EPISODE 167

Survive, Thrive, and Connect to Wellness as an Education Entrepreneur with Sherry Walling of ZenFounder

This episode of LMScast with Chris Badgett of LifterLMS is about how to survive, thrive, and connect to wellness as an education entrepreneur with Sherry Walling of ZenFounder. Chris and Sherry talk about mental health and wellness for entrepreneurs and what habits are important to build in the life of an entrepreneur to reduce stress and optimize efficiency.

Sherry is a clinical psychologist who specializes in working with people who have really intense jobs, which most often ends up being people who own their own businesses. The purpose of ZenFounder is to make entrepreneurs and people with busy lives mindful of their mental health, teach them how to deal with things such as anxiety, and take care of themselves.

Sherry was working on a psychology degree in college and she studied abroad in Ghana at the university in Legon. She also did a lot of social work and urban and international development courses which really opened her mind more to the bigger picture of psychology rather than just individual psychology. The whole experience of being in Ghana and interacting with people with a completely different life story was a very sobering experience for Sherry.

Entrepreneurship is often a lonely road and many stresses arise from being an entrepreneur, so Sherry started ZenTribes, which is an eight week program in which about eight people get together and talk about failure, stress, anger, and other mental health topics relevant to entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurs have a unique mental health risk because of the nature of what it means to start your own business and not follow a path someone else has laid out in front of you. The uncertainty and frustration that entrepreneurs can face is very tough to deal with without mental mindfulness.

The mental tolls of business owners are similar to those of veterans who experience PTSD. There is obviously less gunfire experienced, but the effects on the psyche are very similar. Both have the experience of going all in, or betting the farm. They need their full attention of their body and mind in order to respond to the intensity of the situation. It is also difficult for others who have not gone through the same experience to understand what the veterans or entrepreneurs have been through.

Getting outside of your work is important for your mental health as an entrepreneur. Chris and Sherry talk about the habits and routines they have for stimulating their senses outside of the workplace and slowing down their minds in order to boost creativity and alleviate stress and anxiety.

Chris and Sherry talk about the risk of rejection and how to deal with the different mental strains that can arise when starting and running a business. Building up a resilience to failure will really help you bounce back from failure. Accepting that you take a lot of risk and at some point some of your projects will fail at some point down the road will create this resiliency.

To learn more about Sherry Walling check out the ZenFounder Podcast and her book called The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Keeping Your Sh*t Together.

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’m joined by a special guest, Sherry Walling from ZenFounder. Sherry, thanks for coming on the show.
Sherry Walling: My pleasure, Chris. Thanks for having me.
Chris Badgett: This is going be a really great episode, and it’s also something that … We’re going to talk about a lot of things that aren’t talked about enough in the entrepreneurship space, especially in the digital space, in terms of mental health and wellness. I’m really excited for this show. Sherry has a lot of experience across wellness from a bunch of different angles. If you haven’t heard her podcast, called ZenFounder, go check it out. Even if you don’t consider yourself a start up founder with a SaaS app. Education entrepreneurs and teachers who are creating products and businesses around that are just another type of founder.
But before we get into all of that, Sherry, I learned from her podcast, had some experiences in her young adulthood in West Africa. I’ve had a lot of world traveling in my background, living in remote parts of Nepal and Central America, and it had a huge impact on my life. And I want to start by opening up a question to you, Sherry, about your experiences in West Africa. What were you doing there? How did that shape you? And how did that help influence to where you are today with ZenFounder and helping founders with wellness?
Sherry Walling: Yeah. So I was a student at the University of California, Davis, and it was an El Nino year, which means that it rained every day for two or three months. I didn’t have a car, I just had a bike, so I basically rode my bike every day in the rain for three months. And I decided there’s got to be a different way to live.
So I went down to the Education Abroad office and I asked them, “Where can I go where I don’t have to have proficiency in another language and I can stay on my academic track? And is really different. I don’t want to go to, like, the UK.” And they’re like, “Hey, have you considered Ghana?” And I said, “I will go there. I will do that.”
This was a really big move, because I had come from a family that had never traveled internationally. I think I had maybe been to four other states besides California by that point in my life. So I emptied my savings account, it cost $2,000 to buy a ticket to Ghana at that time. And I bought a ticket and I went.
So I lived at the university in Legon, which is outside of Accra, and I took classes with other Ghanaian students and I worked on a research project/kind of volunteer experience with street children. Street children who had come, mostly from other parts of Africa or remote parts of Ghana and were living and working in the market in Accra. I hung out with them in afternoons, basically. So, that was a-
Chris Badgett: Oh, I was just saying, that’s super cool. What was your area of study there? What was the big focus?
Sherry Walling: I mean, I was working on a psychology degree. I’m a clinical psychologist now. I did an undergraduate degree in psychology. But I did a lot more kind of social work and I would say urban and international development courses that had more of a sociological, bigger picture focus than individual psychology. I did spend some time volunteering in a mental health hospital, which those are very tremendously interesting, scary, sobering places in any country but especially in West Africa where there are fairly limited resources. That was a sobering place to spend time.
When I think about my development as an entrepreneur or my development as a professional I think going to Ghana at that point in my life did a couple of things. One, I feel like it taught me that all the doors can be open. You know I grew up in rural Northern California with lots of people who looked exactly like me and had the same kind of experiences as I did. And going to a place that was so different and interacting with people who had completely different life stories than I did, was such an important lesson in me believing there’s nobody I can’t talk to, there’s nobody I can’t share a meal with and figure out who they are and how they tick. And that’s essentially what a psychologist does right? I have this deep, deep curiosity about people and how they work and I think that really started there. That was probably the first one, the sense that all doors are open.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Let me ask you on that note, I think it was Margret Mead, the anthropologist who said that, it’s hard to perceive your own culture except from the contacts from another, what did you start realizing about the world where you came from? What were some of the insights you had related to that?
Sherry Walling: I think like many people who traveled abroad, it was very mixed bag. There were parts of my upbringing that I was very grateful for. I learned to value my education in such a different way because of being alongside Ghanaian students who had worked so hard to get there. And they were so hardworking. They would take copious notes and memorize the notes from each lecture. So I was really humbled by how much I had taken my education for granted before that. I think as a woman I also felt very, very grateful for the kinds of opportunities that I had, had prior to that.
When I was in Ghana, it wasn’t terribly unusual to see a man beating his wife on the street. There was pretty open aggression towards women, so I was very grateful to be in a place where that wasn’t part of my life when I was growing up. But I also became aware of things, kind of the way that the US works internationally. Our focus on consumerism and materialism. And there were some things that I came away with feeling very critical of the kind of upbringing that I had, had and the kind of value … There were things I was grateful for, there were things I was critical of.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. We’re going to talk a lot about wellness. What is something that you noticed in underdeveloped parts of the world just in terms of, they may not have as many resources or money or access to different things, but what’s something we can learn from the underdeveloped parts of the world in terms of the wellness?
Sherry Walling: Like a man, friends used to make fun of me for how fast I walked. That I was always sort if in a hurry wherever I was going and they would just say like, “[inaudible 00:07:28],” which is like a white person, they used to be like, “Slow down.” My experience of being in Ghana, which has been repeated in other parts of the world, in Vietnam, in Guatemala, in China, and other places that I’ve been able to spend time, has been that people who live in places without so much stuff and busyness really have mastered the art of taking time to really greet and be with people and value relationships over things, value relationships over personal gain I guess.
There’s a sense in which there’s time to greet people, to ask about how people are, to spend with people, to spend on a meal. A meal is whole like a [inaudible 00:08:22] endeavor when you’re having meal with a family. It’s very different than I’m [inaudible 00:08:27] in my face when I’m running from one thing from another. I felt grateful for the lessons about both, deep connection with other people and valuing that time and sharing meals together, sharing life together. I think that those are very core parts of wellness. I mean I talked so often with people about, “How do you spend time with other people in meaningful ways? How do you take care of your body? How do you make sure that you sleep? How do you make sure that you eat well?” These are the building blocks of wellness that I think other parts of the world remember better than we do.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Well, let’s fast forward to the current version of Sherry. And you’ve got a book coming out, by the time people are listening to this it may already be out, check it out, it’s called, The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Keeping Your Shit Together. And I can’t wait to read it myself.
Sherry Walling: My 10 year old named it by the way. I just …
Chris Badgett: You’re an entrepreneur, you’ve got kids, a lot is going on in life. What does the modern Sherry do? Like if somebody asks you or just meets you for the first time at the cocktail party, how do you explain what you do?
Sherry Walling: The true version is I’m a clinical psychologist, that specializes in working with people who have really intense jobs. Most often, that’s people who own their own businesses.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. And how do you frame in the ZenFounder Podcast? Why did you start that? It’s a huge, great free resource. What’s that all about?
Sherry Walling: So my husband Rob is the serial founder, so started a company called Drip, founds a conference called MicroConf. He’s a busy man in his own rights. We’ve been hanging out with entrepreneurs, with business owners for most of our married life together, about 17 years. And a few years ago there were a string of people that we were kind of, a few degree of separation from who lost their battle to mental illness, and ended up taking up their lives.
And we looked at each other and thought like, “Hey you’re a founder, you’ve got this life. You’re a psychologist, you got mental health stuff.” We want to talking about these topics so that we can just help people want to pay attention to their own mental health, to their own inner lives and hopefully try to prevent people from getting to a point where they feel so desperate or so alone that they feel like they have no other choice. So that started, we started about … it might be three years now. Something like that. We try to talk about topics that relevant to mental health, to the family, to relationships, to sanity, to anxiety management, things that are practical and directly apply to people who have busy-full lives.
Chris Badgett: You also started ZenTribes, which is an event. Can you tell us about that? Where did that come from?
Sherry Walling: That came because over, and over, and over, we heard that entrepreneurs are pretty lonely. That even though they may be surrounded by people, maybe you’re running a business and you have people on your team. Maybe you even have a co-founder, it still I think feels like you are the one who is holding up the world when you are a founder, when you have a business that’s an extension of you. It’s an extension of your ideas or your creativity, your ingenuity. And even though there’re great things about that, it can be a lonely path and we kept hearing over and over that people felt isolated and they felt like nobody got them or they felt like nobody cared about them.
So ZenTribe is sort of our answer to that. It’s a pretty intense eight weeks … We meet weekly for eight weeks, it’s about eight people and we talk about failure and stress and anger and kind of the mental health topics that are most common or most relevant to entrepreneurs. So we do it as sort of a bootcamp and then many of the groups decide to stay together for a six months follow up after that. So people who participate in the groups, absolutely leave with some pretty significant relationships and some friendships. And that’s the goal of the group. It’s to help people be connected about meaningful things.
Chris Badgett: That’s incredible. What is it about entrepreneurs either socially, culturally or what is it that causes them to have their unique flavor of stress, fear and getting stuck, freezing? Like what is it that makes them … I guess if you took a sample of entrepreneurs versus more folks doing their thing, like what causes entrepreneurs to have these issues?
Sherry Walling: I love working with entrepreneurs. I think one of things that I hear over and over is this sort of theme in a story, which is, “I was really a smart kid but people didn’t really get me and I’ve had to find my own way to make my life interesting.” Entrepreneur are generally people who have … had to develop off the beat and path kind of strategies. And that’s great and exciting but, sort of like I learned in Africa, like it’s amazing but it’s also really lonely. And it’s tiring, it’s easy to burn out. So I think that entrepreneurs have a unique mental health risk because of the nature of what it means to start your own thing and not follow a path that someone else has set for you. Following someone’s else path is easier, period. Not better but easier.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, the uncertainty can pour gas on the fire I guess.
Sherry Walling: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: I know in some of your research with mental health you did stuff with vets experiencing PTSD. What similarities do you see between combat veterans and entrepreneurs, business owners?
Sherry Walling: They’re people that have gone all in on something. I mean, combat veterans whether they set out to or not end up being in positions where you have to go all the way in, you need your whole brain, your whole body, your whole training to respond to the intensity of the situations that you’re put into. And in various some other ways there’s hopefully less gunfire but like entrepreneurs have that same kind of experience, where they’ve gone all in. They’ve bet the firm on this idea, and so they’ve organized their lives, their family, their finances, their emotional life all around something that they’re working on.
Though I think that intensity is shared, they’re also … I think a lot of people who are returning from combat find that it’s hard for other people to understand what their experiences were like, on a less scale but I still think that’s an experience that many people talk about, like people don’t really know what my job is. People don’t really understand what I do. People think I don’t have a job, I spend my day in my pajamas. I think, again that the nature of being in a highly intensive experience that maybe your friends and family don’t join you in is pretty similar.
Chris Badgett: Let’s talk about turning off a little bit. One of the ways to deal with uncertainty is just hustle and never ending vigilance, which comes out naturally to an entrepreneur or somebody in a combat zone, by necessity. What advice do you have for turning it off? And just to speak from experience, for me I like doing … just totally getting offline, being in nature, building things, doing stuff with the land or with my kids, those help me but this whole turning it off issue, what do you have to say about that?
Sherry Walling: I think your strategies are really perfect because when we … So first of all I think we have to turn off, like there’s really very undebatable research that suggest when we live a chronic state of arousal or a chronic state of fight or flight stress response, we do our bodies very serious damage. And that’s just not a debate at this point in time scientifically. So we need places or ways to let our minds and bodies fully relax and release. And I think the best strategies are strategies that engage the fullness of ourselves, so something about being out in nature hiking, it’s a full sensory experience, you’re seeing things, you’re hearing things, you’re smelling things, you’re moving your body, you have tactile experiences.
Those are the best ways I think to distract a busy mind, is to flood the senses so we can kind of distract that hyperactive prefrontal cortex that wants to be planning and organizing and making decisions and doing things. When we engage our bodies in a way that our bodies are fully busy and our brains have to think about what our bodies are doing, those are great ways to relax. So for me, I do a lot of ariel yoga, which is yoga suspended on a silk in the sky and I have to pay attention or I will fall on my head. So I can’t be thinking about the next Tribe launch or what’s happening with my email list. Like I have to focus, and that’s a great way to let my mind relax.
Chris Badgett: I love that. I have a neighbor who has the silk hanging from a tree lump and it’s … I can see how that’s a 100% commitment situation. In my past I did a lot of rock-climbing and I can remember one of my peak flow state experiences of my life that I ever experienced, it’s was just a very hard technical climb and I was completely 100% engaged and that was, that was like in that state of flow. That’s awesome. And I do want to bring it a little bit back to this anthropological, kind of sociological roots and say that, there is scientific research, social studies that have been done, when electricity comes into a village, it all starts with a light bulb.
As soon as a light bulb comes in and the solar panels or whatever, that’s when the circadian rhythm starts getting upset and that’s like the beginning of a very slippery slope to what is now the modern entrepreneur with dings, and bells, and lights, and screens, and emails, all these stuff but having a healthier relationship with technology and being mindful of the needs of the body and what it means to be human is such a big issue. Let’s talk a little bit about fear, stress and freezing. You talk about wellness, how do you frame in your mission and wellness? How do you package that?
Sherry Walling: So what I talk with entrepreneurs particularly about anxiety, we’ll use that as sort of an umbrella term. Like the very first step is noticed when it’s happening. I think a lot of us are so used to functioning out of fear or out of stress that we don’t really notice when we’re living in anxiety. So having the awareness to be able to pay attention like, “Oh my goodness, my chest is tight, my heart is beating faster, my breathing is slow and shallow or my breathing is not so shallow. I’m getting anxious, I’m getting upset here.” Like that’s the first step, is noticing what’s happening.
And then I think we often talk with people about getting the things that are driving anxiety out of the swell of your brain and ideally on paper in front of you. So writing down the fears that you have, writing down the things that you’re worried about, writing down the things that seem to derail you. And letting yourself look at them kind of objectively and let them get out of your mind and kind of be apart from you so that you can begin to problem solve in a little bit. And of course we have like different ways of adjusting things that create anxiety.
So after you notice you’re having it, write down what’s causing it, then you have some choices about, is there something I can do to change this? Can I take this stress out of my life? And if I can’t, if it’s your kid or something that’s [inaudible 00:21:51] then how do you begin to think about approaching that hard part of life with more graciousness or more compassion towards yourself or just cling on being brave and not letting yourself forget about it. Like how do you begin to emotionally work through it in a better way? So I think wellness is really about noticing and paying careful attention to the inner life, to inner parts of us.
Chris Badgett: How do you work on your awareness? Like is there any like, daily practices or things you like to do from time, to time to help with that?
Sherry Walling: Yeah, I do a really simple high-low check in, every day. I do it generally with my family at dinner, “What was your high in the day?” What was your low? But I then usually do it separately, usually at night. I do it before I go to bed. I want to pay attention to the little things that are really life giving and there are things in my life that are really like sucking life from me. And then a friend that we talk every week about high-low for the week and we’ve doing that for a year so we pretty practiced at listening to like parts of life that are not going well and maybe need to be changed versus parts of life that are thriving and do you feed the things that are thriving?
That’s one thing that I do. I also practice a lot of yoga and practice a lot of stillness. And then sometimes I work out really intensively because I’ve got like big feelings that I need to like get out of my body. So there’s a place for all of it. We all have [inaudible 00:23:41] all the time but there’s lots of ways to work through or to practice cultivating awareness of our inner lives.
Chris Badgett: About a year ago, I read your Founder Retreat E-book and I did that, and I followed it. Like I did the … I took about two to three days away from my family, which is a big commitment as a family person. And pretty much for those of you who are listening or watching this video, what that is, is just really a time to just go inward and detach and look at things that aren’t working, look at things that are working, set some goals, make some hard decisions.
For me I updated my routine, I set some big goals. It had a huge positive impact, so I want to thank you for that but also, there’s this concept within education entrepreneurs, course creators out there, they’re often very empathetic people who are helping other people. Sometimes it’s an issue of just giving, and giving, and giving, and giving and not taking that pause for self-care. So I was wondering if you could speak a little bit about Founder Retreats and some ideas, concepts or tips for helping the helper?
Sherry Walling: Yeah, and I think you have to start by pitching how important it is, I think those who help … I’m a helper, I take care of people all day every day. That’s what my job is. We are only as good as our own internal resources. My ability to focus, to think creatively, to be fully present completely depends on how well I’m taking care of myself. So I think people think about self-care as like going to the spa to get your toenails done, and that’s fine if that’s your … like it’s cool. But it’s really much more about making sure that you as the tool, you as the thing that’s providing the service, the help, the insight and ideas for other people that you are like well taken care of so you can do a good job with that.
And if you don’t carefully manage your inner resources like you absolutely run the risk of burnout. You absolutely run the risk of like becoming cynical or not doing a good job. Not being compassionate, not providing the kind of help hat people need from you. And if you really believe you don’t need to take care of yourself, you might need to like check your own Narcism little bit. Like none of us are above the kinds of things that we preach. So if aren’t practicing what you’re preaching, you’re in danger basically.
Chris Badgett: I was going to ask burnout, just at a bigger picture, do you think as an issue in society it’s always been a problem, it accelerating? Like what is the current state of burnout out there? Is it like becoming a pandemic?
Sherry Walling: I think you could make a case for that. And has to do very much a 24 hour access cycle that many of us feel we respond we must respond to things all the time. Like the onslaught of heavy work, the weight of the work that we have to do, and then feeling like we aren’t able to use our best resources. I mean I can launch into that, and I’ve talked about burnout on ZenFounder too in more detail. But I think it’s a huge problem, especially for helpers. I mean the whole conversation about burnout began with helpers.
Chris Badgett: You know there’s a lot of focus on the morning routines, the habits, the journaling and stuff like that, but this concept of like a retreat, and I know this something you do in your own life as well where you take some detachment and some reflection time and put yourself in a new environment for some fresh ideas and some relaxations. Where did the idea and just the concept of that evolve for you?
Sherry Walling: It’s a very old idea, it’s as old as any major world religion. All Monks have gone on retreat or has periods of sort of being [inaudible 00:28:30] in isolation. And that’s probably where it came from for me. I have a degree in theology so I have studied religious practices for years and I think that, that … People talk about private retreats or different fasting retreats, different kinds of retreats. But this idea of taking yourself out of your normal day to day life to do deeper work, it’s certainly not a new idea of me.
I didn’t come up with that, but has become really, really important as I’m practicing in my own life. Just coming to point of being like, “I’m totally overwhelmed, I’m overwhelmed with kids, I’m overwhelmed with work, like I need three days.” And once I started doing that, once I tried doing that, like just going to a hotel by myself, it was like, “This is magic. If I could do this twice a year. It totally recharges and lets me think deeper thoughts, lets me evaluate, how life is going. What I want life to be like.”
Chris Badgett: Yeah, that’s great. And the simple metaphor for that I always liked is the, when you’re flying on a plane and they say when the oxygen masks comes out, “Take are of yourself before you hook other people up.” It’s important. You can’t help anybody if you’re burning out.
Sherry Walling: Yeah, And we have to think about, “Where does our creative spark come from?” Because, whether you’re an artist or someone who’s teaching people about a new idea, you’re pouring out something that comes from inside of you. Your insights, your way of seeing the world. And at least for me that’s not an ending stream, that has to be recharged. That’s has to be sort of a muscle that’s tended and I think retreats are a big part of that. Like refilling your creative, your output kind of resources.
Chris Badgett: That’s great. Well, let me ask you one final tactical question before we wrap up today because it’s issue I see a lot with online course creators and I’ve been around there for a long time. And they’re a season like million dollar program launcher or they’re launching their first course or they have a lifestyle business, almost without fail, right before the launch, there’s this … I now see the pattern of self sabotage, or I’m going to obsess about something that in the grand scheme of things isn’t that important. I used to not really believe in fear of success but now I think it’s a real thing. What do you think it is in your experience being around founders launching things, making major decisions, what is the underlying psychology that’s happening there like right before the finish line? Like what’s going on? I just see a lot of sabotage and focus, moving all over the place, what is that?
Sherry Walling: There’s sort of the giant tantrum before they end. That’s absolutely something that I’ve observed. It’s like a regression of falling apart when we put ourselves out there. I got to tell you, like I’m feeling this in all kinds of ways with writing this book. Like I’m putting all these word out there and some people are going to look at it and they’re not going to like it. They’re not going to think it’s smart, they’re not going to think it’s interesting, they’re going to find every error in it.
Chris Badgett: So is that negative self talk? I mean, what is that?
Sherry Walling: Well in some cases it’s reality. Not everybody is going to love it.
Chris Badgett: It’s true, yeah.
Sherry Walling: But I have to be okay with that in order to ship. Like it’s the risk of rejection, it’s the risk of everything that you have believed about yourself to pull your ideas together and release them out into the world, is the risk that all that is wrong and that you’re actually dumb and uninteresting and your ideas are stupid. Like that’s what we’re afraid of at this very basic core level. So yes, negative self talk but it’s also just good old fashion fear in the way that you work through that is to say like, “Okay, how do I find my footing here? So what if like the worst case scenario happens? So what if I release this book and people say like, “This is shit?” Like nobody wants to read this and nobody does and nobody cares, “Will I still be a valuable person? Will my children still love me? Will I still find joy in my life? Yeah I will.” That’s a cultivated perspective, something we have to work at. We have to decide that, “Even if I’ve failed, I’m still going to go on.”
Chris Badgett: Any other final tips in just having a more healthy relationship with failure or potential failure?
Sherry Walling: I think sometimes it’s helpful to assume it. You could go to, [inaudible 00:33:38] by the way. I think it’s helpful to realize that when you are an entrepreneur, when you’re making things, when you’re putting things out in the world, not everything is going to land. Not everything will be a success. And if you could be comfortable with that idea and know, “At some point I’m going to do something. I’m going to put something out there and people are going to say, well that talk was really poorly delivered or that book was not very good.” Like have the resiliency within yourself to say, “I’m going to try somethings, and not every thing is going to work but I’m still going to get up the next day and keep doing my work.” And kind of building some tolerance to that from the beginning.
Chris Badgett: It’s a muscle. So Sherry Walling, ladies and gentlemen. The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Keeping Your Shit Together, go check it out. Go check out the ZenFounder Podcast. Is there anywhere else where people can find you on the internet or where you would like them to connect with you?
Sherry Walling: Yeah, I kind of live at zenfounder.com. It’s the best place to find me.
Chris Badgett: Awesome, well Sherry, thank you so much for coming on the show and having this conversation. I really appreciate it and I know you’ve sent a ripple of wellness out into the world and you’re going to continue to do so, so thank you for doing what you do.
Sherry Walling: Thanks Chris, thanks for having me.

EPISODE 166

Professional Online Course Production with Grant Weherley of Monetize My Expertise

In this information packed episode of LMScast we discuss professional online course production with Grant Weherley of Monetize My Expertise. Grant and Chris Badgett of LifterLMS dive into all of the details behind Monetize My Expertise and how they operate, and they talk about the different aspects of course building. They also talk a bit about where courses are going in the future.

Grant is the founder and owner of Monetize My Expertise, which is an online course production company that works with experts to monetize their expertise, as the name suggests. Grant got into building online courses when he tried it out and some other people asked him for help on theirs, and it has since evolved into the course building business he runs today.

Chris and Grant break down the four main components of course building and explain why each one is important. First, you have the topical expertise or knowledge on a subject. Next you have the production of the course, which is the assembling of materials and lesson planning. Third, you have the technology behind the course building. And finally you have the marketing for the course.

When you offer a product or service, it is generally better to be really good at doing one thing rather than to be just average at doing many things. Grant uses this philosophy in his company, and he has zeroed in on what he is good at, and that is the production of courses. His company does not do the marketing or expertise for the online courses.

Technology is the third element to building online courses, and modern technology has made this aspect easy. LifterLMS is one example of a piece of technology that makes it easier to build courses online. A lot of people confuse the technology and production of courses for one skill, and since the technology is so easy they assume that the production is just as easy. Chris and Grant talk about how people often don’t finish their online course, because they hit a wall where they couldn’t get past the production aspect of courses. Production is a valuable skill, and it is critically important to not overlook it.

When building courses or products in general it is important to play to your strengths so that you can gain a competitive advantage. This also allows you to be different and unique in your industry establishing yet another point of leverage. Most people are afraid of public speaking or even teaching in front of others. So if you are afraid of being on camera, then slide based courses with possible voiceover do just as well or in some cases better when information needs to be laid out visually.

To learn more about Grant Weherley check out MonetizeMyExpertise.com, and you can find the webinar they’re hosting at MonetizeMyExpertise.com/webinar.

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 from LifterLMS. In this episode, we’re going to be talking with online course production specialist Grant Weherley from MonetizeMyExpertise.com. Grant is the founder and owner of Monetize My Expertise, which is an online course production company.
There’s a ton of value in the show. I can’t wait for you to check out what’s in here. The audio … some of my audio is a little not at the highest quality, because I was traveling. But please, bear with that. Grant is a leader in our space. I’m so excited to have him on our show today.
Grant, thank you for being here.
Grant Weherley: Yeah. Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Chris Badgett: I talk with a lot of experts, as I’m sure you do, too. When I come across somebody else who is just as obsessed with the online course industry as I am, it’s always a lot of fun because we can get a little meta about what’s going on in the industry and stuff like that.
I’m on the technology side at LifterLMS in providing tools to make it easier for course creators to build and own their platform. In our pre-chat before the call here, we were talking about a blue ocean you discovered, in terms of what course creators are challenged with and what they’re facing. What is that blue ocean? Can you tell us about your story stepping into MonetizeMyExpertise.com?
Grant Weherley: Sure. I guess when you think about courses, there’s three … or depending on how you count it, maybe four components of it, right? There’s the topic and the topical expertise. There’s the production of the course itself, which is a different process or skill set. Just because you’re an expert on a topic doesn’t mean you know actually how to deliver it through a course or build a course around that. Third thing is the tech. Fourth thing would be the marketing. Those are four entirely different things. You can be good at one or all or none, or what have you.
The reason I ultimately got into what we do … Actually, let me speak to the second part of the question first. Way back when, I built some courses on my own, just ’cause the whole online course thing was very interesting. Wanted to explore that. It was very enjoyable. People started asking me for help with theirs, and then kind of just through lots of interesting trial and error and testing stuff out, and doing things for random people, it’s kind of slowly iterated into what it is today.
The reason we made that strategic decision way back when … It wasn’t like a particular point, it was, again, very iterative. We’ve done things on all sides of courses. But at one point, we did make the decision to focus on the course production side of things because there’s a lot of tools out there nowadays, like yours as well, that makes the tech stuff quite simple. There’s a lot of companies out there that do marketing, like marketing agencies for example. There really wasn’t any good company that helps you build the course materials itself. There’s a whole lot of book publishers, or ghost writing services for example, or whatever. But there’s nothing very comparable to that for courses.
All these, probably millions at this point, of people trying to make courses, they’re kind of just trying to do it. They maybe take a course about courses, and then try and do it on their own. There’s really no good service providers that actually help people do it, or took over some of that work. I kind of recognized that opportunity couple years back and started exploring that and kind of went from there.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. I talk about a lot on this podcast, the four-legged stool of what a course creator has to be good at. One of those, of course, is just having some expertise or mastery. The other thing, where you sit, has to do with the instructional design, the actual creation of the content. Then you have to be a technology delivery person, and a community builder, and a marketer. These are all very different skill sets.
Grant Weherley: For sure.
Chris Badgett: When you talk to an expert, how do you bring order to the chaos that may pull a course out of somebody who wants to do it, but maybe needs help?
Grant Weherley: Yeah, you’re asking about the process that we go through to actually build the content?
Chris Badgett: Yeah.
Grant Weherley: Yeah, it’s kind of interesting. I’m happy to explain it. One of the things that’s kind of interesting about it is because there really aren’t very many parallel companies doing what we do, it’s kind of hard to explain it and have it really fully click. But once people start to go through the process, they’re like, “Oh. Wow, this is really cool. I recognize the value in it.”
I’m happy to explain it verbally, but just fair warning, it may not really fully click with people, like why it’s useful, without some further elaboration. Basically the process that we go through is … It’s a couple of different phases. The first one is, “Okay, what do you want this course to accomplish? What’s the high level of goals for it? Who’s it for?” Some basic introductory stuff to sort of set the overall direction of the project.
From there we move into building what we call a course curriculum, which is like a high level overview of … maybe it’s gonna cover these 10 topics. Here’s a little bit more further elaboration about what it’s gonna be about. We do that through people on our team that we call content developers. Our main one right now, his name is Matt. He’s awesome. He’s got an MBA. He used to be a consultant. He’s basically really, really good at sort of a mix of interviewing people, listening very carefully, and asking the right questions to help them clarify things. Poking holes in maybe … in things that don’t make sense, and kind of also weaving along the best way to turn that topic or expertise into an actual course.
We do this over a series of several calls and a couple of different phases. There’s like a kick-off call, a couple of course curriculum development calls. From there, we move into developing individual lesson plans. That’s mapping out what each individual lesson’s gonna cover in terms of the topics, anecdotes, calls to action, if there’s gonna be a quiz, things like that.
Basically, from the client perspective, the way we try and structure it, because the most common person that we work with is like a super busy consultant who speaks in a new city every week, for example, or like a speaker or an author or somebody like that. That’s one of the common avatars, if you will. They kind of just have to show up on the calls that we’ve booked with them to go through this content development process. Then we kind of do all the leg work of building out the materials for that. We go on to building the slides and worksheets, and editing all the videos and stuff.
So basically they just have to show up on the content development calls where we’re interviewing them, and then do a run through of the lesson plans in terms of recording it. Usually, 95% of time, they still want their voice and face associated with it. Although, we’ve done a couple projects where we provided voiceovers as well, but that’s very uncommon. They just have to run through the content once we’ve built out all the lesson plans. Give us that file, and we do everything before and after that.
Chris Badgett: With the way you guys work, is it possible to do what you do with anybody in the world? Does it happen remotely? Or is there a component where there has to be film crew or something like that that’s on the ground?
Grant Weherley: No, actually, no. We do it all remote. There’s some specific reasons behind that. Because it’s a huge pain, and it’s sort of a deal breaker if we’re like, “Hey. Fly out to our local studio in LA. It’s more expensive for us, so we’re gonna have to charge you a bunch more as well.” It’s a lot of consequences of using that model. But we use a different model where it’s all remote, kind of like Skype and Zoom and whatnot like we’re using now.
There’s a significant aspect of that, which is, we focus more on slide based courses versus talking head base courses, although some of them are. A lot of them will incorporate elements of that. But obviously, since we’re not flying people out to physical locations, we can’t exactly record them from our side of things. But, sometimes we help people book a local studio. Oftentimes people wanna record a little 30 second introduction to their lessons or their modules, or whatever. We kind of edit that in.
But at the end of the day, some people have it in their head that they should make this super flashy talking head base course with a professional film crew and crazy animations and stuff like that. It’s actually usually counterproductive. I’m sure probably 20% of the people listening now have that in their head that that’s the best way of doing it, and that’s the highest value way of doing it. It’s actually not. There’s a lot of courses out there that are insanely successful, which are slide based, or screen cast based, or what have you. Oftentimes it’s a better way of communicating the information. If you’re teaching a course about programming, if you’re talking about programming to the camera, that’s not gonna help anybody. You gotta show your screen. There’s some different things there to keep in mind.
But yeah, it’s all remote. That makes it a lot easier for our clients as well. We work with some Australian clients, but we don’t have any employees in Australia. That makes that possible. We’ve worked with people in quite a few companies, which is pretty cool.
Chris Badgett: That’s amazing. Let’s talk a little bit about experts, and the ones who succeed and the ones who fail, or get frustrated a little bit. I would imagine if somebody has some resources, and they really want a professional to come help with the course production part, what does that person who goes through your process have that allows it to all click for them, as opposed to somebody who’s like an expert, but not really a teacher, not really a technologist, who gets kind of frustrated? Another way to ask that is what kind of mistakes do you see course creators making that your business solves?
Grant Weherley: There’s a couple different problematic areas for courses in general. Some of the most common ones are just the general project as a whole. Not understanding that there’s at least four different main components of a course, and probably you’re not good at three of them, to be honest, if you’re trying to make a course. Again, 25 years of being a fitness trainer, that doesn’t mean you can build a course about it. It also doesn’t mean you can build a course website about it. It also doesn’t mean you can necessarily market it, right? So those are three very important things.
Most people don’t really think that far ahead and realize the complexity involved there. We have a 10 person company right now. We do some of those other things as like an add-on. But in terms of our primary service, we do one of those four things. That’s very intentional, because in the past we tried to do some website set-up, some marketing stuff as well. Even with like a 10 person team, it’s almost impossible to do that well with all of those different things, ’cause they’re entirely different skill sets. Basically you have to have a different team or company around each of those different things.
Let alone an individual course creator trying to do all four of those things themselves. It’s really hard. That’s something people underestimate. It’s worth kind of thinking that through, and thinking where you might get stuck. What you should get some help with, ’cause there’s probably very specific areas that you’re definitely gonna need help with. If you don’t anticipate that ahead of time, you’re just gonna run into a brick wall and get stuck there, or get frustrated, or whatever. That’s one thing.
The second thing … there’s just a couple points along the way where people often get stuck. Another common thing that we see as well … and this often happens. It’s funny, ’cause people come and talk to us. We’ll have some calls with them and explore working with them. They’ll be like, “I don’t know. I could pay you guys, or I could just do it myself.” Sometimes they’ll go off and try and do it themselves. I was actually thinking about this yesterday. I’m not sure. I can’t think of a single example … I mean, I’m sure it’s happened, but I just didn’t know about it. But nobody has ever come back to me and said, “Oh, we went off and tried to do it on our own and we actually got it finished.” That’s never happened, but the reverse has happened quite a few times. It’s like, “Oh, we’ll do it on our own. It’s fine. I’m an expert on this topic. That’s cool. It’ll get done.” But then it doesn’t end up happening.
There’s been some funny scenarios where that’s actually played out. I have a case study about a client that we ended up working with who spent literally a year and something crazy like 50 grand, thousands of hours of work, and yet did not have a course by the end of it. He had like an Evernote full of hundreds of pages of notes and sketches and stuff. He was really no closer to making a course. Part of what we did was boil all that down. Let’s clear out all of the fluff. What should this actually be about and get it done. That’s another thing that happens a lot as well.
The other sticking point people have is … it all kind of comes back to the theme of not having a plan for each of these four important things. Another one people get stuck with is how do they market it once it’s up. It’s a pretty common question. Actually, there’s some pretty straightforward answers to that, to the marketing bit about courses. It’s not as hard as sometimes it seems. But it’s worth figuring out what your plan is for that. You need to get it in front of a certain number of people to make it a viable product or revenue stream. You should have a plan for how you’re gonna do that. It’s not overly complicated. You don’t have to be an expert in Facebook ads or whatever. There’s a couple simple ways to do it. But it’s worth, again, having at least some kind of idea, or service provider to help with each of those four areas, just to make sure you don’t get stuck somewhere along the way. Those are some of the common things that I see most commonly.
Chris Badgett: For the course creators you work with, and the ones that you see spending way too much time trying to do it themselves, what is the quicksand that people get stuck in where they lose those 5000 hours that you avoid?
Grant Weherley: Yeah, actually, to speak to one of the things you said before, which I thought was quite funny. I used the analogy, just to rewind real quick, about how it’s similar to building a house. It’s actually funny, ’cause we use that exact same analogy. It’s like, “Okay, I wanna build a house. Am I just gonna to go in and try to build a house? Even if you know perfectly what you want it to look like, that doesn’t mean you can actually do it. You should probably hire an architect and a construction crew.” Sometimes we kind of jokingly refer to us as your course architects and construction crew, ’cause at the end of the day, there’s a reason why people go to architects. Get a degree in architecture, and people pay quite a bit to construction crews to build stuff ’cause they specialize in that. Even though you might have the vision for what your house … what you want it to look like or function, or how many floors or whatever, they’ll make sure it actually happens and it doesn’t fall down once it’s done. So anyways, I thought that was a funny analogy that we use as well.
To answer your other question about where do people get stuck when they do get stuck in the course creation process? Actually there’s a couple of sticking points. Actually, quite a few, but some of the most common ones, at least on the top of my mind right now … First off, it’s very hard to build a course in a silo. You’re by yourself behind your computer, and you’re saying, “Okay. I wanna make a course.” Again, maybe you have 25 years of experience doing XYZ, like a sales trainer. And you’re like, “I wanna build a course about sales. I have a blank screen in front of me. Okay. Let’s go.” Probably you’ll get somewhere with it, but it’s very hard to do it that way, which is why people get writer’s block and things like that, because you’re not really getting feedback. You’re not really sure where to start. It’s very hard to even know how to teach something.
Actually, it’s funny, ’cause sometimes people are like, “Well, I’m so experienced in this. I should be able to build a course in it, right?” Actually that can be counterproductive ’cause it can be very hard for somebody who’s very, very, very experienced in a topic to sort of dumb it down to somebody who’s not as experienced. Right? Which is why, think about the … Like a nuclear physicist trying to explain something to a second grader. It can be hard for them because they just know too much. It’s hard to think about, “Okay, what do I know that they don’t know, that I have to like start from scratch with?” That’s something that I think is interesting to keep in mind. People kind of get stuck with that.
Easiest solution there, which, it kind of is built into what we do, is just kind of interacting with other people, as you’re trying to build the course, you can sort of make it a fun thing where maybe if you have a community, you’re kind of engaging them along the way, getting their feedback. Sending them little drafts of lesson plans or whatever, just to spark some ideas. They’ll point out where things don’t make sense. They’ll help just jar you out of writer’s block, which you’ll probably hit at some point.
Other things that … Another thing that people get stuck with as well is, again, this is most common for the people that we work with, is again, they’re super, super busy. Very few people who are trying to build courses, only have courses in their business. It’s usually something that supplements the main thing that they’re doing. Like in consulting, a service, speaking, writing books, whatever it is, or podcasting, for example. They got a lot of other stuff going on. It’s very difficult to stay focused long enough to build a really good course, especially if it’s the first time you’re doing it. There’s gonna be a learning curve. There’s a lot of moving parts. You’re juggling that with the other stuff that you’re doing. It’s kind of an accountability aspect as well. If you’re just trying through will-power to figure it out along the way and keep yourself on track, a lot of people don’t make it through the process. It can take like three months, six months, sometimes even longer, especially if you’re doing it part-time, and you’re juggling your main business. That can be a huge sticking point. It can really derail people. Those are some things that come to mind off the cuff.
Chris Badgett: That’s really good stuff. Another thing, just to build on our whole building a house construction. I think part of the issue is when a construction crew shows up to the house, there’s all these tools and materials. You can see people making things. It’s very visible. The course building, I’ve got a Mac. I think different. I got this stuff. It’s more … the process is more hidden. It’s [inaudible 00:18:14] the various stops or the processes. It’s just not as visible as something … I mean, it’s an online course. It’s not an in-person like university or building.
Think about how hard it would be to build a schoolhouse and put teachers in there. Building in the real world kind of makes you think about how much goes into it.
Grant Weherley: Absolutely. Right.
Chris Badgett: Tell us about your webinar. I know you have a webinar that helps people. What do you teach in that?
Grant Weherley: Basically I just try to go through a lot of the things that come up very, very commonly in the conversations that we have with people. I also try to focus it on important messages that aren’t commonly covered elsewhere. We have a very particular perspective about building courses, which is different than most of the perspectives you hear about building courses. The most common thing you hear about courses is from somebody who offers a course about courses. They’re very much incentivized to make it seem very overly simple. They don’t want to make it seem complicated, because then it deters people from doing it. They’re like, “You can make a million dollars a course. It’s really easy. You just do this, this and this.” Right?
Those are still helpful, for sure. But, we have a different perspective, ’cause we know what it actually takes. It’s quite a bit of work. We have the other perspective. I tried to build the webinar on things that I haven’t seen covered elsewhere, but are super, super important. We cover some of these things like where people get hung up in the process. Certain concerns people have going into it, and how to get around those … I’m trying to think now … a common one is, “Is this gonna be good? How do I make sure it’s good? How do I get this done without this taking an extremely large amount of time or energy?”
Regardless of whether they work with us, we give some ideas about how to approach getting some help with your course. Even if it’s finding a freelance designer off Upwork or something, it’s still a step in the right direction versus trying to design the slides, edit the videos, record the videos, build the lesson plans, doing everything yourself, which is just … It’s pretty much impossible, to be honest. Or at least to do a good job at it. People do it. But doing that well by yourself, pretty much impossible, unless you’re gonna take like two years to do it.
Covering a lot of the things about that, and basically the idea being that if they go through the webinar, then they have everything that they need to be able to just get started and skip a lot of the initial sticking points that people have. Also, solving some of the concerns that people have going into it, where they’re not really sure how something’s gonna work. It makes them kind of hesitate about certain things.
For example, another common one is what’s the ROI on this project gonna be? How do I know people are gonna buy it? How do I know … I’m gonna invest all this time. Even if I’m only investing my time, and no actual money into this project, there’s still an opportunity cost associated with that. If you value your time at 50 bucks an hour, and it takes you a 1000 hours, that’s pretty significant. It’s like 50 grand that you’ve essentially invested into this. You wanna make sure that ideally your course makes at least 51 grand over a reasonable time frame. Right?
How do you think about that going into it? Even if you don’t have an audience, and sort of make sure it makes sense to even start doing from the get-go. I cover a lot of things like that, that I just haven’t seen elsewhere, but really hang people up. Even people who’ve studied this stuff a lot, but they just have a couple of sticking points and the idea is just to help them get through that.
Chris Badgett: So go check out MonetizeMyExpertise.com and find the webinar link. Is that the best place to get it?
Grant Weherley: Yeah. It’s on the menu. Or you can just go to MonetizeMyExpertise.com/webinar.
Chris Badgett: Perfect. I wanna ask a few more things about your offer.
Grant Weherley: Sure.
Chris Badgett: But, before we get into that, I just wanna take a step back. Go up to 30,000 feet and look at our industry, this whole online course, online education industry. I just wanna kinda … would love to hear just some high level thoughts about where you think the industry is, where you think it’s going. Are these early days? Is online education going mainstream? Do you have some high level kind of takes on this whole industry of where it’s trending?
Grant Weherley: Yeah, it’s a good question. I remember something that actually came up in a conversation like a year ago. He was like, “Well, there’s so many courses nowadays. Is it saturated? Is it even worth getting into at this point?” Which actually, I remember saying about a couple other fads, like Key Spring and Amazon FBA, and stuff. In some cases, the answer is yes. In some cases, it’s no.
For courses, I would say it’s no. Obviously, I’m biased in saying that. But I actually have a couple of data points as to why that are pretty straightforward. I saw an actual study on this, which was making projections about the industry coming up in the next 10 years. It had a lot interesting numbers. I forget what it was off the top of my head. But it was like from 2005 to 2015 it went from like something billion to like a 100 billion. And then from like 2015 to 2025 it’s gonna go up to like 320 billion in terms of the size of the overall e-learning industry. So that’s one interesting thing, also, obviously, just think about what colleges and universities are doing nowadays, and what other countries are starting to do as well.
I think, obviously, United States and other developed countries are probably more of the first movers in this. But, more and more people are getting computers, getting internet, things like that. So there’s gonna be a tail end of that, even just in terms of how it currently exists. People joining existing platforms and e-learning marketplaces. All the people in more developing countries are gonna be joining that as well, which is pretty cool and fun to think about. Then yeah, just so many things are moving into this e-learning space. Again, from universities, to companies doing fun little things for employee onboarding. Or SAS companies providing courses for customer onboarding, for example. There’s a lot of interesting ways this is branching out and becoming more and more significant.
Again, I’m biased, but I don’t see it really going anywhere anytime soon. It seems still very much trending upward. What’s gonna replace it? It’s not like it’s gonna disappear. It’s gonna evolve overtime for sure. It’ll be interesting to see what that takes shape as, but it’s not gonna go anywhere anytime soon, in my opinion.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. I love … a lot of great points in that. I like your point about what’s gonna replace it. Because, I mean, books were a new thing several thousand years ago, but they’re still around.
Grant Weherley: Yeah, exactly.
Chris Badgett: Using the internet to learn, it may get a little better. We may get some artificial intelligence involved in the process-
Grant Weherley: And virtual reality, and gamification.
Chris Badgett: Yeah.
Grant Weherley: But that’s modifications on the existing industry.
Chris Badgett: Exactly. Exactly. So I’m really fascinated to see where this goes from here. MonetizeMyExpertise. Who’s the ideal type of person that works with you? Can you just throw that out there? What type of person is a perfect fit for your services?
Grant Weherley: It’s a good question. Basically, any person or company that wants to use courses to expand or grow what they’re currently doing. In some cases, they already have courses, but they just want to expand that part of their business. They don’t have a department already developed towards doing it.
For example, there are companies, which might have an e-learning department, because it’s currently a core part of their strategy. We can augment that, but maybe it doesn’t make sense to work with us. But anybody who needs a course built, and they don’t already have an existing pipeline, or team, or whatever built around doing it, it makes a lot of sense to work with us. At the end of the day, if you just think about what service businesses are, you’re essentially paying for quality people, a track record, efficient processes, things like that.
You could try and go out, for example, say you wanna build one course. Actually, this is one of the things I cover in the webinar and elsewhere. Some people come to us and they’re like, “Eh. I don’t know. I don’t know if I really wanna pay for this.” Okay. What’s your alternative? You can do it all yourself. Even if you just value your own time, chances are, it’s not gonna be any cheaper, if you just think about the opportunity cost. The other thing is, if you wanna build out your own little course development process or department, or team or whatever, that’s really hard to do, to be honest. I’ve done it multiple times now. It’s very challenging. A lot of work goes into that, especially if you want it to be good. What are the chances that your first course that that new team develops is gonna be up to your standards? Pretty low.
Those are some things to keep in mind. For whoever values producing a high level course, and doesn’t have a team already developed to do that within their business, or people that they work with, that’s the main broad category. What that often looks like is, again, a high level consultant, a speaker, author, podcaster, sole entrepreneur, sometimes SAS companies or whatever. But again, the main thing is they have a need for courses. It’s objectively of value to them, and what they’re trying to achieve, but they don’t have a existing way of doing it and doing it well.
Chris Badgett: Awesome. Well, if that sounds like you, go check out MonetizeMyExpertise.com. Grant Weherley, thank you for coming on the show.

EPISODE 165

The Magical Combination for Course Quality, Speed To Market, and Low Stress

Chris Badgett and Ali Mathis of the LifterLMS team talk about the magical combination for course quality, speed to market, and low stress with content creation in this episode of LMScast. Chris and Ali discuss the different problems and opportunities that face course creators and how the LifterLMS Done For You service and the LifterLMS Experts program aim to solve those problems and take advantage of those opportunities.

The LifterLMS Done For You service is a service where we setup up your LMS for you and fill it with demo content. Then we deploy it on a new blank WordPress website or on a subdomain of your already existing site. This gives you a great starting point, because then all you have to do is fill in your course content, add a payment gateway, and you are ready to sell. There are two different levels of the Done For You service: the Infinity Bundle Done For You and the Universe Bundle Done For You.

When you purchase the Done For You service, we walk you through your branding materials, the Google Fonts you want to use, your logo, and any preferred color palette. Once we establish all of that, the LifterLMS team configures the website with the LifterLMS Launchpad theme and settings. We’ll then hand it back over to you for you to add in your content and install a payment gateway, such as Stripe or PayPal, and then you have a live course.

There are four major aspects to building online courses: production and design, expertise or knowledge on a given subject, the technology behind the course, and finally the marketing. The Done For You service is meant to cover the bases of production and design as well as the technology behind the course. This way all you have to do is insert your knowledge and raise awareness for your course.

The LifterLMS Experts program is a network of LifterLMS Experts who are web developers, designers, and course creators who have a high level of experience working with LifterLMS and are looking to take on new projects and new clients. They can help you with anything from content installation to custom development.

Chris and Ali describe the differences between the Infinity Bundle and the Universe Bundle. The LifterLMS plugin is free, but the Universe Bundle is a collection of add-ons that add design enhancements and access to third party integrations like MailChimp, Gravity Forms, ConvertKit, Stripe, and PayPal. That is all included in the Universe Bundle. You can purchase any of these add-ons individually, or you can get the bundle at a discounted price for all of them.

The Infinity Bundle has all that is included with the Universe Bundle plus more advanced add-ons such as Private Areas, Social Learning, and Advanced Quizzes. These advanced add-ons require more of a human touch. For example, the Social Learning add-on is meant to create networks between students and teachers to build a community, and the Advanced Quizzes can require manual grading. The Infinity Bundle also gives you access to weekly group Office Hours calls where Chris Badgett and other special guests connect with people who have any technical or strategical questions regarding LifterLMS.

To learn more about the LifterLMS Done For You service, head over to LifterLMS.com/dfy. Also check out the LifterLMS Experts program at LifterLMS.com/experts.

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. I’m joined today, or I should say re-joined, by a special guest, Ali Mathis, from the LifterLMS team. She’s been on maybe four or five times?
Ali Mathis: I think I’m your number one guest.
Chris Badgett: You are the most visited guest.
Ali Mathis: You know I’m competitive, so that’s important that I establish that at the beginning.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. Yeah, you’re definitely in the lead in terms of number of appearances. Today, we’re going to be talking about some unique problems and opportunities that face course creators. It’s these problems and opportunities that guide the vision of the LifterLMS product and our vision, our mission, and really the services we roll out and the community we connect with of other service providers and that sort of thing. What this show is all about is about what we’re calling the magical combination between the LifterLMS Done For You Service, which just relaunched, and the LifterLMS Expert Program. In a nutshell, Ali, and Ali is a big part of both those programs at Lifter, for the listener, for the uninitiated, what is the LifterLMS Done For You Service and what is the LifterLMS Expert Program?
Ali Mathis: Sure. Well, the LifterLMS Done For You Service is a service where we go ahead and we set up your LMS for you with demo content, and we deploy it to a blank WordPress install on your site, either on a subdomain of your current site or on a new site for you, and it really gives you a great starting place to bounce off of. We’ve really streamlined the Done For You Service to focus on what we do best to be able to make it most economical for you guys. We have two different levels now. We have the Infinity Bundle Done For You and the Universe Bundle Done For You. In just a minute, Chris, I’m going to toss it back to you and have you explain the difference between those two levels of software packages.
Basically, after you purchase the Done For You, you send through your branding materials, the Google font that you want to use, your logo, and any preferred color palette, and we go ahead and get started with sort of the Launchpad settings and style it for you and hand it back over to you with our demo course content in there. You can learn all about it on our Done For You page and see the exact deliverables involved. We hand it back over to you, so, basically, all you need to do is get your content in there and pick which payment gateway you want to use and go ahead and set that up, and you’re ready to go.
How this sort of is interwoven with the LifterLMS Experts Program is we vetted and assembled and are currently accepting new applications for a team of LifterLMS experts who are web developers or designers or even course creators who have a high level of experience working with LifterLMS and are looking to take on new projects and new clients and can help you with any, either just content installation if you want that, or if you want any special custom development, we have experts that can help you out with that as well. That’s sort of just the general overview of that, and then, Chris, I am going to ask you to help explain the difference between the Universe Bundle and the Infinity Bundle because that’s really your wheelhouse.
Chris Badgett: Absolutely. For those of you who have ever come across LifterLMS and had a question about pricing or packages, first of all, I apologize because I know that it is somewhat complicated because we do have a lot of different products available at all these different levels and bundles and that sort of thing.
The basic soup to nuts from the free core LifterLMS plugin to the Infinity Bundle, there’s a lot in between. There’s a free core LifterLMS plugin, and then we have various add-ons that do different things. What’s in the Universe Bundle is the bundle of add-ons that add design enhancements like the graphics in the LifterLMS Pro Graphics Pack, like the Launchpad theme that Ali was talking about that gets implemented as part of the Done For You Service. It gets access to support, and then it also gives you access to third party integrations like MailChimp, ConvertKit, Gravity Forms. This is where the integrations go, like PayPal, Stripe, for accepting money for your courses. This is all inside the umbrella of the Universe Bundle. Those products can be purchased individually, or you can save big and get the whole group of them and other ones that roll into that category at a discount via the Universe Bundle.
The Infinity Bundle is all that plus more. The more that goes into the Infinity Bundle is everything we talked about plus what we call advanced add-ons, which is advanced functionality coming to Lifter. That’s Private Areas, Social Learning. As you’re listening to this, we’re in the process of releasing Advanced Quizzes. We may have already rolled it out depending upon when you watch this on YouTube or listen to it on iTunes or Stitcher or wherever. And then Assignments is in there.
These are really advanced features that require, in most cases, require a little bit of human touch, like Private Areas is all about one-on-one coaching. This is not just passive course anymore. We’re now providing some one-on-one coaching and letting the platform do that for you. Social Learning creates this whole social network that you can use to build learning communities, allow students to talk to each other, message each other, and really build a social environment around your course. Advanced Quizzes, quiz questions requiring manual grading. Assignments, similar to quizzes, but kind of different use case there. That’s what’s in the Infinity Bundle.
Also in the Infinity Bundle is access to our weekly Office Hours, where myself and special guests connect with people who have the Infinity Bundle or have purchased Office Hours and want to come hang out, ask technical questions, strategy questions, screen sharing, doing it live, tapping the brain trust of the LifterLMS power users. That’s called Office Hours. That’s in the Infinity Bundle. That’s the difference between the Universe and the Infinity.
Ali Mathis: As of right now, that’s how we’ve streamlined the Done For You to basically differentiate between those two packages.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, so you get to choose, like if you’re just doing more of the passive, which isn’t a bad thing, course and you need to sell your course and it’s pretty much kind of automated information product machine, you might be good to go with the Universe Bundle. If you’re wanting to do coaching, community, have more advanced instruction with things like assignments, advanced quiz questions, manual grading, the Infinity Bundle is probably the better pick for you in terms of if you’re going to select a Done For You package.
Ali Mathis: Right. Right.
Chris Badgett: Part of this conversation is around what we’re calling the magical intersection between the Done For You Services and the LifterLMS Expert Program. If you’re not a member of the LifterLMS VIP Facebook Group, I’d encourage you to join. I’d encourage you to go into there and look at the photos. There is an image that I put in there about the many hats that LifterLMS or education entrepreneurs need to wear. You need to do many things at once.
In my picture, I’m kind of poking fun at the idea or just recognizing the challenge that course creators have where you can either have these five people or wear all these hats and have these five completely different skillsets. What those are is a community builder, a technologist, a teacher, an entrepreneur, and a core instructional designer. The reality and what we see with people in the LifterLMS community and just the general online education space is it’s very rare for somebody to have all those skills. The platforms we see that are the most successful often have a situation where the teacher or the entrepreneur is kind of subcontracting out or building a team around some of those pieces, which is where the LifterLMS Done For You Service pops in.
What, Ali, in your mind, do you see … What problems does the Done For You Service solve for people?
Ali Mathis: I mean, I think it solves the problem of if you’re just trying to get over that mountain and you’re almost there and you’ve been planning on getting started with your course but you just can’t find the time to sit down or you’re not quite sure what the first few steps are, it really hands your course platform over to you in a way that makes it really easy to get started really quickly with just your course content, which is really your expertise, and so you can really focus on what you do best and not have to worry about just the initial technical setup. I think that’s a big roadblock and a big obstacle I see for people. Another big obstacle I see for people is just delays in their course content, but this removes the excuse of, if you don’t have to spend your time working on the technical content, it kind of removes that excuse that you don’t have time to work on your course content, so you can focus on what you really want to do.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, those are some really good points. I mean, capacity is a huge issue. LifterLMS makes it possible to create and sell online courses, to own your platform, to start a coaching business, education company, but it’s still not a task for the faint at hearted. There’s a lot that has to be done, a lot of pieces have to come together. The Done For You Service really just helps accelerate the timeline, put technology in place for you, and even do some of the instructional design for you in a sense that there’s demo content in there. If you’re an expert but not really a teacher, once you get in there and you start kind of playing with and looking at the sample content, it inspires ideas in you on how to design and create your course. That’s really cool.
If you’re doing the Infinity Bundle Done For You Service, you’re also going to get access to that weekly Office Hour, which gives you that lifeline, that support group. Sometimes education entrepreneurs can be a little bit isolated or not necessarily surrounded by other people doing similar things, so if you’re looking for a little bit of community of people who gets you and are working on the same problems, perhaps they’ve already solved some of them and can help you, that’s a great benefit with going with the Infinity Bundle option.
After you get your course back and you add your content, all LifterLMS products, when you become a customer, you get access to the LifterLMS support system, which is great. People typically have a fair number of questions within the first month. As they’re learning the software, setting things up, questions arise, but sometimes you need more than just technical support from the product companies that you’re using. Sometimes you need a technical person on your team or you want someone to do more than just figure out how it works and make sure it’s working right. Let’s say you’re 95% happy and you want to add some functionality that doesn’t exist for what your goals are, that’s where the LifterLMS Expert Program comes in. What else did the LifterLMS experts do, Ali?
Ali Mathis: I mean, the LifterLMS experts are great resource if you have a functionality that you’re looking for that LifterLMS doesn’t do out of the box. We have gotten asked a lot over the years. Our company, in the interest of full disclosure, did use to do custom development, but we’ve moved away from that to really be able to focus our energy on our product.
We get asked a lot, “Well, can you help me add x, y, and z to my website, or can you help me find somebody who can?” It was really important to us before we send out any referrals that we could provide our … our customers, we like to think of as kind of like an extended family, so people in the LifterLMS family are resource or a lifeline to other people in the LifterLMS family who are skilled and are capable of doing custom development works. Whether it be custom development work, whether it be from a small tweak to a large tweak, but just anything that Lifter can’t quite do out of the box, or also if you have your course platform and you’re looking for somebody to build out the rest of your website, a full website, we have lots of LifterLMS experts that are skilled with that and can help you do that as well.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, that’s a good point. I’ve also seen people using them. They want to come to Lifter. They’re not new to this rodeo. They know it’s a lot of work to set up a website and everything, and they want somebody technical to just manage that whole transition process of getting out of this other LMS or membership or course marketplace, and they want to come into Lifter and they want to pay somebody to just do it for them. That’s another way that you can use an expert, especially after the Done For You Service, to then migrate all your content in, set it up, make the design look exactly the way you want it to look. Really, it’s invaluable to have somebody technical on your team who is trained at doing the technical part. Maybe they have a specialty in the theme you like whether that’s … [DV 00:15:39] is a popular one or working with the various page builders, like Beaver Builder or Elementor. Experts have different specialties.
The other thing that’s really comes in handy, we always recommend having a quality web host, like WP Engine has a staging environment, backup and restore system in place. There’s other good web hosts out there. When things do go wrong, you want a red phone, you want somebody technical that you can call to be on it and fix it. That’s another great use to have a LifterLMS expert. Maybe not full time on your team, but at least on call or available, somebody you have a relationship with that you can reach out to as needed for technical help, support, or even emergency situations.
Ali Mathis: Absolutely. Absolutely. I believe a lot of our LifterLMS experts are also in our Facebook group as well.
Chris Badgett: Mm-hmm (affirmative). If you’re curious which LifterLMS expert is a good fit for you, head on over to lifterlms.com, scroll down to the bottom of the website, and in all those links at the bottom, there’s the Find An Expert link. You can go look at all the various experts. You can see what their specialties are. They have sample projects that you can go and look at. There’s details on how to contact them so that you can request quotes or propose the issue you want help with or to see if they’re interested in doing your project. That’s where to find them, and then the Done For You Services, there’s just a service link at the top of the website, the main menu there, and that’s where the information about that is. What else? Is there anything else that we want the listener to know about in terms of the Done For You and the experts and the magical combination?
Ali Mathis: Let’s see, anything else we want them to know about it. I mean, I think that there may have been some disappointment when we took away our offer of adding custom content creation ourselves, our custom content installation, but I think that the LifterLMS Experts Program is a great solution in response to that. It’s just like another step or maybe even another piece of the triangle in getting your website online as fast as possible and getting the right people to do the right thing because I think it’s really important to know where your skillset is and to pick the right people. Again, not to overuse this word, but to pick the experts in their field who are going to do the best job possible and really shine at doing the things that they do best.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, that’s a super good point. Yeah, that’s the beauty of the finish line of the Done For You Program. You’re pretty much at the just add content point, so you could do it yourself, you could hire an expert. Basically, when you go through the Done For You Services, instead of purchasing, say, the Universe Bundle or the Infinity Bundle and now you go download some plugins and zip files and themes, some graphics, perhaps you’re new to WordPress or you haven’t used it that much and you’re a little short on time, the Done For You Service just moves that starting line way forward into the future to the point where it’s, okay, everything is set up, looks good, just add connect.
Ali Mathis: That’s another, actually, important question that I’ve seen a few times today. The Done For You Services do include the software bundle with them and the cost for the first year of the software bundle, and then you have the option at the end of the year to renew not the entire Done For You price but just the software bundle portion of it. If you don’t renew it, you don’t lose any access to your site. Your site still keeps working perfectly fine. You just wouldn’t be able to continue using our support ticket system and you wouldn’t receive any plugin updates until you renewed your subscription. That’s sort of how that piece of that works.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Well, if you’re listening out there and you have any questions at all about the LifterLMS Done For You Services or about the Expert Program, head on over to lifterlms.com. At the bottom, there’s a general contact link. There’s the link to the expert page. There’s link to the Done For You Services Program page. We’re easy to get ahold of. Ali, thank you for coming back on the show and-
Ali Mathis: Anytime. I love being here.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, you’re still winning. We’ll have to do it again sometime. For the listener out there, I hope you found this valuable. I’d encourage you think long and hard about the issue that course creators have where you have to wear all these different hats. Sometimes putting the right expert at the right place at the right time can actually save you a lot of time and money and frustration. Check out the Done For You and the Expert Program. Keep building your course. I hope you have a great day. That’s it for this episode of LMScast. We’ll catch you in the next one.

EPISODE 164

How to Unlock Great Design for Your Business with Brand Strategist Katie Elenberger

Welcome to this episode of LMScast with Chris Badgett of LifterLMS. Today we discuss how to unlock great design for your business with brand strategist Katie Elenberger. Chris and Katie get into all kinds of interesting topics that are relevant to course creators, membership owners, and business owners who are interested in design for a business to create a powerful brand.

Katie is a creative brand strategist, and she helps companies determine the strategy for their brand and who their target audiences are. She designs creative strategies and tools to help companies reach their goals. Katie and her team work with companies to figure out where they want to go, and then they work out what kinds of creative elements they can use to get there.

Katie also teaches a branding and linked identities course at Minnesota State University Moorhead. Katie and Chris talk about all different aspects of branding, including which typographies to go with, color palates, and the difference between personal branding and company branding.

Getting in touch with your key message is foundational to how your brand and marketing strategies work. There are also different aspects to brand development, such as logo design, press releases, and advertising.

Chris and Katie talk about all of the work that goes into designing a logo. You want to have 20 or maybe 50 sketches, and this really allows you to work out the design and feel you want to your logo to have. You are also going to want to do your logos in black and white when you are in the design process, because color can sway your opinion in a major way. Katie shares some awesome tips like these and much more.

It is important to not think linearly while working on design, because that is not how the creative process works. You want to be open to all different paths and creative directions with your ideas. It may help to sketch out a mind map of ideas to get them all out of your head before committing to one and developing it. Don’t be afraid to start because your idea isn’t perfect, because the internet is always changing so you will have to adapt your plan or idea to the industry whether it is perfect or not. A lot of content creators won’t launch because they are afraid of imperfection, but that is just something you have to get over and power through as a course creator.

To learn more about Katie Elenberger head over to Spark27Creative.com. You can also find her on Twitter at @KatieElenberger.

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

Chris: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. My name is Chris Badgett from LifterLMS. I’m joined today by a special guest KatieElenberger of Spark27 Creative. She is a creative brand strategist. We’re going to get into all kinds of interesting topics that are going to be relevant to course creators, membership site owners and really any business owner who’s needing to get into design and branding and do things the right way, and find help and collaborators and even cheerleaders behind their mission and their cause.
First, Katie thank you for coming on the show.
Katie: Thank you for inviting me.
Chris: What on earth is a creative brand strategist? What does that mean? I feel like branding is often misunderstood or it’s kind of abstract. Can you bring it down into reality of what you do at Spark27 Creative in terms of brand strategy?
Katie: As a designer by heart and by passion, design is a part of everything that I do and all things creative. By adding in the creative brand strategist is, it’s really helping companies determine their strategy around their brand and who their target audiences are, their key messages, but then really into what kind of things can we design that are going to help them reach their goals, really, and where they want to go as a company, and what kind of creative elements can we do to make that happen.
Chris: That’s awesome. What are some of the moving parts of that? There’s the strategy, but then how do you make it happen? What are the pieces?
Katie: We are a team of three, and we each kind of champion our own area. There’s a lot of crossover and collaboration, but really this overall strategy kind of comes from our whole team working together and really ideating what we think would be best for your business and then championing through design, through PR and media relations, and through digital, like that web aspect. I think that they three really work together.
There’s different subcategories through each of those. Even PR has the press releases to the crisis communication. The design, there’s logo and branding developments. There’s brochures. There’s advertising. There’s all sorts of different pieces for that. Through the Web you have websites and digital ads and digital marketing and paid media. It kind of goes into this full line of things that we can implement across, but really focusing on that design digital and PR to help your strategy.
Chris: That’s great. That’s really great. I want to ask you, and I know you teach you also teach graphic design at Minnesota State University, what is design. What is great design? We kind of know it when we see it, but how do you deconstruct it a little bit and teach somebody about how to make great design or think about great design?
Katie: I teach a branding and linked identities course, well two courses actually, to upperclassmen at Minnesota State University Moorhead. Really is a collaborative approach, and I find that a lot of our classwork is a lot of studio time, a lot of one on ones, a lot of small group, which is really setting the stage for how we want them to work as designers in the future. To be able to work on a team, to be able to build ideas independently, but yet really listen and appreciate the constructive feedback that they’re given, not only by me but by their peers. That is just so huge as a designer out in the world. Being able to do it in a way that, to teach in a way that has an impact on the students that make them push themselves to be better designers, to learn the tips and the tricks around typography, and to really just be ready to be designers as a profession, too. That’s kind of like what I love about teaching design, too, is also seeing their raw creativity, too, and how do they implement that, how do they build on these concepts and then how do they produce it in a way that’s meaningful and will stand out in the crowd.
Chris: That’s awesome. Let’s get a little bit tactical. Anybody out there listening when they go to a website or they’re starting their business, a lot of times, initially there’s a lot of focus on the logo or the name of the business, but specifically the logo sometimes. In my experiences where people, when they first start really getting into thinking about design for their learning platform or their business website in general, what are some do’s and don’ts when it comes to creating a logo or working with a designer to create a logo that you’ve just learned over time?
Katie: Do’s and don’ts. That’s interesting. I think there’s a big difference between like the do-it-yourself logo that you love and you’re passionate with to working with a designer. I think a lot about the process of building that logo. If you’re doing it as a do-it-yourself, I know everybody has different budgets and that’s understandable, but even approaching it from the same way that I approach a logo project for my students, is to be able to sketch those ideas out to really push yourself past your first idea. In some of my projects, I require, “Okay, do 20 sketches, 50.” I’ve even heard some people doing 100 sketches. Really pushing half your first idea. Because what happens when, especially when you’re do-it-yourself or you’re learning the programs, such as some students are, you go into the computer too fast. You maybe don’t know the programs as well as you should. You’re going in too fast and you get really attached to that idea, because you spent three hours, five hours, whatever kind of hours it is. It’s hard to scrap that.
By pushing yourself with quick little thumbnails, get 25 thumbnails out, and then take your top five and go through a refining process and really build it out with a thick tip sharpie … One other thing I see from students and a lot of people that are trying to do this themselves is you’re getting elements in your logo that are too thin to reduce down. What you need to think about the logo is what is it on a 400%, what would it look like scaled up on a billboard to what does it look like at that 25% on a business card. That’s something so, so crucial because small texts, small lines, any elements like that that can’t be versatile on either one of those faces are going to be hard and not successful. Think about also where is this going. Is it going to be online only? If you’re building this course, is it online only? Maybe your elements and transparencies and fun color and gradients are working. If it’s a logo that’s going to transmit to, you want to embroider it on a shirt one day, you better be able to have that all in black and white or in a one color or two color version without losing parts of that logo.
Chris: Wow. I learned a lot listening to that. Thank you so much.
Katie: Sorry, that was a lot of information all at once.
Chris: No, that’s good.
Katie: I don’t even know because I answered … I didn’t even get to the second part of the answer of what is it like working with a designer.
Chris: Before we go to that, I just want to highlight what you said about pushing past your first idea, because I think that is so brilliant. Those of you listening out there, if you’re an expert or a teacher or you have some skills that you want to try to turn into an online course, you can make the same mistake in a different way. You can jump right into your learning management system or your membership site tools and start trying to plug stuff into the structure. Whereas if you were to hold off on picking up your software and loading up the course builder and LifterLMS or whatever you’re using, grab a piece of paper and do a mind map and don’t think linearly and just get all the ideas out of your head before you commit and start seeing your course come together on the website. You get attached to it and you’ve kind of the limited your creativity way down here when you just didn’t leave it loose and open or challenge your assumptions long enough.
I love how you talk about that in terms of design and branding. That’s such a brilliant insight. That’s such a good idea. Thank you for one.
Katie: I think, I’ve said this to many, many students over the past years … I even do it myself. You’re sketching and let’s say you want to get to 25 sketches. I guarantee you the one that you end up with is not that first one. Maybe you’re refining number two and number six and number 15, but maybe it’s even that 20 or 25. The ideas that you’re getting to towards the end, once you’ve pushed past the bad ones, once you’ve pushed past other ideas and gotten some more creativity out, are always going to be beneficial. That’s so true, that it’s not just logos that that’s important for, but a lot of different things.
Chris: That’s awesome. What about working with a designer? You mentioned people have all kinds of budgets. If you’re a scrappy start up and you can’t afford a designer right away and you go with a text-based logo with a nice font and pick some colors on your own or find some kind of affordable logo design service that is very templated or something like that … But if you get into the more professional design arena and you’re working with a designer, how do you get the most out of that experience?
Katie: I think really just trusting in that creative process, too. Finding the right person for you too and what is their process and how do they involve you in it. I truly believe in being that strategic partner with people. I know there are a lot of designers out there that are like, “This is the way, this is …” I think there is a part of that because they are trained and they are experts, and so you do need to listen to their opinions. I do believe a designer needs to listen to their clients, too, and really take their feedback to heart and see if you can kind of come up with a really good process together or have a really good experience throughout that designer’s process, is really important to me. That that comes across with really being client relations focused in my business, too. Just really listening to each other really is huge.
Chris: That’s awesome. Having it be a team effort. Because the designer may not know … I mean, they definitely don’t know as much about your business as you do, and you don’t know nearly as much about design as they do. Let’s pull resources and trust-
Katie: Any designer is going to be going through a thorough discovery process and learning everything about that company, or they should. After, I think different budgets are coming to play. I heard you say the affordable design service that is more templated. They’re not going to know everything about you, and that’s part of that process. That’s part of what, in the term that you get what you pay for, too. Right? At the end of the day, it needs to be a success on both ends. The designer needs to be proud of what they put out and they did a really great job with it. The person, the client, needs to be really happy and proud of that brand, too. It needs to speak to their audience too.
Chris: That’s almost the most important piece. Let’s talk about that with a specific example. A lot of people listening to this might be building an online course or membership site. They’re going to be involved in the digital part of the brand and building a website. Let’s talk about both typography and colors, or color palette. What I see happening-
Katie: Speaking to my heart, Chris.
Chris: What I see happening sometimes is … For example, at LifterLMS, I’m on the technology side. We have a theme called Launchpad. You can choose from over 600 Google fonts and there’s about, I don’t know, a hundred places where you can use a color picker to pick from a million different shades of all colors or something. In the wrong hands, you can create a really ugly side or not a very usable sight. What I see a lot of web designers or website building services do is they’ll ask the client, “Pick your font and let me know what your color palettes are,” or something like that. Or, “What do you want your link or your buttons colors to be,” or something like that. If you were in a more high touch experience, and also with a designer, and keeping in mind that the design is really meant for the end user … I may like Helvetica or Comic Sans or whatever but-
Katie: Chris!
Chris: … or Papyrus, but-
Katie: Wait. Let me just put that out there. Never choose Comic Sans.
Chris: My customers, it’s their experience of the brand that matters most. If blue is my favorite color, but I’m in a business that has a different kind of feel, like it’s for kids and it’s fun and it’s playful, I might not want navy blue.
Let’s talk about it. Where does typography and design come from? Or typography and color palettes come from?
Katie: In specifically a web space?
Chris: Yeah, in a web space.
Katie: Okay, let’s start with colors first. That color picker you mentioned can be very, very dangerous. I was actually even part of this panel that was discussing colors. They were talking about the web colors, in terms of like, “I don’t have time to go back and forth with the client to pick the right color blue, or, “I don’t want to pick the shade of blue.” But to me as a designer and this brand strategist who’s implementing your web design after we’ve already determined, is that that blue has already been determined and already been picked. You wouldn’t be running through like, “Okay, change all these button colors,” because it’s already been part of your established brand. I think that that’s really important and a different feature that my company does, or some others.
Relying on resources to me is really huge. There’s a lot of really good places out there that will help you pair colors together. If you’re in this DIY space and you’re looking for colors that’ll match, go out to Adobe Kuler or go out to Design Seeds or go out to a few of these other places that are already pairing these great colors and sending you what those RGV values are and then what would those CMYK values be if you’re going to be printing a business card or you’re printing a brochure. Because those colors will change.
One mistake I see a lot of people doing is they’re picking this color on the web, which is the RGV version, and then they’re trying to print it out and it looks completely different. Any student that says to me in portfolio critiques and stuff like, “Oh, well, it looked a lot different on the screen, and then I printed it out.” I’m like, “No, those need to be like changed right away. You need to be looking at that across the board. Relying on resources and looking at colors. You might pick navy blue, but there’s a lot of different versions of navy blue. How does that navy blue coordinate with the other colors? Are you adding enough contrast? Are you adding saturation? Is there a color that’s going to end up vibrating? Those are all things to really consider. Because it’s not just picking navy blue. Not to me anyways. There’s very, very differing hues of navy blue.You can think about it like you’re painting your wall navy blue. The navy blue you’re picking from, there’s a lot of different choices.
In terms of typography, legibility is huge. I find a lot of people that are picking in DIY are thinking, “Oh, it just looks nice.” But like how are you pairing those together? Don’t use two serifs together, don’t use to sans serifs. Having a good … Like a serif and a sans serif together or a headline and a strip font with a sans serifs. Then how are those fonts that you’re picking really going after your market? If you were to describe your brand, what is it? Is it contemporary? Is it rustic? Is it old school? Is it retro? What kind of font are you looking for? I think I have 6300 fonts on my machine. It’s not just a font to a designer. That’s a big choice for us. Thinking about what description words your brand needs to encompass or telling your designer that you’re working with, “This is the overall feel that I want it to be.” It’ll help them pick the fonts that’ll fit that best.
Legibility, obviously, number one. If you can’t read it, you can’t read their message. Anybody is going to leave your page.
Chris: That’s really good. I like what you’re saying about out of 6000 thousand fonts … You can tell when you see different fonts, like, “Oh, that looks like it came from the West,” like cowboy kind of thing. If you’re selling Cowboys pearl snap shirts, that might be a good heading for your website. But if you’re selling medical devices, that might not be the best font to choose or something. You might want something a little more professional and modern looking.
Let’s talk about-
Katie: Hopefully you’re working with a designer that’s considering all of that. That would be the ultimate goal.
Chris: Yeah, yeah. Design is a language. I’m a self-admitted not the greatest designer, and I love learning from great designers. Because they find words for things that I didn’t know how to express, but that I felt before, when experiencing a brand in some way. I think that’s why working with a great designer is so important, because they give you a language and a way to communicate and even understand your brand or create a brand that is just going to work.
Let’s talk about color for a little bit. I’m just selfishly trying to learn from you. I see bright colorful … I have a very elementary understanding of it. If I see bright, colorful stuff, I might be thinking of, “Okay, this is for kids’ toys or whatever or children’s books website or something.” If it’s all blacks and whites and grays and silvers, it might be super high end, elegant, very expensive premium stuff. If it’s red, it might be very edgy or masculine or something. I don’t know. If it’s pink, maybe it’s very feminine or whatever. Can you help me not sound like such a Neanderthal when I talk about colors? How do you explain color to people?
Katie: That’s really tough. Approaching color when we’re going into a branding project with a client is first we develop all of our logos in black and white first, as a rule. Sometimes, know the rules to break the rules.
Chris: You’re getting the content right first. Kind of. Is that the way it …
Katie: Right. Because I think that color can ultimately sway a decision.
Chris: Okay, that’s interesting. I’m learning. I’m learning. Keep going.
Katie: Yeah. I feel like I’m giving very general examples because there’s always, always the rule breaks. Generally, our process for logos would be to be developing in black and white and giving three different versions. All based on those descriptions words in the discovery process that we went through. One, we like to develop in black and white because it has to be not even just for the digital space, but for the print space, we believe that it needs to always have that one color version. Bold and thick and not too busy. Backing up to our other conversations, that a lot of DIYers try to add so much to a logo. When you’re pairing it with a lot of other elements, a lot of other textures and other backgrounds and colors and photos, your busy logo isn’t … Save those elements for other design areas of your site or of your pieces.
Sorry, backing up. Our process, it would developing these three black and white versions and showing that to the client, or talking through that. That isn’t always the case. At least it’s a good rule of thumb to start where we’re at. Or identifying a color that your client really wants to stay away from. Maybe it’s a personal hatred towards orange. If you had orange in any of your … You never asked that question and you had orange in any of your logos, sometimes color can just sway the person, “I don’t even like that logo because that orange is terrible.” Really, the concept would have been strong. I think that it’s really important to pick your colors very thoroughly because it can really impact the client, but it can also impact your customers. Just make sure it’s really fitting.
Chris: That makes sense. I’ve heard some things, like red and orange and yellow, these are the colors that fast food companies use because it makes you hungry, makes you think about food. Blue, I think, is supposedly trustworthy or something like that.
Katie: Right, yeah. I know a restaurant that we didn’t work on it, but that chose blue just because they wanted to be setting themselves out …
Chris: Different.
Katie: … separating themselves. I’m like, “But blue and food? Those just don’t really go together.” I think that there’s definite need for pushing beyond the boundaries and pushing to do different things, but still considering why isn’t blue used in a restaurant space as often. Things like that. I just think color can be very impactful.
Chris: Can you provide some general tips around, I guess the word would be rebranding? For example, if you’re a scrappy course creator, membership site builder, and you don’t have a lot of extra resources. You launch your site. It’s doing well. People are in your course. They’re buying your membership or whatever. Then you’re like, “Okay, I kind of hacked it together. I chose colors. I picked a logo that I made myself. I want to do a rebrand.” What do recommend in terms of rebranding? Is it any different from branding from the beginning or considerations when you’re doing a shift? Could you just speak to rebranding a little bit?
Katie: Yeah. I think that rebrand process really starts with the why. Is it because you know your logo isn’t being effective or-
Chris: Let me give you a specific example. At LifterLMS, design is not our strength. Our strength is more in functionality and business and teaching through the internet. These are our skills. Design is not our highest skill. We need more design help. When we started, we first launched … This is a LifterLMS … If you’re listening to this on a podcast, I’m just holding up a coffee cup in the video that has our … We just had a Helvetica Lifter LMS logo. We’ve got a space theme. We’ve got a rocket that’s our logo, basically. That icon, the rocket, is something that lots of companies in the software space use. We were committed. We have products named after a space theme. But we’ve thought about doing a rebrand and we really want to develop a more unique logo and invest in it. Using that as an example, for, “Man, we’re just getting tired of this rocket. We go to conferences, we see other booths with rockets.” That’s where it starts with us. What would you recommend?
Katie: I think there’s two things. One, you guys might be sick of the rocket, but is your clients? Are they seeing the same things? Or if they’re seeing these other rockets, are they able to recognize whether it’s a Lifter rocket versus another rocket? That’s one thing to consider. There’s two things with rebrands. There’s one of we’re going an entire different direction. If you guys lost that rocket, you’d have to change a lot of your different programs. Right? Does that rebrand of, “We’re really trying to move and position ourselves in a different way”? Or you’re rebranding from your rocket and you’re taking more of the approach of adjusting the rocket to make it a little more unique or a little more simplified or a little more designed as another part of a rebrand. Really, kind of going through that. Still, I think that’s determining your why. Why do you want to do this? How will this impact your users and your end users and your overall look? Really kind of going through this audit of what’s working and what’s not. That’s going to be determined, with your rebrand, it’s going to be determined in your colors and your textures and the type of photos you’re using, as well as just your logo.
Chris: That’s awesome. I really appreciate that. We are going a little long. I hope that’s okay with you on the time. Are you good for a couple more minutes?
Katie: Yes, we’re good.
Chris: Could you speak to a little bit what you mean by texture? You just threw that in there. Is this like rounded corners versus hard corners, or shadows? What is a texture in digital?
Katie: I guess I just mean more other design elements. If you’re on a digital space, does that block of color only need to be yellow? Does that only need to be blue? Are there other things that make sense with your brand that you can add in? I’m thinking rockets, you’ve got the different kinds of smoke. Is there other elements of texture? When I say texture, it’s like design elements that you can add in that are really just going to emphasize your overall brand, but really from the cosmetic standpoint. It’s not all just that very flat color. What is that other dimension and that other layer that’s just going to add a lot more dimension to your work?
Chris: That’s awesome.
Katie: If that makes sense.
Chris: I have a couple more selfish questions to ask you before we wrap up.
Katie: Absolutely.
Chris: I’m just thinking about this issue of a personal brand versus a corporate brand or whatever. What is your stance on it? You like to advocate for the entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs are often building a company, but they might be a company of one. It definitely starts that way. Their personal brand is a part of it, but maybe over time they’re transitioning more to a corporate brand. How do you decide, in the beginning or just as you strategically think about the future, of what kind of brand am I building? Is this a personal brand or a corporate brand or do I need to care about both? Can you speak to those, that dichotomy there?
Katie: I probably have a bit of an interesting answer to that question, Chris. I feel like you’re kind of speaking to my origin story of how I got going owning my own business, too. From doing this business, I was always a designer and I always worked as a design and strategy, but kind of built my business as a side hustle. I joke that side hustle, people other love or hate that word. In my situation, I had no other term for it really because I was working full-time and I was raising a family and I was working on the side to build my business.
For me, and I hope this is applicable to the people that are listening too, it was building my customers. It was building my audience. It was building my following. It was building my client list. That was huge. That was even before I could work on my own brand. While I was working full-time … We were allowed to freelance, but we were promoting ourselves. We never had our own website. When I announced to my clients, “Hey, I’m going to go full-time,” it was just this dump of work. They were protecting me in a sense. We had built this really strong client relationship. They knew that I was doing this on the side, at night, on weekends and stuff. When I finally said, “Okay, I’m committing. I’m going to do this full-time,” it was this dump of projects. I think six months later I finally was able to take a breath. I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I don’t even have my own logo or my own website. I’m constantly building all of these things and all of these branding campaigns for all my clients, but not my own.” I think, though, that is a little ridiculous, it makes a lot of sense for who I am and my client relationships, too. I did kind of always put them first.
I’m getting on a long tangent here. Sorry, Chris. Ah!
Chris: Just the dichotomy between the personal brand and the corporate brand. Did you start as-
Katie: Yeah, the switch of it, right?
Chris: Yeah.
Katie: That building up, I see a lot of people that are so overwhelmed with, “I’m going to be building this. I want to build this.” If you don’t have people to sell it to, where is it going? Sorry, I got a little distracted there. That’s where I was going. I had people to sell it to, so my personal brand was a little bit less important. I had that client list. You could spend months and months trying to protect or perfect that logo and that content and that design, but if you’re never going to end up launching the course, then who are you selling it to? It’s a mix of getting it out there, and then, when things are successful, then revisiting that brand. That’s the same kind of thing that I ended up having to do.
Finally, it was successful as a business. I had clients to sell to. Then I ended up reworking, “Now I understand were my content needs to lie and what my design needs to look like.”
Chris: That makes a lot of sense. We talk a lot about that in a similar way with creating a pilot version of a course or pre-selling and validating it before you actually go big and build a whole learning management system with lots of courses and membership levels and all this. The brand can evolve with time.
When we first started LifterLMS in 2013, we used Lead Pages to create a single opt-in landing page to see if anybody was interested. We didn’t have a logo. It was just some words. Not a single line of code had been written. That was the beginning. We just used the blue and yellow that was in the Lead Pages. We did a launch. When we first launched, we got 42 customers. From there, over time, we would just keep evolving the brand. I think that is a really important point, to make sure you’ve got enough momentum and your idea is right and you’ve kind of pivoted it to ultimately where it’s going to be before you go really strong into branding. You don’t want to do too much too early and then change what you’re going to do or change the brand or who it’s for or whatever.
Katie: That evolution is probably a part of every business, I feel like. If you have all of your stuff set up, and you think, “This is perfect,” then maybe you’re not going to be ready or prepared for change. If you go into it knowing, “This is really great for where I’m at right now, but in a year we’re going to revisit this or in six months we’re going to try to be able to hire somebody to help us.” Really it’s embracing that change and being ready for that kind of evolution. I don’t feel like at some point that’s perfect. Because three years down the road, the entire web industry is going to be changing and there’s going to be different trends to be watching for.
Chris: I’ve got one more design question for you before we wrap up. It’s kind of a really specific niche question, but I’ve always been fascinated by characters in branding. Like Geico has the lizard. Different products sometimes have a character. When does it make sense to have a character? What is the function of that? Is that a way to give it a personal brand, but it’s imaginary? Could you just speak a little bit from your perspective about these fictional characters that exist in brands? Where does that come from and what purpose does that serve? I’m looking for you to teach me some language around that.
Katie: I also feel like this is your question of should we remove the rocket ship and add in a character …
Chris: That is also my question.
Katie: Chris, I really wish I had a better answer for you on the characters and when it makes sense. A lot of the businesses that I work for are more in that corporate space or healthcare, so you don’t see a ton of that character niche. That’s maybe more around products.
Chris: Consumers, yeah.
Katie: A little bit. Or maybe driven around advertising. I know you mentioned Geico. That’s very advertising driven, which then … What I can talk to you about is you see it on the ads, and then when you get to their website there’s continuity between that as a brand. I think continuity across all of those different mediums is incredibly important. I think that all of the people that are building courses on LifterLMS who are looking for branding advice, just make sure you’re using that same continuity with colors and everything across in your content.
I wish I had a better answer for you for characters. Now I feel like I’m going to have to do more research. We’re going to have to talk again.
Chris: You did a ninja move and you brought it over to continuity. I’m guilty as charged, where I’ve done Facebook ads. I was in a hurry. I grabbed some stock photography or whatever. The click-through, it was incongruent, I believe the word is. I think that consistent … Whatever you do, be consistent. I think that’s key. If you’re going to rebrand, you’ve got to rebrand all the way.
Katie: You mentioned stock photography. Maybe there’s a time and a place. In my business, we try to be as original as possible. I preach that a lot to my students at MSUM, is that as a designer, going out and taking your own photography or working with a photographer, you feel maybe a lot more satisfied with your end result and knowing that you had much more of an art direction role in that photography.
Obviously, I can’t say I’ve never used stock photography, but I think that’s one aspect of what can you do or what can a designer add that’s original to and that you can taken then through all the different pieces.
Chris: That’s beautiful. Katie Ellenberger, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for coming on the show and sharing your wisdom with us. We’re definitely going to have to do a part two, because I can tell we just cracked the seal on your knowledge. There’s a lot of design wisdom in there. We’re going to get more out of you in another episode, if you’ll have us.
Katie: Absolutely. Thank you for asking me to be on, Chris.
Chris: Yeah. If you’re resonating with all this and you want to find out more about Katie, check out Spark 27 Creative. Is there anywhere else people can find you on the internet or places they should go if they want to connect with you?
Katie: Yeah, absolutely. All the social media. @KatieEllenberger on Twitter. You can find me on LinkedIn, on Instagram, and Spark27Creative.com definitely will get us connected. I hope that something I mentioned today was inspiring and can help all of your Lifter clients or whoever is listening to this podcast to be able to make some changes and to be inspired to use creative, original ideas, and to build your network that you’re comfortable getting feedback from.
Chris: Thank you for coming on the show and helping inspire all the education entrepreneurs out there. We really appreciate it.
Katie: Thank you, Chris.

EPISODE 163

Validating Course Ideas, Upselling, and Cross-Selling via Stripe with Phil Derksen of WP Simple Pay

This episode of LMScast with Chris Badgett of LifterLMS is on validating course ideas, upselling, and cross-selling via Stripe with Phil Derksen of WP Simple Pay. Chris and Phil talk about how WP Simple Pay can be used to turn any WordPress website into a simple online store by allowing you to collect payments through Stripe.

Phil is the creator of WP Simple Pay, which is a WordPress plugin for accepting credit card payments via Stripe on your WordPress site. WP Simple Pay is a way to get up and running with your course or membership site pretty quickly without having to integrate a shopping cart and all of the complications with that.

Chris and Phil talk about how easy it is to set up WP Simple Pay and start collecting payments for digital products. Essentially you have a basic Buy Now button and your customer enters their credit or debit card information, and the whole payment process is facilitated by Stripe so you are not responsible for any sensitive information. Stripe does take a cut of the sale, but it is only about 2.9% or 3%. With over 135 currencies, Stripe allows you to accept credit card payments from almost anyone in the world.

Most of Simple Pay’s customers are non-developers. Chris and Phil discuss some of the different options you have with WP Simple Pay. All that is required to install Stripe on your site is to have a SSL certificate, which is the “S” at the end of the “HTTPS.” It indicates that your site is secure. Stripe also has the capabilities to translate the payment gateway to display the correct currency and language. You can also add tax rates to your checkout.

A lot of people use WP Simple Pay for donations. You can also add fields to collect more information from your customers. With WP Simple Pay you can customize payment methods to create a one-time payment, a monthly subscription, or a system where you have monthly payments until a certain point where there are no more payments.

Chris and Phil talk about how it is critical to validate your ideas before diving all in. Often it is efficient to deliver a live service to your clients until you get very good at teaching it and making sure your clients get results. Then you can create an online course or membership around that topic. Teaching live also allows you to get instant feedback, and you can see where your customers are losing focus or having problems.

Creating a product can seem intimidating, but breaking things down and building a minimum viable product or MVP will help you develop your product or service in a way that will best suit your customers. You can build a simple one-page sales site with a WP Simple Pay button and get started with your MVP.

You can use WP Simple Pay to easily sell products, but you can also use it as a platform to test your ideas and then cross-sell and upsell your clients to other products and services you offer.

To learn more about Phil Derksen go to Twitter @PhilDerksen or his blog at PhilDerksen.com. Also head over to WPSimplePay.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 from LifterLMS, and I’m joined today by a special guest, Phil Derksen from WP Simple Pay. We’re similar people in that we run WordPress-based software companies, and we both care a lot about eCommerce and helping other people sell their products and their courses and the things that they build. I’m really excited to have a conversation with Phil today and introduce him to you all out there. First, I just want to welcome you and thank you for coming on the show, Phil.
Phil Derksen: Oh, thanks, Chris, for having me. Appreciate it.
Chris Badgett: Phil is the creator of WP Simple Pay. I would encourage everyone to check that out. You can go to wpsimplepay.com. It has a demo there. Once you find the demo, you can see what it does and there’s all these different ways to use it. Phil, just to kind of kick us off here, what is WP Simple Pay? What does it do? What problems does it solve? What’s it all about?
Phil Derksen: Yeah, sure. It’s a plugin for WordPress much like Lifter, your plugin. It’s for accepting credit card payments on your WordPress site specifically using a payment gateway called Stripe. You can accept one time payments, recurring payments, subscriptions, like monthly payments. It’s a way to do it pretty quickly without … If you don’t need a full shopping cart solution or a full membership site or anything like that, it’s more of a way to get up and running pretty quickly without having to write all that code or anything like that either.
Chris Badgett: One of the ways I like to describe WP Simply Pay is it’s really simple when you look at it. You put these buttons on your site, basically a buy now button. This thing pops up and people can enter their credit card or additional information. There’s all these different ways you can use it. Then that just basically facilitates the credit card transaction through Stripe and Stripe I personally love because unlike PayPal, it’s just a much better user experience. I like PayPal, but there’s a lot of things that aren’t so great about it. For example, sometimes you have to … When you check out, you often have to leave where you are and go to PayPal. You have to have a PayPal account.
When it’s time to move money as the store owner or the product seller into your account, you have to log into PayPal and tell it to give you the money. Stripe, all that’s much cleaner, more automated. People stay on your website. They have a smooth check out experience. The Stripe transfers the money into your bank account without you having to ask them to do that. It takes about 3% or 2.9 or whatever percent of the transactions. Those are the some of the things I like about Stripe. What do you like about Stripe, Phil?
Phil Derksen: Yeah, those are all good. It keeps the person who’s checking out who’s paying on your site. Well, the way we implement it at least, it throws up a checkout overlay. They’re not even leaving the page, the checkout page, or even where the page the button is located on. Like you said, the behind the scene stuff, connecting your bank account and those daily transfers it does on its own. When you create your Stripe account, if you haven’t done that yet, it’s really fast. Just entering a little bit of your bank account information and you’re hooked up right away. I also like just as a developer working with their API. It’s much cleaner and much better documented and easy to work with from that standpoint.
Whether myself creating a plugin or a WordPress developer creating a custom solution, they’re usually going to find that a lot easier than a lot of the other solutions out there. Like maybe older merchants and PayPal as well. Just kind of that combination of things for the developer, but also for the end user that’s creating a Stripe account.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. That’s super cool. I’ve just found Stripe easy to work with. One of the things that you should check out if you’re listening to this or seeing this video is just the internationalization of it all. Stripe is available in something like 30 countries. It’s not available everywhere if you just google like what countries can I use Stripe in. I want to be really clear on how this works where it just depends on what country you as the store owner is in, like where your bank account is. That’s what matters in terms of what country it works in. Other than that, anybody anywhere in the world on the internet with a credit card can use your checkout.
It’s just a question of when you’re setting up your Stripe, which countries is your bank in. That’s what that’s all about. They’re continuously adding new countries to that. I imagine that’s just going to continue to grow. It’s always a good idea to check on that.
Phil Derksen: Yeah. There’s always some countries that are in beta or preview, but like you said, they’re always adding more countries. I was just looking it up when you’re talking. They support having a Stripe account in 25 countries right now, but over 135 currencies that you can accept payments in. Then of course, different languages and stuff as well. It’s always growing like you said.
Chris Badgett: That’s a beautiful thing to accept money in a hundred and whatever many currencies. That’s one of the beauties of the internet and online payment systems is that you can truly have a global business. Before we get into how to use something like WP Simple Pay for different use cases, why did you decide to create this product?
Phil Derksen: Well, it wasn’t my first product or even my first WordPress plugin. Some of the other attempts at products and plugins that I had before this, I guess it was the target customer. I found that selling to customers that either are price sensitive or if it’s a product that it’s hard to associate the value that they’re getting out of it is a harder sell. Well, let me give you an example. Previous plugin of mine that did pretty well. It was a premium plugin just like my Stripe plugin now. It was a Pinterest sharing plugin. It was a social sharing plugin.
Although a lot of people use them, a lot of people maybe even pay for premium solutions, plugins or otherwise to have social features on their sites, I think a lot of people they couldn’t … It’s hard them to say, “Well, having this social sharing plugin on my site makes me X amount of dollars per month.” Because of that, I think it’s more difficult. eCommerce plugin or selling courses or whatever, it’s you say, “Well, with this plugin, it’s helping me sell X per month.” That association with the value there it’s more clear.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, I agree with that point. If you’re selling courses or membership sites, selling business to business like we’re talking about where there’s like a clear value proposition is always in many ways I think a lot easier. Although there are people out there that have a gift for more B to C, business to consumer or customer, but that’s things like … If you’re going to design an app for the App Store like a game Angry Birds or something, I’m just not that kind of guy. I’m more of a guy who’s going to build tools for other entrepreneurs. I think you have to decide if you’re building any product do you want to do business with other businesses or are you really truly going after the end customer.
Phil Derksen: Yeah and there’s nothing wrong with going after consumers, the B to C. You’re probably going to have to price it a lot lower and sell a lot more volume. That’s why Angry Birds is a success even though it cost a dollar, the original one or whatever it was, it’s because they sold so many. It can be done and it is done. It might take longer to get there, but yeah, the business to business you definitely can price your product or service higher because of that value that business is getting from it.
Chris Badgett: Speaking of that, if you look at Stripe by itself, they take I think 2.9% or 3% of the transaction. It’s completely free to set up. They’re just going to take that amount out of each transaction that rolls through your site. It’s hard to debate that value. You’re going to take 3%, which is a small percentage, for allowing me to sell whatever I have on my website to the entire world. I mean it just makes sense. I would gladly give Stripe 3% of my money. Just in terms of online businesses that I have run in the past and I run now, whenever I have a utility software tool that helps facilitate the transaction, it’s almost a nonissue how much it cost or if it has a renewal annual subscription license or whatever.
It’s just part of doing business. It’s part of my stack and it’s pretty easy sell. I like that point about why you chose to get into WP Simple Pay. Well, let’s elaborate a little bit on some of the different options you can do with it. Like I mentioned, you guys should head on over to wpsimplepay.com and check out the demo. There’s a menu of different demos you can check out and then these buttons you can click with the overlays. What’s like a really simple WP Simple Pay checkout and what’s a more elaborate one or could you describe some of the options people have?
Phil Derksen: Sure, yeah. I mean the basic like one time … Like you just want to sell something. It’s a one time purchase. It’s not a recurring subscription that you’re signing up. You can put whatever content you want on the page, but you can really just have a button at the very least. Okay? You’re going to sell something for 20 bucks and then the Stripe checkout overlay … Okay. Stripe is mainly behind the scenes. They’re approving credit cards, detecting fraud, all that kind of stuff behind the scenes. It’s not something your customer is seeing, but they do offer a Stripe checkout overlay, which is a big part of Simple Pay. On that overlay you can customize a few different things. For instance, you can require billing and shipping address or not.
You can require zip or postal code or not, those kind of things. Just a few different things. You can add a logo and certain things. That’s the real kind of bare bones kind of configuration. Then from there if you want to collect a little bit more information, you can add some custom fields to it. Right now in the current state of Simple Pay, these will reside on the page that’s launching that checkout overlay. Again it’s easier if you just go through the demos, but what these will do is record some extra information like if you want phone numbers and options of what they’re buying and so on and so forth. Let me back up a little bit too on how this plugin is different than other Stripe plugins or add-ons.
One of the reasons I said I love Stripe is that signing up for an account is pretty fast and it’s easy. Even though they target developers, I would say many of our customers are … Simple Pay’s customers are non-developers and I would recommend it to no- developers. It’s easy to navigate through and look through payment details and subscription details and so on. What Simple Pay does is any extra information that it collects like from these custom fields and such it stores in the Stripe payment metadata. Metadata is a technical term for basically extra fields in there. This is all in the Stripe dashboard.
Simple Pay is also a lightweight Stripe plugin in the sense that it’s not storing all this extra data in your WordPress site, which is not a bad thing, but it’s keeping it lightweight. Whereas if you set up WooCommerce or easy digital downloads or all these other shopping card solutions, they’re storing all the data in WordPress. It’s just a different way that we do because Stripe provides all that on their backend if that makes sense.
Chris Badgett: It does makes sense. Stripe is really the backend and you’re providing the bridge in the simplest way possible for people to sell stuff, get the information to Stripe and have a clean easy checkout with lots of options.
Phil Derksen: Right. Right. Should I keep going through some of the different options here? Stripe also provides a coupon code mechanism in their backend. What you could do is you set up the coupon codes on your Stripe dashboard and then you can connect them with your Simple Pay checkout form and then it’ll read what you’ve set up in the Stripe again. This is not stored in WordPress.
Chris Badgett: There’s also I just want to add a benefit to that one. When you’re not storing a bunch of sensitive eCommerce information, that’s one of the great things about Stripe is they’re the ones who are holding the credit card. It’s not like you’re responsible for somebody’s credit card. Stripe is. I think you can see the last four digits or whatever if you ever need to like verify something with somebody on the phone, but all that security is handled by Stripe.
Phil Derksen: Yeah, exactly. You’re a lot less as offloaded from your site. You don’t have to worry about that. SSL certificates. Having HTTPS is required like most sites. You want to have that anywhere going forward, but that is about all they require. Let’s see here. Well, like you said, you can configure the language that you want to use and which country and which currency you’re using and so on and so forth. There’s a demo using a French Euro combination on the site. Whatever fields are not translated in WordPress itself, Stripe has its own. You’re setting something and sending it off to Stripe so they’re also displaying the correct currency and language and all that kind of stuff. If you want to add tax rates to your checkout, you can.
Then a big thing we have that’s pretty popular is custom amount. Pay what you want. Donate. It’s user entered amount, whatever you want to call it. A lot of people use it for donations, but some people also use it for say they have a bunch of different client projects and they tell somebody say, “Hey, simply go to this page, enter in what you owe me and that sort of thing.
Chris Badgett: It’s like your own personal like Western Union money transfer.
Phil Derksen: Right. Right. Like super simple though. It doesn’t take much time, but a lot of people do use it for donations, which can be configured again to be one time or recurring. They can even check a box say make this a monthly donation, that sort of thing. Then basically from there it ties into Stripe’s subscriptions. They have plans and subscriptions, so basically their recurring logic. Then that’s kind of a whole nother realm, but we pretty much tie in with all the things they offer currently. You can just subscribe somebody to a plan that you set up. In our documentation stuff, there’s how to set up all these plans in Stripe, but again I think you’ll find even if you’re not a developer or technical, that it’s pretty easy to do in the Stripe dashboard.
You can set up if let’s say you have … You want to a list of few options in a dropdown or radio buttons or pricing table of different subscription plans, you can do that and let your customer pick which plan they want to subscribe to. You can also combine a lot of these things. You can combine select a plan, add a few fields like get some more information from them, and then you can also have them enter an amount they want. Again if it’s a donation kind of scenario or something like that, they can say, “I want to pay 30 bucks for this.” They can enter that in. A lot of donation sites you’ll see they’ll have preselected plans, but let the user …
Chris Badgett: Override it?
Phil Derksen: Enter what they want as well. These are kind of more little bit smaller cases, but overtime we had our customers ask for these. Actually I think this might apply to folks selling courses. Like certain types of courses. You might want to charge an upfront fee that’s higher than the regular monthly plan. We call it up the set up fee. Let’s say you want to charge $25 a month, but to get started it’s a hundred. You can add that into the first payment and then you can also say this is only a six month payment and then you’re done. You want to give lifetime access after six months or something like that. Installment plans, payment plans, there’s also that ability to basically have it stop charging that monthly plan automatically.
Of course, it could be monthly. It could be biweekly, weekly, biannually. I mean you have all these options as well. I mean unless there’s some other specific features you want to talk about, that’s kind of the overall of what we provide right now. We have a lot in our roadmap of course and Stripe themselves keeps coming out with a lot of things we want to tie into. That’s what we got so far.
Chris Badgett: That’s a lot of options and a lot of different pricing models and access models that you could come up with. Well, let’s transition into a conversation around a couple of used cases for course builders and membership site builders. There’s two main scenarios I’d love to have a conversation on. One of them is validating or validation. Another word for that is piloting a course concept. The other is on cross-selling and upselling from your courses and memberships to other products like events or physical products and other things. LifterLMS has a eCommerce system. It also has a Stripe connection. It has a PayPal connection.
You can integrate it with WooCommerce, but what we talk about a lot on this podcast is about not getting into LMS software or tools and building a fancy learning platform until you have validated your idea with a pilot course where you run a small group of people potentially through even just live training calls like you can do with Skype or Zoom or whatever to kind of take them through your course material manually and make sure they’re getting results and that you can teach it well and you’re getting feedback on how well your instruction is working. Basically they’ll offer that.
I like to say to people, “If you’re really going to pilot your course concept or validate it or build a minimum viable product before going head over heels into membership sites and learning management system builds and stuff like that is to all you need is like a Skype account and PayPal account or in this case with just a one page website, a WordPress install with one page, you can present an offer of what it is you aim to teach or what your membership is about and you can just use WP Simple Pay. Put a buy now button on there. You could put a name your price button on there. You could set up a subscription. You could collect additional information, add custom fields like what’s your t-shirt size or whatever, to hook them up with some swag or whatever.”
Really with like a $10 domain name, a web hosting account in WP Simple Pay and maybe thrown in a WordPress page builder or something to create like a fancy sales page or whatever or use a template that already exist, you can go from idea to website with a course or membership for sale like in a day, like very quickly.
Phil Derksen: Oh yeah. Then setting a SSL these days too. Most reputable hosts have the free SSL through Let’s Encrypt or whatever and so you can start with that as well.
Chris Badgett: Another name for this is like your minimum viable product. Before you build out this fancy thing, set up a page. Put a buy now button on it and see if anybody will pay you. What a great way to do that with WP Simple Pay. I’m just curious in your experience just generally like are there certain industries or use cases where you people doing MVPs with WP Simple Pay?
Phil Derksen: Yeah, definitely. As you were talking, I brought up some of our customers and some colleagues and friends I know personally. Like MVPs in all sorts of ways. One that comes to mind and it’s probably because it’s people I hang around the most was people that created … Basically SaaS products or software as a service. Well, okay. I’ll give you an example, audienceops.com. It’s a content writing service by my friend Brian Castle.
Chris Badgett: Just a side note here, Brian Castle’s been a guest on this podcast. Just search for his name and you can find that episode with Brian. Sorry to interrupt. Go ahead.
Phil Derksen: No. No. Brian’s a great guy. Smart dude. He has used Simple Pay. I think he still uses it for certain cases, but basically when he was getting started with Audience Ops and he was talking to his first handful of customers. Eventually I’m either assuming he has or he’s built some sort of custom Stripe integration for his software at this point, but when he got started, he was just trying to get those first few customers and basically handhold them through certain brain up. Get them set up and everything else. The same thing, he didn’t need to build out a whole automatic connection to Stripe and connect it to the software.
He just needed to grab that payment and maybe do a few things manually at first once the payment processed, but that’s definitely a way to hold off on committing to building out a huge piece of software from the beginning before you validate the idea itself. That’s a couple other people I know have used Simple Pay for that. I mean that is kind of our sweet spot in a lot of ways. Like you just said, we’ve had … We have people graduate from our plugin to other solutions and that’s just fine. WooCommerce, people selling physical products is another one. They might have a couple products, but they don’t know if it’s really something they want to continue with or if it’s going to make them be a viable business. Sell a few and kind of manually process it.
You don’t need some elaborate inventory system or anything yet or shopping cart system. Then you start with that. Same thing with the membership course. That’s a great way to use it without having to spend a lot of money on a developer or yourself setting a lot of stuff up that you may not need at the moment. The cool thing with Stripe too is that you already have this account set up. Maybe there’s a few tweaks and things you’ve done in your Stripe dashboard. You can toggle a little fraud protection or how strict you want to be on certain things and that sort of thing. If you already have that set up, if you need to move to a Stripe add-on to an LMS or a membership site or eCommerce site, then you can do that later on.
Chris Badgett: That’s a lot of good stuff there. Well, let’s talk about the other use case, which is cross-selling or upselling. I think a lot of times people end up with a shopping cart when they don’t really need one. If you think about it, a lot of eCommerce activity, people are buying one thing at a time even if multiple things are for sale. For many use cases, just a one product at a time purchase or perhaps the website is only really offering one thing. They don’t necessarily need a full on shopping cart for a non-shopping cart experience. For an online course or membership site, a lot of you out there listening are teachers or experts in certain areas. You may have courses and memberships, but you may also have other things.
You may offer some on the side consulting. You may have a book that you want to sell. You may have a live event that you want to sell tickets to, but you don’t need to like build a complex shopping cart. You could just use something like create a page on your site and add these other offers and opportunities you have. You could put a donate to me page, buy me a beer, whatever, on your website and use WP Simple Pay to deliver that donation system that you need or to sell your event tickets or sell your book. Like Phil mentioned, you can collect an address and other information too. You can just cross-sell and upsell other stuff that’s not really related to your course and membership.
You can test ideas out like, “Hey, I wonder if my students might also be interested in this kind of workbook that I make around my material. Maybe I’ll sell that separately or see if any of them are interested in private consulting with me.” You could do that. I don’t know. Do you have any other ideas of other cross-sell, upselling single product things that people use WP Simple Pay for?
Phil Derksen: Yeah, no. You’ve listed off a few for sure. Any kind of digital assets. You said books and stuff, but if … Like us. If you’re just getting started a few years ago, if you’re just getting started selling some kind of software plugin or maybe it’s a desktop app that you created or Photoshop template or proposal template, I mean if what you’re teaching or selling has some kind of digital things that you want to give as an extra 10 bucks or 20 bucks or 50, whatever it is, you could package those up and just email them off or email links to those manually for a while until that gain some traction. Conferences and meet ups are good. There are some elaborate and good event and ticketing solutions for WordPress and not for WordPress that are great.
If you’re going to just trying a small meet up or conference for the first time and you have a couple options, maybe you’re selling a t-shirt if you pay a little bit more, whatever it is, you could definitely use it for that and not create an elaborate event site.
Chris Badgett: I just want to highlight that point. If there’s one takeaway from this episode, it’s all about like you don’t have to overdo it. There’s a lot of people with technology where they buy the Cadillac and they bring it home when they’re just learning to drive or just seeing if they even want to go on the road. One step at a time. I love the event analogy you gave because the first time you run an event, why not just put a buy now button and see what happens, see how many people you get. You don’t need this complex event system and presell some tickets to make sure before you book the venue and everything. It’s one step at a time.
Phil Derksen: I heard a story too of a guy, a friend of mine. He was creating a SaaS app, software as a service, and he was in the beginning he actually wanted to offer free trials. I don’t think I mentioned that, but Stripe also has free trail subscriptions that you can do. Anyway, in his case, he didn’t even get that far. He had people sign up 30 day free trial just to see if people would do it. Once people started signing up, he put on his calendar three days before the 30 day trial ends, I need to get a billing system in place. He didn’t bother even signing up for Stripe anything until he knew that he had a few people that were in the trial if that makes sense. Anyway, yeah. There’s a bunch of use cases there and I want to mention too, there’s even a few more …
You can create just a temporary checkout page. Maybe you don’t even want to link on your site, but it’s one that you’re going to email out to a few people or after you talk to them. You can create a bunch of payment pages for specific uses and not really expose them to everyone. Then another thing I want to mention was if you want to do a few automated things at the start, but again you don’t want to spend money on a developer or code it yourself right away, a tool like Zapier where basically you can connect Stripe to its events like if somebody signs up for something and then you can have it email out or whatever it is that you want to automate a little bit more.
Chris Badgett: Just to that point, for those of you listening, if you haven’t heard of Zapier, I’d encourage you to google it. It allows you to connect two different applications or apps to each other and have them do something in a way that they’re not naturally connected to do. Could you give us some more use cases of what people might do from connecting to Stripe?
Phil Derksen: Yeah, sure. One of the features we have in our roadmap that we haven’t built yet is more customized email receipts. What’s nice though, actually here’s another thing Stripe offers is they offer basic receipt emails that are pretty good. They look nice. They’re just not real customizable. We don’t have that in Simple Pay yet. However, I have a few post on this on our blog on how to use Zapier to send out customized email receipts. Again to avoid either building an email solution yourself or signing up for another service that’s too expensive or waiting on us to build it, you can use Zapier to say, “Hey, I would like to email our customers with this information as soon as they buy,” and that’s triggered from the payment going through on Stripe.
You can basically look at any kind of event that Stripe would fire off and either connect that to Zapier or some other service when somebody signs up or if their credit card failed or whatever it is.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, that’s awesome. That’s awesome. For those of you listening, I’d encourage you to check out WP Simple Pay. Whenever you set up any kind of eCommerce system, it’s always a good idea to test it. My personal preference, I like to do live testing. I’ll often do like a 99% off coupon or whatever. It’s always good to test your experience. Make sure you connected everything right and all that stuff and it looks and works and collects what you want it to collect. What do you recommend? If somebody is listening to this and wants to get started and try out WP Simple Pay, what do you recommend? What should they do to start?
Phil Derksen: Like you said with the testing, I’m with you on that. You eventually want to test a live payment somehow. I think Stripe, 50 cents is the minimum when you’re live, but that being said, you can get pretty far with their …
Chris Badgett: Test mode.
Phil Derksen: Being on test mode on Stripe. You could do everything you can do. Basically you can test out everything in Stripe test mode. We have test mode in the settings in Simple Pay. It would just be basically kind of coming up with the scenario that you want to try out whether it’s selling a subscription or a donation or whatever it is and just getting the plugin and putting it on just a WordPress site. It could be a test site if you want. It can also be just a private page if you want on your site or an unlinked page and put it in test mode and try it out for a while or a staging site. Any of that stuff.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. If someone wants to try out WP Simple Pay, what’s the best place to go or how should they start? What do you recommend for people who want to …
Phil Derksen: Good point. A lot of the features I talked about are just in our pro plugin or premium plugin. That would be wpsimplepay.com. If you want to just try the Stripe checkout overlay features, it’s basically just a buy button with those kind of few options there that come up on the overlay. You can just look up Stripe payments in your plugins and your WordPress site and grab the free version just to get started if you want. Later on if you need to upgrade or need to do a few more things, you already have your Stripe account and Stripe keys and all that set up already. It’s pretty seamless to move to the pro plugin that way.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Well, for those of you out there listening, if you have a new course idea or you want to try to upsell or cross-sell some other products, I would encourage you to check out WP Simple Pay throughout the page. Put that button on there and hook it up to your Stripe account and see what happens. It’s validating your ideas and just making a clean simple checkout experience when that make sense is so powerful. Thanks for making the plugin, Phil. For those of you out there, head on over to wpsimplepay.com. Where else can people connect with you on the inter webs?
Phil Derksen: Yeah, sure. I’m on Twitter a little bit here and there. It’s @PhilDerksen. I blog occasionally at philderksen.com. Yeah, those are the spots they can find me.
Chris Badgett: Awesome. Well, thanks so much for coming on the show and we’ll have to do it again sometime.
Phil Derksen: Definitely. Thanks a lot, Chris. It’s been fun.