Selling digital products is creating new opportunities for Registered Dietitians to both connect with clients and create new income streams.  From downloadable items such as ebooks, to courses featuring video lessons, to live or recorded webinars, there is an abundance of opportunity to leverage the business building power of digital products. However, to sell online, a new set of tools and expertise is needed.

It can feel daunting to navigate setting up an online store and to establish payment and product delivery processes.  This article breaks down the essential elements required for selling online including shopping carts, payment gateways, security considerations, file hosting and more.

The good news is that due to the popularity and growth of digital products, there are many options designed to be user-friendly and affordable.


Step-by-Step Guide to Selling Digital Products

  1. Consider Your Needs

What is your goal?   If selling digital products is a small side element of your business vs your primary business goal, you will have a much different approach to the process of setting up your online store.  Your goals will determine if you should seek out the help of a web developer or use a convenient, hosted solution.

What type(s) of products do you plan to sell?  Your needs will vary depending on if you are selling an e-book, online course or membership site.  Some options are better suited to specific product types.  For downloadable products such as handouts, workbooks or toolkits, the customer will expect to be able to immediately download, and save or print their purchased product.  For online courses or webinars, details about how to login and access materials is expected.  For other online products such as member-only access to groups or content, specific information needs to be immediately sent to the purchaser.

What is your skill level with technology?  If you are a novice website builder or plan to set-up the technology elements yourself, you will most likely not choose a highly customizable, open-source shopping cart option.  There are number of software as a service (SaaS) shopping cart solutions that offer comprehensive functionality and are easy to configure and set-up on your own.  It isn’t necessary to hire a web developer or create a new website to sell digital products.

What features are essential?  The options available for your online store can feel dizzying.  Spend some time creating a list of features that are “must-haves.”  This might include the ability to create discount codes, product reviews, integrate email marketing, tax calculator or offer an affiliate program.


  1. Choose between a shopping cart software service or self-hosted open source platform for selling digital products.

To sell digital products, a shopping cart or online checkout process is needed.  A shopping cart allows the customer to provide payment, and after confirmation, be provided access to the purchased product.  A shopping cart is often referred to as an eCommerce platform.

Typically, a shopping cart solution is incorporated into your website.  Depending on your needs, this may mean having a shop tab added to your site navigation or incorporating product listings into your pages or posts.  Some shopping cart solutions are designed for a wide range of eCommerce including physical products such as books, t-shirts, as well as digital products.  Others are exclusively for digital products.

There are two basic options for shopping carts, software as a service (SaaS) solutions and self-hosted, open source solutions.    There are pros and cons to each and your specific needs will determine which is the best fit for your digital products.

SaaS solutions offer convenience and are typically built to be user-friendly and don’t require advanced knowledge of website design or coding.  You pay a monthly fee and often a percentage of each transaction for access to the software as well as security and hosting of files associated with your products.  Typically, SaaS solutions offer comprehensive support and have detailed tutorials and user guides to assist you with the setup process.  SaaS solutions can be used with a wide variety of popular website builders.

Examples: Gumroad, E-Junkie, SendOwl, Shopify, DPD Digital Product Delivery, Selz, SamCart, ThriveCart, Lemonstand

Self-hosted, open source solutions are typically free to download and use, but you must have the skills necessary to configure the software, customize, and integrate with other tools you use.  You will pay separately for hosting of files, website security, SSL certificate and any addons such as discount codes or integration with email marketing.  Because these tools are completely customizable, they are often best suited when you plan to work with a web developer, have complex specifications, or need the ability to create a completely custom online store experience.  Self-hosted, open source solutions are typically limited to websites built with WordPress or completely custom sites.

Examples: WooCommerce, Easy Digital Downloads, Magento

Website Builder Specifics: Many website builders such as Squarespace, Wix and Weebly offer an eCommerce pricing tier.  This gives you the capability to create products within your website builder and conveniently add to pages and posts.  If you use one of these builders, you can also utilize SaaS solutions and may find that the monthly cost is favorable.  If you are considering the eCommerce pricing plan available from your website builder, be aware that the types of products you can sell may be limited.  Products such as courses and membership sites can be difficult to set-up.


  1. Consider Payment Gateways

Payment gateways fulfill a vital role in the eCommerce transaction process, authorizing the payment between merchant (you!) and customer. Popular payment gateways include PayPal/Braintree, Stripe, and Square.

Some SaaS shopping cart solutions require you to have accounts with payment gateways and connect these during the setup process.  Each time a transaction occurs, the funds from the sale are deposited into your payment gateway account minus any fees charged.

There are also SaaS solutions that include a built in payment gateway as part of the fee paid to access their software.  This means that you do not need to create or connect accounts with payment gateways to sell products.  A schedule for payout of your sales earnings is often weekly or biweekly. Usually these solutions have a higher fee charged but offer added convenience.

For self-hosted shopping cart solutions, you will need to set-up and configure your payment gateways. You will likely need to create a test payment environment to validate functionality.  Because these shopping cart solutions are typically open source and highly customizable, you may find that support and documentation is less available to assist you in the setup process.  A web developer skilled in eCommerce site configuration can be invaluable if you opt for a self-hosted option.


  1. Understand Security Requirements for Selling Digital Products

To sell digital products, sensitive information such as credit card details are required.  There are several rules that you must follow to be compliant.  These include having an SSL certificate to ensure sensitive information is encrypted as well as maintaining PCI compliance.  Most ecommerce sites also utilize a firewall and have precautions in place to minimize fraudulent activity.

One of the major benefits of using a SaaS shopping cart solution is that the transaction does not occur on your website.  While many of the SaaS options allow you to create an overlay checkout screen that appears over the top of your website, the credit card details and payment is occurring on the SaaS solution website.   This means that the responsibility for security of payment details falls on the SaaS solution website, not yours.

If you choose a self-hosted shopping cart option, it will be necessary for you to ensure that you are compliant with security requirements.  This often means spending additional money on website security solutions and possibly hiring a consultant or expert to ensure that you have necessary safeguards in place.


  1. Evaluate Pricing

There is a wide range of price points for shopping carts, depending on how much storage and bandwidth you need. SaaS solutions typically offer several options ranging from $10 to $200 per month, and open-source platforms are available for free (though you will have to purchase a handful of addons).

To compare pricing, you will benefit from using real-world numbers or hypothetical projections.  First, estimate the number of products you plan to sell, the size of files associated with those products, the price you plan to sell each for and estimated number of sales.  Next, determine the pricing level for each SaaS solution to meet your specifications as well as have access to any specific features you desire.  For self-hosted, calculate the costs to install and configure (if you are hiring a professional) any addons, security and other costs related to website design.

  1. Test Ease of Use

Once you have identified the top shopping cart solution contenders based on price and type of products you plan to sell, it is essential that you test each for ease of use.  Most offer a trial period is offered.  This is the time where you can try before buy and verify that the tool is a good fit for your needs.  During this period, you should create product listings, add products to your website and complete a purchase.  In addition, it is recommended that you review documentation, FAQs, test out the support tools such as live chat, email and submitting a support ticket.  While testing each option is time consuming, it can save you a great deal of time in the future, by preventing the need to switch from one shopping cart solution to another.


Final Thoughts on Selling Digital Products:

Selling digital products requires new skills and some additional technology considerations.  This step-by-step guide is an overview of the steps in the process and gives you a roadmap for taking the next step.

Consumers and colleagues are purchasing nutrition-related digital content every day.  Registered Dietitians with an understanding of the essential elements for selling online are poised to leverage digital products to generate additional income and credibility in their area of expertise.

To help you make the decision, download my decision support tool that will provide you with recommended shopping cart solutions.

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Megan Boitano

About the author: Helping dietitians leverage their expertise and generate passive income with digital products. Hi, I'm Megan, the founder of RD2RD, a digital marketplace for RDNs to purchase and sell original, digital goods such as nutrition handouts, presentations, webinars, books and more. In my private practice, I specialize in pediatric nutrition and sensory-based feeding issues.