If you want to make money, you gotta sell something. And that means creating a product of your own. We call this creating a value based business and it's a simple proposition. However, the suggestion to create your own product probably causes a feeling of resistance inside you.
"Isn't creating your own product too difficult?"
"What if I'm not good enough to teach something in an info product or offer a service?"
"And stuff like payment processing and memberships and all that? Isn't that too complicated?"
If various gurus and the ever-passing parade of online marketing trends is to be believed, there are far easier ways to make money. So, why should you go the path of (seemingly) greater resistance and get your hands dirty creating your own product?
As you'll discover in this post, there are many reasons...
Before we get into the list, let's be clear that "creating your own product" can mean many things. This product could be:
The defining factor is that there's a direct exchange of value. Your customers get something that's uniquely valuable, you get money. While there are many forms a product can take, they all have many advantages in common.
Before we get into the list, one important caveat: all of the reasons below apply if your product is good. Whatever form your product takes, you only get all of these benefits if it's a good product that delivers real value to customers.
Have you ever thought that affiliate marketing sounds really attractive? It's like selling products, but without all the hassle of having to create and deliver products!
Of course, as soon as you start with affiliate marketing, you notice a problem: any good product with a good affiliate program already has thousands of other affiliates promoting it. Some of those affiliates have huge audiences. They can afford to offer bonuses and benefits to people who sign up through their link. And good luck trying to out-rank product reviews or tutorials on large authority sites that have been around for a decade already.
The problem you have as an affiliate is that you're promoting a product that anyone can promote. Differentiating yourself in the crowd is infinitely more difficult, because of this. The same is true for PLR products, white label products, drop shipping and the like.
A product you create yourself is unique by nature (unless you create a knock-off of something that already exists, which I don't recommend). No one else is selling what you sell.
Even if you create a product in a crowded market full of competitors, your product will be unique simply because you created it. Just look at how many books there are about basically the same thing. Books on similar topics can exist next to each other because they're written by different authors. Different authors' styles will resonate with different people. The same is true for other information products, services and even software.
For example: Thrive Leads is certainly not the only lead generation plugin for WordPress. But many people prefer it because at Thrive Themes, we have a certain way of creating products, certain quality standards and a perspective that differentiates our products, even in a crowded market.
When you try to figure out how much a business is worth, defensibility is an important factor. A defensible business is one that can't easily be replicated. And the more defensible a business is, the more it's worth.
This is a fundamental problem with "easy" business models: sure, maybe you can make some money by finding whitelabel products and selling them on Amazon. Or searching through creative commons licensed images and printing them on t-shirts. Or whatever the latest fad is. The problem is: if it works, the market is soon flooded with imitators.
What you can do easily, anyone can do easily. And someone's willing to do it for less money than you. Before you know it, there's automation software that creates 1,000 generic t-shirt designs a minute. Soon enough, all the factors you have to take into account to find the right products, get them ranked in Amazon and not drown in the flood of white label copycats becomes a science all of its own.
When you create your own product, it can't be easily replicated. At the pinnacle of defensibility is branding (including personal branding). When you create a brand for yourself and people trust and like what you create because it's you creating it, that's something no one can steal or replicate.
We're all rubbish at setting prices for our products. One of the reasons for this is that as consumers, we like prices to be low. And it's easy to think that the best price is always "free".
But there's something we forget: we don't take free things as seriously as things we pay for. And we don't desire cheap things as much as we desire expensive things.
This is where the attention hack comes in: when you sell something, the people who buy it are more committed to it than if you had given it to them for free. If you sell an information product, people are much more likely to actually consume and use that information than if you had given it out for free. If you sell a piece of software, people are more likely to install and use it.
We take an author of a published book more seriously than an author of a free ebook (even if you haven't read either of the books).
In other words: when you sell a product, people take you more seriously, they pay more attention to what you offer and as a result, they're more likely to actually get a positive result out of it.
Of course, you can build a following of passionate fans as a blogger or YouTuber or podcast host. But because of the attention hack described above, you'll find that it's much easier to build a passionate fan base around a product than around free content.
And those passionate fans will help you spread your free content further and wider, which will bring in more traffic, which will lead to more customers, which will grow your fan base and so on.
A major problem that many non-product businesses face is that they depend entirely on factors outside of their control. An ever recurring example of this is YouTube.
The above is an example of YouTubers complaining about a change YouTube made. A change that affected their channels negatively, in some way. There are two things that are very important to note, here:
The underlying issue here is that YouTubers are dependent on a platform they have no control over. The same is true for many business models online. Anything that depends on social media is at risk, because organic reach on social media is always trending downward. Any business that depends on a 3rd-party platform (especially one that can be used for free) is exposed to rule and policy changes that platform makes.
And the declining reach isn't even the worst problem. Here's a quote by YouTube content creator Jim Sterling, that sums up a problem quite nicely:
"The content I produce [...] saw it's revenue reduced by about half. Roughly 50% if the money I was making vanished in a month. No idea why, outside of assumptions and the nervous murmurings of other content creators."
This is why at ActiveGrowth, we always advocate that you own the platform in a way that keeps you independent. If people are buying your product from you because of the value it provides, your business is future proof.
Sure, you rely on a 3rd-party platform to process payments, but if this platform makes unfavorable rule changes or goes out of business, you can just switch to a different one and you don't lose any of your customers.
And sure, some of your customers may find you through organic searches and a Google algorithm change can cost you a lot of traffic, but if your product is valuable and your brand is strong, people will still find you through different channels.
Of course, this doesn't just apply to YouTube. To learn more about the universal and inevitable mechanism that drives the problem of collapsing 3rd party platforms, check out this post: Instagram Created a Monster.
Do you like the idea of earning "passive income" with an authority site or through affiliate marketing? It sounds very attractive, but there's a huge downside to ad-supported business models like this:
You're doing all this work to attract traffic to your site, but in order to make money, you have to send people away from your site again. A requisite of this is that things advertised on your site are more interesting than content on your site. You get paid when the prospect of leaving your site is more attractive than the prospect of remaining.
Create your own product and build your own brand and this changes. Your visitors get to stay with you and your brand. People progress further in your own funnel, instead of leaving your site behind.
An ad supported site is always low in the food chain. If you're getting paid for ad clicks or affiliate referrals, that means some other business is making more money from your traffic than you are. Otherwise they wouldn't be paying for those ads.
By creating your own product, you move up the food chain and it immediately gives you more leverage. With your own product, you're now in a position to create an affiliate program and have other people send their hard-earned traffic to you. Doesn't that sound much more fun?
As a product creator, you're in a position to pay for ads and because you can earn much more from a sale if you're the product owner than if you're an affiliate, you can spend more on ads and still make a profit.
Another way your own product moves you up the food chain is by giving you authority. When you create and launch a product, people will suddenly want to interview you for their podcast. Organize a live event and people will ask if they can speak at it. Create a great product and great brand and people will clamor to somehow be part of it.
Instead of being the one begging to get in front of someone else's audience, you have offers coming your way.
Speaking of paying for ads and making a return: any marketer will agree that data and analytics are crucial for success. If you don't know what's measurably going on in your business, you can't improve it.
A problem you'll always face as an affiliate is that tracking all the way through to conversions is somewhere between difficult and impossible. Every affiliate program will show you how many sales you've referred and how much you earned, but often, you can't get any more detailed insight. That means you can't tell which of your posts or pages referred the most sales. You can't tell if people bought because they watched a video or because they read a long article. And you sure as hell can't A/B test your marketing material to improve performance.
To be fair, this depends. Some affiliate programs give you this level of tracking and insight. But in my experience, most don't.
When you sell your own product, you can track everything. And you can A/B test with revenue per visitor as the conversion goal, which is the most effective kind of goal to test for (compared to testing for lead conversions or click through rate, for example).
This one is along the same lines as the tracking problems described above. When you sell your own products, you can do all kinds of cool marketing stuff. For example:
You can't do any of those things if you don't own the site the product is being sold on and the customers aren't added to your mailing list after a purchase. As an affiliate, YouTuber, Instagrammer, Amazon FBA'er or AdSense site builder, you have none of these options.
If there is one single metric that differentiates a value based business from every other business model, it's revenue per visitor.
In other business models, it's typical to earn cents or even fractions of cents per visitor. In a value based business, you can earn dollars (yes, plural) per visitor.
This doesn't just means that you'll be making more money, it also gives you more leverage.
For example, we've never sold our WordPress products at the low end of the price range in the market. It's not unusual to find WordPress plugins selling for under $20, but ours are usually priced around 3x that much. One of the things this has afforded us is that we've always had a support team that can keep up with demand. And our support team often goes above and beyond, to even fix technical issues that are not caused by our own products. Not surprisingly, you won't get this level of service from a $20 plugin vendor. It makes sense, because their revenue per visitor and revenue per customer numbers mean that if they spend even 30 minutes or so trying to solve your problem, they're already losing money.
So, we're in a good position. And yet, I cast an envious eye towards SaaS companies that make an average of $100/month or more on each customer and can offer even greater service, send nice gifts and swag and much more.
The bottom line is that the more value you get per visitor and customer, the more you can pamper them. That feels good for them, feels good for you and creates a stronger business through word-of-mouth.
The first series in the ActiveGrowth podcast is about this: when you build your business using a "customer first" approach, everything you do is more efficient. You get to the point where you're making money sooner, you establish a feedback loop with people in your target market and everything you do on your website, with your content and in your marketing campaigns becomes laser focused.
It's difficult to overstate the importance of the customer first approach. That's why we created an entire series of podcast episodes about it.
Needless to say, this strategy is only possible for product creators.
Teaching something is a powerful learning experience. I hope you've already experienced this first hand in some area of your life. You can learn something and use the knowledge for yourself. That gives you a certain level of insight. But the moment you have to teach that thing to someone else, your own skills and knowledge take a leap forward.
This applies to information products especially, since those are a form of direct teaching. But it applies to other areas as well. For example, I've gained a lot of knowledge and insight about marketing because I've created marketing software.
Creating a product - any kind of product - is a way to "get your hands dirty" and gives you a skill boost. This, in turn, means that you can create better content and better future products, once you start with product creation.
If you're trying to build your YouTube channel or get enough traffic to your authority site to make some money, where's the finish line? You're always facing an unlimited amount of future work with uncertain payoff.
As a product creator, you also have potentially unlimited work and the payoff can be uncertain, but creating and launching a product is a finite goal. It's something you can clearly see in the near future and it's something you can work towards in a sprint.
If you've never experienced this, it's difficult to understand. When you set a deadline for releasing your product, you'll be amazed at how much you can get done in the last few days before launch.
Launching a few products per year lets you work in bursts of extreme productivity. Personally, I've experienced productivity in creating and launching products that goes far beyond anything I did before (when I was working on affiliate and AdSense sites).
One of great changes the Internet brought about is that it removed gatekeepers everywhere.
Before, if you wanted to publish a book, you had to submit it to publishers. And if they rejected your submission, you were pretty much out of options.
Want to start a business selling something? Gotta find available commercial space, sign an expensive lease, buy all kinds of equipment, stock up on wares, pay staff... all before you even open the doors!
Right now, if you have something to say, you can just say it. If you have something to teach, some value to bring to the world, there is nothing stopping you. You don't need anyone's approval, you don't need a certificate, good connections or a huge starting budget. You can create something right now and you can start selling it with little to no upfront cost.
"99% of the world is convinced they are incapable of achieving great things, so they aim for the mediocre middle-ground."
- Tim Ferriss
As I said at the beginning of this post: most people are intimidated by the idea of creating a product. They'd much rather do something that's seemingly easier. And of course, the Internet Marketing market provides an endless stream of such "easy" opportunities. Businesses you can start without really needing to know anything, without really needing to learn anything and without much work, hopefully.
A few years ago it was paying some people to write cheap articles and paying some other people to spam links for you. Later, it was about getting cheap Facebook fanpage likes and auto-posting affiliate links. Then, it was about finding popular videos on YouTube and paying the creators to add your links to them. Then, it was drop shipping and Amazon FBA. You get the idea. There's always something with the allure of quick, easy money.
And none of it ever lasts. Pursuing the easy option is the most commonly taken path to failure.
Meanwhile, product creators face less competition, learn more, build better skills and make more money. Heck, creating your own products means building a real business. Imagine that.
If you haven't yet, if you've been chasing those easy opportunities, maybe it's time to join us.
Alright, I've made my case. If you read this list and you're still thinking "but... [insert reason here]" let me know by leaving a comment. I'd love to know what's keeping you from creating your own product, service or membership.
And if you have other feedback or questions about this post, please let me know as well!
I'm the founder of ActiveGrowth and Thrive Themes and over the last years, I've created and marketed a dozen different software, information and SaaS products. Apart from running my business, I spend most of my time reading, learning, developing skills and helping other people develop theirs. On ActiveGrowth, I want to help you become a better entrepreneur and product creator. Read more about my story here.
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