Tom Ross of Design Cuts joins me to talk about designing digital products—figuring out what to sell, how to price it, their submission process and more. Get tips to help you get an edge on your competition in the creative products marketplace.
Tom Ross is the CEO and founder of DesignCuts.com, the most high-quality marketplace for designers. Design Cuts helps their community of 500,000 creatives save money on the best digital resources to help their regular projects. Tom also hosts the popular Honest Designers Show and Honest Entrepreneur Show podcasts, which have received more than 1.5 million downloads. He loves teaching other creatives to master their marketing and speaks regularly at creative events across the world.
Colleen Gratzer: Welcome to the podcast, Tom. It’s great to have you here.
Tom Ross: Hey, thank you so much, Colleen. It’s fantastic to be here.
Colleen: You’ve had huge success with affiliate income and blogging, podcasts, product sales, coaching and so much more. So I have to ask, what is the most creative thing that you have ever come across or done?
Tom: I don’t want to sound cliché here, but, honestly, I think it’s my company right now. It’s Design Cuts. The reason being is… I actually… I love business, I love creativity. But for me, a business is one of the most creative things. It is like a living organism, and it forces creativity every single day.
So, it is not like when I’ve created a piece of art or design in the past, and that’s kind of more static, and when it’s done, it’s done. It keeps me on my toes every day, every week. We’ve been thrown all kinds of curveballs and you have to think creatively, just in the moment, each and every day.
Honestly, there’s not a day I don’t walk in the office and get thrown a loop for something. And I’m like, “Well, we’re gonna have to sit down and figure this out and get creative.” So, yeah, that that would be my honest answer.
Colleen: And how organized is your workspace on a scale of 1 to 10?
Tom: Right now… I mean, is 10 very organized?
Colleen: Yes, 10 would be very organized.
Tom: Okay. Right now, it’s pretty good. I say it’s maybe like an 8. How I tend to work, and I don’t know if you’re similar. Unfortunately, the same with my house a little bit… Things will slowly degenerate, because I’m not very good at just keeping on top of them as much as I should. So they kind of slowly slip and degenerate in the wrong direction, until I get really fed up and then I completely have like a spring clean and sort everything out.
It’s the same thing with my desk. It will get like uglier and messier, very slowly until one day I snap and just make it perfect. And then the whole process starts again.
Colleen: Right. No, I totally get that. Sometimes I can’t even work… I have a separate office, and sometimes I can’t even work in my office, if I know that the kitchen sink is full of dishes, I’m like, “I gotta go take care of that before I can get to work.”
Tom: It’s so bad for your mindset, so I wish I was better at keeping on top of it. But yeah, whenever I have that spring clean of my desk or my home, I feel so good. Then I kick myself. I’m like, “Why are you not more tidy all the time?”
Deciding What to Sell
Colleen: Right. So let’s talk digital products. How does a designer like figure out what to sell? What should they think about when they want to create a digital product?
Tom: Yeah, there’s a few things. I think what most people do is they just jump in and don’t give it that much thought and that much strategy, and that’s fine for kind of like exploring and experimenting and maybe finding your style. But I do think there’s some guidelines people should follow.
The three things, which, for me, are the ultimate formula for a successful digital product are:
- your level of talent in that particular area,
- the amount of demand from the market for that kind of thing, and
- how unique it is, how much competition there is.
I see this play out time and time again. You don’t necessarily need all three to find some degree of success. But with the real blockbusters—and we’ve seen products do between a quarter and a half a billion for single products over the years. It’s crazy.
Tom: And for those types of products, they tend to be hitting all three very, very hard. So the person is ridiculously talented in their area, whether it is creating fonts or illustration or photography, whatever it might be. They’re very, very talented and experienced.
The market demand is through the roof. You know, there’s a huge market interested in this thing and they really, really want it. They’re not kind of apathetic towards it.
And it’s very unique. It’s not the fourth thing of its kind. It’s something that’s a real brain wave. It hasn’t really been done before in that kind of way. It tends to be the thing that everyone else ends up copying. It tends to set the trend instead of follow it.
We’re definitely going to dig very deep. I don’t want that to be intimidating for anyone.
But that for me is the kind of formula for how to create the real runaway blockbusters. However, you can kind of just like pull on these three levers to some extent, and they’re going to help you. So you don’t have to get them perfect.
But obviously, you can start to be a bit self-aware:
- What are my strengths and weaknesses creatively?
- What am I better at?
- What’s the kind of work I do that tends to get a better reception or people tell me I’m great at?
You know, that’s the talent thing.
And then the market… You can just kind of look around and see what is selling, what’s really niche and is only going to appeal to a few people and what’s something that’s maybe a bit more broad or what’s something that people don’t tend to pay for because you can get freebies that are equally good, and what’s other stuff where they definitely pay for it because the freebies suck and they’re not very usable.
Start trying to just pay attention to what the market wants, what people tend to actually want to invest in.
And then again, uniqueness. There are tons of websites selling resources, and Design Cuts is obviously one of those. You can go on platforms like ours, and you can see what is already out there. It doesn’t have to be that your thing is totally unique. As I say, the ones that are totally unique—if the talent and market demand is there—do very well.
But we see plenty of people like my buddy, Dustin, RetroSupply.co, if you know him, he makes retro design goods. I would argue that they’re not the most unique in terms of concept. He does cool stuff like etching and engraving brushes and halftones and things like that.
It’s like, well, a lot of people are making halftones, but his talent is incredible. He presents them really, really well. There’s still a big market demand. He’s able to do very well, even though it’s not a completely unique idea.
So, as I say, be aware of these kind of three levers you can pull on. But don’t think you need to get all three of them perfect all the time before you even think about making a product. Just be aware of how they can help you and the kind of aid when you’re thinking about making products.
Colleen: You could also use those sites to kind of assess—like you’re saying, okay, you can see what’s already there. But you can see what’s there and maybe how you can improve upon something that’s already there.
Tom: Exactly. And that’s a great tip. So even if it’s not totally unique, as you say, you can often think, how can I create the best thing in this space? So you can say, well, what’s there is good, but you know what? It could be a bit sharper could be higher res, it could be a bit more comprehensive. What’s there is maybe a bit minimal compared to what it could be. So you could expand on it, you can improve it, you can make it clearer, you can make it better, more attractive, all these types of things.
Colleen: Yeah, what I did… I put out a brand style guide template recently, and I put it out as an InDesign file. I just created an Affinity Publisher file and a Google Slides file as well. One of the things I looked at was, okay, well, what’s already out there? What are they… yeah, they were cheap, and mine costs more, but I also put like an unlimited license on it. They can use it commercially for any number of clients. It’s got a lot more content and it doesn’t have dummy content. It has real content that’s ready to go. So that’s one thing I did to kind of figure out what I was going to sell and how I could make something better than what was already there.
Tom: Yeah, and this can be a fun exercise, you know. It doesn’t have to be all the spreadsheets and stuff like that. You could figure out what are the best things that look kind of like what you’re thinking about making. Maybe print them off.
I did this when I started my company, I did a bit of an audit of what was already out there by way of competition. I sat on a floor with colored pens and highlighters and doodled and kind of worked out how can we be better in every single way? And do the same thing with products?
It’s like, what is good and bad about what’s already out there? And how can you try and provide something even better for the end consumer?
What Sells Well
Colleen: Are there certain things that sell better than others? Photos and icons versus textures or templates? Is there anything that sticks out to you that sells better than something else?
Tom: Yeah, absolutely, and these things can often fluctuate. Over the years, I would say consistently people love fonts. You know, there’s always a lot of love for fonts.
Same thing with mockup templates. I think creatives really see the inherent value there.
Tom: We’ve seen a huge rise in the demand for Procreate. You mentioned Affinity as well. A lot of people getting interested in that. So those would be examples of up-and-coming trends, I would say, and so it can be really helpful to pay attention to them.
You know, Procreate is now quite saturated. But it’s still relatively early. It’s nowhere near as saturated as something like Photoshop or Illustrator brushes that have been around forever. So there are a lot of creatives who are capitalizing on that.
We’re really pushing our Affinity section right now. So anyone who uses Affinity or is learning it, try making digital products because I think there’s a great demand, but it’s still very underserved.
Colleen: Oh, yeah, true.
Tom: You’re not competing with millions of other product creators in that space. It’s really like a few dozen, probably. It’s a lot more doable.
Colleen: Right. I mean, that was a request I got. They were like, “Well, I’ll wait for it to be in Affinity Publisher.”
Tom: Yeah, Affinity’s great. I went to their offices for one of their parties not too long ago. Yeah, really impressed by the whole operation there.
Colleen: Now, you used to be a design blogger, and you had hundreds of thousands of views every month, and apparently, people weren’t engaging or buying from you though. Is that right?
Tom: Yeah, I mean, some of them did. But relative to the business we have now is just completely different order of magnitude. This was me cutting my teeth. This was back in the day when I was a bit younger. I was trying to learn internet marketing and a lot of the advice out there wasn’t that good. It said you have to focus on the number of followers, you have to great traffic—
Tom: …and nothing else. Just chase those big numbers. So I did that. Cumulatively, my blog got 15 million visitors…
Tom: … which was mind blowing. But, as I say, only a tiny, tiny number of those converted to paying members and that kind of thing. So it was really quite hollow. It was quite empty.
I knew when I started Design Cuts, I didn’t want to feel like that again, because I knew I loved people. I love community. And that’s what I’ve done is some kind of hobby projects over the years. I’d focused more on that stuff.
But all the marketers were telling me, “No, you can’t focus on community, you know, you can’t focus on people. You need to focus on chasing these big numbers.”
So sadly, I kind of listened and listened to them for a bit, which was my mistake. But I learned better by the time I started Design Cuts. I thought, I didn’t care about any of the big numbers. We don’t need to get a ton of traffic. I just don’t care about anything to do with that.
What I did was I made best friends with our first 100 customers, and then 200 and so on. I just worked my face off, worked 18 hours a day, seven days a week for 18 months and ended up putting myself in the hospital. That’s a whole different story.
Tom: But I worked so hard because I knew I wanted to go that deep with our community. I didn’t want the big empty audience. I wanted a smaller audience where they really cared, and we really cared about them, and we deeply knew each other.
Colleen: Wow. Well, the reason I was bringing that up is because so many creatives think, “Well, I have to have an audience if I’m going to sell a digital product,” and they focus on those numbers and they don’t focus on the individual people and the individual relationships. That prevents them from creating a digital product or they get discouraged if they’re not selling a ton because they just don’t have a following.
Tom: Yeah, so there’s a couple of things there. One is, there are other platforms like Design Cuts. The whole purpose is that we handle the distribution. There are a lot of creatives who just want to create. They just like making products. They don’t like all the marketing stuff. They don’t like the audience-building stuff.
So that way, they let us distribute their products to our larger audience. That kind of handles that part of the puzzle for them. But you don’t need a huge audience.
Even the people who sell with us, I encourage them all the time. I’m like, “Yeah, if you want to, please, please go have your own store.” I actively encourage them to do that. I think that’s a great idea.
You’d be surprised. I was on a call with another friend right before jumping on with you, Colleen. He is literally going to make over $100,000 this year from his creative endeavors. He’s got an e-mail list of like less than 2,000 people, which is nothing in the scheme of things. Anyone listening to this episode right now, I could help them get 2,000 email subscribers if they wanted.
So don’t think you need a million followers on Instagram or anything like that. You’d be amazed if you have a highly engaged audience and you’ve got a great product market fit, as it’s known, which is basically how much your audience and how much the wider market want what it is you’re selling. If you get that stuff, right, then you don’t need the big empty audience. You don’t need a big audience at all. You can start pretty small but find surprising amounts of success.
Colleen: It’s funny because you didn’t mention anything about having an audience with the first question that I asked when you were talking about you need to have the talent, there needs to be demand, and then some kind of uniqueness over your competition.
Tom: Yeah, I mean, we have people all the time who open a store with us and start making very healthy amounts every single month, and they don’t have their own audience because that’s not what they’re interested in. Cool, good for them. They just want to make products.
Colleen: Yeah, I get that. Marketing is a job all in itself.
So when it comes to pricing a product, what should a designer consider?
Tom: Yeah, for me, I think you have to get realistic. I’m not one of these people where I say, “Well, just price it whatever you want and get really audacious.” The market will have sensitivities, and there will be a realistic rang e.
So you get stuff on the low range, you get stuff on on the higher range. Let’s hypothetically say that for a specific type of product that could be anywhere between like $15 and $49, for example. What you then need to do is work out where do you want to fall on that spectrum, and then map your actions and your creative process accordingly.
Realize that if people generally will never want to pay more than $49, but they’re willing to kind of go that high, then if you want to make that type of product, work out how to make it on the higher end, how do you make it more valuable, more comprehensive, properly position it and present it in a way that’s more high end that doesn’t feel too cheap or anything like that. Then you can command that.
We see this all the time. Often when products are inherently quite similar, a lot of it comes down to how they’re presented, how they’re branded, the brand of the shop that actually creates them can count for a lot, if that carries clout. People will often spend double the money for something that isn’t hugely different, but they just trust in that brand or they trust in how it’s kind of put together and organized for them.
Colleen: Now how does Design Cuts qualify the products and the designers that it helps sell?
Tom: Yes, I’m very proud that we are, hands down, the most curated marketplace for digital products. This was a very deliberate decision because what we noticed happening at basically every other marketplace was the floodgates got opened quite a lot and before you know it, there’s millions of products floating around.
This creates two issues. For the designer selling the products, there’s so much competition and noise. It becomes nearly impossible to stand out. Often their sales really suffer. That’s not a great position to be in. They feel like they’ve got hundreds of rip-offs and similar products and they just can’t stand out.
From the consumer’s perspective, it can be really hard to find what you want, because there is so much. There’s so much noise. Often the quality, on average, really falls down. It always does when you scale and you get bigger and bigger. So for the consumer, they often have to sift through a lot of bad-quality products. They kind of can’t guarantee what they’re going to get is great.
This is something we very deliberately wanted to go against. As I say, we curate, and we only accept the top 1% of people.
Colleen: The top 1%?
Tom: The top 1%. We’re very fussy. As much as I like to think, you know, we’re known as the real nice guys and girls in the industry, in the nicest way possible, we have to say no quite a lot because the quality and the standard for me is everything. It can never waiver. We stand very firm by that. Otherwise, before you know it, you’re just done done, when you don’t hold yourself accountable to that.
We do have certain guidelines in house for various types of products, and training that goes with that. But we literally have team members that are called “design curators.” Their job is to essentially say yes or no. As much as guidelines can be helpful for this, to an extent, it has to be subjective too, because there is so much breadth and variety in digital products and art in general. You can’t simply go by a checklist.
So we just have expert people on our team who have to use their expertise and their eye and their training to ascertain if a product is high quality enough, useful enough, if it looks good enough, and all those types of factors.
That is something that we really invest in and believe in because I just know that we can never lower the standard. We don’t want to be like everyone else. We want to really maintain that.
It’s lovely to know that we don’t work with, like 50,000 people. We work with a few hundred. But they’re all fantastically talented and really lovely. We’ve got very close relationships with all the designers that we work with.
Colleen: That’s great. Well, with the increasing amount of design “borrowing” (and I’ve got that in quotes) that goes on in the industry, how do you guys check that the designs that have been submitted are original?
Tom: Yes, great question. So, generally, the borrowing occurs where people have ripped off something that is already very popular. We see it all the time. This happened because we work with the best people, which invariably their work that does get ripped off. To an extent, we bypass that a bit on our platform, because we’re so selective. I can see if it was more of an open-door policy, you would encounter a lot more of that at a much higher scale.
But because we cherry pick only the best people in the industry, they’re not the rip-off artists. They’re the ones who are the trendsetters and are putting out original work.
That being said, you know, we are just very “ear to the ground.” We’ve got a very good awareness of the industry. There have been a couple of times where people have produced good-looking stuff, but we’ve just been so aware of what’s going on in the product industry that we can identify it’s ripping off someone else in that space. We’ve had to say no and educate them why that isn’t OK.
So yeah, the rip-offs, they really kind of hurt my soul. But that is yet another reason why we try and bypass that entire thing and be very selective with who we work with.
Colleen: Yeah, designers ripping off others’ work sucks. I mean it’s happened to me a few times.
So let’s talk income. What percentage does a designer get when they work with Design Cuts?
Tom: Sure. So it’s 50-50, which tends to be generally the norm with marketplaces, and we’re really proud of what we put into our 50%, to be honest. I know that product creators can feel quite sensitive—and justifiably so—about any margin that they’re going to give up on their products.
Tom: But with everyone we work with, you know, the feedback’s incredible. If it was a set-it-and-forget-it platform, I think that’s where people do get more sensitive about their margins. But that’s not really the service that we offer. We have a dedicated point of contact for the designers we work with. We work really closely with them. I mean, literally as CEO of the company, I’ve got designers booking calls and jumping on calls with me every single week to discuss and strategize how we can improve their sales.
Tom: We’re very hands on. You know, we actively push their marketing and get them involved in events in live Hangouts and webinars and newsletters.
Colleen: Wow. Yeah. I don’t know of any other companies in this space that do that.
Tom: Yeah, I’m very confident we offer the most bespoke hands-on kind of “nurturing” service out of anyone in our space. Yeah, I feel very happy to kind of justify us getting that margin of the sale. It seems to be working out for everyone. Because as I say, there’s a lot of people who’ve been with us for years. They recognize they wouldn’t be getting that business and those sales outside of our platform. Often this is people where they’ve got an income stream through their own website and through other platforms, but it’s all kind of just additional.
We have a different customer base, and they’re able to reach a lot of new people through Design Cuts. So it’s a win-win. That’s something I felt really happy about with our business model from day one.
This is something I’ve actually put into training for new hires for our team. We’ve got a triangle that basically has the customer, the designers, i.e., the product creators, and us. I said, “We only work when everyone on this triangle is happy.” I’ve seen it fail at various points where maybe you squeeze all the money out of the designers to give the customer a good deal.
So the customer is happy and you’re happy, but the designer isn’t.
Tom: Or I’ve even seen people where it’s like, well, the customers happy and the designers happy, because they’re so aggressive with like super-low margins, but they go out of business because they can’t sustain it and they can’t market things properly long term.
It’s a bit of a juggling act. But I think we found a really nice balance where the designers are getting huge benefit, the customers love what they’re getting, and we’re able to kind of sustain the whole thing and keep pushing it forward and and try to help as many people as we can.
Colleen: Now, you said a moment ago that some of these designers also promote their products elsewhere. So what are some of those places that they are promoting it?
Tom: There’re places all over, as I say, a lot of them have increasingly actually they have their own websites. People are selling on Gumroad and Etsy and having Shopify stores and that kind of thing. Then there’s really just a pool of, I guess, our direct competitors, who I won’t reem off on this podcast. A lot of people probably know who they are.
Colleen: Right, right. But I mean, are they also sharing their products on social media? Are they doing Facebook ads or anything like that?
Tom: Yeah. And on the Honest Designers Show, our company podcast, we recently had an episode about 2020 trends. One of my predictions is that more and more people will become independent sellers. You would think that would scare me, given that we’re a marketplace model. But it really doesn’t.
I’ve actually helped many of our suppliers personally set up their own stores and improve their own marketing. I think it’s just a smart, savvy way to go as part of a diversified approach.
You know, have your own store, build up your own thing, but equally use services and marketplaces like us for further distribution and just a stronger overall, larger diversified income.
Colleen: So if a designer is interested in being on DesignCuts.com, what is your submission and approval process like on their side of things? You’ve already gotten into how you have these design curators and how you review things, but what is it like for them? What steps do they need to take?
Tom: Just reach out, contact our team. You’ll be put in touch with the appropriate person. They’re all absolutely lovely. So whether it’s yes or no, you’ll be treated fantastically. We actually have people on the team as well—even if it’s a no—that always try and offer advice. So they try and offer guidance.
We’re building out a ton of resources right now to actually better educate people, how to create great products that sell and how to position them and present them and so on. I’m really excited about that because ultimately, we want to empower people. We want more people making amazing products and benefiting because it’s such a fantastic way to earn a living as a creative and so as I say, even if it’s not quite good enough to make it on our platform, we want to try and help people get there, rather than just saying no.
Tips for Selling Digital Design Products
Colleen: That’s so nice! And you have a guide coming out to help them with this. Is that right?
Tom: Yes, even bigger than a guide, actually. So we have some articles in our Learn section right now. But we’re actually building out this huge thing called The Product Academy. It’s going to be completely free, and it’s just going to be a ton of resources to educate people about how to do this stuff.
Colleen: That’s great.
Tom: Yeah, it’s quite a big undertaking, but we’re very excited to share it.
Colleen: So are there any tips that you can think of that you want to share with designers that are thinking about this?
Tom: Yeah, definitely. First of all, realize that you’re never going to create your first product and it’s going to be a best-seller. We’ve seen some of the all-time, world’s greatest product designers who didn’t actually find traction until like their 10th or 15th product. When you go back, their early stuff is not that beautiful but, like anything, whether you’re a hand letterer or a web designer, you’re never going to do your best work straight out the gate. You need to pay your dues and develop your skill set.
So, I think, keep going and with each one learn and try and develop. As I mentioned, we’re putting out a lot of these guides and information and through podcast chats like this. There are definitely things that you can and should be doing.
So outside of finding what you’re talented at, the market demand and trying to make something that’s very unique and possible, definitely think about how you present it. This is such a big one… All the time we will see products that actually are really quite nice products, but that put together not in the most attractive way.
Colleen: Yeah, yeah. Gotta clean up things, tighten them up.
Tom: Hugely, and that comes down to the product itself. So, as you say, “tighten up” and refine it but literally the preview graphics so the presentation the world sees before they buy it. That is your shop front. If the front of someone’s shop was hideous and like burnt down, whatever, you probably wouldn’t want to go in, no matter how great the the wares inside that shop are.
I actually think people should be allocating as much time to the presentation as they spend on creating the product itself. What, unfortunately, we often see is people make a great product, and then the presentation is like a quick afterthought. It doesn’t do a great product justice.
I’ve got a few guidelines here of what people should consider.
One is show everything. You’d be amazed how many products we see where there are thousands of assets inside, and people show like 5% of them in their previews. They kind of allude to, yeah, you get some cool stuff like this. But if it’s a huge product or medium product, or even a small product—whatever size—you should be showing every single thing.
You know, show a big grid of all the different elements or textures or whatever it might be, and really break it down because people want to be able to scan over this and look through your preview images and think, “Wow, that’s a lot of stuff. You know, I understand exactly what I’m going to be buying.” They shouldn’t be left to guess or wonder what else might be in this thing. You need to really show it. So that’s one thing.
Another thing is call out the transformation, or what the product is going to actually do if someone buys it. Can you show before and afters? You know, if you add it to your work, it’s going to take your work from here to here.
Can you show like a step-by-step process? “It’s just five simple steps, you do this, you run the action, you hit play, and then it spits out this amazing effect,” whatever it might be. You visually want to show people so they can see it a glance and just go, “Oh, I get it,” in 2 seconds flat. “I get it. It’s going to elevate my work from here to here. It’s going to do this. It’s going to save me time in this kind of way.” And I would do that visually and also put that in your your descriptive tags.
Colleen: Right. Don’t make them think about it. Just tell them.
Tom: On a plate. Like here’s what it does.
Tom: …in a really beautiful way. Along those lines, highlight the best features. So alongside before and afters and things of that nature, have little diagrams and annotations. Maybe zoom in on some of the cool features and close-ups of your product and call them out. Have these annotations saying, you know, “This really is high res,” “This is authentic paint,” “Look at the ligatures on this font.”
Really zoom up close and cool out some of the better aspects of your product. Don’t make people guess because they won’t be able to tell, really, unless you really call it out and explain what’s included or what special or high quality about this thing.
Then a huge one is show brand applications and real-world examples. This is massive, because even if you’re doing all of what I mentioned, if people can’t visualize how they’re actually going to use it in the real world, in real projects, they might feel a bit lost or like they don’t really understand the value.
This is something we see again and again. The best people who do sell very well with their products, they often use mock up templates, which are products in themselves, to show it off. So if you’ve got a font, maybe show it off on some business card designs and be like, “Look, here’s an example of how you could build a brand and build a beautiful business card using this font.”
That way, if someone does have an upcoming project for a business card or website or a brand project or anything, they can say, “Oh, yeah, I can totally understand how I could use it for that type of work or that style of projects.”
That’s so key. And I’m such a lover of mock up templates and a lot of people are.
Tom: That’s why they remain very popular in our marketplace. They’re so powerful. You’d be amazed… Don’t slap stuff on a mock up template that makes no sense. Right? So you wouldn’t get—I don’t know, the most über professional, clean corporate pattern—and then put it on a throw for someone’s bed.
But you can have some fun with it. The one I’m staring at right now, as an example, someone has put some of the illustrations they’re selling and put it into a custom design on a pillow case. Someone might see that I go, “Oh yeah, I’m into that kind of it arty creative work. I can totally see how I could use this pack and create my own physical products or keepsakes,” or something like that.
That real-world application and brand example are so key. So recommended.
Beyond that, you know, tell the story of making the product. Often people… Again, they can’t guess. You need to give it on a plate. They might not know how much time and effort you’ve put into this thing. So tell them, but tell them in quite an engaging way.
You know, if you created a texture pack, maybe tell the story of how you went down to that cool location and spent a day there, getting hundreds of images and then went and spent hundreds of hours manipulating them and creating this really unique pack that you know is going to help save them time. Don’t hide that stuff away. You should be proud of the process you put into creating these packs. So try and share that with the world and put that into your preview graphics as well.
As well as that, give out some free copies before you release it to friends and people in your community and try and ask for reviews and testimonials in exchange for that, and put them into your preview graphics. So if you have people who are saying, “Wow, this is incredibly time saving or useful. I love it for these reasons,” you can put those testimonials into the previews, and that’s fantastic.
You can tell there’s quite a few points here. This is just previews graphics as well.
So there is stuff to think about. But definitely, you know, make it look nice, make it look pretty—and that’s very subjective. The stuff we see that works well is don’t make it really faded and boring looking, unless it’s maybe a kind of faded-out, grungy pack or something like that.
The ones that often engage are the ones that catch the eye because you need to think—for the front image of your product—that’s going to be competing against a lot of other products often. If it’s something like marketplace like Design Cuts, often you can actually create a front image and then you can mock it up and put it alongside other products that are currently selling on marketplaces and be like, “Does my I go to my product or the other ones? How can I make it stand out?” You can do that with stuff like saturation, color, layout, how busy it is, all that kind of stuff. Just try and create something that’s eye catching without being garish, but just looks really beautiful.
Then, finally, and this covers all manner of sins, but I’m such a believer in life, business and digital products in going the extra mile. You can tell when people have been somewhat lazy. They’ve had a product idea and they’ve rushed it out or maybe they’re trying to create too many too fast.
Do invest the extra time. Put in cool extras and bonuses and make it that little bit more comprehensive. Invest the extra time to make it really high quality and test things and refine them. Try and create it so it’s great authentic. We released a chalk pack and we teamed up with a professional chalk lettering artist.
Colleen: Oh, wow.
Tom: She spent so long scanning in actual chalk, and then working to digitalize it. But keep some of that authentic organic, real chalk look. She could have just done like an autotrace, job done, and forget about it.
She put the extra time in, and it’s those details and nuances that not only can you shout about when you tell the story of how it was conceived, but people do pick up on that and the end quality when they’re actually using it.
Then think about stuff like extra bonus guides, tutorials, videos. So someone gets it and they have a starting guide, step by step, how do they use it? Hold their hand and make all that stuff kind of beautiful.
You can kind of see the difference right, Colleen, between just saying, “Hey, I want to make this digital product,” rushing something out, it’s kind of ugly and you haven’t really gone the extra mile or included all this extra stuff or thought it through, and the previews are not really doing it justice, to actually taking the time to kind of work through each of these points in this whole process.
Create something really polished, really well rounded and something that the market is actually going to want.
Colleen: Yeah, so true.
Tom: Yeah, hopefully that was helpful.
Colleen: Yeah, yeah. It has been. So many designers don’t even know how to get started.
How to Get Started
Tom: Here’s one question they can ask themselves: How can I make this product better? That’s where the extra mile comes back in. Really look at what you built and be like, how can I make this better? Does anything need tweaking or improving? Can I add any more to it? Can I make it clearer, easier to use? Just how can I make this even better? How can I make it the best possible product?
Colleen: Yeah. And like you said, showing it to someone else. Do you know what to do with this? Do you understand this?
Tom: Yeah, get people to test it out.
Colleen: OK, great. So let’s remind everybody where they can find you.
Tom: Absolutely. So the best place is DesignCuts.com. I promise, we have the loveliest community in the world, the loveliest team. If you come over, you will be looked after. If you’re thinking about making products, don’t be shy, reach out. I promise, we would love to have that discussion with you. If you want to join our community, when you sign up, you get a free bundle of, I think it’s 24 products now…
Tom: …which is insane. It’s a lot of value and completely free. We’re updating that all the time. So every month that collection gets bigger and bigger. It’s all just our way of saying thank you for being a great part of our community.
Colleen: That’s awesome. Well, thanks so much for coming on the podcast.
Tom: It was my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me on, Colleen. I appreciate it.
I have sent a few messages over a span of a few weeks to the Support Team at Design Cuts and they have yet to respond. I signed up a few years ago and even purchased a number of items. I have never had a need to contact Design Cuts and when I have a need to do so no one is responding. That’s not very assuring and leaves much to be desired.
I have been a customer and member of Design Cuts Community since around 2014 or so.
I met Tom Ross through a designer I mistakenly thought owned Design Cuts. I was then introduced to Design Cuts and Tom Ross.
I was floored from the very beginning, at the attention and fabulous customer service that I received, that everyone seemed to receive. Everyone’s comments got responded to on the site as if they were special, which they were. It’s just that I never saw anything quite like that before. It just seemed like something I had never seen before. To this day, I have never had any issues and the support I have received never decreased!
Design Cuts has a way of making their customers (and community) feel like family. Everyone I’ve come in contact with at Design Cuts and I’ve spoken to many via email and social DMs through the years… Could not have treated me better, nicer, kinder!
I am surprised that Liz B had issues. Everyone is on social. The best way to contact someone in that case, when things go sideways, is to DM (private message) them on social media! Things happen with everyone, I would NOT give up on Design Cuts quite yet. I would at least try and find out what happened!
This is the first time I have read this interview and from my experience with Design Cuts and Tom Ross, everything rings true to me what Tom said in the interview! Because of the way I have been treated by Design Cuts and from what I have observed and experienced, I felt I had to post here as well and share my personal experiences and what I have observed and been told by others. I run a small Photoshop Community, so it’s not just me!
Thank You for giving me the opportunity to share my experiences!