The opening 7-part Mini-Series is entitled: Online Strategies to Change the World.
01 - What Makes a Platform?
02 - Examples of Great Platforms
03 - Creating Great Content
04 - Systems for Audience Growth
05 - Welcome Email Subscribers
06 - Basic Income Strategies
07 - Advanced Income Strategies
Welcome to Winning the Culture War with Cody Libolt.
This podcast is designed to help you become extraordinarily skilled in communication, especially if you are a Christian and a Culture Warrior. I want you to be a loud advocate of truth in whatever sphere you are able to have an impact.
If you’d like to find out more about me and what I do, I work with Christian Culture Warriors who are active in writing, video blogging, and podcasting. I help them accelerate their results both in terms of impact and income.
We’re in an opening 7-part mini-series called Online Strategies to Change the World.
Today we are looking at the topic: How do you make income with a platform?
Last time we saw that the most effective way to create income with an online platform is to grow your email list, and we looked at the seven steps to doing that. All of that is leading to our focus for today, which is how to make income. We’re beginning to look at five ways to earn income from your email list.
Once you have the system in place to grow your email list, you’ll be ready to start making income. To do that, you will need to offer some product or service. Here are five good options, roughly ordered in terms of what should be quickest to put in place:
Offer to work with people 1-on-1 as a freelancer or coach.
Offer access to exclusive, paid content via Patreon or Substack.
Offer a paid subscription to a membership site.
Offer a high-value digital course.
Offer a book.
Below, we’ll look a bit at each of these options. Keep in mind that these options are not mutually exclusive, and they can be created in any order. And there are other options outside of these. I didn’t include public speaking in this list because it’s not the quickest one to jump into.
On this list, the items are placed in a specific order. Generally, I recommend that you consider choosing one of the first two options to start with because they are quicker to implement—and in so doing you will learn skills that can be applied as you decide to implement any of the other options.
As you’re thinking through these five options for earning income, think back to the example of a typical author’s online platform. It is common for an author’s platform to be a one-man operation (or mostly so). This is a level of platform attainable to someone first building something. In such a platform you can see what kind of high quality content is doable before you have a team. You can also see a way to deliver your offer that is simple and doesn’t require a lot of planning or technical knowledge.
That said, you will also find great examples of marketing from people who teach marketing. You could look at the example of Michael Hyatt (Platform University) or Donald Miller (Storybrand) to get the inspiration of seeing how people create fast-growing companies based on writing book after book, creating premium value digital courses, and offering high level coaching and public speaking. All these aspects fit together into a system that is growing quickly. It’s exciting to see how much they succeed in doing this.
Michael Hyatt, Donald Miller, and others are teaching about practical skills, such as business leadership or marketing, and you can see many authors doing a similar kind of thing. You can probably think of Christian authors that have a similar kind of platform in place. I want you to think about those just to get an inspiration of how you could do something like that.
You may desire to reach that size of audience someday. These people (especially the marketing experts) have to have the best marketing, because they teach people marketing. But the thing that differentiates them from you at this point is mainly the amount of content that they’re putting out. You may not be able to afford to be making top notch video after video if you’re a solo person, but that’s okay.
Look at what they’re doing and ask: “Could I create just one content piece that’s really great and useful in the way that one of their content pieces was great and useful? Could I play in their league, even if it’s just some of the time?” That’s how you should be thinking as you’re just starting out.
And you should probably look at some normal level author/blogger websites that are more streamlined and simple. That will be the kind of thing you will first build as you are beginning.
With that information as background, let’s look at five ways to earn income in turn. Keep in mind that these options are not mutually exclusive, but you probably want to start with one at a time and build out from there.
Income Option #1. Offer to work with people one-on-one as a freelancer or coach.
Let’s look at the freelancing option. Typically, you would agree to do some work for someone as a freelancer in the following way: Start by talking with them on the phone and finding out what kind of help they are needing. Then tell them what it would look like to work together.
You might say:
“In order to plan the work, I’d like to charge you $100, and after that I will offer you a bid on how much it will cost to do the complete project. The bid will be between $200 total and $500 total (or $1000, or whatever it may be), and the money that we spend on the exploration stage (that original $100) will be applied to the full cost.”
You could do something like that. It’s called “paid exploration.”
If you have the ability to do a project quickly for somebody, such as creating a website, writing sales copy, editing their podcast, creating a graphic, etc, why not? You will be improving your skills and figuring out how selling works online. Later on, you can take what you learn and package it in different ways.
There’s no reason why, starting out, you wouldn’t just offer your time for money. Once you learn how to do that well, you don’t have to only offer your time anymore. You can offer an automated version of something similar by systematizing your work process and selling people that system—through a book or a course.
If you’re going to do freelance work for somebody, you don’t have to be the expert of all time. You might do some work for somebody because they don’t know how to do it themselves. Or you also might end up doing some work for somebody who could do the work better than you can, but who simply wants to hire you so they can focus on other work. Be open-minded about how you can help people.
Typically if you approach somebody to do freelancing work for them, you’re going to need to think about it this way: Do they already have a budget? And are they already making income from what they’re doing, in some way? If they’re not making income, or if you don’t see evidence that they have a budget, they’re probably not the best person for you to be approaching about your services.
Freelancing work often comes by providential situations. As you’re growing as a freelancer, you don’t need to have 1000s people on your email list to find freelancing clients. Think about the people that you already know and the people that those people know. Start asking around. Talk to people who are already doing the kinds of things that you appreciate. Talk to them about what you appreciate about their work. Develop a rapport so that it will be possible sometime soon to say, “I’d love to work with you at some point. Here’s the kind of work I do. Do you need any help?”
Be willing, if needed, to offer work “on spec.” That is: “I’ll do a free, short project for you if you would like to see the quality of my work and if it would help you. I would love it because I could get a testimonial and perhaps it would lead to something else in the future. It doesn’t have to though—there’s no pressure about that.”
Get good at saying those kinds of things—and being able to say them quickly. You’re in the early stages of your project, and you can afford to say “yes” to things just to gain the experience and find out what you like and what you’re good at.
One angle on finding freelancing work is this: If you are already a content creator, and if you are already networking with other content creators, then you likely have some skills you could offer to them. There may be an area in which you are strong and in which they would appreciate your skills.
For instance, suppose that you are a great line editor or suppose you enjoying editing audio or video. Or someone might hire you to be their guest host for a short project. Or they might hire you to be their producer or their content developer. If someone has a lot of great ideas but they need to get them into the form of an article or video or lead magnet, you could help them through that process. Perhaps you’re comfortable with basic web design or graphic design. Or perhaps you’re great on social media. If you’re already doing some work in these areas, then you are probably a good fit as a person who could do this kind of work on a contract basis for someone else.
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We’ve just been talking about the option of freelance work, and I want to suggest that coaching work is another good fit early on. Coaching and freelancing are variations on the same idea. Whereas a freelancer does the work, a coach helps the client do the work themselves.
As a coach, you might meet with your client regularly, half an hour once a week for 4, 8, or 12 weeks to get them from just starting out to accomplishing something.
To find somebody who is willing to receive your coaching is, perhaps, slightly less easy than finding somebody who needs your freelancing work, because most people have to have some level of trust in order to see you as a coach. But once your platform has some visible presence online and people are able to see that you have a good quality in your material, it is realistic that some of your readers may want your help as a coach.
It doesn’t take a lot of time to get to that point.
You might want to get this aspect of your offer started right away. Just message all the people that you know who are already doing some kind of work that is relevant to what your skills are and say, “Hey, I’m doing a new coaching program. I was wondering, would you like to see what I could help you achieve in the next four weeks?” You can send people a simple text message like that, and you will find out whether people are interested in working with you as a coach.
Think about what kind of transformation you can create for somebody in half an hour each week for four weeks. It’s only two hours of your time invested, plus a little on the margins, but in this time you can create a huge amount of value by guiding somebody through a process to do something you already know how to do. You teach them a new skill and help them pivot through a transition. It’s something they’re going to remember and use for the rest of their lives. So be excited about that as a possibility.
Coaching is about transferal of skills. It is the “teach a man to fish” paradigm. Talk about coaching in terms of that transferal. Emphasize that you will be helping the person develop lasting skills. People understand that education is highly valuable. People are willing to pay thousands upon thousands of dollars for a college education. Help your customer understand that your coaching offers something they won’t necessarily be able to get elsewhere: You’re going to help them be a different person at the end of the process than at the beginning.
As you’re speaking about your offer, focus on the transformation rather than focusing on how much time you will be giving the person and how much it costs per hour. Focus on the transformation.
How do you decide specifically what you’re going to coach people about?
Think about the skills you already have that are broadly related to the topic of your online platform. What skills could you transfer to someone else? A coach helps people who are learning a new skill or making some kind of transition and needing clarity about how to do it.
As with freelancing, you will likely set up a coaching arrangement by talking with people by phone. You can offer your email subscribers a free 20-minute clarity call. You can talk about that clarity call right within your lead magnet. During that 20 minutes on the phone you can offer the person some feedback and ask some questions to find out if the person would benefit from your coaching. If so, then you can offer someone a single paid 30-minute consultation or a package (perhaps one call per week for 4 or 8 weeks).
If you try out the coaching option and you like it, you might create a specific landing page on your site that describes your coaching program and links people to a place where they sign up and you collect payment. Gumroad or a similar shopping cart system will be helpful for that. Or you can simply collect payment through PayPal. The details are all figure-out-able. You do not need anything elaborate.
Consider Using Clarity.fm
If you’re testing the waters on offering coaching, you might consider setting up a free account at clarity.fm. Clarity is a service that creates a sales page and a payment processor for coaches. You set up something that looks like a social media profile. It shows people what you offer and what your areas of expertise are. It tells the user the cost to book a coaching session of 20 minutes or whatever amount of time, and it gives them a button to sign up and submit a payment.
There are several reasons you might want to do it this way. Clarity.fm gives coaches and customers a unique number to call for the coaching session, so you do not have to make your personal phone number available to customers. The system automatically collects payments from customers after each call, based on the actual number of minutes they were on the phone with you. This feature helps manage people’s expectations about your time, and it helps you avoid having to unnecessarily cut off someone or charge them more if the call is going a bit over the planned amount of time. Clarity.fm acts as the business manager in this way, leaving you the ability to position yourself simply as the coach, not as the one asking for the payment.
Clarity.fm doesn’t cost you anything to use. It takes a small percentage of the fee you earn from each call. You can set up an account and have a public offer in ten minutes. Consider including Clarity.fm in your overall offerings.
Why Freelancing and Coaching Help You Long Term
When you work with people one-on-one as a freelancer or a coach, you get ongoing access to valuable market-research. While freelancing and coaching may or may not be the kind of thing that you will want to continue doing a lot of in the long term, they give you the chance to work with someone who has a specific problem and to guide them to a specific solution. This is going to give you valuable expertise. You can repurpose your experiences later in the form of a book, a course, a keynote speech, or free resources you make make available online.
When you work with someone and help them achieve something (whether that’s technical skills such as building a website, or coaching them through solving a problem in a personal relationship, or teaching them leadership skills—whatever you’re offering) that is going to help you have higher value in all the material you will publish. Your experiences will build your reputation and your credibility. In that way, freelancing and coaching can fit into a bigger process as you are growing your online platform. These are pieces you might not want to skip.
Freelancing and coaching also give you a chance to learn about yourself. You’re learning what you’re good at. You’re getting to test your ideas and put them in front of people to get feedback. That will help raise the quality of everything you do.
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Income Option #2. Offer access to exclusive, paid content via Patreon or Substack
“Exclusive Content” typically refers to material you deliver only to people who sign up to make a regular monthly donation. You have a free website or YouTube channel, but it invites people to become a Patron.
Patreon is the most popular—and one of the best—services for delivering exclusive content. It has the advantage of having wide name recognition for users of YouTube. If you run a YouTube channel or a podcast, or even if you are limiting your material to written articles only, you can create a Patreon page that allows people to sign up as donors.
Most content creators on Patreon offer some special perk for their patrons. The easiest option is to send patrons exclusive material in the form of an extended podcast episode or some patron-only articles. Other options include doing a monthly Zoom chat with Patrons or delivering behind the scenes videos showing your work process.
Substack functions somewhat like Patreon, but it is specifically for writers. Setting up an account with Substack is quick and intuitive. It is a simpler process than Patreon.
Exclusive content systems like Patreon and Substack are suitable for people who are committed to regularly producing a lot of free content and who wish to be paid for that work. When designing the perks for supporters, keep things simple. Your supporters are donating to you in order to help recognize the value of the free things you’re already making available to everyone. Even a small perk for donors is sufficient to express your gratitude and to give supporters the valuable experience of being an insider.
Compared with a membership program, a book, or a high value digital course, exclusive content systems are simpler to create. If you are willing to create content consistently, then these systems are likely to become decently rewarding within a short time frame, and they have great potential for long term growth. They are also fairly stable as income sources, because the income does not revolve around doing a large launch once or twice per year.
Exclusive content systems are a chance for someone with passion to build something along with a community. You start small, and your community of supporters will see you improve over time, and they will give feedback to help you. This means you do not need your material to be perfectly polished all the time, as you would if you were launching a book or a high value digital course. And you will get valuable information about what is and is not attractive to your audience as you pay attention to how they react to various pieces of content.
The exclusive content model depends on you doing the following:
Regularly putting out quality free content
In all your content, mentioning that your project is made possible by your supporters
Constantly expanding your network so that more people encounter your content
The next option is similar to exclusive content systems, but the idea is taken further. That’s for next episode.
Thanks for listening today. If you’re looking for personal input on your project, please email me at Cody@CodyLibolt.com. I would love to talk with you.
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