Three Paths for a Digital Side-Hustle
Entrepreneurs and freelancers struggle to start. We think we’ve got this great idea. We start with a ton of momentum. Then the willpower slides and reality kicks in.
Most creators don’t pause before starting. But if we take the time to design the work around our personality, the business will have a higher chance of success.
When you start a business you not only magnify your strengths, you also shine a bright light on your weaknesses.
If there are any places in life where you fall-short your business will amplify them tenfold. You can’t escape yourself. And a side-hustle will force you to recon with the person you are, not necessarily the person you want to be.
Therefore, it’s critical we design our business around the way we love to work. There will be plenty of unknown issues that come up, so why not start with the best blueprint possible?
Why a Digital Side-Hustle?
If you want a business that not only works hard for you while you sleep, can be scaled to an international business, location-independent, and is possible for a single person to scale many times, a digital side-hustle is your business.
With the pandemic, we’ve moved from office buildings to our couches. We have more virtual tools than ever before.
When you operate a digital business, you’ve got a way for your best work to multiply. You no longer have to trade time for money. You’ve got no supplier or production costs to deal with. And if you lose one service provider, your business can be up-and running with a new provider in a few hours.
There are no vendors or shipping issues. Your overhead becomes internet service fees and course-hosting fees. There’s no inventory. You can operate 95% of a digital business from your phone.
While there are limits to the products you can deliver digitally, your growth ceiling is limitless.
When you build a course-based business, not only do you have the ability to scale your work, but you also have the opportunity to grow a tribe, hungry for your next course.
Three Fantastic Business Models
If you want to be part of the digital course boom, there are two great models to choose.
There’s a mini model where you create fast, inexpensive, easy-to-consume courses. And there’s a single-course, flagship model where you create one premium, high-dollar course.
The third approach is a hybrid model, where you create both mini and flagship courses, catching your various buyers at different stages in the process.
There are pros and cons for each model.
I’ll try to address the different personalities required for each, because they are a lot more different than most entrepreneurs think.
If your course-Based side-hustle doesn’t match your work process you may never launch your product.
The Mini Course Model
If you enjoy working fast and have trouble focusing on big projects for a long time, mini-course may be the best route for you.
A mini course can be created in a week or two.
You solve one specific problem for the customer. She can consume your content quickly without going through some giant ‘academy’ model and implement what she’s learned immediately.
Mini courses have low price points—generally, less than $50. If you adopt this model you’ll have to sell a lot of courses to make a good living.
However, this also gives you the opportunity for more chances ‘at bat.’ If you spend a week on a course that doesn’t sell, you haven’t lost much time.
If you took a year or more to build a flagship course and no one wants it—you may never recover from the ego loss and the time spent.
Mini courses are great for shorter attention spans and people who love deep concentration in spurts.
You can see the progress quickly. You know you’ll be ready to launch, with something for sale, by the end of next week.
The downside of this model is the number of sales you have to make to earn your target income goal. Let’s say you want to earn $10 thousand per month. If you offer a series of $50 mini courses, you’ll have to sell 200 courses a month.
The upside is that you can sell a handful of mini courses to the same customers. You always have something new to sell. Depending on your personality it may be easier to create 5-10 mini courses than it is to create one flagship course.
The Flagship Course Model
These are the courses with a catchy name. Usually they cost more than $1,000 to enroll. It may take a year or more to develop all the content, shoot and edit the videos, build the launch plan, raise enough awareness, and create the worksheets and extras.
The flagship model is not for the faint of heart. While the rewards may be large, so is the risk.
If you don’t choose your flagship course carefully, you may end up spending a lot of time on a course that won’t sell.
Here, customer research matters—a lot.
If you aren’t positive your customers will want your flagship course, find an idea where you are.
The flagship model is not good for creators who enjoy creating new products often.
This requires long-term dedication and extreme perseverance. Think of the difference between the two models as the difference between writing a novel and writing a short story.
The upside of the flagship model is the income stream. If you have a $10 thousand per month income goal you only have to sell 10 $1,000 courses per month. The marketing effort to sell a $1,000 course isn’t much harder than the work to sell a $50 course.
The downside of the flagship model is the cost to the consumer.
If all you sell is a flagship course, not all of your customers will be able to afford your work, no matter how much they love what you do.
The Hybrid Course Model
This model is the long-game. The hybrid model consists of both mini courses and a flagship course. Instead of basing your entire business on short-form, low-cost courses, you can increase the value of your content with a hybrid of both flagship and mini courses.
Start with mini-courses.
Develop a small portfolio of at least three mini courses. Through the sales of these mini courses you’ll understand a successful direction for your flagship course. In addition, you’ll have a pre-assembled tribe of customers who already enjoy your work.
Not every customer is in the same place along their buying continuum.
When you have a mix of offerings you’re able to meet your customers where they stand, instead of hoping they’ll come to you when they’re ready to buy. You’ll have low-cost, quick solutions and high-ticket, long-term solutions with the hybrid model.
Ask Your Tribe
If you want the best change of creating a successful course, mini or flagship, ask your tribe. But instead of asking them what they do want, ask them what they don’t want.
It’s hard for us to tell you what we want, especially if we don’t know a solution exists.
Creation is the entrepreneur’s job. However, you can ask readers what they don’t want. You can survey them, asking them a single question about your niche. What would they remove if they could wave a magic wand (Ryan Levesque’s model)?
Collect all these simple survey answers.
Not only will you develop a library of your reader’s exact language, you also get a sneak-peek into the personal lives of the people who love your work. When you ask your readers what they don’t want, it’s much easier to create a product they will want.
Build Your Tribe Before You Need One
This is your email list we’re talking about. When you own your email list you own your traffic. When you own your traffic you own your business. The worst thing you can do is wait until your course is finished before you start building your email list.
Using advertising and content marketing, begin build your email list ASAP.
Offer a free, Easy Invite in exchange for your new reader’s email address. You need this tribe, not only to help you create your courses, but also to have customers to sell. When you finish your course before you build a list, that’s like opening a store to an empty parking lot.
Your tribe is an insurance policy against being de-platformed.
In the era of cancel-culture and finger-pointing it’s easy to lose a social media account, no matter how hard you worked to grow a following. Even if you spent the last ten years building a business on social, you could lose all your income overnight.
No so with email.
When you use email marketing as the main marketing channel for your digital business, you have a direct line to your entire customer list. You don’t have to pay for advertising to reach people who already like you (as you do with social media).
Start you email list now, before you need one. Email is a slow-growth process. You have plenty of time to make little mistakes while your list is small. Email is the perfect compliment to a digital side-hustle. With email you have the ability to speak personally to one person at a time, yet scale your single email as big as you’d like.
August Birch is an author, email expert, and entrepreneur from Michigan, USA. As a self-appointed guardian of writers and creators, August teaches indies how to make more work that sells and sell more work once it’s made. When he’s not writing or teaching, August carries a pocket knife and shaves his head with a safety razor.