How to Tell if Your Idea for an eBook or Course Is a Profitable One

Posted By Darren Rowse 8th of June 2015 General 0 Comments

You've got a ton of ideas, but Darren's written about How to Tell if Your Idea for an eBook or Course Is a Profitable One on ProBlogger.netThe old saying that ‘everybody has a book inside them’ may be true – but for bloggers I’ve found it is probably more accurate to say that ‘every blogger has at least 10 ideas for eBooks inside them’.

I was at a mastermind event recently and a blogger shared her list of ideas for eBooks and courses and then looked at me quizzically and asked – “but which one is the most profitable idea?”

To truly answer the question my blogger friend would need to create and launch all of the products – but it got me wondering if there might be some ways to test her ideas before creating the products to see which might work best as a product.

What follows are some questions to ask and some techniques to try to do just this.

Just keep in mind that a there’s much more to profitable products than great ‘ideas’. Success will be dependant upon many factors including the quality of what you create, the size of your audience (here are some ways to build it before launch) and the marketing strategies that you use to launch your product.

1. Is the Idea Important and Meaningful to You?

Let’s start with a question that won’t guarantee profit in any way shape or form but which has definitely become the first question I ask any time that I create a product – is it something important to me?

I ask this question for a number of reasons.

Firstly, if the idea is important to me there’s a good chance it’ll be important to others.

Secondly, if the idea is important to me (and others involved in the creation and selling of it) I’m going to produce a much higher quality product and be able to market it much much more effectively.

Perhaps the best example I can give you of this is 31 Days to Build a Better Blog which meant so much to me as I created it and which was so easy for me to enthusiastically promote after.

In fact 31DBBB was created with no intent of it ever becoming a product (it was written initially as a free series of blog posts) and purely because I thought it would help people – it’s no wonder it went on to become my biggest selling product.

2. Does it have a Tangible Benefit?

Having being a part of creating and launching close to 40 eBooks, printables, kits and courses in the last six years, one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is around making sure your idea has tangible benefits to those who will buy it.

It might sound obvious but it’s a lesson we learned the hard way (more than once) but producing eBook that we thought were on ‘important’ topics but which didn’t have tangible benefits.

31 Days to Build a Better Blog is another great example of this – there’s a benefit in the title that seemed to grab people.

The other example I’ve spoken about in presentations I’ve given over the years is the story of our photography eBooks at dPS.

Both eBooks were by the same author and were written, designed, priced and marketed in extremely similar ways. Sales on the other hand couldn’t have been much more different.

The first eBookTranscending Travel: A Guide to Captivating Travel Photography had a very tangible benefit. You’ll take better photos when you travel!

Not only does this have a tangible benefit – it’s in an area that most people have had a painful experience of (getting home from a trip and being disappointed with the images).

The second eBookCaptivating Color: A Guide to Dramatic Color Photography was on a topic we thought was of real importance to photography but in hindsight didn’t have as specific or tangible a benefit.

To this day I think both eBooks are as good as one another (in fact I think the Color Photography one is still more important for photographers to get a handle on) but Travel has always outsold Color (to this day it’s sold double).

Some topics can be tweaked to be more tangible in their benefits while others are much trickier on this front. I’d be leaning to those with obvious benefits in areas that people have a felt need on.

Is There Evidence of People Paying for This Type of Information?

An exercise that is most beneficial to undertake when setting out on this journey to create a product is to do some analysis of the marketplace to see what else has been produced on the topic.

There are numerous benefits of doing this but one of the key ones for me is that it shows whether people pay for that type of information and to see what kind formats of products seem to be doing well.

It shouldn’t take you too long to get an idea of this. Head to your local news stand and see what magazines there are on the topic, head to Amazon and look at the books that relate (and try to get a feeling for how well they’ve sold by looking at their rankings and numbers of reviews), look online to see if other eBooks, courses, membership sites or other products have already been created.

If there are a lot of products on your topic you have some proof of concept but you also might well have a challenge on your hands too as the market might be cluttered. If this is the case it might be worth doing some deeper analysis of the competition.

  • What do they do well?
  • What formats seem to have worked well and what have not?
  • Are there any gaps in the market?
  • What marketing techniques do they use?

The more research you do into these questions the better positioned you’ll be in to tap into what is working for others but also create something that stands out from the rest.

Test the Idea

As bloggers we have a real advantage over many other publishers of online products – we have a great way (or a number of great ways) to test our ideas to see how they resonate with people before we even begin producing our products.

For almost every eBook, course or other kind of product I’ve created I’ve first gone to my audience in some way to test the idea. By putting it ‘out there’ some some way I see whether it gives my readers energy but also quite often get feedback that makes the product better or that gives me hints as how to market it more effectively.

It’s never quite the same but usually involves some combination of the following ideas.

Blog Posts

The most simple thing to do as a blogger is to create a blog post (or a series of them) to test your idea. These could take a couple of forms including:

  • discussion posts – simply putting up a post that is a ‘discussion’ related post designed to get your readers to talk about the topic, their needs, their questions etc. You need not say it’s research for a product if you don’t want to reveal that – but you could even go to them with a ‘tell me what you want to include’ approach which gives your readers a sense of being involved.
  • writing your product as posts – I’ve seen many bloggers create their products in public on their blogs over the years. You might not choose to put the whole eBook/course on your blog for free but it putting your initial ideas onto your blog and then turning that into part of your product can work well. In essence this is what I did with 31DBBB – although I didn’t realise it at the time.

The key with both approaches is to watch the reaction of others to your posts. Are they being read? Are people excited by them? Do the posts actually bring about some kind of benefit to your readers? If there are sparks of energy being created you should follow that energy and keep working.

If there are not – you might want to keep working on the idea.

Note: Of course it takes having some readers to your blog to get these kinds of reactions. If you have a small readership you might want to try some of the other methods below.

Podcasts

Another way to start creating content for a course might be to start a podcast on your topic. You need not to commit to running it indefinitely, rather set out to do a short ‘season’ of episodes to see how people respond to the idea.

Again the benefits of this are:

  1. You’re testing your idea to see if it is of interest to people
  2. You’re creating content that you might be able to repurpose and include in your product
  3. You’re developing an audience that you might be able to sell your product to

Webinars

Similarly you might like to run a webinar (or series of them) on your idea. This potentially has the same benefits as the three mentioned in the podcasts section above but has the added bonus of opening up potential for a live interaction and feedback from those listening in.

The questions and responses you get during a webinar are often incredibly insightful and open up areas that you could develop in your product as well as helping you to see how people react against your ideas (which could be stumbling blocks for the to buy your product).

The other benefit of doing webinars before you create your product is that you get your audience used to attending them which can be useful when it comes time to launch your product. Live webinars often work really well as a selling tool during a launch.

Social Media

Social media is another of my favorite places for testing ideas. In fact it’s often the first step for me as it’s so easy to put an idea out there and get pretty quick reactions.

My first testing ground is usually Twitter where I’ll ask a question, put up a hypothesis or even bluntly ask a ‘would you be interested in….’ question.

The beauty of Twitter is that you don’t tend to get people seeing and being influenced by other people’s responses (unless you dig for them). Having said that – sometimes you want a more communal response so I’d then be heading to Facebook where I have often done exactly the same kinds of updates (asking questions, starting discussions etc).

Of course social is a place you should be sharing the blog posts we’ve already talked about writing – get the ideas in front as many people as you can!

Boost Your Social Posts

One of the challenges of not having an established readership or following on social media is that you can ask questions and start as many discussions as you like but get no response whatsoever.

If this is the case you may wish to try boosting/advertising your social media updates to get more response.

I know not everyone feels comfortable with boosting posts on Facebook but for a relatively small outlay it is a decent way to ensure your posts are seen by exactly the type of people you’re trying to reach. You can specify for your post to be shown to people in certain locations, genders, age groups and with certain interests (and much more) all for just a few dollars.

Set Up a ‘Group’

Another idea that is related to social media that you might like to try is setting up a Facebook Group (or a group on a platform like LinkedIn) on the topic of the product you’re thinking of creating.

I’ve recently been playing with Facebook Groups on a number of fronts (including the FeelGooder group) and it strikes me that a group would be a brilliant place to help you test and develop your idea.

While this isn’t my current goal with the FeeGooder group it wouldn’t be hard to take your idea for a product to such a group to ask them for feedback and even to get their contribution to creating it. The benefits of doing so is that you not only get to test and refine the idea but you could also have your first highly engaged customers and advocates for it!

Surveys/Polls

I love using surveys to test ideas for products. We have used them in two main ways:

  • Long Run Surveys – I’ve written about the main survey that we use on dPS previously. It collects feedback from readers everyday via our autoresponder series. The benefit of this is that we have a steady stream of ideas, questions and interests coming in from our readers which informs what products we create. We also have a question in the survey that specifically asks them what topics they’d buy products on that tests the ideas we have for future products.
  • Product Specific Surveys/Polls – The other type of survey we’ve run a few times is in the lead up to launching a specific product. For example if I were creating an eBook on travel photography I could do a survey that asks readers about the gear they use, the places they travel, the problems and challenges they’ve had, the questions they have etc. These kinds of surveys can also test other things like price points, formats, titles etc depending upon where you’re at with the production of your product. I find this type of survey not only gives you ideas for making the product better but can often highlight potential blocks that people might have in buying which will inform your marketing.

One ore tip with surveys – always be on the look out for a good stat that you can use in your marketing. For example – we ran a survey in the lead up to launching our Photo Nuts and Bolts eBook which revealed ‘73% of digital camera owners wish they had more control over their camera‘. That became the headline for the sales page of that eBook.

Pre Sell Your Product

This is the only technique in this post that I’ve never done but I know of bloggers who have used it with great effect. In essence they create a sales page for their product before they create it and ‘pre-sell’ it to their audience.

In some ways this was almost like a crowd-funding type approach.

In each case I’m thinking of the blogger was upfront in telling their audience that the product was not yet complete and they gave those who pre-bought it a discount for putting their money up.

By pre-selling their product they had proof of concept before or during the product creation. It also gave them more incentive/accountability to actually finish the product (as people had already paid).

In one case the blogger discovered by putting their product up for pre-sale that there was not enough interest for the product and so refunded the few people who bought it and abandoned the idea.

Another blogger involved those who bought the pre-launched product in the creation of it by inviting then to a private VIP Facebook group to discuss what they wanted included and to build some community among buyers. He also gave the access to the product in stages (it was a course so he could release lessons regularly over the weeks after they made the purchase.

The only warning I’d give on pre-selling products is that you need to really be able to follow through and deliver. You could easily destroy your reputation and potentially end up in legal trouble by taking money for a product you didn’t deliver.

How Would You Test Your Product Idea to Assess its profitability?

I’d love to hear your ideas and experiences with this topic.

Have you tried any of the above ideas? Have you got other ideas to add?

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.
Comments
  1. Hello, Sir

    Still i am not created any ebook, hope this ideas will help me in future.

    Thanks again sir, for your regular Updates.

  2. Hey Darren good post and really relevant to point out that people and business should test to see if there is a demand for a product, ebook or course before diving head first into the creation process. Magazines.com together with Dummies.com are great places to check out what is currently trending. I like to research these sites and they have done all the hard work and dollars in the market research. Google keyword tool should also be used to check out keyword research. No point in investing time and money on a product or course no body is interested in. Again thanks for the tips. Cheers Kim

  3. Very thorough ideas and steps. I’m editing a three part mini course video series to test my idea for a full blown course. I guess I’ll know if there is a market by how it is received. I will be the first to offer a course in this area. You recommend pre selling if it looks like it is a valid paid course idea?

  4. Thanks Darrin.
    I really like the idea of making sure that the reader is able to get something of tangible value from their purchase. One of the ways I believe this to be possible is, as you said, to make sure the idea is important to you, the writer.

    I’m beginning to plan an ebook, and there are great points for me to consider. I don’t have much of an audience for a new blog, and haven’t considered boosting it on Facebook yet.
    I’ve tried with other boosts and haven’t seen a great ROI.

    Do you have any suggestions for other Social Media ads, or is Facebook the #1 source you recommend?

    Thanks again for the great post.

  5. Very nice and informative post. I like your blog.

  6. Well…probably be a good idea, but I think I prefer to hold the book in my hands !

  7. Fresh Articles says: 06/09/2015 at 2:37 am

    Great Article, Always on point about the whole topic. Keep it up.

  8. If you look at the bigger picture about e-book marketing, all e-books hold some type of value. Why? The content creator of the e-book has valuable information to share in addition to having affiliate link embedded in the body of content. It’s all up to the author if they want their e-book or course to be very profitable because they can add bits and pieces of intimate details to spice things up and gain deeper interest of the reader. Don’t you agree?

  9. Hi Darren

    Thanks for this useful post. I totally agree about going with something that’s important to you. I think if you are looking to get into a niche, you need to have a connection to your potential prospects. If you have no interest in weight loss, then don’t write an ebook about it. Like you say, the quality will suffer and you will not follow it through.

    Of course there needs to be a public interest in the subject of your ebook, Use the google keyword planner and you will see how many people search for how to lose weight, or lose belly fat etc. That’s why I use weight loss as an example, there’s tons of interest in it and there always will be.

    As you say, people need to be spending money on it, so check out your competition and reverse engineer what they do with a little of your own spin on it;)

    Thanks again Darren.

  10. Yes… curiously the one time I did an on purpose pre-sell of one of my products I did receive more sales, and now that you mention it, can’t really think of a reason for not doing it again.

    Very insightful article by the way, always be diligent on the idea research and market before putting a big arse amount of effort creating a digital product just to test it out, test on similar products as affiliate and see the market to get experience, then you later develop your own.

  11. Hi..
    Thank you for posting this blog and sharing this information for an eBook or course Is a profitable one and I’m beginning to plan an ebook, and there are great points for me to consider. I don’t have much of an audience for a new blog, and haven’t considered boosting it on Facebook yet. i have tried with other boosts and haven’t seen a great ROI. please if you have any suggestions so pls give me any suggestions for other Social Media ads, or is Facebook…

    thank you

  12. e-Book marketing is always good for effectively promoting affiliate links and organically building a loyal online readership.

  13. Really useful!!! The point of considering your product as ‘tangible’ is a great way of putting it. I’m also going to add the social media trail discussions and blog theme series to my blog marketing plan. Thanks for this!
    http://www.inky-n-thebrain.com

  14. Hi Darren,

    I am so huge on intuitive nudges. Once I feel it’s good money and enjoy writing the book or selling the product it will be profitable. Like-minded folks will dig it because if I enjoyed the creation process they will enjoy the output. Our true intuition is limitless and bang on all of the time. If folks try and fail to rake it in, or to profit, they listened a bit much to ego and not enough to that silent, all powerful voice. Keep on going within and the profits will increase in your life.

    Thanks Darren!

    Ryan

  15. Hi Darren,

    I have this small group of audience (in a certain country)interested in starting a blog of theirs, I discover this audience through keyword research and created a blog post around the subject, the post attract target audience from search engines.

    But am afraid, these people are not that paying customers, they seems to be interests in freebies…. this is because I usually on average receive 2 to 3 calls asking for one on one coaching, but when it get to coaching fees, they ended up with something else like distance, time factors, etc.

    Now am thinking of creating an eBook on the subject specifically for this audience, do you think that’s a right decision?

    Thanks, your feedback.

  16. Hi Darren

    Great post! I just wanted to add that if I wanted to write an ebook on a subject I would check out the google keyword planner to see how many people were looking for queries related to your potential subject matter. I would make a note of the subjects that are getting the most searches.

    I would also check out the forums related to your niche subject, to see what the most common questions were.

    Then, once I have my niche and the topic I will write about, I will check out if there’s lots of competition. If there’s competition, then that means people are making money from it. I would reverse engineer my competitors’ efforts and just make my ebook better.

    Thanks again Darren

  17. This is so important – Is There Evidence of People Paying for This Type of Information?

    Too often people create a product without a market. I’m not saying you should think about the market first when creating something, but it’s so much easier to sell something when there’s a group of people who already buy something similar. Great list!

  18. Hey Darren,

    The only product I’ve done thus far is write a free ebook. I’m going to write another free ebook and eventually a paid one. But these tips gives me some great ideas of how I should go about approaching it. I really like the idea of having a pre-sell. I’m not thinking about doing a page, but adding little tidbits on my social media posts, blog posts, and broadcast emails of my up and coming paid ebook. I’m writing it judging from the traffic I’ve been getting so far which goes along the lines of your 4th point of Testing The Idea.

    Thanks for the tips Darren! Have a great weekend!

  19. really informative post and nice tips……. thanks for sharing

  20. Thanks for the article! I’m just now working on my very first e-book (I’ve only ever done affiliate and network marketing, so creating a product, even a small one like this, is kind of nerve-wracking), and you really helped me. I feel much more confident now that I’ll have a more successful product.

    Is it a good idea to offer a few chapters for free when people sign up to my newsletter?

  21. Great post. And very timely for me. I have a small readership, so I’m keen on learning more about the podcasts or webinars you speak of. Any resources/links you can provide on that?

  22. Darren I got more from this post than I have from any post EVER. Amazingly well written and comprehensive. Thanks so much!

    I owe you one,

    Bill

  23. These tips are spot on for me right now. I’m mid-course, changing from focusing on marketing other people’s dreams to Kindle publishing and coaching. Thank you.

  24. Thanks Darren for the ideas. Just about to create a lead magnet product… report or eBook… best to find out if anyone is interested before I sink hours into it…
    Subject is “How to Choose the Right Putter for Your Game”… a topic I think would interest a lot of golfers. Thanks again.