Online courses: The possibility (and profitability) that comes with creating one can have a huge impact on how you run your solopreneur business.
In fact, most entrepreneurs and professional bloggers today agree that online courses are an important element for any solopreneur who wants more time to innovate, wants to be seen as an expert in their field, and who wants to shatter the revenue ceiling by creating a product once that can be sold many times over.
As an instructional designer that worked for over a decade at universities and corporations and more recently with entrepreneurs, I’ve launched hundreds of online courses and educational programs in a wide range of topics. Throughout these diverse launches, I’ve found that one of the single most effective steps in having a successful online course launch that brings many of the aforementioned possibilities (and profits) is to beta test your online course first.
There are countless benefits to beta testing, or piloting, your course, including:
Getting to know your students more intimately before launching to a bigger audience
Witnessing the transformation that your course content actually causes in other people
Collecting case studies or testimonials
Determining how much interaction will be needed from you during the Big Launch
Getting cash flow in order to make additional purchases for the Big Launch
Increasing your profit margin during the Big Launch
As I’ve begun working with entrepreneurs, however, I’ve noticed that a surprising few add this critical phase to their course creation process. By skipping this beta phase, you might find that you have devoted all of your energy for days, weeks, or months building a product that nobody actually wants. I’m going to guess you don’t have time for that. Am I right? Keep reading to find out how to beta test your online course to validate your idea and launch like a pro.
While there are no hard and fast rules for establishing successful pilot courses, I’ve found these eight steps to be quite effective:
1. Define your goals.
I don’t know who said it first, but one key to business is to “fail fast, fail cheap, and fail often.” Your beta test period is your opportunity to do just that, but you will need to define goals before you can decide if your course idea succeeded or failed.
Determining goals for your beta launch will depend on what success looks like for you. Are you hoping to get a certain amount of people to purchase, to make a certain amount in revenue, or to collect a set amount of feedback or testimonials? Take a few minutes and write specific goals you can use these to determine whether your beta test succeeded — and if you should continue with the Big Launch.
2. Define and build your beta audience.
Since the beta phase is a time to check and validate your course idea without spending a whole lot of time or money, you may choose to select an audience that you already have access to.
For example, if you host a podcast, run a community, or have an email list, then reach out to this audience — or a subset of it — first. If you don’t have an audience, consider partnering with someone else and working with them to pilot your course.
3. Create your timeline and outline content.
Consider keeping a short timeline. From what I’ve seen in the corporate world, the average pilot course is about 30 days, but it’s good to stay flexible during a beta launch. A successful pilot course usually strikes a balance between structure and experimentation. Be prepared to cut it short or expand the test phase as you experiment with what works.
As you plan the timeline, prepare a brief outline of what content will be covered as the beta progresses.
4. Create course materials.
If you haven’t already, now is the time to create the course materials that you will use during the beta launch. Some creators choose to build out the entire course prior to piloting it, while others choose to meet live with their beta testers each week to get feedback before continuing creation.
Whichever you choose, this is also the time to create any Facebook Groups, Slack channels, presentations, pre-recorded videos, or anything else that will be used to teach — and collect feedback — during the pilot.
5. Price and soft launch your beta course.
This is probably the piece that most people worry about when it comes to pre-selling their courses: the actual soft launch.
This involves packaging up your course idea, your promised results, providing an outline of the content to be covered, pricing your course, and creating a sales page that people can use to pay for and enroll in your beta. (Yes, I do recommend that you sell your beta course, even at a discount. This adds value to the experience and is the only way to truly know if people will be open to paying for your Big Launch.)
Does the thought of selling your beta test scare you? Don’t let it: Make it clear to your audience that this is a pilot; a pre-launch; a test course. Although they will expect value, they will not expect perfection.
6. Collect feedback.
Feedback from your students can be extremely valuable during the pilot phase. It can be used to determine what people are willing to pay, the most feasible length, or the additional training videos or worksheets that you need to create before launching your course.
Of course, it’s virtually impossible to implement these suggestions unless you’ve captured this feedback in some way. Many course beta testers create Facebook Groups, or record webinars and video chats to capture this feedback. Be sure to prepare succinct questions to ask your betas to collect the information that will prove move valuable to you in your Big Launch.
7. Document results.
When purchasing a course, there are very few elements that are as convincing as seeing proof of the results promised. The pilot course is the perfect opportunity to gather these results.
Are you promising an increase in blog traffic; an increase in revenue; a faster, easier way to get the results they want? Have your pilot students document before and after pictures, graphs, screenshots…any proof points that show their results, and secure their permission to use them as testimonials and case studies for your Big Launch.
8. Evaluate your pilot.
Based on your original defined goals, you can determine if your pilot course was successful or not. If the beta is successful, prepare to relaunch the course with the new insights you received from the pilot. And even if the beta is not seen to be successful, there may be even more useful lessons on how to improve or refine your future initiatives.
Launch like a pro
Once you have completed these steps, or some version of this, you’ll be able to gain a good pulse on the type of student that’s best suited for your course, the amount of time an average dedicated student will need to complete the activities, and what results might be expected — all fantastic information for nailing your Big Launch.
The benefits that come when you beta test your online course don’t end there, though. With targeted feedback to improve your course, you’ll likely be able to raise your prices, launch with raving testimonials, and secure confidence that your course will have a real transformational impact on the lives of those who take it.
As a one-woman shop, I know how frustrating it can be to develop your service packages. When you have so many aspects of running your business that are constantly vying for your attention, it’s easy to bundle up your offerings and call it a day.
But, as time passes, you find that you’re not bringing in as many clients as you’d hoped. So you tweak your offerings or your prices, trying to find that sweet spot.
This is the trial-and-error method of packaging services that so many solopreneur use — and it’s time to put an end to it. I’ve got some (good) news for you: There’s a better way.
In user experience design (UX), there’s a process for developing a viable product that I’ve found useful for developing packaged services as well. UX isn’t just for start-ups and techy people; it’s a set of practical processes for how to best serve your users (and turn browsers into buyers).
The product/package development process consists of five steps:
That’s a lot of validation. Let’s break down each step.
1. Customer validation
It starts with an idea. You have an idea about a problem that your target client has and an idea about who that target client is. During the customer validation phase, you make sure that both the target client and the problem exist. This can be done by what UX designers term “contextual observation,” but I like to think of it as “listen-only mode”.
When you’re in listen-only mode, that means you’re visiting relevant Facebook groups, Twitter chats, or forums to listen for what problems your target audience is facing. I say “listen-only” because you’re not there to self-promote, network, or even answer questions. At this point, you’re just observing that the problem exists for a certain person or group of people.
2. Product validation
Once you’ve validated that your expected problem exists for your target customer, it’s time for the product validation stage. The title of this one can be a little misleading, because you’re not actually introducing a solution to the problem yet (no, this is not when you beta test).
What you’re looking for in this stage is to learn the extent of your target client’s problem and her willingness to solve it. What products or services is she currently using to solve this problem? If she hasn’t purchased any solutions, what other means is she using to alleviate that pain? A couple of UX tools you can use at this stage are diary studies and customer interviews.
Diary studies are pretty cool, because you’re able to get the first-person language of your client during the moments when they’re experiencing the problem. During a diary study, you gather a small group of participants and ask them to write briefly about what they’re experiencing at certain defined times (these can be scheduled times or triggered by certain events, such as “write a few sentences in your journal whenever you get stuck when working on your website”). The participants should do this for 5-7 days and you could collect the responses digitally (in a Google doc or form) to make it easier for you to analyze.
Customer interviews are self-explanatory, but not to be confused by surveys. It’s best to speak face-to-face, via Skype, or over the phone. When you interview customers, here are some good questions to ask:
“Tell me about a time when you experience [your problem]?”
“Why was it hard?”
“How did you solve it?”
Remember, you can always ask “why?” to get deeper into the reasons behind their responses.
Now that you’ve got a thorough understanding of your target client, her problem, and the current solution she’s using, it’s time for concept validation. In this third stage of product development, you generate your conceptual solution (your service package). It’s important that you don’t let yourself get bogged down in all the details right now, because you’re only testing the concept.
To determine viability of your package concept, you essentially pre-launch it. Set up a landing page for your service and start directing traffic to it (this can be through social media campaigns, webinars, or targeted advertisements). Basically, you want to make sure that your service package is going to sell before you get into all the nitty-gritty of designing it.
4. Experience validation
The fourth step in the process is experience validation, which means that, after you sell your service package, you continue to make adjustments based on client feedback. This can be gathered in client surveys, emails, or from informal conversations. At this stage, you know that you have a viable package, but you can continue to improve it by making minor tweaks to better suit your clients’ needs.
5. Technical validation
The final stage, technical validation, isn’t as relevant in this case, but should still be considered. It’s more about making sure that all the bugs are worked out of your process and no tech glitches get in the way. Go through your own “run-of-show,” from the moment a potential client finds out about your service to the actual purchase, to the service itself, and the final sign off on the work. The idea is to test all your systems throughout the process to ensure a seamless client experience.
Using UX principles to design your service packages
The UX industry likes to put technical terms on everything, but it’s more than just jargon; it’s really an intuitive process of gathering relevant data and developing a solution in a way that limits your risk of failure. The idea is not simply to create a service package based on what you can do, but based on what problem you can solve for the person you most want to work with.
Which is something we all want to do as service-based solopreneurs, am I right?
Hop into any Facebook group, Twitter chat, or other space where entrepreneurs get together and mention working for free, and you are likely to start a riot of voices exclaiming that a business owner working for free is the cause of entire industries being devalued. They will stand up and exclaim things like, “Charge what you are worth!” and send you links on value-based pricing or project-based vs. hourly pricing. They will be your virtual cheerleaders every time you mention raising your prices, and talk you out of discounting your services when you hit a slump in getting clients.
Ask these same business owners if they have ever worked for free in the past, and you will get a different answer, though.
Yes, I truly believe that it is easier to devalue yourself and your skills then it is to confidently charge what you are worth. (We’ve all been there.) However, there are many valid reasons to work for free in your solo business. And when it’s done the right way, those opportunities will help you create the business you’ve always hoped for.
When it makes sense to work for free as a solo business owner (and how to make the most of it)
1. When you are just starting out
Just starting out, you are typically going to have to practice your craft by taking on work for family, friends, or friends-of-friends that you aren’t being paid for (or are paid very little for). How you handle these projects, though, can mean the difference between struggling greatly when taking on “real” clients, or making a smooth and confident transition from amateur to professional. The three steps that I wish I had learned to capitalize on my time spent working for free are:
Establish clear goals and boundaries, and get them in writing. This is the important when you begin working with a client at any stage of your business. When you are both on the same page regarding goals, you know exactly what outcomes should result at the end of the project. Establish upfront what is included, and what isn’t. For example: As a VA, you might want to do admin work but not handle any graphic design work. For web designers, you might love creating websites but not sourcing photographs or writing copy. The more you establish your boundaries upfront, the better the process will go for both you and your client. No doormats here. Once you have those boundaries and goals set, put it in writing! Go to a simple online contract site like Docracy or HelloSign and create a document you both sign off on — even if you are working for family. Get into the habit of doing this now, or you’ll find yourself in trouble later. Believe me, I know. #lessonslearnedthehardway
Use this time to set up systems and processes for future work. In addition to getting valuable pieces for your portfolio, doing pro-bono work allows you the opportunity to set up for future success by creating systems and processes you can repeat with paying clients. Document each step of the process (even the smallest ones!) and at the end of the project, go through your notes and create a system for everything that might be repeatable on other projects, as well. Project management systems such as Asana,Trello, or Basecamp are ideal for this because you can create templates that can be reused for each client or task.
Gather feedback, feedback, and more feedback! Feedback is not only essential when gathering testimonials at the end of a project, but it is equally essential during the process. Ask your new clients at the beginning what success looks like to them, and in the middle of the process, check in on whether or not the process is meeting their expectations. It is much easier to course correct while you are in the middle of a process than it is to complete the project and find out it is not what the client was hoping for. When working for free, sometimes feedback is the best form of “payment.”
2. When you are leveling up your business
Last year, an opportunity came up for me to take on a project working with a well-known developer on a project that she didn’t have the space to do herself. When I reached out about the project, she asked me why I was interested in taking on a free project when my portfolio was already quite filled out. My response? I had been wanting to learn how to do some of the aspects of the project that she had (i.e., e-commerce), and getting a chance to work and be mentored by someone who had already been through that process would be more than worth the time. I viewed it as investing in my business. The developer I was working with took my words to heart, and we have worked together on many more projects since; projects I never would have had the chance to take on, otherwise.
Opportunities like this are the perfect time to stretch your skills and gain experience, so you can feel more confident charging the prices those “next-level ladies” do. Taking your business to the next level requires pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, but it’s almost always worth it.
Beta testing is a classic example of working for free, even as an established business. While your beta offering might not actually be free, typically you are not charging 100% of the eventual price. This gives you a chance to establish that there is a need for that offering, to make sure that it is worth your time and the time of your clients, and to build your experience and confidence up in a “safer” setting before taking the full leap. During a beta test, it is especially important to keep the three points above (setting clear boundaries, refining systems and processes, and getting lots of feedback at every stage of the project) in mind so you get the most out of the process.
4. When it comes to personal/passion projects
Sometimes working for free means something other than giving clients the benefit of your knowledge and experience without payment; sometimes it means setting aside time that you could be working on something for profit and using it for things like:
Paying it forward. Find someone just starting out and show them the ropes. This can be both rewarding and educational. While you are sharing your experience, you might learn some new ways to accomplish your tasks, or gain a different perspective on something. Of course, even if these things don’t happen, paying it forward always leads to good business karma. (/woo)
Taking guilt-free time to work on something solely for you (no client work zone). Do you have a passion project that you are dying to get off the ground, or do you need to set some time aside to rework your site, brand, or systems? Take the time to do it. Client work will always be there, but if you feel the pull to start something or change direction, take the time to listen to that pull and do it.
Giving back. This can be pro-bono work at its best. Find a cause that means something to you, and donate your time to it. Remember to clearly establish goals and boundaries here because oftentimes clients like these are grateful for the help, but do not understand what goes into what you do. Establishing goals and boundaries will help you feel like you are making a difference without getting taken advantage of. Not sure where to start? Catchafire is great for finding skill-based donation opportunities.
Make the most of time spent working for free
Working for free doesn’t have to mean that the project didn’t come without reward. Sometimes working for free allows you to get paid in experience, confidence, and lessons learned instead of cold hard cash. When you set boundaries up correctly and are determined to milk every ounce of education you can out of the experience, working for free can become one of the most valuable experiences in your solo business.
When should I launch?
What should I charge? Should I charge?
Will anyone buy it?
There are so many things that seem to hold people back when they are looking to launch something new, like a new business, a new service, or a new course.
And while the questions are many, the solution is simple: Test it and find out.
Why do I need to beta test before launching?
Businesses that succeed quickly do so because they are constantly creating, testing and tweaking. It will do you no good to sit in an ivory tower planning everything to perfection.
Business is a creative endeavor and planning can only take you so far. It’s when you “do” that you will learn the most, and it’s only through doing that the elements of unknown become known and you get the answers you need to thrive.
When I started out as a business consultant, I had no clients and, frankly, very little idea what I was doing. I had started, run, and sold one successful brick-and-mortar business, but I was switching focus and this new arena was foreign to me.
I’ll be honest: I spent almost an entire year watching from the sidelines. Planning, observing, scribbling, writing copy, deleting copy, tinkering on my website (sound familiar?) until I finally did something I should have done 12 months earlier.
I tested out my idea!
There is something about “testing” that makes creation less scary. By beta testing something, it helps to take the pressure off and eases the need to have everything “perfect” from the get-go.
My beta test took one month and a little bit of planning, but that was nothing compared to the time I had wasted as I was waiting for “the perfect moment” to launch my new business.
Within three months of my beta test, I had clientele and quit my job to travel the world. I wasn’t a millionaire (I’m still not), but I had a business, services, and money coming in.
While this worked awesomely for me, I see many others who don’t have such luck. They try to create something, and either never take it to the test zone or the process doesn’t work for them and they end up giving up before they give their idea a chance. They back away, deflated, feeling as though their idea wasn’t good enough.
But it’s usually not the idea that sucks. It was their lackluster effort testing it!
In this post, I’m going to share the five key elements for testing your new ideas. I’ve personally walked many of my own ideas through this process as well as assisted my clients through it. Now, it’s your turn.
1. Define the benefits of your offer, and package it to sell
Whether you are toying with the idea of creating a new business, or you simply want to create a new offer in your current business, you must get clear on exactly what it is and what the benefits are for those who buy.
Through testing, you’ll gain more clarity on the realized benefits, but for now, you’ll be hypothesizing what the benefits will be. Take some time to brainstorm: What problem(s) does your offer solve? What are the pain points your customers are experiencing that make them realize they need this?
Be succinct in what you’re offering and what the benefits are, because even if you aren’t charging for your beta test, people will be investing time as a tester, so they need to make sure it’s worth their energy.
The very process of creating this will help you get even more clear about what you’re offering and what the value is, and laying it out in a formal manner will make you look more professional, so prospective testers know that you take your work seriously.
2. Define your purpose for testing
If you don’t have a goal or two formulated, you’ll be blindly entering your testing phase and aren’t likely to get the results you want, because you won’t know what “success” looks like.
Here is a list of typical goals for those beta testing a new business or offering:
getting reviews or testimonials
getting feedback so you can tweak and better your creation
getting more experience and confidence in a new skillset
There are no “right” or “wrong” goals, but if you can figure out what goals you have before you start your testing, you will be more likely to achieve them.
3. Set + communicate clear boundaries around the beta test
If you aren’t clear from the get-go about what you will and won’t put up with, you might find yourself in a sticky situation pretty quickly.
You’re a coach looking to get more exposure and experience, so you decide to offer some free coaching. In your head, you are thinking that this will be a great way to gain confidence and later convert these free clients into paid clients.
But after four months of free coaching, you start to get annoyed. You’ve managed to help your clients a lot and are feeling like a rockstar, but you begin to resent the fact that you still have a handful of clients who haven’t offered to pay you yet.
You know it’s time to be compensated for your skills, but you aren’t sure how to proceed. You were never clear in the beginning about how long you would offer your services for free. You hadn’t defined the set number of sessions, a set end date, or a transition plan for when things came to an end.
You bring it up with your client and they are instantly taken-aback. They assumed that they would get free coaching for as long as they needed since you never made any specifications about an end date.
You part ways on weird terms, and in addition to feeling terrible about the outcome, you never get a testimonial from this client despite how much you helped her. Not cool.
You might think that this is extreme, but I’ve seen this exact situation happen with multiple coaches. That’s why I preach setting boundaries from the start of your beta test, such as:
What is your cancellation policy?
If you are providing a service, what will the end date be? (Could be a timeframe, a number of sessions, a specific achieved result…)
How can you be contacted, and what are your typical working hours?
To put it simply, be clear with your testers about what your expectations are. If you define boundaries in the beginning, you likely won’t encounter any issues. But if you choose to ignore these and hope for the best, I guarantee they will quickly bite you in the butt!
4. Don’t assume the logistics will work themselves out
One of the most off-putting things that I see when I’m perusing beta test offers is that many aren’t clear on what I’ll get, or how to move forward if I’m interested. Whether or not you’re giving away something for free, you still need to make it easy and very clear what the next steps are.
Tell prospects exactly what they need to do next. Do they need to apply? If so, give them the application. Do they need to set up a free call to see if you are the right fit? Give them the booking link. Treat them as you would a paying client and they will be more likely to become one in the future.
5. Put yourself out there: Promote your beta test!
Now that you have all the basics in place, it’s time to begin promoting your offer!
I know it can be scary to put yourself out there but I promise, it’s worth it. Even if you are “selling” something for free, it is crucial to create interest. It’s a hard truth, but just because it’s free doesn’t mean that someone will want it. Whatever you are giving away most likely requires an exchange of energy and time, so it’s important that when you promote it, you convey its value. (Coming full circle to #1, see that?)
A few tips for promotion:
Create an enticing mini-promo description that makes sharing on social media or in quick convos easy (Tip: If you aren’t getting bites after a few days, switch up this language and keep trying!)
Make sure there is a clear call to action when you promote
Generate a list of ideas for promotion and check them off as you promote
Have a set timeframe! Seriously. People need deadlines and you need to get on with your life. Create a set timeframe for sign up and close the doors after that.
Use images in your promotion: Images capture attention! Use free software like Canva or Picmonkey to help you create a snazzy marketable image without expense or fuss.
It’s time to beta test
You now officially have a basic outline for your next steps in getting your new idea off the ground. It might seem like a lot, but with some focus and determination, you can easily put this together and begin promoting in no time!
Remember, the point of beta testing isn’t to launch something that is perfect; the point of testing is to launch something fast (but not sloppy) so that you can work on perfecting it over time. After the beta launches, move from analysis into action — and you will be much closer to meeting your goals and making more money.
If you’re looking for more comprehensive step-by-step beta testing instructions with templates and a Facebook community to help you with your efforts, check out my BetaLab course. In addition to providing you with more details on the five elements above, it will also walk you through how to ask for feedback and testimonials so that you can make sure to get the most out of your testing! Best part? It’s fun, fast and extremely affordable!
For those of you who don’t know, Cristina spends her time outside of OWS as a super sleuth. That is, she works in recruiting. Recently, she was chatting with a client and told him that she planned to spend the day following up with potential candidates that she had reached out to the week before. He mentioned that, back in the days of yore (okay, fine, actually just a few years ago), he and others in the industry used a “tickler file” to track their follow ups.
Pause. She had no idea what that was — and we imagine you might not either, but luckily, we Googled it for you. (You’re welcome). According to Wikipedia: “A tickler file or 43 Folders System is a collection of date-labeled file folders organized in a way that allows time-sensitive documents to be filed according to the future date on which each document needs action.”
Throughout the years here at OWS, we’ve made many-a-reference to the importance of following up as a business owner. It falls squarely under the category of “things that are second-nature to us so we forget that they’re a challenge for other business owners — until it comes up time and time again.”
Meanwhile, we have one coaching client who is probably incredibly sick of us asking her at every single coaching session if she’s taken the time to follow up on the pitches she’s sent out for her social media consulting business.
Lucky for us, we now have more automated ways to handle follow ups within our solo businesses, so we have no excuse not to make it a regular practice.
So, dear One Woman Shop (you know who you are), this is for you and every other solo business owner out there…
As we discuss in The Solopreneur Sanity Handbook, consistency activities are daily, weekly, quarterly, or yearly actions that push your business forward and pack the most punch when done, well, consistently. (Are you starting to see where the name comes from?) Follow ups are a key consistency activity to incorporate into your business.
Why the focus on following up?
Follow ups keep you on the radar of your potential clients, customers, and collaborators by helping you stand out in their likely crazy, overrun inboxes, and demonstrate that their business is important to you.
Think about it from the opposite side: How often have you received an opportunity via email that looked neat but you just never responded? (You got busy; you accidentally archived the email; you wanted time to think about it but forgot to come back to it…) Now, flip it around and — instead of seeing the lack of a response as a brush off or, worse, a personal offense — give the person the benefit of the doubt by applying the same logic to their actions.
In our business, we follow up with those who have pitched guest posts, individuals who applied for membership but never actually joined, site managers who we’ve pitched posts to, and those who have commented on our blog but never joined our email list. What types of emails do you send out that you could implement a follow-up system around?
Creating a system
We use Boomerang to automate the process. (We talk more in-depth about tools for automation in The Solopreneur Sanity Handbook.) If an email we’ve sent out hasn’t received a response within a week, it pops back into our inbox, alerting us that a follow up is required.
You might try using Boomerang or scheduling a chunk of time on your paper planner or Google Calendar to batch send follow ups. We use a seriously easy name for these appointments, like: “Follow up on 6/7 outreach,” (on the calendar on 6/14).
A follow-up template
One question that we get asked a lot is some variation of “Um, what the heck am I supposed to say in my follow up?” While you can use the second message to provide additional information, the main purpose of a follow up is simply to get back in touch with the recipient to prompt them into action.
Your follow up can be as simple as the ones we send to individuals who haven’t joined OWS after applying:
We just wanted to take a minute to follow up on your One Woman Shop application! Are there any questions we can answer for you?
Cristina & Sara
Or, it might include the following:
An offer to move the conversation to a phone/video call if they’d prefer
A deadline that you need a final decision by (diplomatically phrased, of course)
Have we convinced you that implementing a follow-up system can be both easy and effective as you grow your solo biz? We encourage you to look over the emails you’ve sent out over the past week or month and make a plan to send succinct follow ups if you don’t receive a response. Report back letting us know what comes of your efforts!
PS: Seriously dread sending follow ups? This is a perfect example of a low-maintenance but potentially high-payoff task that could be handed off to a VA.
Our tagline here at One Woman Shop is one we take very seriously: Going it alone shouldn’t feel lonely. Your next launch — and your marketing strategy, in general — is no exception to this rule. In fact, having a community of ambassadors surrounding your next launch or your ongoing promotion might just be what makes or breaks it.
The #1 key to building that community is this: Make it easy for the people you’re recruiting. Enter: the Swipe File.
The what and why of a Swipe File
A Swipe File is a collection of materials that can be used to promote your product or service. It gets its name from the way it’s used: people can “swipe” copy, graphics, and more from the file to use in their own marketing.
Swipe Files are especially handy when you’re reaching out to potential ambassadors for your next launch, or when recruiting affiliates for ongoing programs. They can also be used when doing outreach for things like awareness campaigns or for those times when someone asks how they can promote you. (We love those times.)
While the main goal of a Swipe File is to make it easy for your product/service ambassadors, there are several other reasons you, as a solo business owner, might want to create one:
1. It helps you control the message. You won’t be able to control every last bit of how someone promotes your product (nor do you want to — that would be exhausting, and would limit creativity!), but when you pre-draft copy around your products/services, you can help control the message that’s being spread.
2. It gives consistency to your brand. Much like providing copy helps you control the message, providing a batch of copy, graphics, and other brand elements helps you reinforce your brand. This becomes especially important as people begin to promote your products/services to their communities — people who may be entirely new to you!
3. It acts as a firestarter. You might be able to recruit others to help you promote your next launch or ongoing promotion, but that doesn’t mean they know where to start. The Swipe File can act as a jumping off point, providing your network with ideas they wouldn’t necessarily think of.
4. It makes it easy. Forgive us for our redundancy, but again — this is the whole goal. Having one file your promoters can turn to to grab everything they need makes it easy on them. But a pleasant side effect is this: It also makes it easy on you. Each time you recruit a new ambassador, you have one place you can point them to for everything they need. Simple.
Swipe Files come in all shapes and sizes. Your Swipe File can be as simple as a few pre-drafted social media messages or as robust as a multi-page Google Doc with fully detailed brand guidelines that anticipates needs — without making it overwhelming. Here are a few things to consider including:
A one-sentence description of your product/service/launch
A more in-depth blurb that shares more details
Sample email copy — a single email, or a series
A teaser of some sort that they can learn from and/or share — a free chapter of your ebook or module of your course, for example
Graphics in a few different sizes — i.e. blog banners, Pinterest, Instagram
Pre-drafted social posts
Less than 140 characters
More than 140 characters
Sample affiliate disclaimer, where applicable
Ideas for how they might use the materials in the Swipe File
Here’s an example of a Swipe File that included much of the above in the 2015 launch of the Solopreneur Success Bundle, including a series of email copy for pre-launch, launch, and last call, since the Bundle was available for a very specific, five-day window. We also provide a Swipe File for ongoing affiliates of the One Woman Shop Bundle. On a smaller, but more frequent scale, we create mini-Swipe Files each time we are promoting a roundup post, where we prepare an email with pre-drafted social posts and graphics and send it to contributors with the link when it’s live.
On that note: Keep delivery of your Swipe File easy, as well. Google Docs are easy to share (and well-loved amongst solopreneurs), and can be easily edited down the road. Our Swipe Files are linked to in a welcome email once someone registers to become a One Woman Shop affiliate.
Pro tip: Your Swipe File isn’t one-and-done. Treat it as a working document. As your ambassadors ask for specific materials, add them to the Swipe File. Anytime the Swipe File is enhanced, it’s also a great opportunity to re-engage your ambassadors by sending them a “Hey, new graphics have been added!” email that keeps you top of mind.
We credit a whole lot of the success of the Solopreneur Success Bundle to our network of affiliates who promoted the heck out of it, and have no doubt that the Swipe File that accompanied it was key to helping them spread the word.
When in doubt, remember this: Make it easy. Your ambassadors will appreciate it. And so will your business’ bank account.
Here at OWS HQ, we have learned a thing or two (actually, probably more like 1,457,580) about creating offerings for our community — we’ve launched and tweaked everything from membership to coaching to the One Woman Shop Bundle.
We’re leaving the full review of Hey, Nice Package! — with everything you might want to know before buying — to Hannah Braime, but we wanted to give you just a bit of teaser content that Rebecca’s graciously offered to let us share, no purchase (or opt-in) necessary.
P.S. We love seeing our members’ shining faces around the internet, so we were thrilled to see member Shannon Mattern on Rebecca’s testimonial page. Here’s what Shannon says about Hey, Nice Package!: “I bought HNP a month ago and today I’m launching my first paid package! I could not have done it without HNP! I had some of the course idea down before HNP, but I had way more stuff in it that I didn’t need. The research and sales page writing piece has been invaluable – I know my sales page copy would suck if not for HNP! Thank you!”
P.P.S. It’s probably no surprise that we’re affiliate of Hey, Nice Package! As always, we only actively promote products and services from makers whose work we love.
It takes so many tools to organize your business. You have an editorial calendar, project roadmaps, to-do lists, contact lists…and those are just the things you’ve used today.
It seems to be everyone’s dream to have one tool to rule them all. And while I can’t promise you that, I can tell you how to get a lot closer.
The key is to use tools that are super flexible, enough that you can adapt them for any use. The best tool I’ve found for that? Trello.
What is Trello?
Trello is a project management platform with a very visual layout. It’s designed to follow the Kanban method, which in this context means a visualized layout of your workflow. I know it sounds boring, but Trello makes it simple.
At its simplest, Kanban lays out three workflow stages: to do, doing, and done. They’re usually laid out in that order from left to right, and you move cards to the right as they progress.
Realistically, your processes are probably more complex than just three steps.
But because Trello is also amazingly flexible, you don’t have to use it just for Kanban. There are a ton of integrations, including IFTTT and Zapier, meaning you can easily work it into your current processes wherever it makes sense.
Trello is made up of boards, lists, and cards. A board would be for an entire project. Within that, there are several lists, and you can think of cards as items or to-dos on those lists. You can drag and drop cards from one list to another, and archive them when they’re completed.
Types of Trello boards
I’ve found that most boards fall into one of three broad categories. Each of them work best for different products and working styles, so you can choose whatever grooves with you and customize it to your heart’s desire.
1. Traditional Kanban
A lot of boards will follow the traditional Kanban style of laying out your workflow visually — that to do, doing, and done process covered above. You can create one list for each step of your process. As a project moves along, you can drag and drop those cards to the right, from one board to another. (Moving to the right is a great feeling.)
What it works best for: When the most important thing to keep track of is something’s progress, like to-do lists, tracking freelance projects, planning content creation, and more.
2. Topical lists
Trello’s also great for organizing big projects, when the thought of creating and managing a spreadsheet for it gives you a migraine. With something like launching a product or a “master ideas list,” a single column for tasks to do may not be enough.
Organizing your board by topical lists, instead of one list for each stage of your process, lets you break things down a bit further than “things to do.”
It has a different, cleaner view and can be easier to deal with than a spreadsheet. You can drag and drop tasks to reorganize your plans, view your project in multiple ways, and search and filter the data much easier — a simple search bar instead of knowledge of Excel formulas and tricks.
Spreadsheets are meant for data, not to-do lists.
Use Trello to organize huge lists by creating a board and breaking it down by sublists and cards, laying it out, and filtering as you please (more on this later).
What it works best for: Big, “monster lists” like idea buckets, product launch plans, business roadmaps, contact lists, and other large projects.
By turning on the free calendar power-up, you can view a calendar of your Trello cards based on due date. It’s great as a kind of hybrid board, for when you’d like to have the visual Kanban view but still need a traditional calendar.
You can toggle between the two as much as you want, drag and drop on the calendar to rearrange due dates, and look at your projects from a second angle.
What it works best for: To-do lists with hard due dates, editorial calendars, tracking individual project due dates.
Tips for Trello pros
Once you’ve gotten the basics down and can lay out a project, you can think about getting fancy to make Trello even more fun.
Browse real-life examples.Trello’s Inspiration page has a ton of examples submitted by users. You’ll walk away with a ton of ideas for ways to organize your business.
Use all the features. You only need the basic structure of a Trello board to get the job done. But you can use descriptions, attachments, labels, due dates, checklists, and integrations to add more detail to your projects and filter your to-dos.
Collaborate. Plan projects with clients, customers, or partners by creating a group board where you all can assign each other cards, comment back and forth, and make collaboration easy.
Keep an “FYI” card on every board. Always create one card that stays on the board forever, with information on how the board works. Maintenance will be easier — especially when you’re collaborating — if you lay out the board’s purpose and processes.
Use templates. Creating templates for card descriptions and checklists that you can copy later will save time updating the board and ensure long-term consistency for you organization freaks like me.
“Move it to the right”
Trello can be anything you want it to be, so it’s worth giving it a shot. Whether you want a cleaner spreadsheet or more visual to-do list, there’s a board for that.
Sign up to grab 3 free Trello board templates to copy + customize for your biz.
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Collaborating with a fellow solopreneur is a great way to expand your business and explore new platforms or markets — without all of the pressure of trying to figure it out on your own. But partnering up with just anyone can make for a collaboration that brings more stress than success.
While you could bump into your collaboration soulmate while walking down the street, there are two places in particular I recommend looking for potential partnerships.
1. Online communities: Membership communities like One Woman Shop are a great place to connect with like-minded business owners who are open to collaborating on a business or marketing idea. This is especially powerful when the group brings together solopreneurs from various fields and areas of passion or expertise. (Editor’s note: Just look at what OWS members Jill and Julienne recently brought to life!)
If you’re not yet a member of a community like OWS, free Facebook Groups are another great place to connect with potential partners. Chances are there’s someone whose posts have caught your eye, and if you’ve felt the spark, they may be the person to ask.
2. Group courses or programs: When you’re in a group course and interacting with the rest of the students either in a private community or on group coaching calls, keep your eyes open for potential collaborators. While you and your cohorts are developing a specific skillset alongside one another in the program, you’re also sharing your individual strengths and passions, and there could be a perfect match in there for an idea you’ve had brewing.
Of course, those aren’t the only places; they just happen to be my top recommendations. Here are a few other places to meet business partners:
Social media: Stellar Instagram shots or witty Twitter banter could lead you to a good match
Real-life networking: Making small talk and exchanging business cards at a conference or event can lead to partnerships
Your business community: A subscriber to your email list may impress you with their responses and engagement
Your social circle: Friends or family could be a great fit — just be aware that mixing business and friendship can create high stress situations
Once you’ve set your sights on a potential partner, it’s time to do a bit of research and reflection to determine if you’ll be a good fit, and if the signs are pointing to a profitable collaboration. Here are the three must-haves for a strong match:
1. Balanced skill sets: If you and your potential partner are both bringing the same skill sets to the table, your partnership is going to be rocky. While your combined expertise may trump any and all competitors, you’re going to be left with some serious skill gaps that will create extra work and stress for both of you. Your best bet is a partnership where your skills will complement one another’s. Even then, you’ll inevitably have gaps, in which case outsourcing will be key.
2. Similar styles: Branding is important, and goes beyond the color palette you use and the funky fonts on your site. It extends into your language, communication and tone — and is designed to attract more of the clients you love working with. A collaboration will struggle when there’s a big difference between the tone of your business and your partner’s. If your presenting style is upbeat and bubbly, and you partner with someone who communicates with a brash, in-your-face tone, your audience is going to be 1) confused and 2) turned off by one or the other of you. This leads to poor sales results and frustration for both of you.
3. Aligned expectations: There is a vast variety of projects that you can collaborate on. Blog post exchanges, webinars, courses, even full-on joint ventures or new companies. So being on the same page when it comes to what the vision is for the project (World domination? A fun side gig?) as well as how each of you will be investing when it comes to time, finances and energy is important. The saying is true: You can go farther when you go together…but with the caveat that you need to have agreed on the destination ahead of time.
Picking that perfect partner
In the rush of excitement of launching a new partnership or collaboration, it can be tempting to skim over the research and reflection on whether or not you’ll be compatible. True — some of the must-haves can be managed or massaged with clever contracts and strong communication later on, but spending some time assessing the strengths and challenges your collaboration will face ahead of time can save a lot of heartache and frustration down the road.
Have other tips for finding the perfect partner? Share with us in the comments below.
Hey, Nice Package! is a multimedia course by Rebecca Tracey from The Uncaged Life. It’s designed to take the guesswork out of creating packages for your service-based business. By the end of the course, you’ll have offerings your community needs and be able to communicate the value of those offerings to the right people. One of the best things about HNP is you can apply the process to one-to-one packages, group services, and even live courses.
I purchased HNP early on in its existence, and still use the system when planning new packages and offerings. In this review, I’ll share who will find HNP useful, who it might not be such a great fit for, and what to expect if you purchase it yourself.
Full disclosure: Rebecca is known for her no-nonsense approach to online business and Hey, Nice Package! is no exception. Expect down-to-earth guidance and advice mixed with a healthy dose of straight talk. If you’re looking for touchy-feely hand-holding, this probably isn’t for you. If, on the other hand, you prefer cutting through the fluff, getting down to business, and you’re a fan of Rebecca’s blog, chances are you’ll love this course.
What to expect from Hey, Nice Package!
Hey, Nice Package! comes as a self-paced, 113-page workbook, with external links to worksheets and videos that take you through certain parts of the process in more detail. You’ll also get access to a private Facebook group for questions and feedback. The course is divided into nine sections that cover:
Doing the foundation work (identifying your ideal client, figuring out where you fit into their journey, explaining exactly how you help and knowing your strengths and how you like to work)
Choosing what to offer (problem-based packages vs. niche-based packages, developing a signature program, repeat clients)
Beta testing packages (including getting feedback and testimonials)
Writing a sales page
Creating next level programs
System and technology (automating the process, making delivery as smooth as possible)
This course isn’t something you’ll be able to complete overnight, especially as a couple of the modules involve surveying and beta testing packages. The first time I worked through this course, it took about a month from start to launch. That might sound like a long time (and it might very well be possible to do it quicker), but it’s well worth the investment for the level of clarity you get at the end.
Who will love HNP?
The short answer: Anyone who offers services, no matter what field you’re in. Think: coaches of all descriptions, holistic practitioners, fitness instructors, yoga teachers, copywriters, and pretty much anyone else who has a service-based business.
The longer answer: One of HNP’s best features is that you can apply it to any industry with the same outcomes. It’s useful for new business owners who don’t yet have a community, as well as those who are more established.
HNP is perfect for you if you’re a business owner who wants clarity on who your ideal customer is/are, and where those customers’ needs intersect with that your expertise. It’s especially useful if you’ve been offering a general service up to this point (like copywriting or life coaching). A focus of the course is shifting away from offering general services for everyone to creating specific packages for specific types of people.
HNP is designed with service-based businesses in mind. If you run a product-based business, you will still find aspects of the course helpful. However, there will probably be other courses out there that will be a better fit for you and your business overall.
It’s also not going to be right for you if you’re not open to changing or tweaking your current services. Having worked with people who have service-based businesses, and gone through the same process myself, I know it can feel challenging—even scary—to narrow down what you do and who you do it for. HNP is a great practical guide that covers how to do that and why it’s necessary. As with any course, though, you also need to be willing to actually implement the system in your own business (remember, the whole process takes about a month from start to finish).
Finally, you might want to look elsewhere if you know that you’re going to want personalised advice and attention when crafting your packages. The course comes with an engaged Facebook group with 275+ members (and where Rebecca is very responsive to questions). If you know that you’re someone who will need some one-on-one hand-holding through this process though, you might want to consider hiring a business coach instead.
How Hey, Nice Package! has helped my business
Hey, Nice Package! has been eye-openingly helpful in a number of ways. Here are a few things it’s taught me:
What not to do. There’s a great section in the first few pages of HNP called “The Shit We’ve All Done Wrong” which is about how not to create packages (for example, offering vague, mushy or intangible results, which is a common challenge for life coaches!). As I read through the list, it dawned on me that I was doing all of those things! Within the first few minutes of reading, I could identify several things I could do differently when it came to marketing my coaching practice.
Stop offering open-ended packages. Another big takeaway from HNP is that it has encouraged me to step away from open-ended coaching packages. Now, when my clients reach the end of a coaching package, they can renew it if they want, but they know exactly what they’re committing to (and for how long) from day one.
How I talk about my services. Like many coaches, I found it hard to describe my clients’ results in tangible terms. I’d used fluffy and vague language to describe my services that left me sounding like practically every other coach out there (which I’m not). HNP has helped me get clearer on explaining exactly what I offer by helping me identify exactly how I help my ideal clients and basing my packages around their specific needs, rather than vague guesswork. The sales page module also offers a helpful template I’ve now adapted for products and courses, too.
How HNP is different than similar courses on the market
Hey, Nice Package! works on several levels. It’s a way to create specific packages that combine your expertise with your audience’s biggest needs. At the same time, it’s also a useful way to generate ideas for future services, products and content based on your audience’s key problems and questions.
A lot of other products cover sections of the HNP process (for example, writing a sales page), but HNP takes you through the entire process of creating valuable packages from scratch. Rebecca is a great teacher, explaining each step in easy-to-understand detail throughout the course and offering feedback and advice in the Facebook group. While she provides a done-for-you framework, she still leaves a lot of room for you to put your own stamp on your packages.
Finally, it’s a reusable system: You can use it again whenever you create a new package or service-based offering.
What are HNP’s limitations?
Some people might view the structure as a limitation. If you want to get the full benefit, you need to work through the whole course in order, rather than cherry-picking sections. You also need to be willing to devote enough time to the exercises (especially the questionnaire and beta testing processes), so it’s important to be aware this isn’t something you’ll be able to complete in an evening. It’s an entire process rather than a “dip in, dip out” course.
Ready to take the “ack” out of packages?
Hey, Nice Package! is one of the most useful courses I’ve completed. Not only has it helped me get clearer on how I serve my ideal clients, but it’s also something I’ve used over the last couple of years as my business has evolved (as I write this, I’m currently working through the course again to re-tool my coaching packages). Using the HNP process, I’ve been able to hone my identity as a coach and create a set of packages and products based around the sweet spot where my strengths and skills meet my community’s biggest needs.