We all want to create profitable products but aren't sure where to start
We hope for some amazing formula, when all you really need are three core questions. When you are clear about the answers to the three questions, you can take an amazingly pedestrian, everyday concept and make it hugely profitable.
So what are the three questions you need to have in place and how can you get started today?
How to Create a Profitable Idea for Business
Around July 2000, I was made redundant from my job at a web design firm.
Life wasn’t supposed to unfold this way. I’d just moved to Auckland, New Zealand from Mumbai, India a few months prior. And here I was, barely a few months later, without a job and with a mortgage that hovered around $200,000 (yes, we’d just bought a house).
What do you do when you’re hurled into such a situation?
I turned to Photoshop, but not quite. There’s a story behind the Photoshop story and it began back in India, in July. Back in Mumbai, I freelanced as a cartoonist and work was pretty steady through the year, except around July.
For some inexplicable reason, the phones would stop ringing at that point in the year. At first, it drove me crazy and I’d do everything I could to drum up business. I’d rant and rave and complain about the fickle nature of July when my mother pointed out that things were always quiet for me in July.
From that point on, we’d use July to learn how to use Photoshop
One of the big games at the office (yes, I had staff) was to learn to use Photoshop in Tab, F mode. If you were to turn on Photoshop and hit the Tab key and press F (full screen) you’d find that all your toolbars disappear.
The game at the office was to keep working in Photoshop without any toolbars. A bystander would look in awe as you were able to use the brush tool, increase opacity, decrease brush sizes etc. You could do almost anything in Photoshop without needing the tool bar. It looked like pure magic.
It’s this magic that I had to use when I was made redundant
The moment I was made redundant, I went back to trying to get work as a cartoonist. Since most cartoonists at the time were still using pen, ink and paint, my work in Photoshop stood out when I went to meet art directors at the advertising agencies.
One particular art director got a bit chatty and as we talked she realised that she too could use the magic of Photoshop in her work. And so, while I started out trying to sell cartoons, I ended up charging $60 an hour, teaching art directors how to use the core tools of Photoshop without the tool bar.
Notice something very interesting in the last sentence?
I wasn’t teaching them Photoshop. I wasn’t going into the 2,459 rabbit holes that Photoshop presents to a beginner.
Instead I was just teaching them a subset—the core tools of Photoshop without the need for a tool bar. And this is precisely the kind of advice I’d give to a client if they called me up and asked how they should start a profitable business.
I’d say you need to ask yourself three questions: who, what and when.
So why do these three questions matter?
Why ‘Who' Matters
I’ve been pretty good at drawing since a very young age. Like every other kid around me, I did the usual doodles and scribbling, and when the rest of the kids decided to give up drawing at the age of four or five, I kept at it.
So you can say I’d be pretty good at drawing after all these years, wouldn’t you? And you’d be right because I’ve never really stopped drawing for a day. But drawing is a bit like cooking.
Just because you’re good at cooking Italian food doesn’t mean you’re going to be any good at Japanese food
Over the years I became exceptionally good at drawing cartoons, loved the structure of buildings and architecture, even dabbled in a bit of caricatures. But there’s one thing I avoided: drawing animals. I’d decided very early in my life that I wasn’t too good at drawing animals.
Then, recently, I was saddled with about 400 amazing envelopes. There’s a story behind those envelopes, but for now let’s just say it was much too hard to throw away those envelopes. So I started drawing animals on them, tentatively at first, but then with a sense of a mission.
The moment I started posting the photos of these envelopes online, there was a flurry of interest
People from different parts of the globe started giving me advice on what I should do with them. You should print them, said one. You could create a collector’s item box set said another. And the advice kept pouring in, and did exactly what advice usually does: it confuses you beyond belief.
The reason you’re hearing this story is to give you a framework of how a profitable idea doesn’t arise from an ability to do something well. A profitable idea arises from the first question you need to ask: Who.
So why is ‘who' so important?
Without the ‘who' in mind, struggle is almost inevitable. Think about the boxed set of envelopes, for example. There’s no doubt that they make a great product, but well intended as the suggestions were, there’s no clue who would buy it.
Or why they would buy it? Yet if we took the Photoshop example, we notice there’s an enormous amount of clarity. Sure, the clarity came about by a fluke discussion, but as we’ll find out a lot of profitable ideas are pure fluke.
To get back to the art director, I now had a clear person (what we call in The Brain Audit as the target profile). That one job of teaching the art director not only went on for several months, but led to another job—with the daughter of another art director. I didn’t go down the path of teaching Photoshop to other art directors, but you could clearly see how the ‘who' helped.
The ‘who' matters whether you’re writing an article or creating a product or service
Let’s say you’re creating an online product on storytelling. Before you start writing a word, you are peripherally aware of the volumes of story-related material in books, videos and audio. To write another series on storytelling would be nice, but how would it stand out.
Now let’s be fair: there’s a lot of terribly average material online and offline that is very profitable regardless of uniqueness. All the same, when uniqueness is relatively easy, why would you want a me-too product when you can have one that’s clearly outstanding? When you create a product or service for someone in particular, they give you their own specific bent on the problem they’re facing.
Take for example a service on presentations
There are hundreds of books on presentations and services that promise to show you how to be amazing on stage. Yet, when I spoke to this presenter, she felt competent, but not quite.
She felt she needed that last 10% that would take her from good to great. And there you have it. That subset is what gives you the clue. Instead of writing a book, creating a course, inventing a service on “presentations”, you work on the subset of how the “last 10% can take you from a good to great speaker.”
Fluke plays an incredibly important part in this game of finding the ‘who'
We’re so hell-bent on finding the right person, the right target profile that we don’t dare venture far from our computer screens. When I ran into that chatty art director, I had no clue that she’d talk about Photoshop.
When I spoke to that presenter, I had no idea that a cup of coffee would lead to an idea about “the last 10%”. It may appear that a lot of products or services are built around strategy, but they’re often built around a person.
The mistake we make is we hope we run into the ideal ‘who' right away
And more often than not, the ‘who' is a complete fluke. At first, almost every product or service is like Version 1.0. And the feedback you get from that person is going to be relatively limited.
Even if you were to create a product or service for “last 10% presenter”, the product would need refinement to get to Version 1.1 and from there to 1.2 and so on. With every product or service that’s been profitable, we’ve had a Version 1.0 and then moved along refining as we go along.
Every time you fix things, your product becomes better and more profitable and there’s always a ‘who' who’ll give you feedback and help you take the product to another level.
But even if there’s a ‘who' in place, how do you deal with the ‘what?'
Why When Matters
For over 20 years Charles Darwin postponed the publishing of his theory
Then, on 24 November, 1859, Darwin published his theory on, “Origin of Species”. Priced at fifteen shillings, 1250 copies were sold. Yet, Darwin wasn't keen on the book being published until his death. In a letter to his religious wife, Darwin asked that 400 pound be set aside and enough promotion of his book be done after his death.
Yet, Alfred Russel Wallace got in the way of these plans
Alfred Wallace, a naturalist, spent eight years in Singapore and South East Asia between the years of 1854 and 1862 and is known to have discovered evolution by natural selection as well.
He wrote an essay while in Indonesia (while living on the island of Ternate) and sent it to Darwin in 1858. When Darwin saw the contents of the letter, he knew the “Origin of Species” couldn't wait any longer. It needed to be published right away or all of Darwin's work would be attributed to another man.
We are similar to Darwin in many ways
Our work may seem insignificant when compared with the work of Darwin, but if your work changes a single person’s day, it’s significant. You know from your own experience how a single line in a book may have caused you to stop and reexamine what you were doing.
Or a random comment that may have changed the way you went about your life or business. Our work seems insignificant only because we know it so well. For others it can be a major moment in their lives.
Which is why you need to start now
As you’ve probably heard or read elsewhere on the Psychotactics site, most of our work started out unpolished. At this very moment, as I’m writing this article, Renuka is laughing at one of my articles that I wrote several years ago. However the best example of the unpolished nature of our work must be attributed to The Brain Audit itself.
As you’ve probably heard before, the “book” started out as just 16 pages of notes. We made over $50,000 selling that book simply because we got pushed into selling it. And when we sold it offline we weren’t ready to sell it online. Again, someone pushed us and our online business got underway.
If you think your work is crappy, there’s a good reason why
Your work is crappy. The Brain Audit was crappy at the start. All our courses and workshops were crappy at the start. Not by choice, of course. We did the best we could but now I can’t even bear to go back and look at the early versions. You too will need to bolster up your confidence and get your work going whether it’s through text, audio, video or presentations. Because if you don’t do it, someone else will.
Darwin had all the material he needed but was still reluctant to publish his work
And here I am giving you this advice but I’m reluctant as well. I’ve been working on the concept of talent since 2008 or earlier. So many years have passed and while I’ve written the odd article here and there, there’s no program, no book, no webinar, no podcast.
Let me ask you this question: Would you like to read about how to become talented in just about any field? Would you like to read about what holds us back?(and no it’s not genes). It’s not like I’m comparing my work to Darwin’s or any one else for that matter. But as a reader or listener, would the information be important to you?
Your work is more important than ever
It may appear raw to you, but you need to start and fix it later. You’re hoping for that one great idea but you need to start with a little idea. Will the little idea fail? It might, but from those failures you keep moving ahead and fixing things. Even Darwin’s work was just the start of his journey. During Darwin's lifetime the book went through six editions, with cumulative changes and revisions to deal with counter-arguments raised.
In 1871 he examined human evolution and sexual selection in The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, followed by The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. His research on plants was published in a series of books. His final book, The Formation of Vegetable Mould, through the Actions of Worms (published 1881), he examined earthworms and their effect on soil.
When he died he was honoured by a burial in Westminster Abbey where only royals, generals, admirals, politicians, doctors and important scientists are buried. And to think Darwin almost never started on his journey.
Do you still want to wait? Or are you going to start today?
So how do you create a profitable idea for business?
When you started reading this information, you may have thought there’d be a formula. And that’s the formula you’ve been missing. The formula is so simple that somehow you feel like there’s something wrong.
Like as if you have to pay $2000 to some Internet guru to get the formula. But think about it for a second. Let’s say you’ve got a really good way to grow tomatoes. You can grow thousands of tomatoes in an extremely small space. Is that a superpower? Sure it is.
So let’s start with the who: Who is going to be interested in your tomato idea?
Then let’s get to what: The “what” is about growing thousands of tomatoes in a very small space.
Then let’s get to the when: And this is where it all falls apart, isn’t it? You should start now, but there are reasons why you can’t start now. If Darwin could have reasons, so can you and I. We can all have our reasons.
The biggest problem isn’t necessarily that you need a great idea for business
You just need to start but there’s something holding you back. And we’ll explore what holds you back—yes we will. But understand that there isn’t going to be a moment when you’ll get a great idea.
The Brain Audit was not a great idea, it was just a presentation. Every product or service you’ve experienced at Psychotactics wasn’t a great idea and even today is just work in progress. Most ideas are half-baked when they start and it’s in your interest to get started.
Identify whom you think will buy the idea, then work on the what you’re going to sell. Make it a superpower, as far as possible. And start now. If you keep at it, the road will change along the way. You’ll make mistakes and you’ll get smarter too. And that’s when the profit will roll in.
Teaching Photoshop wasn’t a new idea.
It wasn’t even a great idea.
Heck, you could even borrow the idea by learning Photoshop and finding art directors.
And the best way to get started is to get started. If you’re a member of 5000bc well, get to the Taking Action forum where others just like you have decided to take their ideas and run with it. They’re on their way and so should you.