How to Build Your First Digital Product

Follow the step-by-step process I used to build my digital toolkits

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Today’s post is part 2 in the Your First Product Series, where I’m helping you turn one of your premium services into your first do-it-yourself digital product. It's a move that’s going to help you expand your audience and strengthen your credibility while generating a new, passive revenue stream.

To do that, I'll share the process I used to build my first digital product — The Problem Framing Toolkit, which has been a game-changer for scaling my service-based business.

You’ll learn the step-by-step process and tools I used.

By reading today’s post, you will:

  • Get an inside look of how I did it

  • Save dozens of hours researching tools & platforms

  • Avoid pitfalls that I made

  • Have a playbook to start building

We’ve got a lot to cover!

How to Build Your First Digital Product - Passive Profits

Setting the stage

Before we dive into the actual building blocks, it’s important to note that the best first digital product to build is a digitized version of a service you’re already offering.

Here’s why…

Say you’re currently delivering your premium, done-for-you service. You’re proud of the results and your customers are delighted. Their referrals fill your funnel with a healthy supply of new work to fulfill. And still, you’re leaving money on the table.

Thing is, no matter how good you are, you’re only capturing a sliver of the market. There's a whole world of potential customers who aren't quite ready to invest in your premium service offerings.

By digitizing your services into an online course or a digital download, you’ll capture the attention of these future customers while still generating revenue.

These kinds of growth loops turn your marketing from cost-center to profit-center.

For more background on digitizing services and additional foundational steps to take before building, read part 1 of the Your First Product Series: How to Prep for Your First Digital Product.

And now that the stage is set, let’s walk through the steps to follow for building your first digital product.

The building blocks

Here are the actions I took to build my first product, the Problem Framing Toolkit — a combo online course + digital download.

New Haircut’s Problem Framing Toolkit

The toolkit is used by professionals working in Product Management. They use the toolkit to learn and apply a product discovery technique called, Problem Framing. Naturally.

Let’s take a look at the 5 components that went into building my toolkit:

  1. Worksheets and templates

  2. Instructional videos

  3. Written guide

  4. Additional supporting resources

  5. Creator platforms

1. Worksheets and templates

If you’re planning to build an educational product such as an online course or toolkit, downloadable materials such as worksheets and templates are a great idea that your customers will appreciate.

Worksheets and templates enable your customer to put theory into practice.

Let’s walk through each one so you know what they’re about and how to create them.

Worksheets

Worksheets are fairly simple for you to create, and for your customer to use.

Think about that accompanying PDF you got from a recent book you purchased. It probably included prompts for you to consider and empty space to answer. That’s a worksheet.

Worksheets are perfect for helping your customer learn the material at a deeper level, draw their own conclusions, and commit to next steps.

Worksheet from a Martha Beck book I recently read

Tools
  • Word / Google Doc: As simple as it gets. Once you’ve created it, you can make it available as a standalone .docx/.gdoc, export to a PDF, share online access, or all of the above

  • Notion: Notion-created worksheets can be comparable to Word/GDocs, but come with more flexibility; e.g. foldering, styling, adding attachments

Templates

Templates tend to be a bit more involved in creating. They also go further than a worksheet in solidifying your customer’s learning by putting it into practice.

Some refer to templates as swipe files. They’re files they’ve used and refined and then make available to their customers, who benefit from not having to start from scratch.

Templates are typically designed and blanked out grids of a lesson or activity that you taught in your course/toolkit. Your customer uses them to recreate that lesson/activity, on their own or with others.

To set your customer up for success with the template, I suggest including detailed instructions as well as a completed example — which help them see what good looks like.

For my toolkits, I chose to build them in the same online collaboration tools that my customers work: Miro, Mural and Figma.

A few of the templates within my toolkit

Alternatively, you can keep your templates simpler by creating them with the same tools you use for worksheets: Word, GDocs/Slides, and Notion.

If you’re just getting started or don’t feel comfortable creating templates, go with a worksheet. But no matter which format, I recommend you include at least one.

Why start the build process with these materials?

By starting with the materials, it forces you to create DIY (do-it-yourself) materials that can stand on their own. In other words, starting here constrains you to consider the must-haves to include for your customer to be successful.

Additionally, once you have the materials, they’ll serve as your blueprint for the instructional videos you’ll create next.

2. Instructional videos

Now that you have your worksheets and templates, you can reverse engineer the core educational components of your digital product.

I used videos for my toolkit so that I could show my customer what they were learning, how to apply it, and what the results would look like.

I want to stress that before I created my toolkits, I had recorded and edited a total of zero videos. I learned everything along the way, and spent less than $200.

Since then, and thanks to the surging creator economy, there’s been a tidal wave of affordable innovation to the tools and tech available.

No matter your age, gender, profession, or skill set, learning how to create video content is a skill that will provide exponential ROI for years to come.

Setup

Let me give you a complete breakdown of my video recording and editing system:

Recording: For my first toolkit, I used QuickTime for Mac to record my instructional videos. It was free, but it pales in comparison to my tool of choice these days: Loom.

I pay for Loom’s Business plan. It has several pro features I’ve come to rely on. In particular their AI add-on is brilliant. It automatically creates video titles and summaries. It can also remove filler words (“um”, “uh”, etc) and trim dead air. Huge time-saver.

We’ll talk about creator platforms a bit later, but if your digital product directly links to your loom videos (vs streamed within the platform) you’ll also benefit from the ability to see engagement metrics and reactions, as well as communicate with your customers.

Loom makes it easy to interact with your customers

Lighting: Just about any ring light with 4.5+ stars on Amazon will do. But the best and most affordable light is the natural light you get by setting up in front of a window.

Camera: For my first toolkit, I used my Macbook’s native camera. Not only did the quality suffer, but the angle was off; i.e. it was pointing up my nose. You want your camera level with your face or pointing slightly down.

For my second toolkit, I invested in a Logitech Brio. There are lots of web cam options out there.

Alternatively, if you’re using a Mac and have an iPhone (ideally 13+ Pro), you can use the Continuity Camera feature to turn your iPhone into a web cam.

Mic: For my first toolkit, I plugged my wired headphones into my Mac and clicked record. I’ve had two mics. My first was a Blue Yeti. It was good. I’ve since replaced it with a Rode NT, mounted to a swing arm.

Editing: For additional editing, there a gazillion video editing tools on the market. For my first product, I stuck with iMovie. It’s free and provided me all the capabilities I could handle to trim, splice, and add music and transitions.

Audio: While I don’t recommend adding music throughout your videos, intro and outro music/sound effects add a professional touch. I use AudioJungle for royalty-free music files. Don’t spend more than $10 per file — there are plenty of decent tracks at this price point.

My fairly low-tech, inexpensive setup

Bring your style and stories

You don’t need to be a trained Hollywood actor to create engaging videos. Being someone you’re not will only stress you out and weird your customer out. Be yourself. Let your expertise and passion pour out.

Whatever you do, remember to tell stories.

Share your wins and losses. Share your setbacks and how you overcame them. Share your transformations. And then tie your stories together with data and outcomes people can see.

This approach educates, engages, and entertains, which in turn helps your customers remember, resonate with, and refer your work.

Additional best practices

Here’s a couple additional things I’ve learned and recommend you adopt for your videos.

  1. <5 mins: Keep each video under 5 minutes. Greater than that and you’ve probably included too much info for your customer to retain, which means they’ll probably check out.

  2. Show yourself: Keeping your camera on while you teach will make your customer feel you’re there with them. Otherwise, it’s like being the only person in a video call with your camera on. No bueno.

  3. DIY first: Some people hate the idea of creating videos. I was originally intimidated by the process. Once I started, I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. I’m proud of everything I learned and created. And now, when I outsource to pros, I know what I’m talking about and looking for.

  4. Outsource: If you won’t DIY, find a pro to help you. I’ve found some amazing and affordable videographers on Upwork. Review their portfolio for formats and styles you like. Share examples you like. And always start with a test project: Choose 2-3 videographers, pay each of them to create one video, and then award your project to the person who impresses you most.


    💡 Message me and I’ll intro you to the video editor I use for my projects

Last bit of advice, be patient

It will be tempting to try and compete with other creators who have been in the game for years. Don’t do that. Your videos (and your tech) will get better over time. I speak from experience!

Here’s one of the very first toolkit videos I created in 2020. After watching for 10 seconds you’ll notice that the camera angle is shit, I’m wearing wired earphones, the lighting is meh, and my welcoming video is nearly 8 mins of me in monotone. Yeesh!

Contrast the one above to the refresh below that I recorded 2 years later:

  • Intro and outro animation

  • Music to add some vibe

  • Better lighting and camera angle

  • Dead air trimmed

  • Brief and punchy (<2 mins), with more energy from me

P.S. Other than the animations, I did everything myself.

3. Written guide

You might be thinking, if I included instructional videos, why do I need a guide?

The same reason some people prefer to read a book versus listen to it — different people have different learning styles. And even then, the people who watch your videos will still find a written guide to be a helpful companion.

A guide complements your videos and provides a structured approach to the process. It's your digital product's roadmap.

Several of my toolkit customers told me they started by watching the videos, and then printed out the guide to keep in their back pocket.

My guide was complete with images and illustrations to make the content more engaging and understandable.

It additionally included suggested timing and materials to complete the activities, along with pro tips. I tried to think about everything the user would need to be 100% successful — without me there to coach them through.

I used Keynote to create the facilitation guide included in my toolkit

Tools
  • Word / Gdocs: Word processors are the tools you already know and will keep your guide creation simple

  • Notion: You have a leg-up on word processors with Notion’s available templates and styling tools

  • PowerPoint / Keynote / Google Slides: If you want your guide to have more of a presentation feel, these are your go-to tools. I used Keynote to create an A4 formatted guide.

  • Canva: If you want more design horsepower, Canva’s tempates and styling options will add an extra hit of craftsmanship

4. Additional supporting resources

To ensure my customers' success with the toolkit, I included additional resources and case studies. These resources acted as support materials to provide additional context and enhance the learning experience.

These complementary resources include:

  • Write-ups on the material: blogs, social posts, newsletters

  • Video material: tutorials, interviews, video podcasts

  • Case studies to see how other customers have used the toolkit

A good time to introduce cross-sells and up-sells

Having provided unquestionable value at this point in my customer’s toolkit experience, I also include additional paid products I’ve created that will complement or extend the current product.

For example, when you’ve had success using the Problem Framing Toolkit, the next step in your journey is often to run a Design Sprint. And so I link to my Design Sprint Toolkit.

The Design Sprint Toolkit then points to the next thing, and so on.

By connecting your products in this way, you create an ecosystem of growth loops that generate self-sustaining revenue for your company. Does that get you all warm and fuzzy like it does for me?

5. Creator platform

I organized all of the above inside an online creator platform. I went with an online learning platform called Podia, although Thinkific and Teachable are excellent alternatives.

These platforms make it easy to host, market, sell, and manage your digital product.

A view of my toolkit inside of Podia

In an upcoming post, I’ll provide a complete walkthrough of tips and tricks for setting your products up within a creator platform.

Wrapping up

There you have it — the roadmap to turning your premium service into a digital product. It's a journey that's not only financially rewarding but also creatively fulfilling.

I hope my experience building the Problem Framing Toolkit serves as inspiration for your own digital product creation.

And this point is worth repeating: I built my first toolkit on my own and without any prior experience. I promise that you can do it, too.

Whether you choose to create an online course, a digital download, or a combination of both, you have skills and experiences people will pay money to learn from you. Remember to bring your unique perspective and stories.

Next: from build to showcase 🚀

Now that you have a plan for building your first digital product, it’s time to show it off to the world.

In part 3 of the Your First Product Series, you’ll learn how to create a landing page that your prospective customers will use to discover, review, and purchase your product.

And then stick around…

In future posts, we’ll cover your post-launch activities:

  • Marketing & selling

  • Iterating your product

  • Affiliates & partnerships

  • and LOTS more!

Jay Melone
Creator-Founder @
Passive Profits


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