If you’re a consultant, the benefits of building your own digital product are big: more leads, more passive income, more authority … and less work.
thoughtbot is a web development agency that’s been able to add $35,000/mo in recurring revenue from digital products (on top of their income from client projects).
But before we jump into their success story, you can download an entire swipe file that will help you follow thoughtbot’s example.
In this case study, we’ll break down how ANY consultant, freelancer, or agency owner can add a second stream of income by productizing their skills—the same ones clients need—and packaging them in digital products to teach others.
Background: What is thoughtbot?
The designers and developers at thoughtbot are, to put it plainly, world-class.
They did this redesign of agent profiles for Realtor.com:
They also built this 3D animated app that teaches martial arts on your smartphone:
Needless to say, thoughtbot has plenty of leads.
But when the agency started getting applications from junior developers looking for work, the founders noticed an opportunity.
The Idea: From Helping Clients to Helping Developers
It turns out, most talented, ambitious junior developers really don’t want to be “junior.”
They want better jobs, more income, and more interesting projects. But not every junior developer applying at thoughtbot had the skills to become a senior developer.
With the flood of inexperienced applicants, the founders at thoughtbot wondered if junior developers would pay for training that took them by the hand and gave them the skills they need to land those coveted Senior Rails Developer jobs.
The idea for Upcase was born.
The idea for was to offer online education—video training, forums, and a membership community—just for junior web developers looking to land better jobs.
The Challenge: How Do You Find Paying Course Customers?
Here’s the #1 challenge for anyone creating an online course:
How do you find customers who will pay for your course?
thoughtbot wanted to provide value to prospects—without spending all their time on marketing. After all, they still had (and still have) client projects to fulfill.
The Solution: A (Free) Mini Course
To attract prospects into their funnel, the thoughtbot team wrote a content-packed 5-day crash course called “Land Your Dream Rails Job.”
Next, they drove traffic from their existing Twitter following of developers to build their list and get their first leads into the funnel.
So far, the mini course has these stats:
- 71% average email open rates across 5 emails
- 16% subscriber-to-sale conversion rate
- Over $35,000 in monthly recurring revenue
These numbers are even more inspiring when you learn that Upcase only mentions their flagship product once in the entire mini course.
Chris had this to say:
“We’re big believers in ‘gentle selling.’ We only softly mention our premium products at the end, just once in the fifth and final email. The mini course has performed extremely well for us.”
So, how does a mini course—originally designed to see if anyone would be interested—get an insane 71% average open rate?
And how do you get 1 in 8 free email subscribers to whip out their credit cards and pay for your premium training?
According to Chris, a big reason Upcase has such high conversions is that they speak directly to the pain points of customers:
“We have a deep understanding of our customers and their needs. More than anything, that’s helped us sell memberships and grow Upcase into the resource it is.”
How to Use Drip for “Set it and Forget it” Product Idea Validation
If you’re a consultant or freelancer, you have skills that people are willing pay for.
Often, other freelancers or potential clients (who can’t afford your rates) also want to learn your skills—and will pay to learn from you.
One quick visit to Udemy shows that people are spending money every day on courses to learn:
- Web development
- Content marketing
- Graphic design
- Startup sales
- Social media marketing
- Email marketing
The list goes on.
If you can validate your product idea, there’s a chance you can follow thoughtbot’s example and turn your own email mini course into a mini online education empire.
Bonus: Email Templates to Help You Validate Your Digital Product Idea
To help you validate your idea, we’ve put together free email templates for your own 5-day “product validation” crash course.
Here’s how it works:
- Write a 5-day crash course like Upcase.
- If you get opt ins, see if you can get people to pre-order your course before you build it.
- If you get some pre-orders, build the product, market the heck out of it, and enjoy your additional revenue stream.
Have you ever tried to validate a product idea with your email list? What questions do you have about selling digital products in your market?