If you don't have a product to sell, you sell information instead.

A consultant, for example, sells information. You bring a consultant in, and he or she instructs you and/or your team on how to do what it is you do, better.

The Internet has made the industries where information is sold extremely popular. So much so that many entrepreneurs set out to become thought leaders and experts in the the art of selling how to sell. 

Someone who has done this extremely well is Russ Ruffino, Founder and CEO of Clients on Demand, a coaching business that helps teach people how to effectively sell information on the Internet, specifically through the medium of online courses.

This is a world that has long fascinated me, the world of online courses. I have spent the past several years researching what makes an online course really great (to the point where it's generating six and seven figures in revenue) and, even more so, how these online educators build powerful personal brands around the information they are selling. As part of my research, I have talked with dozens of digital marketing influencers, everyone from Facebook Advertising experts to growth hackers, email automation masters and, of course, online course gurus.

I originally came across Ruffino by reading another Inc column, a byline where he shared 5 powerful and poignant tips for attracting the right type of customer. Aside from the fact that the article was extremely helpful to me in understanding some of the goals of building an effective online course, it also introduced me to Ruffino and his own unique approach to attracting high-ticket clients in the information space.

His motto is simple: you end up impacting more people, providing more value, and making more money when you out-price the majority of your potential customers. What he means is, sometimes getting anyone and everyone you can to buy what you're selling isn't what is going to drive the best results--for you or them. The example he shared was the fact that when he launched his first online course and kept the price on the lower end of the spectrum, the majority of the people who purchased didn't even finish it.

Curious about this idea of pricing your services in a way that automatically weeds out those "impulse buyers," I reached out to Ruffino to pick his brain on why he chose to go that route, and ultimately what mistakes other aspiring entrepreneurs in this space can avoid:

Mistake #1: Your service is not going to sell itself. It has to solve a problem.

"People don't buy products or services. They buy solutions," said Ruffino. "Occasionally, sure, there is a product that is just so freaking cool everybody wants it. But generally speaking, people want to invest in something that is going to give them a specific outcome and solve a certain problem."

This is something I learned first-hand on Quora, where I saw that the people who succeeded the most on Quora provided value in the form of answering a question extremely well. Ruffino is essentially echoing the same thing: you have to understand the problem you're solving, not what you think is cool or enticing, personally. In a sense, you have to know what question you're answering.

Mistake #2: Not taking into account customer feedback, and iterating along the way.

"Customer feedback should be every entrepreneur's primary tool for success," said Ruffino. "Just launch it. Get version 1.0 out there and see how the market responds. You can always upgrade and improve, but you need to take that first step to get an understanding of what's working and what isn't."

This speaks directly to one of my favorite quotes, which is, "You can't steer a stationary ship." You have to take that first step in order to know how to take your second step, and third step. In the most simple way, you can't take that third step without the first one. So start there.

Mistake #3: Worrying about whether to go after a niche market or a broad market.

"There are success stories in both--niche and broad markets. Coaches, specifically, need to focus on what they know better than anyone else. It doesn't matter if you go broad or niche if you end up teaching people something you aren't all that knowledgeable about," said Ruffino.

He went on to reinforce again the importance of solving a problem, instead of going to market with what you think people want to learn. That's not how it works. You might be sharing really valuable information, but if you can't cater it to the problem or frustration your target consumer is experiencing, they won't hear you in the first place.

"That's why everything we do at Clients on Demand is built around pinpointing problems and creating outcomes. I always ask, 'What's the outcome that I create? Who has that problem or who wants that outcome?' All your marketing is then built around that," said Ruffino.

Mistake #4: Trying to make a product for "everyone."

"When someone says their product is for everyone, it's actually for no one. Because the truth is, if your product or service truly does create a valuable outcome, then it can't be for everyone--because not everyone has that problem, or not everyone wants that outcome. So saying it's for everyone just proves they haven't really thought through who it's for and who it's not for, which is such a crucial piece of the puzzle," said Ruffino.

This is a mistake that happens in the advertising and marketing industries every single day. A huge reason so many big brand campaigns fail is because they run with a message that is so generic, it ends up falling upon deaf ears. But the reason it was designed to be generic was to cater to the masses, as many people as possible. The results, however, speak for themselves: since it attempted to speak to everyone, it ended up speaking to no one.

One thing that social media in particular has done for messaging, for brands and influencers alike, is that it has forced people to find their community--and their respective voice within it. The biggest, most recognized voices on the Internet find their stage in their own space, and that's the key. Whether you're building an audience or selling a product or service, it's important that you recognize not only the problem you're solving, but the right voice to use communicate your value to your ideal customer.

As a writer, I know this challenge all too well.

Published on: Apr 11, 2017