Entrepreneurship Marketing Prices & Rates Sales Uncategorized

How to Sell Small Informational Products

If you’re looking to get your feet wet as an entrepreneur— or even just looking for a way to reinvigorate and boost your marketing— nothing beats a well-made small informational product. Whether it’s literally “sold” (as in for profit) or simply offered as a freemium or low-cost bonus to your audience, the small info product is easy to produce, easy to deliver, and easily one of the best returns on investment a small business can make.

Small informational products can take any number of forms. The most common are infographics, short e-books, and videos. Whatever the medium, anything that condenses and delivers valuable knowledge is hard for customers to pass up— especially when it costs them little or nothing. By giving your audience access to these kinds of products, you’re accomplishing two things: adding to your own credibility, and honing your sales skills.

Easy Delivery

Fortunately for online entrepreneurs everywhere, there are a number of services that make moving your small informational product a snap. The following is not sponsored content, folks; these are simply the best ways to get your product out to the public quickly and efficiently.

Gumroad is one of the best ways to offer this kind of product. This service isn’t about high volume or massive numbers. It’s a simple, beginner-minded website that allows anyone to post and sell quality content with zero hassle. It’s easy to embed the technology onto your own website (though if you want, you can have someone on do it for you). Gumroad not only handles the transaction, but actually delivers the product itself to your customer through a simple download page.

Using the Gumroad embed code, you can actually keep customers on your website rather than send them on to any third party’s, including Gumroad’s. Whether or not you prefer to keep the transaction on your site, Gumroad takes a 5% transaction fee. From my perspective, this is well worth it. The ability to forget about the transaction and delivery process is invaluable in the early phases of learning how to sell. Gumroad simply takes care of everything so that you can focus on your next product.

Pricing The Product

With small informational products, the purpose is less to make profits and more to provide proof of concept. If you can sell small, you can eventually sell big. If your expertise is valuable enough to gain traction, the small product will act as a stepping stone to greater things. Keep this in mind when choosing your product’s price point.

When deciding how much (if anything) to charge, aim low! When in doubt, simply make it a steal. Make it an undeniable bargain for anyone interested in your industry. The return on investment isn’t supposed to come through profit— it will come in the form of established credibility and sales experience. It will come in the form of an audience, grateful for whatever problem of theirs your product has solved.

Gumroad even features a “name your price” tool for customers to decide exactly how much they’re willing to pay for your product, with a minimum price set by you (Gumroad takes no fee on free products). To offer free videos, use Wistia, which features an option that requires customers to submit their email after the first minute or two of the video. Build your subscription list— and your reputation— by enticing your audience.

The No-Pressure Product

When it comes to small informational products, it’s safe (and effective) to simply have fun. Don’t sweat the minor details or the minute features of your product. Whether it’s an infographic, e-book, or video, don’t aim for perfection. Each unnecessary improvement can only delay the launch and increase your overhead. Insisting on waiting until you have the “ultimate” version of the product defeats the purpose: to engage in the act of monetizing your knowledge.

The small informational product should be the epitome of the MVP, or Minimum Viable Product. It shouldn’t cost much time or money to produce, and it shouldn’t require too much effort to bring to the public. We’re not advocating laziness or carelessness— it’s simply a matter of understanding that the act of selling your expertise is the true value of the exercise. Improvements and innovations will come as you gain experience.

Be creative. Be willing to experiment. Be yourself. Create a minimum viable product, and teach yourself how to bring customers around to your real value as an expert. With practice, selling small can lead to very big things.

Entrepreneurship Leadership Marketing Uncategorized

The 10 Causes of Online Business Failure (Part II)

Welcome back to our breakdown of the profit-killingest, motivation-destroyingest, dream-crushingest causes of online business failure. If you haven’t, read Part I of our top 10 list before continuing here. If you have, get ready: these last 5 are the ultimate doozies, the things that shatter more would-be successes than anything else. I’ve seen them all done. I’ve done a few myself. By being aware of them, you can choose not to.

  1. Lack of Fundamentals

Yes, entrepreneurs come from all kinds of educational backgrounds, including little formal education at all. However, trying to run a business without the basic skills necessary is a fool’s errand. No one is born with the fundamental knowledge and abilities that are prerequisite to success. At some point, you’ve got to learn what you’re doing.

Salesmanship, marketing, content production, SEO, scheduling, budgeting…the list goes on. No, you don’t have to learn them all at once. No, it doesn’t require formal business training. Yes, you can learn much of it as you go along— but learn it you must, and sooner rather than later. Good business is the result of a skill set, not just the inevitable outcome of a great product idea. It takes a leader, and one who knows what they’re doing.

  1. Lack of a Business Plan

That is to say, a specific, written proposal as to how you plan to profit. This plan doesn’t need to include all the details— a page will suffice— and it can be subject to change based on realities in the field. But there has to be a well-thought out mission based on a plausible approach. It has to include who you intend to serve, and how you can serve them in ways others can’t. It has to include a path to viability and profitability. And it has to be brought out from inside your head into the real world.

Download our website’s super-easy one-page business plan template at It’s free, it’s simple, and it can show you how to think about your overall goals and long-term strategy. Without that context, you’re steering blind into whatever happens. Instead, aim true for what you want to happen.

  1. Lack of Personal Visibility

It’s the 21st century. Consumers today don’t shop blindly. They want to know where their products come from, how they’re made, and what else their money is supporting. More importantly, they want to know from whom the products come. They want to know you. Not letting them suggests you have something to hide.

It’s a reality of modern business in a hyper-connected, socially engaged marketplace. If you’re not comfortable being transparent and open, get out of the game now. It’s crucial to not only cultivate your brand, but to stand in front of it as a living, breathing person. Your marketing depends on your ability to be a relatable human capable of earning customer trust. Get comfortable on camera. Study public speaking. Learn how to express yourself. Whatever happens, don’t be shy.

  1. Doing it All On Your Own

A common misconception is that independence means being free from the input of others. In business especially, nothing could be farther from the truth. Being independent doesn’t mean being free from the support of (or even obligations to) other people in the industry. It simply means you get to engage on your own terms.

You can’t know everything, or have all the skills. If you’re a great content writer, you’re probably not also a tech expert and marketing whiz. It’s important to take advantage of the skills of others, to network and cultivate relationships that will strengthen your business. It doesn’t have to mean hiring actual employees; it could simply mean attending Masterminds or generally learning from your peers. But no one does business in a vacuum.

We all need a community, and we should all contribute to one. The only alternative is to get overwhelmed, frustrated, and burnt out from carrying too heavy a load.

  1. Comparison

This is it. The single worst poison that can infect the mind of an entrepreneur. Nothing destroys motivation, builds frustration, or takes the joy out of independent business like yoking your idea of success to other people’s performance. And without the joy, no one can sustain the effort it takes to succeed.

Your business can only ever be your business. Your goals can only ever be set by you. Comparing stats with other businesses will tell you absolutely nothing useful, even if it’s your direct competition. That’s because in independent business, you’re not trying to beat the competition. You’re trying to solve people’s problems in a unique way that only you can deliver. You’re trying to create a scenario where ultimately, there is no competition.

You’re seeking your own niche market, your own approach, your own goals and sub-goals. No one else is running in this race. You will never be able to achieve someone else’s personal best any more than they can achieve yours. Be the best at what you do. That’s you, and you alone.

Take this list and keep it in mind as you move forward with your business goals. Be aware of these 10 pitfalls, and know that we’re all susceptible to them. Invert them; make each potential killer a reversed reflection of your approach. Commit fully. Plan ahead. Take consistent action. Use social media only with specific marketing intent. Have the sense to learn the skills you need, and the courage to ask others for help. Be visible and real. Be yourself, and stay true to the vision that you create.

Do all of this, and your business can be one of the ones that makes it.

Entrepreneurship Leadership Marketing Uncategorized

The 10 Causes Of Online Business Failure (Part I)

There’s never been a better time to be an online entrepreneur. If you’re like many, many millions of people, you’re considering starting your own business because the Internet has made it possible. The problem? Standing out from among those other millions, and succeeding where (statistically) most of them will fail.

That’s not meant to be pessimistic. A recent Huffington Post study claims that up to 90% of online businesses fail within the first four months! That number is no joke, but it shouldn’t discourage you— it should focus you. If you’re going to do this, you’ve just got to give yourself every advantage possible. And that means avoiding some very common, very avoidable mistakes that take down the vast majority of amateur business people.

Fortunately, we here at The $100 MBA have seen quite a few businesses succeed and fail. Heck, I’ve even made some of these mistakes myself in previous business ventures that— obviously— didn’t work out. So let our experience be your guide. Here are the first 5 of the 10 most common online biz-kills:

  1. Lack of Commitment

This may be the most common of all. Innumerable business die before they’re even born, because the person behind it never moves past the planning phase. It’s not laziness, and it’s not even necessarily inexperience. It’s a refusal to accept the scary reality of unpredictability.

The problem is that too often, would-be entrepreneurs try to create— or wait for— the perfect conditions. They try to get the idea perfect, or the marketing scheme perfect, or the financial situation perfect. But it never is. The reality is that starting a business requires working with what you have, making moves, taking risks, improvising, and yes, accepting the possibility of failure.

You can’t failure-proof any business. There will be risk no matter what. No one can set their venture up to guarantee success. While the idea phase and the “talking” phase are certainly comfortable, they’re not going to turn any profits. At some point, you’ve got to move.

  1. Lack of Planning

Conversely, while some entrepreneurs never stop planning, some don’t do enough! While over planning is a one-way ticket to nowhere, under planning wastes just as many good ideas. Again, the goal is not to create the ideal conditions for success. Mainly, it comes down to dedicating the right amount of time.

That’s it. Time. Too many overconfident entrepreneurs think that they can tackle their responsibilities whenever, in their spare time. They aren’t specific in dedicating the spaces on their calendar to meeting their business goals. In fact, they aren’t making specific business goals. Launch dates, content production, meetings: these things need to be scheduled.

Think of it like exercise. If you want to get in shape, you can’t just work out “whenever.” You have to consciously put aside a given number of hours in the week, working each time towards specific sub-goals that add up to an overall result. Business is the same. You don’t have to know everything, but you have to know what you’re trying to do— and more importantly, when you’re trying to do it.

  1. Lack of Action

This problem, like #9, also comes down to the one component no business can survive without: consistency. While entrepreneurs in the early stages have all the manic energy of the honeymoon phase, a flurry of activity quickly dies down to a trickle, then to nothing. Sooner or later, an un-updated website is taking up cyberspace and receding into memory.

Again, scheduling is key. Setting aside time to regularly accomplish specific tasks creates the consistent, steady momentum business really thrives on. Resist the early urge to pour all of your efforts into the business every spare moment, leaving nothing for later. Parcel out your enthusiasm in a thoughtful way, so that you’re still getting things done 4, 6, and 12 months later. As an entrepreneur, you have freedom. You’ve also got to have discipline.

  1. Over Reliance on Social Media

Too many people think that social media is some kind of magic shortcut to notoriety and success. They think that if they can just get the Twitter followers, the Facebook friends, or get their content to go “viral,” they’re in the money. It just doesn’t work that way. Even the most wildly successful social media campaigns have serious forethought behind them, and the businesses in question don’t just do business on these platforms.

The key to marketing success— even on social media— lies in creating and producing quality content from your own website. You must have your own headquarters, your own “storefront” in cyberspace. Your business has to be centered on a home base that you control, not Facebook. Create awareness on social media, engage in social media. But be aware of its limitations, and always make your own website the fount of value for your audience.

  1. Not Targeting an Audience

This point is absolutely crucial for small business— the key word being “small.” As entrepreneurs, we’re not Wal-Mart. We’re not Apple. Our job is not to appeal to the masses and try to win the lowest common denominator. Mostly because we can’t; that requires resources independent businesses don’t have. But also because it’s contrary to the goal of any great independent business: solving specific problems for a specific audience.

Don’t try to cast your net too wide. Take the skill and expertise you have, and use it to address the needs of a small group that only you can serve. What you eschew in quantity of customers, you gain in loyalty of customers. Go for the niche, and the niche will reward you. Not to mention the fact that even a small niche can grow into a significant following if you’re later willing to branch out. Develop a strong, personal connection with a targeted audience, and your devotion to it will sustain real success. Otherwise, you’re just shouting into an unimaginably large crowd.

These are the obstacles that plague online business. They’re not the reasons you can’t succeed. They’re the things you’ll succeed despite, as long as you’re aware of them. Keep them in mind. Maybe even keep them written and displayed somewhere as you begin your journey. Check back for Part II of this list, and the final five pitfalls to avoid.

Entrepreneurship Marketing Uncategorized

Busting The Myth Of Fast Money

I get quite a few emails (and see quite a few ads) about a very tempting prospect: making a lot of money online very quickly. We’re talking tens or hundreds of thousands, even a million or two, in a matter of weeks. The idea holds that the right product, unleashed on an Internet filled with potential customers, can’t help but find its market. With no need for traditional advertising and so few barriers left between citizens of a shrinking world, all you need is the product and a little know-how.

Sounds good, even plausible. The Internet has changed everything. It has made it easier than it’s ever been for the average person to take their shot at entrepreneurship. It has brought potential customers within reach of…anyone, really. The right idea should be able to sell itself, right? But there’s one key factor missing from this viewpoint. There’s one thing that anyone with real business experience— especially online— has to point out.

The product is never enough.

Examining the Claim

As often as I’m asked if it’s really possible to rake in the dough so quickly, it still surprises me. We all know what they say about things that sound too good to be true. But again, we live in a new economy where new things are possible. The temptation to believe in fast money actually makes more sense today than it used to.

Unfortunately for anyone hoping to get rich quick, even the Internet can’t change certain core business principles. Chief among them is that no product, no matter how great, is self-promoting. If business really worked based entirely on the merits of the products, there would be no such thing as advertising or marketing. Billions upon billions of dollars wouldn’t be spent annually to convince people to buy things. The fundamental truth of business is that people sell things to other people, no matter how good or bad those things are.

I have literally never seen anyone make fast money firsthand. I have never seen a product launched into an unsuspecting market and suddenly been jumped on by thousands or millions of customers based on its sheer awesomeness. I have seen brilliant products created by brilliant people, but I have never seen a single one of them sell themselves.

That’s because no matter how brilliant yourself or your product may be, you not only need people to sell it, you need people to sell to. I have seen the appearance of fast money. I’ve seen product launches that blew the doors off expectations and raked in profits with astonishing speed. But those success stories weren’t the result of timing or luck or even the quality of the product. They were the culmination of years worth of effort. No matter how sudden the breakthroughs may have seemed, they were the end result of a long-term strategy.

The Reality Behind Fast Money

The real key to what looks like “quick” success is a long, patient struggle to find and build an audience. Dedication to developing your brand, establishing your authority, and proving yourself to be someone who can solve problems is the only way to create the conditions in which your “sudden” success can happen. It’s about giving to your audience, giving generously and consistently, until you’ve built enough trust to fuel an explosive product launch.

For a perfect example of what looks like instant success but really reflects the long game, look to John Lee Dumas of eofire. To help launch his Freedom Journal project, he started a Kickstarter campaign. Boosting a product this way isn’t unheard of, but the reaction Dumas got was astonishing even to industry insiders. The campaign raised $453,000 from 7,000 backers in a matter of weeks.

Now, the product is truly great. However, that’s not what led to those jaw-dropping numbers. The simple fact of the matter is that Dumas, through his podcasting, his appearances on other podcasts, his blogging, and all the million little gifts he gave to his audience every day was able to build a following. He didn’t do that in a matter of weeks. He did it over years of dedicated content marketing. He gave and he gave to his audience, and when the time came to ask for something back, they responded in kind.

Your “Fast” Money

If you’re looking to get rich, or wealthy, or even just self-sufficient through entrepreneurship, you can. But you won’t do it quickly. Start with realistic expectations and attainable goals. Create milestones to reach, and once you reach them, create new ones. Start small. Make $10 by providing something valuable. Then make $100. Then make $1000. And as you keep pushing towards that next subgoal, give. Provide your growing audience with what they need to get some wins. Solve problems. Provide value. Build trust, authority and gratitude.

Don’t try to be the person who came up with the game-changing idea and watched the millions roll in. That person doesn’t exist. Brilliant ideas do exist; you may even have one. But no idea becomes a fortune without the patient work of making yourself known to a wide and loyal audience.

Get started now. Demonstrate your value by creating content. Establish a publishing schedule. Start giving people what they need in order to trust you. Get that momentum going. Down the road, you’ll know where your “instant” success really came from.

Entrepreneurship Marketing Sales Uncategorized

3 Small Products Any Entrepreneur Can Produce

Here at The $100 MBA, we’ve said a lot about the MVP, or Minimum Viable Product. So many would-be entrepreneurs (we believe) obsess over creating the ideal, perfect product and refuse to actually take action until they can do so. Meanwhile, business moves on! Products are being made, sold, and refined by business people who aren’t afraid to make their move, even if the product isn’t “perfect”…yet.

To get your independent business career started— or just to give it a boost— few options are better than a simple, small informational product. Something that demonstrates your passion and expertise, that solves a problem customers have, and that is easily, cheaply produced and distributed. It’s the best way to make your mark in the market at minimal financial risk to yourself. It’s also a stepping stone to bigger success.

It’s not about inventing the iPhone. It’s about getting your feet wet and showing an audience what you’ve got. It’s about testing the waters, building your following, and establishing your brand. It doesn’t even have to be sold; it can be a freemium or part of a content marketing strategy. The point is to give the crowd a taste of your expertise.


Producing a great infographic is a fantastic way to establish credibility with a grateful audience. They’re direct, simple, and customers love them. Creating a little “cheat sheet” on a given topic empowers customers to solve their problem with an easy reference. They won’t forget that when it’s time to consider learning more— and paying more to learn it.

The key to a great infographic (or any small product) is to be as specific as possible. It should address one relatively minor issue thoroughly and in a way that’s easy to understand. For example, our software company, WebinarNinja, could offer a simple checklist for new hosts: check the camera angle, adjust the lighting, etc. The point is that offering an easy reference makes customers feel more comfortable and empowered, which encourages trust.

All it takes is a little brainstorming. Outline the problem to be solved and the information needed to solve it. Then, either create your own infographic or outsource it to a graphics person (good ones can be found on and One simple hack for creating nice infographics is to use PowerPoint, Keynote or Google Slides. By entering the information onto one “slide” and saving it as a PDF, you can create the perfect infographic.


Unlike regular books, e-books don’t have a length requirement. They can be as short as 10 to 30 pages— easily written and easily downloaded. Write the content down in any word program, then transfer to PowerPoint and add the “cover” and any illustrations. Save as a PDF, and you’ve got a marketable product.

E-books are more detailed than infographics, but not much more work to produce. By outlining the information and writing the “book” one small section at a time, it’s no more challenging than writing an academic report. Best of all, there are basically zero publishing costs. With as little as a dozen hours work, you can produce a downloadable reference that customers will love.

Video Products

Short video tutorials are an excellent way to convey information and— more importantly— flex your expertise muscles for an audience. They don’t require a lot of knowledge or equipment to produce; any smartphone or laptop camera will work. They don’t need to be very long, either. One 10 minute video or a short series of 3 to 5 minute videos will do nicely.

The trick is to plan them out. Outline and/or storyboard your video, and rehearse it before filming the final version. Use a quality microphone like the ATR 2100, which plugs right into any USB port, then simply shoot and edit on one of any number of editing softwares available. Be sure to make the final edit tight, especially at the beginning and end. Upload to Wistia, Vimeo, or YouTube.

Creating a great small informational product isn’t about making massive profits or skyrocketing to fame. It’s about putting something out there as an example of how your knowledge can be valuable to others. It’s the beginning of a new relationship between yourself and your audience, and proving that you’re worth listening to.

It shouldn’t be too difficult. It should be fun. It should be a way of expressing yourself with minimal overhead and zero complications. It’s the essence of starting small. Don’t wait around for the “perfect” product idea or a massive infusion of capital. Get started right now, with a true Minimum Viable Product, and build from there.

Entrepreneurship Leadership Uncategorized

The “Why” Behind Your Business

There are so many variables to address when starting a business. Idea validation, overhead estimates, revenue estimates, your marketing scheme; the list goes on. But there’s one critical factor that gets overlooked far too often. Just as important as any other consideration is the answer to one question: why are you building this business at all?

That’s not a rhetorical question. It’s a question that needs a clearly defined answer, because that answer is the foundation of your business. It’s the key to its possible success— not because answering it “correctly” will make your business succeed, but because the answer is your definition of success. Without that definition, you lack an overall goal. Not knowing what you’re aiming for is the easiest way to miss.

Motivation Matters

All things being equal, no one is more successful than someone who knows why they’re doing something. This is true for everyone from athletes to politicians to business people. In business, the motivation may seem obvious: profit. But there has to be more to it than just that, even if it’s only to define how much profit and what, exactly, all that profit is for.

Before you make the huge commitment that the entrepreneur’s lifestyle requires, explore your motivations. To define success in a way that’s personal to yourself is what will give you the edge. It’s what will allow you to push forward when the well-paid but poorly motivated would maintain the status quo. It’s what will move you to innovate and test your limits, even when you don’t have to.

For example, some want financial independence. In that case it’s not the money a person’s after. It’s the ability to put their conventional job behind them. Some want to take care of a struggling family, or provide their children with an education. Some just like to compete. For alpha-types, the amount of money doesn’t matter as long as it’s more money than their competitors make! The point is that there’s a “why” beyond the profit.  

For some, the goals are even less tangible. Some entrepreneurs mostly seek recognition. The satisfaction of being a trendsetter or thought leader is worth just as much to them as their earnings. Some seek validation, the sense that their audience proves their worth in the industry. Some work on sheer principle, with a genuine wish to change an industry for the better, angry at the thought of customers being underserved or competitors profiting from sub-par products. These people have a “why” that’s more potent than any promise of revenue.

The Right Biz For Your “Why”

It’s important to not only start with a clearly defined “why,” but to periodically check in with it. You may find that your aspirations should be changed or modified. You may also find that your business—regardless of profits—is moving you further from your ultimate goal instead of closer.

For example, let’s say your hypothetical “why” is a vision of independence that would allow you to travel. Lots of entrepreneurs (especially the online kind) use the freedom of self-employment to see the world while they work. But what if you’re working so much that you don’t have time to travel? You may be making money, and business may be booming, but if your passport doesn’t have any new stamps you’re not succeeding!

Alternately, say you’re writing books. These books are informative, helpful, and well-received by a grateful audience, but they’re not making a lot of money. Books usually don’t! While writing books can be a great marketing tool, it’s not usually that profitable. If a certain level of financial success is your “why,” it’s not going well. Perhaps what you really enjoy—what you really want—is recognition, to be influential in your subject area. Maybe it’s time to realign your “why” with the reality of your work.  

Soul Search

Tony Robbins likes to say that different people have different values. That’s not a moral judgment. It’s meant literally; we each find value in different things. Some value security. Some prize family or spontaneity or influence. What’s your own priority? Do you value freedom more, or stability? Fame or craft? Money or recognition?

Only you can answer these questions, but answer them you must. You’ve got to discover your “why,” and it has to go beyond the obvious profit motive. Yes, we all want to make money. But some of us make far less than we actually could, because we make enough to get what we value. Some people make far more than they could ever use, simply because they value competitiveness.

If you want to travel frequently, you can do so on a relatively modest salary. If you want to provide for a family, you can do it without becoming a mogul. If you want to educate people or change the way a certain service works, or simply kiss your corporate job goodbye, you can. You simply have to ask yourself what it would cost, and then make that much!

Put this principle into practice with a simple exercise. Sit down with a piece of paper (or word doc), and ask yourself what success would look like to you. What is winning? Where exactly would you be if you “made it”? Write it down. Be ruthless in your honesty, even if it means reevaluating your approach to your business. Every so often, repeat this exercise to make sure that your business is taking you where you really want to go.

There are no wrong answers. No one’s values are more valuable than anyone else’s. It’s ok to want money, if you know how much and what you want to spend it on. It’s ok to want to have an impact, to be known for changing the way something works. It’s ok to just want to live near the beach. Whatever it is, have the courage to define it before you chase it down.

The boxing biopic Cinderella Man tells the true story of a mediocre fighter who is only able to keep his children fed during the Great Depression by becoming a champion. Asked by a reporter how he so drastically improved his fighting record, the protagonist explains that he started winning once he knew what he was fighting for. Asked what that was, he replied simply, “milk.”

Work hard, and you’ll move forward. Know why you’re working hard, and you’ll be unstoppable.

Design Entrepreneurship Marketing Uncategorized

Customer Onboarding: The Basics

Customer Onboarding: it’s a concept every entrepreneur needs to wrap their head around, but that too few understand. It represents a crucial element in the long-term success of your business, doing what neither marketing—nor even the strength of your product—can do. It’s how you keep the customers you earn. It’s how you guarantee that those customers get what they paid for. It’s how you keep them coming back for more.

Put simply, onboarding is how you create the experience your customer has immediately following their purchase. Whether it’s an online or offline business, a soft or hard product, a membership service or priced per item, it’s a must. What happens after your customer pays can’t just happen. It’s something you should plan conscientiously. It’s your chance to make your customers, customers for life.

Why Onboarding Matters

Onboarding is where your customers form their first impression as customers. As first impressions go, this one’s really important. It’s as important as—if not more than—the first impressions your marketing made on them as potential customers. This is the stage at which they can feel one of two ways: like you’ve gotten their money and moved on, or like you’re every bit the reliable, genuine problem-solver they’re paying you to be.

For the customer, it solidifies their relationship to your business and product. For you, the benefits of good onboarding are myriad. A quality onboarding system can:

  • Reduce the need for refunds. Surprisingly, many refunds aren’t the result of the product being defective or the customer being misled. Often, customers are dissatisfied simply because they don’t know how to use the product. They haven’t been guided in its best use, or how to get the most out of it.Even the most seemingly self-explanatory product should come with some basic guidance. sells razors, which at first seem like the kind of tools that don’t need instructions. However, Harry’s makes sure that each customer gets the guidance they need in order for the system to work for them.Other refunds happen because the customer never used the product at all! Sometimes, without the right encouragement, customers put the product aside for later…and later never comes. Unopened (literally or figuratively) merchandise loses the appeal it had on the day of purchase. Next thing you know, they’re un-buying it.
  • Reduce churn. For membership services, slowing the churn is always a top priority. How can you keep your members coming back month after month or year after year? Onboarding goes a long way towards this. By getting your new members started right away, you can create the habits that build the momentum of their dependence on your product.
  • Create more effective word of mouth. If your customers use your product right away, and they get what we call a “win” (a substantive result that addresses the need they’ve come to you for), they will be excited. They will share that excitement. That excitement will spread, and that excitement will bring you new customers to onboard.On the other hand, customers who don’t get a reasonably quick, concrete benefit from your product won’t be likely to sing its praises.
  • Reduce misconceptions about your product. Of course, bad word of mouth happens too—and it’s not always deserved. Customers who haven’t been guided to the best possible experience may have a bad one. They can get frustrated, and they can share that frustration. That’s not good.
  • Help with branding. A great onboarding experience makes customers feel connected and cared for. That in turn makes them see your business as something personal, relatable and un-corporate. These days it seems like every business—especially the massive über-corporate ones—are trying to appeal to people’s desire for the genuine and organic. If your actions show your business approach to be genuinely accessible and caring, you achieve better branding than McDonald’s could ever buy with all their ads for “artisanal” chicken nuggets.
  • Add perceived value. People seek out guidance on how to best use the products they already own. People even pay for it. By giving your customers more than just the product, you tilt the exchange further in their favor. When the business—not just the product—is there for the customer, it seems like money better spent.
  • Reduce the need for support services. Again, too many customers get frustrated with products they don’t know how to use properly. By engaging with customers right away through tutorials and walking them through their first use or two, you make them less likely to need help later. That makes them happier, and lowers your costs.

The 2 Kinds of Onboarding

There are countless examples of onboarding systems out there, some better than others. Almost every business follows an online order with an immediate follow-up email that includes a thank you, a receipt, and some kind of access password if applicable. Unfortunately, that’s where many businesses stop.

To fully engage customers in the onboarding process, you’ll want to go further. There are two main kinds of onboarding, and while one is more directly powerful than the other, it’s a good idea to use both.

In-product onboarding is exactly what it sounds like. The onboarding system comes with the product, so the customer is using it from the second they “open the box,” so to speak. On a physical product, it’s generally written instructions inside the literal box or on the product somewhere. For software and online products, it can be even more direct: popup windows that prompt customers through each step of the user process or a guided “tour” of the program.

For example, our software company WebinarNinja features an onboarding system that helps the customer create their first webinar. We recognize that if we don’t get the customer to complete their first webinar as soon as possible, we might lose them. We can’t let them get away without feeling what it’s like to accomplish this. Our goal is for them to come out with that first win.

External onboarding is everything outside the product. This includes the first follow-up emails, separate tutorial pages, support agents, forums and even how-to blogs. The difference is that the customer has to elect to seek these out; theoretically they could use the product without them—not that you’d want them to.

There are dozens of onboarding features to choose from when designing your own system. Before you decide what your customer’s experience should look like, ask yourself these three questions:

  • What should the customer accomplish? Between the moment they pay and the moment the onboarding is complete, what should your customer be working toward? For Webinar Ninja, we want the onboarding result to be a completed webinar. For a book, it may be getting the first chapter read. For a course, it may be completing the introductory lesson. Whatever it is, define that concrete goal and tailor your onboarding to its completion.
  • What “onboarding” strategies are you currently using? Even those who’ve never heard the term are doing something to follow up on a purchase. It may be inadequate, but we’ve all gotta start somewhere! What do your customers get after they pay? An email? A receipt? A handshake? Establish what you have, and build on that.
  • What’s your refund rate? What percentage of your customers are satisfied? How many are choosing to give your product back? See if you can find out why. You may be surprised to learn that it’s not a problem with your product, or with them. It may just be that there’s too wide of a gap between the purchase and the result they’re looking for.

Simple Onboarding

How much effort and money you can devote to onboarding will depend on the particulars of your own business. Fortunately there are many low-cost, relatively easy onboarding features that anyone can employ. Beyond that, there are some more pricey services designed to truly perfect your onboarding. If it’s possible, they’re worth considering too.

The first easy, simple onboarding strategy is to make sure you’ve got a functional onboarding page. Your customers should be directed there the second the sale is closed. For example, on the $100 MBA, the first customer payment automatically brings up a gif of myself and my partner Nicole. Underneath is a “Get Started” button. That button takes the customer to a short video of the two of us welcoming the customer, thanking them for their business, and offering some words of inspiration.

From the video, we encourage the customer to click the “orientation” button directly underneath (literally pointing at it from within the embedded screen). We do everything we can from the second payment is accepted to get them to click that button. That’s because that button starts the first lesson. Finishing that lesson is an accomplishment. Once it’s done, the customer is truly ours. If they don’t want to continue with our service after that, it’s not for lack of information.

The key is to create a controlled environment. Simply accepting payment and leaving the actual use up to the customer just leaves too many openings. The less guidance they have, the more chances they’ll have to get lost. Onboarding is like a cattle chute, except instead of leading steer to slaughter, you’re leading customers to a full commitment. Don’t leave it up to them to find what they need. Show them. Make it easy for them now, and they’ll be around later.

Yes, your customers are probably capable of figuring your product out, but if you relieve them of that chore, you can get the momentum going immediately.

Even for a physical product, try to excite the customer about its potential use. Even something as simple and self-explanatory as a t-shirt should come with guidance—what to wear it with, care instructions, whatever. As long as you start moving them towards the goal the product represents (even if it’s just having something to wear with jeans), you’re onboarding.

On the external side, set up automatic emails and schedule them for delivery upon purchase. While in-product onboarding is crucial, every bit helps. Go beyond a simple thank you and receipt. Offer tutorials and complementary products. Use the emails to forge a deeper bond, and the customer will be more enthusiastic about their purchase.

Advanced Onboarding

If you’ve got the capital, it’s possible to go beyond DIY onboarding. There are several services out there who specialize in the post-sale customer experience. They can help you analyze and perfect your onboarding and ensure maximum customer retention. Note: none of the following services are sponsors of the $100 MBA. is an onboarding service that we use for Webinar Ninja. It allows us to create the pop-up tools and tips that make the initial user experience so much more seamless and enjoyable than it would otherwise be. For complex, multi-faceted software products with multiple features, it’s an excellent tool. Best of all, it doesn’t require the business to write a single line of code. Of course, it comes at a cost: $99 per month for a thousand unique visitors. It’s not cheap, but we’ve found it to be worth the cost. provides an advanced study of the customer experience, right up to and including video of their reactions to your product, for $49/month. Hotjar is an analytics service that offers detailed breakdowns of customer activity on your sites, with options ranging from free basic service to an $89 “business” level. Both of these services exist to paint a picture of your onboarding experience so that you can determine how best to improve it.

Take the time to get your onboarding right. Before you launch (or relaunch) your next product, dedicate a full day or two exclusively to your onboarding sequence. Ask yourself the questions posted in this article, and answer them honestly. Give your customer onboarding the care it deserves. Study the results, and adjust as needed.

It’s a long-term principle, so it may take time to see the broad results. Once you do, you’ll be glad you gave it the same effort you give to your product, your marketing, and the rest of your customer service.