EPISODE 146

Digital Nomading with Online Church Volunteer Training Entrepreneur Scott Magdalein

This episode of LMScast with Chris Badgett of LifterLMS is about digital nomading with online church volunteer training entrepreneur Scott Magdalein. They discuss Scott’s teaching business and some issues he has faced as an entrepreneur in the teaching space and how he has dealt with them. They also talk about the freedom of location that being an online entrepreneur can provide.

Chris and Scott discuss the freedom of location that being an entrepreneur online has allowed him to pursue. Scott is currently on a boat in the Bahamas with his family. They have been on the boat for about four months now. Having the ability to own a business and not be tied down to a location is one of the best things about being an online entrepreneur. It is also the reason that some people start an online business in the first place. Chris shares his experiences with traveling around in an RV for nine months with his family.

TrainedUp is a training platform and video library Scott created. It has content that churches can use to train their volunteers. The course has some videos in it already that apply to all of the churches that would be purchasing the course, such as ways to change a baby’s diaper and leading youth ministries. The course also has an interesting aspect where the churches can also upload their own video training as well that has some content more specifically related to their church.

Having a distinct problem you are solving is important for success in any industry. Many people believe that if you diversify and sell solutions to many different problems in different industries you will make more money and ultimately be more successful, when the opposite is true. You will find more success if you niche down and try to solve a specific problem really well. Having more areas of focus can confuse the customer and dilute the value of the services you perform well.

The problem of untrained volunteers in churches is the problem Scott aims to solve with his course. This can help make church services that rely on volunteers run more efficiently, it can help protect the church from liability problems, and it can help to create a better experience for everyone involved.

Many churches already have in-person volunteer training, but they face difficulties with attention and keeping track of all of the volunteers and exactly how much training they have received. So Scott’s course alleviates much of the confusion and frustration with that by giving people the ability to take the training at home or whenever they have time, as well as giving the person administering the training the ability to track their volunteers from the back end.

Scott shares some details on where his company is going in the future in terms of some changes to marketing for their course in order to better serve their customers. Chris and Scott also discuss the possible application of Scott’s course curriculum design in enterprise-focused companies.

To learn more about Scott Magdalein check out his Twitter at @ScottMagdalein and his Instagram at @ScottMagdalein. You can visit TrainedUp.Church to see everything going on there as well. Scott has been on a previous episode of LMScast where he and Chris discussed SEO, and you can find that episode here.

You can post comments and subscribe to our newsletter for updates, developments, and future episodes of LMScast. Thank you for joining us.

Chris Badgett: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. My name is Christ Badgett, and today we’re joined by a special guest, Scott Magdalein, from TrainedUp. Thanks for coming on the show, Scott.
Scott Magdalein: Thank you for having me again, Chris.
Chris Badgett: It’s good to have you back on the show. For those of you who haven’t seen or heard Scott before, we did an episode on SEO many episodes back. Scott has a lot of wisdom in that area, and that was a really good tactical, full of lots of tips kind of episode. So go look that up if you’re digging this conversation.
In this episode, we’re gonna get more into what Scott’s teaching business is, some issues he’s facing as an entrepreneur in the teaching space and just general marketing issues and how he’s working though them. And we’re gonna talk a little bit about the digital nomad, remote lifestyle, because Scott is actually coming to us on a boat today. We’ll end with that, but just to kind of plant the seed, you’re on a boat. Where are you right now?
Scott Magdalein: We’re in the northern Bahamas in the Abacos area, anchored off an island called Elbow Cay.
Chris Badgett: Elbow Cay. Awesome. So somewhere down there below Florida, out there somewhere.
Scott Magdalein: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: But we’ll come back to that in a little bit. Scott and I met at a business mastermind conference, and we’re both in the learning space and had a lot in common, and it’s been great getting to know Scott, but for those out there who don’t know who you are, what is TrainedUp, your learning platform, all about? What is it?
Scott Magdalein: TrainedUp is a training platform and library, it’s a video library, training content that churches can use to train their volunteers. So we provide both a very simple training platform that’s course based, but it’s very simple course based, and then that’s baked into, kind of coupled with video courses that we make and provide for the churches to use out of box. And also part of our training platform allows churches or ministry leaders to create, upload, record with their webcam right to their training account, to be able to create their own video training as well.
Chris Badgett: That’s really awesome. And just to kind of restate it and make it super clear for the listener, Scott has a training platform that he gives access to to solve a very specific problem in the church industry, and it comes with a catalog of courses, and people can also upload their own courses into the system. What problem are you trying to solve with TrainedUp?
Scott Magdalein: It’s a very specific problem, the problem of untrained volunteers in churches, where you have a church full of people who are trying to serve and want to help out on a Sunday morning or during the week or whatever, but those people, the jobs that they have to do aren’t typically their week to week jobs or day to day jobs like you might be a janitor in a school, but on Sunday morning you’re changing diapers in a preschool room. So there’s some training that needs to go along for the, it’s to get the job done well, and also for liability reasons, to know what not to do with a roomful of preschoolers. Like don’t feed them all peanut butter sandwiches. You can’t do that kind of stuff.
So just to help churches be able to do really thorough training without having to, kind of overcoming some of the existing obstacles to volunteer training in churches right now.
Chris Badgett: That’s really awesome. I love that. I think that’s such a pro way to go about things, to really start with the problem. Not necessarily, Amanda, you’re trying to build a business around this and all this, but you’re really starting with solving a specific problem out there in the world in a specific place, like in church organizations who have volunteers.
And what are some other niche scenarios that emerge in the volunteer space besides, it sounds like there’s things some people may not have thought about, like well if you have a volunteer scenario and there’s small children involved, there’s some basics that some people know, especially if they’re not parents. What else, what are some other common issues?
Scott Magdalein: Yeah, so another one would be, and most of this is volunteer training for adult volunteers that work in various different volunteer roles in the church, so another one might be youth ministry, working with middle school and high schoolers. So you have a handful of adults that say they’re gonna volunteer to be good influences and work with the youth in the church, and that’s great. There’s also a lot of risk that comes along with having untrained adults working with a bunch of other people’s kids that are middle school and high school, so there’s liability issues with alone time with adult and a teenager. Need to make sure to train them not to be alone with students. How to recognize risky behavior, so we do a lot of training on recognizing self-harm behavior or risky behavior, bullying behavior, recognizing depression characteristics or traits, signals.
So we produce training for churches to be able to train on those specific things with their volunteers. Another one might be that we focus on is adults who lead groups of discussion groups, which is not a typical kind of skill that you might learn in the working world, but on a weekly basis, adults have to sit around on a regular basis and lead a discussion on a Bible topic. And that’s not typically a thing that we do on our day to day life, and so those people that lead those discussion groups, almost 100% of those people are not trained Bible teachers at some seminary, so they need some training on how to lead those Bible discussions. So we also offer training content about that.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. So there’s all these layers of problems, so it’s training volunteers, who are then put in situations where there might be problems or challenges they need to overcome. And then, what problem are you trying to solve specifically with technology? You could do in-person volunteer training, right? Why did you build TrainedUp-
Scott Magdalein: You could if you want to, Chris. Actually, churches for decades have done in-person volunteer training. Volunteer training itself is not really anything new in churches. There’s some common problems that we’re trying to help them overcome, which is low attendance at volunteer training meetings. And so since you have low attendance, you typically, churches that really care about it, tend to increase the frequency of meetings to get everybody there, but then you’ve got a calendar stacked full of volunteer training meetings you have to go to, which nobody wants to go to a training meeting.
And then the church tries to make it fun, they try to have food, and it starts to get expensive, and still you don’t get a lot of attendance at volunteer training meetings. And then even with that, you don’t know who was there and wasn’t there, who was paying attention, who got a phone call and missed something critical. So not only is it difficult to get a full coverage of training for all your volunteers, especially as your church grows, but also the accountability level of knowing who’s trained and who’s not trained and who understands the really core principles that they need to know.
Chris Badgett: That’s incredible. That’s incredible. I just love how specific and niche down your topic here and your platform and design of it all is for, and the content itself. That’s wonderful.
Well, let’s talk a little bit, go ahead? You have another point?
Scott Magdalein: [inaudible 00:07:35] the concept of, so a lot of the teaching space and the learning space, it’s a lot of an individual entrepreneur creating content or creating training for an end user to train that person. So me, I might create a course and sell it to a learner. So that’s good, there’s a ton of that, that’s needed. There’s a huge niche that’s not being served, and really, this is the niche we’re serving. We’re specifically [inaudible 00:07:58] church space, that is training the people inside of organizations and on selling that training, to make training within that organization easier. So there’s a whole niche. We’ve debated internally about which niche do we really want to focus on, we feel passionate about churches and church volunteer training, it’s something that me and my team, we love and we care about deeply.
But there’s even just in volunteer training, there’s a whole space of non-profit volunteer training that’s completely underserved. Not just with a platform for it, from a technical perspective, but also from a content perspective, being able to give organizations like Habitat for Humanity or Make a Wish, or anything that might, any soup kitchen in any city in America where there’s training that needs to happen before they show up, for quality reasons, make sure that the volunteers are doing a good job, but also for liability reasons. So volunteer training is a much bigger problem to solve, and it can be solved from a teaching entrepreneurial perspective outside of the church realm.
And then of course there’s the whole training and teaching inside of companies, employee training. That’s being solved by some large enterprise-focused companies. But there’s a huge space with an opportunity to be able to teach basic skills to employees inside of small businesses that’s just not being served well by other companies that are out there.
Chris Badgett: Awesome. Well, one more question before we shift into kind of what’s going on in your world on the marketing side and the customer segmentation side. How did you come up with this concept, which I think is brilliant, of I’m gonna have some general training that’s gonna be good for everybody, but then all in their accounts to start uploading their own courses too that are unique to them. Where did that idea come from? That’s pretty cool.
Scott Magdalein: Yeah, that’s actually just me over the last two years of running TrainedUp and learning what my customers need. We’ve been serving churches with training software for a couple of years and realizing that for somebody who’s not a big portion of their time committed to producing training content, it’s not easy to work with an LMS. So like you guys, what a great lift, LMS is a great tool, but for somebody who, it’s just a small piece of what they do, setting up a learning management system and then thinking about course design and thinking about production and thinking about-
Chris Badgett: It’s a lot.
Scott Magdalein: It’s a big piece. So we did a couple of things. We realized that it was a big hurdle for our customers, for churches on our platform to think through that. So we did a few things. We simplified. Super simplified. We have this new version that just came out last month, super simplified the entire learning building phase into this absolute most simple core thing where yo have a topic you want to teach, you teach the one topic and you add a couple of questions. And that’s it. There’s no scoring system, there’s no bells and whistles. And once your volunteers go in, they watch the video and they answer a couple of questions and that’s it.
And so we moved away from curriculum design concept and moved into you teach a topic and you ask a couple of questions about the thing you taught. So we made that much easier for them. And also we built in some tools to make it easy to just record with their webcam, so they don’t have to set up an extra separate camera and then do the video production and then import and upload and all that stuff. So we made that just like a click a button, record it, click save, and it’s done.
And then the other side is, there’s 40,000, 50,000 churches just in America that all pretty much do the same thing anymore. You go to a church and there’s a church service and there’s a guy that preaches and there’s some music and your kids go over here to this thing and there’s some volunteers that help the kids learn Bible verses or whatever and they play games, and then the older kids go up to the youth room upstairs and they play games and they learn about, and so it’s very similar across all these churches. So with [inaudible 00:12:01] training is just an obvious thing to be able to provide, if somebody needs to learn how to change a diaper in this church, then someone will need to learn how to change a diaper in that church. And why are we putting the burden on all these churches to create redundant training? Why can’t we just do it for them?
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. That’s really interesting just from the society level where kind of in the past, it was like from the top and telling people what to do. And now that everything’s democratized and distributed and everybody’s a publisher, you’re kind of pulling back a bit, like well, you don’t actually have to do it all. Here’s some tools to do that, and you can also be a publisher and do it too. That’s really brilliant.
Well, if we look at the, I like to say when you need to make a decision about building a course or creating a learning platform, it’s all about focusing on the end user or follow the value chain all the way down and if that, in most cases the student wins, everybody wins. And in your case, it’s even more complex, because it’s like that baby who needs a diaper changed, it’s that kid at church who needs to have a good experience with the volunteer or whatever. And then it goes to the volunteer, and then it goes to the trainer of the volunteer. And then it goes to the person who provides the training to the volunteer. And then it goes to, well who’s the person that actually buys the training for the volunteer? And then eventually it ends up at TrainedUp.church where you guys are at.
But what, if we follow that back, who is your customer and what has been your experience as a platform owner? I know you care about solving these problems that are multi-layered, but what’s your experience like around the person making the buying decision versus the people that actually use it, versus the people who first hear about it? How does it work?
Scott Magdalein: Yeah, it’s much more complicated than selling a course to a person who’s gonna watch a video and get value out of it. So for us, solving the problem for the church is more than just providing good content or a good user interface. We have to, to be able to solve, let’s say Joe Blow. Joe Blow’s a youth pastor and he’s got 15 volunteers. Any time he adds a new volunteer, that person needs to be trained up really fast, which is why we call the company TrainedUp. That person needs to be trained up and ready to go within a week or so, and he also has a rank of volunteers that he has to keep up to speed on best practices and policies and stuff like that.
So Joe works within the context of a larger organization. And so we need to serve Joe and help him train his volunteers, but his reality is that he also interfaces with other ministers within his church. He also has kind of an upline where he also reports to maybe the executive pastor or the senior pastor in his church. And that senior pastor, even at that, has accountability back through to the congregation, where the congregation usually keeps the pastor accountable [inaudible 00:15:12] that sort of thing.
And so there’s a lot of levels of complexity with Joe’s situation. So for us to serve Joe well, we have to figure out how we get the software to Joe and the content to Joe in a way that Joe can use it and have good, trained volunteers, but also help him navigate the complexity of adopting new software in a context of his organizational realities.
Chris Badgett: So onboarding. The onboarding into the system, there’s that too.
Scott Magdalein: Sure.
Chris Badgett: Yeah.
Scott Magdalein: There’s the onboarding. Sure, yeah.
So we actually are in the process right now of completely redoing, not completely redoing, but of redesigning how we sell the software-
Chris Badgett: Let me jump in and ask you a question there, because if you do that, which is awesome, it’s all about iteration and continuation in improvement. Usually that means you’ve made some assumptions that weren’t correct or at least were suboptimal. What was the earlier thinking?
Scott Magdalein: Okay, all right, all right. Our assumption for was that we can sell at a simple one flat rate and sell it to a church. And the church as a whole, all the staff in the church, all the ministers in the church, the church would purchase it and all the ministers would use it. That’s ideal. The church would say all together, “yes, we decide that we’re going to use this software.” But the reality is, it’s not the staff that’s using the software. It’s two or three volunteer trainers, people that are responsible for their own volunteers within that staff. So you might have a staff of six or seven people in that church, but you have the youth pastor and the children’s pastor and maybe like the small group/Sunday School director person, and those are the three people that do the most volunteer training.
But we were assuming that the whole church would purchase it, which was I think a bad assumption. So we’re actually shifting and running completely new Facebook ads and changing our pricing and changing our new landing pages, all geared toward instead of selling as a flat rate to the entire church for unlimited access, we’re going to break it down and even break down our library into specific ministry areas and then market just that ministry context just to that one person. Am I making sense?
Chris Badgett: What’s a ministry area? What do you mean by that?
Scott Magdalein: Youth ministry. So like the ministry to middle school and high school students and the one person, man or woman, that’s responsible for that ministry.
To date, we’ve been marketing to the entire staff, as a group they would have to make a decision on it, which group decisions never happen. All it takes is one person to say “I don’t think we need that” for that decision to be gone. On the flip side, if we can talk to Joe Blow youth pastor and say, “hey Joe, this is a tool that you can sign up for yourself, you don’t have to get any permission from anybody, it fits inside of your budget for your department, you’ve got the credit card with the limit that you’re allowed to use. You can just sign up and just train your own volunteers.” And Joe is the one making the decision for it, then that greatly simplifies how we can serve Joe. Instead of worrying about serving the entire church, Joe’s church, we can say we’re gonna serve Joe really well. And if Joe really likes it, maybe he’ll pass it to Suzy who leads children ministry, or Sharon who leads the small group Sunday School ministry. So he might share it with them. Eventually we might serve the entire church, which would be great, but at the very least we can serve Joe really well and help him train his volunteers, which is really what our mission is as a company.
Chris Badgett: I heard somebody say recently that it’s really good to go, a common mistake in online education is to not be niche enough. So you just broke it down, and then you broke it down again, and now you’re breaking it down to, okay, the youth pastor, this one’s for the children, this is for the teens. So are you saying that they can actually, depending upon where they sit, if they’re in the teen group, there’s going to be different pretty populated courses in there?
Scott Magdalein: Yes. So once we finish this little transition, which we started yesterday, Joe youth pastor will be able to sign up and pay, it will be 40% of the cost, so instead of $99 a month, it will be $39 a month. And he will be able to have all of his own people in there, and he’ll only see access to the library of content that’s specific for his ministry. So it’s only youth ministry content, plus some of our general stuff. We have safety training that’s applicable for across the board, we have common use, general volunteering concepts, Biblical concepts for volunteering in churches kind of stuff that will be accessible to him as well. But he won’t get access to like the care ministry or the children’s ministry, or the greeters or whatever. He’ll just have youth ministry stuff.
To help serve Joe really well, because we really want Joe to be successful in his volunteer training. If he’s successful in his volunteer training with TrainedUp, then TrainedUp is successful.
Chris Badgett: That’s really cool. That’s really cool. So what else have you changed? What did you change, for example, in your Facebook ads?
Scott Magdalein: So we’re still in the middle of it; I wish I had better data. Maybe we could do another podcast in a couple of months and I’ll tell you how it went.
Chris Badgett: All right.
Scott Magdalein: So what we’re doing is we are still running our ads currently that are aiming at whole churches. So we’ve still got tests running in that, so we don’t want to mess with those tests. We still need a couple more weeks testing those. What we’re gonna do, we’re gonna subset, or another set of Facebook ads. And right now we’re just doing Facebook ads, trying to keep the testing really simple. And we’re gonna aim those Facebook ads specifically at three ministry areas: youth, children, and small groups. And then each one of those ads is gonna land on landing page specifically for that area of ministry.
So Joe Blow youth pastor is gonna see an ad for train your youth ministry volunteers. He clicks the ad, he lands on a page where it talks about training youth ministry volunteers with example videos of some of our training that we have for youth ministry volunteers. And then pricing specifically for youth ministry and a sign up form for youth ministry. It’s just him. This blinders, zero [inaudible 00:21:29] focused on just serving that guy. He’ll never even see that there’s children’s ministry, other ministries.
Chris Badgett: That’s really cool. That’s textbook customer segmentation. They’ve got their own pricing, you’re really speaking to the subgroups and going after that. That’s really cool. Well, I can’t wait to hear how all that works out.
Scott Magdalein: Me too.
Chris Badgett: Let’s shift gears a little bit to where you are right now. You’re in the Caribbean, or the Bahamas-
Scott Magdalein: I’m not sure if it’s technically Caribbean-
Chris Badgett: What is the difference between the Caribbean and the Bahamas? Is it one-
Scott Magdalein: I don’t know. People say that they’re sailing the Caribbean; they never say that they’re in the Bahamas. It’s always like Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico or even further south.
Chris Badgett: I gotcha, I gotcha. Well how long have you been on the boat? When did you leave? You were actually on the boat in dock for a while, correct?
Scott Magdalein: We were. We lived in St. Augustine, Florida, for a while on the boat. And then we left in January and we took about a month going down the coast, taking our time, and then crossed over to the Bahamas in middle of February.
Chris Badgett: Awesome. So-
Scott Magdalein: We’ve been here since February.
Chris Badgett: So you’ve been, left the dock about four months ago? Is that right?
Scott Magdalein: Yeah, I guess. Yeah.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome.
Scott Magdalein: We haven’t touched a dock since. We’ve been sitting on anchor ever since.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. That’s awesome. When I first met you, I had actually just got off of about nine months in an RV, so we kind of share this passion for location independence and digital nomading. Not just working from home, but taking the home on the road or on the sea or whatever. Tell me about it? How’s it going for you? What’s going well? Obviously, it’s great to be out on the ocean and in the sun and all that. What are some of the big highs, and what are some of the challenges?
Scott Magdalein: The highs are anecdotal, mostly. So two days ago, three days ago, we were anchored a lot further south, down around a place called Little Harbor. It’s real remote. And probably about two, two and a half hours from any kind of civilization. And I was working in the morning, Erica, my wife is Erica and we have two boys, three and five, they were about a quarter mile away or so on a beach. She put the boys on a paddle board and taken them to a beach while I was working in the morning. I hit a spot in my workday, I was like, I’m kinda done for now, I could work some more in the afternoon, but I hit a stopping point. So I would say I put on a bathing suit, but really I just jumped in the water and swam over to them and hung out on the beach with them in the middle of the day, left my phone and computer on the boat and went and swam in crystal clear blue waters.
Chris Badgett: Living the dream.
Scott Magdalein: Saw a sea turtle as I was swimming, saw a couple of starfish and plenty of conch. And then went back to the boat, ate lunch, and started working in the afternoon.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome.
Scott Magdalein: Got a little exercise, good quarter mile, half mile swim.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, that’s the typical bay stuff. And I know what you mean by the anecdotal. It’s just those dream experiences. Unique, great quality time with people you love and being out there in nature, having no choice but to disconnect from technology and leave work behind and be around all the other animals and great things out there in the world. That’s awesome.
Scott Magdalein: Yeah, for me, this whole running an online business, for us it’s kind of a software and content business, but a lot of content entrepreneurs have the same opportunities to be able to run a business that has no ties to any location or even any kind of real schedule, like a set schedule. So you can go where you want to go. For us, not everyone wants to live on a boat in the tropics, but living in a cabin, living on the road like you did in a trailer for what was it, six months, nine months?
Chris Badgett: Nine months, yeah.
Scott Magdalein: Nine months, yeah. Essentially, to have the options laid out in front of you, what you want to do. Our biggest problem now is, with all the options in front of us, what do we want to do from here?
Chris Badgett: It’s a big world.
Scott Magdalein: It’s a big world. A lot of water in this world and we live in a boat. Nd so we’ve got plans in the fall to travel up the east coast. Might make it to Maine.
Chris Badgett: Oh, that’s be cool. Yeah.
Scott Magdalein: Actually do have plans to make it to Maine. Probably not this year, but maybe next year. It’s a long trip up the coast. But at least go up the coast to the Carolinas or whatever and spend some time in some pretty islands up there.
Chris Badgett: By the way, I’m from North Carolina, and over by the Intracostal Waterway, by Riceville Beach, maybe if you’re in that neck of the woods we could hook up over there too.
Scott Magdalein: So there’s Buford I want to go to and Beaufort. I want to go to both places.
Chris Badgett: I used to go to summer camp as a kid around there, so I know that area. It’s awesome.
Scott Magdalein: Yeah, so we can hook up there. I haven’t seen Chris since last November, so it’d be cool.
So anyway, just the opportunity to do whatever, whenever, wherever. And the only tie-down is be sure that we’re serving our customers well. And sometimes that means working a full day of work, most of the time it doesn’t. Honestly, I don’t work full days, I know the age old adage is as an entrepreneur you work way longer than normal hours. And I guess there have been times when I’ve worked those long hours, but you don’t have to be a slave to your business. You can organize and design your business to fit your lifestyle, rather than fitting your lifestyle around your business.
Chris Badgett: What are some of the challenges, and I’ll just roll off some of mine just from the RV story and some of the other various nomading things I’ve done. I’ve lived internationally with kids in Costa Rica and done different things, but I mean the trailer specifically is kind of small, as I imagine a [crosstalk 00:27:34] boat would be. Which is good, but sometimes you’re climbing over somebody just to get to the other side of the room. So you’ve got that.
Scott Magdalein: Walking a gauntlet of toys along the ground.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. Or just, you probably don’t run into it so much on the water, but trying to find a spot to park or camp or whatever, or anchor, and for whatever reason you can’t stay there, so you’ve got to roll on, kids are tired, it’s not good timing. I don’t know, those kinds of things, it’s not all puppy kisses and rainbows, as I like to say. But what are some of your challenges working from the road?
Scott Magdalein: Well, for us, we have a boat with no air conditioning, so we have the windows and doors open all the time. And then sometimes like right now, it starts to rain. I don’t know if you can see that, you probably can’t see it, but it’s raining pretty hard and we have the doors and windows open, so we’re getting water inside the boat.
Chris Badgett: Okay. So what are some of the challenges business-wise? Do you ever have any, more just related to work, not so much like family and work or location and work, but just being remote. What other business challenges to do experience just bing a digital nomad that wouldn’t be really an issue if you had an office somewhere or whatever?
Scott Magdalein: One is consistent internet. We’re pretty remote out here, and I’ve got a pretty reliable system set up for my internet, but sometimes coverage isn’t good, so that can be a problem from time to time. Because of the way that our life is, my computer isn’t always charged. We have to run a diesel generator to charge my computer, so that’s tough. Sometimes I just have to work from my phone.
We had to shift in how we did business with clients and how I interacted with clients. I used to do all our demos, now I do none of our demos, because this isn’t the most professional background for when you’re talking to somebody about spending a hundred dollars a month on training software. I’ve found somebody who’s very professional. He’s, in fact, much better than I am at it. So there’s some trade off with that.
One challenge I guess is that we’re in a small space, and so when I’m working and in a meeting or having to focus, then I have to find a place to get away from the kids, because we’re in a very small space.
Chris Badgett: Where are they right now?
Scott Magdalein: They’re all taking a nap in the aft cabin.
Chris Badgett: Okay.
Scott Magdalein: That’s great, so they take a nap in the middle of the day and that helps. But right now, if I were in a trailer, travel trailer or something like that, wanting to get away, I could just step out the door and go walk and find a nice quiet spot. Here, I can’t just step off and walk somewhere, we’re surrounded by water and we have one way to get to shore. We have a little dinghy to get to shore. So if I take the dinghy to shore to get some alone time, Erica’s got no way to get to the shore with the kids. There’s some dancing that goes around about managing, but you find a rhythm. It’s worth it.
Chris Badgett: That’s cool. Sometimes I share a story from that recent road trip, just being in Yosemite Falls or Yosemite National Park, you could see Yosemite Falls from where I was, and it was beautiful. It was awesome and I was running my business from there. But also, at that same moment, we had something going on and I had to pull one of those longer days, so here I am, my wife and kids have gone off to the Falls or whatever, I’m sitting in my car with the engine running to provide power to my laptop, I’m stealing wifi from the main lodge at Yosemite to finish a marketing website. I can see Yosemite Falls through the window, but I’m not out there enjoying it. I can’t complain, I’m just saying it’s not always great, it’s not always perfect. On the end, in my opinion and in my experience, net, it’s a great thing to do if you like traveling and exploring, and nothing helps you bond as a family and get to know each other’s quirks than living in a small space together.
Scott Magdalein: That’s true. We say small homes build tight knit families.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, they do. They do. Well, Scott, I want to thank you for coming on the show again. And for those of you listening, you can find out more at TrainedUp.church. That’s where Scott is at. Where else can people find you and connect with you on the internet?
Scott Magdalein: Really just Twitter. I don’t do anything other than Twitter. So Twitter is, I guess Twitter and Instagram, Twitter is Scott Magdelein. And Instagram is Scott Magdelein. And I guess the spelling of Magdelein they can find somewhere written, because Magdelein’s kind of hard to spell. But on Twitter I mostly tweet about church training stuff. And then on Instagram we just tweet our life on a boat, so it’s a little bit more scenic on Instagram.
Chris Badgett: Awesome. Well thanks for coming on the show and sharing your journey as an education entrepreneur and teaching some valuable lessons about knowing your customer and figuring out how to position and talk to them and segment your marketing and things like that. That’s really a goldmine of experience you shared. And also thank you for sharing your story and what you’re up to and sharing that with us as well.
Scott Magdalein: Yeah, thanks for having me on again, man.
Chris Badgett: All right.

EPISODE 145

Teaching Technology, The Art of Metaphor, and the Online Educator’s Journey with Joe Casabona

We discuss teaching technology, the art of metaphor, and the online educator’s journey with Joe Casabona in this episode of LMScast with Chris Badgett of LifterLMS. Joe shares his experiences with online education and teaching at the University of Scranton.

Joe is a very passionate teacher. He has a lot of education and teaching projects that involve teaching online. Joe is also a professionally trained computer scientist and web developer. His podcast, How I Built It, is where he gets into entrepreneurs’ interviews and examines how people built up software businesses. Joe started freelancing when he was fifteen-years-old, and he did it throughout high school and college. He majored in computer science and got his master’s degree in software engineering.

Using your strengths to your advantage is important when creating captivating content. Joe has always liked being around people, as a natural extrovert, so teaching in front of large groups gives him energy and allows him to perform and make his training sessions entertaining. Coming up with analogies in order to help someone understand a point is one of Joe’s strengths, and that helps to communicate his points to others.

Chris and Joe discuss some of the aspects of an online course and what makes it successful. Defining a clear starting point and a clear finishing point is critical for your course. It allows your customers to be able to assess for themselves weather or not your course is right for them by being specific on what the prerequisites are for your course.

Joe has a course about how to use Beaver Builder to create a website. His course gives an interesting and engaging take on website building. Joe creates a website as he goes through the course, and he uses the different modules of Beaver Builder on each page. He does not go through all of the features, but he goes through the ones that are applicable to the tutorial website itself.

A course becomes a lot less engaging when the material in the course is taught as bulk information. When you attach meaning to what you are teaching it is a lot easier to remember. That is one of the things that makes Joe’s teaching strategy entertaining and engaging.

To learn more about Joe Casabona, you can reach out to him out on Twitter at @jCasabona, and you can find him on most other social networks as well. You can find his personal website at Casabona.org. You can also check out his website at WPinOneMonth.com.

You can post comments and subscribe to our newsletter for updates, developments, and future episodes of LMScast. Thank you for joining us.

Chris Badgett: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. My name is Chris Badgett, and today we’ve got a special guest, Joe Casabona. How you doing, Joe?
Joe Casabona: I’m doing great, how are you?
Chris Badgett: Good. Joe is one of those super passionate teachers. He has a bunch of education and teaching projects that involve teaching online in some component and also his skills as a professionally trained computer scientist and web developer. Those projects are called “WP in One Month”. He has a “How I Built It” podcast, where he gets into entrepreneur interviews and gets into how people built up software businesses. He does some teaching for the University of Scranton online in Health and Pneumatics. So, Joe, thank you for coming on the show.
Joe Casabona: Hey, thanks for having me. I’m very excited to chat with you about teaching and course development and stuff.
Chris Badgett: Awesome. Awesome. For the people who haven’t heard of you yet, can you give us a little bit of your story? Like, where you came from, you know, who are you, and what makes your clock tick? Like, what are you up to?
Joe Casabona: Yeah, definitely. I am Joe Casabona. I am about 31 years old. I’ve got a wife and a six, seven week old daughter. Aside from that, I’m a web developer and a teacher. I kind of fell into both. I knew I was really into computers when I was a kid and then my parents asked me if I could build them a website. They were like, “Joe, you know, we know you’re good with computers, can you build us a website.” Then I said, “I don’t really know how to do that.” And they said, “We’ll pay you.” And I said, “Yeah, I’ll do that. You’ll pay me? Absolutely.” Like, sure.
I absolutely loved it. So I started freelancing when I was 15, I did it all through out high school and college. I majored in Computer Science and have my masters in Software Engineering which was really fun to do. I love planning software. In grad school, I got a teaching assisting-ship. I would essentially do like a 10 minutes lecture and then have the students work on some project as a supplement to another course that they had to take in the computer science department. I really enjoyed that. I realized that I like teaching as much as I like programming. While I have been kind of in the higher up space and the agency world, I’m a front end developer, a crowd favorite. I wanted to continue that passion for teaching. I taught in person classes at the University of Scranton for a while, and then when I moved away from Scranton, that’s when I decided to start WP in One Month, as a way for me to continue developing courses and teaching people. I think that’s everything- oh, and then “How I Built It” was kind of like an off shoot of WP in One Month. I was asking a lot of people how they were building their online courses and their websites and I said, “Hey, these are conversations that are probably great for public consumptions. So, I started the podcast I guess about eight months ago, nine months ago.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Where does that come from in you, because some people, they’re really good at something, whether that’s web development or whatever kind of skill or craft, but they have to work hard to figure out that teaching piece, or how to be a good teacher. It sounds like that was just kind of natural and enjoyable for you out of the gate. Where do you think that comes from?
Joe Casabona: Yeah, I was thinking about that with my wife because I realized that it did come naturally and I was like, this is not something that comes naturally to a lot of people. I think probably, I’m an extrovert. At Word Camp US, I walk in, there’s like thousands of people and I was immediately energized, I was really excited to be there. I did drama club a lot, so I knew I liked being in front of people and entertaining. I try to make my classes entertaining. I hope they are. I’ve always had a thirst for knowledge and I like explaining the things that I’ve learned to other people. It’s something that definitely comes natural to me and I really enjoy doing it and I’m also really good at coming up with analogies, which is something that really helps me with teaching. I think it’s a combination of things. I enjoy the being in front of people factor, I love learning myself, and so I take what I learn and I like distributing that knowledge to other people.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. That’s really cool. Let’s talk a little bit about your course in the WP in One Month and there’s this lesson we go through as course creators, where maybe we don’t want to make something too general or we’re teaching the people as if they know too much, like we’ve forgot what it’s like to be a beginner. Basically, that’s just a journey of discovering your target market and figuring out, okay, I’m a web developer, I can teach people, but where in the journey are they? Or, how did you define the target market and who you wanted to teach to.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, that’s something that’s super tough, whether you’re teaching online courses or in person. I remember explaining to my Intro to Computer students the difference between a post and page in WordPress and they looked at me like I was insane. It was something that I’d been working with since 2004, or whenever [inaudible 00:05:49] 2006. It was very inherent to me, and they were like, they’re both pages on website, and I was like, okay, I’ve got to reel it in a little bit and explain.
When I define my target market- well, Shawn Hesketh is a good friend of mine, and he’s been a bit of a mentor, and he runs WP101. There’s no way that I can compete with his audience and the quality of work that he does, and I wouldn’t want to anyways, because he’s a friend. So, I was like, alright, 101 I’m going to leave to Shawn.
Chris Badgett: The beginner market.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, exactly. My good friend Brian Richards runs WP Sessions and that’s a bit more of an advanced market, right? There’s like programming classes out that wazoo, I feel. So, I was like, that’s not really the market I want either. So, if WP101 is 101, that’s beginner. WP Sessions is like your graduate level courses, like demystifying databases and things like that, like WPCLI. THat’s like the 501 courses- I want to be in the middle. So I decided I’m going to go with 301.
I read a great article about how the website Implementer is dying. People are graduating from Implementer to programmer and so there are these 10,000 dollar websites, but there are small businesses who cannot pay that. I thought, hey, I’ll target the Implementer. There’s an obvious selling point there, to say, “Hey, if you take my course for 50 bucks, you will immediately get that money back the first time somebody hires you to make a website for 500 bucks.” It’s also a market that I felt was untapped and it’s something I really enjoy doing. There’s a lot of cool tools out there, I like using them. I said, “All right. 301, Site Implementer, and Intro to Programming.” So, I’m going to take somebody from their beginner journey, I’m going to teach them some new skills, and I’m going to start them on their path to the 501, the WP Sessions. That’s a long story on how I came up with my target audience, but I think there’s a lot of good context there.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, that’s really good. I think defining a clear starting point and also a clear finishing point is just critical. For me, listening to what you’re saying, I’m actually a WordPress Power user, but I’m not a developer. At [inaudible 00:08:22] LMS I have a business partner, CTO, he’s hardcore developer, but I’ve always been curious. I’m more of the marketing and the business side, but it’s been on my list to really get a better understanding of programming. With all the words you’re using and the way you’re describing it, I’m like, “Man, I need to take Joe’s course so that I can kind of stick my foot in the water,” and the more I understand that it’ll just help inform my thinking there. I really appreciate what you’re saying there and I think what you’re talking about also just reveals that it’s not just beginners and advanced, there’s this whole spectrum and no matter what the topic is, just pick your slice or your segment. You’re not necessarily at one end or the other.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. Knowing how to use WordPress is one thing, and then knowing how to set up a podcast website is something totally different, because there are endless tools and themes and things and content that you have that you don’t know just from learning WordPress. Teaching somebody how to use WordPress is excellent and again, I can’t say enough great things about WP 101. At the beginning of each of my courses, I say, “If you don’t know how to use WordPress, go over here and learn how to use WordPress first, because I’m not going to cover that. I’m going to show you the tools that I have found from my 15 years experience, the ones that I think are the best or the ones that I use personally and we’re going to build a site together.”
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. So, I know you have a course on Beaver Builder, right?
Joe Casabona: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: So, what does a course like that entail? What is the learning objective and how do you pitch that course?
Joe Casabona: Yeah, so Beaver Builder, [inaudible 00:10:17] with Beaver Builder is my most popular course because there’s a very obvious community of people I can market to which is great. I’m part of the Beaver Builder group. I thought, I use Beaver Builder a lot, a lot of people are using Beaver Builder but, I reached out to Robby and Justin, the guys at Beaver Builder, and I said, “Hey, I want to do a webinar on how to use Beaver Builder. Would you guys want to sponsor that?” And they said, “Yeah, absolutely. Our knowledge base is still growing.” So, I did an hour long webinar, it was really popular and I decided to parlay that into a course.
For all of my courses, because we’re building something, I like to come up with a concept. I want a concrete thing, I’m not just going to walk through the features of Beaver Builder because that gets kind of tedious and kind of boring and you can read that. What I did was, I came up with a concept called Millennium Flights. It’s a travel service to take you to different planets. We built a website for that. So, I came up with five pages of content, I looked at the modules that Beaver Builder has and I said, “Okay, what content would be good for this module?” So I can kind of show and demonstrate.
The big value add for that course was I also showed students how to use the [inaudible 00:11:48] of theme. A lot of people are using the plug in, there’s lots of tutorials out there but the Beaver Builder theme was a whole other thing. I said, here’s how you use the Beaver Builder to design a good site, here’s how color theory works a little bit, here’s how you combine fonts. So, the concept is, you have a blank slate. We have a business, and we want to build a website with Beaver Builder. Each module, I introduce it, this is how Beaver Builder works, here’s how the theme works, and then we’re going to build each page as a lesson.
Chris Badgett: Awesome. I’m a huge Beaver Builder fan, the Lifter LMS homepage, our demo site where we demo the software, we use Beaver Builder, and it’s what we recommend when people are looking for a page building tool. If anybody listening is working with Lifter, or just building websites in general, I highly recommend you check out Joe’s course on Beaver Builder.
I really want to dig into one of the things that you mentioned there, which was, you didn’t do a course that was a feature tour. What you did, is you created the interplanetary travel business website. The reason I want to dig into that is because we have a tendency as course creators to often try to put too much into a course. We teach about this in some of our other podcast episodes, but we talk about three different types of courses. There’s the Resource Course, there’s the Learner Process Course, and then there’s the Behavior Change Course. Then there’s kind of a fourth one that’s like a hybrid of some or all of those.
A lot of people- what I don’t recommend doing is building a resource course, especially your first time around where you’re just building this library of knowledge. It can be harder to sell, it’s way more prone to getting bloated and getting too much and people not finishing it. Resource courses are good for the right target market and the right student at the right point who needs general knowledge about something.
What I heard when you were telling your story there, is you took what could have been just a feature tour, like, here’s the Resource Course 101 Beaver Builder, here’s what all these modules and things do. Instead, you contextualized it and put a story around it and be like, all right, let’s build an actual website. So, now we’re talking about a process which is a lot easier for people to learn by, and also you kind of have a- it’s just more fun and it’s easier to communicate on. I just want to commend you for making that call. And it’s extra work as a teacher, I mean, you can just shoot from the hip and roll out a Resource Course, or you can plan out your curriculum and be like, all right, I’ve got to get some examples, I’ve got to get some exercises and really think it through. Tell us more about that.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, well thank you very much. It is a lot more work and I gave a work camp talk last year on developing a course for WordPress, where I define my process and I come up with the [inaudible 00:15:02]. That gets reworked. It’s not a waterfall, if we’re going to talk about software development. It’s not a waterfall process where I’ve done one and now I’m onto two. It’s more of an agile, or it’s like a circular process. Where I’ve done one, I start to do two and I’m like all right, well, the about page doesn’t really lend itself to this, so let’s go back and revisit the content.
I tell people, learn by doing. That’s how I learned web development, it was pretty effective for me. It also makes things concrete, right? Like, I can explain to you how to throw a fast ball. You take the baseball and you make sure that your fingers are on the seams and you throw and you release your- or I can throw a baseball and then give it to you to throw and adjust. That’s the approach I want to take with my courses, because like you said, it sticks a lot more. I’m not just saying, “This is the post module. You can make three different kinds of layouts with the post module.” I say, “Here’s our recent news, here’s what we want it to look like, here’s how we do it with the post module.” People are actually seeing a website come together.
They generally, if people are taking my courses, they probably have a specific task in mind anyway, so my course is helping them figure out that specific task.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, I love that. I like what you said, people are seeing a website coming together. What it is, the simple way to say that, is to show, don’t tell. Don’t just talk about the features, let’s dig in and throw the ball or build the site. That’s awesome.
In our pre-chat, you also in your portfolio of teaching ability, besides public speaking, online courses, you also do this online course for the University of Scranton. My understanding of that, you help create the curriculum, but you also have some live components, office hours and things. Can you tell us- some people would call that blended learning, like blending the live with the online, or the passive asynchronous content. But, tell us what goes down in your live interactions. What is that like, and what kind of tools do you use for that?
Joe Casabona: Yeah, so the official name escapes me, it’s like an intro to Health and Pneumatics. Basically we combine Health Administration with Computer Science so what we’re doing is we’re giving people primarily in the Health fields in this course, an introduction to Python Programming. I’m very familiar with an introduction to Python Programming because I learned Python basically for this course. I knew that you could read a text book and learn so much but programming, especially if you’ve never seen it before, you have to set up your environment, and you have to make sure that everything is running correctly and things like that. So, we built in- I developed this with another professor at the University- Professor Jackowitz. We built in two live check ins. We use Skype, I think the University uses Engage for their online learning platform and they have a thing called Big Blue Button or something for video chat but everybody has Skype, just about, so I use that.
I tell my students that it’s going to be a face to face thing because I want to see them, I want them to see me so it’s not just another kind of virtualized thing. I ask them, basically, “How’s it going, do you have any questions, what issues have you run into? I noticed with your first few assignments you did this, can you talk me through that? Did you have any stumbling blocks here?” It adds a human component, right? You can read a tutorial or you can take a largely text based course and then you can maybe leave a comment or a question in the Q&A form or something like that, but I want my students to know that there is somebody on the other side of the computer who’s actually keeping tabs on them.
Again, it’s a little bit more work. Like, I could just answer their questions via email and not have to set up a time for all of the students, but it’s a passion I have. I want to make sure I’m doing my due diligence cause they’re paying all this money to take the course, I want to make sure that they’re getting the most out of it. I want them to know that programming is hard, I know, I’ve been there, and I constantly remind myself of that. You’re not going to get it on the first try, and that’s okay. That’s why I’m here for you.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. There’s two things in there I just really want to highlight, which was the feedback loop. If you’re teaching online and you don’t have a feedback loop, I think your words were, “Were you struggling?” Or, you talk about obstacles and things like that. If there’s no mechanism for that, you’re really limiting the upside. It’s more of an owners manual or a video version of a textbook and that’s it. But, once you introduce that feedback loop, people are different. People struggle in different ways. When you hear things over and over again, the same problem, then you as the teacher may be like, oh, well I need to improve this lesson over here because my people aren’t getting it. Or maybe somebody just needs personalized support and you have to have an avenue for that. It’s also, yeah that’s more work, but you can charge more for that if you’re doing it on your own without a University, or if you are connected with some kind of school, when you have the ability for customized support, that just increases the value of the program. That’s awesome.
Joe Casabona: How great would it be if like on Christmas Eve, you’re building something for your kid and you could just video chat with the person who put it together, and be like, “Hey, I can’t find the piece that I need. It’s four in the morning, my kids are going to be up in an hour.”
Chris Badgett: Yeah, that’s a really neat- there you go! See, that was one of Joe’s talents right there which is analogy. I don’t know if that was exactly analogy but you took something and you put it into context into a story that makes total sense. I’m going to remember that now and forever on Christmas when I’m fiddling around with something like, where’s the red phone? There’s not one. So, that’s awesome.
The other thing is, if we’re really committed to doing great work in education, we’ve all been in those classes where the teacher’s teaching the same curriculum in the exact same way they did for the past 30 years. The feedback loop is also an opportunity to improve as a teacher and to adapt with the times. Especially with technology, things are changing all the time, tools are changing, resources are changing. It’s an opportunity to become a better teacher when you have a feedback loop, and just the very active teaching in and of itself, even if you’re not a natural teacher, is just another step on that journey to mastery. When teaching forces you to think about things, challenge assumptions, build a process, build a methodology, find an analogy and a way to communicate and explain it, that’s really cool.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. It’s cliché to say, but you learn from your students as much as they learn from you because you learn one way when you’re teaching it to a room full of college kids or somebody in their forties who’s getting into work for us for the first time. They’re going to consume information different, and having that feedback loop is really going to improve your methods, give you better courses and add value, which then translates into more money for you, probably.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, absolutely. Let me ask you and dig into the personal side a little bit. I’m a father, I have two kids at home. I have side projects, I’ve got the main the business, I’ve done client work, but now I’m really focused predominantly on Lifter LMS the product. Being a digital entrepreneur and being an online educator, it can be a bit overwhelming. The internet never sleeps, there’s boundary issues, the phone follows you around everywhere. What are some of your struggles with that and how have you overcome it or found some tools that really help you along the way? If you’ve got a family and you’re doing this thing, you’ll fall apart if you don’t put things in place to hold it together. How has that been for you?
Joe Casabona: Yeah, it’s pretty crazy. A few basic things, I got married last June and my daughter was born in March, so before I had time to figure out married life being a digital entrepreneur, I had to figure out married life with a pregnant wife and now a daughter. So, I’m still getting the hang of that. I am very lucky that my day job at [inaudible 00:24:39] allows me to work from home, and they gave me one month family leave, which was excellent because I had a lot of great time with my daughter, and I got to really settle in and think on, my life is totally different now than it was ten months ago. I’m married and I have a kid. What do I want to do? I kind of knew this already, which is why I started WP in One Month and my podcast. Client work is very time consuming. Somebody is paying you to get something done in a [inaudible 00:25:16] amount of time, and every hour you bill is an hour where you have to be in front of the computer. I think probably, people can glean from the things that we’ve been talking about, but there’s no such thing as passive income, but there’s definitely income that you can make without being directly in front of the computer all the time. That was the [inaudible 00:25:39] behind starting my two side projects.
As far as balance goes, I really am still trying to figure it out. I got these noise canceling headphones because every time my baby cries, I want to comfort her, even though my wife is still home. That’s still a learning process for me, my wife knows nine to five, I’m at work. I’ll wake up early … Here’s the process I’ve been doing, I guess. I’ll wake up for her early morning feeding, so she’ll wake up around five thirty or six. I will get up with my daughter, I’ll feed her, I’ll put her back in her basinet around seven and from seven to nine, I’ll work on the personal stuff. I’ll take a break here and there to see her, and then in the afternoon, where generally I would keep working on stuff, I will spend time with the family. If she’s sleeping and my wife is sleeping, that’s when I’ll take some time in the afternoon to work on other stuff. But yeah, it’s tough. Balancing a full time job and the side projects and a family is tough, so there are a lot of things I’ve been thinking about and what I really want for the future, but that’s for me and my mastermind group to sort out.
Chris Badgett: Right on. You mentioned the Mastermind group, so support network, not doing it alone. Support on all levels. Like, Masterminds for business mostly, it can be as your personal to. You have family nearby to help support. It’s all about support. Scheduling, boundaries. I’m the same way with you, I get up early. For me, I usually have a morning routine that starts at five A.M., but some of my early stuff is the most experimental me time, the world is not awake, I’m just kind of in my own world. I have certain blocks of time, and yeah, it might take me longer than it did when I didn’t have kids and wasn’t married but I still get it done, and I’m happier to have all those other things, too.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. It’s about time boxing and setting priorities. I have my [inaudible 00:28:11] techno daily planner. I’ll hold it up for you. It’s just a little planner, it’s a daily thing. I map out my days. I’ve got my bullet journal, where I have my priorities for the month and for the week. It takes 20 minutes of planning at the beginning of the week and maybe ten minutes each day to say, “What am I working on today?” Get those things done, is basically what I try to do.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. I’m very similar. I have a similar journaling process, and it’s super helpful.
Well, let’s shift gears a little bit to what would you advise somebody who, maybe they don’t have the extroverted personality like you, but they really want to teach and it doesn’t feel natural, what should they try- like where do you get the most joy out of teaching, in surprising places?
Joe Casabona: Huh, that’s a great question. Watching people get it is really exciting to me. Actually, you know what, watching people get it is a lot of fun, but that’s an obvious answers. When people don’t get it, I kind of like that, because it’s a new problem for me to solve. I think in the pre-recording, or maybe I said it during the show, when I first explained posting pages to an Intro to Computer course group of students, they’re college freshmen, they all have to take this course, and I said, “All right, we’re going to set up a WordPress.com website.” So, I’m walking them through the admin and I say, “Posts are blah and pages are blah.” And that immediate feedback, they didn’t have to say anything. They just kind of looked at me like, their faces screaming, “What are you saying?” I had to dial it back, and I had to think, “Oh, man. How would I explain this to somebody who has never made a website before?” Resolving a problem that I’ve had solved for a long time was really fun.
I had a great teacher in college, Dr. Maclusky, probably an introverted guy, definitely a computer science guy, but when we solved a problem on the board, like say we were writing a program to determine if a string is a palindrome, which is something that reads the same forwards and backwards. Race car is a palindrome. We would talk through it and he would look at the board as if it was the first time he was solving this problem. And he would talk through it like he’s never thought about it before. That’s a pretty common computer science 101 problem to solve. That meant so much to me, that he wasn’t just like, well, what do you do next? He was like, “Oh, yeah. Maybe we should remove spaces first. Oh, yeah. That’s a good point, we should definitely make everything lowercase before we check, right?” Because uppercase and lowercase letters are considered different by computers. Just watching him solve the problem again with out input is something that really stuck with me. That’s a lot of fun. Taking a problem you had solved for maybe years and resolving it in a different context is awesome.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, that’s really beautiful, just working with beginners and avoiding that curse of knowledge and just taking a step back and realizing how much that you had relegated to your subconscious mind, your processes, that ability to move all that away, go back to first principals. If you’re going to teach somebody to build a house and you’re looking at a piece of forest or raw land, or the blank chalkboard and really get inside the mind of the beginner or your student. That’s such good advice. And that can be really fun. What a gift to give someone, to give them the ability to see things in a new way and have new ways to solve problems.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, there’s this great XK CD comic that I reference- you’ve probably seen it- that I reference in my talks, and it’s the difference between saying, “Oh my God, you’ve never seen Star Wars?” and, “Oh my God! You have never seen Star Wars!” Like, I get to show you Star Wars. The idea in the comic is that there’s people out there who don’t know what you know and you get to show people what you know now. That’s another thing that’s stuck with me. I shouldn’t get mad at people who’ve never seen Star Wars. I get to watch Star Wars with them now and they are experiencing it for the first time. I love Star Wars.
Chris Badgett: And there you go, with another analogy. Joe Casabona, ladies and gentlemen. I want to thank you and honor you for coming on the show and sharing your course building and your education entrepreneur journey with us. If people want to find out more and go check out your Beaver Builder Course or any of your other stuff you’ve got going on, where can they find you on the web?
Joe Casabona: I am Jcasabona on Twitter and most other social networks. My personal website is Casabona.org, where I link to all the millions of things I’m doing, and then the website WPinOneMonth.com, one is spelled out. That’s where you can find me, if anybody wants to say hi or reach out on Twitter or wherever, feel free to do so.
Chris Badgett: Awesome. Well, thanks again, Joe, for coming on the show.
Joe Casabona: Thanks for having me, I had a lot of fun! I love talking about this stuff.

EPISODE 144

How to Teach Complex Subjects Online, New Media, and Disruption With Podcasting Expert Bill Conrad

Welcome back to this episode of LMScast with Chris Badgett of LifterLMS. This episode is about how to teach complex subjects online, new media, and disruption with podcasting expert Bill Conrad. Bill is a very talented man who’s had a lot of great experiences in life, ranging from the military to real estate, new media, online education, and podcasting. Chris and Bill dive into Bill’s story and he shares some great pointers for getting started in podcasting and the online education world.

Right out of high school, Bill attended West Point and went into the Marine Corps as a crew chief on a helicopter. He also went to flight school at age 27, after applying five times. Bill got out of active service after nine years and started a design-build construction company. He went back into service when the war broke out. Then his focus shifted to half military, and any time he wasn’t doing military things, he was helping his wife’s real estate companies build. He has not done much construction since then.

Bill entered the world of podcasting after December 2012, which was his last deployment to Afghanistan. He learned how to use things like WordPress when he was developing his real estate podcast, where he focuses on better ways to train real estate agents.

New media includes pretty much all of the available media sources given to us by mass communication on the internet. This includes things like YouTube, podcasting, websites, and social media. It is basically everything online. Chris and Bill discuss this in depth and touch on some of their experiences with different types of new media sources.

Podcasters Home is a free course that Bill has right now. It teaches you how to create a podcast in four hours using an iPhone. He is also working on another course that is similar, but teaches you how to do the same thing with a Mac and iPhone in strictly two hours. His course encourages you to create small, two minute per day podcasts, and although those are not going to be the highest quality, it proves to yourself that you absolutely have the ability to start a podcast.

Disrupting the current flow of specific industries and the economy is something entrepreneurs have been doing for many years. Chris and Bill discuss the unique perspective of the entrepreneur with seeing value and solving problems. They discuss Bills experience with this and how it applies to the real estate industry. Disruption in an economy is not necessarily a bad thing. Uber entering Reno, Nevada has caused DUIs to go down 25%, and fatality rates have gone down there as well.

The online course industry doesn’t necessarily save lives like Uber, but it makes education for people of all ages more enjoyable, and it makes the people who take the online courses more employable. They learn skills that will help them survive in the workforce that they did not learn during formal education.

To learn more about Bill Conrad you can visit Podcasters Home at PodcastersHome.com.

You can post comments and subscribe to our newsletter for updates, developments, and future episodes of LMScast. Thank you for joining us.

Chris Badgett: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. My name is Chris Badgett and I’ve got a special guest today, Bill Conrad. Bill is a very talented man who’s had a lot of great experiences in life, ranging from the military to real estate to new media to online education to podcasting. All these different things. We’re really going to dig into his story and kind of pull some knowledge out of him and all his experience with new media and business in general. But first, Bill, I wanted to thank you for coming on the show.
Bill Conrad: Oh, thanks, Chris. I appreciate it very much. We met actually through podcasting, I believe, on WP-Tonic, which is a very successful WordPress podcast.
Chris Badgett: Absolutely. I actually recently re-interviewed … Or, I interviewed Jonathan Denwood just the other day, so that’s a coincidence.
Bill Conrad: Are you kidding me? I love Jonathan.
Chris Badgett: Yeah.
Bill Conrad: He’s just got me a ticket to WordCamp of Orange County yesterday.
Chris Badgett: Awesome.
Bill Conrad: We love to go to WordCamps.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. That’s a big takeaway right there is just the power of podcasting for connecting people, but we’re going to get into that in just a little bit. Just so people listening if they haven’t heard of you yet, can you tell us a little bit about your background? I know you’ve got a course called Podcasters Home and are really wanting to help people get going with podcasting, which there’s a huge demand for that. We’ll get into that in a little bit, but where’d you come from? What’s kind of your short story, and what do you do?
Bill Conrad: Well, right out of high school I was going to go in the Marine Corps as a crew chief on a helicopter. My mom said, “Well, why don’t you try to go to the Naval Academy and become a pilot that way?” I wanted to be a marine pilot. Well, I applied and I ended up going to West Point, which, pretty interesting. I ended up becoming a helicopter pilot and a few other things along the way, special forces ranger. Went to flight school at 27, applied five times to flight school.
I think my first lesson there is if you want something, don’t quit. At 27, which is relatively old, I went to flight school’s ranger special forces officer and flew [inaudible 00:01:57] special operations. Got out after nine years. Started a design build construction company and the war broken out and got back in the military. I sort of [inaudible 00:02:06] the construction company. I was always into design build, three-dimensional design, construction, exchange servers. I spent $100,000 on our systems designed houses and subdivisions, and it paid off. A really nice exchange.
I like technology. [inaudible 00:02:21] after 9-11 it really … My focus was half military, and then when I wasn’t doing military I was helping my wife’s real estate companies build. I really enjoyed that. I had more time. I really haven’t done construction since then.
When I got out of active duty, I went back into active, when I got out in 2000 I came back, actually December 7, 2012 was my last deployment to Afghanistan. About two months or three months later I was completely out of the military and I was going to start a real estate company here in Reno, Nevada where we moved to, starting from the basics. My wife didn’t want to start another office right now. I said, “Okay. Let me do something I want to do.” I dug into computers, got into podcasting.
Then one reason why I got into podcasting is for real estate. I wanted to start a course, like Star Power, which used to be [inaudible 00:03:06], which we used for our real estate business. I never did that. I started just interviewing people. Then I realized I had to learn WordPress. Then I leaned I had to learn all these different things. WordPress [inaudible 00:03:19].
One of them was learning management systems. I started looking at better ways to train real estate agents. I really enjoyed podcasting. I’m also working on a reserve deputy program because I was either in the military or in the reserves my entire life from high school, so I’m trying to go back right now and get sworn as a deputy reserve sheriff. Not to do it full-time, but to do it for my community.
Also I like Jiu-Jitsu. I’ve got all the videos and all the tapes ready to go make a training course on defensive training, which is a good thing. That’s where I am today. Three years of just hard studying, and hard work to tell the truth. Much more than I can get in a college or university.
Chris Badgett: You’re definitely a multi-passionate guy and do a lot of different things, which is awesome. I know we connected on that when we met. I’m really into real estate. We’re both into the outdoors. We’re family guys. We’re trying to figure out this whole new media thing. You mentioned in our earlier conversation that new media, it’s not just podcasting. It’s the whole mesh of it all, of which audio and podcasting is a part of.
What do you think the challenges are of learning new media? How have you gone about it? Like you said, you’ve tried five times and you don’t give up. How does someone approach getting a handle on new media? We hear it thrown around, but what is it? How does someone really embrace it for real-world results?
Bill Conrad: That’s a really good question. It’s been around for a while, since the internet started and blogs started and all that sort of thing. I would say the first thing to do … I wouldn’t start podcasting right away, even though I think you can. I’ve got a course that you can get it up in two hours, but I’d really try to master a platform like WordPress to have the basic understanding and start blogging. I think didn’t you start sort of like that, blogging?
Chris Badgett: Yeah. Yeah. I started blogging. That’s what I did.
Bill Conrad: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: I created a blog about my experiences outdoors. I was writing for outdoor professionals like myself.
Bill Conrad: For very little money you can start a blog. If you can blog and post something every day and just get used to it, learn how to put pictures up and tag pictures and get SEO and all those things. I’ve done that for my wife’s little real estate company and she’s rated number one in Reno right now for SEO. I’m figuring out how to beat the big guys, too. That’s just from a good blog. We put all sorts of interesting stories up. We write. Then you add a podcast to that later, I think.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, that’s awesome. Well, what else is in new media besides blogging and podcasting?
Bill Conrad: Well, we’ve got YouTube, we’ve got podcasting. Any website’s part of new media. We’ve got all sorts of different tools now for marketing.
Chris Badgett: Social media.
Bill Conrad: The autoresponders. You got Facebook. You’ve got Google Plus. Google Plus is really interesting. A lot of people underrate it, the Google Plus account, because of the SEO that comes out of it, and YouTube. Another thing I tested like a year and a half ago, two years, and I had more fun doing this, I had Timelines, which I really enjoy.
Chris Badgett: Which is a podcast.
Bill Conrad: Yeah, it was a podcast. I still enjoy doing the podcast, but it takes time. I started saying, “Well.” I was looking at … I interviewed just podcasters. I only did it on YouTube, and then I took the very best shows and I put them up on the Timelines. I said, “Man, this is kind of cool. I tested my podcast on YouTube before I went into podcasting.”
Chris Badgett: To make sure you had a demand? Is that what you mean?
Bill Conrad: Yeah. You could see it. You could feel it. I did it with Skype and Call Recorder, and then put it up on YouTube. I loved those shows.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome.
Bill Conrad: It’s everything. I mean, new media is … What’s your definition of new media? To me it’s anything online, basically.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. Everything as long as it’s connecting people with information of any format online. That’s new media. [crosstalk 00:07:07].
Bill Conrad: [crosstalk 00:07:08].
Chris Badgett: Well, I mean, I’ve flown around in helicopters a lot. Not as a pilot, as a passenger. You’re a pilot, three-dimensional thinking and visual, and you mentioned all of these things in terms of design. I think that gives you a unique skillset in taking complex subjects and bringing it down to the essentials.
Bill Conrad: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: Building a podcast, as an example, you have of course, Podcasters Home. How do you teach somebody something complex without … You know they’re already really worried about, oh my gosh, this is too complicated, it’s too technical, there’s too many moving parts. How do you teach someone?
Bill Conrad: Well, Podcasters Home is the free course right now. It’s how to create a podcast in four hours using an iPhone. Now I’m making another course called Podcasting in Two Hours strictly using a Mac and an iPhone. The iPhone, you got to use a simple platform that works to get people to understand the concepts, the big pieces, without understanding the details. By just taking a two minute … Just doing a two minute podcast every other day. Just a little vlog, actually. Do a vlog. Put it up on YouTube and then take that same feed and bring it back and put in on a podcast because YouTube actually will clarify the sound when you download it.
Yore done. You’ve got reasonable sound and you’ve done it on your iPhone, which is designed for your voice. You’ve got a lot of good tools, simple tools. Don’t understand how it all works. Just get the big pieces down. Then, you hook it into a media server and you hook it into iTunes, which takes two seconds, because I feel like I’m relatively sharp. I took someone else’s course when I first got out. Now, it wasn’t the big guys’ course, but it was someone out there. He made it too complicated. They started too complex with all the details. I don’t need the details. I just need the big parts.
Then, you can learn so much faster by knowing how it works and to see it work. Literally in one weekend actually in one morning, you should be able to get a podcast up. My last iTunes was up within 24 hours actually on iTunes. Now, my art. I found some new tools [inaudible 00:09:17] to make art even faster.
Chris Badgett: Right. Well, let me just clarify just a couple things in there. You mentioned an iPhone.
Bill Conrad: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: A MacBook Pro, a media server. Is that, like, a Libsyn account?
Bill Conrad: I use Libsyn, but I also like Blueberry. On the next two hour course I may be using Blueberry.
Chris Badgett: Okay.
Bill Conrad: [crosstalk 00:09:37].
Chris Badgett: Let’s just say we’re using Lipsyn, and then an iTunes account. You really just need these four parts. That’s the minimum.
Bill Conrad: Right. That’s why the next course is only going to be four lessons. I’m going to take the last course and break it down to simplify it. I’m also doing a really good PDF with it, so you can have a reference to look at. I love digital. You can pull a PDF [inaudible 00:09:59], but I still like paper to print out and write notes on and scribble on.
Chris Badgett: That’s really awesome. I just want to highlight what you said when you were teaching somebody, especially something somebody knew, we talk a lot about on this podcast the importance of having a free course or an entry-level course. You’re giving them concepts without the need to understand the detail, just to get the gears moving.
Bill Conrad: Right.
Chris Badgett: Also to get results quickly.
Bill Conrad: Right.
Chris Badgett: Your two minute podcast episode one may not be the best in the world, but what you’re saying is after a couple hours or within a day or whatever you can prove to yourself that you can do it. There’s nowhere to go but up.
Bill Conrad: Right, right. It’s not that bad. iPhone makes you sound pretty darn good. Plus, you’re getting credibility now. One, two, three. Another thing I teach now in the big picture is your episode one is your first episode two and three. You launch all at one time, but you hold off on your zero zero episode until you’re comfortable. That’s the episode [inaudible 00:10:59]. You post it and then you … I could show you how you … I don’t want to get into the weeds, but how you set it. You post it for a week or two and then you put it back at the very start of your podcast links.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. That’s just like building a course. It often makes sense to write lesson one last, or write the sales page at the end.
Bill Conrad: Right.
Chris Badgett: I mean, makes total sense.
Bill Conrad: Zero zero in the podcasting world has come to be about the person, about the podcast, and sort of the overview of it. Just get something up because I remember what a challenge it was for me to get it up on iTunes. In retrospect, it shouldn’t have been. I was down in the weeds when I didn’t have to be in the weeds.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. That’s a really good point. Well, there’s a segment of people who listen to this show who are actually into teaching people about real estate. It’s actually a big niche in online education, whether that’s sales-related or management-related or career-related. We were talking about this book, The Millionaire Real Estate Agent by Gary Keller, right?
Bill Conrad: Right. Wonderful book, and Dave Jenks and Jay Papasan, or whatever his name is.
Chris Badgett: These are the guys behind the Keller Williams real estate empire, if you will. I’ve read that book a while ago. One of the things you said that actually fascinated me the most is you said just recently you’ve reread it. This was written in 2002.
Bill Conrad: I listened to it.
Chris Badgett: Oh, you’ve listened to it while you were driving. Sometimes real estate can be a complex subject. It’s important to revisit the fundamentals. I recently reread The Lean Startup. I read that many years ago. I reread it and I actually got a lot more out of it and learned some more. I think I could actually teach other people some of the concepts in that book better because I revisited it. What’s up with you in terms of why did you revisit that book?
Bill Conrad: Yeah. Basically I listened to it. I like to listen to things, too, while I was driving. I have a 17 minutes and 49 seconds left of ten hours.
Chris Badgett: Okay.
Bill Conrad: Of listening. I re-listened to it because it motivated me so much. It came out about 2001, somewhere around 9-11. I got it while I was on deployment, sort of read it. I’ve read some interesting books while on deployment and some in Afghanistan and those places. Late at night and 15 minutes with a little light. It really motivated me. I came back with this book and literally … I love design build construction, but I also like to make money. Design build, you talk about complex and about risky.
I built two subdivisions and houses and all this. People get hurt. There’s a lot of liability, but we did … Anyway, so I focused just in real estate. I came back and within four or five months I had some $50,000 commissions months because of this book. That’s a lot of money to make in a month, $50,000.
Chris Badgett: That motivated you to reread it?
Bill Conrad: Well, no. I hadn’t read it for a while because I went back. I got recalled twice more and I said, “I might as well finish up my active duty. I really enjoy the military and I think I do a good job.” I went back and finished my active duty. Then, I wanted to restart a company. [inaudible 00:14:09]. This motivated me, it got me going, listening to it again. It was done in 2001 and a lot has changed since then, so some of the techniques may not be applicable, but the principles are all still there.
The whole concept of the book is to build a real estate company into a business yourself as an agent. The first hire you have is assistant. I also had, because I started out borrowing a lot of money, I always had a office manager, a bookkeeper, and people helping me out [inaudible 00:14:39]. Even in this business I’m in now I’m going to eventually get an assistant. I’m just not sure. It’s a little different in the new media business, but I will get an assistant. We will evolve. I’m working right now on the new real estate company. We’re going to open our first new office up in [inaudible 00:14:57]. We also are in Reno. In fact, my wife just got a listing yesterday, which is good.
Here’s what I’m really looking at on training. We’re going to build training courses, but they’re [inaudible 00:15:08] brokerages right now. Keller Williams created this for his brokerage, but he gave it out to everybody. I’ll probably open that up to everybody. Here’s my brokerage. It’s a little different. I see the traditional real estate broker is eventually going to go away. Because of what’s online now on Zillow and people finding houses and Facebook ads, and all these different things that we’re doing that didn’t exist, I see …
I just did an open house in California for a pretty nice house in a gated community. We sold it the first day with people who came by. We put it in the [MLS 00:15:44] and we put it in Zillow. we used some targeted marketing, but everybody that came came off our targeted marketing. No one came off the [MLS 00:15:52]. Then they went and found a real estate agent to write the offer.
My theory is right now our new program’s going to be a 2.5% listing, where we only put a half a percent in the [MLS 00:16:02] for that, writing offer, because [inaudible 00:16:04] to write the offer and do it. The other 2% will go to us for the marketing and for the other things. It’ll be a 2.5% listing.
Now, if they want to they can go up [inaudible 00:16:16] 2.5% to the listing agent, but we think that model is going to work. I want to do it with teams. I want a listing agent. Under a broker I can hire a listing agent. They’ll get a great commission as the team leader. [inaudible 00:16:31] assistant to them, and then as it grows you got a buyer’s agent. You evolve.
I want to create these little teams in different cities, try to reduce the brick and mortar. If we do have an office, this is going to look like a Mac store, the front of a Apple store, and those places. We’ll build little teams. Everyone will be a team as opposed to an individual in real estate. That’s my model in real estate.
Chris Badgett: [crosstalk 00:16:49].
Bill Conrad: I’m working on that right now. My hardest sell is my wife, of course. She’s very traditional real estate agent. She’s a traditional broker. She started with me selling to the subdivisions and built a very good traditional real estate company, but I’m a new guy. I do things differently.
By the way, the way I made most of my money when I came back, back then we had postcards and marketing in-house because we had the construction. I would send postcards out to landowners, property owners, who could build a house, make 40 acre parcel, 10 acre parcel. We sold them [inaudible 00:17:23], so I started focusing on just building parcels and land.
I sold a lot of farmland, a lot of parcels. We get one listing and one area, we send cards out around it and we get more listings. It just grew, grew really fast. I was making really good money. Then, of course, 2008 came along. Remember that?
Chris Badgett: Yeah.
Bill Conrad: We’re doing fine, but I also got activated again in 2007. My wife was concerned, so she shut down one of my main offices, all my systems, and combined with another company, because we’re doing pretty well. She still did well even during the recession, but it wasn’t the same. I needed to have my own business, my own company, because my whole company got taken over when I went back on active duty.
It worked out well. My wife … It’s a team business. Anyway, I love real estate. Real estate, you can make a lot of money over a lifetime. It’s a long-term thing. Everyone should have at least one three bedroom, two bath rental house somewhere, I think.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. You’re touching on your entrepreneurial side a little bit. You’re talking about kind of disrupting the way things are done, but a lot of that I think comes from just a unique perspective on seeing value and solving problems. Let’s say just looking at the real estate industry there, what problems are you solving or what is broken today that you really want to fix?
Bill Conrad: I think the brokerages are mostly broken. Maybe Keller Williams isn’t, but, for example, they’re still doing things the traditional way, the 6% listing. When I go on and I go to Zillow, and Zillow, if you put a little video on the front of Zillow it drives you to the very top in that area. Just that alone.
When I see only a handful of agents out of 500 agents, maybe 20 agents putting video [inaudible 00:19:04], I’m going, “Wow.” This is in Zillow. I said, “Wow, this is … Who’s training these people?” This is not hard. I’ve held them up. [inaudible 00:19:16] agents are still making very good money the traditional way, that’s 6%, and that’s got to go away. I just think it can’t last.
To me, the problem is the structure of the traditional brokerage and the mindset. Now, real estate, like everything else, is know, like, and trust, so it’s a relationship-built business. You have to have relationships, but there’s a point where relationships and money [inaudible 00:19:38] is it really worth me spending $10,000 more to use my good friend or my cousin or my niece or something?
Chris Badgett: That’s a really good point. Just to tie it back to new media, there is a period in my life where I got into real estate sales. I was learning the internet.
Bill Conrad: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: It always amazed me that I would do video, I would create videos. Even if it was just from a slide of images, I would do vid marketing on YouTube, I would build websites for subdivisions. That’s how I actually learned WordPress.
Bill Conrad: Yep.
Chris Badgett: My first paying client was a subdivision owner.
Bill Conrad: Wow.
Chris Badgett: It always amazed me. Sometimes I’d look at other listings on the multiple listing service and people would just hae a couple pictures, or no pictures. There’s 35 spots. Fill it up.
Bill Conrad: You fill up all 35.
Chris Badgett: Yeah.
Bill Conrad: When were you in real estate?
Chris Badgett: I was in real estate. I started just on my own investing in land and building rentals and getting into some construction spec stuff. Late 2000s, and then I started selling in 2010. Then, from there I quickly transitioned into the online world because I started falling into websites and people started contacting me about all that. Then I started moving around more.
Like you said, real estate’s a relationship game. You got to kind of stay put for a little bit, which is hard for me. I’ve always loved real estate and I’ve always just seen how easy it could be to disrupt it just by doing things a little differently and using modern marketing in real estate. It just blows my mind.
Right now I’m actually shopping for real estate. Just some of the stuff I see, I’m like, man, this could be a lot better experience for me as a buyer. I know I also see a lot of underrepresented sellers out there.
Bill Conrad: Just going up on Zillow you can find some so fast if you just know how to track it. There’s other services too, of course. Yeah. That’s interesting. I think real estate is like the last [inaudible 00:21:40]. One of the reasons … I’ll tell you why I’m a licensed broker. My wife’s a licensed broker in two states. I’m a licensed broker in California.
California is a really good state for having openness and allowing new systems to take place. Other states aren’t. I’ve got to be careful with this, what I say, I won’t say the name of the association, but the realtors all belong to an association. They all have a lobby. There’s [inaudible 00:22:05] and senators and politics. There’s a lot of things that slow down or protect the real estate [inaudible 00:22:12] there.
Chris Badgett: [crosstalk 00:22:15].
Bill Conrad: [crosstalk 00:22:15].
Chris Badgett: There was a lot that protected the taxi driving industry with Uber.
Bill Conrad: Oh, let’s talk about that.
Chris Badgett: Uber came along, right?
Bill Conrad: Let’s talk about that because that’s a good thing to talk about.
Chris Badgett: All right. Yeah. Well, I mean, disruption happens.
Bill Conrad: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: Even if it’s protected by lobbies or unions or whatever. Eventually, like you said, even if you’re looking at your good friend and you’re like, “I don’t know if it’s worth paying the premium to do it the old way anymore.”
Bill Conrad: I got to tell you an Uber story because I studied Uber. I like Uber a lot. I might go out and be a Uber driver for a while. I’m going to do that. In fact, I am going to be an Uber driver. I want to experience it. Uber in California is really good. The San Francisco, the [inaudible 00:22:57] area, they allowed it to grow. It never really got hurt like some of the other states.
Uber tried to come into Nevada. I watched it the last few years because I’m really interested in Nevada. They said they just went into Las Vegas, they [inaudible 00:23:07], and they just did it ahead of time. They just did it. They just did it and they said, “You go ahead and throw us out.” The attorney general of the state, who actually got elected to senate, put a order out to stop Uber, right? Uber. Then they fought it.
Chris Badgett: Okay.
Bill Conrad: They finally got in. The mayor here of Nevada, of Reno, is very good. She got it in. It went into Las Vegas. Anyway, it was in and then out for a year and then back in. Now, studies have been done, DUIs because of Uber has gone down 25% where it’s gone down, death rates, gone down. Saved lives. The politicians, the bureaucrats, protecting the cab industry, so special interests because they elect them and give them money, caused people to die in Nevada. Period. Uber saves lives. It saves lives, DUIs, and it’s much better. It’s a better value and it allows people to have their own little businesses, but the politicians are holding it back as much as anybody.
Chris Badgett: Well, I mean, if we talk about education as a metaphor, or [crosstalk 00:24:09] different industry.
Bill Conrad: [crosstalk 00:24:09]. That’s good.
Chris Badgett: I mean, I’m not claiming that online education [inaudible 00:24:14] saves lives, or whatever, but what I can say is that sometimes if the goal is not to save lives but to help young people or people of any age become more employable, or give the tools they need to be entrepreneurs, perhaps piecing together curriculum online can get you better paying jobs and better chances of success in business or as an entrepreneurs than going to a traditional school. Like we mentioned earlier in the show, even just trying to learn new media in a traditional school or a community college, it’s …
Bill Conrad: You can’t do it.
Chris Badgett: It’s not possible.
Bill Conrad: Can’t do it. You could learn how to draft, you can [inaudible 00:24:59] engineering, use principles of construction, but new media moves too fast. There’s too many smart people out [inaudible 00:25:06] right now.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. Disruption is all around us. If we look at even podcasting, to tie it back into what we were talking about, there used to be only so many radio stations.
Bill Conrad: Right.
Chris Badgett: Even WordPress itself and blogging, everybody’s a publisher now. Everybody’s a broadcaster now. Everybody’s a teacher now.
Bill Conrad: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: The cream will rise to the top, which is … Really the best cream is the training or the media that really helps people get results. That’s what matters.
Bill Conrad: Let’s take a step back to education, I think education is extremely important. I was a city councilman for six years, vice mayor of a city of 200,000. I truly believe that education breaks the cycle of poverty. I truly believe that. If we could educate people … You have to take the expense of the education and get down so they have the tools of available.
One of the projects I worked on early, I was on city council around 9-11, was building. We had built affordable housing. We had this HUD money come in. I changed the profile of it because they were usually moms with kids who worked at Walmart and older people. We made it one strike you’re out. If any drugs, you couldn’t stay in there. Had to go to Section 8, but the other thing we did is we built the two centers I was able to work on. We built them out ahead of the new developments, so people knew that there was affordable housing there. We made a computer center in each of them for learning, believe it or not, and training and education.
Around 2000 you could go online. It was happening. By the way, when I was on council I was elected ’96, ’97. I was in my 30s. I was the only one using email and it was [inaudible 00:26:44] email at the time on city council. All these people were, like, 20 years older than me.
Chris Badgett: Okay.
Bill Conrad: I started seeing these things. We got the computers in, we got the broadband. We built these little centers and they worked. One of my philosophies is education breaks the cycle of poverty. They were already starting to learn stuff back in these little computer centers and people wanted to be there. There’s waiting lists of people to get into those two centers, those two affordable housing. They’re nice areas, so they had quality of life, they had good schools.
You know what was amazing? One of the biggest heartaches I had was Modesto, California. I was chastised by minorities, all sorts of stuff, for voting against building affordable housing downtown Modesto. I said, “Let’s get it out in the communities, out with the people ahead of the growth so they have the same areas.” They were wanting to put housing downtown. There’s no parks. The schools aren’t that great. Get them out with the normal people and educate them. I’m a big believer in education breaks the cycle of poverty. Anything we can do to help make it easier for people to learn is better.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. Well, we’re 100% in alignment there. I mean, with LifterLMS we always knew we would make the core software free. We’re more working to make it so that the teachers who ultimately end up helping the students can build training online for free with LifterLMS. We do have paid add-ons and all that thing, but we wanted the free version to be able to go to a place anywhere in the world, especially places where the U.S. dollar is way too strong, and have people still have the tool that they could use with free WordPress, free LifterLMS. Figure out some kind of hosting situation.
Bill Conrad: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: Help break that cycle of poverty, so that’s cool.
Bill Conrad: I got to tell you another story about free. I’m into free, too. I like free, but I’m willing to pay and to pay money to people after I’ve tested it and I know I can use it and not waste money. I probably use more marketing automation [inaudible 00:28:41] than you could possibly imagine. Right now I’m going to probably go full-blow onto Drip. I’ve spent … I’m not going to say the names, but you would know them because sometimes call them confusion soft. I won’t say the name, though.
Chris Badgett: Yeah.
Bill Conrad: I spent, like, two years on that platform and spent thousands of dollars. Offered, I said, “Well, why don’t you just charge me $100 as I really get … I’ll keep it going and I’ll just play with it?” They wouldn’t do that because they’re very expensive. Drip offers free for the first 100.
Chris Badgett: Yeah.
Bill Conrad: MailChimp is free at 2,000. MailChimp works great, by the way. I’ve got a lot of my clients. I do some nonprofit work on MailChimp. I’m onto Lifter. I will probably continue ahead on Drip because they gave it to me for free to learn.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome.
Bill Conrad: I generally won’t buy something until I learn it somewhat.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. Yeah. That’s what the world expects now. For those of you listening who use LifterLMS, there’s another developer company called Very Good Plug-Ins that made a Drip connection for LifterLMS. It goes through a tool called WP Fusion. This just comes back to disruption. Companies like Drip, ConvertKit, they came in. They’re later arrivals to the marketing automation CRM market.
Bill Conrad: Right.
Chris Badgett: They’re looking at the problems in the marketplace. They’re trying to create more value. They’re moving the free line. They’re attacking the pain points. This is how innovation happens, and it’s happening at an accelerating rate. If you want to have any chance at all you got to kind of wrap your head around modern marketing, modern business in general, and new media as a tool for communication.
Bill Conrad: Right.
Chris Badgett: Tell us a little bit more about Podcasters Home and your goals with that before [crosstalk 00:30:31].
Bill Conrad: Before I do that I’m going to give one quick commercial for LifterLMS.
Chris Badgett: Sure.
Bill Conrad: It fits right into what you said. You were on a podcast, I think it was WP-Tonic, and you’re on Timelines, which is my fun podcast [crosstalk 00:30:43].
Chris Badgett: I was on [inaudible 00:30:43], too, I think.
Bill Conrad: [inaudible 00:30:44].
Chris Badgett: Yeah.
Bill Conrad: [crosstalk 00:30:47].
Chris Badgett: [crosstalk 00:30:47].
Bill Conrad: [inaudible 00:30:48] is doing really well. These are shows I started and the cohost, Jonathan, picked up another cohost. The guys’ doing great. They’ve had amazing people on that show. WP-Tonic is just killing it right now with the quality of people. I still get a lot of benefit from those associations.
Let me talk about Lifter. When you’re on the show, I was going to buy your program. I was actually going to buy it. It was, like, $100, or whatever. You said, “Wait off for a couple of weeks because I can’t tell you. Just wait off for a couple weeks,” and it was free a couple of weeks later. I got the free version and I liked it and I used it. I didn’t have to because I was getting good support, but I went and bought your pro series. That was worth it because it was a little bit faster, but I bought the pro. I [inaudible 00:31:28]. I built some courses.
Then I went back. You know I’m trying to be a reserve, so I went back and did four months of training. Then I got out. Then you changed your model a little bit. It was something. I forget. I’m totally testing it in the free mode. I still have the pro support. I just bought a while back your full-blown [inaudible 00:31:53].
Chris Badgett: Universe Bundle. Yeah.
Bill Conrad: Yeah. That’s nice. I’m experimenting and playing with your different tools, but that’s because you built trust. I also have some of your competition’s work too. I bought some of that. I didn’t spend a ton for it because I didn’t want to … I have testing. I bought it to test. I’m not going to spend a lot of money to buy a test [inaudible 00:32:12]. I’ve tested it. You have the most universal best bundle I think going. I’m trying to figure out other ways to do things with it, too, for membership.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Well, I appreciate you saying that and I appreciate what you’re saying about the need to test. Even several weeks ago from the time you hear this podcast we rolled out try LifterLMS for $1.00, where we actually build a temporary website with the universe bundle, all the add-ons installed. You got the site for a week. If you want to keep it you can claim your site. It has a bunch of demo content. You can start building your course.
Then you skip the whole setup, or you can just let it expire and then go buy the bundle and rebuild it from the group up yourself. We’re really trying to attack that problem of let’s make it easy for people to test because people, especially in the online world, they go from thing to thing to thing to thing.
Bill Conrad: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: [crosstalk 00:33:05] if they’re going to make a big investment in a [CRM 00:33:08] or a LMS or eCommerce thing, they need to be able to test it and make sure that it’s got what they … The goods.
Bill Conrad: That’s a good segue into podcasting because you want to … Podcasting alone is podcasting. It’s just like FM radio. You’re just talking, listening. If you want to add the third dimension in it you need a website. What I find is Lifter might have the same issue is people have to learn the basics of WordPress to run Lifter, right?
Chris Badgett: Yeah.
Bill Conrad: How do you teach them that?
Chris Badgett: Well, we have a course on our demo site. We actually license the course from Shawn Hesketh of WP101.
Bill Conrad: Okay. [crosstalk 00:33:47].
Chris Badgett: We have his WordPress training course that I always recommend when you’re just getting started. Spend a couple hours with that course just to get familiar with WordPress, then spend an hour or two with our Lifter course. With that foundation, now you’re ready to roll.
Bill Conrad: As I evolved with my business and companies, we offered what I call a quick WordPress platform delivered, set up. I used Shawn’s training too. Same as you did, the licensed training, but now I’ve gone off to start building our own training. Shawn has the best training out there. He’s one of my heroes out there towards quality of … Building courses. He knows code inside and out.
Chris Badgett: Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, he’s definitely a great example.
Bill Conrad: Shawn and I have taken one of Shawn’s themes, well, I know which [inaudible 00:34:31] theme he’s using on [Genesis 00:34:32] because we both use [Genesis 00:34:33]. I wonder how long he’s going to stay on [Genesis 00:34:36].
Chris Badgett: I don’t know.
Bill Conrad: Because [Genesis 00:34:37] you have to know [PHP 00:34:39], you have to know CSS. You have to know a little code, so I had to learn some code. Now I’m going … Right now I’m looking. I’m doing a deep dive into [inaudible 00:34:48] Builder and their [inaudible 00:34:50]. I thought I’d never do that. I was just using [inaudible 00:34:52] Builder on top of [Genesis 00:34:52], but one of my friends who here in Reno has a very successful online business, who is Autodealer.com, I’ll plug him, top dealership plug-in worldwide for selling used, for selling cars. He has gone off the [Genesis 00:35:08] framework and he’s gone into [inaudible 00:35:10] Builder for their everything.
Chris Badgett: Yeah? [inaudible 00:35:13] Builder’s great. When you’re listening to this they will have released [inaudible 00:35:18] Themer. They just continue. It just gets better and better with time.
Bill Conrad: Oh, neat.
Chris Badgett: That’s actually one of our number one recommendations is using the [inaudible 00:35:30] Builder as a page builder. We’ve got a really close eye on [inaudible 00:35:34]. We do whatever we can to collaborate with those guys. It’s a great company and a great product and a great community.
Bill Conrad: That’s great. Anyway, Podcasters Home. If you just go to Podcastershome.com, you can Google Podcastershome.com, you’ll hit a landing page. You can sign up there and stay alert. Behind that there’s all sorts of different things and elements, freebies. Also, I launched the free course of Podcasters Home. It’s called all different names because of SEO. It’s basically a free podcasting course. It teaches you podcasts within four hours. I’ll tell you what. I’ve been making money every day off of the purchases that people are doing on Amazon because of that free course.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome.
Bill Conrad: People give back.
Chris Badgett: I’m planning on launching a new podcast. Just a personal brand podcast. I’m definitely going to go through your training and really just simplify and sharpen the saw and get ready for podcasting and using your methods.
Bill Conrad: Well, wait for the two hour course. It’s going to be up. I have to go to a wedding. My son’s getting married this week in Cincinnati, so I’m going to a wedding. The two hour course is going to be up I think. The one now is fine, but the two hour course I want to make it more clear and concise. It’s going to be free. What I’m putting behind that is using an iPhone, which is fine. You can do great sound with an iPhone. I mean, you can do amazing sound with an iPhone and creating a podcast.
What I’m doing is I’m creating some of the more older, traditional ones. I had the name [inaudible 00:36:59] for my basic course. I started [inaudible 00:37:02] motivated me. My daughter, who’s in graphic design, created a new logo and played around on site. I’ve sort of changed the space [inaudible 00:37:11].
Chris Badgett: Awesome.
Bill Conrad: Lifter’s there. I have Lifter [inaudible 00:37:15]. Anyway, Podcastershome.com. It’s free right now. It’s going to grow into some more advanced things. I’ll tell you what we found is eventually I’m going to take it where you have a business model for real estate or whatever it might be. Really you started out with a podcast. You got to learn WordPress, I would say. You don’t have to, but you learn WordPress, or the basics of WordPress, and then you can go different directions. Whether you want to create your own courses, you want to podcast in your community, you want to podcast real estate.
Oh, I didn’t even mention that. My personal podcast where I interview people on Timelines has made $30,000 in commission in real estate. We can track it directly to it.
Chris Badgett: Wow. In terms of clients’ referrals?
Bill Conrad: Yeah. What happened is we’re new in Reno. [inaudible 00:37:59] didn’t know anybody. I interviewed the mayor. I’ve interviewed some key people. Their friends listen to it and their family listens to it. My wife is Karenconrad.com. They just put a little ad in there at the end, use Karenconrad.com.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome.
Bill Conrad: You meet people and they get to know my wife. That’s how we built that.
Chris Badgett: Great.
Bill Conrad: It’s fun.
Chris Badgett: [crosstalk 00:38:23].
Bill Conrad: [crosstalk 00:38:23]. What podcast do you have right now out? Lifter.
Chris Badgett: Right now it’s just LMS Cast.
Bill Conrad: Yeah, LMS Cast.
Chris Badgett: Which is for Lifter, a podcast at LifterLMS.com. That’s it. That’s what I have.
Bill Conrad: What’s your personal one going to be about?
Chris Badgett: Just a lot of topics that interest me because I, like you, am … I have a lot of different interests that don’t necessarily always overlap. I mean, they overlap for me.
Bill Conrad: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: I know there’s other people out there who have these similar things. They might be into having a strong family or care about education and care about digital entrepreneurship, care about healthy living, care about having fun. All these different things. I just want to … I’m really into online education, obviously, but just to have a place where I can expand a little bit.
Bill Conrad: I think you should keep one podcast, like you have, online education focus, so you build your listener base. If you go off and you build this podcast that has, like, eclectic and everything on it, your listener base is going or be eclectic.
Chris Badgett: Yeah.
Bill Conrad: It may not build, but you’re sure going to have a lot of fun.
Chris Badgett: Yeah.
Bill Conrad: I’ve played around with that model. You’ve got to keep one standard, but I think everyone should have their primary podcast, which is the podcast that is one theme, one niched-down area, but then I think you should do a very general podcast. You can even change the name of it. I’m playing around with keeping [inaudible 00:39:46] and even changing the direction of that podcast. They’re [inaudible 00:39:49]. It’s just like a fun show. I’m not going to be [inaudible 00:39:52] forever. By the way, Podcasters Home, the demo [inaudible 00:39:55] show. You know Ron.
Chris Badgett: Yeah.
Bill Conrad: [inaudible 00:39:58]. That’s mostly done on an iPhone, that whole show, and using tools that you’re not supposed to use in podcasting, like ScreenFlow. It’s actually so far every course has been edited on ScreenFlow and run through Google or YouTube and then put up on the podcast, so you know what you’re getting. That’s the basic course.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. That’s awesome. Well, Bill Conrad, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for sharing your story and your insights with us. For those of you listening, I strongly encourage you to check out Podcastershome.com and get going with all that. Bill, thank you again for coming on the show.
Bill Conrad: Well, thank you, Chris. I appreciate coming on the show and have to have you back on as a regular on … By the way, one other thing. Timelines. Timelines, my interview, I’m seriously thinking about building a [inaudible 00:40:49] of regulars to come on, or really interesting people. Then, put some other folks in there too. I think it’d be good to hear from you every few months and see what has changed because you are so connected.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. Well, count me in.
Bill Conrad: That’s good.
Chris Badgett: I’ll be a regular on your show. I’d be honored. All right. Thanks so much.

EPISODE 143

Create Courses with Your Audience’s Self Interest and Concerns in Mind with Entrepreneur Jonathan Denwood

This episode of LMScast with Chris Badgett of LifterLMS is about how to create courses with your audience’s self interest and concerns in mind with podcast host and entrepreneur Jonathan Denwood. Jonathan shares his story, and they discuss Jonathan’s career in the online course world and what he has learned from it.

Jonathan has two podcasts. One is called WP-Tonic, and the other is called Mail-Right, which is for the real estate industry. He also has a SaaS, or software as a service, product called Mail-Right, which is for the real estate industry as well. When Jonathan was in his 20s he started a dry cleaning business that expanded and was very successful. He devoted his interest to the online course world when he saw universities integrating them into their main course loads.

Chris and Jonathan discuss partnerships and how making it in almost any industry relies on those partnerships. They discuss more about how battles are won before they’re even fought, so putting in the research and quality assurance is necessary. They also break down the basic steps of what it takes to enter modern marketing.

Jonathan did a lot of work with small business clients, but he also did a lot of medium sized clients that would hire him on retainers to build websites. There was a lot of growing infrastructure in Northern Nevada where he was located at the time. But that all went downhill within a period of about six months. When Jonathan was looking at getting some more clients, he met Bill Conrad who suggested that Jonathan do a podcast with Bill as his co-host. He faced a lot of difficulties getting started just due to procrastination and an inability to take the first step. He learned that it is the first step that feels impossible to do, and you just have to do it.

A lot of people say if you publish good content and you publish enough of it, then you will get traffic. But as Chris and Jonathan discuss, that is not necessarily true. You have to do the in-depth research and a pre-investigation in order to create something better or different from the competition. Chris and Jonathan discuss how creating more in-depth content with more detail than the competition will help build your email list and get you SEO value.

To learn more about Jonathan Denwood, you can type his name into Google and learn all about him. But you can also find him on Twitter at @JonathanDenwood, and you can find him on his two podcasts WP-Tonic and Mail Right as well.

You can post comments and subscribe to our newsletter for updates, developments, and future episodes of LMScast. Thank you for joining us.

Chris Badgett: Hello and welcome back to another episode of LMS Cast. My name is Chris Badgett and today we have a special guest, Jonathan Denwood. Jonathan has two podcasts. One of them is called The WP-Tonic. The other one is called Mail Right, which is for the real estate industry. He also has a SaaS, or software as a service product, called Mail Right that serves the real estate industry and does particular things in that niche. I wanted to get Jonathan on the show and talk to him kind of in the trenches as a WordPress person, as somebody who’s building a SaaS product and an online business. We’re going to unpack some lessons learned and just kind of share some experiences that we’ve come across as people who have been in the trenches with online business for a while. Also, through our podcast platforms, had the pleasure and honor to interview so many different people, which gives us even more perspective than our own personal experience. First, Jonathan, thank you for coming on the show.
Jonathan Denwood: Oh, thank you so much, Chris. It’s a pleasure coming on your podcast. I listen to it regularly and have learned many things from it, Chris.
Chris Badgett: Awesome. Well, I appreciate that. Well, tell us a little bit about who you are, what you do, kind of where you came from and then we’re going to kind of get into your story in a little more detail.
Jonathan Denwood: Well, I’m bit of an adventurer in the online industry, yeah. Basically I got into it as a hobby in the late ’90s actually when we had modems. I still love that sound really. I had a successful retail business, which I started in my early 20s. That was actually in dry cleaning and that had expanded to a major production unit with four satellite units. That kept me busy, but I just got kind of always been a little bit artistic with drawing and that. Also, I love my gadgets, my technology. When the internet came alive, it was the combination of various factors that really appealed to me. I decided as a mature student to do a university course. I would be the only person in my family and I decided to do that full time, plus run my business.
You’re going to get afraid here. I tend to take on multiple things. In England, university courses you do them full time about three years in length and it’s very closed. At the time there was only two universities in the London or the surrounding areas that were doing courses around multimedia as they called it. Funny enough, the one university was my local university that was only one mile away from my main business. I trotted down and saw the course director and they accepted me. They were still deducing CD-ROM’s using a product called Director for multimedia. I don’t know if you ever heard of it, Chris.
Chris Badgett: Maybe. I remember CD-ROM’s, but I don’t remember Director.
Jonathan Denwood: No, you’re a puppy compared to me. It was CD-ROM production through Director or visual basic. Then they threw in some 3D courses as well and sound courses and anything else that the tutors were into. It was a bit of a mixture. Then the web really started getting big during those three years, so they really threw out most of the established courses and put in more web courses. That’s where I kind of devout my interest in all this. After I passed that and got my degree, I did some part-time freelances as a flash-action script developer. Actually Chris, all my confessions are coming out now, Chris, that I actually produced stuff in flash. I really enjoyed that until, and that was around my other business, and then you had the Dot Com crash and all the flash work just disappeared, Chris, just disappeared.
Chris Badgett: Wow. Bring us to today. Now you’re a self-admitted WordPress junkie. You’re really into working in the real estate niche. Tell us what your projects that you said you could never do just one, so what are you juggling today?
Jonathan Denwood: Well, I should just do one, but I don’t think I’m the only one. I was listening to the Matt Report and Matt had said, “Yeah,” he’s got various things going. I think he might be the same. I’m not sure. Well, [inaudible 00:05:42] was married to an American lady and we lived in England for a while and then she said she just had enough. She loved Britain, but she said she couldn’t tolerate the weather anymore. It was a big decision, but I agreed that we should move to America and I ended up in Northern Nevada of all places. Then I took a year off because I was a little bit burnt out and I just wanted to become a skinny bum for a year basically. Then I was looking at the next thing and I really got into WordPress. This was WordPress 2.8. I think it was just before the menu system got integrated from WooCommerce and I think that’s 3.0, I think. That’s when I got into it. It was still seen as very much a blogging platform. This was before custom posts and basically, it was very restrictive compared to some other CRMs.
Also in England, before I moved, I had done not only flash work. I was recently involved in the Expression Engine community. If people listening to this, it’s still going, still owned by Ellislab and it’s still a smallish community. Nothing like the size of the WordPress community. It was really quite popular in Britain at the time. I was doing some Expression Engine work when I moved to America and then I got onto WordPress. As soon as 3.0 came along and they sorted out the menu and also custom posts and with the amount of plug-ins and just how much more easier it was to teach people how to use it compared to Drupal or Joomla!, I could see that it probably was going to be a major player in the CRM market, so I decided to really delve into that, Chris.
Chris Badgett: When did you make the jump from working with WordPress and building projects, or maybe charging for clients and things, to building a podcast around the WordPress topic?
Jonathan Denwood: Well, it was really like most things. What happened was obviously for a couple years I was doing okay and then the recession hit and it was really quite vicious in Northern Nevada. A lot of my customer base was local and a lot of it went bust.
Chris Badgett: Were these freelance small-business clients that you were building WordPress websites for or what’s the customer base?
Jonathan Denwood: A lot of that. Also, a lot of couple medium clients that would hire me on retainers. They went under as well. It was a bit of a blood bath in Northern Nevada when it came to business. The first couple of years when I moved, it was booming. There was construction everywhere, Chris. It was practically impossible to get yourself booked into any kind of restaurant almost any day of the week.
Chris Badgett: Wow.
Jonathan Denwood: There was so many people in the construction industry building things in Northern Nevada. In a six-month period it practically all disappeared. Luckily I had money in the bank, but also my customer supply, so I thought I need to get more clients and more exposure outside of Northern Nevada, how to do that? I met my first co-host of WP-Tonic, Bill Conrad, and he was big into podcasting. He said, “Why don’t you do a podcast and I’ll be your co-host?” I thought this must be because I’ve been thinking about it for over six, seven months, but I just couldn’t be bothered to do that. Like most things, isn’t it Chris? It’s that first step, isn’t it?
Chris Badgett: Right and here you are. I’m on the WP-Tonic website right now and I’m just going to get your current podcast number.
Jonathan Denwood: I think it’s at 184, aye?
Chris Badgett: 185.
Jonathan Denwood: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, so here you are. How long ago was that from this recording did you start podcasting?
Jonathan Denwood: I think that must’ve been about probably on to almost three years now. It’s pretty similar to Matt of the Matt Report. It’s been a real education. It’s been a real eye opener doing the podcast. I practically know everybody in the WordPress community now. I’m blessed with a fantastic co-host, another great co-host, John Locke, who came on board I think eight, nine months ago. With his help we’ve built the audience. Well, the past two to three months we’ve doubled our audience.
Chris Badgett: Oh, that’s fantastic. Well, let’s park it right here for a little bit on podcasting. One of the questions that I get asked all the time from course creators and digital entrepreneurs is what kind of marketing works? I always tell them three things. There’s inbound, outbound and relationship. Inbound is content marketing. Outbound is actually prospecting and going places, events, sending cold emails, calls, all that stuff. Then there’s relationships. For me, podcasting has been a huge content-creation machine and also relationship building vehicle. What have you discovered in your journey with, now, two podcasts, WP-Tonic and the Mail-Right podcast?
Jonathan Denwood: Well, I do agree with you. I think the power of podcasting is that I was kind of brought up on the BBC. I was brought up on Radio 4, Radio 3. Won’t mean a lot to your US listeners, but anybody based in the UK would understand.
Chris Badgett: That’s like NPR in the US, right?
Jonathan Denwood: Yeah, yeah.
Chris Badgett: National Public Radio.
Jonathan Denwood: Yeah. I was kind of brought up on that really and I think the power of podcasting is that there’s something very personal about it. If they listen to your podcast and become regular listeners, they become very loyal supporters and listeners to the show. I think that kind of building relationship is powerful much more than other mediums. I think the other thing that you’ve got to realize is my interests are really guided by the necessities of the business. At the present moment there’s two areas that I’ve become obsessed about. That’s SEO, search engine optimization, and outbound marketing. The other one is Facebook. They are the two areas over the past year that I’ve totally engrossed myself in.
Chris Badgett: Okay.
Jonathan Denwood: I think if you’re selling any kind of online service or marketing a course, a membership website, an eCommerce product, it doesn’t really matter what it is. If you really don’t have a fundamental understanding of SEO and a fundamental understanding of Facebook, I really think you’re going to find things difficult.
Chris Badgett: Absolutely and I mean, just on the podcasting note, first of all, I just love it and I love the relationships, but it’s so powerful for SEO. First of all, for me anyways, it’s easier to talk and to have a conversation with somebody like yourself. This becomes a blog post that gets also syndicated through iTunes and other places. Also, I use a service called Rev to get the audio transcribed, so when the podcast is published, every single word we’re saying here becomes a keyword phrase that gets indexed. When people are googling for how to grow an online course business with podcasting, that keyword phrase is just right there in the text and now they’re going to find this interview. It’s mostly about, in my work view, the long-tail keyword phrases that are really niche focused.
Like you mentioned, you’re in the WordPress community and the custom post types and the menus and the different versions and all this stuff, there’s all this terminology that people are trying to figure out. Podcasting is just a way to crank out that SEO stuff, especially if you just do one little thing, which makes it easier for SEO stuff to be indexed by having a transcript. What are some of your tips and tricks on SEO?
Jonathan Denwood: Well, you’ve really got to think about it because you did the smart thing in a way really because your podcast is very much aimed at what your SaaS project product is aimed at. When I decided to go at the time I was a traditional, regional, mostly WordPress, but I would also delve in some other CRMs if WordPress wasn’t suitable. I’ve moved that onto becoming a totally WordPress base and moving away from the traditional agency model to some degree to a maintenance-security company aimed at small to medium professional businesses. That’s the focus on the commercial side of WP-Tonic and the podcast is about the general community.
In SEO terms, the spread of terms are much more broader than what would naturally be produced. Your show is really around a topic where your SaaS product is also focused on. The podcast was devout before I decided to move down that specific WordPress channel. I’ve been trying to match up and trying to teach Google what areas that I wanted to see and what areas I don’t, so internal link structure. The problem with SEO is everybody thinks that there’s tricks, but the success in SEO really, Chris, is methodical method. Having a checklist for your posts and making all the images tagged correctly.
Chris Badgett: Yeah.
Jonathan Denwood: Making sure that you got a certain level of links, internal links, to other pages. Pruning, as I call it, actually doing a three-month to six-month audit and either removing pages that are not getting traffic or redirecting them so that they’re redirected to pages that are getting a certain level of traffic. Doing that basically. Not just writing a post just for the sake of writing it, actually look. There’s a number of tools. The one that I use is SEO Rush is actually looking at the competitors. If I’ve got an idea for a post, what phrases, what terms, are getting enough volume to make it worthwhile? I’m a great believer of a guy called Brian Dean. I don’t know if you’ve heard of him.
Chris Badgett: Is he the Backlinko?
Jonathan Denwood: Yes, yes.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, there’s a few people I really listen to on SEO. I like him. I’ve also learned a lot from Rebecca Gill.
Jonathan Denwood: Yes, Rebecca Gill’s been on the show. She’s doing a virtual conference next week and I’m actually joining that actually as a participant. I’ve learned a lot from Rebecca and I do agree with her philosophy on that. Back to Brian Dean, a lot of people say if you publish good content and you publish enough of it, you will get traffic. I just totally disagree with that. I think that’s the road to madness basically. I think all you’ve got to do is do some pre-investigation and then you’ve got to write something that’s better than the competition. Then you go back to it periodically to update it and you improve it. Then you’ve got to market that content vigorously. You’ve got to do outreach through email, telephone and you’ve got to tell. That’s part of your research. People that have utilized similar content before and then tell them about your better content.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, so Brian Dean is at backlinko.com. One of the things I’ve learned from him was just a technique called the Skyscraper Technique, which is pretty much what you’re saying where find the best post on whatever the phrase is and just make something better. Make it long. Make it in depth. Spend a lot of time researching and making sure it’s adding value. You can put some content upgrades on there where people opt-in, they get something else and now you’re building your email list, but the first goal is just getting that SEO value. I would rather have one giant post come out in 60 days as opposed to doing a 250 or 500-word blog post a day for 60 days. I would much rather have that one really awesome blog post.
Jonathan Denwood: Yeah, that’s what I say. I think like most battles, most battles are won really before the first shot is even fired. Battles, to use the military [inaudible 00:22:20], are a bit of a contradiction. I think you can apply it to web businesses. What do I mean by this? Well, most battle plans are useless. When the first shot is the actual, how the battle will commence goes out the window because there’s just too many variables. On the other hand, making sure if you’ve got three times more tanks and you got three times more artillery and you’ve got a good idea of the tactics of your opposition and you know what tactics will appeal to them and you make sure that you got overwhelming folks to meet, which is pretty obvious what they’re going to do, there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to win, isn’t it Chris?
Chris Badgett: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.
Jonathan Denwood: There’s the contradiction. What I mean is most battles are won before they’re even fought. Just blogging for the sake of blogging, just churning out content and hoping that people will find it, unless you’re a big name in that specific area, it’s very unlikely that’s going to happen. Isn’t it?
Chris Badgett: That’s true. I love what you’re saying too about checklists. The habits are almost even more important than the strategy. For example, when we publish on LifterLMS and we publish a YouTube video, even this podcast episode we’re doing right now, it’s also a video. That’s very intentional because we’re going to have a SEO-optimized title. We’re going to actually fill out the YouTube description. In the first part there’s going to be a link to our site. It’s clickable in Google and YouTube. We’re going to use strategically smart tags. Applying some tags to help tell Google what it’s all about, or YouTube. Then we’ll also upload the transcript. All that stuff, that’s just part of a checklist. Just the very fact that we do that, I mean, the battle is won before it’s even fought. That’s what it’s all about, the habit. It’s not about the hustle and the struggle of 18-hour days. It’s about having a smart check. I can hustle and I have had plenty of 18-hour days in my life, but what I’d really prefer are great habits and great checklists.
Jonathan Denwood: Well, now you’ve got to have good content, folks. I will say that I, for various reasons, am the worst person for this. Having a good co-host on the WP-Tonic, he has helped on that side considerably. Also, educating myself over the past eight months in this area has really shown me also. You also got to have some plan on your website with internal link structure. That should be part of your pruning exercise. We’re going through a major pruning of the WP-Tonic website as we talk. We’ve been getting rid of a lot of the pages that are not getting traffic. There’s basically diluting your domain authority. That’s the problem with that.
Obviously WP Curve got taken over by GoDaddy, so they’re not so active in their content marketing as they were. Obviously, WP Site Care, they have a small team that’s just dedicated to that. I’m just looking to improve the overall traffic numbers to the WP-Tonic site and trying to get the Tonic site on page one of certain key terms and then the fight’s on. The only terrible thing about organic search is that it’s well known that if you’re in the top three, you get 17% of all traffic. If you’re below those three, you get about five to maybe 3% of the gravy. That’s the terrible thing about it, isn’t it Chris?
Chris Badgett: Definitely. Well, let me ask you another question. Just in general, you mentioned having a co-host has been helpful and I would say in general, finding partnerships in business is a good thing. I couldn’t do what I do without a strong partnership. In terms of podcasting specifically, what is the value of a co-host? Could you speak to that and also just the power of partnerships in general and business?
Jonathan Denwood: I think it’s like anything. I know partnership is really like a marriage. I’m unfortunately divorced and going through the experience of a bad marriage isn’t a fantastic experience even though I had a large part to do with that. It’s very similar to a bad partnership in business. Isn’t it, Chris? It’s a terrible experience. On the other hand, you meet a lot of people that say, “Oh, I will never go into partnership with other people and so I had this bad experience.” Well, I just don’t agree with that.
The person I learned is Brian Clark from StudioPress when I had him on my podcast. We also had a couple discussions. We spent a little bit of time in private discussing some things with me. He said that his great success with StudioPress and other companies were finding great partners and learning the things you lack finding a partner that can do the things that you can’t do, that enjoys doing them. He strongly advised me to look for strong partners. One of the problems with Mail-Right is that I’ve tried to do everything myself with that. I’m actively looking to get a partner to help. It’s got to the stage where I think it needs a partner to help with that.
Chris Badgett: I just want to pick up your story right here for the listener. Mail-Right is another podcast you do besides WP-Tonic, but what is the Mail-Right product or what direction is it? What problems is it trying to solve and who does it serve?
Jonathan Denwood: Well, I think we’re mostly used by agents and brokerages. Let’s be frank about it. It’s a commission-based business. The actual facts of the industry are quite brutal actually. Most people when they become certified, registered and do their state exam, after one-year period almost 70% of those that entered the industry no longer are practicing real estate agents.
Chris Badgett: Let me just jump in there too and say that I think this is also something that people don’t talk about in the online-course industry, which is a lot of people try to start an online course. They try to market it. You hear a lot about the people who made it and have this awesome course, but there’s this huge number of people it didn’t work out so well for. That’s the problem I like to attack with LifterLMS. It’s like, how do we help more people find success or set them up for success? That’s what you’re doing, right, with Mail-Right? Are you working on that problem of a lot of realtors don’t make it?
Jonathan Denwood: Well, the reason why they don’t make it is they exhaust their friends and family.
Chris Badgett: You only have so many of those.
Jonathan Denwood: Yeah. You’ve then got to market. You’ve then got to become an actual business. Most real estate agents don’t realize because they normally come from being employees to becoming their own boss.
Chris Badgett: They’re entrepreneurs. I mean, it’s an entrepreneurship even if you work at a brokerage.
Jonathan Denwood: Yeah, totally because a brokerage will not really do much. They expect you as a self-employed real estate agent to market yourself, right. They will offer certain advice, certain products. I’m not being dismissive here. I’m just telling it as it is. A lot of the brokerages advice was very the way they built their business 20 years ago. It’s not really a very effective advice on the how to build up a successful real estate business in 2017.
Chris Badgett: Yeah and for those people listening, I’d encourage you to check out in the archives of LMS Cast. We have some podcast episodes specifically for the real estate industry where we talk about courses that people can make if you’re a real estate agent or a broker and you’re trying to get either seller or buyer leads. I talked about this too when I was on your podcast at the Mail-Right show, so look it up over on the Mail-Right podcast. Yeah, the world changed dramatically and how people shop for real estate with the growing internet, all the apps, smartphone. I mean, the whole game is completely changed. It’s not gone like travel agents, but it’s been dramatically disrupted in the past 10 years.
Jonathan Denwood: It’s changed. I actually do believe that there always will be a place for a quality real estate agent. It is normally the biggest asset that a private individual holds.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, it’s not like a vacation. You might be spending 200, 300, $500,000. I mean, there’s a place for service there.
Jonathan Denwood: When you’re talking about one of the most important purchases and trying to negotiate face-to-face with the other person in a businesslike way that doesn’t inject enormous emotion is impossible for most individuals. That’s why they hire a real estate agent because it’s aggravating. It’s not going to be an easy road. The actual finding of property, that’s where things have changed enormously. What Mail-Right does is it offers a suite of elements to help the agent. We write five to seven professionally written stories. A couple of them, they’re all kind of person focused, uplifting, interesting stories. Agents, they should building up their database. That’s the whole point of the first two, three years as a real estate agent is building up your database.
That database really needs to be broken up into different sections; those that you feel are actively looking for property, those in the next year might be moving or looking to buy or sell. Then the biggest of your list are people that are not actively in the market, but you need to touch them every month just to keep your face in front of the audience. They might know somebody that is either buying or selling. Sending them dry, kind of, factual what the market is doing in the next six months isn’t appropriate to their audience, so we provide some really short, fun stories that they can choose one and send it. It has an interface that’s really easy to use. Then we have a social media calendar where we actually fill that calendar in with content at the first of the month with relevant content that would be expected from a real estate agent. That’s pushed to the agent’s Twitter and their Facebook business page. They can add content to it as well. It has a library system as well.
Chris Badgett: That’s incredible. I just want to point out just the power of niching down. You’re really getting niche focused on serving this particular type of customer and how awesome that is. It’s really easy to think in the things that have already been done. Like in the online-course world, for example, there’s a lot of technology courses like Teamtreehouse, lynda.com, Codecademy, but that’s just the early adopters in the market. There’s so many other things to teach online. There’s whole industries that are barely getting started coming online. When it comes to things like marketing and sales, yeah, internet marketing has been around for a long time and auto responders and building landing pages and opt-in pages and all that stuff.
People like you, me who are WordPress and marketing technologists, we are the early adopters. If you take that same set of tools and give it to someone who’s not technical and not planning on becoming technical, it’s overkill and it’s too complicated. It doesn’t work. They need people like you and Mail-Right to use the same thinking as an internet marketer, but give them the best and only essential pieces as a combined software solution to serve them in as frictionless a method as possible. There’s just such a big opportunity there. The reality is it’s not done. Just because Leadpages, MailChimp, Fusion Soft, or whatever, already exist, there’s still this huge opportunity to serve a really specific market like you are, so I commend you for that.
Jonathan Denwood: I think you’re so right, Chris. Your audience that obviously comes to listen about courses, that’s the one thing I think they could learn about me waffling on about real estate. You really need to be successful in your course, in your target. You should niche-ify as much as possible. Obviously you could overdo it, but in reality unless it’s a very, very, very niche audience, you’re still going to be talking in the tens of thousands if you’re talking about a global world market, aren’t you?
Chris Badgett: Yeah, I mean, whatever Kevin Kelly wrote about 1,000 true fans, you only need 100 people paying you $1,000 a year or a 1,000 people paying you a $100 a year and now you have a lifestyle business or whatever.
Jonathan Denwood: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: I recently did an interview with somebody who was saying go four levels deep. Don’t do writers or salespeople. Take it down, then take it down again and then take it down again. Then you have a niche market.
Jonathan Denwood: Yeah, I’d probably agree. Obviously there’s a lot of variables there to get in on the industry. To finish off, we have my final product, which is aimed at helping real estate agents with open houses about actually getting people to give them their contact details, which then they can go into the monthly newsletter. We give them a product that helps them on a tablet get those details into the system much more easier.
Chris Badgett: That’s beautiful. I just want to highlight that one point right there. As a technologist and marketer, we know the power of building the email list, but so much of the world is not. They’re not technologists or internet marketers, so if you can help people no matter what age or whatever, just the fact that they’re not technical, help them with the best practice like capturing leads in an open house. Typically, people come to the house and they walk around and there’s not necessarily a way to get the email. I love that. You’re making it easy for someone to kind of step into modern marketing.
Jonathan Denwood: The one here I decided that we weren’t going to go down was to turn Mail-Right into a CRM.
Chris Badgett: Yeah.
Jonathan Denwood: There’s over half a dozen industry-focused CRMs. What the CRM is, it’s a customer-relation management system. A system we will integrate with two to three of the leading ones. To be quite truthful though, I have managed to get over 100 users to Mail-Right, but it’s been a lot harder because what I didn’t take into account folks is my biggest competitor was none of the other, and there is a lot of marketing software products aimed at real estate agent folks. There is a ton of them. None of them are my real competitor. Guess what my real competitor is, Chris.
Chris Badgett: I don’t know. Is it something from the internet marketing world?
Jonathan Denwood: No. My biggest competitor is doing nothing.
Chris Badgett: Oh, I see. Yeah, so this comes down to the issue that I like to describe as, I’m not saying this is necessarily the case with you, but you have to offer a solution and not a suggestion. If somebody feels like it’s a suggestion, it’s easy to do nothing. That might just be a communication or a marketing problem or a feature problem, or whatever, but what’s your take on it, on your competition?
Jonathan Denwood: It’s just easier even though you know that you need to touch base with your clientele more often. You need to keep yourself up. Real estate agents and also most people, this applies to a lot of businesses, is a lot of freelancers or business owners, they get into what I call the figure of eight problem. The figure eight is I’m looking for clients. I’m looking for clients. I’m looking for clients. I’m looking. I get clients. Now I’ve got to do the work. Got to do the work. Got to do the work. I’ve got no time to market. I’ve got no time to market. Then, I’ve got no clients. I’ve got no clients. I’ve got no clients, so I’ve got to market now. Oh, I’ve got clients. They’re in that perpetual hamster wheel, that figure eight. Real estate agents are like that. You’ve got to provide services where they could spend half an hour to add some local content, but they also know that their Facebook page will be updated. The reason why that’s important is most of the people that are going to hire you are sussing you out online about three to six months before they hire you.
Chris Badgett: Yeah.
Jonathan Denwood: If you can’t market yourself effectively online as a real estate agent, why would they think that you would be able to market their home effectively?
Chris Badgett: Yeah, I love that. I mean, that’s the best marketing advice I’ve ever heard. I would say show, don’t tell. Talk is cheap. Yeah, it’s good to have good communication, but showing is always better than telling.
Jonathan Denwood: We provide programs, but about your main question, how to get over it because I didn’t know my main enemy would be to do nothing.
Chris Badgett: I just want to say I think that’s true for a lot of course creators too. They’re trying to help people, but they’re actually bumping up against this exact same issue, but the people they’re trying to help might just do nothing. What would you tell them to do? What’s your advice or what’s your experience?
Jonathan Denwood: There’s only two drivers that gets people to overcome. Nobody will be criticized normally for doing nothing. Only when they come close to death and they realize they wasted their life, right?
Chris Badgett: Right.
Jonathan Denwood: Most people do not get criticized for doing nothing. They get a lot of criticism, “Well, you spent 3,000 on a course, you dodo, on online courses or you bought their product.” There’s two main drivers and that’s fear and greed. Basically, we’re adding some new functionality because most agents want to get leads. What you classify as a lead, we could discuss that for a whole new episode. We’re going to hopefully with our update provide the ability at a reasonable price to get a reasonably good quality lead that any professional should have a chance of turning into a commission check. We’re going to be introducing that because that appeals to the greed element of that thing. If you can find a product that can help either on the greed side or can help on the fear side that they are normally two strong drivers to overcome what is your real main competitor, which is doing nothing.
Chris Badgett: Very well said. I appreciate that. Appealing to somebody’s greed or another way to say that would be their self interest.
Jonathan Denwood: Yes, a nicer way to put it.
Chris Badgett: That’s good. I mean, that’s not a bad thing to really appeal to that. I’m not a big believer in fake scarcity or anything like that, but there is a lot of things that people, I wouldn’t say should be fearful about, but let me PC it again, have some concern about. If we look at things like automation like truck driving, number one job in the United States. We see self-driving cars and logistics transportation coming, so automation, it is an issue for the future. Jobs are going to change and what’s going to be in demand is going to be creative problem solving that is beyond the ability of the computer algorithm or robotics. I wouldn’t say be fearful about that, but have some concern. If you’re going to position yourself or your business, or strategically for your family or whatever for the future, let’s have a healthy dose of concern. Whatever your market or your niche is, think about greed, think about self interest, think about fear, think about concern and really address those.
Jonathan Denwood: Well, I think when it comes to your course listeners, I think they’ve really got to put themselves in the mind of the consumer of the course and what are the drivers that would drive somebody to pay for your course. You’ve got to be very honest about it.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, yeah, very well said. Well, Jonathan Denwood ladies and gentlemen. I want to honor you and thank you for coming on the show and sharing your life experience. You mentioned how you got into multimedia in the early days. We live in a world of abundance. As an online-course creator or online business builder, times are interesting, but we have all these powerful tools that you never had more at your fingertips. The world may be challenging and complex, but there is also a level of abundance here. There’s opportunities to be had. Jonathan, you sharing your experience helps us see how to think about that and how to leverage these tools and learn from some of the things that you’ve done as we approach our online businesses. Thank you for coming on the show. Do you have any final thoughts and also can you let us know where people can find out more about you?
Jonathan Denwood: Actually, I was thinking about this and you probably might not agree with this or you might agree with this. I think a lot of people, especially when they’re starting off, they want to devout the website by your fantastic product if they’re looking at building a course and trying to do this themselves. I’d really advise them, I don’t think it’s worth spending the time on that. I think it’s better if you buy Chris’ fantastic product, but then hire a developer to make your website and integrate it. I would spend the time learning the fundamentals of online marketing, of SEO, of email marketing, of utilizing Facebook paid advertisement. Just really try getting that.
You should be really concentrating on how you’re going to get clients to your great website and get them to sign up for your course. Really, there’s only so many hours in the day and I think for a reasonable price it’s going to be reasonably easy to get a decent developer and get that site up and running. I think it’s not feasible for you to buy a SEO expert or expert to do all this marketing. It’s just too many hours and it would be out of your price range. That’s where you should be concentrating your time and learning the knowledge.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. I 100% agree with you. You can’t do it all. Business is really just two things; marketing and innovation. Innovation is your course and then there’s all this marketing. The LMS software, the online course and the membership site software, that’s just a tool to get it done. Yes, it adds value, but the places where the most value are is in your course itself, the content and the method that you teach and also in your marketing strategy for getting how are you going to get that out especially if you’re new and relatively unknown. Where can people find you on the interwebs, John?
Jonathan Denwood: I’m really easy to find. Just put Jonathan Denwood into Google and you’ll just find me. I’m pretty active on my Twitter feed. That’s @JonathanDenwood. The WP-Tonic and the WP Mail-Right site, but the WP-Tonic, we have a large group of people and it’s got a lot of information about WordPress. That’s at www.wp-tonic.com. There is a lot. We’ve also recently been doing audit and we were amazed at the amount of pages that are on that website. If you’re in real estate plus looking to start your own course, do look at the Mail-Right product because it’s a fantastic value and we are going to be updating it in the near future. I feel it’s going to become a really fantastic, interesting product, Chris.
Chris Badgett: Awesome. Well, thank you for coming on the show, Jonathan. I really appreciate it.
Jonathan Denwood: Thank you, Chris.

EPISODE 142

How to Create a Lifestyle Business through Software Training Courses and More with Joseph Michael

Learn how to create a lifestyle business through software training courses and more with Joseph Michael in this episode of LMScast with Chris Badgett of LifterLMS. Joseph is a course creator of Learn Scrivener Fast, Easy Course Creation, and some other projects. He shares his story and tips on finding your niche and community building.

Joseph has been entrepreneurial his whole life. But in 2013 he was working a corporate job. He had tried everything from real estate to network marketing, and he failed at them. So Joseph started looking for a side job delivering pizzas, but he never got one. His corporate job was not going anywhere, and he could not land a side job. Then Joseph discovered the massive opportunity in the world of online education. He found an opportunity to teach people how to use Scrivener. So during his lunch breaks he would work on researching and developing a course on how to use Scrivener. This ultimately set him down the path of course creation that brought him to where he is today.

Finding the time to work on creating online courses can be difficult, especially when you have other things going on in your life. But you just have to work with what you have and carve out any time possible to work on your course. Chris and Joseph also talk about pricing for your course, and Joseph shares why he ultimately decided to have a three tier price system. Eliciting feedback from your audience can also help you guide your course development.

Chris and Joseph dive into the online course landscape and how the people who make a product or software are rarely the same people that make the training around it. Joseph shares a phenomenal tip on how to find a niche to build your course around. When you are in a niche it is also easier to figure out what to teach, because what there is to teach in that niche is so narrowed down. Building in a niche is also easier when you put yourself in the customers’ shoes and think about the questions and desires they would have.

Joseph talks about how breaking down your course into smaller segments will also help the customer learn, because they can learn something new really quickly if they don’t have a large chunk of time to work with.

You won’t have everything figured out at the start, so constant learning and adoption of innovations is necessary for growth and development. When Joseph started his Scrivener course, he had his customers download a PDF that had a link to his page, and his website had protected pages. You have to just start out with what you have, and you can always improve it later. When you first get started, it is also important to not compare yourself to people who have been working in the industry for much longer than you.

To learn more about Joseph Michael you can check out learnscrivenerfast.com, easycoursecreation.com, and josephmichael.net. You can find him on Twitter @ScrivenerCoach

You can post comments and subscribe to our newsletter for updates, developments, and future episodes of LMScast. Thank you for joining us.

Chris Badgett: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. My name is Chris Badgett, and today we’ve got a special guest. Joseph Michael is a multiple time course creator of Learn Scrivener Fast, Easy Course Creation, and some other projects he’s been working on that we’re going to get into. I wanted to get Joseph on the show because he’s just had an interesting run in online course creation starting in, I believe, 2013.
I pulled a quote off of your About page, which is, “In July 2013, Joseph started his online business out of his 2002 Honda Civic during his lunch breaks.” First Joseph, thank you for coming on the show, and can you tell us a little bit about your origin story and how you got to where you are today as a course creator?
Joseph Michael: Yeah, man sure. Thanks, first of all, for having me. I love talking about this stuff. I’m honored to come on here and kind of share a little bit of my journey and hope that it can inspire whoever is watching or listening, because it really is one of those things that, I don’t want to say I kind of fell into, but I was kind of on the other side and thinking, I see how some people could do that but not me.
If somebody is out there hearing that, I totally relate to that. I’ll just kind of dive in and start back in 2013 to the Honda Civic story basically. Kind of in a nutshell, it was working a corporate job, had been entrepreneurial like my whole life. Had tried a million different other things, everything from real estate, to network marketing, to you name it, kind of failed at it. I don’t really look at it as failures anymore because it all led up to something else. It was all experience, right?
Got to the point where really I had settled down in my corporate job. I mean, it was a good job. I wasn’t complaining. I was thankful for it, but if you’re an entrepreneur, if you’re a natural creator, there’s just something inside you that just kind of eats away at you. I kept shoving that down thinking, “I’ve tried that before, I’ve done that. It’s time to just suck it up, put in your time, and do what I guess everybody else does,” or whatever.
I’d literally kind of quit on my dreams and hopes of one day being able to travel more and spend more time with the family. I was like, “I am locked into my nine to five job. It’s all it’s going to do.” I was trying to hustle, trying to climb the corporate ladder and it was tough. There were layoffs happening and downsizing and was like … I remember one time, my job specifically for some reason was always in limbo because it was one of the things that they could just cut and save money on the budget.
I remember one time my boss came in like literally gave me a hug and was like, “I’m sorry. We had a meeting and it looks like they’re going to be eliminating your position. There’s nothing we can do.” I’m like, oh. I went home over the weekend that time and I’m telling my wife I’m like, “I’m going to lose my job.” Then they come back on Monday and they’d be like, “Oh well, hold on a minute. We might be able to work something out.” I’d just be literally hanging by a thread for like months and I’m like, “I can’t do this anymore. Like I hate this.” My security, my sleep at night is in somebody else’s hands, right?
That’s when I kind of started looking for something and I was like, I’m going old school route. I’m like all right, I guess I’ve got to go start waiting tables at night or try and go deliver pizzas. I thought at least delivering pizzas I could listen to something. That’s what I tried to do and I was literally going to … I mean Imo’s is …
I’m from St. Louis so like Imo’s is a popular pizza chain here. I went to a couple of different Imo’s, Domino’s, and I literally kept getting turned down by these pizza places because they were like, “Well, you’ve never delivered pizzas before,” I’m like, “Give me an address, I will deliver the pizza to it.”
Anyway it was like this ego blow. I’m like, I’m tired of my corporate job now because it’s not looking very promising. I can’t get an extra side job, so literally I’m like, “Man, what else can I do with some of my skills?” That’s when I turned online and I was like, let me just start researching some stuff online. Let me see if there’s any way out there. I was kind of desperate. I just stumbled across this whole online education sort of world that I was like regular people are packaging up stuff that they know or packaging up something that they’re passionate about or excited about and they’re literally teaching it and people are paying for it happily.
It’s like this win-win, because back when I was looking into that stuff it was like kind of scammy. It was like you had to sell stuff on eBay and I’m like, “I don’t know how to make anything.” I’m picturing myself making some crafts in my garage or something. So yeah, I literally just dove in, had no idea what I was doing, which is kind of something I tell people it’s like you’ve got to just start somewhere, anywhere. You’re never going to have it all figured out.
The pieces don’t start coming to you until you start actually moving. That’s when the idea starts happening. I started with a blog, like most people do. I started just blogging about productivity and self-help kind of stuff. I was using this program to like organize all my chaos. I had found it from a recommendation of a writer. It was called Scrivener. It’s this software that most people are familiar with it from writing long-form works of written text like novels and things like that, right?
But I found that it was incredibly useful to organize all kinds of content, like your blog and your blog posts and your social media and like everything. It’s really just like a database management tool. I was using it and then I kept stumbling across people saying, “Hey, I’m having trouble learning this program called Scrivener,” and of course it’s kind of like that new car effect. You don’t see any of these cars out on the road and then you buy a certain model car and all of a sudden you’re like, they’re everywhere.
Same thing with Scrivener. I just happened to notice all these comments about this software. Then one day I was always a fan of Michael Hyatt’s blog, michaelhyatt.com. He blogs about all kind of stuff, leadership, tech tools, and all kinds of good stuff. He talked about Scrivener and somewhere in these hundreds of comments that people were talking about where it’s like, “Man, this thing is hard to learn. I wish I could use it. I gave up on it.” Then somewhere in there I think Michael mentioned, “If there was a course on it, I would buy it today. I’m surprised there’s not.”
Then I was like, wait a minute, there’s not? So I kind of started researching and fast-forward a couple of years, I was the one who created that course for it and it took off. It kind of really sort of put me on the map and I was able to invest a lot of time and energy into it. That was sort of my ticket to live the lifestyle that I’ve always dreamed of that I had thought was too good to be true.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. So you found a real pain point.
Joseph Michael: Exactly. That’s what it all comes down to.
Chris Badgett: Tell me a little bit about the corporate job in the sense that many people, when they’re in that situation, they have no time to pursue their creative endeavor on top of family and everything else. How did you make the space or how did you figure out the time question?
Joseph Michael: Yeah man, that is tough especially, and we talked about this a little bit before we jumped on our call here, if you’ve got little kids, you’ve got a family, you’re juggling a bunch of things. If you’re not working, then it’s family time. If you’re not doing that, you’re shuffling the kids across to their sports and whatnot.
I just had to look at my day and think all right, I had this idea. I was passionate about this thing. I wanted to get it out there, but I was like where and when am I going to do this thing? It’s obviously going to take quite a few hours to put together, and I knew everybody has the same amount of hours in a day, right? Some people can get an extreme amount done and others it just seems like they never do, and what’s the difference?
I started looking at, there’s a few different slots that I could carve out time. It was either with my family at home at night, like I probably got home and I really wasn’t okay with that because that was really important to me. I try to protect that. It was either staying up late, like after the family went to bed. I’m not really a night owl or waking up really early, and I’m not really a morning person either.
Chris Badgett: Right.
Joseph Michael: I was like, well, you know what? I have got this one hour lunch break at work and instead of going out with the guys or doing whatever, just sitting there in my car half the time I bring my lunch and just sit there and stare at the window. Sometimes I’d even take a nap. I was like, why don’t I use that as like a productive hour? Literally I brought my laptop in the car and it’s a funny little hack. I would drive to a nearby Starbucks, sit in the parking lot so I could tap into their Wi-Fi.
It was too loud to go inside Starbucks and I wanted to record tutorial videos for my course. I bought this cheap little like $40 microphone, plugs in USB. I think it was a Blue Snowflake or something like that. I would sit in my car and tap into their Wi-Fi and just bang out one little tutorial at a time. In an hour’s time I could do two or three of them. Sooner or later that started to add up and all of a sudden I was like, “Hey, I’ve got kind of enough to put this out into the market.”
So you just do what you’ve got to do. I knew it wasn’t going to be forever. I was hoping anyway and then carving out any other extra time you had. If the wife was taking the kids out for the afternoon on a weekend or something I’m like okay, cool. I’d run down to the basement, I knew exactly what I was working on and just carving those little slots in. You’ve just got to be creative.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, that’s awesome. It’s not always like some Himalayan push over a weekend or a week. It might be just an hour over the course of a year. You’ve got to work with what you have.
Joseph Michael: Exactly.
Chris Badgett: Tell us a little bit about when you knew you were onto something. I mean you saw something. You saw a high profile person with a big audience with a bunch of … You saw trends with a pain point around not being able to figure out a software tool. After you launched the course, when did you realize or get some indicators that this might just work?
Joseph Michael: I did something that looking back is something I teach now that I did that I kind of fell into that was a stroke of good luck, that I didn’t know it was actually something you should do. It’s kind of co-created with the audience that might want your product, so sort of validating it as I was making it.
I found out early on that a lot of writer folks hang out on Twitter. They would chat all day long kind of about all these different little quirks, whether it’s Scrivener or … I just kind of found all these hashtags. It was sort of like a game to me like oh, here’s another hashtag that I find out where a bunch of writers are at, AmWriting for instance, a lot of writers they write in the a.m. and they’re talking about their struggles of writing or whatnot.
Chris Badgett: Does that still work today by the way?
Joseph Michael: Oh absolutely.
Chris Badgett: Okay.
Joseph Michael: Yeah, absolutely. In fact, I still go into the same hashtags and jump into the same conversations as I did then. It’s not something you can do at scale, like forever, but hey, in the beginning I didn’t have an audience. I didn’t have an email list. I didn’t have these things, and so you’ve got to do some of that groundwork in the beginning, but that was such a blessing for me then because I was able to talk with these people, find out their real struggles right from them, and just open up the conversation to where somebody might mention, “Hey, I’m using Scrivener. Has anybody ever used this corkboard feature before? How do I do this or that?”
I would jump in and be like, “Well, here’s how you do it,” and I’d send them a little screenshot and because it was fresh in my mind and they’re like, “Wow, thanks.” We’d just jump, “Have you tried this feature?” “No,” and then by maybe the third of fourth back and forth, I might say, “Hey by the way, I’m creating a course on this to help people learn it faster. Would you be interested in signing up as a beta member or testing it out for me?” Nine times out of ten, they’re like, “Ah, yeah. That would be awesome. I’ve struggled to learn it.”
I would just ask them questions, “What other things did you struggle with?” Those kind of questions and literally that’s where my content came from. I could see right away the excitement from real people while I was making it. Now, did I know for sure if it was going to sell, if there was a price tag on it? Not quite, but I started out slow. I think I used Gumroad at the time just like a quick or PayPal or something, but Gumroad allowed you to do a coupon code.
So I was super afraid to charge money for the course, so what I did was I just created like I think very first it was like 35 bucks and I created a $35 off coupon. I would go onto Twitter, have these conversations and I’d be like, “Here’s a free pass essentially. My course is for sale. Here’s a free pass in exchange for some feedback and what not.” People were like taking me up on that, taking me up on that. They were like, “How much is it going to be when you charge a full price?” I’m like, “35 bucks.” They’re like, “Oh man, I would have paid triple that. This is really well done and this is …”
My confidence started boosting after that and I’d more and more stuff to it. Eventually got to the point where it was a $95 product and people were thanking me all day long and saying, “Man, I would have paid double this.” Started adding in interviews with other writers and adding in all kinds of extra stuff to where today we’ve got three different packages really, because I wanted to keep it afforded for the struggling writer who just wants to learn Scrivener.
We’ve got three different price tiers. It goes all the way up to 295, still super affordable. I always wanted to offer like lifetime access that somebody could just literally have an encyclopedia of all things Scrivener right in front of them any time they wanted. So yeah, that’s sort of how I started. A lot of groundwork in the beginning, but it was really paid off because I was in there get those actual wording from the customers.
Chris Badgett: How do you do your pricing tiers? You just mentioned pricing, so I just wanted to capture that.
Joseph Michael: Yeah. I experiment a lot. I think the pricing game is a funny one because if you ask 10 different people, nobody is like, “I have a definitive answer on pricing,” because there are just so many variables, and you really got to know your market, the competition in your market, what is your value, what is your customers able to pay and what are they willing to pay? There’s all these variables, so you’ve kind of got to start somewhere with an educated guess. Obviously, I started with an educated guess. Scrivener the software was 45 bucks, I thought well …
Chris Badgett: So if they can pay for that.
Joseph Michael: Yeah, if they can pay for that, then they can pay for my course to learn it, right? Then people were challenging me on that going, “Joe, you went to college, right?” I’m like, “Yeah.” “Did you take a computer course on like Microsoft or something?” I’m like, “Yeah, I did.” “How much was that?” “Well, that was like 1,500 bucks.” That’s way more than the software cost. They’re like because the real value is in learning how to use that software. I was like, “Oh, that’s true.”
I started to believe that more and more, which is a key component to sales nowadays is you’ve really got to believe in what you’re selling. Again, somebody early on challenged me, you’re doing your customers a disservice by not charging what it’s really worth. All those kind of things were a learning process for me because I was never like I didn’t want to be the salesy guy. I didn’t want to have anybody ever feel like I was scamming them.
Over the course of a year I think, I was doing one price. It was just like $95 for a long time, and then we added a lot of extra stuff in and it was like, “Well, we could test this price by adding in another tier.” So you have at least two tiers you can say, we’ve got like a VIP package that’s got all these extras in it, and we’ve got the regular. You can kind of start to see okay, if 80% of your people are buying the VIP, well that means you could probably even go a little bit higher and raise the price because you kind of want that middle ground.
With three tiers, I find that to be a really easy way to gauge to where you want the majority of your folks buying at the middle tier, which is not the lowest. Some people will always buy the highest because they just want the best stuff, and then a lot of the times they’ll start around in the middle. Through a lot of testing, we wound up with the prices we have today. Something I like to do for promotional strategy is I do a lot of webinars. Along with the pricing, I always keep in mind, what can I do for a webinar? How can I give somebody something special?
If your product is only 47 bucks and you’re doing a webinar and you want to give an amazing deal, well, you can’t really discount it too much because now you’re not even making a profit. If you’re going to do something with an affiliate partner, then you split it and then there’s really nothing. You’ve got to think … I think about those things anyway because those all play a part into marketing. It’s a learning game. I always say just experiment. There’s no failure in this game, that’s just the one hurdle to get over this paralysis of failing. It’s all just experimenting.
I thought that with my Scrivener course was like, “Yeah, I’m going to spend a lot of time making this thing and it might totally flop, but I will still learn how to put together a course and I’m sure I could use that for something.” So that was the big shift that helped me get through those dry times of like, “Man, am I just wasting my time here? Is this even going to work?” We all have those doubts and fears. You’ve just got to persist through those and kind of trick yourself and say, “Yeah, but something good is still going to come out of it.”
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Just shifting gears to something that’s always fascinated me is just looking at the course landscape, in software especially, the people who make the software are rarely the same people that make the best training around the product. Could you just speak to that and also just your personal story?
Did you contact the software company to make sure it was okay with Scrivener or could they not be happier? I personally couldn’t be happier if someone made more and more courses about the software and they’re really awesome instructional designers and teachers and all this. What was your experience and why does it happen this way?
Joseph Michael: Yeah, it’s funny because I’ve heard some horror stories with people especially if you’re going to use their name, they can come after you to kind of basically shut you down. I wanted to make sure right from the beginning I didn’t run into that kind of problem. I’d built a really kind of, what I thought was a good enough version 1.0 to show a little bit of like what it was going to represent and I contacted them. Luckily Scrivener, they’re not this like huge organization. They’re still rather small, really focused on making the product the best it can be. They’re like coder guys, and whatever you call them. It’s not what I am.
Chris Badgett: Developers, yeah.
Joseph Michael: Yeah, developers. Yeah, exactly I always tell people like if you could start a business without knowing an ounce of code, if I could do it, trust me you can do it because I don’t even know what it’s called. I reached out to them basically and said, “Here’s what I’m passionate about. I’m making this to try to help your audience.” I framed it in a way that like, “Look, I want to make sure I represent your product good. If there’s anything you see in this so far, let me know and I’ll change it and by the way …”
Chris Badgett: Because you do affect their brand in some ways, so you’ve become an ambassador for it.
Joseph Michael: Yeah. Obviously my intent was hey, we’re going to have a partnership down the road, right? That would be ideal, and so first of all, they responded back with like, “Man, we love what you’re doing. Super high quality, it’s really great.” They even gave me some tips on like, “Hey, this feature was really like here’s the idea behind what it was supposed to do.” I was like, “Oh wow,” so I would literally kind of shape my training around that a little bit.
They were like … I told them I wanted to use the name. At that point I was calling it scrivenercoach.com and then it kind of evolved into Learn Scrivener Fast based out of it. I really wanted to call out the main pain point, which was it was taking writers too long to learn. It was just like let’s learn it fast, right?
Chris Badgett: This took some entrepreneurial guts. You didn’t get the cease and desist letter in the mail, but you limited the downside by making sure to talk to them and make sure it was cool.
Joseph Michael: Absolutely, yeah and they were totally cool with it. They were like, “Yeah, it’s great.” They were like, one thing that we can’t really like promote you per se. We could support you like we love what you’re doing, but we can’t really promote you because of …” This kind of makes sense now that I think about it from a marketing perspective.
They were like, “We understand what you’re doing, but to say that we think Scrivener is hard to learn would be kind of going against our philosophy. So by promoting you, it would kind of say we’re agreeing with the fact that Scrivener is kind of hard to learn,” which I think there are some gray areas there.
Chris Badgett: Right.
Joseph Michael: Anyway, I think it comes down to, there’s developers who are just focused kind of on their world, and then there’s creators who they really like to create. I guess my gift, so to speak, and people would tell me this years ago even in the corporate world like, “Joe, you’re so resourceful.” I would always be like, “Man, I hate that. What am I going to do with resourceful?” If somebody asked me directions, I was the guy who would literally take screenshots and then like, “When you come to this gas station you go … ” like kind of overboard.
But now I realize as a teacher, all those things really come in handy and so that’s my gift is to take a complex thing and like let me see how I can make it super simple for the average user. That’s basically what I did with the software program. The funny thing is I’m not even a writer really. I’ve never written a novel. I’ve never written anything other than really like a blog post and some sales copy, but this software piece is made for writers.
So you would think, “Well, Joe must be an expert in writing,” but it really has nothing to do with that. I see a lot of course creators think that they stop right there and they think, “I’d love to talk about this topic, but I’m not an expert in that.” I’m like it doesn’t matter. Can you teach it? That’s all that matters. Do you know a little bit more than the person who wants to know it?
A lot of times you have a fresh perspective, which is the other thing I realized. By me not being a super duper expert, I was still kind of a beginner at Scrivener. I was learning it, so I was learning it then teaching it, learning it then teaching it, so I was able to offer that fresh perspective versus somebody who has been using Scrivener who maybe develops Scrivener, like they know it like the back of their hand, but they forgot what it was like when they were new. Another challenging perspective there.
Chris Badgett: I just want to really highlight what you’re saying there about having a talent for identifying step by step. I mean, anybody who is trying to learn something and they’re listening to somebody really smart or who has been doing it for a long time, there’s all these things that are internalized in the subconscious.
But if you have that gift of being able to be like, okay screenshot step one, step two, and don’t make any assumptions in the path, that’s super valuable. I understand why I think as a software company, it’s like to go back to like okay, let’s take this from the beginning, step by step. They’re onto the next feature, bug fix, next problem. It’s a totally different skillset.
Joseph Michael: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: That makes a lot of sense. For Scrivener and what you’re up to and the listener out there, there’s all these different niches. I’ve always been a little bit fascinated with the author of the aspiring writer niche, like what can you tell us about that niche? For example, you said you realized they hang out on Twitter AmWriting. They get up in the morning. Maybe it’s a little isolating, so they’re turning to social media to connect and stuff like that. Tell us about the writer niche and just some of the interesting things you found out about that niche.
Joseph Michael: Yeah. Number one that they exist and they’re as active as they are. It was just mind blowing to me because I was new to this world. I thought I was going to do something in like productivity. I even made an ebook that was a massive failure. It was about a to-do list. I was all focused on productivity, and I thought but that space is really vague. It’s really overdone almost. It was a hard mental shift to think about all right, go really niche because you’re thinking if I don’t make something that’s for everybody, why would I want to eliminate people? Why shouldn’t I want to make something that’s for everybody?
What you don’t realize is you’ve got to get in there and somehow be seen amongst all the noise out there. There’s so much noise, so much static and the magnet to that, that will draw people straight to you is having something really niche, like really calling them by name. Scrivener was a very niche thing. I try to teach people in my course where I teach courses is, try to go like four deep. You’ve got writing, is like a huge niche or you’re a writer. Let’s talk about writing. Well, then you’ve got maybe how about self-publishing. Then self-publishing software programs, well then we’ve got Scrivener. We’re like we’re four levels deep now. That’s really kind of a-
Chris Badgett: It’s not just a course for writers. Not at all.
Joseph Michael: No. You’ve narrowed it down. You went really niche. I think as a creator, it’s a little bit easier to create something more niche too because now you’re narrowed on what to teach. Anyway, back to your question, the whole writer community, I think with the explosion of self-publishing, number one, has opened up so many doors for so many people. There are so many avenues to make a really good living, if that’s your goal to make extra income by using your writing, or if you’ve just got this burning desire to get your words out and read. You always had a dream to get your book out there, I mean, there’s a lot of hurdles along those way.
Anything that you can, just try to think and put yourself in their shoes. If I’m one of them, what’s a hurdle? Well, there’s a software program that could make it a lot easier for them to get their work finished and out there faster. Okay, well if you could help them learn that, could you help them succeed? Yes. Great, what else do they struggle with? And just kind of go along the way.
That’s why another course that I’ve just recently launched was a 30-day book writing bootcamp. Another struggle they had is like getting the thing finished. Like we start it but we never finish it, so I was like, “Let’s do a bootcamp. Let’s get this thing done in 30 days. What if we could do that? Or at least just kick things up a notch, get some momentum going.”
You just kind of look at who are they? The more you learn about your target audience like literally what keeps them up at night? What are their desires? It’s funny because the biggest shift in sales for me with my Scrivener course was when I wrote all of the copy, it was very product based. Like oh, look at this. We’ve got screenshots-
Chris Badgett: Features.
Joseph Michael: Yeah. We’ve got videos, okay. But I hired a copywriter, which was my first ever expense.
Chris Badgett: Just to jump in there, I would encourage everybody to go check that out for Learn Scrivener Fast. It is a long sales page, long-form sales page. So you’re saying you hired somebody to write that.
Joseph Michael: Yeah, if anything, go read the copy on that page. It’s super well written. I was very skeptical. I was like oh my gosh, this thing is forever long. She was like, “Joe, trust me. Just put this out there. Trust me.” It was like we didn’t really talk about Scrivener that much. We talked about basically the writer’s journey and a writer’s need to get their words read and seen by hundreds of people. They just don’t want to be like have the writing forgotten about somewhere.
We changed the whole theme of it and really when you’re tapping into that, that’s where the sales come in. It’s kind of counterintuitive to how we might think, but it all goes back to learning about that audience. I really fell in love with the writers and the whole writing space to where I feel like I’m able to listen to them and know what their needs are, and really you make one successful product and it’s so much easier for those people to follow you to the next one and the next one. There’s an endless amount of ideas as things keep growing and changing. It’s a land of opportunity. It’s amazing.
Chris Badgett: Speaking of niches, you also have a course called Easy Course Creation. Online course creators like writers, just the industry right now is exploding.
Joseph Michael: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: Were you coming at it kind of from an angle as like another way to serve writers? Because writers, especially non-fiction writers, are prime potential to potentially make a lot more money if they do online courses, package it differently, and just kind of take what they’re doing and also apply online course principles. Was it like also just an exciting avenue for you to share some of the lessons learned along the way or both? How did you make that transition?
Joseph Michael: Yeah, it’s interesting because I started really just listening to the questions I got asked. Yes, in the beginning there was a lot of Scrivener questions, but then a theme started happening. More and more people were asking me about the course itself. They were like, “I really love the look and feel of this course. Did you spend thousands of dollars on a developer to design this?” I was like, “No, actually I just did it myself. I don’t know anything about codes so I kind of hacked it all together.” They’re like, “No way, can you show me?”
I was literally jumping on one-on-one consulting calls and showing people just the backend of my WordPress basically blog turned into a course, and just showed them, “Oh yeah, look. Make this look like a fancy button by just making it an image and adding a link to it.” They were just like blown away by stuff I thought was just kind of simple but I just found my own way. This was over the course of a year.
People were like, “Can you show us how to do the course like you did? Can you show us how to make one like you did? I’ve taken a lot of courses, but I like how yours is.” I was like, “All right, maybe I’ll make something.” But I was like, “There’s already people out there talking about course creation. There’s a ton of courses on that,” and people kept saying, “Yeah, but we want to see how you did it.”
Chris Badgett: There’s only one you.
Joseph Michael: Yeah. Then it just hit me like, “Hmm, okay. I guess you’re right,” because I think about that when I’m learning different subjects. I may buy three or four different books from different authors on the same topic, because they all have a different angle at it. So then I was like, “Well, let me put something out there and put my stuff together, put my theories together, and my hacking skills together or whatever I do,” and kind of made it into a course. Then I was thinking, yeah, I can see why courses are combining with books now more than ever too. A lot of authors, their readers-
Chris Badgett: What do you mean by that? Can you give us more detail?
Joseph Michael: Yeah. For instance, when people are really engulfed in a book, they may want more because people are on their e-readers. They could put links in there now and they’re like, “How do I get more from this author?” They’re leaving a lot of money on the table by not having a follow-up course or something. Like let’s dive into the concepts I talked about in the book, which works really well for non-fiction.
Now, fiction is another thing. A lot of fiction writers are like, “That’s only for non-fiction.” It’s like no, it’s not true. People love a membership site to dive into the characters further, and to see behind the scenes. People are amazed with behind the scene stuff. I think we take that for granted because we know ourselves-
Chris Badgett: An insider.
Joseph Michael: Yeah, we’re like no, nobody cares about this, but they do. People love to see behind the scenes. I think there’s a huge opportunity there especially if you’re a struggling writer and you thought maybe this was going to be your ticket to some extra income. Let me tell you I’ve got author friends that are like, “Joe, if I never would have created a course, I’d have still been that struggling broke writer.” It’s so much easier to just charge money for a course and to offer more and put it together nowadays than it ever has been, and the audience is loving it, so it’s a win-win.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. A couple of final just kind of rapid fire questions here.
Joseph Michael: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: What’s your best tip on community building?
Joseph Michael: Community building. Let’s see. Probably just finding the common ground and being one of them. If you’re just guessing, if you’re not really researching like in my course on courses I talk a lot about researching your audience, because that’s the community that you’re going to serve. You’ve got to know them and be one of them.
That’s going to make sales a lot easier too. I think that’s one of the relatable things I always have on the webinars I do. I always tell people, “Hey, I’m just an average Joe from Missouri. Literally, I’m just one of you who is struggling with Scrivener myself and decided to master it and thought I would teach you now.”
I think if you could have that, a lot of people think we only want to learn from experts, right? The community is saying, “No, we just want to learn from people. It doesn’t have to be an expert. Just somebody to hold me by the hand and show me what to do.” Never underestimate the amount of handholding people want. I would think that with community building and start putting stuff out there and teaching, show your style.
That’s all I did and you start to develop a really good community around that. The people that like your style and can relate with you. You’re not going to be everybody’s style and that’s fine. But that’s how you’ll start to build your own tribe and your own community with people who are like-minded.
Chris Badgett: How about just mastering expertise like in terms of like Scrivener or course creation, like you said research is a big part of your method, but how do you stay sharp at whatever niche you choose?
Joseph Michael: Yeah. I don’t think I’ve admitted this on many interviews before, but with Scrivener, like I’ve always said, I was never the expert. I was still sort of new to it. I only used a fraction of what was possible. That’s what most people say, “I’m using Scrivener but I know I’m only the tip of the iceberg.” Literally I bought every book that was written about Scrivener. I researched every blog post that was written.
I wanted to find out what was out there. I’d watched every YouTube video and then I was like okay, now I can fill in the gaps, right? There’s kind of two ways you can create a course, either something that you’re already an expert in and you already have a lot of knowledge in, but there’s another way that people forget and that’s this, which is something you’re interested in but you might not be an expert in yet.
Chris Badgett: Kind of as you go.
Joseph Michael: As you go, and literally here’s what I would do. I had Scrivener for Dummies, I had three or four other books. I would look up one topic and I would read it in each book and find out what else was said about it, and I’d be like, “Okay, what does that mean to me and how do I interpret that? Okay, got it. Let’s record a video about it.” Literally just one piece at a time and I think it made for a really cool, fresh perspective on whatever it is that I was teaching. I was literally learning and then just teaching what I was learning.
Chris Badgett: Awesome. You’ve kind of already answered this, but just in terms of creating the course kind of method or outline or instructional design, you mentioned a real commitment to step by step, doing your research, and then translating it through you. Give us one more instructional design tip.
Joseph Michael: For me, and if you’re teaching something that’s more complicated, my kind of approach to simplifying that would be to break it down into its simplest form. For the Scrivener audience, it was let’s make them short bite size videos. I probably got more comments from the students of my courses the number one thing they liked the most, which was, “I love how the lessons are short and bite size.”
Yeah, there might be 100 of them, but people were like, “If I’m on hold at work on a phone call, I can jump in and watch a Scrivener video and learn how to do something real quick,” because they’re short like three to five minutes. It’s not something somebody is going to sit there and devote an hour of their time to. I kind of did it selfishly because it was easier for me to create it. I was like okay, three minutes on this topic. Let’s produce it, but the audience loved it. For really kind of instructional stuff that’s maybe hard to understand, break it down and I think people will like it.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Then the last one in the writing realm, in terms of like course technology or marketing technology and just this whole technology piece, what philosophical general advice would you recommend so that people don’t get caught in like overly complicated technology or spending too much money on technology?
Joseph Michael: Man, it’s so easy to do. A lot of folks … If anything delayed me, it was probably that. Like, “Oh I don’t have the budget to buy the fancy camera or the good mic.” It was like forget all that, forget about the logo, forget about the way everything looks for now. Just focus on the content and think, what do I have that I can work with?
Most people have an amazing smartphone that’s probably within two feet of you right now that’s got an amazing camera, good enough audio, and you can create your course right there, or your webcam or whatever you’ve got. That’s what I had. I wasn’t going to be on camera, because I wasn’t comfortable enough to be on camera yet. You know what? I could make some slides, and I could talk over them and hit record. That was my whole first course.
The other thing was, I really wanted it to be perfect and I knew it wasn’t. So I told myself, “Well hey, this is video. This is online. This isn’t like a book where you put it out there and you’re not going to be able to edit it. You can fix this stuff later.” That was a huge hurdle that got me to make things quicker. I was like I’ll go back and update it in the future, but let me get this part out first.
You know what? Most people were 100% fine with what I put out there. It was just I was being the perfectionist, but my perfectionism, my 80% done was a lot of people’s perfect. It was fine for them. Start with what you’ve got where you are. Gosh, my first part of the course like in its early stages, it wasn’t this fancy like you even had to log in. Literally it was a blog. It was like a WordPress site.
I didn’t have protected pages. Yeah, somebody could find it if they just searched it just right. I didn’t have anything fancy. Like I said, I used Gumroad and they downloaded a PDF that had a link to my page. That’s how they got there. You just learn as you go and update it, get more sophisticated as you go.
Yeah, I mean start with what you’ve got and you can always increase it later. Don’t compare your beginning to somebody else’s five-year journey. Don’t do it to yourself because it’s going to torture. It’s torturous. I used to do that and be like, “Oh, it’s got to look like this,” and like they’ve been in business for seven years and you’re just starting. So you can’t do that, but you can get there and they started that way too.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Well, I really want to thank you, Joseph, for coming on the show and sharing your journey with us. That was like a huge knowledge bomb, so I just want to honor you and thank you for sharing all that wonderful experience with all the course creators out there. If people want to find you and find out more of what you’ve got going on, where can they best find you on the web?
Joseph Michael: Yeah, three different places. Obviously the courses live at learnscrivenerfast.com and easycoursecreation.com, and you can go to josephmichael.net. We’re in the middle of doing a redesign on that, so depending on when you listen to this I’m not sure. Hopefully it will be up and running by then.
But that’s where you can kind of start collecting more of just my hey, here’s what I’m learning about all kinds of different things, as a place to share more stuff there. Of course, if you hang out on Twitter, if you’re a writer or even if you’re not but you like Twitter, @ScrivenerCoach is my handle there and I’d love for you to pop in and say hello.
Chris Badgett: Awesome. Well, thanks again for coming on this show.
Joseph Michael: Yeah, man. Thanks for having me. It’s been fun.