Delivering A Minimum Viable Product Without Providing Minimum Value

A look at what went into the beta soft-launch of Profitable Project Plan, including how to test the waters with a minimum viable product that delivers outstanding value and generates testimonials that sell.

As a designer and a semi-neurotic perfectionist, I don’t let anything go out into the wild that doesn’t meet the expectations I have for myself, my business, and my brand. The problem is the expectations I have of myself and anything associated with my name are unreasonable and often unachievable, even by me. When I create something with my name on it, I want it to be everything I hoped it would be right away and I want the first of anything I create to include everything imaginable, and of course, for it to be presented spectacularly.

This is exactly why, even though I have big ideas and loads content and materials already done, few of my ideas see the light of day and I rarely ever launch anything. My perfectionism has had me paralyzed. And, if I’m honest, it’s not only my perfectionism, but my fear of being judged, of not being good enough, and of whatever I put out there failing miserably.

Plus, every time I speak with other people about my ideas, all I hear are things like, “Just get a minimum viable product together and get it out the door, you can always make it better later.” But here’s the thing: I am unwilling to sell anything that isn’t high-quality and high-value, and unwilling to skimp or cut corners to make a buck.

When it comes to delivering on a promise made to customers and clients:

  • I believe that good is not good enough.
  • I refuse to waste time and money — mine or yours.
  • I want to sleep well and be proud of what I create and sell.

My wish for Profitable Project Plan was no different.

I wanted to build out a full membership site with drip content, professional videos, and automated marketing, but that wasn’t going to happen. You see, I have a business partner (and husband) who adds a dose of reality to my big ideas. Every time I brought up the idea of turning Profitable Project Plan into a full blown course, Brian would respond by listing everything that had to be done and the number of hours and internal investment it would take. To be clear, he wasn’t saying no, he was just saying that I don’t need to build Mount Everest out of the gate and that I should start small. But starting small is never what I want, so I would just end up doing nothing.

I was my own worst enemy.

This summer, everything changed…

This summer we spent a week in San Diego visiting our good friends, the Lema Family.

Chris Lema is a great friend, in fact, we’re so much alike, it’s more like we’re related. Chris has more than twenty years in the product space, he advises companies of all sizes — from freelancers to enterprise-level companies — and he is constantly learning, reading, testing, and trying new things. I always learning something new when I spend time with Chris, read his blog, or attend his annual business mastermind event, CaboPress.

While at Chris’ house, I mentioned finally turning the comprehensive client management system I created for my company Bourn Creative into an online course. People have been asking to purchase it for years, but I have always said no because the content alone isn’t going to make a radical difference in a business if the business owner doesn’t understand the system, the strategy behind, the reasoning for each step, and how best to use it.

I shared that I had the name picked out — Profitable Project Plan — and began to walk him through my grand plan. But Chris immediately cut me off and basically repeated everything Brian had been saying to me for over a year. When I tried to argue, he responded with something like, “And that’s exactly why this doesn’t exist and you haven’t launched anything.” Ouch! That stung, but it got me to realize that if I wanted different results, I needed to do things differently and I needed to let go of my need for perfection.

Then Chris got up, said he had a work call that was going to last about an hour, and told me to write the sales page copy for the course. And, he told me that I had to give it to him by the time his call was over.

If you know Chris, you know that at this point, there was no arguing. I just had to do it.

So I curled up in the corner of the couch, opened up the Notes app on my iPhone, and wrote from my heart, sharing my story, the challenges that led me to creating the client management system in the first place, how it changed my business and my life drastically, and my hopes for those who purchased the system now. Luckily, we have designed and built numerous sales pages for several well-known online coaches over the years, so at least I had an idea of what I needed to say and include in the content.

An hour later, true to his word, Chris walked out of his office and asked for my content. I emailed it to him right from my Notes app and watched as he grabbed his laptop, bought a horrible URL (with dashes in it) and setup a down and dirty sales page using Beaver Builder. He began plugging in my content, asking me questions about the course that I hadn’t even made final decisions about, and put in placeholder images and some random video from YouTube. He then gave me the username and password and told me to clean it up and get it done.

The padding and margins were awful, the colors and typography weren’t on brand, it wasn’t using the logo I designed, and that URL was killing me.

If you ask Chris, he’ll tell you that he purposefully made it wonky because he knew it would bug me so much that I would feel like I had to fix it right away. And he was right. The next day I began poking around the page and making changes. Now, I had never used Beaver Builder before, never watched a video about how it worked, never tested it. Even though I had no idea how the plugin worked going in, it was so easy to use that I was able to adjust the fonts, change the colors, make changes to the design, add rows of content, add my own logo, and edit the content without writing any code, which meant I also didn’t need to get Brian involved.

Once we got home from the Lema’s house, Brian moved the site to out hosting account on my URL and I recorded a video for the Profitable Project Plan sales page, polished up the content a bit, connected it to a third-party payment processor, and after getting feedback from my mastermind and Chris, quietly put it for sale. I was so nervous to take that step and send that first tweet, as this was WAY out of my comfort zone!

Profitable Project Plan Soft Launch

The beta version of Profitable Project Plan launched very quietly. It was an opportunity to:

  1. Test the waters, put the course for sale, and see if there is any real interest in a course delivering a complete client management system and business training.
  2. Deliver the course, identify any areas of friction, gain real student feedback, and secure testimonials to use in the marketing for future offerings of the course.

For the Profitable Project Plan beta launch, there were no paid ads or Facebook ads, no marking funnels, no pre-written marketing emails or social media posts, no three-part video course, and no free preview webinar to upsell the course. There weren’t even any blog posts to promote it because Profitable Project Plan isn’t on-brand for Bourn Creative or my personal blog, Inspired Imperfection. And, I didn’t even have an interest list.

The entire marketing strategy consisted of some Facebook and Twitter posts, and a few giveaways for free enrollment by Chris Lema, Carrie Dils, iThemes, and WP Sessions.

To be honest, I knew the content and training would knock it out of the park, but didn’t I actually know how I was going to deliver the content. This uncertainty meant I didn’t want tons of people to buy it. I just needed a solid handful of students to test the beta round — and with a smaller number of participants, I was confident I could wow every single one.

My goal was 10 students in the course and I ended up with 40.

I was excited and once again, incredibly nervous.

Course Pricing

My price point for Profitable Project Plan was $997. But with no track record delivering courses and no testimonials, I needed to first do a beta launch.

I priced the course at:

  • $400 for the core course — six modules delivered over six weeks (Welcome, Onboarding, Design, Development, Launch, and Exit)
  • $600 for the PRO version with two bonus trainings and the associated materials (Sales Calls, Contracts, Welcome, Onboarding, Design, Development, Launch, and Exit)

When Profitable Project Plan went for sale, more than a few people commented on the price. Some perceived it to be a very high price and some perceived it to be a low price for everything I included. Personally, I’m not interested in joining the race to the bottom. I’d rather serve fewer people, provide more value, and have a greater impact. I believe that $997 is a fair price for everything that is included, and that $400 and $600 respectively is a screaming deal.

I did encounter a couple pricing hiccups however…

The first pricing problem was that the third-party payment processor didn’t allow for payment plans and $400/$600 was more than some people could spend at one time. I had several inquires about payment plans and did my best to accommodate them through direct PayPal payment links. I felt like this was totally unprofessional, but at that point, we were making the best of the situation.

The second pricing problem was that some people purchased the $400 version of Profitable Project Plan but once in the course were asking questions about sales calls and contracts. It became apparent that when a payment plan wasn’t available, people opted for the cheaper option, but needed the more expensive option. As a result, we enabled several people to pay the difference and upgrade their access throughout the course duration.

For these reasons, Profitable Project Plan now has one offering with a pay in full option and a payment plan option.

Minimum Viable Product

I have been in client services since 1997 where you always strive to over deliver, so generally, the whole idea of a minimum viable product is not one I embrace. But in an effort to change my perfectionist, go-big-or-go-home ways, I was willing to scrap “my way” and try another way. I was willing to embrace the idea of a minimum viable product for the beta… sort of.

I agreed to creating a minimum viable product with maximum value provided.

This means that I was willing to go basic and down and dirty on the technical aspects of selling and delivering Profitable Project Plan, but unwilling to settle for anything less than extraordinary on the training, materials, and delivery. Basically, I was okay with the technical things being a bit wonky for the beta launch, as long as I over delivered for those who enrolled in the course and exceeded their expectations. Those who invest deserve the best and I am not willing to compromise on that.

In a perfect world, I would have had a beautiful, custom-designed sales page, payment plan options, a complete membership site, every email pre-written, and the content set to drip automatically. But in this world, the approach was get this for sale with as little cost as possible and see if it is a viable product, worth investing the time and money needed to fully build it out.

I looked at the process of getting Profitable Project Plan set up as potential case study to show clients that you don’t need a fancy website, complicated membership or courseware solution, or anything highly technical to launch a course. Demonstrating to clients that you can start small and work your way up to the product/course/offering of your dreams is not only a smart move, but much easier and more cost-effective.

Here’s what went into making the Profitable Project Plan beta happen:

GoDaddy

I have all of my domain names, email accounts, and a development sandbox hosting account at GoDaddy, so when I needed a URL for this course, I bought it at GoDaddy too. I had several ideas for the course name and settled on Profitable Project Plan because it was the only domain name on my list that was available. Plus, they’re easy to work with, I can get someone on the phone at any time, and we rarely have any issues.

WordPress and Beaver Builder

The sales page site was built on WordPress with Beaver Builder. At Bourn Creative, we don’t use page builders like Beaver Builder for our custom WordPress sites, so I had never used it before. I was shocked to see just how easy it was to navigate and use. I was able to do everything I needed to get the page dialed in and the course for sale without any knowledge of how the plugin worked, without any code, and without getting Brian involved.

The Beaver Builder founders are good friends of ours, so I was really excited to meet up with them after the launch and tell them all about my experience using the plugin and how easy it was.

Gumroad

We have an authorize.net account, but earlier this year we put it on hold because we moved all of our client invoicing and billing into Quickbooks Online, and frankly neither of us wanted to deal with it. So instead we went with Gumroad as the payment provider, which allowed people to pay with a credit card or PayPal. It also has affiliate capabilities built in, so I was able to offer affiliate opportunities to a few close friends.

Gumroad was very fast and easy to set up and easy to use, but there were some downsides:

  • It is meant for digital products and one time downloads not courses, so there was some wonkiness there in the way that it worked.
  • Gumroad doesn’t support payment plans.
  • The course was for sale, but it had an official start date in the future, so it had to be setup as a pre-sale in Gumroad with the download automatically released on the course start date. Gumroad didn’t actually charge the cards until the start date and to do so required that a PDF download was provided.
  • Gumroad doesn’t integrate with my email marketing provider, so there was no way to sync my email with what Gumroad was doing, which caused some confusion on the first day of the course when I emailed students a link to the lesson materials and Gumroad sent then the PDF download.

Bottom line: It was easy to use, but I would only use it again for a digital product.

Mailchimp

I used MailChimp to communicate with the Profitable Project Plan students and setup custom, branded email templates for the course. Because it didn’t integrate with Gumroad, I had to manually add each student to MailChimp, which was sort of a pain in the butt. Other than that, using MailChimp was a breeze.

We recommend MailChimp to all new businesses and new ventures because it is free until you reach 2,000 subscribers. This helps those bootstrapping their businesses and new ideas to build their list and get money coming in before they assume another monthly bill.

Dropbox

I didn’t build out a membership site or a learning management system, but I needed a way to deliver the course materials to the students each week. For this first version, I simply used Dropbox. Each student was given access to a Dropbox folder without editing capabilities. This meant they could access the files but not edit anything.

While not ideal, I positioned it as a positive bonus — participants didn’t have to remember a password or login to a membership site to get the course materials. Instead, I was making it as easy as possible by providing everything via Dropbox. This way they could download the materials to their computer, or copy them to their own Dropbox account.

Zoom

To deliver the live video training and live Q&A, I needed an interactive webinar solution. I looked into all sorts of webinar services, but they all seemed complicated. All of our clients who host webinars use virtual assistants to run the technical end of things while they teach, and I think it’s just because the software is too complicated.

I already used Zoom Meetings and Zoom is very easy to use, so upgrading my plan to include Zoom Webinars was a no-brainer. The night before the first webinar, I logged into my Zoom account and setup the webinar in about five minutes. The first Profitable Project Plan webinar was my very first Zoom webinar… It was risky, and I wouldn’t do it again, but thankfully it went off without a hitch.

What I really appreciate about Zoom Webinars is how simple the webinar recording process is. To record the webinar, all I had to do was click a radio button during the webinar setup. That’s it. It began recording at the start of the webinar, stopped recording at the end, and automatically processed the video and saved it, along with the audio to my computer. All I had to do was upload the recording to Dropbox.

SurveyMonkey

When Profitable Project Plan ended, I used SurveyMonkey — the 10 question free version — to send all Profitable Project Plan participants a survey. A few questions focused on specific course feedback and their thoughts on ideas I had for future offerings, a few questions were about their experience and use of the system in their business, and a few were designed to capture testimonials. It was easy to setup and highly effective.

Maximum Value Provided

As I said, I was okay with the technical things being a bit wonky for the beta launch, as long as I over delivered for those who enrolled in the course and exceeded their expectations.

This meant making sure that the materials they received were:

  • Crystal clear and easy to understand
  • Beautifully designed with a consistent layout and structure
  • Designed to save ink when printed, so most pages have no bleeds, photos, or large blocks of color
  • Organized well and named consistently
  • Provided in multiple formats when applicable for utmost flexibility during implementation
  • Comprehensive valuable resources that provided the what, why, and how

Using the client management system is a no-brainer for us because I’m the one that planned it, created it, wrote all of the content for it, tested, and refined it year after year. But while the system itself and the emails and call frameworks already existed, they weren’t going to be much use to anyone without some explanation and training to go with them.

Written Training Materials

I knew that creating all of the final materials for Profitable Project Plan was going to be a lot of work, so we actually cancelled our last two family vacations of the summer and stayed home instead so I could get all of the training materials done.

  • First I combed through out entire client management system, gathered and saved all of the individual assets in one place, and organized them.
  • Second, I meticulously documented the entire system with detailed descriptions of each step, including what it is, how it is used, and why it is important so I could provide students with a course introduction and an overview of the entire client management system, along with options for different types of payment structures.
  • Third, I dove deep into each major step of the system, which would become the modules of the course, explaining best practices, things to consider, business challenges, how to work with and speak to the clients, the structure of every phone call, and the strategy behind every email sent.
  • Finally, when all of the documentation and training content was done, I designed a master course handbook, nine individual handbooks for each module of the course, flowcharts for the call frameworks, a sample contract and change order, and eleven education client ebooks. Everything associated with Profitable Project Plan was consistent in visual design and presentation.

Live Training and Q&A

The other aspect of providing maximum value was the live training and Q&A. Originally my plan was to pre-record the lessons and drip them out through a membership site, but in the spirit of the minimum viable product, I did them live. This actually turned out to be awesome! I had a blast doing the training sessions live and participants loved the live Q&A.

Because the Q&A was directly after each training, they could drop questions into the chat or Q&A box at anytime, and the Q&A lasted as long as it took to answer all the questions, even if the questions were about other business-related items and not the specific topic at hand. Sometimes the Q&A was 20 minutes and other times it was almost an hour. That was their time to pick my brain and get immediately feedback.

What’s Next For Profitable Project Plan

With a minimum viable product, I proved there was a market for Profitable Project Plan, and it was worth investing our time and resources in. I was apprehensive of putting something out there that wasn’t everything I dreamed, but in the end, it was the best thing I could have done. I stepped out of my comfort zone to make it happen and the process was exciting, scary, fun, nerve-wracking, and highly-rewarding at the same time. I really enjoyed delivering the course, working with the participants, and seeing the positive effect it had on their businesses.

I created the course for designers, developers, and those who sell WordPress websites, but was surprised to see copywriters and virtual assistants invest in the course too. The copywriters told me that the process for copywriting and design are so similar that the system was easily adaptable to their business, and the virtual assistants told me that they invested in the course to learn how the website design and development process worked to better manage it for their clients and to be a better client. How amazing is that?

A highlight of my year was reading the survey results after Profitable Project Plan ended.

I am excited to share that enrollment is now open for Profitable Project Plan and it is going to be amazing!

  • I now have this site to build my personal brand and house Profitable Project Plan and other future courses and products, and I finally have the membership site built out that I wanted (using MemberPress).
  • I expanded the course from 6 weeks to 12 weeks, rolling the PRO trainings from the first round into the main course and adding three strategic implementation weeks. During the implementation weeks, no new content is delivered, instead there is only live Q&A. This gives you extra time to get caught up on any missed trainings or to take action and implement the system.
  • MP3 recordings are being added along with the video training and Q&A recordings so you can listen to the trainings on the go.
  • I have added implementation-focused checklists and tasks sheets to the modules to help make implementation and adoption in your business easier.
  • After repeated requests, I am adding a private Facebook group, so you can connect with others implementing the system in their business too.
  • I switched over to Stripe, so you can now choose to pay in full, or take advantage of a payment plan.

This system has completely changed my life, my business, and the lives of our entire family for the better… It has saved me time and energy, created better margins and more flexibility, increased profitability, and helped me enjoy my business again without sacrificing my family, my health, or my sanity.

Creating and delivering Profitable Project Plan has been one of the most fulfilling things I have done in a long time. I learned a ton, I got out of my own way, and I grew personally and professionally. I am so proud of this course and the quality it delivers, and am excited to share it with you because I wholeheartedly believe it can do the same for you.

Learn more about Profitable Project Plan.

Some links used on this site are “affiliate links.” If you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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