How I decide which products, classes, and services to offer.

A client recently asked me,

“Alex, how do you decide which products, classes, and services to offer each year? Do you have a system that you use? How do you figure it out?”

This is such a great question!

Before answering, I want to issue a disclaimer:

I don’t consider myself to be a “business expert.”

I’ve been a self-employed writer for almost 8 years. I’ve been hired to do ghostwriting and copywriting projects for many different types of businesses — small businesses, like family-run pharmacies, and big businesses, like celebrity-driven style and beauty brands. I helped my sweetheart to open a restaurant, which taught me a lot of lessons about grit, hard work, and entrepreneurship. I’ve created lots of products over the years — digital products, like online classes, and tangible products, like books.

However, again, I wouldn’t consider myself to be a “business expert” or “business advisor” or anything like that. I’m happy to share my personal perspective — but please trust your hut (heart + gut) when making business decisions. Don’t blindly follow somebody else’s plan. Follow your instincts. Always.

With that said…

Here’s how I decide which products, classes, and services to offer.

My approach is pretty simple.

At the end of each year, I decide how much money I want to make in the following year.

I always start with a specific dollar amount, because I like having a clear goal. If I don’t hit the exact goal, whatever, no worries. But I like having a target. It’s like the Norman Vincent Peale quote goes: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

The first year that I was self-employed — about 8 years ago — my income goal was $35,000. The next year, my goal was $50,000. Last year, my goal was $110,000. This year, I decided to reach for quite a bit more. (Which felt scary, but in a good way!)

After figuring out “the big number,” then I ask myself, “OK, what combination of products and services could I offer to hit that number?”

Obviously, there are no guarantees. You never know “for sure” if a particular book will sell, or if a particular class will fill, or if you’ll hit your exact income goal or not. You might put together a fabulous workshop and expect 20 sign ups and then you get 4 — oh well! Everything is a risk on some level.

I don’t like too much risk and uncertainty. Some people can stomach more risk than I can. I’m pretty risk-averse. So, I focus on creating products and services that feel relatively “low risk” and “pretty darn likely to succeed.”

How do I know if something is likely to succeed?

1) Because I’ve done something similar before and I’ve seen it work.

2) Because people have been asking for it — there’s some curiosity, yearning, or demand from the people in my community.

3) Because I’ve tested the concept (like a beta-test) and it got a good response.

4) And sometimes, because it just intuitively feels “right.”

This year (2017), I decided to offer:

Ghostwriting and copywriting services.

DIG DEEP, an online writing class that people can join anytime.

MUSCLE & HEART, a writing-fitness-yoga retreat (2 of them: Portland and Hawaii).

OUT LOUD, a storytelling and public speaking class (3 of them: LA, NYC, and Portland).

YOU’RE GOING TO SURVIVE (my new book, which gets released on November 1, 2017… aaaahhh!!!).

– Coaching / consulting services for people who want to start a blog or podcast, write a book, or finish some other type of creative project (I didn’t announce this publicly — it was more of a “secret beta-test”).

– Free stuff — like my newsletter, articles, workbooks, videos, and other materials. I love doing these kinds of free, no-cost projects because I want to provide encouragement and inspiration to as many people as I possibly can. Because I want to be a daymaker and a lighthouse. Because it’s fun. Because it feels good. And because (in direct and indirect ways) it leads to sign ups, sales, and client bookings. Everything is marketing, you know?

When I’m not sure about something.

When I feel indecisive about something, I know it’s time to step away from my computer — away from the noise and congestion of the Internet.

I’ll take a long walk. Or a spinning class. Or a yoga class. Or I’ll wander through the park and ask myself questions like:

“Does this sound fun? Does this feel energizing or exhausting to think about? Does this offering feel unnecessarily complicated? How could I make it simpler? Do I truly want to offer this? Do I have time to do this, or would I be over-committing myself?”

Sometimes, I need to ask myself,

“What’s something I see in the world that upsets me — and what could I create to make it better? What could I write? What could I create? What might help?”

When I ask my hut (heart + gut) these kinds of questions, I usually get a clear answer.

My hut is really smart. And so is yours.


If you enjoyed this piece, you might also enjoy: How I decide what to charge, How to choose your purpose, A 75-word business plan, 10 slow and difficult steps to moderate success, 10 questions for mid-year reflection (or any time of year), Is it possible to run a business without using social media? and You can make excuses or you can make progress.