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Summary:

It’s not just e-books: it’s new sites, services and products. It’s a blog or a newsletter or your first training course or that cool app you’ve been wishing someone would build. We’re often encouraged to try great new ways to generate continuous revenue streams.

It’s not just e-books: it’s new sites, services and products. It’s a blog or a newsletter or your first training course or that cool app you’ve been wishing someone would build.

We’re often encouraged to try great new ways to generate continuous revenue streams. Often they’re presented off-hand, as quick fixes to business- or reputation-building quandaries. And it’s true that all these products can be sound ways to expand your exposure and, possibly, income.

But before you jump, think beyond the bucks. The fact that someone else made money with a particular product or approach doesn’t necessarily mean you will, too. Take a long, hard, objective look at the big-picture implications of the potential project before you get bogged down in the doing, and disappointed by its results.

The Me-too Mire

Whatever sources you read, there’s always someone, somewhere, advising us to look at product or service creation as a way to generate independent, continual income streams. And wherever you look, there’s someone taking that advice.

There’s a plethora of gems — and junk — out there. How will your product compete? How will you differentiate it? What will make it matter to users?

The real question here is not about the kind of ongoing revenue stream you’ll create, but who you’ll sell it to, and how you’ll reach them. This is, of course, especially important if you really do want to generate income from your product, rather than just completing it for the love of the task.

If your eyes are on the dollars, rather than a target audience, your offering is likely to become just another one in a large field of competitors that don’t deliver anything that’s genuinely new. To avoid producing a me-too offering, you have to look beyond what’s trendy to find real opportunities.

Understanding Your Talents

I can’t code, so I’d never try to write a piece of software. Don’t kid yourself into thinking you can write a coherent, hundred-page ebook if the longest thing you penned in the last month was a post-it note. Don’t imagine you can manage a product customer base of hundreds if you’re not a “people person”. And don’t think you can keep up a regular blogging schedule if you can’t seem to keep in touch with your favorite past clients.

Start with what you know, and what you can do well. Work out what your talents, skills and interests are first; then you’ll be able to distinguish the good ideas from the bad, and make the good opportunities lucrative. You’ll also find developing — and maintaining — your product or service a whole lot easier if it lies within your area of expertise and passion.

Quality Counts

Why don’t I start a photo-journal? In my field, it would certainly be a unique way to try to promote my skills. But the answer’s simple: I’m appalling at photography. Even decent family snaps are beyond me; any photo blog I started would contain a mass of hideous mis-fires, overexposed, red-eyed nightmares, and visual garbage.

Similarly, if you’re not a developer, don’t try to build a technical product. If you’re not confident on camera, don’t start a video blog. Even if the biggest names in the business tell you to do it, and everyone else is jumping on the bandwagon, take your time to decide if this really is for you. Do your research. Objectively assess your options. Consider the alternatives available to you — alternatives that may better suit your skills and talents.

Remember: the offering you supply to the world will ultimately reflect on you. And since you’ll likely promote it online, a bad product will haunt you for a long time to come. Quality counts. Don’t release products and services you can’t stand behind — honestly, legitimately — 100 percent. Don’t release untested output in a rush. And don’t slap something together in an effort to “ride the wave”. Create your own wave instead.

What’s Your Project?

I’m all for people stepping outside comfort zones, taking on challenges and innovating. But producing a me-too product in a format that doesn’t inspire you to sell to a poorly defined audience for the sake of an often-elusive independent revenue stream is none of those things.

Extend yourself doing something you love. Challenge yourself in ways that help you achieve your dreams. Innovate something you can be proud of not just because you did it, but because it is good and meets a need.

Have you developed products and services of your own? What advice can you give to others who are thinking of doing a similar thing?

Image by stock.xchng user jsnflo.

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  1. I could write an entire ebook to answer your questions…

    I’ll offer three suggestions from my experience creating information products:

    1. Be clear about why you are creating the product.
    2. Be realistic about how long it will take.
    3. Calculate your expected return on investment of your time to be sure it’s worth it to you.
  2. I spent over a year learning InDesign, creating a professional layout for my series of books, and building my ecommerce site. I could have pumped out an amateur looking Word document and started selling quicker, but I’m looking long term at creating quality products. It doesn’t happen overnight.

  3. Good post. There are too many people looking for a “simple recipe” for something like an online business. And because so many are following them we are getting trained to ignore all but the most recommended “e-books.”

    That means producing something that clearly stands out from everything else is the key. Also production values are very important. Even doing everything right won’t mean overnight success. But if the project doesn’t promise to be one of the very best in class or unique and valuable at the beginning… it’s not likely to get more attractive after you’re into it.

  4. A curated baker’s dozen: links for 6-16-10 : Innovation in College Media Wednesday, June 16, 2010

    [...] Don't Write That e-Book!: Georgina Laidlaw at WebWorkerDaily explains why it might not be the best thing to follow an online [...]

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