For many creators, figuring out how to monetize their work is a constant challenge. If you’re reading this article, you’ve probably got your content game down and have built an audience online, but you wish you were making more money.
While you could grind out more hours creating content in hopes of going viral, there’s a better and more sustainable way to make money online without burning yourself out: creating and selling digital products.
Read on to learn what digital products are, why many creators are selling them, and how you can make your own. To keep this resource at your fingertips, download our free digital product launch checklist.
What are digital products?
A digital product is anything you can sell online that doesn’t require manufacturing, shipping, or inventory space. If you can make it on a device (like a phone or computer), sell it on a device, and use it on a device, it’s probably a digital product.
Digital products are a huge part of what we consume every day, from downloadable files, to digital art, to subscriptions and memberships, to online courses. They have gained a ton of popularity in the last few years, and the market for them has exploded right along with the boom of the creator economy.
So, why have so many creators started selling digital products as part of their content creation business? What are the benefits of launching your own?
Why should creators sell their own products?
Before diving into the advantages of selling digital products, let’s talk about selling products in general. Why should creators consider launching their own products at all?
Whether you’re creating content full-time or as a side hustle, you should think of content creation as a business. Businesses rarely stick to a single product or service; they’re always looking for new opportunities to grow and bring in more revenue. Here’s why you should treat selling a product as your next opportunity.
The top creators are doing it
Successful creators don’t just rely on brand sponsorships as their only income stream. Look through Forbes’ Top 50 Creators list, and you’ll find that most of them have created some kind of product for sale. For example, MrBeast has his burger chain, Emma Chamberlain has her tea and coffee brand, and Markiplier has a clothing line. It’s all about diversifying your income and turning your content creator brand into free advertising.
It helps create resilience
If a possible recession has been making you nervous these past few months, it might be time to look into selling your own product. Marketing budgets are often first to get cut during a recession, meaning those lucrative brand deals could become more rare. If they’re a big part of your income, that can be really stressful.
By selling your own product, you’re creating a new income stream that can shore up losses on the brand deal side of things. Finance bros are always saying you should diversify — without really explaining what that means — but in this case, it’s the right advice.
You’re in control
Even huge content creators can find themselves at the mercy of the platforms they create for. Whether it’s YouTube updating its policies again or Twitch serving an unexpected ban for an obscure T&C violation, it doesn’t take much for your income as a creator to be severely affected by factors completely beyond your control.
Selling your own product gives you that control back. No matter what kind of product you choose to sell, you decide what you sell and how you do it.
You’re giving your audience more value
With the right product, you can bring a whole lot more value to your audience. Beauty influencers, for example, often grow their creator business by launching their own beauty products. Free content is great, but offering products are the natural next step for creators who want to give more to their community.
When you’re trying to figure out what product you should sell, ask yourself what your audience really needs, not just what’s going to make you the most money. If you can identify that need — and come up with the best way to address it — then your product becomes another way you can help your audience.
What are the benefits of selling digital products vs. physical products?
Lots of creators sell merch and other physical products, but that’s not necessarily for everyone. Digital products have some marked advantages over their physical counterparts, making them an ideal option for creators who want to unlock a new income stream.
Low cost of entry
Let’s say you want to sell merch. You have a strong brand and a great idea for your first few designs. That’s good! However, unless you have the necessary skills to take a T-shirt design from that initial idea to a finished product, you’re going to need a lot of help.
Even if you use a service like Threadless — which prints, packages, and ships merch for you — you’ll still need some way to turn your idea into an actual product. That means you’ll either need to invest in a graphic designer or learn that skill yourself. And since there’s no guarantee that your merch will take off, you could potentially sink a lot of money into an investment that doesn’t pay off.
Digital products, on the other hand, are a lot cheaper to produce, easier to get to your customer, and don’t need to be physically stored anywhere. That means you can launch a digital product more quickly for a lot less.
“Logistics” refer to everything that need to happen in the messy middle between you creating a product and your customer actually receiving it. In the world of physical products, these logistics involve manufacturing, sourcing vendors, warehousing, transporting goods, and more.
In contrast, selling digital products is a lot simpler. This is because digital products don’t require repeated production, physical storage, or shipping. They’re accessible online in just a few clicks. You only need to create a digital product once, and it can be sold again and again.
There are many platforms out there that help you get your digital downloads up and running, so you can start making that passive income. Whether you’re creating ebooks, website templates, or audio files, you can easily sell them on digital marketplaces like Gumroad.
Higher profit margins
Another benefit of selling digital products vs. physical products is being able to keep more money in your pocket.
Because your initial investment is lower, you can whip something up and get it out the (digital) door with less money. And the costs of delivering that digital product to your audience is a lot cheaper, too. That means you can keep more money from each sale than giving it to a list of suppliers, manufacturers, and other vendors.
With digital products, beyond the initial investment and time cost for creating the product, you’ll most likely just have to pay a small fee to an e-commerce platform to sell it. Usually, it’s a small percentage of the final sale. For instance, Gumroad takes a 10% cut of every sale.
“Scalable” is a business term that defines how easy it is to grow something quickly — usually a service or a product.
As a content creator, scalability is something you’re probably familiar with, even if you didn’t know the term for it. Say you’re a YouTuber, you have to strike a balance between how hard you work on an individual video, and how many videos you make each week. If you’re only creating content part-time, putting 5-10 hours into every video isn’t scalable.
Digital products are way more scalable than physical products. Since the logistics of selling digital products are more straightforward, the profit margin is higher, and the investment required to scale is smaller, you can go from offering just one product to a whole range of products a lot faster.
Additionally, because there’s no inventory to manage, you don’t have to worry about finding creative ways to deal with increased demand. While physical products require additional costs and infrastructure as demand increases, digital products don’t.
8 Digital product ideas to sell online
So, what kind of digital products can you sell online? Basically, as long as there’s no physical element involved, almost anything can be a digital product.
If you need some inspiration to get started, here are some of the best digital product ideas.
Not sure what to sell? Get 3 tips for picking a product that’s right for you with our free digital product launch checklist.
Digital templates can come in many different forms, but they all serve the same purpose: they’re a fill-in-the-blank solution for common problems. You can create a template for almost anything — think resume templates, digital planners for weddings, and expense tracker templates. The possibilities are endless.
Creator Easlo, for instance, started making and selling templates that can be used on the productivity tool Notion nearly two years ago. As of March 2023, he’s made $500,000 in revenue from selling his templates.
To start selling, think about what people need and come up with a template that can help make their lives easier. Once you’ve created the template, you can upload it to an e-commerce platform that handles distribution and payment.
Writing an ebook is a great way to share your expertise, and it’s a perfect place to start for content creators new to digital products. The startup cost is minimal — you just need to spend the time to write the actual book and potentially hire an editor. No matter what your niche is, you can easily find a topic or two that people will pay to learn about.
And when it’s time to get your ebook out there, upload it to a platform like Amazon and it’ll take care of getting it out to your audience.
Popular among content creators, selling online courses is a great way to diversify your income. If you have knowledge or expertise to share with others, you can wrap that up into a course and give your audience access to it for a fee.
Just look at Miss Excel, who started off by sharing spreadsheet tips on TikTok in 2020. Three years later, she’s built a $2 million business selling multiple online courses about Excel and other softwares on her website.
Since you only have to prep, record, and publish your course once and can then sell it repeatedly, it’s a great source of passive income. And with an all-in-one platform like Thinkific, it can be easy to create and sell online courses.
When you hear about membership sites, Patreon probably comes to mind. But Patreon isn’t the only platform out there for running subscriptions. Website builders like Squarespace and many social media platforms themselves have features for creating exclusive memberships.
To start selling memberships, create exclusive, premium content and put it behind a paywall. Not sure where to start? Take a look at the free content you already offer, and think about how you can make it even more valuable.
For example, if you’re posting cooking tutorials on your YouTube channel, then perhaps your membership could include advanced tips, guides on seasonal ingredients, or even interviews with local chefs.
Printable art and craft patterns
Whether you’re an artist or a designer, your skills are the gateway to creating digital products for your audience. If you’re an artist, you can sell downloadable art prints to those looking to decorate their spaces. And if you’re a knitwear designer, you can sell patterns of your unique designs in PDFs.
Sound and visual effects
Sound effects and VFX (visual effects) packs are examples of digital files that people will gladly pay for. A content creator who specializes in VFX tutorials, for instance, can create special effects packs to sell to an audience of aspiring VFX artists. However, these digital products do require some level of skill to create.
Did you know that commercial licenses for photography can range from $250 to $10,000? If you have top-notch skills, you could potentially turn this into a huge income stream — and use the free content you create as advertising.
Keep in mind that selling licenses fits some niches more than others. Generally, any creators involved in the arts can make this work.
If you’ve ever learned how to code, this is a solid digital product idea to sell. Of course, building even simple software can take more time than creating other kinds of digital products, but you can also expect a much larger return. Identify a common problem and need, find a low-cost way of solving it, and build the solution. After that, it’ll practically sell itself.
This option is more suited to some niches than others, but it can be a lucrative product if done right!
6 Steps to sell digital products online
Selling digital products may seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. With our free 6-step digital product launch checklist, you can have an easy-to-follow guide at hand for when you’re planning your launch, whether it’s your first product or your 10th.
How to sell digital products online
- Do some research.
- Create your digital product.
- Decide where you’ll sell it.
- Promote your product with content.
- Build an email list.
- Try paid advertising.
The first step to selling digital products online is to figure out what you’re going to sell, and how you’re going to sell it. Even though digital products are easier to create than physical goods, you need to make sure the juice is worth the squeeze.
Identify the best product for your audience
Before you start building your product, you need to know who you’re creating it for. You could create the best Excel template out there, but it won’t really get you anywhere if no one in your audience uses Excel. Try using community and polling features on your platform of choice to get a sense of what your audience wants.
Do some keyword research
Once you’ve decided what product you’ll be selling, you need to know what to call it. Sure, you might think of it as a “commercial image set,” but your potential customers might call it a “stock photos pack.” To increase the reach of your product, you can use a tool like Google Trends to find out what keywords get the most search traffic, and use these keywords when talking about your product.
Scope out the competition
You probably won’t be the first content creator to sell whatever product you’ve settled on, and that’s a good thing. Go have a look at what others are selling and how they’re marketing their products. Make sure to check out digital marketplace platforms like Gumroad, Etsy, and Amazon, too.
Plan your product from idea to launch
Now that you’ve done your research, it’s time to figure out the production process. Try to get an idea of what resources you’ll need to create this product, whether that’s tools, skilled help, or cash. Give yourself a generous deadline, and plan out how you’ll promote your product when it’s done.
2. Create the digital download
This is the hard part, but it can be a lot of fun too! You’ve made your plan, and now it’s time to actually create something your audience will get excited about.
Avoid doing too much at once — you don’t want to burn yourself out without ever finishing your product. If you are a beginner in selling digital products, start with a bite-sized idea rather than an elaborate and time-intensive one. For example, create a shorter ebook, a single template, or a small pack of digital art. This is your opportunity to learn the process and figure out the kinks.
Use free and open-source tools if you can
Since digital products already cost a lot less to make than physical products, you might as well try to push that advantage to its limit. After all, why spend hundreds of dollars on image editing softwares when free alternatives like Canva exist?
Take the time you need
While deadlines can be motivating, make sure you don’t set unrealistic expectations for yourself. Remember, you’ll still be creating content regularly as you build your product, so be careful not to burn yourself out. Avoid sharing any deadlines or launch dates with your audience until you know you’ll be able to hit them.
3. Set up your online store
Congratulations, you’ve created your first digital product! But there’s still some work to do. Before you send it out to the world, you need a way to get it to your audience — and have them pay for it. How? By setting up your own online store.
Choose between a digital marketplace or your own website
Do you want to establish an online presence outside of your social channels? Then building your own website that also supports selling digital products might be your best bet. But if you don’t have the resources to build a website, or if you want a quicker and easier way to start selling your product, then go with a digital marketplace like Gumroad.
Pick the right platform
Whether you’re going with a website builder or a digital marketplace platform, you need to compare your options to make sure you’re getting what’s best for you and your audience. Review how much of a cut different platforms would take from your sales, what kind of products they can support, and how much flexibility they give you.
Test a few options and fine-tune your store
Don’t rush and pick the first platform you find! Have a look around, play with available features and plans, and see which platform best suits your needs. Then, make sure you experiment with your chosen platform. This will be an ongoing process, as you figure out the best way to get your audience to your online store and motivate them to make a purchase.
4. Promote your product through content
You’ve successfully created a digital product and you’ve picked a place to sell it. Now it’s time to market it to your audience! Here are just a few ways you can promote your new digital product.
Mention your product in your content
You don’t want to use every piece of your content to promote your product, but you should definitely mention it when it’s appropriate. Publish at least one post that just talks about the product, then bring it up in other content when it makes sense. Use your best judgment here. If you’re talking about a related topic, then it could be a good idea to mention your product.
Create content about the product you’re selling
Adding to the point above, if you want your product to do well, try integrating it into your content strategy. Talk about the problems it solves or create content about similar solutions, and you’ll have natural opportunities to promote your new product.
Include a link to your product in your content
This should be a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to forget it! Make sure you add a link to purchase your digital product to the description or caption of your content. On YouTube, for instance, most creators insert links to their products in the description for each of their videos.
Include a link to your product in your social media bio
Are you using a link in bio tool yet? These tools let you turn the single link in your social into a landing page that displays your most important links. If you’re using one — and you should — then you should definitely include a link to your new digital product.
5. Build an email list
As a content creator, you’ve probably already built up your audience. But did you know there’s a better way to reach them for important updates like a product launch? Email marketing might seem a bit old-school, but it still works.
Use your online store to grow your email list
Most online marketplaces would offer a way to collect emails and sign customers up for your marketing. Make sure you turn this on! Building a strong email list will help grow your potential customer base for future products.
Send out regular newsletters
One of the best ways to keep your audience checking their inbox is to deliver valuable content by email regularly, the way you do on other content platforms. That way, when you announce your next product by email, they’ll already be used to checking in there.
Promote your newsletter in your content
You can turn a good portion of your regular audience into an email list just by promoting your newsletter through your usual content. Just make sure that your newsletter offers something valuable that they’re not getting elsewhere.
6. Dip your toes in paid advertising
If you want to invest a bit of money into your digital product business, try advertising it. Every platform you can create content on has some way for you to advertise — though some are more worthwhile than others.
Try advertising on social media
A single sponsored post can go a long way. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to try this out. Rather, treat it as an experiment with a small budget. Whether your platform of choice is TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, or something else, look into commissioning an ad or two for your new product.
Look into Google Ads
Google Ads get displayed in Google search results, on websites and blogs throughout the web, and in a ton of other places. That can potentially give your digital product a lot of visibility.
Partner with other creators
Who doesn’t love a good collab? You could try securing sponsorship spots with other creators in your niche, work out an exchange where you promote each other’s products, or plan some other type of collaboration. Treat your fellow creators as collaborators rather than competitors, and you’ll go far!
Get the free digital product launch checklist!
Ready to create and sell your first digital product? Download The Leap’s free digital product launch checklist for more useful tips on how to unlock this revenue stream.