For last year’s Black Friday sale, I set a goal of $500K in sales, then did a ton of prep work:
- Set up a new training class lineup with labs
- Added a new Live Class Season Pass so folks could attend my classes all year long
- Added a handful of guest instructor courses
- Wrote a multi-day email launch sequence
- To handle the doorbuster deal load, upgraded our web site hosting at WPengine to a $6k/mo plan
It paid off with a big sales jump: $440K, well above 2016’s $181K but still shy of my ambitious goal.
Later, after the sale finished, we ended up making a couple of other big changes: we stopped selling to the EU, and we stopped selling the recorded videos separately, instead bundling them into SQL ConstantCare™.
What worked and what didn’t
The email launch sequence worked great. We had a lot of reader engagement, and it drove a lot of interest in the new classes without a significant amount of unsubscribers.
The Live Class Season Pass was a success. Students really liked the ability to spend one set amount and then repeatedly take different classes. I hadn’t thought of this, but several students said they picked up so much more details the second time around because they’d been overwhelmed the first time. As an instructor, I love this because I got to know some of the students over the year, and could see the students getting better at the labs over time. I really enjoyed building the community.
Customers really wanna buy the videos separately. I hoped that putting all the videos inside SQL ConstantCare® would simplify the buying process, and people would just pay for our one subscription process and be done with it. No go, though: there remains a good audience of people who want to just buy one specific training video, and are scared off by online services or software. (It’s also a gateway drug, so to speak – people start with one small video, and then collect more if they liked the first one.)
Guest instructor classes worked well. Readers are willing to buy courses from folks they haven’t seen present before.
People actually use Google Pay & Apple Pay, but not Bitcoin. We use Stripe for online payments, and they adopted these payment methods pretty quickly. Around 10% of checkouts used Google Pay or Apple Pay, but nobody ever used Bitcoin for a course. When Stripe removed support for it, it didn’t bother me at all.
The midnight doorbusters were a disaster (again.) For the second year in a row, WPengine’s server choices weren’t able to handle the load, despite giving them a blank check to pick the hardware. I did a post-mortem meeting with them, and they were really good about making it right. I have no bad feelings toward WPengine, and indeed, we’re still hosting with them today. I just wouldn’t recommend them for radical scale changes in short bursts, even with advance notice.
What we’re doing differently this year
No more doorbusters. (sigh) They were a fun experiment years ago when we were at lower audience levels, but today, ah, the curse and blessing of a larger audience.
This year, we’re just going to launch all the sales on November 1st and run them all month.
It’s funny because as a database & web app guy, I know full well that if I cleared my calendar and hired a resource, it’s a solvable problem. However, the really low revenue of doorbusters means I would lose money on that, and there are limits to what I’ll do for fun. I can see revisiting this in the future when we hire a site reliability engineer to manage our infrastructure ourselves, but we’re at least two years away from that.
We’re adding payment via check/invoice PO. In the past, I turned that off during Black Friday because we didn’t want people claiming one of the limited seats, and then not paying, thereby depriving somebody else of a seat. However, we got a lot of feedback from folks who said their company wanted to buy, but they couldn’t use a credit card, and could instead FedEx a check.
Taking payments is a little more work for us, but not terrible. We use EarthClassMail.com to receive our mail, scan it, and automatically deposit checks. Erika just has to connect the dots between which checks are for which orders. We’re drawing the line at filling out company forms to become a new vendor, though.
We’re selling self-paced recorded videos individually again. The people have spoken, and they said “Shut up and take my money.” Done. I started setting this up about a month ago, and people started buying them immediately without any promotion. That was kinda wild.
We’re adding a new Team Membership. WooCommerce brought out a Teams for Memberships plugin, and we’d had a few companies buy Live Class Season Passes for several of their team members, so I thought, “Why not?”
Let’s see if we can cross the $500K mark this time. Big money, no whammies….