Idea sproutingI can’t count the number of self-employed professionals recently who have told me they are working on a program, product, or membership service to package their talents in a more tangible way. Professionals as diverse as life coaches, magicians, management consultants, and travel consultants are all seeking new avenues to bring in revenue during our current twin challenges of pandemic and recession.

These savvy professionals are looking for ways to take formerly in-person services online, offer lower cost options for cash-strapped clients, and replace lines of business that are currently not viable. This is why creating a product, program, or membership service looks appealing.

But, if you’ve never done this before, you may be unsure where to begin. Or worried that you’ll put time and effort into building an offering that gets few takers.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I was a corporate product manager for what we then called “electronic banking.” Building one of our products would cost the bank thousands of person hours. So, before we launched a product development effort, we would spend time up front evaluating and planning what we had in mind.

This is exactly what you need to do to make sure you choose the best program, product, or membership to build, then create an offering that will find a ready market. Here’s how to begin.

1. Who is your existing audience and what will they buy?

Reaching a new audience takes time and usually, money. If you’re looking to create revenue in the near term, your existing audience is your best bet. Define a customer avatar or buyer persona that represents the people in your universe who have hired you before, expressed interest in your services, or subscribed to your blog or ezine. You may end up with more than one definition.

Then consider what those potential buyers are most likely to want or need at this time. A travel consultant’s mailing list might want new experiences to replace travel, or to plan a big trip for late next year. A life coach’s subscribers could need help with life balance or reaching goals at a lower cost than one-on-one coaching. Put yourself in the shoes of your buyers to imagine what might serve them now.

2. What knowledge, process, or work product do you have available that matches #1?

Consider what resources you already have that might fill the needs and wants of your audience. Is there knowledge in your head about topics where they need information or guidance? Do you have a process you typically use when working with clients that you could take buyers through virtually or in a group? What have you already created in the past that might be reworked or repurposed?

3. Which of your ideas is the best fit for your vision of the future for your business?

After answering the first two questions, you may have a collection of exciting ideas. Before you choose one to take further, think about where you want your business to go and make sure your choice supports your long-term vision as well as short-term goals.

Would you like to get back to in-person work as soon as the pandemic allows? Then don’t choose an idea that depends on constructing an online empire first. Is it your dream to be seen as a thought leader in your field? Consider packaging your wisdom in a book, so you can be known as “the author of.” Do you have a vision of traveling the country while collecting passive income? Don’t launch a membership or ongoing program that will require your constant attention.

4. Storyboard your vision.

Once you have an offering in mind, begin designing your offering with a storyboard. Sketch out all the components your new offer will include using any technique that appeals to you. You might draw a mindmap, write a list, or use a tool like Trello or Scapple. Don’t start making a to-do list yet. First, capture the elements you believe are needed.

Let’s say you’re designing a home-study course. Your basic components might be lessons and student assignments. Each of your lessons and assignments should be centered on a distinct topic. Then break down what those pieces would look like. The lessons could be delivered by video, audio, or text, with visual aids like slides, illustrations, or diagrams. Your student assignments might include quizzes, exercises, or worksheets. Every one of those elements should be captured on your board, map, or list.

5. Write your marketing copy.

Once you have a design sketch, write your marketing copy. Yes, before you start to build the thing. Writing your copy first will help you get crystal clear about what should be included to encourage your audience to buy. The process of writing copy will focus your attention on incorporating tangible benefits in your design. When you find missing elements — and you will — go back to your storyboard and add them.

6. Test your design with trusted clients or colleagues.

A crucial step in successful product development is to create a prototype or proof of concept and incorporate outside feedback before constructing the real thing. This type of concept testing will uncover errors and omissions in your design, and help you refine or expand it, if needed. You might offer a mini-version of your program to a small group, discuss your concept with trusted colleagues or a business coach, or interview some past clients for their thoughts.

7. Convert your storyboard into a development plan.

Once you’ve followed the steps above, your storyboard can be converted into a blueprint for building your new offering. This is when you’ll select any technology your design requires and locate any outside help you’ll need. Because you’ve spent the time to get clear about all the elements you want to include, finding the right tech tools and helpers will be much simpler. And, you’ll be much more likely to produce the result you want.

Building a program, product, or membership service may seem like a daunting project at first. But once you’ve created your new offering, you’ll be able to sell it over and over without you having to re-create it each time. That holds the potential of locking in a sustainable income stream for you. In the middle of a global pandemic and recession, that’s a valuable asset to have.

C.J. Hayden

C.J. Hayden, MCC, CPCC, is the author of the bestseller Get Clients Now!: A 28-Day Marketing Program for Professionals, Consultants, and Coaches, Since 1992, she's been helping self-employed professionals survive and thrive. C.J. is the author of five other business how-to-books, and has taught marketing at Mills College and John F. Kennedy University. Find out more about C.J.'s books and courses or attend one of her upcoming programs.

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