Countdown Calendar: A Weekly Breakdown of How to Launch a Subscription Business

We talk a lot about prelaunches. Here’s a chronological walkthrough of bringing your business from a landing page to collecting revenue.

Prelaunch Calendar

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Soft launches, or pre-launches, are simple ways to garnish initial interest from a community, build a list of leads, and position a subscription business for a healthy, powerful launch. (We’ve covered them a lot here at Subscription School, and if you’re unfamiliar, read more about them here.)

Prelaunches are also usually run for a set period of time – 30, 60 or perhaps even 90 days.

That means you’ve got to stick to a schedule.

But that can be hard. It’s during this time that you also instrument your business beyond gathering leads and initial interest. During the prelaunch, you need to focus on packaging, organizing fulfillment, curating your first set of products, and the development of your full website.

It can feel like a lot to deal with, and might leave you wondering, “What should I do first?”

Below, we’ve outlined a complete week  by week calendar for a 60 day prelaunch + 30 day initial launch period (90 day total). It’s split into sections to illustrate how and when things need to happen in order to hit your scheduled launch and shipping date.

Keep in mind – these can be flexible based on your needs!

Before You Start: Get Up to Speed

Before beginning a prelaunch, it’s important to have a few things done:

  • Basic product development. You should know what niche your box serves & what items you’re probably putting in the box.
  • Research/creation around any social media profiles, websites, or other accounts you’ll need. (You probably don’t want to change names later in the game).
  • Set a goal: You should decide how long you want to run your prelaunch, how many leads you want to gather, and how many subscribers you plan to launch with.

By completing these steps before, you be able to spend more time focusing on marketing your idea and executing on key tasks vs. doing more conceptual, big picture work.

By giving yourself a goal, you can determine how long you need to run your launch for, and how aggressively you need push different operations.

The Calendar

Remember, this is meant to be a general guide – update this calendar based on your speed of execution, goals, and constraints. 

Week 0: Pre-launch Prep

  • Goal: Develop pre-launch campaign
  • Key Tasks:
    • Build prelaunch page (platform options listed here)
    • Develop marketing copy for prelaunch page
      • Includes any unique value proposition you plan to include (giveaways, contests, or other CTAs)
    • Set up email marketing tool (such as Mailchimp)
    • Create a Welcome automation campaign
      • This is a series of emails that automatically send when user joins list
    • Test integration between landing page and email list
    • Test landing page on mobile
    • Finalize page & prepare for public launch

Weeks 1-3: START OF PRELAUNCH

  • Goal: Market your page to lean-test quality of idea & product-market fit
  • Key tasks:
    • Stay focused
      • This early phases is primarily focused on promotion of the page to gather enough data points to determine 1) if you have a compelling idea and 2) to determine if the audience you’re targeting finds interest in your product (product-market fit).
    • Promote your launch page
    • Send 1-2 non-automated email updates
      • These should be to your newsletter subscribers, detailing progress and keeping them interested
      • These are separate from your welcome automation
    • Update prelaunch page as needed
      • Test marketing copy, pictures and CTAs
    • Begin product search
      • At the end of this process, you should begin to think about the types of products and specific brands for your first box

Week 4: Review

Going forward, you still need to promote, send update emails, and update your page as needed. 

  • Goal: Reflect on the data you’ve gathered & determine strength of idea
    • At this point you should have enough data to determine how well your idea will be adopted
      • Suggested Conversion Goal: 12-20% visitor-to-email conversion rate
      • Suggested Email Goal: 500-1000 (this means you would have need to push about 5000 to 10,000 people to your page)
        • This can feel like an aggressive goal. We suggest launching with at least 500-1000 emails by the end of this process. By week 4, then, you should have 250-500.
  • Key Tasks:
    • Determine your sources of website traffic
      • Which sites are giving you the most traffic?
    • Evaluate marketing channels
      • How has Instagram performed for traffic vs. Facebook vs. Pinterest  vs. Twitter?
      • Have there been bloggers or influencers who have pushed substantial traffic?
      • Have paid ads (if any) been successful? Among what demographics?
    • Adjust Value Propositions
      • If you’ve seen low conversions or low engagement, consider how you can adjust your value propositions.
      • Depending on the size of your leads list, this is when you may want to re-run the process of weeks 1-3

Weeks 5-7: Begin Packaging,  Product Search & Website Development

Going forward, you still need to promote, send update emails, and update your page as needed. 

  • Goal: Instrument your business for a real product launch
  • Key Tasks:
    • Packaging: You don’t always need to launch with custom packaging, but by doing so, you can ensure a superior customer experience and more professional appearance, which may help conversions from your leads list. Read more about custom packaging.
      • Reach out to packaging partners (find a list here)
      • Request die-lines for box designs
      • Request quote for volume & printing requirements
        • Suggested Volume: 1500-2000 minimum order
        • Suggested Printing: Single ink on each side, flexographic printing
      • Begin design process
        • Can be outsourced. In-house will require a program like Adobe Illustrator.
    • Fulfillment:
      • If you packaging partner also offers fulfillment services, request a quote.
      • If you decide to fulfill orders in-house, begin making space and detailing materials you will need (tape, packing material, waste containers)
    • Product Sourcing:
      • Watch this webinar
      • Begin building a CRM or list of leads
      • Consider creating a brand invitation PDF for product sourcing emails
      • Begin reaching out to vendor partners for your first month of product
    • Website:
      • Watch this video
      • Begin building your website. Includes:
        • Choosing/developing creative assets
        • Choosing apps/extra (such as opt-ins or instagram feeds, for example)
        • Testing checkout and UX
      • Create your subscription product and billing schedule
      • Get comfortable with the platform you’re using
    • Business Essentials:
      • Incorporate your business (required to open a business bank account)
        • Open a bank account
      • Create customer support channel (such as Zendesk)

Week 8: END OF PRELAUNCH

The last week marks the end of your prelaunch and beginning of Month 1. On the day your prelaunch ends, you then announce your launch to your lead list and begin accepting orders. 

  • Goal: Finalize/complete all previous steps
  • Key Tasks:
    • Packaging:
      • Have completed artwork submitted to packaging partner
      • Place order
    • Product Sourcing:
      • Have completed list of partners for Month 1
    • Website:
      • Have website completed & ready for public launch

Week 9-12: Launch/Initial Sales

* YOU MUST HAVE YOUR WEBSITE, BILLING, AND PRODUCT SPECIFICS COMPLETED BY THIS TIME. 

This assumes you launch and then ship your first box within 2-4 weeks. 

During this final stage, you are collecting the revenue that will pay for products, packaging, and other apps & materials needed to operate your business.

  • Goal: Convert your leads list into subscribers
    • Suggested Conversion Goal: 10-20% of your leads list
  • Key Tasks:
    • Announce Launch:
      • Promote through your leads list continuously
      • Announce on social media continuously
    • Submit payments
      • Ensure all vendors (packaging/products) have had payment submitted
        • Packaging: Packaging can take up to 3 weeks for production/shipping
        • Products: Ensure you’ve provided enough lead time for production/shipping

Review: You’ve Launched a Subscription Business

Based on the 12 week schedue above, you should be able to bring take business from developing a landing page all the way to launching your subscription business, ordering packaging and products, and collecting early revenue from subscribers.

As mentioned, these tasks are adjustable based on your needs and constraints. Extending the prelaunch portion of this process, for example, can be extremely useful for those with a more limited schedule.

Have questions or comments? Let me know if the section below.

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About Jesse Richardson

Jesse Richardson is an author, educator and co-founder of several successful subscription businesses. He focuses on building engaging communities and has been described as “insanely customer centric.”

Find him in the Subscription School group or at his blog.

23 Responses

  1. Zev

    Hi Jesse,
    You mention integration with the launch page through mailchimp, and you also mention using launchrock as a landing page platform elsewhere. How did you get mailchimp to integrate with launchrock?

  2. Matt

    This is such a great resource! A couple weeks ago i accidentally rated it a 4 instead of 5, sorry for messing with the rating. Again, this page is invaluable.

    Thanks!

  3. Pearl

    Very very useful. I have started to use this guide now and I am in week 3. However i have hit a stumbling block. I basically started this with very little capital, which i used to brand my business, the pre launch page and the box design. Now i have found a box manufacturer and i need a sample sent to me, but i don’t have the funds for this. How do you raise funds for those initial overheads needed to launch the business before you take money from your customers? I really don’t want to go to a bank or loan institution and yet I fear i may have to delay the stage 2 launch until i can get my sample box, which could be in 3 weeks.

    Thank you.

  4. Rahila

    Just what I needed.This is SO helpful. Thank you! This and the Facebook page have been invaluable. Please continue to do this as the support and resources is whats been motivating me to keep pushing.

  5. Delle

    Thank you for this extremely useful info.
    Just a quick question. With the tight window of accepting orders, product lead time, packing then posting. Do you guess the conversion rate (over order – under order problem) or have a cut off date for ordering?
    Thanks again

  6. Jane

    I’ve been doing research about current subscription box companies and I’m seeing a number go under. What would be the biggest reason for closing down? Do you find struggles in sourcing the right products at the right price?

    1. Felicity Fromholz

      Jane,

      There are a unfortunately a ton of reasons why subscription business fail. In my personal opinion, some of the major factors are, not having enough margin built into your pricing structure, product/market fit (knowing who your customer and how to find them) and a lack of communication with your subscribers. So in essence, yes not being able to source the right products at the right price can totally be an issue. My recommendation is to always try and work with vendors at or around their COG. What a lot of vendors don’t think about when they offer you wholesale pricing is that working with a subscription box is essentially a marketing opportunity for them. I always pitched my brands with the statement, “I’m coving your cost of goods so you’re getting FREE marketing – it’s a win-win!”

      Hope that sheds some light on things!

      Best,

      Felicity

      1. Beatrice Lawson

        Thank you for the detailed guide. I have to slightly disagree with Felicity here (although on most things she is bang on with her replies.)

        What I have found is that depending on your niche, your suppliers may not be able to provide you with anything better than wholesale cost – and even that is sometimes less than 50% off retail. Why? They are small artisans with production limited by their ability to create. So to them the potential of a hundred extra orders means nothing if all they can make is 50, particularly if you are asking for a discount.

        Second, there is a lot of blow back in the industry to box owners going in and asking for free samples or severely discounted product – because so many others have already done it – so in some cases the supplier will actually refuse to talk to another boxes because they do not want to hear the “we’r your marketing agency” speech anymore.

        Now – I think this works fine for beauty items, or mass merchandised things coming in high volume for overseas. Giving you 500 items at cost when they are shipping 500,000 units is peanuts. But not all of us are in that boat…

        1. Felicity Fromholz

          Beatrice,

          I agree with you to some extent but, I was also sourcing for a luxury lifestyle box at 100 units per month from a variety of smaller makers and still didn’t have any issue getting them down to at least somewhere around cost. I think a stellar media kit and a good pitch go a long way. You also have to make sure that their brand is in line with yours – they’re easier to convince when they like your brand in the first place.

          …and thank for the compliment! I do my best to share what I know and it’s great to know that it’s helping!

          Best,

          Felicity

  7. Beatrice Lawson

    Oh – speaking of the schedule – I am a bit confused: in week 1-3, Jesse suggests testing your CTA and pics. But if you haven’t even signed up vendors – what pics do you use?? I guess if you have a really basic product you can find stock images, but if you are working with artists or small batch producers, their stiff is quite specific – and the major draw to your box. Then what images do you use without breaking copyright laws?

    1. Felicity Fromholz

      Beatrice,

      Go out and buy items at retail. Make sure they’re brands that you could feasibly have in your box – not branded items or things that might be hard to get. We did this with our Lilee box – just sourced items for 3 different boxes so that we had images. It’s a little expensive but a lot of it you can return to the store. In the early stages, I would’t call anyone out by name as far as brands but, it’s really the only way to get the pictures taken. Don’t use someone else’s photos without permission – that’s where you can get in trouble with copyright issues.

      Best,

      Felicity

  8. Jini

    This is an incredible article. Thank you so much for it.

    Although, to your answer of buying the retail products, did you mean to buy from the vendors we intend to partner with or just any other brand?
    2. Instead of reaching out to vendors in week 5-7, wouldn’t it be better to do so in week 1-5 where we can leverage the vendor’s brand name as a way to promote what could be in the box and thereby attracting customers?

    1. Felicity Fromholz

      Jini,

      You can do either. When we took the first photos of the Lilee box, we used products we thought would look good in the shots and be representative of what a subscriber could expect to get – we used some vendor partner items too – but, we didn’t have all of those relationships together at that point.
      By all means, start building vendor relationships ASAP! Cross-promotion is always helpful when you’re starting up!

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