How to Create and Sell an Information Product from Scratch for $500

One common question I’ve seen in interviews with entrepreneurs is some variation of, “If you had to start over from scratch, knowing everything you know now, but with only $500 and your laptop, what would you do?”

I thought it would be a fun exercise.

Why Information Products?

They’re cheap, easy and fast to produce. You don’t have to hire engineers, build prototypes, find factories and all that tough stuff. If you’ve got a computer, the technology you need is already in your room.

The research might take a week or two (depending on how fast you read), and the production could be done in one weekend. An info product also demonstrates your expertise and knowledge, paving the way for future higher-priced sales on the back end.

Niche Selection

I’d pick a niche that already has proven buyers: health, wealth, relationships, etc. One great test of a market is if there’s a “For Dummies” book on the topic. That’s a good sign of niche viability. I’d check Amazon if there are books on the subject. I’d also look on Clickbank if there already similar info products selling well.

Niche Research

I’d go on Amazon.com and find the top 5 books on the subject. Search for PDF versions of those books if they’re on Internet.  If not, then I’d go to the library and request all 5 books so I could read them for free.

Read the books. Just by doing that, you’ll know more than 90% of your customers.

Either I could take the best from each book and create an ultimate product, or I could focus and expand on one specific technique, problem, etc. For example, instead of a general health book, you could concentrate on how to get six-pack abs, since that’s a popular desire.

Read the customer reviews. What did customers like? Put that in your product. What did customers complain about? Fix that in your product. What I like about reading Amazon customer reviews is you’re learning what buyers want. Forums are good too, but you want to focus on buyers’ needs.

Sales Letter and Marketing Materials

Big tip: I’d write the sales letter and ads before creating the product. Are there already people selling similar info products online? Check on Clickbank.com.

Look at what competitors are doing and model what works. List all the bullet points, features, benefits and emotional hot buttons from their sales letters. Check these against the books you read in your research phase. Ideally, you can figure out how to deliver on the promises from these sales letters based on your research. Or come up with different ways to get the same results. This would clarify what I need to include in my info product.

If their products are cheap enough, I’d buy the competitors’ stuff to study as well. If not, try to find pirated versions online to download.

For help with copywriting, read David Frey’s 12-Step Foolproof Sales Letter template. It’s available for free as a blog post on his website.

If you want more depth for only a little money, read this Kindle book by Ben Settle: “Crypto Copywriting Secrets: How to create profitable sales letters fast – even if you can’t write your way out of a paper bag.” At $2.99, it’s worth many times that. It’s also geared specifically toward selling info products.

How to Spy on Competitors (and build a kick-ass swipe file)

In copywriting, there’s a term called “swipe file.” It’s a collection of great proven ads, sales letters and marketing materials. You can work off of them for inspiration. Do not plagiarize and copy, though!

Find ads

Here’s how to build a swipe file to help you brainstorm ideas for advertising your product.

Go on Clickbank and find the top 5 products sold in your niche.

To find ads, use Google Image search. What you do use search with the names of your competitors. To get their ads to come up, do this:

Click on “Search tools” > Size > Exactly > Enter the width and height for a banner ad

The Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) has a set of standard sizes for web banners. I’ve linked to a Wikipedia entry. Just put those sizes into your search parameters. Now most of the image results will be ads, not just random photos.

A common ad size is 300 by 250. Here’s an example of an image search for “Truth About Abs,” a top fitness info product on Clickbank. The screenshot is blurry, but if you click on it, the enlarged version is sharper and you can see everything clearly.

Screenshot - truth about abs - banner ads

As you can see, the ads use a variety of headlines, images and psychological angles to attract users’ attention and get them to click. You can get ideas for creating your own ads.

Find landing pages, sales pages, check out pages–grab an entire sales funnel

Get a screenshot tool like Skitch. This tool will allow you to take a picture of a web page. Then you can mark it up with circles, arrows and text to jot down your ideas. Maybe you see a good headline, a good buy button, etc. Take a screenshot and mark it up with your notes.

Go to Clickbank and pull up the list of top products in your chosen niche. Start visiting the websites.

Take screenshots of landing pages, opt-in pages, thank-you pages, sales letters, order pages, upsell pages, everything. Try closing the pages. Take pictures of exit pop-ups and exit pages.

Marketers use those things to “save” leads, the customers who aren’t ready to buy immediately. An exit pop-up box will say something like, “Wait! You can get a free e-book.” Then the exit page will be an opt-in page. Or if the sales page had a video, when you close it, the exit pop would say, “Hate watching videos? Click ‘stay’ to read a letter instead.” Then it goes to a text sales page.

Is there a video sales letter (VSL)? Grab the URL and hire a transcription service to type out the video sales letter script for you. Then you can read it and study it in-depth. If you’re really hardcore, write it out by hand. Then you’ll really internalize the sales process.

Subscribe to the e-mail lists for these products. You can set up a separate e-mail account just for this purpose. Or you can use filters and labels on your existing e-mail account. Whatever helps you to keep organized. Read their autoresponder messages. Read their broadcast messages. Think about how you can model your e-mail sequence after theirs.

For the price of buying your competitors’ info products, you can gain tremendous insight into their sales funnels and benefit from the gobs of money they spend on testing to find out what works.

Take this knowledge and apply it to your own website, sales letter, e-mail messages, etc. Don’t outright rip off  your competitors, but modify for your personality and product.

Product Creation

My idea would be to create a video course. Make a presentation with Powerpoint or Keynote, and record voiceover with a microphone.

I’d invest some money in a good cheap microphone like the Samson Meteor Mic USB Studio Microphone (~$70 on Amazon). The microphone is important because it will allow us to create a multimedia information product that we can charge a higher price for, compared to a simple e-book. Combining text, video and audio will boost the perceived value of the info product.

If you’re really on a budget, you can get a Konami USB microphone that’s made for music-based video games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band. It sells for around $10. The downside is you need to put your lips right up close to the mic to get decent sound. With the Meteor, you can have it on your desk 1.5-2 feet away and you’ll still sound good.

The other reason to use a mic is that writing is hard for a lot of people, and talking is easier.

Hot tip: If you really have no money, another idea would be to record with your smartphone, in your car. Most modern cars have decent sound-proofing, so you talking in your car is like being in a sound booth. Especially if you’re doing only audio and no video, no has to know you did it in your car.

I’d write an outline of the course. Look at the “table of contents” of top-selling books on Amazon for good ideas. Also have that list of bullet points from other sales letters for reference. Make sure you cover those points. You don’t want to accidentally leave out any content that you mention in your sales letter. Customers would get mad.

To create the slides, you can use Microsoft Powerpoint, Keynote (Mac), LibreOffice (free open-source office suite), or Google Presentation. You don’t need photos and fancy graphics.  Just text and bullet points are good enough.

If you want to add photos to your presentation, you can use Photopin.com. It’s a search engine for photos on Flickr, a popular photo-sharing website. The important thing is you can search for “Creative Commons” pictures.  These are images where the photographer allows anyone to use them for free.  Do not use copyrighted photos. Since you’re creating a product to be sold, in Photopin search results, go to “License Type”and check the box for “Commercial.”

To record the video of your screen, there are a few options. Powerpoint and Keynote allow you to record audio narration and export to video. The other option is to use screen-recording software like Camtasia Studio (PC and Mac) or ScreenFlow (Mac only). Hot tip: QuickTime on Mac computers has screen-recording capability built-in, you don’t have to buy software unless you want more tools. Open up QuickTime, then go to File > New Screen Recording. QuickTime on PC cannot do screen-recording, unfortunately.

Once I’ve got the slides ready and a mic hooked up, I’m ready to create! I’d speak the content into the mic, while advancing through the slides on the screen. After you’re done, you’ve got videos.

To create audio, I’d separate the audio tracks from the videos with a program like Miro Video Converter.

Get the audios transcribed by a service like Rev.com, SpeechPad.com, etc. They usually charge about $1.00 per minute or recorded audio. Instant transcripts!

Here are the elements of your information product:

  • Videos
  • Audios
  • Transcripts
  • Handouts –  the presentation slides

All from the same material! Start with video, and you can repurpose the content into other formats for only a little more work.

For any design needs you might have, like for an e-book cover or product image, use Fiverr.com. It’s an outsourcing marketplace where people will perform tasks for $5. Go with providers who have a lot of good reviews. If you prefer to do it yourself, try Boxshot King.

You can also try Elance if you want fancier graphics made.  Good design goes a long way toward making your product look more professional and more valuable.

Focus on creating good content, and not on getting things technically perfect. Customers don’t expect Hollywood-level professionalism, as long as they can get your message. One marketer put it this way: don’t worry about production value, concentrate on instruction value.

Hot tip: want to double your sales? Offer customers the option to get physical products. A lot of people still want to have an actual book in their hands or a DVD. Search for companies that do “print on “demand” and “DVD replication.” These companies will often to both printing and shipping.

Bonuses

To add more value and raise the price more, I’ll include bonuses:

–Cheat sheets of main ideas as summaries with bullet points.

–Worksheets with practice exercises.

–Resources list of tools, useful websites, etc. Hot tip: include affiliate links so you can earn commissions if customers buy through your links.

–Extra guides and books. During your research, you might come up with content ideas that are deep enough to be separate from the main product.

Advanced: Hiring Expertise

If I had a little bigger budget to spend and if I wasn’t an expert on the subject, I’d pay an expert to interview them over the phone. That way, they create the content for me. Then get the audio recording transcribed.

Remember that list of bullet points from your competitors’ sales letters? Use those as interview questions to get your expert to teach and explain.

How to find experts: HelpAReporter.com, Guru.com, ProfNet, Reporter Connection, RTIR (Radio-TV Interview Report) and other sites. Google “expert sources” for more. You can be picky and select people with crazy impressive credentials and hire them on the cheap. Hot tip: bump up your price to reflect that value.

How to record the interview: FreeConferenceCall.com is one tool. Google “free conference call” for other providers.

Another option is to use Skype to do a video call, and use a tool like Pamela for Skype (PC) or Ecamm Call Recorder (Mac) to record the call. You can charge more money for a video product than an audio product.

There’s a way to do it for free: do a Google Hangout On Air.  This Google’s version of a webinar.  However, you can do it without guests, just you and your expert. The great thing is that the hangout is automatically exported to YouTube. Then you can use a tool like DownloadHelper to download the video to your computer. In the YouTube video menu, configure the privacy setting to “Unlisted” or “Private,” so no one can find your video. You don’t want people to find your paid product for free.

Hosting your content

If you’re going to get a lot of downloads, it’s best not to store multimedia content on your web hosting account. Video and audio downloads  are bandwidth hogs and could bump into resource limits.  Instead, use dedicated video and audio hosting.

Video hosting: YouTube (free, but set privacy to “unlisted” so only customers can view), Wistia, Vimeo

Audio hosting: SoundCloud (free), Libsyn, Buzzsprout

Amazon S3 is a popular choice, but I wouldn’t use it, except for text documents and PDFs. The reason why is it charges based on usage. If you get a lot of video and audio downloads, your usage fees can skyrocket. I’ve heard of entrepreneurs getting surprised with fees of thousands of dollars. The good thing about the video and audio hosts above is that the fees are fixed for unlimited downloads. You want to keep your expenses low and predictable.

Building the Website

Get a domain name from Namecheap (~$10 per year) and a web hosting account ($5-10 per month). Check webhostingtalk.com for reviews of web hosting companies. Search for discount codes before buying. Shared web hosting tends to be average to mediocre. Might be worth spending a little extra for a specialty WordPress hosting company like Pressable, Lightning Base or Traffic Planet Hosting. They can handle it if you send traffic from online advertising.

Install WordPress, a free content management system to build and manage your website. Install a free theme or paid theme for the design. For paid themes, check out Elegant Themes, WooThemes and ThemeForest.

Collecting Leads

People often don’t buy the first time they visit your website. So you can offer a free e-book or other resource as a lead magnet, to get them to sign up for your e-mail list.

Open an account with an e-mail marketing service like Aweber or GetResponse (~$20 per month). Create a new mailing list. Create opt-in forms to put on my website.

Write a series of e-mails to be sent out via autoresponder. The e-mails should build a relationship with the prospect, demonstrate knowledge, and lead to a purchase.

Optional: use tools like LeadPages or OptimizePress to create landing pages to collect leads. They can also make sales pages and other marketing pages.

Create a separate page for your sales letter. Then have “buy” buttons that link to your shopping cart to process orders.

Shopping Cart and Payment

Use Gumroad.com because they don’t charge monthly fees, only per transaction (5% and $0.25 per sale). The percentage is high, but if you’re on a budget, it’s hard to beat the lack of monthly fees.  They’re aimed at digital products. You upload your files and when people buy, the product gets sent automatically. One deal-breaker is that Gumroad does not integrate with e-mail service providers like Aweber. This is a big problem because building an e-mail list is an important asset to your business. I think this is because Gumroad seems to be aimed at artists, not entrepreneurs.

SendOwl is a little more expensive but still very affordable (the cheapest plan is $9 a month at the time of writing). It’s much more robust and has the kinds of features that entrepreneurs and marketers want, such as: upsells, e-mail list integration, subscriptions, the ability to run an affiliate program and more. The only missing feature is it doesn’t seem to integrate with WordPress membership plugins like WishList Member. This is a popular thing to do with marketers who prefer to host their products in a protected private membership site rather than having users download the products.

As you make more money and create more products, you can upgrade to a more full-featured shopping cart like 1ShoppingCart or SamCart, which have features like 1-click upsells. SamCart in particular looks really slick and the team seems to be adding new features from user requests all the time.  Meanwhile, 1ShoppingCart is popular but its technology is clunky, from the impressions I’ve gotten from users.

Getting Traffic

I’d spend the majority of the budget on Facebook ads. Do my best to target towards buyers, using things like:

  • Stores and e-commerce sites
  • Brands
  • Products
  • Niche celebrities who sell products

You can learn how to do Facebook ads from marketing blogs and how-to videos on YouTube. Hot tip: check out JonLoomer.com, his stuff is great.

Total Bill

$70.00 USB microphone

$60.00 Transcription service (usually around $1.00 per minute of audio). We’re assuming your content is 60 minutes long.

$10.00 Domain name

$10.00 Web hosting

$0.00 Content management system – WordPress is open source, so it’s free.

$20.00 E-mail marketing service

$0.00 Shopping cart – Gumroad charges per transaction, no monthly fees

$170.00 Total

Then spend the rest ($330.00) on Facebook ads.

Final Thoughts

You don’t need a lot of money, tech skills or even subject-matter expertise to make money with your own info product. This post was inspired by stuff I’d read by Gary Halbert, John Carlton and Frank Kern. I added the specific tech tools and other ideas.

photo credit: TimWilson via photopin cc