How To Validate and Pre-Sell Your First Digital Product

When I first started my business, I was NOT prepared for what was to come. I knew I wanted to provide a service but I didn’t realise I would be stepping into a world of online courses, digital products, sales funnels, and launches.

I launched my first e-course to ZERO pre-orders or sales after 2 months of working my little socks off. Not only that but I was extremely burnt out throughout the whole course creation and launch process. I hated creating a course AND doing 101 things to market it at the same time. I’m sure I’m not the only one! 💁🏻

After watching an inspiring webinar (which are as rare as unicorns 🦄), I pulled together a strategy for my upcoming digital product launches. Using this strategy, I saved myself a lot of time and stress - not to mention that I made over $1,500 in sales without a single sales page in sight!

Keep reading to learn more about:

  • 🙈 what went wrong with my first course launch
  • 🔧 my strategy to validate + pre-sell your first digital product
  • 💰 the results of using this strategy for two product launches
  • 💎 ways you can tweak this process to fit your business
How To Validate And Pre-Sell Your First Digital Product | Do online course launches make you want to tear your hair out? Digital product and infoproduct creators and creative entrepreneurs can use this simple strategy to validate, pre-sell their products and sell more online. Click through to learn more and download my free checklist!

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A little bit of backstory

I got started in social media strategy and influencer marketing services when I started to toy with the idea of launching an online course. I knew it was something I would be good at but, like most people, I had no idea where to start. 🙈

The information out there was incredibly overwhelming to me. I followed a lot of big names in the online course niche and started to follow their strategies and sales techniques.

To say my first course ‘launched to crickets’ would be an understatement. I don’t think there were even crickets listening to me. I pre-sold the course for 30 days with no sales and had a 2 week launch with, you guessed it, no sales. 👎

It sucked, sure, but it was also extremely interesting to me to see what worked and what didn’t. I journeyed along the learning curve that life threw at me and turned away from courses for a while - maybe I just wasn’t cut out for it!

By pure luck, I came across an amazing webinar by Lauren Hooker from Elle & Company. Lauren detailed her launch strategy for her annual course; Freelance Academy. Credit is given where credit is very much due as I was SO inspired. 😍

I took pages and pages of notes and pulled them alongside some of the idea bubbles that had been floating around my head for new digital products. I knew I wanted to tweak and test Lauren’s strategy for a smaller infoproduct before diving into a new online course - and so my Ultimate Instagram Hashtag Database and Instagrowth were born.

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6 things that went wrong with my first course launch

Before I go into this amazeballs strategy, I think it’s important to evaluate what went wrong with my first course launch. What did I miss out on? What could I have spent more time on? Where did I fall short?

The first course I created was Influencer Marketing Masterclass (IMM for short), which launched in October 2016. I spent 2 months working on solely this course. 😬 That’s right. In September, I was SO confident that I would be rolling in cash by the launch end that I stopped accepting new clients and purely focused on creating IMM.

Boy, was I wrong. More specifically, here are 6 things that I royally effed up:

1) I didn’t validate my idea

I was so set on creating a course about influencer marketing that I was scared to actually validate my idea. What if no one wanted to hear about it? What if no one understood it?

If I’d validated my idea, I would have realised that ‘influencer marketing’ is not a term many small business owners understand right off the bat. I would have changed my course positioning to be focused on ‘blogger outreach’ and name to something along the lines of ‘build buzz online’.

2) I didn’t listen to my audience

Because I didn’t validate my idea, I wasn’t seeing any interest from my community. Their silence spoke volumes about their lack of interest in my course idea but I didn’t want to acknowledge it. 🙅🏻

I was being stubborn and I should have taken their silence as a sign that this wasn’t the best course topic to pursue at that point in my business.

3) I didn’t spend enough time easing into this new niche

At the time, I was mostly known for helping bloggers with Instagram and Pinterest strategy - but my new course was about influencer marketing for brands. Confusing, much?!

I should have spent more time educating my audience on influencer marketing and working out the best way to position it as a necessary and successful marketing strategy.


4) I should have created a better lead magnet

I had a lead magnet that had a *few* sign ups but it sucked! 😂 It was just a simple checklist of influencer marketing ideas and it didn’t hit the spot with my ideal audience.

After launching my course, I created a free email course called Clever Collaborations. I SHOULD have created and launched this freebie before my paid course. It was very much an afterthought at the time!

This would have given me a pool of people to pitch and pre-sell IMM to before launching - i.e. the validation process that I missed out on.

5) I didn’t set aside enough time to create the course

Everyone is so focused on launching and selling and webinars and funnels that no one in the online course industry tells you how frickin’ hard it is to actually CREATE a damn course in the first place. (Tweet this!)

Even when working on this course and nothing else for over 2 months straight, I was still pushed for time, burnt out, and overwhelmed. In fact, my family were so worried about me that they still bring it up whenever I work myself a little too hard; “You don’t want to be running yourself to the ground again, Zoe!”

In the end, I made little over £30 in September and only made money in October doing a bit of coding work for my Dad! #BankOfDad 😅

I should have taken everything it much more slowly and given myself a full Quarter to create the course and earn money from client work at the same time.

6) I priced it WAY too high

This was a rookie mistake. I was doing too much listening to the “experts” and not enough listening to my audience.

I priced IMM at $497 with an early bird price of $297. It was just way too high for an audience that wasn’t really *sure* about what influencer marketing was. I had Beta Testers but I didn’t get many testimonials or tangible proof that the course was going to bring my students a return on investment (ROI).

After launching, I dropped the evergreen price of the course down to $297 then down again to $197. The next course I launched was at (a very safe) $97 price point!

Why did the standard launch strategy not work for me?

Aside from everything above, there’s a simple answer to this, friend:

“One size fits all” is B.S. in the world of online business.

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What works for one successful course creator may not work for another. Just because a certain someone’s launch strategy earned Person A $18,000, that doesn’t mean that Person B won’t have to live off £30 one month 🙈

This being said, the below strategy can be chopped and changed to work best for you, your business model, and your goals. I’m in no way saying it will 100% work for you as it did for me - heck, it might even work BETTER for you! - but there’s certainly no harm in testing it out as it doesn’t directly affect the standard launch model.

Step-by-step: how to validate and pre-sell your first digital product

Just to preface this before I spill the beans (and like I said at the beginning of this post), I learnt the basis of this strategy from Lauren at Elle & Company - I’ve just tweaked and changed it a little to best suit my business. So, thank you, Lauren! 🙏

Also, this strategy is tailored towards digital product launches BUT it can definitely work for services too. If you’re launching a new service soon, this strategy could be worth a try!

🤔 Survey: ask your audience what they want to see from you

Knowledge is power. You want to know as much as possible about your audience and what they want from you before you invest any time or money into a new product. (Tweet this!)

I knew I wanted to create a new digital product but I had a few topics and ideas in mind. I asked my audience what they wanted to learn more about from me!

To help you get started, here’s a link to the first survey I sent out in November 2016 and the second one I sent out in February.

You can see that the second one is a super simple, one question survey! No frills!

Important 👉 I also asked my audience to leave their name and email address at the end of the questionnaire in case they were happy for me to reach out to them with more questions. This step is essential to this strategy!

📈 Analyse: take a look at your results and keep track of names + email addresses

After giving my audience a week or so to complete the questionnaire, I turned the results into a nifty Google Spreadsheet - colour coded and everything! 😎 This helped me to sort and filter the results by who was interested in what topic as well as being able to search for keywords in the questionnaire responses.

For example, when I realised that an overwhelming majority of my audience wanted to learn more about Instagram from me, I searched through the spreadsheet to find any comments containing ‘instagram’, ‘social media’, or ‘hashtags’. This kind of research helps with content creation, sale page copywriting, and product development!

I also manually added tags to each of the email addresses in ConvertKit* (if they were subscribed to me already). For example, I added the tag ‘Interest - Instagram’ to people who selected Instagram related options in either survey.

This segmentation process really helps when it comes to pitching your product via email as you know a small group of people who are 100% interested in that specific topic.

*Affiliate Link

👑 VIP list: create a waiting list sign-up page for your product

Create a simple waiting list page and promote minimally. I shared the waiting list for Instagrowth a few times on Instagram and in my Facebook group but it wasn’t a full-on promotion.

Again, this helps you create a pool of people who are definitely interested in your product topic. You’ll need this for the next step!

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📝 Outline: create an outline of your new digital product idea

Once you know what you want to create for your audience, open up a Google Doc and start outlining what it is your product will be.

This document should include:

  • An quick overview/pitch for your product
  • Your ideal customer/student
  • The goal for the product/each module of the course
  • For e-books/workbooks/courses: a breakdown of each module/section and learning points
  • Price points + bonuses (including an early-bird price)
  • Planned launch dates

Create the document with the intention of showing it to people to get feedback. It’s not a final draft with ‘set in stone’ copy - it’s a work in progress and readers should be made aware of that.

I know how hard it is to start with a blank Google Doc so I’m giving you free, no email needed, access to my course outline for Instagrowth. This will help you better understand exactly how I used this outline within the launch strategy!

💌 Feedback: personally email audience members for feedback on your outline

This is where it gets real, folks! You’ve created your outline but now you’re going to personally email a group of your email list and ask them for their feedback.

Sounds time-intensive, and it is, but it’s SO worth it!

Here’s how you do it:

  • Go back to your questionnaire and grab names and emails of everyone who was interested in the topic of your potential* new product
  • Go through your email service provider and export email subscribers tagged with anything relevant to the product (i.e. ‘Interest - Instagram’) or anyone who opted-in to a relevant freebie
  • Take a look at your VIP waiting list and pull out those names and emails too! They will probably be very helpful in providing feedback as they have actively signed up to learn more about the product
  • Pull all these emails together and remove any duplicates - you don’t want to email the same person twice! Separate them into three groups of 25, 50, and 75 people. Don’t worry if you don’t have this many subscribers yet! You can always post in a relevant Facebook group asking for feedback on your outline, if the group allows it!
  • Create a template email or a canned email if you’re in Gmail where you ask for feedback on your digital product outline (I have an example email below)
  • Create a short questionnaire to link in this email. Here’s the one I used for Instagrowth but make sure to ask for their name and email address AND end the survey with the question ‘Would you pre-order this product for $X?’
  • You can also send this to potential Beta Testers! I’d recommend asking Beta Testers to invest a small early bird fee so they are more likely to get involved and engaged in the testing process with you.

*Remember, we’re still in the validation phase here. If you don’t get good feedback on this product, it’s time to tweak it or move onto the next one!

Example email to send out:

Subject: I need your help, [NAME]!

Message: Hey [NAME]!

Hope you're well and having a great week so far!

I'm developing a new e-course all about how to grow your Instagram and I would LOVE to get your feedback on it! Are you interested?

Do let me know if so and I'll send more details your way.

Look forward to hearing from you!

Zoe Linda x

When they replied positively, I followed-up with the below:

Message: Hey [NAME]!

Thanks so much for getting back to me so quickly!

You might have heard, but I'm starting to develop an Instagram e-course; Instagrowth.

I wanted to get in touch and get your opinion on my course outline and see if there's anything I'm missing that could make it a more attractive offering?

Here's the link to the outline.

Once you've had a look at the outline, it would be amazing if you could complete this short questionnaire so I can hear your initial thoughts on this, especially regarding the lesson content, bonus ideas, and price points!

Thanks so much, [NAME]!

Zoe x

🛠 Tweak: edit your outline based on your feedback

Important 👉 Your digital product is NOT your baby. Chop it, change it, throw it out altogether - just do what you have to do to make it work for you and your audience. (Tweet this!)

Look at the questionnaire results and see where you should add, remove, and amend parts of your product based on your audience response. Maybe someone suggested a great bonus idea or you want to increase the price point? Edit away and let the relevant people know that the outline has changed.

💰 Follow-up: reach out to everyone who responded positively

Gather the information of everyone who answered ‘yes’ to your final question: ‘Would you pre-order this product for $X?’ These are your group of pre-purchasers!

Now that you’ve semi-validated your idea, you want to go one step further and see if anyone will actually whip out their credit card for this product.

Send this group of people an email with a link to pre-order the product and see if they invest. (I used Gumroad as they don’t actually pay until the product is received). This is the best way to actually validate your product idea without having to send any refunds!

Important 👉 You should set a goal here so you know when you’re actually going to start making the product to sell. My goal for Instagrowth was 10 pre-orders and I sold 24 spots before I even had a sales page! It’s all about that Google doc!


My hand-on-heart honest results of this strategy

It’s Numberwang! (Any Mitchell & Webb fans around?)

Time to get specific with the number of sales and students I got for each product I launched in 2016 and 2017. I started using the strategy in this post when launching my Ultimate Instagram Hashtag Database but tweaked and polished it even further when I started developing and launching Instagrowth. Let’s see a breakdown:

Influencer Marketing Masterclass - $497 launch price, dropped down to $197

When I created and launched Influencer Marketing Masterclass, I made 0 pre-sales and 0 sales during the launch. Luckily, the course has sold 9 times totalling $1,887 in sales since October 2016.

Ultimate Instagram Hashtag Database - $27 pre-sale price, $49 evergreen price

I started pre-selling this product in February 2017 for 2 weeks and made $243 from 9 sales at an early bird price. Since launching the database, I’ve made over $1,886 across various price points!

Instagrowth - $57 pre-sale price, $97 launch price

I pre-sold Instagrowth to early birds and Beta testers in March + April 2017 and made $1,259! These purchasers didn’t have to pay for the course until I gave them early bird access in May 2017.

I worked on the course for May + June 2017 whilst I was still doing client work (and having a lovely 2 week holiday) then officially launched at the end of June over a two week period. I launched to 12 enrollments and $1,492 totalling over $2,750 in sales!


How can you make this strategy work for you?

Like I said before, ‘one size fits all’ is complete B.S. What has worked for me here may not work for you on your first product.

However, I’m determined to help you tailor this strategy for your business and niche! Here are some ways to level up my strategy to best suit your goals:

  • Swap the survey for polls - Use Facebook groups and Instagram stories to poll your communities. When someone responds positively, you could DM them and ask them for feedback
  • If you have a small email list, post your survey in FB groups - Make sure to check the rules and only post in groups where your ideal audience are hanging out! I.E. If you’re a designer, don’t post it in a group full of other designers unless they are your target market!
  • Personally reach out to more/less people at a time - If 75 people seems like a lot to you, then cut it back down to 30. Or, perhaps, you have a much bigger email list and you want to email groups of 100, 150, and 200 people. You know your email list numbers best!
  • If it’s your second product, reach out to past customers for feedback - Because this group of people have bought from you before, they’ll better understand the quality of your work and will be more likely to invest than a completely new customer.


I've created a checklist that covers all the steps you need to take to utilise + implement this strategy for your next digital product launch. Click the button below to grab it for free!

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