The Sunday Dispatches—Edition No. 204
Paul Jarvis has the fanciest logo.


Product tribbles

I’ve always loved figuring out ways to use my creativity to create interesting, useful and sometimes whacky ideas that generate revenue.

Internally I refer to these as disruptive business models because a) they tend to be things that I’ve not seen anyone else do, b) they typically go against common advice from experts online, c) they have a high probability of spectacularly failing and d) most importantly, they involve an inherent creativity that leads to making money.

One of these disruptive business models was creating a “bundle of awesome” of existing products and selling it using a “bump sale” method for season 2 of Invisible Office Hours with Jason Zook. This ended up doing much, much better than we figured it would, even though it was a very left-field idea.

Another example is Emojibombs, which was a daily email that highlights the backstory of your favourite emojis. This made us each $1.50 after expenses (we’ve since killed this off). I would do it again because it was so enjoyable to build, it stretched me in interesting ways, and really, it only took 9 hours to build.

The problem I’ve personally come up against lately is that thinking up these new ideas, new products and new models is a little addictive. At least to me. And now I realize that I’ve let my business get far too unfocused. Yes, I 100% believe that diversity in your income is a great thing (just like diversifying your investment portfolio), but there is a limit to how much you can diversify your work without losing focus on a lot of it. Especially when you work for yourself (I have no team—it’s just me and my little rat friends).

I don’t have the bandwidth to focus on all my products at the same time, so I actually forget about some, good ones too, and don’t put any time into them for a while (which reflects in poor sales).

Currently (this is an important word) here’s a list of what I do to make money and the percentage of income each product represents:

  1. Creative Class (35%) - an online course that helps skilled freelancers learn the art of running their own business.

  2. Chimp Essentials (21%) - an online course that teaches people how to use MailChimp to make money.

  3. Project Prescription (7%) - a bundle of documents that designers can use to run their business better that I created with Shauna Haider. There’s now a photography version too with Shauna and Luke Copping.

  4. The Freelancer (7%) - my solo podcast that makes money through sponsors (which is booked solid until 2017 currently).

  5. How Dare You (5%) - both a one-day online workshop and an online course to teach folks how to use their personality in business. NOTE: I'm teaching this workshop one more time in a few days, get details here.

  6. Invisible Office Hours (4%) - my podcast with Jason Zook that is monetized through sponsorships (one per season).

  7. Hosting (4%) - a relic from my designer days, I host the websites of some previous clients on a dedicated, managed server.

  8. Book sales (4%) - I haven’t written a book in years (or even promoted one), but my previous 4 still consistently bring in a little bit of monthly cash from Amazon and foreign rights sales.

  9. Product to Profit (3%) - a one-day online workshop with Jason Zook and Nathan Barry to help makers build and sell products.

  10. Consulting (2%) - I take on very few consulting clients, but I like to stay sharp with freelancing, so I do a bit of 1-on-1 work still.

  11. WordPress themes (2%) - I built four $39 themes and one free theme. These are being retired very soon.

  12. Affiliates (2%) - I dabble in very soft pitches for products I love (MailChimp, Digital Ocean, Hover and FlyWheel).

  13. ofCourseBooks (2%) - my cofounded software company with Jason Zook and Zack Gilbert.

  14. Podcast like a Boss (2%) - a one-day online workshop with Jason Zook, Kathleen Shannon and Emily Thompson teaching podcasters how to use their shows to benefit their business.

  15. Emojibombs (0%) - a one-day project with Jason Zook that made $3 total.

  16. Sunday Dispatches (0%) - my weekly newsletter (you’re reading it!), that has no direct income but definitely is the biggest way I generate income for the rest of the above products. Plus, it's my favourite product.

  17. Finish Your Damn Book (0%) - an online course on book writing that I haven’t promoted in years.

Dizzy yet? I am. For a guy who’s typically very focused and minimal, I’ve let my projects and product line get a little out of hand. It’s a crazy array of courses, digital products and software. Some of it makes great revenue, some of it makes almost nothing.

For the first 15 years that I worked for myself, it was easy to define what I did: web design. I was a web designer. End of description. That was the one and only function, skill and service that I did.

What's the trouble with tribbles?

Now, it’s a little more convoluted. Technically I make products online, which is too vague a descriptor. And the problem is that these products have tribbled (it’s a verb -- and if you’re not a trekkie, google it) from a product into too many products. And with products come auxiliary things like writing, podcasting, sponsors, affiliates, etc. I make “products+” (which still sounds vague and also silly).

I’m telling you all this because I’ve heard the same thing from so many friends - that they’ve become addicted to creating and launching products, and have ended up with too many of them to adequately promote and maintain them.

This isn’t one of those articles where there’s an answer either. I’m in the weeds too. But I have a (currently untested) plan. You can see from the list above that 2 products make up more than half of my income and 15 products make up the rest.

I can’t stop coming up with ideas and trying new disruptive business models. It’s built into who I am. But what I can do is focus more on the ventures that pay off (both in terms of money and in terms of products I feel like I’m making a difference doing). Sort of like, those become my day job.

And then, for the rest, they become my side projects - where I can still spend time creating and testing and playing, but they don’t take up the bulk of my time (because my day job products do).

I also need to kill off half those side project products (say that 5 times fast!). Which is what I’m going to do in the next few months.

There’s also a plan in my mind to combine my two main sources of marketing: this mailing list and my solo podcast list. I’m not sure exactly what that looks like yet, but my thinking is that the two lists combine into the Sunday Dispatches list (this one), and the podcast becomes the Sunday Dispatches audio version (since that’s really what it is). Both are released on Sundays and the podcast version gets a link after the normal article. Nothing would change on this list except there’d be a link to listen to the article instead of just reading it. Since the podcast is sponsored until 2017 (hooray for long-term sponsors!), I can’d do anything about that yet.

So there. Typically experts and thought leaders write about proven tactics from the trenches (i.e. articles they’ve read on Medium). Luckily I don’t consider myself either. This instead is simply my thinking on what’s currently not working in my business and my idea to fix it which could of course blow up in my face. But still, I wanted to share it because so many of you are in the same place. And maybe something here will spark a new and helpful idea for where you’re at.

For me, I actually really like the strategic planning of new and untried ideas. I can’t wait to see how this all pans out.

PS: Speaking of products, I'm retiring How Dare You shortly, but I'm doing the live workshop one more time, for 50% off, and there are only a few days left to register.

This is something I wrote for my mailing list, The Sunday Dispatches. If you dig it, sign up here to get emails like these auto-magically every Sunday.