Monthly Archives: May 2019


Plotting Your Story

Recently, I delivered a 30 minute talk about how to find raw material for storytelling.  I described the walk from my home to the venue for the talk.  I showed myself pondering what to say to the group as I walked along.  (Most was prepared in advance!)  Plotting your story means turning mundane material into something your audience wants to hear.

Every incident was something I experienced that same day.  I had ideas before I set out, knowing the places I would walk through.  I prepared teaching and exercises for the group and incorporated reflections on the exercises in the fictional walk. 

On the way in I noted, there was a polling station in Sorby House, this enabled me to remind my listeners to vote!  By the river, I encountered two boys, one of whom threw a half bottle of Coca Cola into the river.  I was annoyed but then celebrated because I could add the incident to my story.

I ended by describing a heron I saw on the river.  I saw the heron that day, several hours before the walk. 

The exercises showed how we find stories from our pasts.  My story illustrated use of material from this day to make a story.  Processing raw material into a narrative is plotting.  “I walked to this meeting and on the way saw a polling station, a boy throw a bottle in the river and a heron” may not feel like a story but it depends on what you do with the material; it depends on plotting your story.

What is Plotting? 

It’s the shape you give to your story.  Once you have a story, work out how to tell it.  One story, many possible plots.  The challenge is to tell a compelling story that holds attention and delivers a satisfactory conclusion. Here are a few things to consider.


If you tell the story in the order in which it happened, it can be very effective.  For my story about the walk, it makes sense to begin at the beginning of the journey, follow the route and end at the end.  Most people don’t know the route and so wouldn’t know if I varied it but the story needs logical progression. 

However, chronological order can be tedious.  We’ve all heard stories begin with “I was born in 1973 and went to school at …”.  There are many things wrong with this approach.  It’s dull.  There’s nothing to root for in this account, why should I care about the year you were born or where you went to school?  If these facts matter, mention them in passing.

Begin stories with action; something the audience cares about.  It could be some dilemma: “Should I hand myself into the police and face years in prison?”  This raises questions like, what had I done?  Did I go to prison?  How did I get out?  Opening this way, deliberately holds back information to share as you tell the story.  The audience trusts you to answer these questions (and more!) as the story unfolds. 

Open in the action and then work out questions that might be in the listeners’ minds?  In what order will you answer them?  How can you tell the story to answer them in that order?  Building tension as you unravel a mystery, is far more compelling than one damn thing after another.

In the Present

One way to avoid dull chronological accounts is to set the story in the present moment.  Here are a few things to think about.

If this is a story of transformation, show us the end-state first.  Say, you recovered from alcoholism.  Perhaps begin the story by showing your present lifestyle.  It needs to be active in some way: “I’m about to go on stage and deliver my keynote speech in front of 400 people.  A few years ago I would not have done this, even fortified by a stiff drink.”  From here flashback to your history and return to the keynote, possibly highlighting what happened afterwards.

Note how I constructed a false present in the telling.  “I’m about to go on stage…” and not “I was about to go on stage …”.  It’s a false present in the sense that the real present is you and your audience.  The false present shows you post-transformation and invites comparison with an earlier time when certain issues were not resolved.  It also enables return to the false present and indeed to the real present: “… and that’s how I’m able to tell you this story today.”  Not particularly exciting as an ending but it shows what I mean.

Begin Close to the End

Bring the action of the story as close to the present as possible.  Usually, you offer your audience hope.  Show how change has happened in your life, explain how it happened and then return to the present.  You could begin with some key crisis point to build tension, while you explain how you got there and finish the story by resolving the crisis. 

This approach satisfies the audience.  When you return to the crisis, the audience knows the tension will soon be resolved and the story will close. 

The story will depend on flashbacks.  A common pattern is CABC.  Here A is how you got into the problem.  This may be childhood issues or some mistake you made.  B is how you resolved the issue.  C is the state you are in now that contrasts with the state you were in when the problem began.

There are many alternative plot structures.  It’s worth thinking through how your story works when you focus on the end of the story and then work out how you got there.

Finish the Story

Once you resolve the tension in the story, finish as swiftly as you can.  It’s tempting to ramble on, drawing out lessons, explaining what happened later and how all your friends reacted to the changes in your life.  When the story is over, it’s over – don’t prolong the agony!

One option is to segue into teaching.  Incorporate teaching into your story or break the story for teaching.  The way to do this is to finish the story with some key idea you draw from the story.  Then start teaching with the same key idea.  This is where to include a call to action or make an offer, if you are telling a marketing story.


There’s a lot to plotting and it’s impossible to cover it all in one blog post.  The genius to good storytelling is in how you tell it.  Indeed, as your skills as a storyteller develop, you’ll make even the most mundane activity into a compelling narrative. 

Future posts will explore other aspects of plotting and next time we’ll look at setting the scene.


How to Educate Followers Through Emails

Sarah is not happy with sales for her first online training course.  She accepts first attempts are rarely brilliant but she can’t see what else to do to sell an online product she knows is very good.  She promoted the course through email marketing and wonders whether there’s more to educating followers before she makes an offer.

Educate Followers by Adding Significant Value

Use the OVO method to mail valuable information to your list before making an offer.  The offer appeals to those who value the free information and sign up for a deeper exploration of the subject.

The information shared during an initial marketing campaign serves several purposes, by

  • demonstrating your knowledge of the subject,
  • showing you convey it in an accessible and clear way,
  • pointing to further knowledge and expertise they gain by participating, and
  • showing the benefits of mastering the subject area.

Use an initial sequence of emails to help your market understand the value of your offer.  It is common for markets to be unaware of a problem, perhaps because they are unable to name it, or don’t believe there are solutions, let alone you offer a solution. 

Share information that opens the gap between their current understanding of their problem and the possibility of doing something constructive about it.  Your offer must bridge that gap.

Teaching during your marketing takes various formats.  It should be enough to sell the offer and no more.  You would expect less work to promote a low-end offer and much more for a high-end offer.  Aim to convey the value of your offer so the customer finds the offer worth more to them than its price.

There are many online media to market your offer and what you choose depends on the information you must get across.  Everything in this list is promoted through email and social media.  Use social media to find opt-ins to your email sequence.  Here are some possibilities:

  • Use email to promote low-end offers, with a link to a landing page
  • Long sales letter on a webpage
  • Video
  • Audio, for people to listen to driving or jogging.
  • Webinars

Resistance to Education

There is resistance to education, from a variety of sources.  Some people don’t like reading on screens, for example.  Others have bad experiences of education. 

Beware of words like “education” or “learning” and their derivatives.  People want to know the benefits of your product.  “Find out how to…” may work better than “Learn how to…”. 

Educate followers about the value of your offer.    In the earlier stages, where you raise awareness of the problem and demonstrate it can be addressed, you don’t need to mention your offer other than to hint it is coming.  Simply communicate interesting and helpful stuff. 

Once people see the value of taking this work further, offer your solution.

How Much Value?

How much value should you offer during your marketing?  There’s no one size fits all answer.  There’s no in-principle limit to the amount you share.  However, your offer should promise a step-up in value from your marketing.  How? 

  • Offer bonuses that cover essential areas you did not cover in your marketing. 
  • Present teaching material in a variety of user-friendly ways, eg handouts via pdfs.  Diagrams and mindmaps appeal to some customers. 
  • Demonstrate your offer presents in-depth knowledge for those who appreciate your marketing.  What is the value of going deeper?
  • Demonstrate your offer helps them apply new skills to their specific circumstances. 
  • Offer contact with other customers, supporting a community of users who help each other with application of learning. 
  • Share materials produced by customers as a result of your offer.
  • Feedback to customers.
  • Offer opportunities to ask questions.
  • Sometimes confidentiality may be important.  Also consider related issues, such as copyright.

Few of these happen during marketing campaigns.  Think about the support customers need to implement solutions you offer and work out how your offer delivers them

The next post is the final one in this sequence about email marketing.  Email saves time.  Really!  Read it to find out more!

bouquet of white lilies

Use Stories to Communicate Information

Last time I asked, what is a story? Here is a story based on a recent experience. How does it communicate information and what information does it communicate?

In April this year, I attended a funeral.  The woman who died was not close, she chaired a voluntary organisation where I was treasurer.  The last time I saw her was when she stepped down in May last year.

Nevertheless, I was deeply moved.  She was 49 years old and had many plans.  Imagine her on New Year’s Eve, looking forward to what 2019 would bring.  Her diagnosis and the disease that overwhelmed her happened between February and April.  After she died her family heard she had qualified for her degree.  It seems utterly pointless and puts all our achievements in perspective.

My father used to say, “You always have 10 years to live.”  Obviously, that is not true for many who read this or indeed perhaps for the author.  We simply don’t know.  The point my father made was we should live as if we have time to complete our plans.  The woman who died had great plans and her mourners were a part of them and saw her plans die with her.

I’ve already lived 15 years longer than she did.  I am in good health and have loads of plans.  I sometimes wish I was 15 years younger because I sense I need more time.  It does run out but also we cannot be certain.  Wouldn’t it be ironic if I gave up for reasons of age and then lived another 3 decades?

Stories Entertain

Perhaps reading this story, you don’t feel entertained.  It’s not a happy story.  But ask yourself these questions.  Did you read through to the end?  Were you moved by the story?  I deliberately held back a lot of detail because you don’t need it. 

Entertainment is not necessarily pleasurable; there is something compelling about a sad story.  A funeral is an ending as well as the beginning of many peoples’ stories.  Her family have much to look forward to, they grieve and move on, perhaps inspired by her example, to build on her story.

We all try to make sense of our lives.  What is the point of a degree I’ll never use?  What is the point of plans that never bear fruit?  We need stories to show us endings are also new beginnings.  We explore these issues because we all make plans. If we give in because one day we’ll die, the world becomes a less colourful place.

Stories Educate

This story aims to educate without hard evidence.  It aims to encourage thinking about mortality.  We face certainty, one day our friends will awake and find we’re no longer with them.  How do we face up to that?  In one sense there is always time and in another it runs out unexpectedly.  How do we respond?  My father’s view is one response.  Does it work for you?

Stories help communicate learning and facts.  Indeed, it is hard to communicate without stories.  If you use statistics to communicate, you project a graph onto a screen but then what?  You can’t leave the audience to draw their own conclusions.  You must point them in some direction.  

Facts delivered as stories are more likely to be remembered and if a story engages the audience, it encourages them to think around your topic.  Whether they pick holes in it or conclude they agree with you, they are likely to interact.  Interaction is much more valuable than agreement.  Don’t believe me?  When did you last share a carefully crafted social media or blog post and receive no feedback at all?  Stories don’t guarantee feedback but increase the possibility you hold attention until the end and help the audience process and raise questions.

Can stories undermine your talk, by taking a topic and making it seem less serious?  If you begin with research and show evidence for your argument, the story reinforces your message.  Back up your story with evidence, even by circulating a fact sheet.

Stories are Emotional

Emotion is a pitfall if you feel too strongly about your story.  Decide what you want your audience to feel and feel that emotion as you tell the story. 

The story may be happy or sad, even traumatic but mostly, especially for business, leave the audience hopeful.  Show there is reason to hope and your audience is moved and inclined to hear your message.

Bring the audience to a point where they see how to address a problem and you bring them to a buying state.  Finish with a call to action and they are likely to follow it if they are moved.

Stories communicate information effectively precisely because they generate positive emotion.  Communicate information in an entertaining story and it is more likely to be remembered. With emotional impact, it is likely to be acted upon, through a call to action.

To achieve this, you must understand plotting, so that is the topic next time.


How to Generate Excitement using Emails

Sarah prepares to launch her new course about how to become and remain healthy through diet.  She has a list of potential customers but they have not made this commitment before and so she worries they won’t respond to her emails.  How can she generate excitement through her emails?

Sarah uses OVO email strategies.  She understands people who are interested opt into her list.  She sends regular emails that share advice about healthy diets.   Now she wants to make an offer and she needs to communicate its value to them.

This post focuses on the content of the emails.  The subject line is integral to the success of this strategy.  A good subject line increases excitement and encourages people to open the emails.  So think about spending 10 minutes at least on the subject line for key emails. 

Tension Builds Attention

Let’s start with Value emails, they build reputation and so don’t aim to make direct sales.  Don’t promote specific offers all the time.  These emails serve some specific purposes:

  • Emails remind people you exist.  Recipients don’t need to open them.  They see and delete them but know you’re still in business.  If they’re really not interested, they may unsubscribe.  This means they are unlikely customers, so don’t worry about it.
  • It’s better if they open your email and read it.  They’re more likely to if they are keen supporters and more so with a good subject line.  You see who opens emails from statistics, collected by your email service.
  • The content is educational and inspirational.  You share valuable information, so those who want more are likely to respond to your offers. 

When someone opens your email, how do you get them to read on?  The most effective way is through a story.  In early sentences, build tension, resolved at the end of your email.  In between you can break off your story for teaching.  Finish with a call to action, perhaps encourage readers to click on a link.  For example, Sarah could finish with a link to a recipe on her website.  These could be coupled with low-end offers during the times when she’s not running a campaign.

Use Anticipation to Generate Excitement

When people open and read emails through to the end, the next step is to build anticipation between emails.  Release three emails that build on a theme and then a fourth that makes a big offer.

These 4 emails taken together are similar to a long sales letter.  Plan them together as such.  Sometimes they are called a sideways sales letter.  The call to action of the first builds anticipation for the second, the second for the third.  The third builds anticipation for the offer so recipients look forward to your offer email, if only to see what your offer is.

There are many ways to do this.  Videos are perhaps most effective.  A 10 minute (maximum) video offers immediate value and raises anticipation.  The content is mostly teaching with a story arc that builds anticipation.

Why Do Prospects Respond?

A lot depends on your offer, so focus on offering something people really value.  What do your prospects find valuable?  Prices should reflect value to the customer.  They buy if they perceive the price to be less than the value of the product to them.

Most marketers suggest you consider these other factors.  Some are introduced by you and some are there anyway.


… helps if you sell something genuinely scarce.  It is unlikely to convince with online products but may apply to physical products.  Applies where events have maximum seating capacity or offers include one-to-one coaching, where you are limited by capacity.  It may be possible to argue an online course has limited seats, if you offer personal feedback short of one-to-one coaching.       

Time limits

… similar argument applies.  Don’t impose artificial deadlines.  An invite to an event is a good example, it has to be on a certain date.  This may work for online courses where there is live input from you, so you need people on board from the start. 


… may help, especially where prospects don’t know you.  A simple refund is all you need.  Some offers promise a refund up to 30 days.  These are rarely activated.  If they are, honour the promise without question and with grace so you can find out more about the reason.  It’s not worth offering guarantees with low-end products.  Be open to occasional expressions of dissatisfaction.  If someone made a genuine mistake with the purchase, then make a refund.  Don’t feel obliged to refund people who don’t turn up for live events.  Most understand this payment should be written off.  If someone made a genuine mistake, offer them an upsell with the original payment as a discount!


… are additional offers attached to the main.  It helps if they are relevant to the offer.  Sarah could offer access to her collection of recipes, for example.  If you use affiliate marketing, your affiliates may offer bonuses too.  Probably less effective with low-end offers, although you could bundle a few things to sell at a low price. 

Endorsements or Testimonials

… show how others value your products.  Endorsements come from recognised experts in your field.  If you use affiliate marketing, they could be affiliates but in any event they are recognised for their authority.  Testimonials are from previous customers who have experienced your work.

Offering real value at each stage is key.  This means commit to educational content readers can implement immediately but leaves them wanting to know more.  We’ll look at this in depth next time.

Canal in Rotherham

What Is a Story?

What is a Story?  I walked yesterday from my home in Sheffield to a meeting in Rotherham and back again.  A total of about 15 miles.  The route is particularly pleasant, along the canal.  It’s flat, a narrow corridor of trees and flowers between roads and industry.  There’s even a very small farm that reminds me of a child’s model!

One thing I noticed was the intensity of colours.  This time of year (early May) leaves are recently in bud and there’s lots of new flowers.  May blossom opens, dandelions bright yellow and forget-me-nots – deep blue.  In some sections the dandelions are a riot of yellow and in others spent, clocks, always something of a disappointment.

Walking for Health and Solitude

I see these things with fresh eyes. I’m aware of my age and whilst I could easily have another 20 years, my chances are not what they were when I was younger.  I’ve adjusted my daily routine to walk for health reasons and I enjoy walking.  My doctor, when I was first diagnosed with diabetes, recommended diet.  “If it tastes sweet, don’t eat it”, he said.  I lost about a third of my body weight because I found his advice worked for me.  (He didn’t remember it!)  Diet is how you lose weight, walking, any exercise, keeps you healthy.

Not just the changing scene and the details I note but also the sensation of walking is a pleasure, even when I tire, it is no problem keeping going.  It is an opportunity to ponder, to solve problems.  Work overwhelms when close up, to walk builds perspective and works out priorities. 

My chosen arena for walking is the city.  I enjoy the changing scenery, with the seasons and the time of day; changes I suspect many miss.  I know many lesser known by-ways and how long it takes to walk to destinations across the city. 

We all need times of solitude.  Some people sit still and meditate.  I’ve always found that difficult.  For me it is the rhythm of walking that moves me to that state.  Maybe it works for you too.

Story as Artefact

Keeping to the theme of aging, I used last time.  This time I have taken a recent experience, it happened yesterday at the time of writing.  Look closely at this story.  What happened?  I walked to Rotherham and back.

You could argue this is not a proper story.  It lacks transformation.  The journey and return did not bring about change.  But look more closely, there is a deeper story about my experience of aging and how I respond to it.

Instead of telling how I responded to the diagnosis by taking up walking, I rooted the story in present experience.  That sense of immediacy gives the story a different perspective from an account of my medical history.    Could I say more about the amusing conversation with my doctor?  Perhaps.

But let’s take a step back.  I started with the recent experience of a long walk, aiming to build on the theme from last week.  Note I set out to tell a story that aims to do certain things.  It picks up the theme of aging and illustrates the idea of immediacy, telling the story from the present.

I didn’t think about aging as I walked yesterday.  It is a theme I have superimposed on a recent experience.  This is an important point.  All storytelling is artificial.  It has to be.  You use the story to make a point that captures attention and is likely to be remembered.

Reproducing Experience

You cannot fully reproduce an experience.  Many life experiences unfold over weeks, months or years.  With 10 minutes tops to tell the story, you leave out most of it.

Emotional impact is even more troubling.  Your audience cannot possibly experience what you experienced.  If your story is about depression, for example, no-one can share months of suffering, not even remotely.  So, what do you want them to experience?

Stories are about transformation, overcoming adversity.  Your story is not about depression so much as what changed to bring you out of it and to the point where you can share the story.  They cannot feel how you felt so you help them feel something else. 

 No Story has a Purpose

This is the beauty of storytelling.  Our lives are full of events and mostly they are meaningless until we give them meaning.  You tell a story to make a point by introducing meaning to the raw material. If you get them to work together, you have a story.

Stories amuse, entertain and make a point.  Sometimes the point is from time immemorial or we retell with a different aim in mind.  Sometimes we start with something fresh and uncover meaning as we work on it. 

No story has a purpose.  You have a purpose telling the story.  The purpose makes the story compelling.  Indeed, your purpose makes the story.  There are loads of possible purposes and we’ll look at some next time.

Paper lamps store stands out.

How to Use Email to Explain Your Business Why

Sarah communicates with potential customers by explaining why she is in business as a nutritionist.  She knows the value of why she is in business but sometimes it’s hard to explain her business why clearly. 

Why Explain Your Why?

It helps people decide to use your services.  Chances are other businesses offer something similar to yours.  It matters little whether they are better or worse.  Someone who has not used your services has no way to assess your business and few customers buy similar things from more than one business to track differences. 

The challenge is to to attract customers by explaining why you do what you do.  Many marketers believe it is your why that sells.  Let’s consider two things similar to your why and how they fall short.

How You Work

You invest many hours and a small fortune getting qualified and so the temptation to explain how you work is hard to resist.  Some prospects want this information but only when they are close to a decision.  A case study is a good story-type that shows exactly how you work.

However, most prospects are not particularly interested in how you work, until they experience it directly.  Even then, they’re not necessarily interested in detail.  You might lead guided mediations.  Does it add anything to know your guided mediations are informed by neuro-linguistic programming?


A more common mistake is to confuse the change you want to see with your why.  The problem here is the transformation you want to see is likely to be shared with near competitors.  I may totally agree with your aspirations and want to support them.  But if there are three others in the room who advocate the same transformation, how do I choose between you?

Your Business Why

Your Why distinguishes you from your competitors.  It helps prospects choose you.  Chances are when people hear your personal story, some like what they hear and others don’t.  The former are prospects.  The rest choose your competitors. 

Your why, therefore, means you don’t have to indulge in cutthroat competition.  You position yourself as a person some get on with and others don’t.  Does this mean you inevitably lose those who don’t find your story attractive?

Maybe not.  If you are good at telling a compelling story, you are likely to have clarity on your side.  And clarity sells.

Using Email to Communicate Your Business Why

In OVO marketing, use V for Value to communicate your why.  You discuss the transformation you want to see but explain why you got there.  Why do you think this change is important?  You may have a lifetime’s worth of experience of the change you want to see, positive and negative. 

Use emails to tell stories.  Bring each story to a conclusion that illustrates your why and points to the change you want to see.  It is not solely knowing what to do by way of solving the problem, prospects want to see you understand the problem.  Your first task is to recruit them to your cause, so they are keen to support it. 

Do this on social media but email is more effective because it addresses a supportive audience.  There is no need to fear unsubscribes, they are people who are not listening.  They make space for new people who want to hear your take on the problem.

One important key is to pay attention to the end of your stories.  Do they clearly make a point and lead to a call to action?  An ending that fizzles out in some joke or undermines great teaching in the middle of the story, is unlikely to be effective.  The best stories generate excitement, so how do you do that?

Aged hands on lap with younger hand on top.

Why Tell Stories?

Why tell stories?  My grandmother, when she was 90, told me that although she was 100 years old (she was a bit confused), she felt as she did in her twenties.  Now that I’m significantly closer to her age at that time, I know what she means.

Someone said that at the age of 60, it feels like you’re eating breakfast every 15 minutes.  Aging is not so much becoming a different person, as finding new perspectives.  Personal development is still important but I’m no longer doing it to set myself up for a lifetime’s work. 

It is easy for the young to mock the old, at least in modern Western culture.  I don’t find wisdom comes with age, I still make the same mistakes.  But older people are survivors – to put it bluntly I’ve had 60+ years, will you?

Why Tell Stories?

Was that a story?  Or polemic?  Did it make you smile?  Were you moved?  Did you want to argue the points I made?

The first three paragraphs are copy.  They open with an anecdote and then expand on the theme of aging, something currently buzzing around my mind. If I developed this as a story, I would seek more to further illustrate these points.  Ideally, I’d replace these paragraphs with a story, moving into teaching towards the end.

Would a story about aging work better than the opening of this post?  Why should a story be more effective than reasoned argument?


Sharing stories helps connect with others at a deeper level.  We all tell stories.  Enter a business network meeting 10 minutes before it starts.  What are the chances you tell someone a story in that 10 minutes?  Or someone tells you a story?

Pretty high!  We do it to connect with others and it works formally too.  For people to know like and trust you, they must hear your stories.  We know this instinctively, although we are not necessarily good at it.  Asking someone what they do is safe but unlikely to trigger a compelling story.

It doesn’t matter what your story is about.  Inveighing at the traffic driving in, may find common ground.  Or your experience of teenage boredom in a rural setting.  Your first kiss or loss of a parent may be riskier.  They’re all common ground and maybe someone needs to hear those stories.


Connection means someone knows you and wants to know more.  You have their attention.  Stories capture attention because you want to know what happens next.  If you capture and hold attention, in speech or writing, your audience will understand what you do and may help you towards your goals.

Stories sell!  Sometimes the right story told to the right audience in the right way leads to sales, even before you say what you’re selling!  Sales sometimes feel as if you’re being hit by a rubber mallet.  Your choices are to run away or buy in order to stop the mallet.  Hear the right story and you’ll buy the mallet!


Stories communicate information.  If someone remembers a story, they remember the lessons within it.  Speakers’ notes help, so long as someone remembers to look at them or remembers enough of your talk to interpret them.  A story with key points is far easier to remember.

Imagine you project a graph that supports your argument, onto a screen.  You must interpret the graph.  Don’t project a graph and leave it to your audience to interpret it.  They will, if they are awake but not necessarily how you want them to! Offer a story they can use to explain the graph.


Stories have emotional impact.  They move audiences to tears or laughter or amazement or enthusiasm. 

None of this matters if emotional change is not matched by action.  The call to action at the end of a story specifies what you want your audience to do.  They do it if they are moved by your story.

So, that’s why we tell stories but what is a story? This is the first post in the sequence, “The Art of Telling”, wherein I share ideas about how to craft a good story

Pattern from mobile

Email Strategies for Product and Service Design

Sarah has sold a new online product.  She wrote a pdf about how to diet and offered it to her list for £10.  Up to now she’s offered coaching and workshops; she never thought people would buy something she had written!  Her customers were mainly people who opened her emails and so she could see her OVO strategy had paid off.  This is a low end sale but now Sarah thinks she may be able to sell an online course.  But she needs ideas for product and service design.  What else can she sell and how?


You can sell almost anything online.  It does not need to be an online product or service.  Here are a few guidelines:

  1. Build relationships of trust using email and sell on your website.  Most people get that if they follow the link, you offer them something. 
  2. Explain what will happen.  Paying online and being left with uncertainty is not a positive experience.  Deliver online products immediately.  Online services may be slower, eg a webinar will be on a specific day.  Offline products and services require time for delivery.
  3. Work out what the customer needs to know before paying and what they need afterwards.  For example, if it takes 5 working days to deliver, say so on the sales page.  Say the same again on the thank you page and what to do if nothing turns up! 
  4. Ask for feedback on the offer itself and its delivery – find out about the customer’s experience.
  5. When you record a negative experience, work out how to compensate the customer, commensurate with the inconvenience they suffered.  How can you mitigate this for future customers?

Online Products

These are easiest. You set them up and people download or access a members’ site, immediately on payment.  Drip-feed teaching material into a members’ site but immediate access and something to do before the start of the programme reassures.  Reward their enthusiasm immediately.

Introduce a bonus; something extra with a download or on a members’ site.  Perhaps not essential for a low-end product but always worth considering.

Consider an upsell.  “If you like this pdf, why not buy this online course?”  Offer an upsell at the time of purchase, the end of a course or after downloading a pdf.  Try something like: “Give me feedback on this product and I’ll offer something else at reduced cost”.  The customer has bought from you and so may be ready to buy again.  If you have something substantially bigger in mind – ask if they would like more about the topic and send them a sequence of emails, ending with an offer of the bigger product.

Examples of online sales includes pdfs, videos, podcasts, email sequences, webinars, online courses, access to an online community.

Online Services

These are likely to be more personal and so higher end products.  They may include online coaching, group work, masterminds.  The more personal the contact, the more you charge.

It is better to be paid up-front. There’s little point receiving payment for one session, when you need several to achieve the desired goal.  As soon as someone makes a payment, give them something.  You might have some teaching material and access to it could be a bonus (announced in advance).  Or give the customer something to prepare for the first meeting.  Book the date and time for the first session at the time of registration.  Book further meetings later but have the first in place at least.  This not only reassures the new customer but gives them a goal to prepare for.

Offline Services

These are similar to online services, the main difference is meeting face to face.  Communicate and provide preparatory material online.  This applies equally whether you supply coaching, workshops or training.

Offline Products

Perhaps most challenging because you need to package things and put them in the post. 

Let’s start with digital products.  Why don’t you provide these as a download?  You can prepare a course for DVD, to be copied and packed by a supplier.  When the customer signs up, the supplier receives the order, produces the product, packs and mails it.

The alternative is to do it yourself and this could become labour intensive unless you have loads of willing helpers who don’t make mistakes.  There are online suppliers who can help, so make enquiries.

Email Strategies Product and Service Design

Delivery may be offline but you can sell almost anything online.  The key is grow and market to your list.  When you make new contacts, get them to sign up to your list.  How can you use it?


The basic OVO strategy is foundation for marketing. From there, design product launches and other ways to bring your list to sales.  The basic structure is simple but you must design the details.  Some say give away up to 80% of your content and people buy the last 20%.  I’m not convinced this is true.  Is it particularly important what % of what you know is given away?  Mostly people need help implementing what they already know.  They save a lot of time working with you to develop their systems. 

Testing New Ideas

If you have a new idea, test it on your list.  Testing is not necessarily producing a prototype.  You could ask if anyone is interested in your idea.  Possibly a few people who respond and say “Yes, it’s a good idea” is enough.  Other possibilities include the seed launch, where customers pay to help you develop a new product and receive a copy, at the end in return for their support.

Ordering Products

Working out how much sales copy to feature in your emails and how much on your website is one of the tasks in designing your funnel.  Once you have a customer, you have someone who may respond to new offers.  Otherwise spend time offering value, to help customers make a purchase.  It helps when you know your offer sells offline; if you have sold it face to face, you have some idea how to sell it online.  The only way to make a sale is to make an offer.

This brings the focus back to Value, the V in OVO.  This is where you make a big difference by explaining your why.  How?  That’s my next topic.

Potters wheel - artist at work

Entrepreneur or Artist?

This is an addendum to the sequence of posts about failure.  It’s not really a reason for failure but this misconception may lead to failure, where we make wrong assumptions. 

I am indebted to Megan Macedo for the distinction between entrepreneur and artist – they are her designations.  I’m not sure artist is the right word because you do not need to be an artist to own that business type. 

Entrepreneur or Artist?

These designate two types of business.  One focuses on the game of business, using money to make change.  The other makes change by building a body of work. 

It is easy to be partisan or disparaging.  If you are an entrepreneur, you have a real business.  If you are an artist, you have a job – or to be kinder, a vocation.

Both are valid businesses.  Both make or lose money.  You can move between them – or even practice them at the same time! 

However, most business support books or websites assume business is entrepreneurial.  They ignore artistic or vocational business. 

Let’s go deeper.

The Entrepreneur

It is tempting to think of the entrepreneur, obsessed with making money.  Text books suggest this is so.  We know 1% salt away billions of pounds and sling their weight around the political world because they have a route to unaccountable power.  All this is misleading.  We should not allow bad apples to define the terms of debate.

It is not disparaging to say the entrepreneur plays the game of business.  Entrepreneurs identify something needed and develop a structure to provide it.   Big business is big because only an organisation that size can solve a particular problem. 

The entrepreneur is good at building organisations.  What the organisation does is less important.  If I build a business with 250 employees that makes steel, I can build a similar organisation with 250 employees that makes pork pies! 

The Entrepreneur chooses what they do.  I might build a steel maker’s but as a vegetarian I may be less keen on pork pies.  It’s my choice.  However, I need never actually make any steel or pork pies – I manage the people who do that – or employ someone to do that, while I build the next business.

Their focus is on capacity.  Once the entrepreneur finds something to market and sell, they focus on building capacity.  This is the move from early adopters to mainstream.

Generally, entrepreneurs have potential to move to 6 or 7-figure turnover.  This is largely about capacity.  Artists certainly make profit but usually with limited capacity.

The distinction is not about ethics.  Perhaps it is easier for the entrepreneur to lose sight of the ethical implications of their business but there is no intrinsic reason to suppose they lack ethical motivation.  They focus on getting something to happen.  The Retail Co-operatives were entrepreneurial, whilst the 1% are often not at all entrepreneurial because they take finance from the economy. 

The Artist

This includes business-owners who are artists plus many more.  Anyone who works hands-on to build a body of work, falls into this category.  This includes coaches and professional firms.

Vocational business-owners may need to build capacity but they are not interested in building a business.  They may employ a few people but they do so to create the space wherein they follow their own interests. 

Capacity is important because they must make profit to carry on the work.  Some make significant profit but love for the work and not money motivates them.  Some may invest profits to generate passive income.  Again the reason is to enable the work.

It is tempting to put these business-owners on a pedestal.  However, the negative side is where they focus on doing what satisfies them and lose sight of their market.  Where their interests coincide with their market’s, they are immensely effective.  Some spend years seeking something that resonates, lines up their interests with their market’s.

Perhaps most businesses are this type in the early stages.  The entrepreneur tries something new and experiments in this space.  The distinction is the artist seeks something that gives them direct personal satisfaction, the entrepreneur delivers something profitable to a market. 

Telling Their Story

Both types tell a story.  They have a different understanding and uses for money.  Text books assume the artist is the precursor to the entrepreneur but for many the work is the goal and they seek ingenious means to get there.  The progression to a full business by building capacity is simply one option that requires specific interests and skills.

They share the need to build a market that knows likes and trusts them.  To do this they must understand their own business stance and tell a business origin story that does justice to their motivations as business people.

However, little attention is given to the artist.  They are told they don’t have a business, they have a job.  They have to work round the clock to make money because they do not build the business structures they need to enable the work they love to flourish.

The truth is both types struggle with business.  They have distinct goals.  What happens when they work together?