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How to Survive A Shitty Launch

Yep. It happens to the best of us.

Launching is just one of those things.

As creative entrepreneurs running businesses online, we all have a unique understanding of (and I’d say, relationship with) launching.

After all, doing a “launch” can mean a lot of things to a lot of people.

For some, it’s an event that could be responsible for their entire revenue for the year. For others, it’s simply the act of putting something new “out there” into the world and hoping (sometimes praying) that it’s well-received.

Launches come in all shapes, sizes, lengths, and strategies, and levels of pressure too.

So we’re clear and on the same page here, what I mean when I’m talking about “launching” though, is that thing you do where you intentionally generate buzz with various marketing and content strategies and thennnnn (and only then) open doors to a program for a limited amount of time. And (ideally) you see all your sales roll in during that short “open cart” window. But, what I’ve learned is that — regardless of strategies, best intentions, and money invested, it doesn’t always turn out that way. 

Over the many years of working in online marketing — both with my own business and behind the scenes with countless others — I’ve learned that everyone has a different attitude towards launching. Different beliefs, expectations, knowledge, background, things they’ve tried and experimented with. Some people “hate” launching. Others thrive on it. Even more are terrified of ever trying to execute a launch. And I get why.

Launches require fucktons of moving parts, money, time, energy, support — and they’re basically all a big fucking experiment with no real guarantee of outcome (ya know, like everything else in business). The fact is  — in business (and life) — there are plenty of smart strategies, but there are absolutely no certainties.

Want to identify YOUR beliefs about launching?

Just ask yourself to finish this sentence “Launching is….” and see how your brain auto-fills the answer (potentially like Siri on a bad day).

Thing is, if you’re going to be an entrepreneur, launching is just part of the gig. I’ve personally learned (the hard way) that no amount of preparation, work, or smart strategy is responsible for determining whether or not a launch will be a success. Just because something “should” happen a certain way doesn’t mean that it will. Case in point: my shitty launch.

*Confetti toss*

Yes, I am tossing confetti over my shitty launch. More on why in a moment. 🙂

To be honest, I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while now because I know I’m not the only one this happens to. I also know (for sure) that there are people out there who are scared to create something and launch it. Maybe that’s you as you’re reading this right now. Or maybe you’re just like “YASSS TAKE ME BEHIND THE SCENES, JAMIE.” I’m about to do just that.

Well, the purpose of this post isn’t to scare you. The purpose is to remind you that it’s all good and no matter what happens: you’ll figure it out and be fine. I AM LIVING PROOF, BABY!

To bring you up to speed on what we’re talking about here, let’s back wayyy up and start with my launch. 

What was I launching?

My signature program Story School.

Why was I launching it?

For as long as I could remember, I wanted to teach storytelling.

Maybe it started when I first read the Odyssey in high school. Or maybe it was when I first read The Hero With a Thousand Faces at 18, or took my first-ever screenwriting course. To be honest, I don’t know for sure when my STORY obsession began and fully took hold. All I know is that I started obsessing as a teenager and by the time I was 19 I was concretely focused on storytelling as a major. Lucky for me, New York University’s Gallatin School indulged my psycho-obsession and let me do it.

I had some incredible professors then, one of whom tried to sell me on becoming an academic. But no matter how hard he tried, I had my heart set on Hollywood.

You can’t screen Gladiator while we’re studying Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and expect that to help either, Professor!!!!!

But somewhere around that time when my obsession with story, narrative structure, movies, and personal development began, I knew I was meant to teach story.

Every time I did any type of continuing education or personal development work, everything brought me back to story. Again and again and again. Story became my way of understanding myself and others — it became my model for human growth and potential.

Fast forward to 2016, and I was feeling unfulfilled in my agency business. I even considered a position at NYU in their screenwriting department. But it wasn’t until I realized that if all I wanted was to TEACH STORY, I didn’t need to get a “job” to allow me to do that. I already had a community who was hungry for knowledge. And although I had been preaching about it for years already, storytelling had become trendier and trendier as a subject to study for marketing purposes. But, it was typically taught in its most basic form, and I wanted to go deeper.

I wanted to provide a more in-depth training on the level of mastery that would help aspiring writers and content creators and coaches and healers and speakers and authors, learn to weave stories that could really make an impact.

So I finally created STORY SCHOOL. (Yeah, it only took me 15 years to do it. LOLz.)

Now, let’s get into the marketing aspect…

STORY SCHOOL isn’t a sexy name. My first launch didn’t have the best messaging. The program itself is broad AF in that it can be applied to so many different mediums. From a marketing perspective, this was a hot mess. I couldn’t identify ONE outcome, ONE target client, or ONE big promise. There were so many!

And the real promise is that going this deep into storytelling work will probably change your life.

Also, you’ll stop telling shitty stories. 😉

But beyond that, it had so many potential outcomes that it made me cray cray.

I had truly become my own worst client in my inability to get narrow in my sales message. And yet, in my first launch, it still performed well. 

I had 25 incredible students, most of whom showed up for calls.

The revenue wasn’t enough to break even on my investment in creating and launching the program — but it was close. Close enough to feel like the next launch would put me in profit. (Spoiler: it didn’t. But that’s not really a spoiler, is it?)

So what happened during the next launch?

In short, I raised the program price, spent more money on ads, and made less sales volume, but similar sales numbers. But let’s break this down for a minute so you can understand the behind-the-scenes numbers of all of this.

Investment to create, launch, and run Story School (the first time): ~ $30,000

Total Sales: 25
Total Revenue: ~$25,000

Investment to launch and run Story School (the second time): ~$20,000

Total Sales: 9
Total Revenue: ~$20,000

What did I spend money on?

Launch 1: video production, editing, site creation, logo creation, site design, trademarking, PDF design, slide deck design, social media graphic design, facebook ads, copywriting support, project management support, tech support.

Launch 2: video editing, site updates, new sales page design, facebook ads, tech support, slide deck design, project management support, registration page design and creation, also: a second email marketing software.

Keep in mind these numbers do not take into account the following costs:

  • my time or energy creating the course content and pre-launch content (~80-100 hours),
  • my ongoing business expenses to deliver and run the program, or
  • the ongoing software and maintenance expenses for the course.

All of these costs considered, it’s clear just how “in the red” this revenue stream truly is.

So… where did things go south?

 1. Tech Problems (like whoa).

  • I offered a free 5-Day Get Your Story Straight challenge before opening the cart to the course. We integrated 3 softwares to get this challenge content to deliver, and received complaints that people who registered were not getting the challenge content. About 1500 of 2000 people who signed up for my challenge from ads we ran did NOT receive their content immediately, and we didn’t identify the reason until days later. It was Day 2 of the challenge when we realized not only were people’s information NOT being properly ported over from registration to delivery — but our email service provider was also not properly delivering our emails. This was, frankly, a shitshow.

2. Pre-Launch Content: Challenge.

  • Those who did participate in the challenge loved it. It’s actually SO much value that I’ve turned it into a mini-course. One of my challenges is going deep right away, and while I did my best to keep this challenge light and simple, it truly was a LOT of content and knowledge for a free training. So much so that (in my eyes) I didn’t leave enough of a hunger gap that would motivate most of my participants to continue in the course and go deeper.

3. Pre-Launch Content: Webinar.

  • This was another case of wayyyy too much information and value for a webinar. In the past, I’ve created tons of webinars that converted well and for whatever reason, I came to this launch with guns blazing like I was trying to outdo myself with so much amazing free content. The great news is that I DID deliver a lot for those who showed up for the challenge and webinar.

And now, 6 months later, these pre-launch events (and the content delivered) have turned into amazing things…

Like more CLIENTS, SALES, OPPORTUNITIES, NEW RELATIONSHIPS BUILT, ETC.

Which brings me to the biggest takeaway of all: every shitty launch is full of gold if you’re willing to look for it. Now, I know you might be thinking “that’s fucking great, Jamie — but finding specks of gold in a pile of poop doesn’t really pay my credit card bills now, does it?” And, you’d be right. But what it DOES do is allow you to learn lessons that you would otherwise NEVER be able to know and learn.

My dad (also an entrepreneur) ALWAYS said that any money invested in business, for better or worse, is tuition — maybe paid to the School of Hard Knocks — except he didn’t say that Hard Knocks part, that’s just my addition to the perspective. 🙂

Here’s the thing: you CAN survive a shitty launch and be even better for it.

Here’s how…

1. TREAT IT ALL LIKE A BIG EXPERIMENT.

  • I know that’s hard, and I know it’s especially hard when you’ve got money on the line and expectations to hit certain numbers and “make it to the big time.” But at the end of the day, every launch teaches you lessons that help you inch your way to whatever “big time” means for you. At least you’re creating things and putting them out there. Some people don’t have the balls to at least do that.

2. GET SUPPORT.

  • On all levels. Another thing I didn’t mention above is that I executed this launch on the heels of a cross-country move. That probably wasn’t the smartest thing I’ve ever done, but I learned my lesson. During launch time, I was ungrounded and not my best self. I still miraculously showed up like a badass bitch for all of my students (free and paid), but quite honestly — there were a lot of negative feelings that needed space to be expressed and released. The night that I found out about the awful tech issue, I was at dinner with my boyfriend (before a movie date) and I started crying in the restaurant and couldn’t eat (and that food was fucking delicious #sad). He suggested we go home to relax and skip the movie and I insisted we did NOT skip the movie. Ultimately, the movie helped distract me from the swirling and sinking feeling of things heading in a southward direction. But overall, it’s so helpful just to have someone there to look out for you, listen, and not judge when things aren’t going well and you’re feeling like a hot fucking mess.

3. LET YOURSELF GRIEVE.

  • Expectations are awesome. But what’s even more awesome is being detached from them altogether. Problem is… until we stop being humans, or decide to go live in meditation caves 24/7, we’re going to hope, expect, dream, envision, and move in the direction of our goals — with some expectations for how things will “turn out.” Want to really test your relationship with control? DO A LAUNCH! I joke. But really what I’m saying here when things don’t work out the way you’d hoped, disappointment and grief is a normal way to feel. If you’ve cushioned yourself up with a badass support team, you’ll have all the space you need to feel the shitty feels so you can release them and bring your best self to the rest of your life. But this takes time. It took me at least 3 months to feel neutral about my launch, and a good 6 to feel really GOOD about it. I looked for the bright spots and silver linings throughout the experience, but sometimes there’s no substitution for just being patient with yourself, taking it slow, and letting the grieve-y feels come and go.

4. TAKE IN THE LESSONS.

  • You will fly. You will fail. You will learn. You will grow. Taking in the lessons is a critical step in the process. What did you gain from the shitty experience? How are you better at being an entrepreneur, CEO, marketer, human? For me personally, I learned a TON of valuable lessons that will serve my business immensely in the future. I learned about myself, my audience, my offers, my marketing, my strategy, and my customer journey. Ask your customers or potential customers for feedback. Why did (or didn’t) they buy? What didn’t you do well from their point of view? This is invaluable feedback and a great opportunity to lean in, listen, and co-create with your peeps!

Remember, in the grand scheme of business (and creativity), nothing compares to getting in the trenches, taking risks, practicing, and learning. Nothing. You can make it mean nothing if you decide it’s happening TO you and not FOR you. But babe, it’s all FOR you. Sometimes, a shitty launch is just part of the journey.

Have you ever had a shitty launch?

Hop into my Creatives Making Money Facebook Group and tell us allll about it.

xoxo
Jamie