Sell Digital Products Online: The Beginner’s Guide (2021)

This article will address everything you need to know about digital products, different types of digital products, how to create them, and sell them online to ensure you stay profitable.

Selling digital products is one of the best ways to earn online. It’s a low-cost, low-hassle way to build an online business. If you have a remote business idea, your next step would be to choose a business model. This will help you achieve profitability in a sustainable manner.

A digital product does one thing – offer an enjoyable solution to a specific customer that has a pain point. If you can do that well, you’re on your way to making at least $10,000/month. Yes, this business model can be very profitable and scalable with low overheads.

Let’s explore this avenue and by the end of this article, you should be able to assess if this is the right model for you.

What is a digital product?

Simply put, a digital product is any item that can be exchanged or shared in a digital format. There’s no physical storage or transportation involved.

The seller will deliver the product in a consumable format to their target audience.

Why sell digital products?

  • You’ll never run out of inventory: It’s a one-time product which sells automatically, over and over again.
  • Source of passive income: You would only need to create a product once and then sell it to thousands of different customers all over the world with little/no involvement on your end.
  • Can be run remotely: This business model operates completely online as there’s no physical inventory, warehousing or shipping involved.
  • Provides more freedom and flexibility: Related to the point above, since it can be operated from anywhere in the world at any time, you have the choice to manage your own schedule and work from wherever you are.
  • Easily scalable: With no warehousing or logistics to worry about, the incremental cost of selling in larger volumes is next to nothing, making it very easy to scale.
  • Direct relationship with consumers: If you have a good support system in place, you can streamline the communication process with your consumers.
  • Wider geographical reach: Some clients might not be able to afford your services, but they could afford your digital product. This makes your business open and accessible to everyone.

Different types of digital products

Initially, digital products were sold only as eBooks. Times have changed. You can now find various formats of digital products in the marketplace:

  • eBook
  • Video
  • Stock photography
  • Software
  • Digital art
  • Graphic templates
  • Mobile Apps
  • Audio playlists
  • Website templates and more.

The choice of the format depends on what you are comfortable with creating and eventually marketing. It also depends on your specific audiences’ preferences. 

For example, if your content relates to helping visually impaired people to maintain a positive mindset, it may make more sense to share the content in an audio format instead of an eBook or videos.

Below is a list of examples of digital products categorized based on different professions/skills. This should provide some inspiration to get started with selling digital products online.

Digital products for designers

If you are a designer who loves to get creative, this is a great option for you to monetize your designs. There are various routes that you could take. If you are popular within a certain niche, you could mix and match various formats into one package too. Below are some examples that could be added to your portfolio:

  • Digital art: If you have a knack for art, you can produce them digitally and sell to an audience across various formats such as wallpapers, canvas, portraits etc.
  • Infographic design templates: These are great when people want to present a lot of data and information. 
  • Invoice templates: You can sell these to small business owners who want to create brand-able invoices for their business.
  • Business card templates: For business owners who want to look extra professional with some stylish business cards.
  • Website templates: You can design simple designs for various niches which can be then easily translated to a functional website.
  • Photoshop templates: These could include product mockups, effects, layouts and more. 
  • Animations: If you have skills in motion graphics, this is a great option for you.
  • Presentation templates: These are ideal for those looking to design professional presentations that stand out.
  • Icon sets: Give people some unique icon sets based on different themes that they can use on their designs, websites etc.
  • Fonts: If you are good at designing fonts, you could pick an audience that will take interest in your text styles and formats.
  • Digital colouring sheets: You can turn your artwork into a colouring sheet for customers to download and print.

Digital products for content creators

If you enjoy creating content and publishing it in different formats for specific audiences, this is for you. You can monetize them by creating informational products in various formats (mentioned below) and selling them to your audience.

  • Pre-publishing checklist: If you have mastered the process of publishing your blog posts, you can convert them into a checklist which can be sold to other publishers.
  • Self-assessment tools: Create a quiz or questionnaire that analyzes the responses to provide your audience an assessment of themselves.
  • Downloadable guides: If you are an expert in a particular field, such as fitness training, you can create and sell simple guides addressing specific problems. For example, a 7-day meal plan for beginners working from home.
  • Goal setting worksheets: Help your audience to map their career goals with a printable worksheet or journal. 
  • Masterclasses: Share your specialized knowledge in an e-learning series.
  • Audio Series: Create a series of audio files where you share knowledge and expertise on specific topics that address your audience.
  • Memberships/Community groups: If you have an audience with shared interests, you can provide private access to a social group through memberships/subscriptions in return for exclusive premium content.
  • Online courses: If you have knowledge in a specific field, you can create a video series that follows a structure of lessons and topics which the audience would pay to gain access to.
  • Email courses: You can deliver content over a series of emails to which the audience will have access once it’s paid for.

Digital products for Programmers/IT Specialists

There is a huge demand for programmers and software products especially with more people getting online post pandemic. As such, coders and IT Specialists have a wide range of options to create and sell digital products online:

  • Hosting: You can provide your customers a web server which allows them to store their website files and data. Eg: Dropbox.
  • Website Themes: You can sell premade themes for WordPress, for example, which can be simply downloaded to build a website straightaway.
  • WordPress Plugins: If you have good knowledge on building plugins for WordPress, this would be a great option.
  • Mobile Apps: Whether they’re productive apps, gaming apps or even social apps, they can be developed and sold through a pricing plan or in-app purchases.
  • Web Apps: These digital products are accessible on both a computer and mobile which you can develop to solve particular problems for your audience. For example, TimeDoctor is a product used to log time for remote workers and is sold through a pricing plan.

Steps to launch a digital product

steps to launch and sell digital products
  1. Create a prototype/sample of your digital product: By this I mean a sample or a snippet of the main content that you wish to create. If it’s a set of graphic design templates, maybe create 2 – 3 to get started so you can seek feedback.  
  2. Validate your product: This is an important step to understand if there is a sizeable market/audience for your product. Get feedback from a sample audience, research keyword search volumes and check Google Trends to understand the popularity of the product you are creating. 
  3. Share free content relating to the product: This is a great way to engage with the right audience, get your brand out there and generate interest. People love free stuff – so always make it a point to share them. For example, you could offer free web design templates in return for their email address. This can be used later on to sell more premium templates. The same could be applied to other types of products too.
  4. Incorporate feedback: Through the free content that you shared and also from Step 2, you should now have some feedback of what’s working and what’s not. Use them to tweak your final product prior to launch.
  5. Create a waiting list: Send your audience to a “Coming Soon” page or get them to sign up to be notified when the product is launched. Create anticipation as people love that!
  6. Create the monetization system: This is an important step if you choose to promote the products on your own website. Whether it’s a sales funnel (see below), a digital e-commerce store (to sell design templates, eBooks), learning management systems (for online courses), you’ll need to build and test that they are functioning as expected.
  7. Engage with the right partners: You may have connected with individuals/partners who have the similar audience as you. Engage with them and offer them an affiliate program (see below) so they promote your product in return for a commission of the sale.
  8. Launch to Your Audience: This is just the beginning of your selling journey. You could incorporate a sub-step, i.e. a soft launch. This will give you the opportunity to obtain more feedback and tweak it further prior to the launch. This is ideal for more complex products such as web apps, software etc.

Digital product business model

You may have created and launched a great product, but it is of no use if you are unable to market it to an audience who’s willing to pay for the product. 

This is an ongoing process but fortunately, most of them can be automated. The way you create and sell digital products online will largely depend on the type of digital product.

Simply put, if you have an offering (product or service), marketing and finances (revenue and costs) that work in a particular system, you have a business model. Let’s look at each in turn.

Offering

The offering will be the product itself. If your product is perceived as high value, you can charge more for it and in return become more profitable. Below are some ways you can incorporate value into your products.

  • Needless to say, high quality content (eBook, guides or videos) that directly solves the consumer’s problem.
  • Offer exclusive access to a private community (for example, Facebook Group, Discord, Slack)
  • Provide lifetime access to the product (more applicable to online courses)
  • Money-back guarantee for worry-free purchase (may not be applicable in all cases)
  • Include extras, discount offers on bundled products, bonus content etc.

The ultimate objective of a digital product should be to provide great value to the audience. A good product that solves the problem of the audience in your niche will help you easily portray your business/brand very positively. This can eventually grow exponentially as the consumers share their positive experiences.

Marketing

The level of marketing required largely depends on how well the launch campaign goes and how well you’ve set the systems up. Below are some of the strategies you could use (feel free to mix and match) to effectively sell digital products and easily scale:

Spark conversations with your customers online

Your customers are probably already online. Look for them in the right places. Some places that you can start with:

  • Social Media: Facebook Groups, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram
  • Communities/Forums: IndieHackers, Reddit, Quora
  • Blogs: Medium, Substack

This is a great place to engage with potential audience and create conversations with them. Provide as much value as you can so you could build authority.

Sell on 3rd party websites/marketplaces

This is a great place to start if you are not tech-savvy, don’t have the resources to build your website, or you don’t have a large audience just yet.

You can list your products on 3rd-party platforms or websites which are available for you depending on the type of product. Below are some examples of marketplaces to sell digital products online:

Build a sales funnel

A sales funnel is a systematic path that potential customers follow from finding out about you or your brand to eventually making a purchase. There are many techniques you could do this to optimise this flow. For example, you could use the AIDA-model for your copy in the sales page that will capture your audience’s interest in your product.

You can build a sales funnel with no coding knowledge either with WordPress, or dedicated sales funnel builders such as ConvertKit, GetResponse, Leadpages or Keap.

Build an online store

If you want to control the entire process of delivering and selling the digital product, you can build your own store. This is a great option if you have the resources to as this way you’ll have more flexibility. Platforms like Shopify is great if you want build online stores using pre-made templates. Alternatively, you could build a self-hosted eCommerce store on WordPress too.

Create an email list

Tied to the point above, you can integrate your sales funnel with an email automation system to communicate with your audience. An email list is a great asset to build on and is something you should set up at the beginning. If done right, it can be a great marketing technique to sell digital products.

You can reach out to your list whenever you have a promotion or a new product. The trick is to not send constant sales pitches or you’ll wear out the people on your list. Work on repurposing content relating to the product you are offering and this will keep your mailing list constantly engaged.

Start an affiliate program

With an affiliate program, other website owners and bloggers can promote your products in exchange for a commission on any sales that they generate. You don’t have to pay anything unless a sale is made.

Most 3rd party platforms recognise the importance of affiliates and have therefore incorporated this feature. For example, if you’re selling on Gumroad or Flurly, you can easily add affiliates who agree to promote the products on your behalf. Alternatively, you can build your own affiliate system on WordPress too.

Engage in private Facebook Groups

Engaging and providing value in private communities can help your brand be portrayed as an authority.

Create a Foot-in-the-Door (FITD) offer

This is a marketing technique where you offer potential customers something at a lower price point so you make them more likely to purchase something at a higher price point later. For example, if the digital product you’re trying to promote is an online course worth $499, you could provide a “lite” version of the course at $49 or a free eBook with a summarized version of the main course.

Invest in SEO/Content

Doing this at the beginning will set the foundation for you to attract organic traffic to your website based on specific keywords relating to the product you wish to sell.

Add self-service pages 

These include FAQ, Help Centre and Community Forums which can reduce the need for your audience getting in touch with you.

Finance

All matters related to money should be dealt with carefully to ensure your online business selling digital products is successful. The digital product business model can be very profitable if done right.

Revenue

The primary revenue stream for this online business model is through sale of the info product itself. Other alternative streams of income could include sponsorships, brand deals and affiliate marketing whereby you include promotional content within your main info product.

For example, if your info product is about on-page SEO, you could partner up with SEMRush or Ahrefs to include a section explaining their tool in return for a sum.

Costs

The beauty of this model is that it can scale at an exponential rate while keeping the ongoing costs significantly low.

Apart from the initial investment of generating the content, there is very little ongoing cost. Unlike physical products, digital products are delivered in online. So, there’ll be no shipping or warehousing costs. However, should you decide to sell your digital products through 3rd party platforms, there may be fees that you might have to account for.

Is the digital product business model for you?

The thing about digital products is that all the work for the most part is front loaded — once the product is created and converted, you can scale it to the moon. It costs nothing extra to sell 1,000 units instead of 1 unit, outside of the obvious marketing costs, making this business incredibly lucrative in the hands of the right person.

If you think you have the knowledge and expertise to help a specific audience solve their problem, this online business model is ideal. Though the initial phase of creating the content can seem overwhelming, it has the potential to bring in exponential returns in the long term.

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