Best and Worst Times to Make Money from Content

When is the best time to make money from your content? And when is the worst?

In this post, I’ll share what marketing expert Seth Godin said about the best time plus I’ll share some of the mistakes I’ve made that you want to avoid – the worst time to make money from your content creation.

The Best Time to Make Money from your Content

In the post, Seven Questions to Make Money as a Content Creator, one of the questions I asked was ‘when?’

In that short piece, I told the story about best-selling author and marketing expert, Seth Godin.

But I didn’t tell you the whole story. I had a couple of people ask me to explain it to them fully. So here goes.

Seth Godin’s Lesson: How to Sell More

Seth once said – sorry I don’t have the exact quote – that the longer you leave it to earn money from your content, the more money you will make in the long term.

Way back in 1999, in the early days of the Internet and before social media (at least five years before Facebook was born), Godin had a very successful book launch for Permission Marketing (read the first four chapters here).

As a result, he was able to accumulate over 100,000 email addresses for his mailing list. That was unheard of back then.

Seth Godin - Permission Marketing and Unleashing the Idea Virus

Unleashing the Idea Virus

For his next book, Unleashing the Idea Virus, he was offered a hefty advance from a publisher. But he turned it down.

He turned it down because he wanted to test an idea.

That idea was that content creators could make money by giving their ideas away for free. His theory was that giving away your ideas for free was the best way to spread an idea and build a tribe. So rather than sell his book, Seth decided to give it away as a free ebook.

He gave away over a million copies of his book for free.

But that was only the first part of his experiment. He then started selling a hardcover copy of the exact same book. While you’d expect that no one would buy a hard-cover book when a free eBook was available, you’d be wrong.

Godin sold over a million copies of his hard-cover book.

Seth Godin’s Big Lesson

Can you see the principal at work here?

If you share your content for free, people are more likely to share it, and this builds a bigger audience. Then when you have a bigger audience, you have a greater potential to sell to more people.

Therefore, the best time to sell your content is later, not sooner.

My big mistake with Book Rapper

Book Rapper

I can relate to this with my experience of Book Rapper – my book summary service.

It was originally conceived as my free newsletter. I was going to give it away to anyone signing up for my mailing list. But other people around me said, ‘Hey, it’s so good, you should charge for it.’ I needed the money, so I did. I sold subscriptions.

I’ve often thought if I was doing it all again, what would I do differently?

In hindsight, and of course, hindsight is perfect, I believe had I given all the content away for free for two years I’d probably have a hundred thousand people on a mailing list right now. And this would be more valuable than the money that I earnt at the time.

More on Seth Godin’s Marketing Lesson

For more on Seth Godin’s marketing lesson:

The Worst Time to Make Money from your Content

It follows that if the best time to sell your content is later, then the worst time must be sooner.

Yes, selling your content before you have an audience is hard because you have no one to sell to.

But I think there is one situation that is worse than this.

The Ultimate Heartbreak for Content Creators

When I’ve been stuck for cash before, I’ve launched courses to see if I could make some sales.

The first time I did this I wrote the whole course before I tried to sell it. That was heartbreaking – I wasted two weeks writing a course nobody wanted.

That’s probably the most heartbreaking thing you can experience as a content creator – when you put your heart and soul into something that nobody wants.

Then I tried something smarter, I launched courses that I hadn’t written. I figured I could write the course once someone paid me.

While this made it easy to pivot from one idea to the next, it also confused my audience, and they didn’t buy anything from me.

When Making Money from your Content is bad

Information Product Course

Then I had a change of fortune. I put out a course to help thought leaders to create information products. Four people paid to do the course.

You’d think that was great news, wouldn’t you? But it was an even bigger disaster.

I was so desperate for money that I over-promised everything, and I couldn’t deliver.

Even worse because I over-promised I attracted the wrong audience. My offer was to help them create an information product, but the four people didn’t have a base of content to draw on. Without this, it meant to make money from the content we were climbing a mountain and not a hill.

Plus, several of the people who signed up were struggling in their own businesses and creating products was not a good choice for them. They wanted a holy grail, and I couldn’t deliver that.

That put me in a difficult situation – they needed help but not the help I had promised in the course.

In the end, I ran my course, but it didn’t go well. I had created so much content over many years it was second nature to me and I underestimated the number of steps and distinctions other people needed to make this happen.

Then I spent twice as much time trying to help those people in other ways. And with only four participants I didn’t make a lot of money and within a couple of months, I was back to the same challenge of being desperate for cash once again. (I was lucky the participants didn’t ask for their money back!)

That’s tough but that’s what happens when you try to sell your content at the wrong time.

Two Things you can do today to Make Money from your Content

Well, there you have it, the best and worst times to make money as a content creator.

  • The best time is when you’ve already built an audience using your free content.
  • And the worst time is when you’re desperate for money.

While that’s good general advice, it’s not very precise. To make it more precise there are two things you can do today.

1 Asking

The most precise way to know when to make money from your content is when your audience is asking for it. If this is not obvious, revisit your emails and the comments on your posts or videos. Your audience might directly tell you what they want or they might indirectly tell you about the challenges they’re facing.

2 Fishing

The second way is to go fishing. That’s right, grab a line and cast it out into the market and see if the fish are biting.

Four Done Books

This is how I launched Project Done – which was called Project Passion when I first launched it.

I could see that several of my coaching clients were struggling with getting their work done. Like me, they weren’t finishing things. I asked them if they’d be interested in a group coaching course. Several said they were interested so I put up a single-page sales letter. (I’d learnt from my previous mistake – I didn’t have the course written.) One person paid within the first hour.

Three years later I had run the Project Done program 12 times. Plus, I wrote four books on Done – the fourth one (Game Plan Done) is due to be published in the next month.

The key here is not to guess. Either directly ask your audience what they need or pitch a specific proposal.

The Key Lesson for Content Creators who want to Make Money

The key lesson here follows Aesop’s famous tale of the tortoise and the hare. (Read it here in full in about a minute) If you try to earn money too early, you’ll slow down your overall progress.

To make money from your content you need to play the long game. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Your key focus should be this: build your content creation skills to build the value you provide to build your audience.

And talk with your audience about what they need and pitch ideas to them.

The Tortoise and the Hare

More on how to Make Money as a Content Creator

To explore this further here are three related posts to help you make money from your content.

What does your audience need help with? And what offer could you pitch to them?

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