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Yes, Psychologists Can Make Money With Online Products. Here's How To Do It Right

Jan 08, 2023

Passive income/passive assets/passive products/passive profits – you’ve probably seen this term when it comes to creating online courses and products. They’re a misnomer. No matter how many emails you send, courses you build or membership sites you set up, there will never be a time where they don’t require your attention. That’s not the definition of passive and every time I see it, I object to the misnomer. However, diversifying and leveraging your time, doing more than coaching or therapy as I outlined in my early 2020 webinar, is crucial.

It’s important to know what goes into building and managing an online product so you can plan a course or products that are going to stand the test of time, rather than leaving you with lots of stress and debt and losing your confidence in the process.

First, a little parable. A story with a deeper lesson. I’m going to tell you the story of when my husband took me fly fishing. He’d organised a day of fishing for us on a private loch in the Highlands. A lovely treat. We had a ghillie who collected us from our B&B in an old Land Rover Defender (of course) and drove us up to the lake. As he drove, he let us in on a secret. Today, we would learn to fish – but we would not be learning to catch. “Fishing is not catching”, he explained. Today, we would be learning to think like a fish – yes, he said that. What’s more, if we wanted to spend the day catching, he could drive us to a trout farm and we could hoik fish out of the water to our hearts’ content. But that would not be fishing.

This story reminds me of why it’s important to learn the right skills to be successful in the long term. There are various courses out there that will teach you how to do the practical and technical aspects of creating a course or ‘one to many offer.’ Very few of these online business and online course coaches focus on helping you make sure your efforts turn into PROFIT in your practice, especially whilst ethically marketing appropriate products to clients looking for mental health and well-being support. One route is catching, one route is fishing. Catching is great if someone’s created the equivalent of the trout farm and your clients’ are, indeed, farmed trout. If not, you need to learn to fish if you’re going to make a sustainable profit.

By profit, I mean that your courses make you more money than you could have earned from doing something else plus the costs of your time and all the coaching, tech’ or people you’ve hired. However, when it comes to calculating profit, you also lose money from not working on other things that could have brought money in. That’s known as ‘the opportunity cost’ of your products. By sustainable, I mean making that money isn’t going to make you crash and burnout on a regular basis.

In my experience helping psychologists that have already spent $$$$$ on coaching, courses, and workshops to have ‘passive income streams’ in their practices, there are two main ways these products let you down – they barely touch on your broader business strategy and/or they’re not designed for developing psychology products or services. These two elements mean they’re also unlikely to help you build the profitability of your practice in a sustainable way.

Strategy:   At its simplest, strategy is about knowing when to say no. When you’re growing a company, there’s some inner physics involved. You’re putting a chunk of energy into it and, as we know from the first law of thermodynamics, that energy must be transformed somehow. We hope it’s going to turn into increased profit. That’s the goal. We hope that increased sales will be at least part of this (though it is possible for increased sales to lose you money). The energy can also be transformed into increased potential opportunities, an increase in costs and an increase in burnout as your time gets wasted. Strategy helps you to know when to say no to new opportunities, no to new ways to increase costs, and no to new ways to waste your time and energy. The better you say no, the more that energy will transform into profit.

On a related issue, diversifying your practice changes your role in it. For example, if you can't pay someone else to do the technical stuff, is this a role you're interested in taking on? If you enjoy that stuff and it turns out you’re good at it, then great. If you'd rather have bamboo splinters shoved under your fingernails than spend a day faffing with tech, either outsource or come up with alternatives to building online products. Opportunities, resources, and time – all yours to decide.

Creating successful psychology products: Not all issues we deal with are suitable for digital products. That may be because the level of risk that certain topics bring with them means that clients would need skilled, individual support to work through the topic. It can also be because the topics that people are comfortable working on through therapy are not the topics they’d be interested in engaging with through a webinar or even a gamified app. Also, there may be ‘low risk’ topics that clients identify as a problem – but the reality is that it’s not a topic that they’re interested in expending any of their life solving. Within the normal ecosystem of our lives, a certain level of stress or embuggerance becomes tolerable and can even be functional. We might get something from complaining to our friends about the state of our kids’ bedrooms or the way our boss behaves. Not every challenge or problem or even aspiration in life warrants the involvement of a psychologist or mental health professional. Our products and the way we create them have implications for people’s lives; it’s not common for these concerns to be surfaced through a commercial product development course but they’re fundamental questions for us as caring psychologists.

So, those are what’s often missing from the available support but what should be in there to make psychology products and services successful?

Here's the five things you need for a **profitable course/product** for your psychology practice:

1. Choose the right topic. The right topic with regards to the client (some topics aren't suitable for online courses/digital products) and also something that aligns with your strategy so it builds your practice overall, and builds it in a direction that aligns with your purpose and values.

2. Design your courses/products in conjunction with clients. You cannot design a profitable course or product in isolation from your clients. Your chances of accidentally building in something that puts them right off and missing out on the one thing they would have LOVED, are exponentially higher when you design from your desk. You must partner with your prospective clients (and by the way, this is a great design principle for community psychology too – psychology that’s designed with and for clients, not done to them.) You can also benefit from hearing about other psychologists’ MVP successes and failures. It helps when you develop one to many offerings in a community. Funny ole symmetry with that..

3. Get paid for developing your course. It’s OK to develop your minimum viable product (MVP) and then to offer it and build it as you go. There’s a lot of scope within the term ‘minimum viable’ to build something that’s valuable to clients. The word minimum also reminds us that we can tend to overdeliver and overcomplicate products for clients. Creating an MVP and developing your product as you get paid means you are testing a viable product people will pay for, you are getting higher quality feedback because the people evaluating are real fee-paying clients, and you are designing according to their real-life needs. Plus, you’re not bankrupting yourself to do it.

4. Have aligned products and services ready to go to respond to additional opportunities. Sure as eggs are eggs, someone is going to look at your carefully crafted sales page and they’re going to say, ‘well, I don’t want exactly that but can I have something like X instead.’ Give them some options. Also, don’t get caught out with no follow on products or programmes like I did when I ran the first practice accelerator programme. I got to the end of the first 6 months and the inaugural group said, ‘we don’t want to leave. Please can we have a follow up programme.’ Ah, whoopsie! I had to design one quickly!

5. Get the right systems in place (people and tech) for seamless delivery; you need to be able to handle delivery at scale or you won’t recoup your costs. It’s that simple.

6. JEDI BONUS POINT. Don't spend a *single* penny on marketing until you've done the first five things or you'll burn through your cash like there's no tomorrow. Again, that means no profit. This is a Jedi Bonus point because it can be SO tempting to think that all our profit and time problems can be solved through marketing spend. But if the fundamentals aren’t in place, our practice may look awesome on the outside, but we can be left broke, wondering if it’s been worth it and hoping the next marketing guru will be The One.

You’ll learn to implement all these fundamentals in The Inspired Practice programme, by the way. Our design philosophy is more aligned with teaching you how to build the rod and fish than implying we’re going to park you in front of the proverbial trout farm. With these foundations in place, you'll be able to successfully launch and sell online courses or products while building a strong business in the process. This dual focus is crucial when it comes to building a sustainable business that delivers a sustainable income without promoting burnout and risking cash flow.

Being an online course creator is a great addition to your business. However, we must build our businesses well so they can provide us with a sustainable income for years to come, not just weeks or months. The best online course creators do this by thinking about their businesses as one whole entity rather than separate products and courses. There are a lot of great ways to "make money with online courses and products". But you've got to have the right foundations in place first.