How to Create a Digital Download Store that Actually Sells Enough to Support You
I get asked all the time for advice on setting up an online store, and I thought it was about time to answer this question by sharing my own journey.
First of all, it's not as simple as throwing up some products online and waiting for the sales to pour in. But, with a strategy, it is possible to have an online store that sells while you sleep. (At least for a little bit before you need to tweak it again. You should always be evolving your business, after all.)
Making money while you sleep—that's the dream, right? While it is possible, I'm realistic enough to tell you that it's not totally passive either. There is some (sometimes a lot) of work involved. It isn't a Ponzi scheme or a get-rich-quick formula. The nice thing, though, is that this work can be on your own time, and it can even pull double-duty as a way to attract high-ticket clients to your other services.
Here's my story and everything I've learned over the past two years in running an online shop. Plus, at the end, I'll be reviewing how our 2017 Black Friday sale went and what I would have improved upon.
How to Create a Digital Download Store that Actually Sells Enough to Support You (Without a Huge List or Following)
Here's what you'll learn in this post:
1. What my shop looks like behind-the-scenes, really and truly.
2. How I sell continuously (because those big Black Friday promotions are nice but they don't last).
3. How I use my online store to attract clients to my other service-based business.
Gotta run? Get my Turnkey Business Binder and get your business organized, started, and profitable in DAYS.
In October 2015, I launched The Contract Shop™. It wasn’t called that at the time—it was just my name back then. For the first four months of my shop, I made exactly (wait forrrr ittttt) zero dollars. Yep, $0. Less than $0, actually, when you think about the cost of having a website.
Even though my friends and peers had told me, “contract templates are such a good idea! I would totally buy that!” none of them did. I started to think this online sales thing was a total piece of bullshit until something amazing happened. I made $2,500 in one day, four months in. It wasn’t the money that changed things—it was the circumstance.
You see, I’d just done the first webinar the Rising Tide Society had ever hosted. It was a piss-poor, voice-shaking presentation about contracts.
After barely scraping by for forty minutes, amazingly, there were still hundreds of people watching. That’s when I launched into the world’s worst sales pitch at the end. It went something like this: “Ummm, well, uhhhh, if you, um, want to buy a contract template, they’re, um, on sale tonight only for uhhh, $100 off... Okay, let’s do some Q+A!”
I totally expected to be met with the same chilly reception I’d received for the four months prior. I thought it would be cool to sell a template or two. Instead, my inbox was flooded with orders and emails commending what I still think of was a horrible presentation.
What Happened Next Wasn’t So Great
The webinar and resulting sales were a mental game changer, no doubt. The experience taught me it’s not only possible to make money online, it can be easy too! After all, I had taken about six hours to craft a presentation, sold some products I *thought* might be a good idea, and bam, made a couple thousand bucks.
But, being the newbie that I was, I decided to shoot off an inch in every direction instead of a mile in one direction. Oops. So my templates sat there for months, making a few hundred dollars every month or so while I pursued a lot of really dumb, unrelated projects. That horrible presentation was the gift that kept on giving while I was off busy being the prodigal son of entrepreneurs.
Looking back, I could kick myself. I had a concept that worked, products that sold, and my response was to create Totally Different Things. I tried creating and selling courses, services, etc. All untested and none of them sold. Huh. I thought once you “made it,” you had “made it!” I guess not….
The ONLY good thing I did for myself during this time period was continue to create content and blog. At least I had that, and knew enough to know I should capture emails somehow.
After a few months of acting like a total idiot and ignoring a product that people actually wanted, I hit a new turning point by accident. I switched email service providers. Playing around with the new features at my fingertips, I hastily threw together a sale. Like my first webinar, I did everything wrong.
I launched the sale without any preparation, during a holiday when people were offline and not checking their email (hello, who's around their computer on Fourth of July?). I only sent FOUR emails, and was HORRIFIED sending even that many—compare that to the 12-20 we send now during a launch. I basically spent the weekend crying at the unsubscribes, but also feeling mostly okay as we cleared the $7k mark.
You would think I had learned from my previous few months of ignoring a product that worked that I should SELL THE THING THAT WORKED. But no. I just got even dumber apparently and somehow decided that since I had just done a sale for my templates, no one would want to buy them anymore so I should create even more crap that may or may not sell.
That’s When Things Got Really Bad
If you’re thinking, “Christina, shutup already... you just told me you made $9,500 the first 8 months in your business. That’s more than I’ve made in the last year!” then you have to remember, that equals about $1,200 per month in revenue. Annnnnd in case you still didn’t notice, I also had overhead (email providers, credit card fees, course platforms where I was selling dumb, unrelated shit to what I knew worked...).
At the time, I know why I kept creating unrelated, new products instead of trying to sell something that worked—my email list was growing but at the rate of a plant in the arctic tundra. AKA, not very fast. Since I had largely the same core audience post-sale as I did pre-sale, and they had said either YES or NO to the latest contract template promotion I’d put out there, I thought I would try to entice them with a new, fun product.
The problem with new, fun products is that they take up a lotttttttttt of time to create, develop and sell. That’s time that you could be selling what already works. But, there’s this myth that a lot of us believe that we have to create something new instead of re-tooling something old, and I bought into it HARD.
Long story short, I spent about $5,000 on Facebook ads because that’s what Everyone told me to do... blowing any profit I had made and sold a course to 12 people. Twelve! Way to go, me.
How I Turned My Shop Around
The July 4th sale had worked really well, and at this point, it was now early September. Wondering what was next, I finally had a revelation that it wasn’t going to be another online course. Instead, I decided to plan a Black Friday sale and double the revenue of my first ever promotion. This time, though, I’d put a little more effort into it than I had for the previous one.
I was still really slow at making plans and implementing them back then—I second guessed everything. After all, there were very, very few people out there selling digital downloads in a dedicated online shop.
So I had to lean on other industries, and business models, and finally jerry-rigged a plan that I thought would work. Essentially, I took the same four emails I’d sent during July and added another three, bringing the total emails I’d send up to a whopping SEVEN in five days. Whoaaaa, can you say #daredevil?
All my other efforts from September to November focused on building my email list. Since I still didn’t know what I was doing, my email list only grew in fits and starts and resembled more of a flopping fish trying to get back into water to breathe than a great white skillfully breaching to eat like a boss fish.
Nonetheless, the email list grew and I did start to get a better pulse on what kind of content connected with the audience I wanted to reach through all this ungraceful trial and error.
The day to launch my first Black Friday sale was upon us, and all the emails were fatefully loaded up.
It’s really weird—we’ve done four sales now and at some point before each one, I get a premonition of the end dollar amount we’ll make. I’m always doing something random when it happens too, like cleaning gum off my shoe or trying to decide which pants make me look less fat.
Four times now, numbers have popped into my head, and four times now, those unique totals have all ended up coming true.
Black Friday, 2016
I still remember the bliss I had as I was sitting in Nowheresville, Georgia, having Thanksgiving with my in laws. It was pure exhilaration shoving pumpkin pie into my facehole, and casually strolling over to check my phone. Sometimes it would actually pick up a cell phone signal and the orders would flood in. I remember thinking, “I made more today than this entire year’s sales COMBINED!” at one point.
We more than doubled the results of our July 4th sale with some simple tweaks, extra emails, and some additional strategies I had been testing in the recent months.
But here’s the thing about a big promotion like that—I always kind of get bummed for a minute afterwards as things get quiet and go back to normal. Since I’d experienced this so far a few times already in 2016, I was ready with my next offer.
Sidenote: Money can’t buy you happiness, but it sure makes stuff easier. The money I made from that first Black Friday sale was enough to cover a deposit on the most beautiful beach house in Gulf Shores, Alabama, and I ended up fulfilling a dream of mine by selling my first ever in person retreat to seven women who I’d meet and teach there the following April. I didn’t even get a chance to open the retreat to the public or my list, because all the spots sold out with just 27 private email invitations. Sidenote and #NotSoHumbleBrag: several of these attendees have gone on to have $30k-$75k launches with no prior products or experience launching as a result of our time together. I’m pretty psyched for them.
The Big Turning Point
They say that true experts make something look easy. I love to ride horses, and if you ever watch the Olympics, you know it looks like those riders are just glued to the horse as decorations—that they’re not really doing much. In truth, it’s very difficult to perform at that level, but we’d never know unless we tried it ourselves.
I’m not calling myself an expert by any means, but by the end of last year, I took a look around and I had more experience selling than most of the people I knew or saw online.
Something else really cool had been happening which I haven’t even mentioned up until this point—my law firm, a separate company from TCS, didn’t (and really still doesn’t) have a website. No website, no purposeful marketing, no ad spend, nothing. And yet, it was doing really, really well.
I had accidentally created a way to get paid to get clients with The Contract Shop™. Potential clients would find articles like this, well, maybe my more legall-y articles and reach out to me to work together.
So now, anyone I drove to my site through all that hard work on Instagram, Facebook, with blog posts, et cetera—all the stuff you’re probably doing too (and some days wanting to quit), all that stuff was resulting in new clients AND sales.
When I looked at our numbers, we were consistently making upwards of $8k from our Shop AND closing clients at a rate of 60-70% each month. This all seemed normal to me, but in hindsight, that was really phenomenal. I mean, what if you were booking 6 more clients for every 10 inquiries you had? How would that change your business?
What had started out as a flopping fish dance was now slowly turning me into an expert at selling, online or during my law firm’s free potential client consults.
Using this knowledge, I decided I’d teach this to others one day—and as I post this, that day is very soon! Click here to sign up to watch me break down my strategy.
But before I did, I had to do more testing to make sure all this success hadn’t been a fluke.
How Our Strategy for 2017 Changed
As 2017 kicked off, I started planning our Black Friday sale. Wait, what? Did you read that right??
We started planning this year’s Black Friday sale in JANUARY. Not like, writing it down on a calendar and just “planning to plan.” Actual planning.
For any of you who don’t know my system (aka, all of you, because I’m only revealing it here), all this probably sounds overwhelming and impossible.
Like it worked for me by some magic sorcery, but you could never possibly be this lucky. No! That’s why I’ve spent the last year testing this. And, unlike some online shops, I’m not some former “Bachelor” show contestant or big-name blogger starting off with the advantage of hundreds of thousands of followers! There’s nothing wrong with that, but I didn’t have the advantage of building an audience first, then selling to them.
In fact, I still don’t have a huge audience!! We have less than 5k email subscribers, and I’m barely active on social media.
- We’ve loved on the few people we DO have in our audience, and have focused on providing them with the best possible products that help their businesses grow; and
- We’ve implemented the strategy I’m introducing in my free masterclass that you can get by clicking here.
If you are looking for a system that essentially pays you to market to potential clients, click here to find out how to set up your own online store (with products that actually sell!). I want to give you that same exhilaration I felt when I picked up my phone at my family dinner and saw a WHOOSH of orders flood my screen.
How Our 2017 Black Friday Sale Went
If you haven’t noticed (okay, you totally have, and I’m just trying to be transparent about it), we’ve skipped over the two most recent sales TCS has put together. Mostly because you really don’t want to miss how I improved them, which you can learn for free here, but also because this post was getting offers to be turned into a novel.
Part of me feels like I need to reveal the year-end total to you to let you know how legit The Contract Shop™ is. But the more rational, mature part of me thinks that’s a really bad idea— that’s something super private I’d prefer not to reveal. After all, shady people like to sue people for no reason if those people have money.
Without telling you the final dollar amount total, I’ll just say that over 500 orders were placed this year with a very healthy average order amount.
That’s fantastic considering our list is still relatively small (up to 4,200 from about 2,200 last year at this time) and my social followings are also on the smaller side and not super engaged.
About 11% of those orders were repeat customers, which is one of the metrics I’m looking to increase in 2018.
We actually had almost the same volume of orders in 2016, but in 2017, the amount of money people spent with us on average increased by a whopping 44%.
Are you interested in starting an online shop that sells digital downloads? Click here to join me for a free live masterclass, where I walk you through my annual sales strategy, despite my small list and small following.
Black Friday 2017 Challenges + Wins
- One of our affiliates, a big time name, pushed our sale out early to her audience. She suggested we activate the discount early, but I told her we couldn’t because of all the promises we’d made to you guys about the early-bird bonuses. It felt good to stay in integrity with what we promised, but it also would have been nice to have a couple hundred thousand new eyeballs in the shop. In hindsight, I wish I had put the discount live early, and still delivered on the bonuses I promised to the first 100 purchasers on Black Friday. She didn’t get to push us out again, so this was a big loss for us.
- I hesitate to even mention this because it might come across as petty. However, it’s something I know a LOT of you guys deal with, because yes, I actually read every email and message you send me… so here goes: Shortly before Black Friday, someone I had once considered a friend and confided secrets about my business in opened her own competing shop and let her discount open nearly four days before ours did. This felt super icky, and it sucked to see people I’d spent valuable airspace promoting, purely out of kindness as a favor to help them reach new levels in their business, supporting this other person's shop. But that's life. It's not fair, and people forget what you do for them. You have to be kind and do it anyway for the ones who will remember. Plus, competition is meant to light an extra fire under our ass, so let’s just say I lit a few new pumpkin spice-scented candles that day.
- Our abandon cart email sequence didn’t go live in time for the sale, so we probably missed out on about $3-5k in extra sales. If you have NO clue what an “abandon cart email sequence” is or means, then you MUST click here and watch this free training I’m doing soon where I walk you through the importance of one of these things
- My team did a fantastic job. One of the privileges of increased revenue is the ability to hire some fantastic talent as contractors that highlight and supercharge specific aspects of The Contract Shop™. As I was having some mini-meltdowns leading up to the sale, they pulled through, even when I resembled a snowman in Mexico.
- Using my Shop Sales System (that I reveal here), we were able to make large investments in some measures to increase sales prior to the sale kickoff. It felt good knowing what the minimum revenue we’d bring in would be, and it felt great to beat our prior sales numbers.
- We beat both year over year and sale over sale numbers. That is, on each day (Friday, Saturday, Sunday, etc.), we beat the dollar amount of our Black Friday sale last year, and our Summer sale this year. In fact, the first day of our Black Friday sale this year made more than our entire Black Friday 2016 sale TOTAL last year, which I thought was a pretty good sale at the time.
What We’re Changing to Sell More Digital Downloads in 2018
With the new year nipping at our heels, I’m excited to dive in and build upon the foundation we’ve spent this entire year testing and improving.
I’m also revealing everything I’ve learned over the past two years in this free webinar, but unlike me, you don’t have to spend a butt-ton of money and a world of hurt dealing with the mistakes I faced to get to this System. Instead, you can cozy up to your computer with your favorite mug (or child) and slurp through your hot chocolate while I tell you how to set up a profitable shop in 2018.
If an ‘online shop’ where you sell templates and other digital downloads is on your wishlist this season, you need to get your bootay to click here and make sure you don’t miss this free masterclass!
Free Masterclass: The 7 Secrets to a Wildly Popular Digital Download Store (Even If You Don’t Know What to Sell Yet!)