Four years ago, I checked into a hotel room with my friend, two laptops, and a $20,000 idea. We had everything we needed. A copy of The $100 Startup by Chris Gilleabeau. Dozens of overnight success stories to inspire us. Thousands of social media connections. We were going to blitz the market and take our idea from concept to windfall in 24 hours. There was no stopping us!
As night fell, we cracked open our first round of energy drinks and got to work. A Wordpress site. A Twitter account. New email addresses, a PayPal account, and a payment form through Wufoo. We sourced virtual help from Mechanical Turk, designed the night away in Photoshop.
By the time energy drinks gave way to morning coffee, we had something we were proud of. Something we were ready to share with the world. And when we launched?
By the end of the day, we had two purchases (one to my friend’s sympathetic intern) that totaled just over $100 in sales. I don’t think this is what Chris Guillebeau meant by the $100 Startup.
Every entrepreneur wants to launch their product or service to a crowd of crazed fans, sell out in minutes, and then jet off to Belize to brainstorm the next idea. I mean, launches are exciting, right?
Well, they can be, but it took me several years and three additional attempts to figure out how to get the process right. Through trial, error, and endless client research, I finally launched my latest product to huge success: I cracked $42,000 in sales in five days.
Here’s everything I’ve learned about crafting a product launch. Next time you’re set to announce a new offering to your audience, learn from my mistakes, and give yourself—and your launch—a better shot at success.
The Elements of a Strong Product Launch
When I say “launch,” I’m referring to new products or services that you announce to the marketplace with a sink-or-swim offer. This type of launch consolidates years of your business experience into a product or service, and delivers it in an emotional hyperlapse: buy what’s on offer now, or miss out on the opportunity forever.
I’ve come to learn that successful launches share a few common elements:
A Great Story: Customers often connect to the story behind a product. Successful launches tell customers how and why you came up with the product or service. They also clearly indicate the problem you’re solving for your target audience.
A Great Offer: At the base of every great launch is a compelling offer that is near irresistible to target customers.
Scarcity: A subtle sense of scarcity can encourage decisive buying amongst potential customers. Successful launches often limit the number of places or products made available through the offer. Others will shorten the buying period.
Validation: Successful launches always leverage the power of social proof by including testimonials, such as videos and quotes, from past customers.
When you start brainstorming ideas for a new product to launch, it’s a good idea to keep these fundamental elements in mind.
Using my own experience as an example, my saleable expertise lies in helping entrepreneurs automate time-consuming practices and optimize their businesses. I realized I could create a launch with all of the above fundamentals by packaging my consulting work over the last few years into a short, high-impact project. I included the most popular services I’ve performed for nearly 100 different businesses, and Organize Chaos emerged: a limited-offer consulting package that helps business owners do just that.
Understand Why Launches Fail
It’s also worth noting one of the biggest reasons that launches fail: your customers don’t want what you’re selling. Years of customer feedback helped me to build the perfect package. Ultimately I think it was this direct feedback that helped Organize Chaos succeed, where previous attempts had failed. I knew that my customers wanted what I was selling.
If you don’t have customers yet, try to validate your idea before you launch by setting up a simple landing page with LeadPages, Unbounce, or Strikingly. Then, spend $50 or $100 in Facebook Ads or Google Adwords to see if you can get possible buyers interested enough to enter their email address. A list of email addresses is one of the most powerful ways to validate an idea, before you spend a dollar or an hour building it.
Assuming you have some customers, and some validation that your idea is a good one, it’s time to prepare for launch.
Before You Launch, Do This
The biggest mistake that I made with my previous launches is that I didn’t tell anyone. They were a surprise.
Customers can be impulsive buyers, but only when they have already developed an appreciation and respect for your product or service, and deep down, a desire to have it.
Launches don’t create demand, they bring demand to the surface.
So, in the two weeks leading up to my sale, I met 24 people for coffee or lunch to spread the word and to ask for help. I emailed all of my previous clients, and asked if they knew anyone that might be a good fit for the program. I called every current prospect that I had to let them know that if they were serious, a one-time only offer was on the horizon.
All of this activity leading up to my sale primed my potential buyers to anticipate it, and getting attention is half the battle.
Sweeten the Deal
A compelling offer is a crucial part of a successful sale, because it gives your buyers a reason to buy now instead of waiting.
You could start by offering a discount (I cut my consulting package by nearly 70%). But you could also think about how to sweeten the deal with bonus items that enhance the value of your offer.
Think about the famous line in every classic infomercial: “But wait, there’s more!” Yes, it’s notoriously salesy, but it works. What more can you add to your offer?
I threw in almost $2,000 in bonus items, including software subscriptions, a restaurant gift card, and a free follow-up call 90 days after the project to ensure that everything is going well.
Reverse the Risk
If there’s one thing that makes a buyer feel confident enough to hit the purchase button, it’s a money-back guarantee. I once used 99Designs for graphic design, fully expecting to give it a try and then get a refund.
But I didn’t, because I was so satisfied.
A money-back guarantee is the easiest way to get your buyers to take a chance on you, and I took it a step further with a profit-back guarantee. If someone wasn’t fully satisfied after working with me, I’d give them their money back, and write them a check for $500 for the inconvenience. Thankfully, I’ve never had to give a refund!
Never Launch Alone
While a launch might only last a few days, preparing for one can take years. With each attempt comes new lessons and experiences that will ultimately set you up for success.
To help guide subscribers through each stage of the process, I included all of the steps I took during my product launch in a one-page checklist. If you'd like to access the checklist, subscribe to my newsletter and The Bench Blog using the following form.
Even if you don't have a product launch on the horizon, remember: it's a marathon, not a sprint. You should always be building your audience, so you don’t launch to an empty room. And do your best to form alliances with people that can help spread the word about your services.
If you have any questions about how I crafted the launch of Organize Chaos, or if I can help answer questions about your own upcoming launch, post them in the comments section below. I’d be happy to help you out.