Matt Lambert

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How I almost shipped a product every month in 2015

By admin on December 29th, 2015 in Updates

Near the end of 2014 I decided I wanted to try something different. In the past, I’ve mainly focused on freelance work to make a little extra money on the side and have a creative outlet outside of the day job. After almost 10 years of following this pattern, I decided I wanted to make a change. Instead of focusing on freelance work I wanted to focus on my own projects. The main reasons for this was that I was tiring of constantly having to do the same amount of work for around the same amount of pay. I was looking for ways to work less but keep my side income where it was or even increase it. The other reason I was looking for a change was boredom. I think we can all agree it can be exciting to start your own projects where you don’t have to answer to a client and you have the creative freedom to do what you want.

With that in mind, I set the lofty goal to try and ship a new product every month for 2015. My thinking was I didn’t want to get bogged down in one project then half way through the year lose interest or decide it wasn’t worth finishing. Also, I wanted to get products to the market quickly to fill the income gap that would be created by moving away from pursuing freelance work. Although I didn’t fully meet my goal, I did accomplish an awful lot. Below is a summary of what was completed and my experiences in doing so.

What should I build?

Before I could decide on each project I would work on each month, I decided to brainstorm a big list of ideas. Some where smaller and some where larger. It was actually a fun process to think of all the different types of projects I might like to build. Some had been brewing in my mind for awhile and others came out of the planning session. A few higher level themes came through on the majority of the projects which were: Bootstrap, eBooks, web apps, physical products, and improving existing products. With this list of about 40 ideas, I was able to narrow it down to a list of 12 for the year.

January

To star the year off I thought it would be a good idea to update some existing products I had for sale on Creative Market. This was low hanging fruit and would be an easy win. Instead of starting a new product from scratch, I could update some existing products which would hopefully help to generate more sales from them.

Near the end of 2014 I discovered Harp.js which is a static website generator and pre-processor. I quickly realized this would be an excellent tool for creating a Bootstrap theme development environment. Previously I had been using Hammer which was also decent but Harp had more of what I was looking for. My first step was to create a Harp.js Bootstrap boilerplate that I could use to rebuild all of my themes and provide some extra value you don’t normally see in a product like this. After I created the boilerplate, I decided to release it on Github. This was a good idea because other people could take advantage of the code. More importantly it would hopefully get me some free advertising and help to build my personal brand online. I ended up calling the project Booterator and I’m happy to say it’s my most popular repo on Github with 153 stars to date. Sure this is no Bootstrap but I was pleased with the results.

booterator

My next step was to take this boilerplate and covert all my existing themes from Hammer to Harp. I also updated Bootstrap to the latest version for all and relaunched them on Creative Market. The themes this included were: Griswald, Night Owl, Semi-Pro, and Reskee. Like I mentioned, this was low hanging fruit and it was nice to get a quick win in my quest to release something new each month.

semi-pro

How did they sell?

The short answer is ok. I won’t be retiring off the sales but they pulled in a few hundred dollars combined over the year. However, not updating them would have made the products stale and they likely wouldn’t have sold many at all. This is okay though. The point when trying to create this residual type of income is not to necessarily put all your eggs in one basket. Some people might prefer that method but it’s also okay to diversify and have multiple products, each pulling in a bit of income. This is also a great way to test different sales channels and products to see what really works.

One thing I learned from this was that just designing a product and putting it up for sale is not enough. You need to get creative on how to drive traffic to your products and raise awareness of your personal brand. This got me thinking about what I should focus on next for February.

February

One idea I had identified I wanted to try out was an email course. In 2014, I released a couple of eBooks, the most successful was Mastering Bootstrap. The problem with eBooks is that once you launch them and get some initial sales, it can be tough to keep that momentum going. I thought a Bootstrap related email course might be the ticket to generating more book sales while providing some free value to my users.

This lead to the creation of my course Bootstrap Themes Made Easy. Yeah the name sucks. Why is product naming so hard? Anyhow, after creating Booterator in January, it was natural to convert it into a free email course. I could leverage my new work into a product that I could teach to my users. This had the advantages of being a good mailing list builder and traffic generator. As well as, being a way to build trust with users by giving them some content for free. The goal at the end of the day being to soft sell them on Mastering Bootstrap at the end of the course.

bootstrap-themes-made-easy

For this project I initially tried using ConvertKit to build my email course. It’s a decent product and integrates with my MailChimp mailing list. However, ConvertKit is a paid subscription product and near the end of the writing process, MailChimp announced a new Email Automation feature which was free! At the eleventh hour, I moved all my templates back to Mailchimp and launched the course from there. I should mention that another goal of this entire process was to create all these products with a minimal cash investment. The main investment being my time. Being that I was rapidly producing products on a monthly basis, I didn’t want to spend a bunch of money on them incase they failed.

Was the course profitable?

At the end of the day it’s hard to say how profitable the course was as it was more of a promotional vehicle for my eBook. I did see sales of the book all year though and I have to think some of these were as of result of the course. Even if the course didn’t generate any sales it did help to generate several hundred new sign ups to my mailing list. That in itself is gold.

March

For the third month of the year, I decided to change gears and work on a totally new product. I kept with my Bootstrap theme and decided to create a bundle of Bootstrap themes called Bootskee. One of the reasons for creating Booterator was to speed up theme creation. I planned out what I would build, launched a landing page, and even generated a couple of pre-orders for the bundle. The problem with this project is that I bit off more than I could chew in one month. I promised over 100 Bootstrap themes and only had one month to design, code, and launch them! I got a decent start on it but I think the daunting number of themes weighed on me. I never ended up finishing this project and it’s still on the back burner. I may put it on the list of things to do for 2016. For those few people that pre-ordered the bundle, don’t worry your credit cards have not been charged!

A couple of other things came up in March that also helped to derail the Bootskee project. The first was the realization that I should update Mastering Bootstrap to use the new Harp development environment instead of Hammer. The second was the fact that I was offered the opportunity to speak at CSS Brigade at Hootsuite in Vancouver. I agreed to do this but honestly it terrified me. I’d never done public speaking at this level (about 100 people) and for some reason I tend to lose my voice in situations like this. Luckily they had beer! I was able to consumer a little bit of liquid courage before my slot at the event and it went pretty well. Of course, I talked about Bootstrap. Mainly the lessons learned by building Booterator and writing Mastering Bootstrap. This ended up being a great way to meet some other developers in Vancouver and was also a great way to raise awareness about Bootstrap Themes Made Easy. I was happy to see a bump in people enrolling for the course following the event.

Due to the Bootskee bundle not being released this month, there wasn’t a ton of new income generated. However, there was a decent investment done to build awareness that will help to pay off in the future. There’s also something to say for conquering a fear and trying something new that I hadn’t done before.

April

For the month of April it was back to full steam ahead on product launches. I didn’t want a repeat of the previous month so I started with some low hanging fruit. After rewriting the first chapter of Mastering Bootstrap to use Harp.js instead of Hammer, I relaunched the book. I’m a big believer in providing value for customers and going above and beyond so the book was a free update to anyone who had previously made the purchase. I have a free updates for life policy on any of my self-published eBooks.

mastering-bootstrap

Now that I had launched my product for the month, I could dive into something new for future release. I’d been banging around the idea of blogging about my freelance experiences for awhile. For the last 15+ years I’ve worked full and part time as a freelancer so I decide to dump all that knowledge into a long post called Everything I know about freelancing. The post was a big success and pulled in a ton of traffic to my blog. Even better it more recently was picked up by quuu.co and has been seeing a resurgence of activity. Quuu is a free service that will curate content for you and automatically fill your Buffer. It’s proved to be a really powerful tool for building my twitter and blog following. Anyhow, based on the success of the blog post, I decided to write a new eBook on freelancing titled The Freelance Startup Guide. I wanted to accomplish two things with this book. One to share all my freelance experience and secondly to help explain the process required to start your own freelance business. Although the book would not launch until May, I started the writing in April. If you are interested in writing your own eBooks, the process of testing the content waters for an idea is easy. Before you invest all the hours in writing a book, write some shorter blog posts to get a feel for if people are actually interested in your content.

May

The month of May was one part product release and one part new opportunity. I started out by finishing off The Freelance Startup Guide and launching it to my mailing list. For this book, I decided I wanted to try a smaller price point to see if that would have any impact on sales. Also, since this book was not coming with as large a library of bonus materials as my previous releases, I didn’t feel it was fair to charge the same for it. At the end of the day, the price point didn’t have a huge impact.

freelance-startup-guide

Was the book successful?

The book sold pretty well (300+ copies to date) but it wasn’t way ahead of my previous books. In fact, it was less than my Bootstrap book. There might be a lesson to learn there in pricing your products higher. Maybe not, who knows.

A publisher comes knocking

During the second part of May, I was approached by Packt Publishing to write a Bootstrap book for them! This was exciting because I’ve never been approached by an actual publisher to write for them. Something that started as a hobby for me and a way to make some extra money was starting to grow. The only problem with this new book though was that it would take several months to write. I need to deliver 300+ pages, do research, build projects, etc… Taking this on would likely derail my goal of shipping a new product every month in 2015. After some consideration, I decided to do the book anyhow as it was too good an opportunity to pass up. Starting in May, I wrote an outline and began the first chapter for my new Bootstrap book that’s titled Bootstrap Site Blueprints II.

June to August

For the summer months, there isn’t that much exciting news to report. I was getting into writing the new Bootstrap book. As well as, being distracted with the regular summer time activities and vacations. The book was coming along but sometimes it can be really hard to sit down and write when it’s so nice outside.

September

After a few months of writing, I decided I needed to take another project on to give me something fresh to work on. To that end, I decided to start a project I’d been putting off for awhile which was the re-design of this website. Designing your own website is one of the hardest things to do; you are always your own worst critic. The old site had become a bit stale and the content had outgrown the original information architecture that I had setup. I didn’t want to take too much time away from writing so over the course of a few late nights, I banged out the new mattlambert.ca. I really scaled the new site down by only having home, about and contact pages; oh and of course the blog. Less pages is easier to maintain and design. I’ve always been a minimalist when it comes to design and I think you’ll see that reflected in the latest version. The purple color scheme… Why not, I’ve never really done a purple site for myself before. Anyhow, with the website refreshed, I was ready to dive back into working on my new Bootstrap book.

During this month, I also completed one other small product which was a version of Booterator in Sass. If you follow Bootstrap development, you’ll know that they are moving to Sass in version 4, so it felt like a good time to get my feet wet. This was another low hanging fruit project and I was happy to get something else released in the month. Like the previous release, this one is free for download or forking from Github.

October

Like the summer months, October was spent mostly writing the final chapters for Bootstrap Site Blueprints II. Nothing much else of note to mention here except that it was Halloween!

November

Rolling into the second last month of the year, my creative batteries were getting quite low after focusing on writing for so much of the last few months. Out of right field, I decided I needed to do something totally different to get my creative juices going again. What did I do? I totally rebranded cardeo.ca into a clothing brand. New logo, totally new direction, lots of new artwork to complete. Cardeo was my original name, brand, what have it that I started way back in 2004. In more recent years it was basically a landing page to direct people to my other products on sites like Graphic River and Creative Market. I’d wanted to do something new with it for awhile but nothing really came up that stuck. That was until I discovered Printful. Printful is basically a printing on demand service. You upload your graphics, set them up on their products and as orders come in, they will print and ship them for you. This may not seem that different from services like CafePress or Zazzle. However, there are a few key differences: the quality of the products is excellent, you have much more control of the printing process, and it integrates with Shopify. This wasn’t going to be another one of those lame stores hosted on some printers platform where you get 10% of the sale price. I went ahead and setup a Shopify store and added my first few products. I went with t-shirts and hats for now. Within a week or so I was able to get a few designs up and my store configured to sell.

shopify-cardeo

Was the store a success?

I’ll be honest with you… sales haven’t been that great to start but I also haven’t put a ton of energy into promotion. I plan to double back to that in the new year once my book has shipped. The plus was that I was doing more drawing and creative work than I had done all year. That was just what my soul needed to get to the finish line on my book. Check back in the new year as I plan to write more about my experiences of launching the store and products. Although the setup of the new web store was creatively fulfilling, the biggest accomplishment of November was completing the rough draft of my new book!

December

For the first part of December I continued to work on some new graphics for hats and shirts and started using Instagram as a place to test out design ideas. It has proved to be a pretty good barometer for how people view the designs. I’ve also been hard at work reviewing book edits and getting the final versions to press with my publisher. As of last week, the final version was upload and is in production! The book should be available sometime next week. If you made it this far into this post, I’ll let you in on a little secret. For a limited time (I’m not sure when it ends), you can pre-order the digital version of my new eBook for only $5 over at packtpub.com.

In Summary

I have to say this is probably the loftiest goal I’ve ever set for myself over a single year. Launch one product every month for a year! I must be insane. Maybe. But I prefer to think of it as a focus group on finding out what people want to buy online. The first priority should always be to care about your users but it also doesn’t hurt to make some money doing that. By the end of the year I will have shipped 9 products in 2015. That includes 6 brand new ones and 3 updates. Not bad. Looking towards 2016, I think I’ll likely repeat this crazy goal and see how far I can make. Perhaps you should try it as well? If you do, let me know how it goes!

  • Impe83

    Great annual review, good luck for 2016!

  • Great year review. Thanks for sharing.

  • Bootstrapious

    Cool, Matt, you accomplished quite a lot!

    My average is 1 project / year only :) But still, it is quite a feeling to launch something brand new, right?

    Last year I launched Bootstrapious (http://bootstrapious.com) – so I know the “Bootstrap” world quite well :)

    And just this month we launched with the friend of mine Kakusei which we want to be something like Bezar.com (they closed recently but maybe you know them). Have a look at https://kakusei.cz ;)

    Anyways, have an even better 2016!