As part of any project, it is worthwhile taking some time before you finish, to review what can be learned from, applied to, or avoided on the next project. For my most recent project, writing Get Projects Done, I have taken some time out to see what lessons can be learned from the process.
Let me share with you the lessons that I learned. They fall into six categories:
- Selecting the correct topic
- Writing, editing, designing and marketing
- The launch
- My team
Tony Robbins said that success leaves clues. It is up to us to find these clues and apply them; that is, learn from the best. With this in mind, I did my research and found two people who had started from small beginning yet had built a big following and shared their methods openly; Chris Guillebeau and Nathan Barry. They both have great products and I was already familiar with Chris, having read his first book. I read their blogs extensively and then took the decision to purchase Nathan’s ebook, Authority. I can now say that it was a good decision. I read it thoroughly and then at the start of each major stage, I referred back to the relevant sections as I was about to apply the learnings from them.
Selecting the correct topic
Perhaps the greatest predictor of success was picking a topic where I had both something interesting to share and a very identifiable audience to share it with.
What unique perspective had I?
Being a project manager for more than 28 years, I knew that there were a lot of topics that I could write about. The real question was more, what was my edge; what made me different? Over the last number of years I have been frequently asked by clients to turnaround troubled projects; a task which needs a unique set of skills. With this, I chose to write an ebook called “Recovering Troubled Projects”. During the writing and review process, people kept asking me to write a simple book on how to ensure your project doesn’t get into trouble in the first place. Therefore, I decided to write another book called “Get Projects Done”, and released it as my first book. Now I am well on my way to completing the initial draft of my next book.
My target audience
I wanted the ebook to help people who are involved in projects, but are not project managers. In effect, everyone except the project manager; maybe the project manager should buy the ebook for all of his team. My intent was to reach people through online channels plus my own network initially.
Looking back now, I would say that my target audience was too broad. I should maybe have taken a particular type of project and tailored my approach to it. Perhaps I should have taken freelancing as an example and described how to establish yourself as a top class project manager.
Writing versus editing, design, and marketing
I totally underestimated what it would take to get a book published; not just the writing and editing, but the design work and marketing. I would say that I learned three very important lessons; (1) the process of writing and editing a book is longer and more painful than you could ever anticipate, (2) designing the layout, cover and any graphics or illustrations to be included is a significant amount of work, and (3) start marketing early to ensure that when the book was ready to launch there is an audience waiting to buy it.
Writing and editing
When I started to write the book, I thought that if I could produce 1000 words per day, then I would be able to have a 100,000 word book ready for sale within three, maximum four months. How naive I was! The process of drafting, editing, redrafting, re-editing, producing a final draft, and proof reading, was both long and arduous.
The lesson I learned from this is that it will typically take two or three times longer than one anticipates. I expected three to four months to get the book complete, but it actually took me 8 months to finish! (It was published on December 12th, 2014).
Why so long? The first draft was proceeding well until I sent it away for editing. A number of friends had offered to edit for me. The comments coming back were not good; I had to admit that what I had written was not good enough. I made a decision to bin the book and start again. I got a new and improved draft together and with it, went through two full edits and a proof reading before the the book was ready for the typesetting.
You can’t polish a tu*d, but you can tarnish a good book with bad design. This is an area that I massively underestimated. The lesson I have learned in the design arena are to pay more attention to, (1) typesetting, (2) graphics and illustration (including the book cover) and (3) landing and sales page design.
I used iBook Author and the process of typesetting with it is straightforward. However, you are operating within the confines of predetermined templates. Luckily for me this was good enough, but I would like to take some external input next time. I will work with a designer to look at improving the flow of the book. There are templates out there that you can purchase, but none of these really appealed to me. The style I was looking for was minimalistic and I do not feel that I achieved this to the extent that I wished for.
Graphics and illustrations
The book has a lot of worked examples with tables and is a visual book with illustrations. I drew the illustration and designed the book cover. Would I do all that again? No, I don’t think so. I was only reasonably happy with the book cover and I should have sought some help. For my next book I have a book cover already designed by Nathan Barry that I am happy with. I will be refining my illustration skills through practice as I enjoy the activity.
Landing page and sales page
Both of these pages are part of a marketing plan, but they needed to be designed in a way that (1) was in keeping with the style I was adopting, (2) looked professional and (3) helped build a following and contribute to sales.
I took all of this on myself and the lessons discussed in the design section apply here also. The style I wanted was minimal, and while both are minimal, I don’t feel there is much style. I will be seeking help with this in the future.
Marketing is the art of letting your target audience know about you and your great product. In the case of my project, this meant online marketing, specifically through my blog. I can’t profess to being an expert here, but I did learn that you need to start early. Building a base of interested people and staying in contact with them was key. I did a poor job of this.
My performance was much better once the book was nearing it’s latter stages (the last month). From that point forward, there was a pretty good growth in interest. Now after the book has been launched, there is continued interest in the book and my subscriber list is growing nicely.
The first lesson is, launch week is hectic! There are so many things to do, test, revise and so on. I am glad that I allowed myself a few days clear to focus on this, without outside activities.
My launch went very well. I have Gumroad to thank for a lot of that. They have a super sales platform.
Price – free and it’s benefits
The thorny question of price. What is the right price? Do I have multiple tiers or just one product? Well, I read Nathan’s book for a coherent discussion on how to price your product, but ultimately it is a function of the value you add and what your target audience will pay. I wanted to make it available to everyone and hence the low cost.
I went with free on Day1! Then I had two tiers; the book only, at $9 and the book plus template, at $12. Everybody loved the day 1 offer! WOW. People really love free stuff. So much so that 352 people picked up the book for free! I was also delighted and very grateful that some people decided to pay even though it was free on the first day! Thank you very much.
Given that it is my first book, I am happy to have it published and available for people to buy at a low cost. As I contemplate my next offering, I need find a new way of establishing the right customer price fit.
I had a great team from an editing perspective. Where I lacked was on the design and marketing. I will be making myself a little wiser in these areas plus looking to work with some trusted parties also. I am open to discuss possibilities with any good designers, marketeers and developers out there. If you believe that you can offer a helpful service in this are, please email me with a sample of your work and your contact details. I am aiming to recruit help in this area by late January or early February.
In summary, I will:
- Selection: conduct a product-market fit exercise. Not sure what mechanisms to use yet, but I have started some research.
- Writing/Editing: Improve my writing (I have purchased a couple of books to help here) and work with the same editing team, assuming I can convince them to stay on!
- Design: Work with a designer on typesetting, web stuff and continue to develop my own sketching.
- Marketing: Start earlier! Get some articles published on other related sites. Work with a partner to help improve on what I have managed to date.
- Launch: With a bigger audience, the main changes I would make is to (1) Give samples of the product to subscribers early in the process to get feedback and (2) produce a better launch page.
- Price: I will keep that to myself for now!
- Team: As stated above, I will be adding a designer, marketeer and developer to the team.
That’s it. I hope you enjoyed my review. If any of you have similar online product development experiences to share, please leave a comment below.
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