For those of you that are new to the blog, every month I expose the financial details of the business on the blog.
I do this to help promote financial transparency in both our personal and business lives. Our society makes the sharing of financial details so taboo, that many people are resistant to getting help when they need it. In my mind, the more people that are willing to share… the better.
I usually share these details in a separate post each month. This month I’ve decided to include it here, as it’s extremely applicable to the topic at hand…
Speaking of the topic at hand. Let’s get to it.
I set a big, perfectly attainable goal for my business. I worked hard, but not smart. And I failed. I fell short. I came up way short, actually.
Most of you know that two weeks ago I launched my second premium product, Sell Your Crap. I’ve talked a lot about it recently, so I won’t be going into specific details regarding the product again here.
What most of you don’t know (unless you are in my inner circle) was my goal for the launch.
My goal was to sell 200 copies in the first two weeks. I wanted to break $10,000 gross in that time frame.
For some of you that may seem really high. Others may think thats low. That’s cool, but I will let you know that those number are completely reasonable. Meaning not impossible, not automatic. Reasonable.
Well, I failed.
I didn’t hit 200 copies sold, nor did I gross five figures in these first two weeks. In fact, I failed rather spectacularly (at first). Typically, in product launches the first day (launch day) makes up the majority of sales. It’s almost always your biggest day and helps get momentum the continues throughout the first week or two.
On my first day, I sold 4 copies. Four. Like the number you can count on one hand. The number that is less than 200.
Let’s stop for a moment. There’s more to this story, however, we need to rewind. We need to get more background information.
It all started 6 months ago…
It was a dark and rainy night 6 months ago when, sitting in my office, it happened… burnout.
Creative burnout. Nasty, hard creative burnout. (Actually it didn’t happen instantly one night, but it sounded like a good transition.)
After launching Unautomate Your Finances, I had incredible momentum. More specifically, it seemed like I couldn’t do anything wrong. Everything I wrote went over well. People were tripping over each other to subscribe to the blog (o.k. maybe not, but thats how I remember it).
I knew what my next step was. I needed to continue to pour myself into creating amazing, valuable content on the blog. I needed to continue to expand my audience and reach out to mentors. I needed to start working on my next guide (I had been planning to do SYC next for a long time).
My path was clear. So what did I do?
I stopped blogging. I stopped talking to my mentors and friends. I stopped planning out “Sell Your Crap”.
All I could think about is how much I didn’t want to write. If I heard credit card, budgeting, or conscious spending one more time… I was going to puke. I was tapped out. Done.
So I started doing everything but what I needed to.
I played video games. I google’d “how to become a firefighter”. I contemplated selling Man Vs. Debt. I APPLIED TO WORK AT STARBUCKS (and then skipped the interview when I got called).
You could say I was lost.
What I realize now is that I didn’t lose my passion, I just buried it. I didn’t lose any writing skill (you could argue I’ve never had any to start!).
…I lost my mission.
Thing I did wrong #1: I lost my mission…
Rather than focusing on my message and my mission… I simply broke things down into “next steps”. They became chores. Crap I had to do in order to get to some mythical place where everything would be peachy and happy. There would be rainbows and monthly income of $5,000 in this place. Probably unicorns, too. Everything would be awesome…
If I could just get my next guide out. If I could just execute a HUGE guest posting surge. If I did these steps… I would get this awesomeness in my head.
Guess what happened? I hated the idea of those next steps. I attached negative feeling to them. They became hurdles I had to jump over, not obstacles which helped promote my message.
So for month I did nothing. I resisted like never before. I outlined the Sell Your Crap guide for 5 months, before I started writing the first sentence of actual content. I currently have a Google Doc with 15 huge blogs, how I can best help their audiences, and a list of potential guest post titles (with bullet points). I’ve emailed maybe one or two of them.
I huddled up and went into planning mode. Planning was easy. Actually doing something was… hard.
And so my momentum faded. Readers who had followed our story and devoured our content moved on. Connections wilted away and my passion became buried.
Thing I did right #1: I started writing…
Luckily, I had an epiphany. In the exact same random day, two of my mentors called me on my cell phone. This is not common. Two mentors with extremely busy schedules and extremely large audiences, were taking the time to call me out of the blue. On the same day.
In both cases, my end of the conversation went like this:
“Um, hi… Hey man, what the hell are you doing calling me?… Oh, yeah, I’ve been busy… Yeah, I know… Yeah, I know… I’m just burnt out really… Yeah, you’re right… Yeah, I know… Yeah, I’m planning on getting back into it… Yeah, your right, that is just an excuse… Yep… Yep… Thanks for calling, man… I owe ya.”
So I wrote. I started. I wish I could tell you I came around to my senses on my own, but I didn’t. It took tough love from two people I deeply respected.
I kept writing… for two months. A lot – 70,000-80,000 words. If you don’t write… that’s… a lot. Just trust me on that.
Thing I did wrong #2: I didn’t restrict the scope.
The problem was… I just wrote. I had an outline (a nice one that I spent 5 months on), but as I wrote and researched… it grew. And grew.
The basic advice goes something like this. ”Break your guide or project into easily digestible chunks. Create a schedule and complete each chunk one at a time.” Right, uh huh. I’ll get right on that.
That’s not how I work. And unfortunately, that means things take longer… are much more stressful… and generally fail harder. :-)
My initial goals was to have a primary guide of around 20,000 words and three modules between 5,000-10,000 words each. That’s seemed like a neat set up. It made my ADD and obsessive compulsive brain feel comfortable.
As it turns out, the eBay “module” itself grew to 35,000 words. That’s almost twice the main guide. So what did I do when I finished it?
I rethought everything. What does this mean? How can my “module” be twice as long as the main guide? THAT DOESN’T MAKE LOGICAL SENSE. The *main* guide should be the biggest. The module should be the same size. How am I going to write 35,000 on Amazon?
At this point, you probably are either nodding your head… or think I’m batshit crazy. But this is the real process I went through when this happens. And I know from talking to hundreds of entrepreneurs that I’m not alone.
We have this idea that our projects need to be packaged in a certain way. That things have to line up, be neat, and make logical sense. That may work for Coca-Cola… or Microsoft. That may work for the factory down the street. But for a solo, creative entrepreneur?
Screw that... Pour your soul into creating the most valuable product, art, or information you can and then get it out there. You aren’t Coca-Cola… and thank God for that. Now stop acting like it. (I’m talking mostly to myself for future reference).
Thing I did right #2: I set a launch date.
Listen very carefully. Whatever you are doing… a product, a non-profit event, or a website… set a freakin’ date.
That’s the first step.
The second step? Do something that locks you into that date. Like scheduling a guest post on one of Time.com’s 20 Top Blogs and several of the most popular personal finance blogs on the internet. Send out invitations. Build excitement. Do whatever takes so that you can’t possible delay it past that date.
Good. Now you’ve locked yourself in. There’s no turning back. So, go do it. Do whatever it takes. Get ‘er done.
Seriously, this is my number one productivity tip. Set a date. And forcefully lock yourself in.
At the end of the day, there’s always something else you can add. There’s always one more email you can send or an extra chapter that’ll fill out the content. If you let yourself, you’ll go crazy trying to *complete* the project.
Get it to 80% and pull the (@#&%# trigger. Launch it out to the world. Go live and adjust on the air.
Thing I did wrong #3: I didn’t get it to 80% in time.
So I took all my own advice from above, except for the whole part about actually launching it. Most of you know that a day before my scheduled launch date, I decided to push it back a week. What you don’t know is why.
I severally botched estimating how much time the details would take. The majority of content was done, but there was a tone of detail work that needed to be finished with affiliates, landing pages, inserting screenshots, formating InDesign, blah, blah, blah.
I thought 3 days was enough. It wasn’t. I was off by a multiple of at least 4.
Then Milligan got sick two days before launch. Courtney took care of everything, but it still zapped my time, energy, and emotions as I was fretfully trying to get everything wrapped up in the last moment.
That night, Sunday night after Milli went to bed, I realized that if I was going to launch “on time” I wasn’t going to be able to include the final versions of the craiglist and amazon modules. I could have the Main guide and the eBay module done (the bulk of the value), but I wouldn’t be able to format and insert the screenshots for the last two modules.
At this point, I had two options. Launch without the two extra modules and add them later. Or delay the launch a week, which included emailing the founders of several huge blogs and explaining my decision and blatant failure.
Neither option was great, but I chose the latter. I sent the emails. This goes against the advice I would give to anyone else, but whatever. That’s what I did. Luckily, everyone I emailed was more than happen to bump guest posts back a week. So, for better or worse, launch would come next week.
Note: If/when you decide to do this, you probably owe it to your readers to blog about it *before* launch day. Rather than put off a post telling them it’ll be delayed *until* launch day itself. Sigh.
Thing I did right #3: Created Kick Ass Content
Let’s be really honest for a second: there are a crap ton of launches these days online. Everyone seems to be creating and launching a product, which I think (in the long run) is a good thing overall. The medium will become more popular and accessible to a large audience with more content.
However, the downside is that you have to do something to differentiate yourself from the masses.
This extra week, I worked no less than 100 more hours on the product. I ended up adding even more content. I polished the layout of many of the screenshots. I completed the craigslist and Amazon modules to be packaged together with launch.
I didn’t get it perfect, far from it… but that’s not the point. The point is it’s good. It’s really good.
I don’t think everything I write is awesome, but I know that guide is. It’s valuable, thorough, and can realistically change people’s lives. This is the biggest thing I did right in the whole process. I’ve chosen to differentiate myself by the quality of the final product. That’s only one way of dozens you can do it, but you’ve got to choose one.
Now, this also brings in a flood of problems. I could have (probably should have) allocated more time to acquiring affiliates, writing the landing page, and executing a pre-launch sell to my email list. This stuff got put on th backburner, because I was so obsessive about the actual content.
Ultimately, the goal of everything you do should be impact. And impact means writing valuable content AND getting it into the hands of people who need it. You need a balance of both. I did one side of the equation very well, but came up very short on the second.
Thing I did wrong #4: Left the landing page until the last minute.
I hate writing landing pages. It’s an unnatural, but necessary part of the equation. I don’t mind selling, when I believe in the product as much as I do. But this belief alone doesn’t make me good at selling. It’s a big weakness.
As with most weaknesses, I leave them until the last possible minute. For the Sell Your Crap launch, that meant midnight the night before launch. Sigh.
Between the hours of 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. I made a lot of decent progress. The graphics were in place. I had the section headers all filled in, along with many of the transitions.
I still needed to type out the benefits of purchasing each guide, which I was going to include as bullet points next to the pictures. Simple. Straight forward. In the meantime, in order to get the formatting correct I entered in the following:
- Benefit 1 goes here
- Benefit 2 follows up
- Amazing Benefit 3 to round things out
That is literally what my sales page said. It was just a placeholder until I could come back to it. Did I mention that I was editing the ACTUAL version of my sales page. The actual page was live, there was just no incoming links to it. This is called obvious foreshadowing… we’ll get back to this in a second.
So it’s 5:30 a.m. or something like that and I realize that my Get Rich Slowly guest post (with a link to the sales page) is going live at 7 a.m. eastern time. Yikes!
No big problem. I can finish it up by then. All I need to do is place the links to the shopping cart into the page (none of the links were active or live yet) and fill out the bullet points with the actual benefits. Should be easy.
Error saving page. What the…
Error logging back into wp-admin to edit. Error going to website. Error loading landing page.
Error. Error. Error.
My site crashed. Not just crashed as in the hosting is down. Crashed as in EVERY ONE of my essential files had extra spaces put into there files, which caused exactly 0% of my site to load or be accessible for edits.
I knew right away this wasn’t good. I was on my second straight all-nighter, running on the fumes of caffeine and the delusions of complete and utter exhaustion. I was so close to getting it complete and then… boom.
Several calls to my primary tech guy, Andrew Norcross, wen’t unanswered. Who would have thought he was sleeping at 6 a.m.? Weird, I know. Next, I took to Twitter, where dozens of people tried to help me, but it was all for naught. The problem was actually HUGE and would require hours and hours of experienced work to put back together completely.
Traffic started pouring in from several guest posts, including one on Get Rich Slowly early on. Visitor after visitor hit a error page with no content.
O.k., I thought. Not the end of the world. Hang in there. I knew had a guest post on Zen Habits coming up soon (an audience that is not only huge, but that I had never guest posted for), but I assumed it would be posted in the afternoon or evening. There was still a lot of time.
And then the Zen Habits guest post went up… at 9 a.m… with the site still in pieces. In the first hour, ~500ish new readers came to find out more information on my new shiny product and found nothing. A white page with black error text.
I can count the number of times I’ve really cried in my adult life on one hand and I remember each of them well. On no sleep for three days… at the moment that was suppose to be one of the best for my business… I put my head down and cried.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse… it did.
My friend Matt Jabs had desperately been working on getting the site back up and running. Finally, he was able to get the home page and the landing page to load. Yes! Excited I logged into the blog to edit the landing page quickly… Error.
Error saving. Error opening.
The landing page was live, but I couldn’t edit it in any way.
So let me paint the clear picture for you. Rather than being bounced, hundreds of people were now being sent to a landing page with NO LINKS and which literally said: Benefit 1 goes here, Benefit 2 follows up, Amazing benefit 3 to round things out instead of the actual benefits.
Doh. I couldn’t think of a situation worse than people interested in your new product getting an error message… and then I was confronted face to face with it.
So much for first impressions. After around 30 minutes of this mess, we pulled the landing page back down and returned to just giving people blank error messages.
Fast forward 6 hours…
After several hours of whining on Twitter about the situation, Matt and Norcross got the site pieced back together and back to normal. It was late afternoon by that point and although traffic was still trickling in from the guest posts, I obviously hadn’t posted my own content yet.
I decided I would go to bed… and launch the next morning. A lot of damage had been done, but everything would have to wait until tomorrow morning. I wanted to sell 50-100 in the first day, in order to be on the way to my goal of 200 in the first two weeks.
I sold 4 on my “launch” day.
Note: Never again will I edit a live landing page with filler text. Never again will I make a page “live” without links. Never again will I wait until the last night to do the landing page. Never again will I *not* redirect the landing page to the homepage up until the time I’m ready to go live. :-)
Thing I did right #4: I didn’t give up…
I contemplated a lot of things that afternoon as I headed to sleep… but I didn’t give up. I woke up the next morning and I launched my post. I sent the email out to the Militia members. And I began to send the guides out to affiliates and allies, something I should have done a week before, but that was still on the to-do list.
I just kept plowing forward. There is no long, flowery lesson here. You just can’t give up. If you want something… never, ever give up.
That’s it… giving up is not an option.
Thing I did wrong #5: I sent a spammy email to my email list…
I immediately tried to make up for the shenanigans of the day before by sending a super spammy email to my email list. One of the crappiest things I’ve done in a while.
While almost noone unsubscribed (2 out of 1,000+), I used a spammy email subject line. Guess what happened? It went to spam. Shocker.
At least half of the people on the list got it filtered into their spam folders. I know this because people emailed me to tell me. I know this because it went to MY SPAM folder. Haha. Gmail filtered my own email to myself into spam.
For future info, do not use this email subject line ever:
[ManVsDebt] “Sell Your Crap” now available! Whoo-hoo! *20% Off Coupon inside*
Honestly, it was probably the last 4 words that did it. But looking back over the content of the email… it was spammy too. So no matter what the reason technically, the real issue is I tried to be someone I’m not.
A lot of people on this list did end up using the coupon code for 20%, but I felt dirty. I felt scummy for sending the email. I sort of want to apologize. I sort of wanted to send a follow up that said the first went to spam. I had no idea what to do, but I know I don’t like the feeling that I had when I realized what had happened.
My only “advice” here is *don’t let the desire to have a big launch turn you into something or someone you aren’t*. Screw your conversion rate if you have to compromise your closest allies and supporters in the process. That’s just as bas as selling a shitty product. I don’t want to do either. And I won’t do either in the future.
Thing I did right #5: Said “Yes” to every interview…
After I did get around to sending out the guides to my allies, many request came in for interviews. After reading the guide, people wanted to help spread the message. Some had audiences of 10,000+, others had audiences of a few dozen. It didn’t matter.
I said yes.
I’ve done around 40 interviews in different formats over the past two weeks. I’d love to do 100 more. Not in the hopes I think they will send me traffic or sales. And not because I hope it strengthens relationships with other bloggers. Those are both benefits, but not the main benefit.
The main benefit of these interviews is what they do to me. Each time I have to present information, I get better and better. I get more clear in my passion and my goals. I get more experienced in how to relate my message to different audiences.
At the start of writing this product, I knew a lot about selling your stuff. We had done it ourselves and I had helped others do the same. But now, after I’ve written 65,000+ published words and done dozens of interviews, I feel like an expert.
I feel like if the Today Show called me today, I would tear up that appearance. I know what people struggle most with and I know how to help them 1000x better than when I started. It’s confidence. Putting yourself, your art, and your soul on the line gives you unbelievable confidence.
If you ever have a chance to do an interview of any sort (to push forward your mission)… for Pete’s sake, say yes!
So what about the last two weeks?… How did things turn out?…
I was just about to share those details! So you already know that on my spectacular launch day I sold 4 copies.
The next day, I officially went live on the blog and sent the spammy email out to the list. I sold around 30. Not bad, but not great. You see, with Unautomate Your Finances I sold a bunch in the first three days and then it fell off the map (it sells around 1 a day now). This is extremely common for launches – most sales will come in the first 72 hours.
So while I was happy I sold more than 4, I was really scared of what would happen over the next week or so.
Much to my surprise, the sales didn’t dive off that much. I didn’t sell out or anything, but 5-10 copies were being sold each day… every day. Weird. It was slow, but steady… like the tortoise running the race.
Each day, my spirits rose a bit. On top of the sales, emails began pouring in. Customers were blown away. Other bloggers couldn’t believe the amount of content it included. Each sale and each email slowly built back up my confidence.
I realized that I had put way, way too much energy into making a “HUGE OMG LOOK AT ME” product launch. I put way too much weight on how well those first few days went (they were terrible and filled with mistakes) and not on the fact that I was creating a legacy product.
And that’s what I ended up with… a big piece of my legacy project. I’d take a virtual bullet for Sell Your Crap. I believe in it much more than any single project or content I’ve ever written. It’ll be around for years in one form or another. I may use parts of it for a print book… I may change parts of it into interactive workshops… I may not change anything.
The point is it’s out there. I did so many things “wrong” but it doesn’t matter now. Even God can’t change the past.
If your interested, September finished out with 82 sales and in the first full two weeks Sell Your Crap ended at 105 sales total. Here’s the full breakdown of my income and expenses, which I share monthly:
Net from UYF Sales: $438.60
- Total Guides Sold (Sept): 35
- Income (less Paypal fees): $549.44
- Affiliate Payments: -$110.84
Net from SYC Sales: $2898.06
- Total Guides Sold (all versions): 82
- Income (less Paypal fees): $3452.50
- Affiliate Payments: -$554.44
Additional Income: $1161.11
- Freelance Writing: $300.00
- Thesis WordPress Theme: $51.48
- Unconventional Guides: $460.02
- Private Consulting Project: $421.48
Direct Expenses: -$1642.09
- Hosting: -$14.95
- Aweber: -$29.00
- E-junkie: -$10.00
- VodBurner: -$9.95
- Domain Names: -$11.62
- Shipping: -$16.32
- Amazon (books): -$81.57
- Website Tech work: -$175
- SYC Design/Consulting: -$800
- World Domination Summit: -$254.17
- Unconventional Book Tour: -$239.51
Net (Income – Expenses): $2856.68
Over the last 7 months of monetization, this brings average to: ~$1825/month
Note: If you have any questions about the list above, leave them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to clarify them. :-)
While these “numbers” are still far from my goals, I no longer consider the launch a “failure”. In fact, I consider the events of this launch, what I learned, and the final product that came out… to be complete and utter successes.
There are several things that came out of this launch that you can’t measure directly with numbers or dollar signs:
- Clarity of my mission. Finally, I feel clear about it. More on this on Monday.
- Confidence. If you can’t tell, it’s back.
- Appreciation. I took a lot of my early “wins” for granted. I took readers for granted. No more.
I’ve never been one to say that I’m going to “change the world”. I always thought that was a little foo-foo. Until now.
Ladies and gentleman, I’m going to change the world.
I’m going to help people radically change their lives for the better by getting rid of the crap the holds them back.
To quote myself from earlier this year:
Don’t bet against me this year. Heck, don’t bet against yourself, either.
Let’s do this.