Monetising a Veterinary Social Media Following Authentically Part 2: Products
So, you're wondering how you can start to create an income stream from your social media following, without being all icky?
We have got you.
This could be applicable to whichever niche you are in as a creator, or if you're a wider business that utilises social media as part of your marketing strategy.
In Part 1, we covered creating online courses - make sure that you check it out. Keep your eye out for further updates as further parts are released on monetising a veterinary social media following.
In this blog, we're going to be touching on some of the ways that products (physical, or digital) can be used to bring an income stream, whilst still remaining authentic. This could easily end up being 10,000 words, because as succinct as this option might look on the face of it, there are so many variables.
Every single person reading this will be on a different part of their path, so take what you need. VETstagram Events founder, vet and entrepreneur, Dr. Katie Ford, has created and sold multiple different products online, and she shares her insights, resources and thoughts...
What are we talking about when we say products?
Products and merchandise have become a hot topic recently.
Those of you who were at VETstagram 2023 in Manchester saw the incredible talk from Danielle Lambert of Snout School talking about all things branding, and a thread that came out of that was merchandise. It was awesome to see the veterinary clinic examples that she shared - if you're looking for additional expert insights on this topic, head over and drop her a follow. This woman knows her stuff!
When I say products, I'm referring to something where a follower exchanges money for either something physical they can hold in their hands, or something digital they can download. This is a value exchange. Sometimes products have a tangible purpose, other times they bring joy. Merchandise also can serve purpose and/or a sense of belonging or affiliation.
If we were about to get technical on products vs merch:
Products is a broader term that encompasses all types of goods, including both physical and digital items, which can be sold or distributed for various purposes.
Merchandise is a subset of products and refers specifically to promotional or branded items associated with a brand, company, event, or individual, used for marketing and promotional purposes. It might be argued merchandise could come when you have an engaged or larger following, but that's another post and debate for another time.
NEEEEERRRRD. 👀🤓 Who, me?
Back to the previous paragraph, a product is a value exchange...whaaat?
Every transaction is a value exchange:
With online courses, people are being sold knowledge or a transformation in exchange for money.
With services (e.g. coaching, mentorship, teaching), people are being sold your time, guidance, and individualised expertise, in exchange for money.
With products, people are being sold a 'thing' with a purpose or fulfillment of a need behind it, in exchange for money.
With merchandise, people are buying a product that also helps them feel part of something - it might have some external badgeworthy value in certain circles too - in exchange for money.
Some argue that if there's no money required and it's free... then you are the product. ie the ability to send you emails when you opt into a free download. Another debate for another day.
I'll stop getting so deep now.
Examples of products might include physical items such as notepads, books, scrubs, badges, stethoscopes, dog harnesses, door signs, flashcards, clothing, bags etc.
Digital products might be workbooks, guides, checklists, instructions, spreadsheets, online tools or plugins etc.
Products could be your own version of something that already exists - e.g. a branded or slogan t-shirt. You might have someone else manufacture this, use print on demand services, or this might be something you craft yourself. You may become a supplier of someone else's products that you love. Or, it could be a totally new invention; this can take a lot longer to develop and the process be a bit more complicated.
I highly doubt anyone is planning on developing veterinary medicines, if you are, I'm not your expert and this probably isn't the post for you.
Those with large, engaged followings may find it easier to sell 'merch' that helps followers to feel part of a community. Those right at the beginning of their creator paths may benefit from looking more at products that provide value and solve problems, or are relatable on a wider level. Think of it this way, if you're a superfan of a YouTube Creator, you go to their conventions, and they offer a t-shirt with their catchphrase - you might buy it. If you didn't have any idea who someone was, you might not buy their catchphrase, but you might buy one that says something relevant to your field of work.
Right now, you might already have an idea in your head of a product that you think your followers might like and that you'd enjoy creating, or you may have no idea where to start. Either are fine.
Before we dive into selling products through social media, let's just check-in:
Read this carefully, because this applies to any of the posts in this series.
I want to ask you to take a moment to consider your "why". Whether you have an idea or not, whether you have a following already or not. What are your reasons for considering creating products? What fuels you to do this? What difference will this make to you and to others? (And Start With Why by Simon Sinek is one of my ultimate fave books).
The reason I say this is because unless you have a wildly engaged following that you know inside-out already, this takes work and patience, and the "I'd just like to make a little extra cash" alone, loses momentum quite quickly.
You don't need a monumental why - I'm not talking about solving world hunger - but getting clear on this, or at least having it on your radar, will help you keep going. You see, that's one of the biggest challenges I see in this space - people give up really quickly. I say that totally without judgement, but I watch so many lose momentum on the cusp of something taking off.
Maybe you've tried before, and it felt like an anti-climax?
I get it. As veterinary professionals, there are some perfectionist tendencies that fly around. It might seem a little counterintuitive, but on the topic, I want to give you a few reasons that I've seen why products don't work. Then these lessons will loop into the rest of this blog on some practical steps.
So, what are some of the reasons that people's products don't succeed?
They don't understand their audience, or their needs.
They don't have any passion or interest in the product themselves.
Nobody knows the product exists.
The idea never becomes reality in the first place.
So, let's go into these 4 areas.
1. Knowing your veterinary audience when creating products, why bother?
If we want our product to sell, knowing who we're selling it to (and helping!) is critical. This helps you to decide on a product.
Imagine this scenario:
Sophia is a 27 year-old Instagram Creator, she has found her niche in veterinary dermatology and is board certified. She decided to make a symptoms tracker for pet owners to record their pets' skin signs. The diary is beautiful, she has sourced it from ethical suppliers, it is on-brand and she's so pleased with it. She has ordered 100 of them to start with, she's confident they must sell as she talks about dermatology all day long and she has an avid following who always discuss cases on her posts in the comments. When she releases it, she markets it as "I'm so excited that you can finally track your pet's symptoms and make it easier to speak to your vets. No more trying to remember what happened last month". She sells one, and it's her Aunt that bought it. She feels deflated, and would like to hide the diaries away and pretend they don't exist.
It hurts, right? Ouch.
Was the product a bad product? No, it wasn't.
What could have been happening here? Sophia's audience is not made up of pet owners, they are fellow veterinarians with an interest in dermatology. They think the diaries are a great idea, but they're not the ideal client to purchase them from her messaging - they simply aren't going to buy them for themselves.
So, what could she do?
She could re-word her messaging and create content around how this product helps her existing audience, rather than focusing on speaking to pet owners. "Want to help keep your clients on track and give them a space to notice and record their pet's symptoms? I have just the thing for you, and I'm offering bulk discounts to clinics, drop me a message." This could be much better, but you catch my drift.
She could start a new account aimed at pet owners, or use a different channel to do this, for example TikTok. She could use her existing account to signpost this new channel, and encourage her veterinary followers to share her dermatology posts to their clients. Then she could advertise the diaries on this page, and continue to speak to her other audience, and even make a separate product for them. Obviously, this takes time and work.
She could run some small focus groups, surveys, or polls on her stories and start to understand her audience and their needs for her next product.
She might make changes to this product after speaking to her veterinary audience.
She might decide to speak to a marketing or branding expert, business coach or mentor to discuss this.
This is just one example. When you're creating a product, consider the person that you're putting it in front of. What do they like? What do they head to Google for? What would they see online and decide to buy asap? What do they need help with? What do they want to show their friends that they've bought into? What makes them laugh? What makes them cringe? Which of your posts always do well and seem to resonate with them? What is it about them? Who would your audience like to be? If in doubt, get to know your audience.
If you're right at the beginning, how can you test the water with a lower-risk idea? One really good starting point is to start to get curious about why you buy things. Next time you want to buy something a creator sells, ask yourself, what was it that made me want to buy this?
2. Why does having an interest or a passion for my product even matter?
Without getting too 'woo-woo' on you all (and Idgaf about doing that these days tbh anyway), people feel your energy when you're selling. They know if you're passionate about something, they know if you believe in something.
Authenticity means real, not a copy. Bring a piece of you to this. It's easy to say "oh XYZ creator put some t-shirts out, maybe I'll just do that too". Let yourself be a bit creative, whilst also keeping your audience in mind too of course. And, no, I don't mean attaching your self-value to your product - I mean giving yourself permission to be creative and think outside the box.
What is important to you in this product? What will help you to show up with conviction to shout about how much you love it?
Here's another example
Jerone is a veterinary surgeon that runs an account all about fitting in fitness around a busy life as a professional. He has only been posting for a few months, but he's already busy chatting in his DMs with followers. He does a lot of banded workouts, and he's always getting asked about where to buy equipment. He starts to think about how awesome it would be to have his own range of bands. He heads to an online wholesaler and finds they're just £2.99, so he orders 75 - he thinks he should make a sweeeeet £12 profit on each one. When they arrive, they are not very good quality. They all have a little safety card with them, so technically he thinks he could sell them, but something just doesn't feel right. He puts a few stories up about them, but he doesn't get much interest.
Remember, this is your brand. Every interaction with us is an opportunity to make or break trust. On reflection, Jerone knows that good quality is important to him, and he realises this is what stops him from posting with conviction.
Now, imagine this difference:
Jerone sends back the order and makes a small loss on the delivery - he doesn't want to put his name to this. He realises that actually, good quality is really important to him. He doesn't want to promote anything that he wouldn't use himself. He also realises with time that his audience really responds to the hashtag #vetonthemove. He decides to sign up as an affiliate with his favourite sports store, so that in the short term he can share what he loves on his stories (affiliates are a post for another day!) and makes a small kickback if someone purchases, knowing that he 100% trusts that brand. In the background, he starts a longer process of looking for a manufacturer that fits his values. His feed is full of bright orange, and he starts to get inspired by having bands of this colour, and having his hashtag on them too. Eventually, after going back and forth with the manufacturers, and sample products, he asks a handful of his most loyal followers to test the bands for him. He gets great feedback. This time, when it comes to launch, he is SO excited because he loves the product, he has some fantastic testimonials and they feel like a piece of him.
Can you see the difference here? Can you feel how different the energy of his posts will be? Yes, we all have a little bit of doubt and apprehension when we post, but this is a testament to getting clear on how you feel, what's important to you and the difference it will make. Bring your followers along on the story of how it's created, and how excited you are! Show them behind the scenes, let them feel part of the process.
How do you make sure someone knows your product exists?
So, you've got to know your audience; you're confident that this is something they actually like. You love what you're about to offer too. Huzzah!
You post about it once, and nobody purchases it. *Tumbleweed*.
Thus jumps in that inner critic to tell you not to bother, that nobody is interested and how much time you've wasted.
Now, read this bit twice: you have to post multiple times for someone to recognise that they need a product or that they want to buy. Some say up to 25 times.
Do you know how many times I see people give up? Become bored? Be despondent?
Then I ask them how many times they posted about what they offer?
Usually they say three times.
We live in a digitally hectic world. People are bombarded with notifications, constantly. Your ideal client might have had a hectic weekend, they may have missed your stories or have been on holiday. Perhaps they were just reading about it, and a Whatsapp from their partner came in asking them to start dinner. Who knows?
There are so many ways to get your product out there online:
Use different mediums - not just posts, Reels, stories, blogs, emails etc.
Consider your messaging - find ways to make it feel more like you.
You can drop reference to your product without it being a 'sales pitch'. Consider storytelling behind your 'why' and the journey of the product creation. Align the product with the other things you talk about and where it fits in. Make this seem to fit your ecosystem - rather than it feeling like an awkward money-making addition stream.
Find and get testimonials and user-generated content.
Speak to influencers about gifting them a product in exchange for sharing it.
Consider other platforms, email lists, newsletters, collaborators.
Run giveaways or promotions
If you do all of these things and still nothing, my biggest piece of advice is to be open to feedback. Get curious. Have conversations with your followers, trusted advisers and others that you trust.
I can assure you that your product suite will change over time, it will evolve. It is incredibly unlikely that the first physical product that you sell will be the only one forever. Perhaps however this is your cue to revisit something you wrote off after three posts.
How can you make your idea become a reality?
There are lots of ways, this will be different for everyone.
Start by mind-mapping some ideas about your ideal client and their needs/challenges, and what you'd actually find yourself able to sell and have confidence in. I'd suggest not getting too caught up in 'how' at this stage, just get it out of your head. Every time we question an idea, we break our creative flow. This is the ideation stage. Be inspired by looking at others in different niches, and companies of all sizes.
Ask yourself some important questions:
How much time am I willing to commit to this?
How much money am I able to invest in this? I'd suggest initially only investing what you can afford to lose.
Who can help me stay accountable for doing this? Do I need expert guidance?
Can I consider sustainability in my efforts to bring this product to life? Is it ethically sourced?
How can I ask my audience what they'd prefer? You can gather interest before you launch it anyway, before you even put money down. You could run a waitlist. If nobody signs up, you haven't wasted your time.
Once you have an idea in place. You can start to research potential suppliers or options for product supply, this might include:
Making products yourself - such as arts/crafts/bespoke one-off pieces.
Buying already existing products in bulk.
Utilising print on demand services.
Researching larger scale manufacturer options.
Finding local printers or suppliers.
Enquiring about stocking a product.
Creating your own digital products on platforms such as Canva. (Just ensure that you read their guidance about selling products created on their programme.)
If graphic design isn't your forté, you might decide to enlist the help of a graphic designer, or someone from a platform such as Fiverr to help you.
Ok, so you've maybe got together an idea or a prototype (test product). You might wish to offer out a small number to a beta-testing group to get feedback, or you want to set yourself up for sale straight away.
Pricing your product is still a similar conversation to my last post about courses. Check out the rest of the market, consider the value you're giving and think about what you're comfortable putting it out at. Head back to Part 1 in this series, bearing in mind the added cost and time of postage and manufacture, if you have physical products.
How do I start selling my products, and where?
There are lots of different options, and it all depends on your product, your resources and your preferences. Do you have the time to package and ship items yourself? Is it a digital download?
Using a Pre-Existing Platform:
These can be valuable options, especially in the beginning as they have their own secure payment processing options and they are pretty user-friendly. The advantage is that in theory platforms such as Etsy and MolyMed also have their own audiences visiting, and you'll get extra eyes on your products. Many allow digital downloads, and they handle the payment side for you - they will understandably take a commission.
Platforms such as Etsy allow digital downloads and live product sales. Bear in mind there is a % taken from the platform.
You can sell digital products via Teachable - on their free plan, you can sell one course and one digital download, but they do take a 10% commission on each sale on this plan.
If you're looking for a veterinary specific platform, then MolyMed Supplies is an awesome place to start.
Most platforms that offer digital downloads will have a system in which your product is delivered directly to your customer, without your involvement; you just upload it to the system so that the platform knows who to deliver it to.
I have never used TikTok shop, but this is becoming an increasingly popular option, especially if you have a following over there.
I sell my books on Amazon, as they ship and send them automatically, rather than me needing to head to the Post Office each day, which was what I did in the beginning.
This isn't an exhaustive list of options.
Using your own website:
I have really enjoyed using Shopify and found it super user-friendly, there is a free social media strategy guide around turning followers into customers here too. Shopify will integrate with tonnes of print on demand companies in the back end - it can be as simple as uploading a design, setting up your shop and the companies in the background do the rest of the work. They print it, ship it and you take your profit.
I have previously added a business plan to Wix that allowed digital downloads as well as product orders for my books in the beginning. This handled all payments in the background, as well as to have my own shop.
I have also used NameCheap to buy hosting and domains before myself. They are low cost, but I've always found their customer service excellent and if I'm not sure on anything, the live chat normally resolves it quickly for me.
I have also used Funnel Systems such as GrooveFunnels to sell digital products, add in upsells and cross-sells along the way - technically this could work for physical products too, but it's not for beginners if I'm honest. I'll do a post on funnels one day soon.
Many times, you can link your product links to Instagram Shop, so that you can tag them into your posts. It's worth researching the links it will let you add, as I've found some are easier than others.
And I'll just add here, whatever you're thinking of doing - someone has likely been through the process before. They have probably made a blog on it, made a YouTube video or posted a course. Personally, I love SkillShare, nab yourself a free month; Skillshare has thousands of classes in everything from graphic design to cooking, productivity, filmmaking, content creation, UI/UX design, marketing, crafts, music, social media and entrepreneurship. If it's something creative, you can learn it on Skillshare.
Or if you're more about listening to Audiobooks, nab yourself 30days free access to Audible where you can get a free book of your choice on a topic related to getting your product launched.
Can I just DIY it?
Some talk about doing it 'DIY' - this might involve taking payment and emailing out digital products, sending invoices and posting products. My advice would be to be cautious about the amount of work this takes, and how 'clunky' it can be for your customer. It's difficult to be clear on refund policies this way as well. This might be more helpful if you do bespoke, one-off pieces and there's a paper trail for each one.
Other things to consider in launching your product:
How easy is it for your followers to buy your products? Are they listed somewhere visible on your profile? If they wanted to take action at 2am, could they do that without you?
Does the platform you're using cover you for your sales? Does the postage option cover if something goes missing in transit? Are you giving out advice? Are you adequately protected. In the UK I use PolicyBee to help me find my business insurance cover, we both nab £20 if you use this link. This depends on your level of appetite for risk as to whether you have additional insurance in place, if in doubt, speak to an expert.
If you're in the UK and going to be collecting personal details (e.g. email addresses) and selling products to them, you may need to be registered with the Information Commissioner's Office. There's a handy FAQ on the site.
It's worth remembering that if you earn over £1000 via a side income stream in the UK, you have to register for a Self-Assessment Tax Return. VetYou did a webinar on this last year, Side Hustle Finances, where Nichola the accountant explains a bit more about how this works. You may already have a Limited Company that it can go through. If in doubt on this front, speak to an accountant.
Do you need to consider your wording and disclaimers on products? For example, checklists and guides. Some like to seek legal guidance where necessary, or do additional due diligence. This isn't to terrify you, it's to keep you safe. You might wish to ask your insurance or professional indemnity insurers around veterinary related matters.
Keep bearing in mind the maths - and your time. If you're selling a £9 product twice a month, and you're doing 10 hours of work to do that - it could be necessary to reassess your strategy.
Final thoughts on selling products as a veterinary social media influencer
Selling physical and digital products can be really exciting. I know certainly selling my "To an amazing vet" books, I have made a steady background income alongside @katiefordvet, donated to charity and I know that I've brought a smile to faces across the globe. Just remember - because I had success with a book, doesn't mean that's the right answer for you and your followers.
Low Overhead Costs: Creating and selling digital products often involves minimal production and inventory costs, leading to higher profit margins. It doesn't cost you anything for each additional PDF in most circumstances.
Instant Delivery: Digital products can be delivered instantly to customers, providing immediate satisfaction and reducing shipping-related delays.
Scalability: Once created, digital products can be sold an unlimited number of times without the need for restocking or additional production.
Global Reach: Digital products can be easily distributed to a global audience, without the limitations of physical shipping.
Flexibility in Content: Digital products can include a wide range of offerings, such as e-books, online courses, templates, presets, etc.
Intellectual Property Concerns: Digital products can be vulnerable to piracy or unauthorised sharing, potentially impacting revenue. ie people might just share it with their friend instead of you selling two copies, this will always be a risk unfortunately.
Perceived Value: Some customers may undervalue digital products compared to physical ones, affecting pricing and profit potential. We are bombarded these days with freebies - people really have to see the value to make a purchase.
Limited Appeal: Certain niches might not have high demand for digital products, limiting their revenue-generating potential.
Technical Challenges: Creating and managing digital products may require technical skills and tools - althoigh as we've said, Canva and outsourcing to Fiverr make this easier.
Customer Support: Providing customer support for digital products, such as troubleshooting access issues, could be time-consuming - though on third party platforms, they often handle this.
Tangible Appeal: Physical products have a tangible appeal that can enhance their perceived value and entice customers to make purchases, ie they can hold it in their hands and people will often psychologically feel as though this makes it more valuable.
Brand Visibility: Physical products with logos or branding can increase brand visibility when used or displayed by customers. Imagine your branded bottle being used in a clinic.
Diversification of Income: Selling physical products can diversify revenue streams, reducing reliance on a single income source.
Offline Marketing Opportunities: Physical products can be used for offline marketing, such as giveaways, events, stalls, or partnerships.
Customisation Options: Influencers can create unique, limited-edition physical products that resonate with their audience.
Higher Production Costs: Creating physical products involves manufacturing, inventory, and shipping costs, potentially impacting profit margins. Where will you put the 50 sets of scrubs you've just ordered? How will you make sure you keep the right volumes of stock?
Logistics and Fulfillment: Managing inventory, packaging, and shipping can be complex, especially for international customers. Imagine having to find an hour in your day to ship one product that makes you £6 - is it worth your time?
Risk of Overstock or Understock: Predicting demand for physical products accurately can be challenging, leading to inventory issues.
Geographical Limitations: Shipping physical products globally may lead to higher shipping costs and longer delivery times.
Environmental Impact: Physical products may generate waste and have a larger carbon footprint compared to digital products.
Don't let this scare you if it feels like a lot. One step at a time!
Go for it!
I regularly work with a small number of individuals and brands in areas such as this, working either hourly or project by project. Find out more at katiefordvet.com. I believe in an individualised approach rather than having any online courses available, so get in touch if I can help.
See you for Part 3 of Monetising a Veterinary Social Media Following
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