True confession: I built my online business in the most backward way possible. And I’m here to share my sordid tale (and the true meaning of minimum viable product) so you don’t make the same mistakes I did.

I want to save you from years of frustration, months of waffling, and full days of stumbling around in a fog.

If only I had this information when I started!

But it brings me some consolation to know that you’ll have it. That you won’t need to experience the painful process of birthing your online business ideas quite the same way I did.

Let’s start with what not to do.

Overachievers Anonymous, our meeting has begun

Back in late 2009, I signed up for Copyblogger’s Teaching Sells course.

I had been running my design and marketing firm for almost 20 years. I was longing for a change of pace and a new challenge.

And creating an online business based on the expertise I’d built up for decades seemed like a great idea.

So I dug into the full Teaching Sells course with the hunger of someone who needed to know everything. And it delivered everything I needed, and more.

I took many pages of notes, bounced ideas off of other students in the forum, and tuned in to the Q&A sessions.

I was inspired.

And I decided, in all my overachieving glory, that I needed to build something similar to what I was experiencing in Teaching Sells.

I wanted to create an Interactive Learning Environment to teach my area of expertise: building a brand with the combination of good design and strategic marketing decisions.

And that was my first mistake. I bit off way more than I could (or should) chew.

Digital Commerce Partners

Meaning of minimum viable product: test an idea first

You see, it turns out that it’s not a good idea to build an elaborate, complex, extremely thorough membership site around a topic you haven’t actually tested.

Stop laughing. I know this is obvious! At least, now I do.

But at the time, my overachieving tendencies took over, and I found myself pouring my years of experience into 20 lessons, complete with text, audio, video, printable PDFs, and a forum.

All without knowing for sure that people would be interested.

Technology was not my friend

It turns out that the worst part of the process was getting the damn thing to work. The membership software available at the time was … um … clunky.

I’m being diplomatic here.

It was terrible. Extremely difficult to figure out. Little-to-no online help. Time consuming to set up.

And that was only part of the problem.

In order to get my site to work, I had to not only learn to use this clunky membership software, I had to pay for and figure out how to use shopping cart software.

Then I had to get the two pieces of software to communicate with one another so when people signed up and paid, they’d be added to the membership site automatically.

For someone who’s not a developer, this was a daunting task.

And remember, I didn’t know the meaning of minimum viable product yet … this is all before testing to be sure this idea was going to fly!

You’re seeing the depths of my self-deception now, aren’t you?

Thankfully, it wasn’t fatal

I finally launched my program five months after conceiving it. I had a few lessons ready to go. As my members went through the material, I kept ahead of them, creating new lessons before they were ready to consume them.

And it wasn’t a complete failure.

Some wonderful people joined, and we had lively discussions both in the forum and on my monthly webinars.

But boy, it was a lot of work.

The most important thing I got from creating my membership site was a life lesson.

And thankfully, the life lesson I had to learn the hard way is now part of the way Copyblogger guides people through building a business around their expertise and passion.

What does Minimum Viable Product mean?

Copyblogger Academy features the Minimum Viable Product approach to building an online business and selling your expertise.

The MVP approach espouses a few important ideas:

  • Before you create a large product, test your idea with a smaller product
  • Deliver real value in a lower cost and easy-to-create format
  • Focus on gathering information, not on earning millions

This agile approach is a much better way to build an online business, because before pouring time and effort into an untested idea, you’re getting solid information about what will work (and what won’t).

That means you can move forward with confidence that you’ve got an idea worth investing in … before you invest in it.

Embrace the true meaning of minimum viable product

Are you an overachiever? It’s time to embrace the minimum viable product.

Minimum viable products come in lots of forms. And they’re the perfect antidote to the “I-have-to-create-the-most-epic-version-of-this-product-idea-ever” syndrome that afflicts a lot of us overachievers.

They can be as simple as:

  • A tutorial video and a downloadable worksheet
  • An ebook with an audio recording
  • A quick-start guide
  • One-on-one coaching sessions (these are especially easy to put together)
  • Access to a weekly teleclass with you, which includes a Q&A session

They’re fast and easy to put together, and they allow you to offer value in exchange for market research.

Your buyers give you feedback, and you use that feedback to create your high value, time-intensive product.

My online business was built backwards. I started by creating a frustrating, time-intensive online membership site without knowing for sure it would work.

Since then, I’ve embraced the true meaning of minimum viable product. It’s a less painful way to develop new ideas.

And it’s fun! You go from idea to finished product quickly — getting helpful feedback right away.

If you’re interested in learning more about time-tested strategies that make you a more successful content entrepreneur, sign up to stay in touch with Copyblogger via email.


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