Today's post is a guest post from my friend Grant Baldwin, a public speaker and host of “How Did You Get Into That?,” a podcast focused on people who are doing incredibly inspiring work. In this post, Grant talks about his experience launching his first course and how it didn't meet his expectations. He then talks about round two where he validates, builds and launches a second course that worked out much better, and the lessons he learned from that experience. There are lots of golden nuggets here, especially in regards to validation. He walks you step-by-step, and it's perfect timing as I know a lot of you are close to or right in the middle of launching your own online courses too.
It’s no secret that online courses are hot right now. Just about everyone in the online business space either has one or will be launching one in the near future.
There are plenty of factors that make courses a very appealing choice for online entrepreneurs…
- Huge profit margins
- Create once, sell hundreds (or thousands) of times
- Little to no overhead cost (completely digital)
- Very scalable
The list goes on and on.
So like you, I wanted to be in the course game.
In May 2014, I launched my podcast called How Did You Get Into That? where we interviewed people doing interesting and unique work. We’ve interviewed a huge variety of different types of careers and naturally attracted an audience of people seeking out work they could be more passionate about.
Almost every day I got emails from people looking for career advice and wondering how to find careers or businesses they actually cared about. After enough of these emails and questions, I experienced what most entrepreneurs feel on a regular basis…
A lightbulb moment.
Why not create a course for this audience to help them find and discover the career that was right for them?
It literally seemed like a no-brainer. I got a test group of about 20 people to each pay $197 which validated the concept for me. At that point, it was all systems go. Over the next several months, I worked with this test group to build and create a course that would scratch their itch (more on the validation part in a minute). We even had what seemed like a clever name: Clarity Course.
Eventually, I was ready to finally open the doors to the public and launch my first course. On December 8, I opened the cart and sat back and waited.
And waited some more.
More awkward silence.
It was painful.
I legitimately thought we would sell tens of thousands of dollars of this puppy, and it just flat out didn’t happen.
Granted, it wasn’t a complete flop, but it just certainly wasn’t what I hoped it would be. We did still sell $8,486 worth of the course and have received a lot of great feedback from members of the course, so I’ll count that as a win.
So after a few days of feeling depressed, sorry for myself, and receiving numerous calls from my concerned mother, I realized I needed to figure out what went wrong.
In a bit of irony, I think the title Clarity Course leaves it a bit unclear as to what the product is and who it is for. When people would ask who the course was for, I’d say, “It’s for people who don’t love or hate their job but aren’t really sure what they’d rather be doing.” Unfortunately, that applies to a high percentage of people.
The less clear you are about who your product or service is for, the worse it will sell. If you say your product/service is for everyone, it’s really for no one.
The bottom line was I knew Clarity Course could be good with some more work, but I had another pesky lightbulb moment I wanted to pursue…
For the past 8 years, I’ve largely made my career as a full-time professional speaker. I’ve traveled all over speaking at conferences, conventions, and other events. I’ve had a pretty decent career as a speaker…
- $1.3 million—earnings from speaking
- 400+— paid speaking engagements (67 paid engagements last year)
- 700+—presentations given
- 45—US states spoken in
- 350k— people spoken to live
- 13,000—biggest audience
- 30,000+—physical copies sold of my self-published book
So naturally because of this, I’ve had a lot of people over the years ask me how to get started as a speaker. There are plenty of people who would love to speak full-time and many others who would love to speak a few times each year in their niche/industry.
But how to get speaking engagements has always remained this mysterious puzzle that many people wonder about.
After doing this for a while, I knew I had learned a few things about how to get booked and paid to speak that I thought I could teach others.
(you see where this is going don’t you? 🙂 )
Alright, so I wanted to try a course on this subject, but I immediately had the doubts and fears creeping back in my head…
What if this is a flop like Clarity Course was?
I knew I had some knowledge on the speaking business, so I decided to give this course thing another shot.
On January 1st, I wrote down this goal…
Build and launch speaking course in Q1.
It felt aggressive, but do-able. I had 90 days to create a course from scratch.
Let’s do this…
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Before creating a course, one of the most important things you have to do is validate your concept. I know you think your idea is great, and your mom says anything you do is magical, but it all means squat if people don’t actually buy the thing.
Validation at it’s simplest form is getting people to pay for what you haven’t yet created.
So why is validation so important?
1. Validation allows you to tweak before you build—The common model for building products is we have an idea…we go into our workshop to make it….we emerge back into civilization…we shout from the rooftops what we’ve made….we wait and hope we hit the mark and people actually give us money. And sometimes this can work. But sometimes it can lead to a huge flop that could have been prevented. By getting others involved early in the process, you can get actual feedback from real customers and build not what you think they want but what they actually want.
2. Validation prevents you from wasting time later—Let’s say you followed the traditional model of design-build-sell and you completely missed the mark. Now you’re back at the drawing board basically starting over. But what if you could get it right from the beginning? Thank you validation.
3. Validation gets cash in the door—I assume at least part of the reason you want to create a course is because you like to eat and live indoors. Me too. By getting people to pay for something before you’ve created it, it’s not only very cool, but it can also buy you some financial runway to start working on it. Think of it like Kickstarter for your course.
4. Validation lights a fire under your butt to get the course built—When you have other people’s money and they’re expecting you to deliver on the concept you sold them on, it can be very motivating. Left on your own, you’d probably do what most of us would. You’d work on the course when it was convenient or when you felt like it. Bottom line…you wouldn’t finish it. At least not any time soon.
Alright, so we get it that validation is important, but how do you actually do it?
I’m going to make this really simple. Rather than re-hash it, I’m going to point you to another post I followed almost verbatim. My buddy Bryan Harris wrote a killer post over at VideoFruit (side note…you MUST subscribe to his blog and read everything he writes).
I had a good sense the speaking course would be a good fit and scratch an itch people had. But to further validate it, I followed “Step 2: Validate The Product Idea” from Bryan’s post to the letter.
Here’s the nutshell…I created a doc in Evernote explaining what I thought the product would look like when it was finished. I talked about how it would help them and what they would get. I also covered my own story to establish some more credibility.
And then I asked for the sale. After emailing ~200 people (in 3 different groups like Bryan recommended), I had 22 people sign up for $197 each.
(To give some more context, I assumed for a while this was a product people would be interested in, so I had been keeping a small list of those who had asked questions about speaking and expressed interest in the topic. That way I had a handful I could email when I decided to validate the concept. Remember, we’re not talking about a list of thousands. I started by emailing 200 people I thought would be interested.)
Keep in mind that I hadn’t created anything yet. No lessons were made. I wasn’t even clear on what the finished product would look like.
This blew my mind.
There were 22 people who just sent me $197 essentially for thin air.
But this validated the concept, and I felt confident we were onto something.
(Again, I’d reiterate, for more details on exactly how to validate, I would read Bryan’s post. especially Step 2 where he includes email scripts galore. So good.)
So now I have 22 people’s money, and I have to deliver them something. Time to get to work.
Here’s how I built the course…
- Create a deadline.
- Create an outline.
- Connect the dots.
That was really it.
I started by picking a finish line. This was partly to make sure I stayed on track and delivered to those 22 early adopters without dragging my feet.
I chose March 3rd as my deadline. At the time, this was around mid-January, so I had around 45ish days to make this happen. That was pretty fast, but I was also pretty focused on getting it completed and out there.
One of the first steps I took was to create the outline. I started by making a list of all the common questions I got on the subject and then organized them into a logical flow for a course.
I landed on 26 lessons that were organized into 8 modules. Each module had 3-5 lessons underneath it.
Which raises the question…
What’s the right amount of modules/lessons?
I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer.
It largely depends on your audience and your topic. Some topics need to be shorter, smaller, bite sized lessons.
My friend Joe Michael runs the course Learn Scrivener Fast which teaches people how to use the notoriously complicated writing tool, Scrivener. His course is a collection of 100 videos that are all less than 3 minutes. These are all bite-sized videos of him doing a screen share teaching something specific from Scrivener. It’s set up in a way that people can bounce around and literally watch over his shoulder as he teaches.
Another friend, Darrell Vesterfelt, has a course called Author Launch which is all about going from concept to a published book. His course is broken down into 46 weeks of training that you must go through sequentially. Each week builds on the previous, so you can’t skip around.
While both of these formats work, you just have to decide what makes sense for both your audience and your topic.
After I created my master outline, I did a few things I would recommend…
1. Send it to your early adopter test group. Get their feedback before you’ve spent hours and hours building something. Make sure it’s what they’re looking for. Ask if there’s anything missing. Ask what lessons excite them the most. See if it seems to be in a logical flow for them to follow.
You gave them a huge discount upfront in part because they agreed to share their feedback along the way. So ask for their feedback!
2. Create your creation plan. You know what lessons you’re creating now. You know when your deadline is. Now you can reverse engineer to figure out what you need to be doing each week to stay on track.
This planning part is so critical and will save you so much time down the road. If you know you have 45 days to create your course, you can’t lolly gag your way to day 43 and then try to cram everything in.
That’s dumb, and it doesn’t work.
I decided each lesson would be Keynote slides with me doing voiceover teaching. This is a pretty common approach for a lot of online courses.
So I knew there were a few things that needed to happen with each lesson…
- Create lesson outline.
- Create lesson slides.
- Record lesson.
- Upload to actual online course.
Here’s where I saved a lot of time (and headaches).
I focused on what only I could do.
From that list, I knew I had to do 1 & 3. But I could have someone else handle 2 & 4.
Could I do those? Sure.
Would it have taken me a lot longer? Absolutely.
And I knew if I was going to meet my deadline, doing 2 & 4 wouldn’t be the best use of my time.
So I hired Jeff. Jeff made things much easier for me. Jeff knows all that technical stuff. I don’t.
You need to hire a Jeff.
So we created a timeline that had me basically creating the outlines for 2 modules per week. I created each lesson outline within Evernote and literally just made an outline and bolded everything I wanted a slide for.
Then I would share that file with Jeff and he would create the actual Keynote (or Powerpoint) slides. (side note: I had my graphic designer create a few template slides we could build everything off of. Once the template is done, you’re just tweaking the text on each slide.)
He would send the slides back to me and then I would record the video lesson with them.
Then I would send the file back to him and he would do some light editing and then upload to the course.
Basically, each time we completed a piece, we passed it back to the other one to knock out the next step.
So here’s an example of how that looked on a given week…
- Me—create outlines for module 7 lessons
- Him—build slides for module 6
- Me—record lessons for module 5
- Him—upload lessons to site for module 4
This created a good rhythm for us and helped us keep moving forward.
Depending on what you have going in life, it may take you a little longer (or maybe you could do it faster), but the point is that you create a timeline and you stick to it.
Focus on what you do best and then outsource the rest.
Those 45ish days required a ton of focused work. It was tiring and mentally exhausting. But we stuck to our timeline and there was never any question of what we needed to work on next. We stayed head down for those few weeks and got it done.
We had validated and built a course in under 2 months.
Now let’s see if anyone will buy it… 🙂
From the beginning (even before creating your course), it’s important to have an idea of how you plan to market and sell it.
- Will you do a big open/close launch?
- Will you work with JVs?
- Will your course just be evergreen and be available for purchase any time on your site?
- Will you use webinars?
- Will you just pitch to your email list?
How will people find out about your course and be able to purchase it?
Your answer to this question will most likely evolve and change over time. However, in the beginning, if you’re not clear on how you’ll sell the course, then why are you doing it?
I see new authors make this mistake with a book. They write a book with no plan of how they’ll sell it and then are surprised when no one shows up.
Despite what the movie Field of Dreams will tell you…
“If you build it, they will NOT come!”
It’s great that you built a course, wrote a book, put up a website, or launched your new product or service.
But can I be honest?
Nobody cares (except maybe your mom).
Not trying to be mean, but they don’t. People care about themselves. Not whatever your latest project is.
If your latest course/book/project/website helps them, then maybe they’ll care.
But you need to know how you’ll find those people who have a problem that you created the solution for.
I decided on using Facebook ads that would funnel to weekly live webinars.
A few reasons…
1. I had done a few Q&A webinars before and had seen the power of them. I had also heard/seen many others have great success with selling through a webinar.
2. Given the topic of my course (speaking), doing live webinars seemed like a great way to demonstrate my own experience and expertise as a speaker (credibility for selling) seemed like it would be more powerful than email, social media, etc (although we still use those to push people to the webinar).
3. I had seen this weekly webinar model work with others. When doing anything online or offline, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Pay attention to what is working for others and see how you could do something similar.
I had seen John Lee Dumas use this same model with great success for his Podcaster’s Paradise course. In fact, I went back through and read his early posts of when he started using this model and found online videos where he talked about what he did to make this work.
I felt confident we could make this same model work for us.
By mid-February, we were on track to have the course created on time, so we scheduled our first webinar for our finish line date of March 3.
To fill the webinar, we planned to do 2 things…
1. Email our own list. Not everyone on my list would be interested in speaking but as a speaker, I knew a decent number would be, so it made sense to email the entire list for this initial launch.
2. Let’s try Facebook ads. I spent $535.13 over 7 days and got 341 webinar registrants ($1.57 per lead…pretty good).
From that first webinar, we had 13 sales totaling $5,161. Not bad.
We had launched. Between the beta test group (22 people joined at $197) and this initial launch, we were nearing $10k already.
Let’s pause for a second to talk about course pricing…
Pricing a course (or any product for that matter) can be a bit more art than science.
For the initial test group, we offered a lifetime membership of $197. We knew the final price would be higher but this felt like a good place to start.
We also knew that given the nature of our topic (how to get booked & paid to speak), we were teaching people something that had a very clear ROI (return on investment).
If you get just 1 speaking engagement, you could more than pay for your investment in this course.
Pricing can often be determined by how the course helps people…
- Make money
- Save money
- Save time
People generally put the priority in that order. A course that helps people make money can generally charge more versus a course that saves someone time.
After the initial test group, we started with 3 pricing options (which I learned largely from my friend Nathan Barry) and priced the tiers at $197, $297 and $497 which was discounted to $397 for the webinar.
We ran this pricing for several weeks and found 95%+ were just buying the top tier. So we raised the top tier price to $597 and then $697. Still, everyone was just buying that top tier.
Primarily because we really intentionally stacked the deck for that tier. It was the only tier that got a $100 discount on the webinar. We also included some really key bonuses that people wanted that were only available in that tier. It was also the only tier where we offered a monthly payment option.
(As the price has increased, monthly payments have become a bigger piece of sales. Although it does create more work, it can also generate more sales/revenue/cash flow. Steve Chou has a great post on monthly payments if you want more info.)
Pricing theory suggests that if everyone just buys the top tier (among 3 options), you still have room to raise the price. You would like to see sales a little more distributed among the other tiers.
So recently, we dropped the bottom tier, added a lot to the top tier, raised the price significantly, and now have two primary tiers at $1,197 and $697.
So in 3 months of having the course out, we’ve already raised the price 4 separate times to the point where it’s now $1,000 over where it started. Granted, we’ve also added a lot of new content and value to the course, but again that goes to show, you pick a price you feel comfortable with in the beginning and then adjust accordingly to the market.
Another key rule we follow is this: when someone sees a price for our course, we promise that is the lowest price they’ll ever see. If you’ve ever purchased something, only to see it discounted a few days later, you know that can leave a bad taste in your mouth as a consumer.
So we promise we won’t do some random promotion that undercuts the price they paid. It creates mistrust with your existing customers which is no good.
If you do decide you’d like to lower your price, you should lower the value accordingly. For example, we recently lowed the price of our top tier down to $1,197 (which we discount to $997 on the webinar) from $1,397 (primarily because we wanted to get below the $1k mark).
But I had promised all previous buyers I wouldn’t give future buyers a better deal than what they received.
So we decided to remove one piece of the course that involved more access to me (and thus more time commitment on my part). This justified lowering the price slightly.
Alright, so that’s how we’ve handled pricing. Let’s keep cruising…
Ongoing Sales & Marketing (Webinar Strategies)
We launched on March 3 and have done a live weekly webinar just about every week since then.
Live webinars have always been our primary sales strategy. We’ve tried JV webinars (joint venture) where we partner with someone else who has an audience who may be interested in our course. They invite their audience, I do the webinar and sales pitch. We split the profits 50/50.
These have worked extremely well, and we have several scheduled into the future.
But live webinars, primarily from Facebook ads, continue to deliver for us.
I get a lot of questions on this topic and what we’ve done, so let’s do a little Q&A time…
Do you do your own Facebook ads? How do you do Facebook ads?
For the first three webinars, I did the Facebook ads on my own. I wanted to get a feel for how they worked and what I needed to know. I didn’t need to know all the nitty gritty, but since they were going to be such a key piece to my sales engine, I wanted to have a general idea of how they worked.
After that I hired a contractor to help create and test ads. He has tested targeting, image, copy, headlines, etc. We’re still doing a lot of testing, so while I don’t have a definitive list of what works and what doesn’t, I’m not even sure my do’s and don’t's list would work for your audience (and vice versa) anyway.
I think in the beginning you can do the ads on your own to understand the system. Again, you don’t need to know all the nuances but having a working knowledge of Power Editor is a good thing.
How many people generally show up for your webinar?
For us, it has varied between 7-22% of those who register but it has averaged out to about 16%. Meaning, if I have 100 people register, I can expect around 16 to show up.
Keep in mind this is cold traffic coming from Facebook ads. If you were targeting your own list or doing a JV webinar, the show up rate would be higher, because there’s already some built in trust there.
For example, in the JV webinars we’ve done, the show up rate has averaged 32%, literally double the Facebook traffic.
How many people on the webinar will buy?
Again, this will vary depending on several factors. One big factor is the price of the course. As we’ve raised our price, the percentage of buyers has dropped (fewer buyers) but the revenue dollar amount has gone up (higher ticket item).
But so far, we’ve had between 4-18% conversion rates. That is based off the number of people on the webinar, not the total who registered. Our current average is 10%.
Meaning, based on the numbers I’ve given, if we have 100 people register, we can expect around 16 to show up. Of those 16, we can expect 1-2 buyers.
What do you do about the people who registered but didn’t show up or buy?
Great question! To be honest, we’re still trying to figure out the best ways of handling this. But if you’re keeping score at home from my previous example, you can see that of the 100 people that registered, 98-99 did not buy. That’s a lot!
But they raised their hand and expressed interest by registering for the webinar, so you can’t just cast them aside. You have no idea why they didn’t show up or buy, so don’t give up on them.
Right now we’re trying a variety of different things such as waiting a few weeks and inviting them back to another webinar, sending them through a 30-day email sequence to warm them up again, etc.
I don’t have a definitive answer, but again, I think a lot of it would depend on your audience and what it is you’re offering. The bottom line is continue to build that rapport and relationship with them, so you can stay top-of-mind.
When is the best day/time for a webinar?
Like everything else, there can be a lot of factors that go into this. You have to consider time zones (both domestic and international), people’s general work schedules, length of your webinar, etc.
Right now, we generally do all of our webinars on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday at either 3p CDT or 7p CDT.
Do you show a replay? If so, how long do you leave it up?
Again, we’ve tried both and there are pros and cons both ways. If you have a replay, it gives people a reason not to show up. If you don’t have a replay, you may get a slightly higher show up rate, but you’re missing out on a lot of people who just legitimately couldn’t make it and would have loved to have seen a replay.
Currently, we do show a replay but we only leave it up for 48-72 hours. The longer you leave it up, the less likely people will be to actually watch it. If you leave it up indefinitely, they’ll probably never watch it. You want to force them to make a decision.
If you’re going to leave it up, you’ll want to factor in which day it would come down and how that might affect viewing. We’ve tried ending on the weekend as well as during the week, and I’m not sure there’s a clear cut winner for us yet.
Why don’t you do automated/evergreen webinars?
Of course by doing automated or evergreen webinars, you don’t have to be on live and someone can view the webinar at their convenience. And while we are interested in testing this in the near future, there’s also something extremely powerful about live webinars.
When you give people shout outs or answer their specific question live, it creates a powerful connection. I know of many sales that have come as a result of the connection I made with someone through the live webinar. You don’t get that from a recording.
Plus, given the nature of my course topic (speaking), it seems to make more sense to do it live. And personally, I enjoy doing them. I know live webinars freak people out, but I think they’re a lot of fun. Strange, I know 🙂
Here are some total numbers from course concept until June this year (6 months):
- Total Course Members: 212
- From Initial launch: 22
- From Facebook Ads Webinars: 158
- From JV Webinars: 32
- Total Revenue: $141,659 (~$71,000 of that total is in monthly payments we will receive over the coming months)
- Facebook Ads: $33,946.71
- JV Split: $7,077
- List Growth: 11,099 new email subscribers
- From Facebook ads: 9,993 (16 webinars)
- From JV webinars: 1,106 (4 JV webinars)
Tools We Used
One place a lot of people get hung up on with course creation and promotion is the tools. It doesn’t have to be that complicated. While there are plenty of great options out there, here’s what we’ve used and why…
Leadpages—This should be a staple in everyone’s digital tool belt by now. We use Leadpages for our webinar registration page, the replay page, and to host the webinar itself. [Full Disclosure: I'm a compensated advisor and an affiliate for Leadpages.]
Google Hangouts—This is the tool we use for our live webinars. It’s free for an unlimited number of attendees. There is a 20-30 second time delay you have to get used to, but for free, it works.
Chatroll—On the webinars, we use Chatroll as our chat box tool. Chatroll + Google Hangouts all hosted on a Leadpage makes for a pretty solid webinar experience.
Wishlist—There are lots of course creation tools, but we went with Wishlist primarily because it was what my tech guy (Jeff) was most familiar with. [Full Disclosure: As an affiliate, I receive compensation if you purchase through this link.]
ConvertKit—ConvertKit is an up and comer in the crowded email service provider space. Nathan Barry and his team have been adding new features like madmen and it’s quickly turning into a solid solution. [Full Disclosure: I'm a compensated advisor and an affiliate for ConvertKit.]
SamCart—We use SamCart for our shopping cart system which connects to Stripe for payment processing. It’s an easy to use site and integrates well with several other tools. [Full Disclosure: I'm a compensated advisor and an affiliate for SamCart.]
Final Lessons Learned
If you’ve made it this far in reading this post, you get a gold star.
I know we’ve covered a lot of ground here and it’s easy to get lost in all the details, but let me summarize some of the big lessons I’ve learned in 6 months of creating and selling a course…
1. Solve A Specific Pain—The more specific it is, the better. My friend Joe Michael (who I referenced above) has a course about the writing tool Scrivener. He has over 5,000 members in his course. Let that sink in. Over 5,000 members in a course for a writing tool most people have never heard of. He could have done a course on writing or publishing or something really big and vague, but he went with something super specific, and it’s paid off big time.
2. Validate—Don’t just start building what you think people will want. Actually talk to other humans to find out what they need and THEN start creating your solution. And don’t just ask if they think they would buy it. They’ll give you a verbal ‘yes’ 99% of the time. Because they’re nice. If they really think you can solve the specific pain they have, they’ll be willing to pay you to make it happen.
3. Set A Deadline and Stick To It—Don’t just work on the course when you feel like it. It’ll never get done. Create the deadline and then reverse engineer what needs to happen to stay on track. Find someone who will hold you accountable or start/join a mastermind that can kick your butt.
4. Focus on Version 1.0—Your first version of the course will be the worst it will ever be. It will only get better from there. But you cannot have version 2.0 until you’ve completed 1.0. I have an iPhone 6 which is a pretty slick device, but you know what had to come before it? iPhone 1. You do the best with what you have at the time and improve as you go. You can make it better over time, but right now, focus on getting version 1.0 out the door.
5. Test It—In my mastermind group, we use this phrase all the time. There’s nothing wrong with theories, ideas, and hunches, but how do you know what will work best in any given situation? You have to test it. Which day is better for your webinars? Try a few different days and compare the results. Which converts better…email or webinars? Test it. You have to be willing to have the mentality of a scientist running experiments. Some will be huge failures and others will be huge successes, but you don’t know unless you try.
Creating a course can be a game changer both for your business and for your ability to help others. But it won’t just magically happen. How long are you going to keep watching others profit from their courses before you get in the game? What’s it going to take for you to take action?
You can do this.
Make it happen.
PS…If you’re interested in speaking and want to learn more about our Booked & Paid To Speak course (or if you just want to join us for our next live webinar to see how we run them), join our free 9-email course about how to Get Started As A Speaker!