Grow Your Business

Why I gave up passive income and took my products off the market

In March 2015, I finally reached the pinnacle of online business: Passive income. With 3 products on the market, I was making between $10,000 – $12,000 a month.

I even scaled enough that I was averaging $15,000 a month for the first quarter of 2016.

I thought I would be thrilled at reaching a milestone like this, but I wasn’t.

To get some clarity, I met up with my friend and fellow dating coach — Thomas Edwards of at Dandelion Chocolate in the Mission District of San Fransisco. (That’s my go-to place for all business meetings because who doesn’t like European Drinking Chocolate?)

“I don’t want to do products anymore,” I told him. “I don’t want to exchange money without knowing that my clients are going to succeed. And I can’t do that with products.”

Though this is an uncommon change of direction, I knew he would understand. He’s been in the business 10 years, and even though people tell him that he should make products, he has refused every single time.

His business is based around a single high-end coaching program.

That fueled my fire to do the unthinkable: I took all my products off the market. Nobody could buy them anymore even if they wanted to.

My decision was final. I was going all in on high-end coaching. I could personally coach men in a group program. And in order to make this new business model scalable, I’d also hire apprentice coaches who could follow my Introverted Alpha system and learn to lead coaching programs themselves.

I thought it would mean a temporary hit to my business until I figured things out, but the opposite happened.

In May 2016, I made $32,000 — my best month ever. In July 2016, I made $42,000. Another record for my business. And it’s just climbing from here.

I’m not here to tell you whether or not you should make products. That’s up to you as a business owner. But I want to walk you through my thought process as I made this decision.

Then you can decide what’s best for your situation. After all, online business is about building something on your terms.

Beyond profits, why are you in business?

I run a dating coaching business for introverted men. We help them attract women naturally without resorting to typical pickup advice that floats around out there.

Our clients are typically smart and successful; they just haven’t cracked the code on dating yet. It’s their success stories that get me going every morning.

For example, one guy I worked with, age 51, had never brought a woman home with him. In Week Two of my program, he emailed me at 2:30am telling me how he went home with a woman after meeting her for the first time that night. He was so excited about the experience that he went on and on in his email.

I can’t get enough of updates like these!

And that’s one of the secrets about selling products from afar. A lot of people will buy, fewer people will use them, and even fewer will see results.

I couldn’t stomach that. Whenever I logged into my dashboard, I saw that the numbers were growing, but people weren’t logging in and taking action. They weren’t finishing what they started.

For example, some people were spending $339 or even $3,199 on products. But they were notorious for backing out of group calls all the time, and never updated me on things. It was painful.

People who bought, but never took action.

All those numbers on my screen represented someone who said, “This is going to help me. I must solve this dating thing.” Then they never did anything with it. My clients are beating themselves up enough. Buying my products and not using them was just adding fuel to the fire.

Seeing this was the final straw for me. It made me remember why I went into business.

Experiment until you find what clicks

I don’t regret creating products. Every business is going to have to experiment a little and see what works for them.

For me, products were just a way to organize my knowledge into a system. I know it works for the people who take action on it. The system is very effective when used. In fact, I’m using a refined version of my original programs for my high-end coaching offering now. Except I get to be more hands on and walk people through the process.

As long as you are doing your best every day to work towards your goals, it’s going to help you.

Stop saying you don’t want to “trade time for money”

This is a big reason people say they want passive income.

But what they don’t realize is that products are painstaking to create. For my last one, I spent a whole summer in a dark, cramped recording studio. In addition to studio recording time, I was creating various documents, course pages, etc. A well-organized, 130K-word course was hell to create behind the scenes.

And the work doesn’t stop there. I had several autoresponders for courses I was selling. There were upsells and downsells. I had to update links in my 3- and 5-day email funnels. Whenever I created a new course, I had to think of a way to add it into the mix.

As you add more products to your business, things become more complex, and in my case needlessly so. That’s another reason I’m glad I stopped selling them. My business has become so much more simple: One blog post per week and a webinar with a simple automated sequence for our coaching program.

Play to your strengths

As my business grew, I realized how important it is to play to your strengths and hire people for areas that you aren’t as experienced in.

This is true for the vision of your business as well. When I looked at my sales dashboard and felt uneasy, I realized I cared a LOT. “Caring too much” might be seen as a liability to some business people.

But to me, I saw it as an asset: I care about people so much that I’m only offering coaching to people who are 100% ready and committed. I want to be there and make sure they succeed every step of the way. For everyone else, they’re free to enjoy all our free material.

Behind the scenes of my first $32,000 month

I once read a story about Julius Caesar. He was leading the Roman Navy on a mission to conquer England. As soon as they pulled up on the shores, he made a daring move. He ordered the ships to be burned.

His thinking was that as long as the ships were there, soldiers would be tempted, even if ever so slightly, to retreat. But by getting rid of the ships, defeat was not an option anymore. They had to stay and conquer.

And right now, those are the kind of people my sales team enrolls in our coaching program. People who want to succeed, or die trying. This is a different audience than a passive consumer of a self-paced course.

I have an 8-week coaching program where I only accept a limited number of people. Currently, we charge $5,000 per person. We meet frequently and have check ins. That way, everyone is committed to getting results together. And because people are paying a premium, my apprentice coaches and I can give them more personalized attention.

This was a key realization for me. The men we work with are logical and linear thinkers. The skills we teach them feel edgy. At any given moment, there is no way to tell if you’re making progress. But if my team and I are there the whole time, we can give them that human-to-human reassurance. And that’s huge for my guys.

My sales process has changed as well. It’s funny. When I was learning about online business, people talked about emails, sales pages and conversion rates. But I’ve found phone calls are the highest converting sales method ever. It converts at 25% for my sales team.

The highest converting sales method ever!

I wouldn’t recommend that people sit there and dial everyone on their email list. But if you’re offering a high-end program, you can invite them to apply and speak with you directly. You can invest more time because each transaction is worth so much more.

At this point, my focus has changed from making a business that follows the standard for online business to making a business that gets people results — one that I can be fully proud of. And I’ve never been more thrilled at my progress than I am right now.

To my coaches out there: Have you thought about creating a system that you can use, refine, and then train other coaches to carry out for you?

Let me know your story in the comments, and I’ll give my two cents.

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There Are 21 Comments


Nice article, but it’s not really clear to me what you’re trying to say. What’s your definition of a “product”? Is it like, a document, a course, …?

Is your point, that you should eliminate all products and only do scalable high-end coaching because the margins are much higher and the production costs much lower?

What I found is that when I spend at least some time “eating my own dog food”, ie testing my own coaching (or products) out with real clients in my own business, my content becomes way more awesome. I coach with way more conviction and clarity because I’ve lived exactly what I’m advising my clients to do. What keeps their bums riveted to their seats is my real, ongoing “hero’s journey”.

So for me, the purpose of products is to keep it real — if all you do is coaching all the time, you lose the “practitioner’s edge”, ie “those who only teach, forget how to actually do what they preach”. Bit like the famous martial arts teacher who doesn’t actually win fights anymore.


shirag shemmassian

Thanks for your article, Sarah. As a fellow ZTLer, I also offer 1-on-1 coaching in addition to courses. Your note about how phone calls help convert at a much higher rate than emails really resonates with me.

I recently added a simple line to one of my email sequences that asked parents to reply to let me know they’re getting my emails (credit to Navid Moazzez) and, while they’re at it, tell me the biggest thing they’re struggling with. Whenever a parent responds, I thank them, answer their question/struggle, and offer to get on a free consultation/sales call. This approach has yielded near $20K in new consulting clients, and it’s only been a few weeks. I believe that when we offer premium, white-glove services, we ought to offer the same with our sales and everything else.

Congrats on the massive success! Looking forward to hearing about more of it.

Hi Sameer,

Thank you for your comment. To answer your question, I define a “product” as a paid self-study course and a “program” as a paid course with a human-to-human element. For us specifically, our program is a hybrid of self-study elements, group coaching, and 1:1 coaching rolled into one.

My point is that you should focus on really HELPING your people, and you should study what helps them best and do that. I found that for my guys, self-study wasn’t nearly as effective as the current program we have. Human-to-human is very effective for helping them implement the self-study material and get results.

As far as practicing, in my case, I teach dating advice to introverted men. Because I’m not an introverted man myself, the refining I do comes in learning and applying what my clients are experiencing.

We create a LOT of content, and most of it is free on our blog, in our free training classes, and in our email list. We simply don’t sell content-only for a monetary profit anymore because of how crucial the human element is to success for our particular clients.

Hi Shirag,

Thank you for sharing that! I love the idea of a P.S. leading to a conversation and a phone call. We’ve done variations on that, but your share gave me a specific idea for a new way we can get into that kind of conversation with our guys.

The biggest responses we get are when we do surveys. We’ve traditionally sent out survey invites that put their responses straight into a google spreadsheet, but it would be even better to send the survey invite email from our sales team’s email address and then have them reply directly to the email in their answer. Then our sales team can reply 1:1 and then invite them to get on the phone.

I love it! Thank you.

Great to hear from you, and best wishes ahead!

Hi Sarah,

The danger of only having coaching, specifically only coaching via video or telephone is that you cut out a chunk of your market. Not just deaf people like me, but also people who may not have English as their first language.

If telephone/video based coaching was the only option, there’s very little chance it’d work for someone like me. Transcripts allow me to check what I’ve missed.

That may be considered acceptable collateral damage, depending on the coach, yet I feel it’s definitely not a one size fits all option.

Hi Sarah,

Fabulous article! It adds even more context to our convo from Forefront re: your change of direction with IA.

In my own dating business, the difference in results I hear from my live workshop students vs. my online course students is staggering: the live workshop students’ case study successes + testimonials are over 80% of my testimonials (I follow-up with them several times after the workshop to answer Q’s and hold them accountable). Less than 10% of results / testimonials shared are from students in my online course.

Beyond the downside of holing-up for months to create a new product (the irony of being anti-social to create a course on social skills ;), the log-in’s #’s and progress of the online course students are super low – and you’re right, it’s totally disheartening.

That’s a big reason I’m starting private coaching next month, to stay more connected with my clients and be able to have a bigger impact on them, hold them accountable, and see them through the whole process to actually get them results. Your article just made me that much more excited about it.

I’ll have to get my feet wet with private coaching myself, figure out + tweak my program / approach, etc but you’ve planted a seed for me to think about “creating more Camille’s” down the road. I’d always thought passive income through courses with some high-end coaching was going to be my business model, but it’s great to see other options like this (including how much you’re enjoying it).

Question: how long did it take you to find the right coaches to bring on board, and what surprised you most about going through that process?



Thank you BOTH for these insights!

Shirag – I’m adding something similar in the PS to my new opt-in email funnel right now.

Sarah – I did the same thing with my surveys; my click-through rate is only 8%, but my “reply” rate is around 25%. Plus having people feel like they’re responding to a person or a team of people instead of sending it into an internet black hole encourages higher quality answers + we can start building an actual relationship with the reader.

Hi Jonathan, thank you for your thoughts and your share. We have used chat functionality in the past with those who are deaf, and much of our course material is transcribed. Even the live Q&A calls are nearly transcribed.

If a man who is deaf would want to join our current program, we would further these aspects for him even more. Having that 1:1 human element, even through written communication, seems to be so important, meaningful, and effective for the kinds of guys we work with.

Hi Camille,

Wonderful to hear from you after our Forefront dinner convo! Such interesting insights about your people, what resonates with them, and what you are excited about as well.

For me, I went to an alumni FB group of my coaching school, iPEC Coaching, and put out an ad. I heard from about a dozen people, one of which I worked with very short-term (wasn’t the right fit, and looking back I could have seen signs), and one of which I am still working with and am very happy with.

I learned that someone who just loves to COACH and who is a good personality fit for the business is most important, compared with someone who doesn’t know what they want or wants to start their own business / is interested in business development. The people who just want to coach and forget about business are the ones I see as longterm fits (at least that is one important criteria).

I’m still in early learning stages. I look forward to continuing to learn and expand with my team!

Best wishes to you, and I look forward to seeing what you come up with.

Thanks for clarifying Sarah, and it seems how I saw the coaching working was not actually how it is. I envisioned something that was real-time, in-the-moment only, closer to therapy.

It sounds like it’s more of a hybrid, in that you’ve taken your product, and added a layer of 1:1 guidance through the material.

Thanks for elaborating 🙂

You should absolutely know what you’re talking about. If you’re selling something other than advice on creating and selling online products, I don’t see how creating and selling online products is essential to that. Anyone can make a sales page and a few videos on teaching your parrot to sing but if you’re actually coaching people you find out whether their parrot really is singing or not. Coaching IS the next best thing to doing it yourself.

Hi Sarah,
I love this and resonate so much with your approach. If you’re up for it, I’d love to chat more about your process – from marketing to sales through to the delivery of your high-end coaching program (I’m in the ZTL facebook group).

Sarah, I VERY much appreciate this article. I am a ZTL & Accelerator student. I joined with the desire to stop “trading time for money” – just like you said. I am almost a year into truly launching my site and I’m running my first 90-day beta program. It is extremely hands on and I’m LOVING it. I have begun wondering if I could get these kinds of results with an online program only. I see so many fellow students who struggle to follow through in other online courses and – like you – it punctures my soul to see students investing money over and over without the capacity to carry it to the end without one to one guidance. I still dream of going the online course route, but your article has given me permission to imagine a different path. You’ve let me know that it’s not a chump’s game to do high end, time for money work. Rather it can be lucrative and incredibly fulfilling – both for you and the client. Love it all! Thank you for taking the time to write this. (p.s. Now I’ll also have to check out Dandelion!)

Nice to see you hear, Camille! I am excited to hear that you, too, are imagining going the high end coaching route. Sarah has got my mind spinning with possibilities. It’s exciting to imagine the possibility of getting amazing at coaching/consulting and then expanding a team to help. WhooOOOOot!

Shirag! I am continually awed by your success. I, too, added the “hit reply so I know you got your freebie” email after hearing about it from a buddy. BUT, I did *NOT* ever think about going the next mile and offering a free consultation call. What an amazing idea! Once I finish my beta program and have a consulting program that super rocks, I’m going to totally add in the Shirag Method 🙂

Hey Tiffany! Yesssss! I’m going to start out doing both avenues, and see what happens / how I feel. Maybe I can eventually dive into the psychology of (+ solution to help solve) why people invest in something and then don’t use it – like the 800 students in our Accelerator FB group who I haven’t heard from, ever. Although psychology is more up your alley 😉

Hi Julia,

Thank you, and I’m so glad the article resonated with you! I look forward to conversations in the ZTL FB group. 🙂


Your comment made me smile, especially the nod to Dandelion. 😉

I’m so glad that the article resonated with you! What you’re saying, I’ve felt very similar things. I’m really happy with how things are going with the high-end coaching.

It has its own challenges, but to me those challenges are 100% worth the rewards of watching clients get consistently awesome results.

Best wishes to you!

Sarah, This is such valuable information. Thank you so much for sharing. I love how you value your student/client’s results so much that you are willing to find a new approach to ensure they gain what is possible for them. I have personally seen that accountability and having others to take the journey together with is a huge key to unlock transformation.

Love your point about simplifying your business as well. Thanks again for sharing!

Sarah – So glad this prompted a new idea for you, Sarah! I like how you’re considering getting customer insight directly via email. This has worked better for me as well, since my target audience (somewhat older than yours) doesn’t click through to surveys very much. Please let us know how things go!

Camille – Amen and ditto. I feel email is still the most personal medium around outside of phone/video/in-person. Hope you’re well!

Haha you’re very kind, Tiffany! I definitely recommend that level of follow up, especially since you’re providing a high level consulting service. Before people open their wallets in a big way, trust is the most important thing we can foster. Your personality will play so well to this effort…

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