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I get it. You want to get into online education. You know; courses, coaching, masterminds, summits, digital resources, and all that jazz. The things you see the influencers in your industry doing, and claiming it’s a great way to make passive income. Well, as an online educator myself, I’m here to shake things up (as always).
I’m not going to shake things up in a negative light, though. I’m going to shake things up in the sense of being your resource who you can really trust. And I mean truly, honestly trust. Because there are so many online educators (both big names and small) who continue to blow smoke in your face in the hopes of another dollar (or million dollars). And their digital penthouse is built on a glass foundation.
I say this because I’ve built relationships with countless educators over the years, attended many low-level workshops and high-end masterminds. I’ve studied and reverse-engineered countless funnels in many different shapes and sizes, both those that perform well and those that don’t – and yes, everything in between. Sure, I haven’t looked at all of them, but who has that much time on their hands? I’m sure even the Google algorithm has a hard time keeping up with every new funnel that pops up every day on the market, and I’m sure Facebook is loving every second of it with all of the Facebook ads that are running to these funnels.
But you know what, a well-performing marketing funnel works great. Especially when your targeting, copy, graphics, and retargeting are done well… and of course, if your offer itself is well-positioned to your audience.
Online courses, summits, masterminds, coaching, digital products, etc are all great.
And yes, they can make you money.
But it’s not passive.
Let’s be very clear about that.
And anybody claiming it’s passive revenue is either lying to you, or they are at the very top of their game with a team who spends the time for them. Because online courses (speaking from first-hand experience) are not a way to build truly passive revenue. It’s simply not a passive revenue model – especially if you actually care about the results of the students who are within your course(s), coaching programs, and so on.
After creating your course (which can take months if it’s robust, thorough, and detailed at every angle), you have to market your course. You have to collect, track, and analyze data. You have to take that data and make improvements to your own SEO, your own landing pages, your own graphic design, copywriting, headlines, branding, messaging, inbound & outbound marketing strategies. You have to build your list, nurture that list, answer their questions, handle their objections, handle their hate mail (yes, there’s lots of that – and more on this later), manage your lead magnets, make sure they’re being delivered correctly.
You have to make sure it’s marketed correctly, it’s updated with industry shifts and new technologies, and it’s running smoothly for your students. That by itself can feel like a full-time job – even if you have a team marketing your course for you… and certainly if you don’t have a team (yet).
You also have to stay on top of industry trends, be fresh on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, and LinkedIn. You have to create content that builds your know, like, and trust factor. You have to create free, valuable content. You have to become omnipresent. You have to consider doing IGTV stories for free, podcast episodes for free, become a guest on other Podcasts for free, be a guest inside of other FB groups for free.
All of those things are really valuable as you build out your know, like, and trust factor. And if you aren’t an influencer (I’m not one, either), you have to do as many of these things as you can to get your name out there. And you have to be doing them what feels like constantly, and it’s really hard to track the results in direct relation to the time you put into all these different things.
But you have to do these things to be omnipresent.
Because the end of the “Know, Like and Trust” factor that most people leave out … is the “BUY” factor at the end.
After, you own a business. If you don’t have anyone BUY your stuff, you will eventually quit and get a regular J-O-B… and I don’t want that for you. And I know, you don’t want that either.
You have to consider starting an affiliate program, automating payments through carts and processors, and manually fulfilling any payments that don’t get sent out to affiliates manually. You have to troubleshoot any third party software problems. You have to create dunning sequences for those who don’t make their payments for your course, or their payments fail, and you don’t want to have to chase them down manually. Especially if you have hundreds (or thousands) of students.
The best ways to do this… isn’t to learn it. It’s to pay others to do it for you. Yes, you should know how it operates and how to fix it… but it’s a daily thing… and having the right team by your side is invaluable.
Some things to consider: Copywriting, website design, funnel design, funnel strategy, email sequences, quizzes, lead magnets, blog ghostwriting, Facebook ads management, affiliate managers, virtual assistants, you name it. The list goes on.
Assuming your course is going well, and you are getting a lot of people to sign up — then there’s the Facebook group for the community support that you have to manage. You have to ensure that the community is staying positive, supporting each other, questions are going answered in some way (hopefully in the best ways), and that you create a great community that fosters support. That by itself is an exhausting and incredibly challenging task. And yes, you can hire a Facebook group moderator for support, but that’s another thing you have to take into consideration for a cost and manage any type of turnover and internal support or understand that it’s yet another thing on your to-do list to manage yourself.
Even if you don’t have a Facebook group for support for your course, you will get students asking you questions via email, via FB messenger, via Instagram… via anywhere that they can find your contact information. And they will want their questions answered – even if those questions are typically answered in your private 1:1 coaching programs or masterminds (if you even offer those).
And when you don’t answer those questions right away in a Facebook group or private DM thread and you state how private questions can be answered in-depth in a 1:1 coaching call or upcoming event (workshop, mastermind, conference, summit, group coaching program, etc)… there will always be a section of people who think you are only trying to rip them off and sell them on even more stuff. And they will get angry. Because they want free stuff. Free help. Free advice. Free time. Time you don’t have (for free) … since you need to feed your family and pay your own bills.
The Facebook group for community support is a slipperly slope.
They will tag you to get their questions answered, and they will want you to answer in real-time. Obviously, this isn’t scalable. There is one of you, and you may have hundreds (or thousands) of students.
There are ways to mitigate and manage this in an effective way, but it all comes down to setting expectations early on.
But you know what? Online courses and online educator is a business – just like any other. And in the world of online education, especially when taught by a true expert in that field, the student of that online course gets a true shortcut to learning that particular skillset. And as an online educator, it takes time. A LOT of time. Again, it is not passive income.
I have to feed my family and put a roof over our head, just like you work to do the same for yours.
It’s the same thing. Just different types of work. Okay?
The time you spend as a course creator is not only putting together the content but all the experience that led into the content as well as the support and growth of that content moving forward — and all the shit that makes it all come together.
For me in particular, it took me 10 years of learning before I put together my online programs. 10 years of time, energy, effort, blood, sweat, and tears… into programs and content that are anywhere from FREE (yes, $0) to $37, $97, $197, $297, $497, and $997. And then I have group and 1:1 coaching programs and done-for-you services that go up in price from there.
Why is 1:1 coaching costlier than courses? Because time is the most valuable thing we all have.
It’s the one thing we cannot get more of.
And a $997 course is CHEAP when considering what you learn and how long it would take you to learn that thing (or things) completely DIY. Again, time is money.
Because some educators are the real deal, and others are … well … the exact opposite as them. They’re shit. They’re frauds. Let’s just say it. Some people actually are frauds. For real.
But they’re both great marketers.
And both “sound” like great courses on the front-end of their landing pages, Facebook ads, webinars, and marketing messages.
So who on earth can you really, honestly, and truly trust with your hard-earned money where you are going to get your return on investment?
In the world of online education, there are countless educators now who know their stuff. They’re true, real, genuine experts.
And some of those experts are doing very well financially. And others – aren’t.
And those that aren’t doing well financially (as educators) isn’t because they aren’t marketing themselves – it’s in large part because the general public doesn’t have any idea who to trust anymore.
Let’s ballpark it, and say roughly 6 years ago… when online courses were still in their infancy and those who entered the market around that time… they were crushing it. Facebook and Instagram ads cost less, the market had a large demand coming out of the recession back then, and there weren’t a lot of niched course creators. So, those who had those niched courses and any resemblance of expertise… people bought… and bought in big numbers.
Heck, just look at Chase Jarvis and what he’s done for his career transitioning from a well-known photographer to the guy behind www.CreativeLive.com.
Influencer-led classes, all sold for low-ticket prices. High-volume, and low-touch.
I’ve respected Chase in particular for many years. He knows his shit as a photographer, as a networker, as a businessman, as a course creator, as an affiliate, as team builder, as a powerhouse. He’s certainly a guy I admire.
There are other influencers like him, too. But those others have put their names more fore-front of their brand as they are the people teaching the content, not bringing in other guest experts to teach.
Those influencers leveraged their influence to do a lot of other really big things. And I will leave names out of this… but I’m sure you can think of a few right off the top of your head.
That’s not a cop-out, either. That’s just a true statement.
The fact of it is that there was less of an algorithm to battle against as a personal brand, there were fewer online educators, fewer online courses, ads were cheaper to run, and it really just boils down to simple basic economics of supply & demand.
I’m not at all saying what influencers did back then as they built up their audience was wrong, though. In fact, I’m saying what they did was genius.
They entered the market at the right time with the right offer, and marketed it to the right audience… then they grabbed onto that attention and leveraged it into even more. More dollars, more affiliate sales, more course sales, more diversified income opportunities, more book deals, more sponsorships, … more net worth.
And as far as digital marketing and general entrepreneurship are concerned – that the definition of genius.
That said, the market has radically evolved since then. And those influencers who were formed back then in that era of online courses and education… have now exponentially increased the gap between their position in the market and those who are quote-unquote “newbies” in the online course industry.
But… here’s where push comes to shove.
With some of these newbies on the market coming out with hot ticket items that are getting their student’s massive results, some of those leading influencers are now losing out on some of their market share percentages. But even a 10% market share drop off of a audience in the size of millions still leaves hundreds of thousands of others who beg to buy whatever they’re selling – because again, they have built out their know, like, and trust factor.
It means that you have to work even harder to get yours up and running, get that much more dialed in with your ideal audience, create that much more content that is powerful enough to draw the influencer audiences attention over to you instead of them, and then you have to have a really optimized message, funnel, and proven offer to stand out from the noise.
That means you have to build an awesome, targeted email list, build a free FB community that leads with value, run challenges (free or paid), you have to have some killer lead magnets, build up a warm audience who trusts you, have some great video sales letters (VSLs) or webinars, have some stellar Facebook and Instagram ads (if your audience hangs out online in those areas), run some retargeting ads that capture their attention if they don’t buy, and have other related products for those who aren’t interested in your core offer who might be interested in something else.
You can also build out a JV and affiliate program, but it’s very hard to get people to sign up for things like that if they don’t fully believe in you and your product. (So, that’s more time there in spending on building each individual relationship there, too)
And yes, all of those things can certainly be confusing. And they can be overwhelming at times. Especially if you don’t have the right coach on your side… or the right course. Sure, you can DIY it, but I really advise against it.
Running Facebook ads by themselves can get SO expensive, too. And that might be one of the most stressful things to oversee and manage as a course creator. Because after you get through your warm audience (those who already know, like and trust you) via your email list, Facebook group, Instagram or YouTube fans, etc… you then enter into the world of a cold audience.
And a cold audience is much, much harder to sell to…. because they don’t have any idea who you are, what you really stand for, what your product is, and why it’s a good fit for them at this time. That’s up to you as a digital marketer (course creator) to handle those questions and objections at every point in your funnel.
And as you run Facebook ads, they can be very, very expensive. And they can certainly push most people out of their comfort zone.
Let’s say right now that you are earning $3,000 a month in course sales. Well, how would you feel if you were spending $10,000 a month on Facebook ads just hoping that those Facebook ads turn into sales? Well, of course, you would scale up Facebook ad spend over time… but if you’re really wanting to make an impact in your industry, Facebook ad dollars are where a lot of the unease comes from… and what a lot of course creators don’t talk about.
I’ve paid up to $18,000 for a high-level mastermind. And I expected the world out of it. I expected every type of answer, and every amount of support. I got hardly any of it. And one of the biggest things that was left completely out of that mastermind was knowing the TRUE buying habits of your audience. Do they buy into education during a certain time of year? Do they hold on to their money during a certain time? Knowing the answers to this can ultimately determine if you should launch your courses periodically or go evergreen, meaning keeping them open 24/7. I might sound super basic, but it’s very commonly overlooked – and it can make an absolutely huge impact to your bottom line income and your stress.
Let’s say you hypothetically start a course (or you already have one) and you get through your warm audience, and now you are marketing to a cold audience. Let’s say you are pumping in $10,000 a month into Facebook ads to drive more attention to your offer. Well, a certain percentage of the people that ad is shown to will be Internet trolls. And you will get hate comments on your Facebook ads, in your email inbox, in your Instagram DMs, in your Facebook groups, everywhere. Internet trolls are incredibly disrespectful and they will try to tear you down. Real comments and emails I’ve received include death threats, that I’m only scamming people, how I should go jump off a cliff, how I’m taking advantage of people, how I’m greedy, how I’m what’s wrong with the world, and how I’m a complete and total fraud.
These aren’t one-off comments, either. They pour in every few days like clockwork.
As you build an audience and as you especially do outbound marketing like Facebook ads and you get in front of a cold audience who knows absolutely nothing about you, what you do, your background, your offer, your students results, or anything like that…. just know that you will get hate mail. And if you already have a course and you haven’t received any yet… it’s just a matter of time.
Do your best to build a thick skin, ignore the haters, and focus on the shit that matters – results.
The results for you, your family, your students, and their families.
Of course, I didn’t cover absolutely everything here – but I will leave that to future podcast episodes and blog posts.
If you’re ever interested in creating a course… awesome. Please do. It’s rewarding to see the results of those who took action from what you teach. But don’t go into it blindly thinking it’s going to be easy, cheap, or passive. It’s none of those things.
If you want help with your course idea, it’s implementation, or the deep level stuff – let’s chat. I’m a business coach for creatives, and that’s what I can help you with. It just won’t be free.
PS, as with any business, talk to your spouse/significant other about your goals and what’s going on inside your business. Be transparent. Communication is so key. You will have super stressful days/weeks as a course creator if you are wanting to truly scale it, (which nobody talks about) so just make sure your lovely partner is there by your side and you’re communicating through it all. Support goes a long way, and transparency is the key element to making sure your business doesn’t affect your personal life.
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