The Dark Side of Advance Selling

One of the tactics that I’ve seen recommended throughout the years is to sell your product before it has been created.

Some say you can gauge the success of the product by selling it in advance. If it sells well, create the product. If it doesn’t sell well, scrap it and refund your customers. (One of my clients actually did a dry run via direct mail back when it was still legal — a fascinating story.)

Others say that selling a product ahead of its completion date creates an incentive for you to finish it because you’ll look bad if you don’t follow through.

How I Created a Coaching Program

When John Anghelache and I partnered a couple years ago, we sold a high-level coaching program about how to get copywriting clients.

We had not actually created the content prior to selling the program, but we had mapped out all eight modules and knew exactly who was teaching what.

The only thing left for us to do was to flesh out each module, compile our resources, and deliver the coaching during one live teleseminar each week.

We never missed a deadline and never fell behind schedule. We delivered everything we promised and more. This model worked for us because we did a lot of planning and preparation up front.

The Dark Side of Advance Selling

While I understand the advantages of selling a product in advance, I can also see the potential for problems.

For instance, what if the final product doesn’t deliver on the promises made in the sales copy? Or what if the product is shoddy because you were rushed into finishing it?

These are questions you should carefully consider before publicly announcing or selling a new product that hasn’t been created yet.

Beware of Experts Who Sell Products from the Stage

In the seminar business, the majority of the profit comes from selling products at the back of the room. Naturally, a seminar organizer can’t have the same speakers at every event. So they actively seek out new talent.

But in order to speak at a large event, each speaker usually has to have a product that costs at least $1,000. That’s because the seminar organizer usually gets half of all receipts. He depends on these back-of-room sales to turn a profit.

If a new talent is speaking for the first time, and he doesn’t yet have a product that costs at least $1,000, he will be encouraged to create one.

So the first-time speaker will come up with an idea for a product and sell it from the stage — even though the product may not even exist yet.

A Recipe for Getting Ripped Off?

Giving somebody a grand or two for a product that doesn’t exist yet is a big leap of faith. I know of at least one case where a “done for you” service was sold for $10,000 from the stage. Unfortunately, the service was never delivered. Refunds were not given.

The same thing has played out many times at all different price levels. A speaker pitches a yet-to-be-created product, collects the money, and fails to deliver. Customers are left with nothing but lighter wallets.

Personally, I would never buy an expensive product that didn’t exist yet unless I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the person I was buying from was going to deliver. Even then, I would probably hold off.

An Approach that Works

No matter what price product you want to advance sell, I recommend that you have part of the product created before advertising it. This puts momentum in your favor and increases the chances of you creating a quality product on schedule.

If you’re creating an expensive product with a lot of content, then wait to advertise it until you are getting close to finishing it. If most of the product is already created, then there’s very little risk in collecting orders in advance of the public release.

But if you’re starting from scratch, and all you have is a product idea, don’t advance sell it. Don’t put yourself in a position where it’s easy to let your customers down.

-Ryan M. Healy

Ryan M. Healy

Ryan Healy is a financial copywriter and the author of Speed Writing for Nonfiction Writers. Since 2002, he has worked with scores of clients, including Agora Financial, Lombardi Publishing, and Contrarian Profits. He writes a popular blog about copywriting, advertising, and business growth, has been featured in publications like Feed Front magazine, and has been published on sites like WordStream.com, SmallBizClub.com, and MarketingForSuccess.com.