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Last month, a nutrition and diet blogger with a five-month-old blog scheduled a Zoom consultation with me with hopes for guidance and, what I gathered, validation of her ideas. She was writing blog posts every week, had less than 20 unique visitors a day, and not even 50 email list subscribers. She had already outlined an online course to be sold for a few hundred dollars. When I asked her how she planned on selling the course, she had no idea. In short, she was all over the place with no plan of action.
This is a common problem I see among many new bloggers and freelancers. In the name of aiming high and setting big goals, they forget all the little in-between steps. Nothing kills a small business faster than oversight.
But I can’t really complain because not long ago, I wasn’t much different myself. A couple of years ago, I had the same idea as my consultation client. I also wanted to make some online courses and make a splash. I quickly picked a couple of topics related to my niche, made the courses — that’s right, plural, I created two courses back to back — and then… crickets.
It’s not as though the courses were bad. The few who did take the courses then all had only good things to say. And sure, eventually, as my traffic and email list grew, my sales for these courses grew as well (these two courses and a third course are now part of my Blogging Blueprint bundle, FYI.) But when I made those courses, I was still a new blogger with limited know-how for selling things. My audience was small, and I didn’t prep my audience in any way for the launches or sales to come.
This scared me enough that I didn’t consider creating another course for almost a year.
But then, in a series of events that followed, partly by accident and partly by design, I ended up creating another online course, which proceeded to make close to $30K in just ten months. What’s more, I knew this course would work out. And the reason I knew this was thanks to something called a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) or, in my case, a series of MVPs.
What Is a Minimum Viable Product or MVP?
The goal of an MVP is to collect data that validates the idea of a product. Businesses use MVPs to make sure they have customers for their products.
Facebook, for example, started as software that connected students by their universities. Amazon started as an eCommerce platform for buying and selling books. Buffer — a social media scheduling app — created a landing page as their MVP with only the idea of the product laid out. Interested people could sign up to be on the waitlist for their product, and this waitlist allowed Buffer to validate their idea and create the product they have today.
Closer to home, my MVP for my online course — where I teach people how to sell Canva templates — started as a blog post that I wrote without any idea or aspiration of a future online course on the topic. But when the post started to bring in a ton of traffic to my blog and started ranking among the top three of Google’s Search Engine Result Page (SERP) for certain keywords, I recognized an opportunity. In the ten months since the course’s launch, over a couple of hundred people have signed up, and I’ve made close to 30 grand.
How I Used MVPs To Create, Sell, and Then Profit From My Online Course
I mentioned the blog post that gave me the idea of the online course. But before I jumped in and made the course, I did a few things.
Validating the first MVP — the blog post
The first sign of potential success, aside from traffic, was a surge of comments on the blog post in question. My blog was fairly new (less than two years old at the time), so it was unusual that this blog post alone had tens of comments. Not only that, but most of the commenters were asking me questions to clarify something or follow up on a point I had made, instead of generic comments like “Nice post!” or “Thanks for the useful information!”.
This pattern was telling. It showed that people had questions, and they weren’t getting their questions answered anywhere else.
There were a few other signs as well. For example, when I took a closer look at my Google Analytics, I saw that around 5% of my entire blog traffic was coming from this blog post. Considering I have over 200 pages on my website, this was disproportionately larger. Today this blog post continues to drive more than 10% of my monthly blog traffic and serves as an entry point to my course sales funnel.
The image above is a screenshot of my Google Analytics report for March 2021. A few things to note:
- As you can see, this blog post (marked with a red boundary) is #1, as in it is the page that drives the most traffic.
- The first item is “Pageviews.” This, as I mentioned, brings in over 13% of my entire blog traffic.
- You can also see the “Avg. Time on Page,” which happens to be more than any other page — over five minutes! It’s rare for people to spend more than five minutes on a page on average. I mean, I consider two minutes a pretty good number. Five minutes is big!
If you’ve submitted your website’s sitemap to Google’s Search Control, then you have even more data at hand that can help you determine whether or not a topic will land with your audience. For example, I receive a monthly email from Google Search Console about my top growing pages and search terms. In this case, too, this blog post outshines all other content on my website. Here you can see a couple of screenshots showing you top-growing and top-performing pages, as well as top search terms. They all point to the same blog post.
Data is key when you’re trying to decide whether a product idea will land or fail. If you’re a content creator, gathering this simple data can help you validate your idea.
To recap, here are a few things to note:
- Your traffic volume and percentage pageviews are good indicators of how popular a certain topic is with your audience.
Average reading time (and bounce rates) can help you distinguish junk traffic from real interest. (Higher reading time and lower bounce rates.)
- You can figure out the possibility of sustained interest by looking at traffic and search trends. Positive is obviously better.
Validating the second MVP — the promise of an online course
Since I had been burned before by two failed online courses, this time, I was determined not to repeat the same mistake. So, I tried something many other online course creators swear by — I presold the course.
My goal was to validate that my time would be worthwhile. I decided that if I made less than $2K during the prelaunch, I’d refund everyone and not bother making the course at all.
My prelaunch tactic was simple. I hadn’t made the course yet or even made a simple outline. I didn’t want to put in any work if I failed to make $2K during the prelaunch. So, I sent out an email to my subscribers, roughly outlined what I had planned to do (since I didn’t have a proper course outline, I shared what my future students could expect to gain from the course), and sent out the first email. To incentivize purchase during this prelaunch, I set the price to less than half of what I had planned to sell the course for. The presell period lasted five days, and I ended up making well over $2K.
And so, the future of my course was sealed. What’s more, in the ten months that followed the launch, I made close to 30 grand from selling this course.
5 Different Types of MVPs for Bloggers and Content Creators
Since data collection is the goal, try to think about how you plan on collecting data while validating your idea at the same time with your MVP. Depending on your industry and scope, your MVP will look different from somebody else’s. The idea here is to do what’s best for you.
In this section, I want to give you some ideas for MVPs. As my experience lies with bloggers, content creators, and freelancers, I’ll focus on that niche. Also, note that you need not use them all to validate a product idea. Employ whichever idea feels best for your business model.
1. A blog post can double as an MVP
It’s by far the simplest MVP for bloggers and writers. You can easily track traffic and trends with free tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console. There are several key metrics to help you realize the true potential of a product:
- Look for meaningful comments on your blog post. Are people asking you follow-up questions? When people ask you questions, it means there’s a gap in their knowledge of the subject matter that you could fill with your product.
- See if your page views are increasing over time or decreasing. It is natural for traffic to decrease over time. The key to retaining traffic and interest is to employ good SEO practices like updating your blog post every few months with new, improved, timely, and relatable content.
- Average reading time can tell you how much interest people have in the topic. If the average reading time for a long-form blog post is less than 2 minutes, then consider rewriting your post with added benefits.
If you see a drop in traffic and engagement even after you have performed all the recommended SEO best practices, then perhaps it’s time to rethink your strategy and product idea.
2. A free product such as a content upgrade or lead magnet
A content upgrade and a lead magnet are similar in that they’re both free (also known as an opt-in freebie). The difference is that a lead magnet is a stand-alone freebie that you can offer using a landing page, and a content upgrade is something offered along with a blog post or article. These offers are embedded within the post and add more value to what is already in the blog post but in exchange for subscribing to a newsletter.
This is a good way to build one’s email list, but this can also double as an MVP. If enough people sign up for a freebie, then you know there’s demand for said product.
One example is how I started my Canva template shop. It started with a simple content upgrade I offered with a blog post. I wrote a post on how to design a media kit as a blogger and offered a media kit template made with Canva as a free content upgrade. This one freebie changed the course of my blog and online business. My daily email list subscription rate doubled and then tripled in just a few days. This overwhelming response to my freebie made me realize the potential in selling Canva templates. That’s a side hustle that keeps on giving!
3. A landing page (to get people on a waitlist)
You can take a page from Buffer’s MVP strategy and create a landing page to compile a list of potential buyers.
The easy way to do this would be to set up a landing page with detailed information on your product: who it is for, how it is meant to help your future customers, etc. Create a sign-up form within your landing page so that people could sign up with their email addresses to be on the waitlist.
Marie Forleo — the famous entrepreneur/celebrity who coined the term “everything is figureoutable,” employs this method all the time. Her online courses — The B-School and Copy Cure — are offered only once a year. For the rest of the year, you can sign up to be on the waitlist. Aside from this, I do not see Marie making a whole lot of buzz around her courses. I suppose the waitlists are big enough so that she doesn’t need to. In fact, I signed up for her Copy Cure course myself after being waitlisted for several months.
4. Paid coaching or consultation
If you’re planning on creating an online course, offering one-on-one or even group coaching can help you do a few things: assess your future product’s potential interest and collect questions from your clients that you can answer in your product. You can learn how to serve your future customers best by providing personalized help to your clients.
Unlike the other MVPs I mentioned above, this one you can even make a profit from. Offer coaching or consultation services for a price, and this can help you start making an income even before you have actually created a full-length product. Blogger and educator Jon Morrow of Smart Blogger offered consultation services before creating his multi-million dollar blogging courses. At one point, he was making four figures from just one hour of consultation.
5. A paid miniature version of your product
Nathan Barry — founder and CEO of the popular email marketing platform, ConvertKit — also teaches how to be a self-published author and make money from your book. He has a multi-tier product; the cheapest is an eBook on the subject — called Authority — which sells for only $39. But if you love the book, you can then sign up for more paid resources. Based on whichever tier you choose, the most expensive bundle sells for, at the time of this writing, $499.
This method is phenomenal because not only does this tell you if people have a genuine interest in your product or not, but this allows you to make money selling a small part of your larger product.
Going back to my client, whom I mentioned at the beginning of this article, it wasn’t difficult to see her problem. She knew what she wanted, but she couldn’t see the smaller in-between steps. But that’s where I come in! As their consultant, the best thing I can do for my clients is to give them a breakdown of their bigger dreams — show them the smaller in-between steps they’re missing. Much like I did when I was a newbie blogger myself.
I realized that even though my client was busy outlining an online course she planned to sell for a few hundred bucks, her more immediate goal was to make about a thousand bucks per month from her content-creation side hustle. This was simple. Instead of spending all her time on a product that she hadn’t even validated with her audience, I advised her to break up her course and create a few smaller pieces of content. Then, I told her to give a couple of them away as content upgrades or lead magnets — to build up her email list — and start selling another one or two to her existing audience for maybe 15–20 bucks.
If you do the math, it is much more likely that she’ll be able to sell a $20 MVP to 50 people and reach her income goal a lot faster, rather than trying to sell a few-hundred dollar product to an audience who barely knows her.
Need some advice on your blog or future product ideas?
As some of you may already know, I offer one-on-one consultation to bloggers and content creators. If you need a little hand-holding to get to the next stage of your business or reaching the next milestone, I’ll be happy to offer you personalized tips and guidance based on your unique needs. You can schedule a blog consultation session here.
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I published a version of this post first on Better Marketing.