’ll do a deep dive into each type of product, exposing what is different. As I do this, I’ll also share how each product can feed into another.
The goal of doing this is for you to understand the tradeoffs associated with each type of product, and to help you make an educated decision about where to start based on your priorities and preferences.
Let’s face it, there are a lot of products out in the market today. So if you build it, customers won’t just come. It doesn’t mean people don’t need your product! It just means that you’re going to need to take the time to identify how to educate potential customers that it exists and its benefits.
So the need to market your product is the same regardless of the type of product you are building. Sure, the channels that you pick for the product might be different, as well as how you go about distributing it. For example, if you have a book, you’ll most likely choose Amazon as one resource to market and distribute your product, but you probably wouldn’t use Amazon to sell a software application.
There are a lot of channels to choose from. There is direct sales, where you meet people face-to-face, social media, content marketing, email marketing, and more!
The various choices can be overwhelming. So what you want to be careful about is evaluating and running small experiments to see if your prospective customers exist on a particular channel. This again is why it’s important to conduct those customer interviews!
The next thing that is the same is brainstorming. Here, brainstorming is thinking through what you want to include in the first version of your product and what you can hold off including until a future iteration.
Sizing up your competition. Whether it’s a book or a software app, prospective customers will be investigating where to spend their money and time. You want to make sure your product is positioned to be different from what is already out there. It could be different based on the customer segment you are targeting, design or packaging, pricing, or the benefits you are offering.
While the time to develop each type of product may differ, the need to do the work isn’t going away. For each product, I’ll share an approximation of how long it takes to build and launch depending on your starting point.
Hiring people to delegate work that is outside the scope of your expertise or you don’t have time to do. If you decide to delegate pieces of work, then you’ll need to come up with a strategy for attracting, recruiting, and retaining people to help you through the development phase of the product. The type of people you hire will be different, but the process remains the same. You’ll need to figure out if they are qualified to do the work, what their expectations are in terms of compensation, and what their process is for working with you and checking in periodically.
My go to for hiring people has become Upwork, and if you are looking for a service to help you build customer landing page check out PSD2HTML. They provide the most reliable turnaround time and do a good job managing the entire project for you, at reasonable rates!
Managing the project daily, weekly, and monthly. Pick a tool like Pivotal Tracker for software or Trello for other products to help you assign tasks, track progress, and stay on top of things. Otherwise, you’ll feel like it’s never ending and won’t have a sense of accomplishment.
Creating a front door. Since most of the products we’re talking about are digital, setting up a landing page is a must. There are a number of DIY tools for landing pages. Here’s a great guide from HubSpot on what to include on a landing page.
Finally, having a launch plan. List out all the things you need to do in order to launch your product, ask advisors to chime in on what they think you are missing — whether there are potential holdups — and what the best-case scenario could be. Then, work backwards from all those steps to see if the timeframe you’ve listed is indeed realistic. I’ve include a sample launch plan for a software application and self-published book below.
Benefits To Writing And Publishing A Book
Writing a book is a major boost to your credibility. People see that you’ve taken the time to do the research and distill it into ideas that others can consume. Of course, this means that the biggest hurdle to creating a book is taking time to consistently write it and making sure it’s got a coherent flow!
If you are starting from scratch with an idea, it could take several months to a year to do all the research. If all the material is fresh in your mind, you enjoy writing, and are pretty proficient at it, then it could go as quickly as 30 days. Think of it as writing 1,000 words a day for 30 days — that’s a 30,000-word book, which roughly translates to 150–200 pages.
If the actual writing part is what is holding you back, you could hire a ghostwriter to work with you.
Another decision that will affect the timeframe is how you will publish your book. Let’s look at some of the factors you’ll need to consider when deciding whether to self-publish or seek publication with a traditional publisher.
If you choose to self-publish then you’ll need to do all the work, but the process can go faster because you don’t have to wait for a publisher to accept your proposal, then go through editing, printing, and marketing. Both the books I self-published took about six months from initial idea inception to shipping. You’ll need to create all the formats on your own: print, e-book, and audiobook, and distribute them using a platform like CreateSpace.
If you want a publisher to fund your project and take care of development and distribution, then you’ll need to write a proposal which could take a month or two, get introductions to literary agents and publishers, submit your proposal, and then wait for one of them to approve it. Traditional publishing can take up to 18–24 months from writing to shipping the book. Advances vary from $1K–$100K+. Whether you get picked up by a traditional publisher at all boils down to your audience and credibility. And keep in mind that publishers will also expect you to help with marketing the book.
If you are self-publishing, you could create a simple e-book for a few hundred dollars or go all out. For my first book I spent $15K.
Here is the cost breakdown for the first book:
On my last book, I went all out and spent nearly $50K.
Here is the cost breakdown for the last book:
I have recouped all these costs over a period of 6 months through lots of promotion and bulk sales.
Note that these costs may vary based on the experience level of the people you hire.
If you are going the published route keep in mind that publishers will have different structures. Some will pay out an advance and then deduct it from future sales. Others will pay a smaller advance and provide a larger royalty share.
Most people will pay for a book. The price depends on the size, genre, and form factor: e-book, audiobook, or print. E-books sell for $2.99–$13.99, while audiobooks can be as much as $25, and for print you can charge even more.
Keep in mind that you’ll need to share the proceeds with your distribution platform, and if you’re selling a physical book you’ll need to cover the cost of making and shipping the book.
Unlike other products, people don’t mind reading multiple books on the same topic. They are always on the lookout for a nugget of wisdom!
Given the various formats of books, yours can reach a lot of people, unlike a course or consulting, where there are limited number of spots you can serve.
Depending on how much you and/or your publisher promote the book, it can sell for 1–2+ years. Given the price point and scalability of a book, it can serve as a lead magnet for building awareness and credibility.
People who may be on the fence about paying for consulting, a course, or having to set up and commit to software can start engaging with you through your book.
Both of my books serve as great lead-ins to my courses.
This is the fastest. You could start selling your service right away to people in your network. The main time investment is creating an offering, finding out if people want that offering, and why they want it from you!
Once you have a base of interested customers you can start to service them right away.
It’s hard to say for consulting. Depending on how much demand there is in your industry or niche you might start at $35/hour and go up to $500+/hour. Or you could price it based on a project basis, but beware of trading hours for dollars and focus on pricing-based value.
To price based on value you need to understand the ROI (return on investment) your customer is seeking. For example, if you are helping them with marketing a product and it will lead to $100K in sales, you could start with a 10–20% commission.
While there may be a lot of competition, you can carve out a niche and create a high touch experience people are willing to pay for. You’ll also want to be clear about how your service is different from everything else out there, and why you know your customer segment better than anyone else!
Keep in mind that your customer base will be limited because of the time it takes to render the service. You could hire and train others to help, but there will still be an upper limit.
If you are thinking of eventually scaling and want to create a product such as a book, course, or software, then starting with consulting is a great idea. The first benefit is that you start making money from day one since you are servicing people. The second is that you essentially get paid to do customer research! You start to spot areas of your service offering that your could productize and then offer to your customer for a fraction of the price of your consulting service.
It might seem that by doing this, you’re cannibalizing your consulting service. Yes and no. Those you are currently consulting for may switch to using your product, which may initially reduce your revenue. But in the long run, you are attracting more customers, which helps you scale, and you will attract those who might not have been able to afford your consulting service.
Building a course takes a little longer than consulting — typically a week or a month to create and test a course.
Your initial investment is also rather low. For my first course I spent $0, leveraging my network and blog for marketing, and using tools like Google Hangouts to teach.
As I began growing in size, the need for more professional tools and marketing has led to course production costing me around $10K (which doesn’t include how much I pay other instructors).
Just like consulting, this is about ROI and the experience you are providing. You could charge as little as $25/person for an hour-long course or workshop, or as much as $10K/person for a several day or week-long training.
Keep in mind that the price point will affect buy time, which is the amount of time it takes for your prospective customers to evaluate and then decide to buy your product.
The number of students you can service depends on the format of course you are teaching: self-service or self-study may reach a lot of people, but their engagement might not be as high as a course you teach in real time.
It can take anywhere from 6 to 18 months to research, build, test, and ship a software application. The amount of time boils down to your expertise. If you are new, it’s going to take some time to learn how to do customer research, attract and hire talent, know how to translate customer research into product features, test the application, market it, and launch it.
You can speed up the development time by deciding which pieces of the product you are going to build versus buy or use existing solution.
Regardless of your own technical ability, you will need a team to help you build. Some people can do multiple roles, like a developer who can also design, and vice versa. But in general you’ll need people who can help build, design, and market your product.
You could take the time to learn each of these skills, but it’s often easier to hire people who have the expertise.
Unlike the other products, this does require a large upfront investment. Building and shipping a prototype can take anywhere from $5K to $1M+.
If you don’t have that kind of financial backing, it can be tempting to reach out to investors, but due to the amount of competition in the market most investors won’t invest in a first-time founder until they have launched a prototype and have some customers.
While software is considered a high-margin business, it can take awhile to make it to profitability because of the costs associated with building and maintaining it.
There are a lot of products on the market. Again, depending on the type of product you’re offering, people may adopt yours in addition to others, or they may only go with one provider.
It depends on the type of application you are building. Is it a simple tool that can be used with others, or is it a full solution and people wouldn’t want or need to use others?
Finally, don’t forget about how much time it’s going to take to market to and service customers. Even a self-service product like software will still require customer support, while consulting, coaching, and a course all have customer support baked into the offering.
The goal of this launch plan is to develop an awareness of all the non-product tasks you need to complete in order to have a successful launch.
Be sure to factor in additional time if you haven’t yet hired people to help with certain pieces of the product such as engineering, design or marketing. Keep in mind that hiring means sourcing candidates, interviewing them, bringing them up to speed on your product, and then giving them time to execute. Even the sharpest people need a few weeks to come up to speed.
If you are planning to launch a mobile app, there will be additional time to get approved. If it’s an Android app then it takes anywhere from 30 minutes to 5+ hours. The Apple app store is longer. Usually 5 to 10 calendar days not business days!
Start with a high-level breakdown of what needs to get done.
Here is a start:
Here are some additional to check out to help with launching and selling your software app:
If you plan to have a print version for your book, then figure out when you will have finalized the print proof of your book. From that point depending on how many copies you are printing it can take several business days to complete the print run.
Most printers will take 1–2 days to create a proof for your book. If they aren’t local, then factor in shipping time to receive the proof.
CreateSpace takes about 5 to 10 business days to complete the entire print proof process. You can expedite it by doing next day shipping on your proof, but if there are any issues with the proof you’ll need time to report them, and receive another proof with the suggested changes.
It’s best to have all the print books ready before launch day, so that people aren’t waiting too long to receive them.
Here are some additional resources to check out to help you with launching and selling your book:
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And if you want to learn more, consider registering for my upcoming Ship It Course. I only teach the course once a year and registration ends on Friday April 28, 2017.