EPISODE 162

How to Design Events and Leverage In-Person Meetups for Community Building and Training with Mendel Kurland

This episode of LMScast with Chris Badgett of LifterLMS is about how to design events and leverage in-person Meetups for community building and training with Mendel Kurland from GoDaddy. Mendel shares his story, and they talk about event design with in-person Meetups in the WordPress community.

Mendel works for GoDaddy, and he spends a lot of time traveling around to corporate events and talking with web developers and web designers. As Mendel traveled, he realized that in his bubble he was missing the component of humanity. He talked to other entrepreneurs, and they noticed the same thing. So Mendel was inspired to create an in-person Meetup with the WordPress community that was more about networking and getting to know people in the community.

Mendel designed Hiking with Geeks, where for free you can meet up with other people in the online space and hike through the woods for a few hours and network. Hiking with Geeks currently has around 17,000 members. He also created Camp Press, which started in Oklahoma and has since grown throughout the United States and into some Countries in Europe. Camp Press is similar to Hiking with Geeks, but has some events where you pay a small fee to go and network and learn with other WordPress entrepreneurs for a few days in a camping setting. Mendel is currently organizing one in Iceland for four days in 2018.

Getting out of your comfort zone and meeting with other people in the technology space outside of the normal context is a great way to foster networking and relationship building. This is the purpose of Hiking with Geeks and Camp Press. When you spend a prolonged period of time out of your comfort zone, you tend to put aside your insecurities and start talking to others, and you get to know people.

Mendel has a strict focus on the inclusive aspect of Hiking with Geeks. Including everyone in conversation is important at events like this, because that is what creates this sense of community. It is important to take your role as a leader seriously when you run events and groups both online and offline. You also need to understand that sometimes you will have to remove members that are causing problems.

Chris and Mendel dive into GoDaddy and how it compares to other web hosting services. Mendel is a GoDaddy evangelist and software engineer, so he highly believes in the products and services GoDaddy has to offer above other services. He says the customer care and 24/7 support GoDaddy has is unlike other hosting companies.

Mendel also shares some tips on creating courses with your target customer in mind, and he stresses the importance of feedback as your consumer is the most important aspect of your product or service. Experimentation is also very crucial when creating products. Understanding that your product or service isn’t going to be perfect the first time and just doing it anyway is key.

To learn more about Mendel Kurland you can find him on Twitter at @ifyouwillit, and you can find his work on GoDaddy at godaddy.com/pro. You can also look into Hiking with Geeks and Camp Press.

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, Mendel Kurland from GoDaddy. He’s the GoDaddy evangelist and space cowboy. He’s also got a lot of interesting things going on from experience development training, and also developing a really interesting live event called Camp Press. We’re gonna get into that. We’re gonna get into Mendel’s story. But before we do all that I just want to thank you, Mendel, for coming on the show.
Mendel Kurland: Hey, thanks for having me.
Chris Badgett: At LifterLMS a lot of the people are designing courses. Some of them come at courses after being speakers on the stage and actually getting a little road weary and wanting to do the whole internet thing instead of living in airports and traveling all the time and speaking on the stage, and try to figure out how to kind of digitize that. Some people go the other way, where they’re building courses and they’re like, “Hey, I kinda wanna, I’m getting a little lonely behind my computer and ScreenFlow. I’d like to connect with my people and have some kind of event or mastermind or summit or something.”
When I first came across your work at CaboPress, you designed an event called Camp Press that first started in Oklahoma, and now you’re setting one up to happen in Iceland. What’s Camp Press, and where did that idea come from?
Mendel Kurland: Man, I was … So the first year I traveled, three years ago, big time for GoDaddy, I flew 175,000 miles. And then the second year I was, like, 150,000. This year I’ve gotten away with, like, 100,000. So I met a lot of people, and I’ve also experienced a lot of pain myself when it comes to living that corporate life. Like staying in the Hilton, and going from conference center to hotel to airport to conference center to hotel to airport, and maybe a few restaurants here and there, which sounds amazing at first. And then you start to realize that you miss the component of humanity that exists outside of this bubble that we all live in. And I started to notice that people I was talking to, because primarily I talk to web developers and designers and entrepreneurs and product people and stuff like that, they were all kind of saying the same thing. I started to tell them how I felt, and they started to agree with me.
They were like, “Yeah, you know, I love going out for a hike. I haven’t been out in forever. I loved going to work out, but it never seems to work out. I love getting out from behind my computer.” So I started thinking about it, and the way my mind works, I think about something and then I’m like, “Well, I want to fix this.” And so I look to see if there’s anything else kind of similar, nothing else excited me, and so I decided the prototype … A couple things, one of them being Camp Press. The there one being an organization called Hiking with Geeks. The purpose of those two groups is quite literally to get geeks out from behind their computers and either onto the trail or having person to person conversations, or connecting with each other offline, which I think is a very powerful way to build business influence and just your business in general.
Chris Badgett: Cool. Can you tell us a little bit more about the two events? What was Hiking with Geeks like, and what was Camp Press like?
Mendel Kurland: Yeah. Hiking with Geeks is ongoing, there’s 14 chapters across North American. There’s, I think, 16,000 members. Maybe we’re up to 17,000 now. The concept is simple. Super inclusive environment, geeks only. If you don’t self identify as a geek, if you’re like a guy or a girl that’s like, “Hey, geeks are stupid, I don’t want to hang out with them,” or, “I’m too cool for that,” or whatever, then you’re not allowed, because we only want people that are open to the experience. That is, quite simply, people getting out from behind their computers, their labs, their desks, and going on a hike, hitting the trail. And by hike, we’re talking about like a walk through the woods. This is an accessible thing for most anybody. So that’s Hiking with Geeks.
Chris Badgett: Let me ask you a couple questions before we shift to Camp Press. I’m imagining this is free? Or maybe …
Mendel Kurland: Yes.
Chris Badgett: It’s a free thing. With, did you say 17,000 members?
Mendel Kurland: Yeah, now it’s 17,000 members across 14,000 meetups, yeah.
Chris Badgett: That’s amazing. So you’re using the Meetup platform to organize it, is that correct?
Mendel Kurland: Yeah, at the moment. For anybody that’s used Meetup, it’s a great platform. It’s what I call discovery engine. It helps, it actually funnels members through their system very well into your event. It’s really a great way to get new people to discover an experience. It’s not really great to be able to re-market those people or to create some sort of brand affiliation. It’s possible, but it’s hard. And so, I’ve used that as a tool to then funnel people to a big slack channel where we all talk about geeky hiking stuff, or then push people to disconnect to events, like Camp Press. But the whole idea is that anybody … It’s a decentralized Meetup, so anybody can fill out a form, when they fill out the form it automatically spins up a Meetup description. I post that description for whoever it is that wants to run the hike. The only qualification is that these people have to be nice people. They have to try and help include everybody, conversations, all that, answer questions beforehand. They don’t have to know the trail, because part of the beauty of it is that we’re all humans. We can all figure out how to get from one point to another, we’ve been doing it for hundreds of years.
So you don’t have to be an expert. We put those events out there, typically we get … In Dallas, we’re getting turnouts of maybe 40, 50 people per event. In other areas maybe 50%, which is pretty high for Meetup. Normally Meetup is around, a fifth of the people that sign up actually attend. It’s really been an effective way to get people out on the trail and just enjoying a free event where they can network with other people from Microsoft, or people from indeed.com, or people from … There are a bunch of chip manufacturers in Austin, so we get people from all those chip manufacturers who are engineers and scientists, and any nerdy profession that you can think of, that’s who they are.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. If you’re listening out there and you haven’t been to a Meetup, I’d encourage you to check one out, but also think about starting one. It’s not just for cities. I live in a rural area, and it’s called MidCoast Maine, it’s a lot of small towns. I’m actually in the process of just starting a Meetup around the topics of WordPress, online education, and digital entrepreneurship, and people are joining from towns all around my rural area, and eventually we’re gonna start getting it together in person. But a lot of entrepreneurs especially can end up isolated or whatever, and it’s so important to get out of the building, which leads me to the insight that I wanted to ask you about. When you take somebody who’s predominately digital or behind a computer, and you remove the internet … I mean, I’m sure you still have the phone or whatever, but you actually get out into the woods or wherever, and you’re hiking, what does that do to people? Like if you’re playing the anthropologist and you take a step back and you look around at the fellow geeks in the woods, what’s happening from the experience?
Mendel Kurland: It’s really interesting, and actually something I’m really fascinated with. The first time I went on one of these hikes, I invited people out, and it was weird because I got there and I’m like, “Oh no, this is gonna be strange.” Because I’m standing there and I’m trying to make an announcement, tell everybody what it’s all about. I’m standing on a rock, and they’re all just super awkward. They’re standing there and they’re super awkward. And I’m like, “Man, maybe this was a mistake, I don’t know if this is gonna work out.” So we got on the trail and I realized … You know, there’s something that happens. I don’t know if you’ve gone on a really long walk, maybe like five, six, seven, ten miles. This happens to me a lot when I do, like, 20 miles. You completely zone out, you’re one with your thoughts.
There’s something magical that happens when you have that methodical beat of your feet touching the pavement, or touching the trail, because after a certain amount of time you stop worrying about your insecurities. Because it’s like you’re incapable of doing that. Your body has to figure out how to avoid obstacles and get where it’s going. Instead, you start thinking with a different function of your brain. There are probably psychologists that could explain this exact phenomenon. I don’t know what it is, but what happened was awesome. Because we were on the trail, and all of a sudden people are just talking. And they’re talking a lot. And they’re introducing themselves, and they’re not feeling vulnerable, and they’re helping each other across these little streams and stuff like that.
We get back at the end, and the key at the end is then I say, “If anybody wants to grab something to eat afterwards we’ll organize, we’ll go get something to eat. Normally I’m the one that suggests it. This last trip I was on, this guy said, “Who wants to go get something for lunch?” I was about to leave and he was like, “Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute, let’s get something for lunch.” And I was like, “Oh wow, let’s do it, let’s do it.” And it was like half the group that went and they wanted to hang out. People are starved, and in particular, geeks are starved for that connection.
Chris Badgett: Very cool. You mentioned a word I wanted to dig in a little bit, which was it’s inclusive. I heard a analogy recently, I was on a virtual summit for people building digital businesses, and one of the other speakers was talking about the croissant versus the bagel. It was about networking. If you go to a conference sometimes there’s the cliques of people, and it’s like a bagel, you can’t penetrate. But then the croissant is like a gathering of people, the body language is open, is welcoming if you walk into the circle, that’s the croissant. Talk to us about inclusiveness. What does that mean? You say that’s a qualifier for joining Hiking with Geeks. Why do you put emphasis on that?
Mendel Kurland: If somebody doesn’t tell you explicitly that something in inclusive then, unfortunately, by definition, in societal norms it’s not inclusive. Especially when you’re talking about an event or a club, which is what a Meetup group kind of is. So we’ve gone out of our way to put this, or I’ve gone out of my way to put this on all of the Meetup pages. Nobody can change the Meetup pages, it’s basically house rules. With Meetups in particular, if anybody is building their own experiences, this is like a golden rule that everybody’s scared of. Say what you stand for, and say how you’ll enforce it. The inclusive part has been important from the beginning because, I would literally get people sending messages that say, “Hey, I’m not that physically fit, can I still come?” Or, “I haven’t been on a trail for years, can I come?” Like, “Yes. If fact, you’re exactly the person I want.”
Inclusiveness has been big, and then telling people, “If there’s a problem during the Meetup,” and this is given to all of the organizers, if there’s a problem, they’re to talk to me. I will, and have, just completely removed people from the Meetup, no questions asked. So if there’s any inkling that somebody is going to do something or has done something that makes people uncomfortable, we just remove them. It’s my group, it’s my rules. That goes for business Meetup, that goes for a hiking Meetup. Super, super important.
Chris Badgett: Awesome, yeah. I really appreciate that, that makes a lot of sense, and I appreciate the leadership piece. If you’re gonna organize it, or there’s gonna be another organizer, there is that, that is one of the group leadership components, is protecting the group and taking a stand if you need to remove a member, or whatever. Let’s talk about Camp Press, what is it?
Mendel Kurland: Camp Press is kind of like a sister to Hiking with Geeks. The idea is to take it one step further. So instead of just a hike for two hours on a weekend or an evening, it’s a full experience. It involves either camping or cabins, and it’s an all inclusive experience. So you don’t have to go and worry, do you have the right stuff with you? You basically bring clothes, or wear what you wear for four days, you’ll be good. There are certain requirements that are important. Number one, whatever the venue is, it doesn’t typically have great cellular service. So you don’t really …
Chris Badgett: That’s by design?
Mendel Kurland: Yeah, you don’t really have an option of whether or not you can do work there. We don’t do it at places like KOA campgrounds, because KOA has high speed internet, so we don’t do it places like that. But the whole idea is a disconnected experience where we bring people together from different walks of life, a diverse group that has diverse interests, and we ask them questions when they first sign up in a questionnaire that asks them about their offline skills. What are they good at? What have they done before in an outdoor setting, what have they not done before? We use a program called Missions when people first show up, to help people connect in a way that’s not intrusive. The idea is that this should be whatever you want it to be. If you want to relax, great, go relax. If you want to go read a book, go read book. If you want to hang out with a couple other people and kick a ball around or something, that’s awesome too.
These missions serve as a way to pull people together. In Oklahoma when we did our first one, somebody knew how to light a fire, somebody else didn’t know how to light a fire. So they get these index cards when they first show up to the event, and one of them said, “It’s your mission to go light a fire,” and one of them said, “It’s your mission to help this person with their mission,” and they didn’t know what it was. So they have to communicate, they have to talk, they have to figure out what they’re supposed to do. And it’s usually something that then benefits the greater group. So at the end of the time, everybody just bonded, had a great time. Somebody taught a song, somebody else cooked breakfast for the entire camp, and it really created the sense of community.
The first one was in Oklahoma, the goal now is to do them all over the country and world. One’s scheduled for Texas in 2018, one’s scheduled for Iceland, because why not go check something off your bucket list with a bunch of geeks, while you’re at it? Now that one is particularly special because we’ll be at the base of a volcano, again, in a camp format. This time in cabins, because it’s a little cold there. And we’re gonna do the same thing, we’re gonna create a community, we’re gonna build that up for four days. We’re gonna have a lot of fun together, do a lot of cool stuff, maybe challenge each other a little bit, and we’re gonna go home after having an epic time.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. For the practically minded out there, it sounds like Hiking with Geeks is, it’s more or less free, I think it costs $15 a month to have a Meetup group, whatever.
Mendel Kurland: Yep.
Chris Badgett: When you’re organizing an event, what was your approach to pricing it? Were you trying to just cover costs and make it happen because you believe in the mission? Is there, like, how do you figure out, how do you approach pricing? Which was more important to you, the experience, or the business model, or that kind of thing?
Mendel Kurland: Experience is always first. Not losing your ass on it is always first too.
Chris Badgett: I think a lot of event designers learn that one the hard way with their first one, or whatever.
Mendel Kurland: Yeah. To be honest, I got really lucky with Camp Press Oklahoma. I got a great deal from Aaron Campbell’s family on the property, which was a huge help. We had some great sponsors, which was super cool too. But yeah, I guess I look at designing a cool experience, and then I figure out, how much does it cost and how much do I want to make so that I can continue to sustain this? So for Iceland, the number of people I want to bring, I need to put down 20% when I initially book. Now it turns out that through some cool connections in the WordPress community, I hooked up with a tour company there that was super lax about the deposit. They were like, “We love what you’re doing, we want to be a part of it.” And now they even want to advertise for us.
But yeah, you want to make sure you don’t lose your ass, and then also that you’re making something on it. When I looked at costs for Camp Press Oklahoma, I just wanted as many people to sign up as possible. I got some really mixed reviews, and I think it was because of the way that I explained the event to people, because some people said, “You’re charging way too little.” Some people said, “You’re charging too much.” Some people said, “Oh, this is totally reasonable.” With Camp Press Iceland I’ve had two schools of thought. Well, actually three. One is, “Yeah, no problem, I’ll check out today.” One is, “Aw, man, this isn’t cheap, but I aspire to go.” So they’re saving up, they’re waiting, they’re figuring out how the holidays go, how their business goes. And then the third is, “What, are you crazy? For four days you’re charging me 14 hundred bucks? You’re nuts.”
I have 12 RSVPs already, and that was in the first month that it was on sale. So I think I’m priced pretty well, because I’m actually getting sign ups. There are actually people that are aspiring to go. And the people that are saying it’s too expensive, those are few and far between. So it’s really important to listen to what people are saying, and continue asking the question, “What did you think of this, what did you think of that? Was this valuable, was it not valuable?” Based on some research I did before I even put the event out there, it was gonna be a three day event for the same price. I went back to my travel company and I said, “Listen guys, we gotta figure out how to make this work for four days for the same price.” And it turns out, it worked to my advantage. They had somebody that they were gonna hire to play music for us.
Chris Badgett: What did the travel company do? What did they do?
Mendel Kurland: What do you mean?
Chris Badgett: Like in terms of structuring the event, what did the travel company do?
Mendel Kurland: They don’t do anything for the magic of Camp Press. They basically make sure all of it can happen.
Chris Badgett: So it’s like organizing flights, or what is it?
Mendel Kurland: It’s anything once we’re on the ground. They’re gonna have four by four modified trucks there to take us across the back country of Iceland to our volcano huts.
Chris Badgett: [crosstalk 00:23:03]
Mendel Kurland: They’re gonna make sure that we’re fed, and stuff like that.
Chris Badgett: Okay, cool. So, that’s a way … I like how you did one… Or, it makes sense, it’s practical to do one a little closer to home, proved it, now you’re like, “Let’s go deeper into this idea and push the boundaries a little bit.” And then you can have boots on the ground with a travel company to help guide you and make sure all the pieces come together. It sounds challenging to create, but if you have a clear vision and you’ve go the right people helping you … And that’s, I mean, you have a day job …
Mendel Kurland: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: … You were able to pull it off, that’s really inspiring.
Mendel Kurland: I’ll just say one other thing, a defining characteristic of the success of both events … And there are some others in the works too … is, I partner with somebody on each one, and it’s not the same person. So Alex Moss came to me from the U.K. and he’s like, “I’m super stoked about what you’re doing, I want to do one in Europe.” And I said, “Cool, let’s talk about that.” And then we went from doing it in Italy to, he said, “What about in Iceland? I got friends up there.” And I’m like, “Yes, I’ve always wanted to go there, right? Let’s do it.” So not being afraid to partner with people … And these guys don’t expect much. They understand what I’m trying to do, so they’re not trying to steal the show. They’re just genuinely interested in the concept and helping out. That’s super important too, is if you can get somebody to partner with, it’s awesome.
Chris Badgett: That’s cool. I’m a big fan of shared leadership and not doing it by yourself. Let’s shift gears into GoDaddy a little bit and talk about training there. What did you do with training at GoDaddy? Or what is it you still do? What is your GoDaddy training story?
Mendel Kurland: About five years ago, six years ago, I was at an event at our headquarters and the CMO was saying, “You know, what are some fresh ideas? What are some things that we can do to really push the envelope with our customers and make things even cooler for them?” I said, “Why don’t we talk to them in person? Why don’t we do workshops? Why don’t we teach them things in person?” And she was like, “Okay, here’s the credit card.” It was that easy. She was like, “Go build it up, go try.” So I did a pilot in Chicago and in Austin where, with an instructional designer, built out a full curriculum for building a website with both our website builder and with WordPress. Over the period of about two years, spent about two weeks in Austin, two weeks in Chicago each month, so I wasn’t home much. I basically optimized the in-class experience so that people could get up and running with a website in about an hour and half.
Chris Badgett: This was training new customers?
Mendel Kurland: At first it was training new customers. So then it went from training new customers to training trainers. So we started working with local SBDCs and score chapters, and things like that.
Chris Badgett: Were these new customers in person or virtual?
Mendel Kurland: These were all in person. I was on a plane going back and forth. At that time I lived in Iowa.
Chris Badgett: How did the new customers end up in the training room, how did that happen?
Mendel Kurland: So, would you believe that I leveraged Meetup?
Chris Badgett: There you go.
Mendel Kurland: It was funny, because I stumbled a bit. I tried making a Meetup that was GoDaddy meetup, and people were like, “Okay, whatever.”
Chris Badgett: It’s a company.
Mendel Kurland: That was the first time that I really learned that what you do can’t be about you, it has to be about them. So then I hit up, I remember Ray Massory, he’s this dude that works at one of the big agencies in Chicago, and he runs the Chicago design Meetup, or at least he used to. It was huge, and I was like, “Hey man, you mind if I come and give like a quick workshop on building websites?” And he was like, “Yeah, it’d be awesome.” Because every Meetup leader needs new content, right? And so that’s how I started off. Then it turned out that we found out that, like, every small business development center in the country trains people on building websites. And so, sorta go kind of up that funnel. But yeah, it was Meetup at first.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. You’ve got my wheels spinning about doing a Meetup in a bigger city where there’s lots of people, about building an online course site in a workshop style. That would be kind of fun.
Mendel Kurland: Yeah. Well, then I started moonlighting in Iowa. I was like, “Man, if this works for business …” I spun up a build your first website Meetup in Iowa City, Iowa, and I think I charged, like, 60 bucks for people to come, which wasn’t a lot of money, but perfect concept. It was awesome, because I made, like 250 bucks one night, because everybody just sat in a room and I was like, “Let me help you get your domain, and by the way, there are affiliate codes.”
Chris Badgett: Yeah, that’s really cool. What is it about you and being a serial event creator? Or just a serial connector or problem solver, where does that come from?
Mendel Kurland: I don’t know, I’ve just always loved people. When you love people, I guess …
Chris Badgett: You like helping people.
Mendel Kurland: And I have this crazy entrepreneurial spirit, right? So those two things combined end up with … Oh, and I’m also a trained software engineer, so all those things combined allow to prototype things and create things fairly quickly.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Just in general terms, when you were working with the end customer versus training the trainer, how is that different? Or maybe no difference?
Mendel Kurland: Interestingly, it rarely was different unless … Because there were a lot of small business coaches and stuff. I can think of this really great group in Chicago, I still miss them, they were all small business owners trying to help other small business owners be small business owners. So teaching them how to train their clients was just as difficult as training their user. Then when you got up the funnel to people that were parts of established, big organizations, that’s when it started to change. So people at small business development centers, that was a little bit different. You’d go to a college in the middle of Brazosport Texas, and teach somebody how to teach all their clients, and they were building sites every day for their clients, and I just came in and gave them some more structure around it.
Chris Badgett: Wow, that’s awesome. What are some tips you have … When we talk about course creation, and we talk a lot about three main kinds. One of them I call the resource course, one of them’s called a behavior change, and the other one’s called learn a process. So you’re teaching a process course, like From Zero to Website. Any tips on teaching a process course in general? Like …
Mendel Kurland: Here’s a tip on teaching any course, and that is, as you build the course, focus on, and this sounds silly, focus on whoever your target is, making their life as awesome as possible. And then make sure to document every piece as you’re creating it, because when you go back to replicate it, then you’ll have all that information, and then when you go back to replicate it, get feedback and then immediately make the change. Don’t wait to make the change, immediately make the change to the curriculum or to the setup or to the layout of the room, or the layout of the web page, or whatever. Continually do that, and you’ll be amazed how quickly feedback changes, how much quicker learning occurs, all these things.
By the way, my dad has a PhD in education … Sorry, a doctorate in education, I don’t know if they’re the same thing. But anyway, he has a doctorate in education, and he was a school principal for most of my life. And so, I guess the whole education thing, it comes pretty easily to me, which is probably why I loved doing that whole training education thing.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Let’s shift gears over to hosting a little bit. You work at GoDaddy, and you’re an evangelist and a space cowboy. We get asked all the time at LifterLMS, what web hosts do you recommend for an online course? A lot of times I like to recommend some kind of managed WordPress hosting, and make sure you’ve got good customer support and backups. When you’re making the case for GoDaddy, what do you love about the GoDaddy universe, when people operate in there? And I gotta say, for me personally, whenever I go to get a domain name, I go to GoDaddy. GoDaddy’s got the best domain names, searching. I’m not a serial domain buyer, I’m not a bad one, I should say. And I’ve had sites on GoDaddy, I’ve worked with lots of clients on GoDaddy, and I’ve had a great experience. How do you make the case for GoDaddy?
Mendel Kurland: I’ve been there around eight years, so I’ve seen progress, I’ve seen the way the company feels about their customers, and change, and the experience. Quite honestly, the company just gives a damn about their customers. And the whole mission the entire time I’ve been there has been about building awesome stuff that helps customers do their best work. Right now the thing that I’m super hot on are … Actually, well, there’s three things. One is this product called Smart Line. It’s an app that you download that gives you an extra number for your phone for your business. So that’s pretty cool. And then the GoCentral, which is our website builder, that’s in its fourth generation, or something like that. It’s a super easy drag and drop builder. So for one page landing sites, and sales site, and stuff like that it’s killer. You can build something in, I don’t know, 20 minutes, that you can throw out there.
The thing I’m most excited about is where our managed WordPress product is going. Because it’s now a hyper containerized product that checks all the boxes of all the feedback we received from our first generation managed WordPress product. That just launched like a month ago, so it’s super fresh. And it’s all the latest gear underneath, so if you’re a geek and you think about things like PHP and caching and SSL and things like that, then you’ll totally geek out on what’s under the hood, because it looks phenomenal from the technical standpoint. But I guess the coolest part is that our engineers are banging on this, and making it better.
Like, in real time I watched these slack channel messages, like, “This customer said that this wasn’t working quite right,” and so, like, “Oh, I got you. I’ll take care of that across the system,” and 24 hours later the bug is fixed, or whatever. I’m stoked about that, and GoDaddy as a whole, it’s cool that you can go to a place and get everything you need, and then if you don’t quite understand how to get started with online marketing or set up your email on your phone, or whatever, it’s, I think, one of the only companies in the industry that’s 24/7 support. So that’s my, I dig it. I’ve worked there for a while, and I’m a pretty honest guy. I think some of those things that we’re innovating on are pretty awesome.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, that’s super cool. The whole managed WordPress thing and like, you know, what are you managing? The point you said about listening to customers and that feedback loop, and then you’re seeing it change and making the experience better, removing friction, that’s just so key. And being able to get support? I know me personally, there’s been many times where it’s like 2:00 in the morning, gonna call GoDaddy, I’ve got a problem here on my site or a client’s site, and you know, it’s good, I get it resolved. So yeah, that’s super cool. And making it easy for people to get set up is what it’s all about.
Mendel Kurland: Totally.
Chris Badgett: Thanks for sharing that. Wow, we covered a lot. We covered a lot about your story, about your events, about training people on how to build websites, about where you work at GoDaddy and what they offer. Just to kind of circle it all back to event design, if you’re gonna give somebody like one or three tips on starting their first event, that’s somewhat focused around training a skill or teaching a process, or creating a community around a similar tribe of people, what would those best tips be?
Mendel Kurland: If you’re scared or questioning it, do it anyway. Let people know that it’s an experiment, but don’t apologize for it. And generally build the experience for the people that you care about, and do it for the right reasons. Do it to build something cool, but also remember that it’s gotta pay the bills for the effort. And just make sure that you test everything, and you learn, you make changes. And I guess the last thing is that you’re gonna try and plan everything to the T, and that’s what you should do. Just know that it’s gonna look wildly different the second time you do it. You’re gonna learn so much that you’re gonna kick yourself and you’re gonna be like, “Why did I do it that way? Why did I do it that way?” But that’s all part of it, you can’t predict that. So let yourself live in the moment, build something with as much detail as possible, and then just be excited about the fact that you have some sort of success, and make it better and different the next time.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Well, Mendal Kurland, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you so much for coming on the show. If people wanna find out more about you, find out about your events, or find you on social media, where can they connect with you?
Mendel Kurland: You can hit me up on Twitter, it’s @ifyouwillit, it’s also my website as well. If you want to look at what’s going on at GoDaddy lately, godaddy.com/pro, that’s the stuff that I’ve been working on. And if you’re interested in Camp Press at all, it’s just camp.press, there’s no com or anything like that, it’s camp.press.
Chris Badgett: Awesome. Well, thank you for coming on the show, Mendel. We’ll have to do it again after Iceland or something …
Mendel Kurland: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: … and get a full report, and find out more lessons learned about creating masterful events. Thank you again for coming on the show, and have a great rest of your day.
Mendel Kurland: Cool, thanks a lot.

EPISODE 161

A Mastermind Event Case Study about Chris Lema’s CaboPress

This episode of LMScast with Chris Badgett of LifterLMS is a mastermind event case study about Chris Lema’s CaboPress. Thomas Levy and Ali Mathis of the LifterLMS team join Chris on this episode to discuss their experiences at CaboPress.

Thomas is the co-founder of LifterLMS and the head of development, meaning he takes care of the software behind LifterLMS and makes the magic happen. Ali is the director of projects. She handles things like the Done For You service and the LifterLMS trial.

CaboPress was in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. The event was at a resort, and it had roughly 50 to 100 people in attendance. It was hosted by Chris Lema, who is a speaker in the WordPress community. He writes a lot about agencies, WordPress products, selling, and community building. He’s a great guy and a fantastic resource for entrepreneurs, especially in the WordPress space.

Using real-world experiences as inspiration for online products is something that has been creating successful businesses for decades. Facebook was inspired by recreating the college social experience online. The Macintosh was designed as a bicycle for the mind. The LifterLMS Social Learning add-on that was recently introduced is based on creating learning environments that mirror the way we learn best in small groups.

CaboPress was sort of a hybrid between a small conference and a mastermind. It was focused around the conversation more than a traditional conference where you sit in chairs and listen to speakers. This format creates an opportunity to meet different people and build relationships.

Attending events and building relationships within your industry creates a compound effect with the value you put out into the world. Chris, Thomas, and Ali discuss the benefits of networking and attending events like CaboPress and WordCamps. They also examine the evolution of LifterLMS and how it has shifted from a primarily service-based business to a product and service business.

Another neat aspect of CaboPress is that all of your basic needs are taken care of. All you need to do is purchase a ticket to the event and get to Cabo, and your hotel, food, and basic necessities are taken care of. This frees your mind to engage in the activities and focus on the conversation.

Thomas also shares some insights on how events like CaboPress allow you to have conversations with entrepreneurs who are at different levels with success. These conferences also have what’s known as the “context effect” which is when you are out of your normal context, and this changes your word recognition, learning abilities, and memory. Most of the CaboPress sessions take place in a pool, so you can’t bring your computer or a pen and paper. This change in scenery changes how you learn and will often improve your memory and attentiveness.

To learn more about CaboPress, check out the LifterLMS blog post on it at blog.lifterlms.com/CaboPress-Growth and make sure to head over to Chris Lema’s site ChrisLema.com.

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 two very special guests from the LifterLMS team itself. We’re joined by Thomas Levy and Ali Mathis. How are you guys doing?
Ali Mathis: Great.
Thomas Levy: Very good. Very good.
Chris Badgett: Awesome.
Ali Mathis: Happy to be here again.
Chris Badgett: Excellent. Yeah. Ali is probably our most frequent guest at this point, so she’s winning there.
Ali Mathis: Competitive.
Chris Badgett: Thomas is the co-founder of LifterLMS. He’s the head of development. Ali is the director of projects, done for you, and trial, and other amazing things. But in this episode, it’s going to be a little different. We’re actually going to talk about an experience that we had as a team attending a live event. We’ve done episodes here on LMScast about the importance of virtual and live events as part of learning or as part of training programs, or as part of high-ticket programs, or course instructional design, including events. But we’re kind of flipping the script and talking about an event that we attended called CaboPress, which was in Cabo San Lucas in Mexico. It was an event put on by Chris Lema. You can find more out about Chris at ChrisLema.com. He’s a speaker in the WordPress community. He writes a lot about agencies, WordPress products, selling, community building. He’s an all-around great guy and resource for entrepreneurs out there, especially in the WordPress space.
We attended Chris’ event. This is actually Thomas and I’s third time attending, and it’s that good that we have gone back three times. Ali came down with us this year, which was excellent, but this episode is about highlighting what we got out of CaboPress, so if you as a course designer or learning experience designer are thinking about adding an event into the mix, listen to this episode as we share about our experience at CaboPress and what it was like for us, an event designed by Chris Lema.
Awesome. Just to frame in the conversation a little bit, this event was at a very nice resort. It was all-inclusive, all the food and drinks were included. All you pretty much had to do was get to Cabo on some planes. Everything else was taken care of. There were other hosts at the event who kind of led conversations, and there was ample free time for connections and relationships to form. I think there were approximately somewhere between 50 and 100 people there, so it was more of an intimate event, not one of the more giant events. Sort of a hybrid between a small conference and a mastermind.
That’s what it was, and just to kick off the conversation, we do have a blog post writeup about this, which you can find at Blog.LifterLMS.com/CaboPress-Growth. But one of the things that I really get out of CaboPress is the fact that it’s more about the conversations than a traditional or typical conference where you go and you know there’s speakers or multiple speakers, and you sit in chairs, and you get the premium content. This event was totally different. It’s about conversations around meal tables, and with experts in various fields and other people with more or less experience. I just get so much out of those conversations, which the free time also enables, that creates a lot of learning opportunities and relationships.
I’m going to turn it over to you guys. What do you guys think about that conversational format of CaboPress?
Thomas Levy: I’m extremely distracted by your giant microphone.
Ali Mathis: I am not distracted. I thought it was great. I really enjoyed the dinner conversations, and how the groups changed every night. I thought it led to a lot of opportunity to have a lot of interesting different conversations that I probably wouldn’t have had if I had just sat with you guys at dinner every night. No offense. But yeah, it was a great opportunity to meet a lot of different people, and leaders, and influencers in our field, and just chat with them about business, and just day-to-day life.
Chris Badgett: What did you think, Thomas? Any good conversations, or how did that unfold for you?
Thomas Levy: Oh, man. We’ve been a couple of years now, and I can trace back now … I actually did some writing on this the other day, but if I look back now over the past three years of our company, we’ve been transitioning from an agency, which I’m sure a lot of listeners have been kind of following our journey as a company, but transitioning from an agency to a primarily product-focused company. Some of the kind of stair steps that we’ve gone through as a company can be pinpointed, for me, to conversations and things that we’ve learned by attending this event. Hindsight is always 20-20, and you can kind of connect the dots a lot better when you’re looking back on something.
Maybe there’s some amount of confirmation bias where I’m trying to connect dots to CaboPress, but it all kind of stems around, for me, just some of these conversations, and I’ve been to a lot of conferences. I’ve been to really big conferences and really tiny conferences. I go to a lot of WordCamps, and this event for me is … It holds a very special place in my heart, because you have the opportunity here to sit at a table with some really, really smart people and very casually discuss some of your biggest problems as an entrepreneur, as a business owner, as a person in this kind of weird WordPress technology space. I think kind of the candid, the opportunity where it’s very I guess vulnerable, like a mastermind, has led for me to kind of just discover things about myself through these intimate conversations that I’m not sure I would have discovered otherwise.
I don’t know, man. For me, it’s really, really enjoyable. I haven’t really figured out … We’re a couple weeks out from now our third CaboPress, and I haven’t really figured out exactly what happened there. It’s one of the reasons I think we wanted to sit down and talk about this. But if I look back on some of the previous years, there are some really, really big things that we were there, and we’re like, “Okay, now that we’re out through this and out of this, here’s what we’re going to do over the next six months or a year.” I think we’ve been able to realize a lot of those things. I’m really excited for this next kind of six or eight months as we kind of get to implement the things that we’ve discovered and learned and thought about at CaboPress this year.
Yeah. I don’t know. It’s just a great event. I’m really, really glad to have participated in as many years as we have.
Chris Badgett: Another point to those many years and tracing decisions back, I’ve realized that based on some of the conversations there, things learned, things that we brainstormed and came up with while decompressing, there’s this thing called the law of compounding, where the longer we survive as a business, and grow, and evolve, just the very act of survival and staying with it, staying in the game, continuously innovating, challenging assumptions, that momentum starts to compound on itself, and things that helped us get a little step forward now are turning into much bigger results projected many years out, or relationships, the people we met that now we’ve seen in multiple places, developed friendships with, business relationships with. Those things start compounding on each other. It’s not necessarily just slow and steady linear growth. Some things grow exponentially out of CaboPress. That’s just one thing I’ve noticed.
Thomas Levy: Yeah. I agree. I think there’s a leveling up of sorts. I think that’s probably with anything, but we can kind of look at the compounding effects of CaboPress. In retrospect, where I am kind of personally, where we are as a business and a company, is a very different place this year than it was two or three years ago. That’s kind of interesting about CaboPress too, is there’s an intermingling of product-oriented and service-oriented companies, and I look, when we first went, we were primarily service-based and just doing custom websites and large custom projects and things like that. I think one of the things was, over the years, we’ve always kind of wanted to move towards focusing on LifterLMS full-time, but we met a lot of people that were either in transition or already through that transition, and then over the years kind of level up and build on what we’ve learned in the transition, and now being through the transition, get to kind of share, or mostly through the transition, kind of share our experiences and things like that, but yeah. Tangentially related to what you just said, I think.
Ali Mathis: I think it was after you guys came back from CaboPress last year really that we really started making the big shift towards becoming a product-based company.
Thomas Levy: Yeah. Yeah.
Ali Mathis: You guys came back with a lot of really strong ideas and plans for that, I remember.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. Those strong ideas and plans, I’m going to go to one of my other points, which is … Well, I call it the “new context effect.” It’s like, “Okay, we’re going to just totally pull out of our ordinary life, our ordinary locations, our ordinary surroundings, family, relationships, whatever. We’re going to go to this thing for five days. We’re going to get on a plane. We’re going to go to another country. We’re going to hang out with people.” It’s like a completely new context, which is almost like giving yourself permission to have the space.
When I think about CaboPress, I think about it’s really important to get the most out of the event, to make the space, to make sure the business is stable, things that need to be handled while it’s happening are going to get handled, and I can really be present, but also just take advantage of that new context. Like you said, from your perspective, Ali, when we came back, it was like, “All right. That was then. This is now. Some decisive changes have been made.” That new context, or just break from the day-to-day, is often more helpful for innovation.
Thomas Levy: On that point, I’ve been to so many conferences where I just pop my laptop open and continue in the day-to-day while somebody’s up on stage, delivering really, really valuable information, but I’m not gathering any of that, or processing any of that, because I’m reading emails and things like that. I think one of the things that’s really special about Cabo is that for anyone who doesn’t know, most of the actual content, the sessions, take place in pools, and you can’t really bring a laptop into a pool. I have actually heard some criticism about that, where people are like, “Oh, well how am I supposed to take notes if it’s in a pool?” And things like that. Of course, some people bring their phones into the water and stuff like that with their little waterproof cases, but for me, an individual who is very, very prone to distraction, that’s one of the really, really special things about it, is that I actually need to go out of my way to distract myself at CaboPress, and maybe coupled with some laziness, it’s like, “Oh, it will just be easier just to sit in the pool without a phone than to worry about destroying my phone the whole time.” Although they do have waterproof phones and stuff like that and whatnot.
Anyway, it’s kind of that forced bringing you out of the context of the day-to-day. It’s really, really helpful for me as somebody who’s kind of prone to that distraction. I really, really love that about the event, and I also think it also, since most people actually are really, really present in these small group discussions, and that actually I think makes for more value, because it’s not just one person saying, “Hey, this is what you need to do to do X, Y, and Z.” It’s a group of 15 to 20 really intelligent people having a discussion around that, and like Chris said at the beginning, somebody’s leading that discussion, or that topic, but everybody’s really participating. I find there’s just a tremendous level of engagement on all these topics, and that’s something you don’t get to experience at the average conference where it’s one guy on stage. Maybe there’s a Q&A session or something like that, or a breakout session, but this is just non-stop the whole time is like that.
Ali Mathis: Yeah. It’s not like a traditional lecture where you’re being talked at, but you’re really part of the whole experience and process, so yeah. I would never bring my phone in the water anyway, even with a waterproof case. Just throwing that out there.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. That’s too risky.
Ali Mathis: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: [crosstalk 00:13:55].
Ali Mathis: Just throwing that out there.
Chris Badgett: I think that’s an important point. It is important to … What we’ve done in the past is we’ll make sure we take some time individually or together to decompress while we’re still there, and capture some ideas and some notes, just so that … It’s important to capture that while you’re in that separation, in this different world that you can capture the insights for action later. That’s an important thing, to just kind of plan on.
Ali Mathis: Yeah. I do remember, I think it was Aaron Flynn had that little actual waterproof pad of paper that you could write on in the pool too.
Thomas Levy: Oh, I didn’t see that. That’s pretty cool.
Ali Mathis: Yeah. It was cool.
Chris Badgett: That is possible?
Ali Mathis: Yup.
Chris Badgett: Another one for me is, I call it “plus equals minus.” This is less of a “go hear some gurus talk,” and it’s more like, “Let’s have some really awesome conversations facilitated by some great leaders, but also a lot of the insight comes from each other.” I call this “plus equals minus.” Now, it depends what you’re talking about, but plus is something where you’re learning from somebody with more experience on whatever the topic is, equals is kind of somebody on the same level, minus is you might be talking to somebody who has less experience than you, but with the same two people, that might be different based on the topic, but those different levels of experience on whatever the topic is are extremely valuable no matter which level you’re at. That’s one of the things I love about CaboPress, is there is that kind of tribe of different people with different levels of experience, but all kind of caring about the same mission and trying to build businesses, and it is a business conference, and figure out how to make all this stuff work. Just those varying levels of experience is just … I get a ton of value out of that as well.
Cool. The other thing I just wanted to highlight was, there’s a great book about software design, user experience design, called Don’t Make Me Think. That’s one of the things I love about CaboPress, which is you show up, you don’t have to think about anything. In terms of basic needs, it’s all taken care of. Somebody’s going to be there at the airport to get you. The room’s there, it’s going to be clean every day. There’s food. Wonderful, amazing food. Everything’s kind of organized, so all the time that you do have is maximized. That’s really special, because if you get on a plane, you go to a normal conference, you gotta figure out your Airbnb, your hotel, “Where are we gonna eat tonight?” There’s a lot of other decisions that go into it, even if you are kind of removed. That’s one of the things that I just find so efficient and awesome about CaboPress, is it really makes the space, just in how Chris Lema has designed the event itself, that you don’t really have to think about the trivial things.
Ali Mathis: Yeah, I totally agree.
Thomas Levy: Yeah. Yeah, that’s a nice part.
Ali Mathis: Yeah.
Thomas Levy: The other part maybe tangentially related to that is that it is kind of a very closed environment, in that everything takes place in a relatively small area at a resort. You could walk to any part of that resort, although there are some hills and the stairways get a little confusing. You can very easily get lost at that resort, but I don’t think that’s Chris Lema’s fault. I think that’s just part of the experience.
For me, because I’m sometimes more of an introvert, it makes it a lot easier to participate in more of kind of the extracurricular activities that go on at conferences, whereas instead of trying to figure out, “Oh, who’s going to what bar? And where are we going to get dinner? And who are we going to eat with tonight?” You can just kind of wander through the hotel lobby and figure out what is going on, and you will be included, kind of regardless of what your attitude is, unless of course you’re like, “I’m just going to go post up in my hotel room and hide.” Which you [crosstalk 00:18:15].
Ali Mathis: I don’t know why you would do that, though. It reminded me a little bit of college freshman orientation week, where I know you guys have been there. This was your third year, but for me, I was meeting a lot of new people for the first time in a new environment, like you said, that it was a little bit of a closed-in environment. But your group of people was, you were surrounded by them, and you could talk to different people, and it was a really neat experience.
Thomas Levy: Yeah. I like the way he kind of facilitates the … He’d put you in different groups all the time, so you may have one … We had one static lunch group, and you could do whatever you want for breakfast, but for dinner every night you were broken into different groups based on different criteria that Chris I’m sure planned out in advance, but they kind of seemed arbitrary at the time, or random at the time. You were constantly being kind of like forced into situations with new people, which is part of the point of a thing like this, is, “Let’s go meet new people.” For me, that makes it a little bit easier, to get to know different people rather than just kind of cliquing up and staying with my same group all the time in my comfort zone.
Ali Mathis: Yeah. It definitely was outside of my comfort zone, but in a good way.
Thomas Levy: Yeah. Yeah.
Ali Mathis: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: I think there’s a name for that. It’s called “facilitated networking.”
Thomas Levy: Yeah. There you go.
Chris Badgett: But one of the other great benefits that I wanted to throw out there is just that it’s about making remote work. We’re a remote team at LifterLMS. Again, you’re talking to Chris, Thomas, and Ali. We don’t work in the same places. We don’t live in the same states. Thomas and I have gotten together many times over the years, but not very often. We had never actually met Ali in the face-to-face before, so what better way to do that? I just think that if you are listening to this and you work online, and you have a team that’s bigger than you or someone else in your household working together, it is important to get together in person sometimes. It’s just part of relationships, and if you can pull it off, it’s just an important thing. CaboPress is a great way for us to do that. That’s just another benefit that comes with it. When you work behind a computer remotely, getting together is just an important piece, and why not do it in style like CaboPress?
Ali Mathis: Yeah. 100%. Why not do it in Cabo?
Chris Badgett: Yeah. Yeah.
Ali Mathis: Better than doing it in Pittsburgh.
Thomas Levy: I’ll take your word for that. Yeah.
Chris Badgett: Awesome. Well, I just wanted to thank … Chris, if you’re listening to this, thank you for organizing the event. It’s always been great. It’s a highlight of the years for us, and we’ve just gotten so much out of it. We appreciate it, and also anybody else who attended CaboPress or was one of the hosts, it’s always great. I appreciate everything that you do. Some of those people have been on this podcast, which is great, and yeah. I’ve just gotten so much out of the event. If you’re watching this or listening to this and you’re thinking about going, I highly recommend it, and yeah. It’s just nothing but thumbs up, five stars coming from me.
Do you guys have any parting thoughts?
Ali Mathis: No. I agree with you 100%. I appreciate the conference and the opportunity to go to the conference, and I think it was good for our team and for our company, so absolutely second what you just said.
Thomas Levy: I would add a third. I’d also note too, though, this isn’t the only event in the WordPress space that happens every year. It’s one of the more expensive events, I would say. I don’t mean that as a bad thing, because it’s worth every penny, but if you’re out there and you’re listening to this, and you’re like, “Oh, that sounds really great but I just can’t afford that.” I would recommend looking up some WordCamps, because there’s a WordCamp, two or three every weekend, all around the country, and you can get a lot out of them. I like WordCamps. They’re great. They’re not as good as CaboPress, but they’re a great event to get to know members of the community and a lot of the people you meet at WordCamps are people you’re going to meet as hosts at events like CaboPress. Some of the same people are going to be there. Location-based, something along those lines. You might not see everybody at every WordCamp.
Anyway, WordCamps are extraordinarily cheap, so I highly recommend them, and I’d go out and check a couple of WordCamps out if you’re looking to go to an event and you can’t afford CaboPress. Or you’re not sure you want to go to an event like CaboPress, a WordCamp is a nice place to start, potentially.
Chris Badgett: Awesome. Well, Thomas and Ali, thank you for coming on LMScast. As you know, here at LifterLMS, we’re big into social learning. We talk a lot about mapping learning from the real world or offline world into the online space. As you can see from this conversation, when we go as a team and hang out with other people doing similar things, a lot of learning happens for us. It’s this kind of experience that inspires the vision of, for example, Social Learning, the LifterLMS addon.
I just want to emphasize how important learning in groups is, and what that’s all about, and again, thank you Chris for putting on CaboPress, and thank you all for listening.

EPISODE 160

SEO for Course Creators and Membership Site Owners with John Doherty of Credo

This information-packed episode of LMScast with Chris Badgett of LifterLMS is about SEO for course creators and membership site owners with John Doherty of Credo. Chris and John talk about the online teacher’s journey and how SEO is relevant and impactful for course creators. John shares his insights on SEO and how you can optimize the wording and links on your site in order to rank higher on search engines and receive more traffic.

GetCredo.com helps connect people with the different types of marketing needs they have, with SEO being a major one. John has been helping businesses looking for an SEO expert or content marketing help, and he assists them with multiple digital marketing channels. John has embarked on a journey to extend his assistance by teaching businesses not only how to get leads, but also how to close sales and retain clients.

Chris and John go into depth on the differences between marketing and sales. As they discuss, marketing is about getting your brand known and getting in front of the people that actually need it, and sales is the process of turning them into a paying customer and building a relationship.

Depending on the product or service you offer, you might not need a sales team. When you sell a cheap membership for around $29 per month there is a lot of churn, so a sales team may not be necessary there. But when you sell high-priced items to larger clients for $3,000 per month, then you will want to have a sales team to provide a personal touch to the product so customers feel more comfortable working with you.

Working with fewer high paying clients will generally be easier to manage, especially with a service, because you can build relationships with the people you work with and really get to know how you can help them. John and Chris dive into the benefits and drawbacks of working with few large clients versus many small clients.

It can sometimes be difficult to put prices on products or services where the return is not easily quantifiable. In cases like this you will generally want to find a balance between what the product is worth to the customers and what they can afford to pay. Chris and John talk about how to find the right price point with your product or service.

SEO stands for search engine optimization, and your ‘SEO value’ is the indicator of where you are likely to appear in the search results for search engines such as Google. The better your SEO is, meaning how well your keywords relate to the search, the more likely it is that the potential customer ends up clicking on your site.

John gives some expert tips on how you can improve your website’s SEO with internal linking and keyword content so you appear higher on search engines ranking systems. Chris and John talk about some of the tools out there you can use to improve your SEO and gather site analytics.

To learn more about John Doherty you can find him on Twitter at @DohertyJF and head over to GetCredo.com to check out everything John and his team are working on there.

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Chris Badgett: Hello, and welcome to another episode of LMScast. My name is Chris Badgett from LifterLMS, and I’m joined today by a special guest John Doherty from Get Credo coming to us all the way from Denver, Colorado. We’re going to be talking today about the teacher’s journey, and what John is getting ready to embark on in the area of teaching sales. We’re also going to talk a lot about SEO and how that’s relevant and impactful for course creators who have some unique challenges. We’re just going to get into John’s story a little bit and really explore his journey. There’s so many lessons you can learn and insights about SEO especially. Grab a pen and paper and enjoy this conversation with John Doherty. Welcome to the show, John.
John Doherty: Chris, thanks for having me. It’s my pleasure to be here.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, it’s great to be with you today. John and I had just met recently down in Cabo, Mexico, and in our conversations realized we had a lot in common. We both have a unique shared interest in the outdoors and climbing specifically. It’s a big part of my life, and one of the ways I stay balanced is just combining the outdoor with the digital world. We connected on that level. I’m kind of an SEO geek. I don’t have as much knowledge and wisdom as John has on the topic, but I really look forward to this conversation today about SEO and your journey. I’m super stoked to get into it.
John Doherty: Yeah. Let’s do it. As you said, I’ve been in SEO for a long time, about a decade of it, a decade of experience. I come from a family of educators, so that’s something that I’m passionate about and always looking to teach people what I know and kind of move in towards that in the future as well.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Well, I know you’re an SEO expert and your business, which people can see at getcredo.com, which helps connect people with the different types of marketing needs they have, SEO being a major one of those, but you’re kind of about to embark on a path in terms of teaching related to sales. Can you tell us like how that came about?
John Doherty: Yeah. I kind of see business and careers as a trajectory, right? Especially as an entrepreneur, we all take different steps. I don’t see it as you learn marketing, you get a marketing degree, you go into marketing and you stay in marketing until you retire. Some people do that and that’s fine for them. That’s not the path that I wanted to take. For the last couple of years I’ve been helping businesses that are looking for an SEO expert or content marketing help or an agency to help them out with multiple digital marketing channels. Basically learning about their project and getting them connected up with the right people.
Making those introductions and then basically helping them make the right decision for who to hire and all those things based off of their needs. As I’ve been doing that, my customer, the person that actually pays me is the agency. I realized that a lot of agencies are actually really, really bad at closing work and closing new clients. I’ve been wondering why that is and basically learned that a lot of people that started agencies, so especially in the digital marketing world, there are a lot of boutique agencies now with four to eight and then on up from there number of people working for them. Basically the founder is the one doing all the sales and they started their agency because they’re really good at marketing, but they’re not a salesperson.
One of the things I’ve been working with a lot of agencies on is basically tightening up their sales process and helping them sell better work and grow their agency that way. It’s not just about getting in new leads or new potential clients, but also actually closing it into work. I kind of see that as the natural next progression of my business. I don’t just want to be a lead generation company.
That can definitely be part of it and I’m trying to find someone to basically own that part of the business obviously with my oversight, but what I really want to do is I want to work with agencies to help them sell better work, retain their clients, all of those sorts of things because I have seven, eight years of experience working with clients and retaining clients and all of that. I’m very good at that. I want to help them out with that knowledge as well.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Well, let’s take a step back and can you define in your words what is the difference between marketing and sales.
John Doherty: That’s a great question. Marketing is basically getting your brand known or getting your product known, getting in front of the people that actually need it, and then sales is the process of closing them into a paying customer. It depends on the type of business that you have. Like the Software as a Service company, if you’re going towards the small business audience, then you’re probably not going to have a sales team, right? If someone can sign up and it’s $29 a month and all that, then you don’t need a sales team. Actually it doesn’t make sense to have someone helping on the phone with them for something that’s $29 a month especially since there’s a lot of churn in that sort of world.
However, if you’re selling to the enterprise and you’re selling $2,000, $3,000, $4,000 a month projects, that’s going to take a personal touch. People don’t just like give you their credit card for $2,000 a month project, right? That just doesn’t happen. Sales is actually hopping on the phone with them, learning more about their needs, what do they need, putting together that right project for them, making them comfortable that you can do the work, getting the contract signed. There’s just a lot more to it.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Well, let’s bring that down to the course creator out there. Recently we released an add-on for LifterLMS called Private Areas, which allows people to do coaching through their website in addition to their courses and memberships. What people do is now they by giving that personalized attention and touch through coaching, they can charge a lot more for their courses plus coaching, but if we’re going to have a $2,000 product or something that’s very expensive on an ongoing monthly basis, what are some key sales things that people need to think about when their deal size goes up from like $100, $200 or $300 course to something much bigger? How’s it different?
John Doherty: There’s a lot that’s different to it. I mean I would actually say that’s interesting with course creators because that’s definitely like a value add-on, but what a lot of course creators don’t realize or what a lot of people that haven’t done a lot of consulting don’t realize is they’ll start selling it, start selling coaching, and then they’ll charge way too little for it. Then they end up having to do a ton of phone calls and that kind of thing. They’re not actually making that much more money, right? They have a ton more stress. They’re super exhausted at the end of the day. What I would actually say is use your course as basically lead generation for your coaching if that makes sense.
Your coaching can be something that you only offer to specific types of companies or something like. Anyone can sign up to your $200 SEO course, but if they actually want to get like your direct advice, then they’re going to have to pay a premium for it. You should also be selective about the kinds of people that you take on as a client. Just pricing yourself higher is going to price out a lot of the tire kickers, a lot of people that are going to be kind of a pain from a support perspective.
One thing I’ve learned a lot in the last couple of years is the clients that are paying you more they’re going to be so much better and you’re going to have like such a better business and so much less stress and such a better life honestly than if you have 50 people paying you $200 a month, right? That’s 10 grand right there, which sounds great, but I would much rather have two people paying me five grand a month each because I can go a lot deep with them. I can put more time into it. I can add a lot more value to their business and they actually … They’re willing to invest the money in my expertise. That’s one thing that I would think about. However, it’s a lot harder to sell a $5,000 a month project than a …
I’m sorry. $5,000 a month project than a $200 a month engagement. You’re going to have to do a lot more around this is the experience that I have. This is how I can help you. These are the kinds of businesses that I’ve worked with. These are the kinds of things that we go through. This is what an engagement looks like. Basically spelling out every month we’re going to do a phone call. On the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month it’s going to be an hour. This is the homework that I’m going to give you and this is basically what the end goal is. People, they need to know exactly what they’re going to get out of it at the end versus someone …
$200, a lot of people, a lot of business owners are going to be like, “200 bucks? What do I have to lose,” right, verus like it’s a $5,000 project, they know that they have to take it seriously and you have to take it more seriously as well.
Chris Badgett: Let’s talk about pricing a little bit. A lot of people listening to us right now, they’re experts first. They’re marketing, salesperson, technologists second. They come with this expertise and they’re trying to get it online. They’re trying to do it at scale. If we’re going to look at doing coaching upsell on top of our course, how do we think about pricing? How do we find that price point and how do we get comfortable with a higher price point? Just to make the question even harder for you, there’s like three main areas that people come from, which is health, business and relationships. Is your advice, would it change depending which sub niche somebody’s in inside of one of those buckets or would it stay the same?
John Doherty: Yeah, totally. Those are great questions. I mean we could talk for hours about this. There are whole conferences about this sort of thing. Starting from your last question and working my way back, the strategy definitely changes. How much you can charge depends off of how much the upside, right? I do some SEO consulting. I have a couple of clients. They pay me well, high four figures, low five figures a month. The upside that they have like I’ve literally made … One of my clients, I’ve made them an extra $50 million this year, 5-0, right? I know that if we drive an additional 100,000 visitors, it’s going to mean this much more money for them every single month, right?
I can basically like ballpark how much they should be willing to pay and can sell directly to that, right?
Chris Badgett: Let me ask you a question on that point. Do you like that as a general rule like a 10X return or 100X? If you’re going to pay me $1,000, what I’d give you is going to be able to generate $10,000 based on what I’m teaching or doing for you or like 100X. Is there a multiple that you’ve seen make sense in terms of cost versus the ROI, the value on the other side?
John Doherty: Yeah. It’s a great question. Let me speak to my own business. With Credo, I try to get every … Every agency that I have in my platform that’s paying me basically four leads you could say, I try to get them a 10X return every month. That’s kind of my goal. If they’re paying let’s say $2,000 a month, I try to introduce them to $40,000 worth of work with the goal that they close half of that, right? Then they get a 10X return on that. Part of it as well is you also need to find out from your client or from your potential client what they’re expecting. This is where sales comes in and you can say like, “Okay. Normally I work with someone and they pay me $1,000, I make them $10,000. You get a 10X return.”
If they’re expecting to pay you $1,000 and make $100,000, maybe they’re expectations are set wrong. You either need to recalibrate their expectations or you just need to say like, “I’m sorry. We’re not a good fit because for what you’re willing to pay, your business isn’t set up to be able to make you that.” I think that’s part of it right there. You need to get deeper into can you do the work, can you sign them and what’s actually going to be a successful engagement for them and for you. I don’t want to take on a client that we’re not going to have a successful engagement and they’re going to be leave me a glowing review and I’m also not going to learn things, right?
All of that is important to me and I also have to have the skills that I can grow their business. Same as someone teaching a course, right? There’s also part of how you sell it too. There’s part of how you market it where after you run through it a couple times, you’ve done launches and keeping in touch with them, getting feedback on what resonated, what didn’t, but then what did they implement and what did they see from that. Then you can say, “People that take this course and implement the things that I tell them to do end up making a 20X return on average,” or something like that and having testimonials and building that trust through there.
As I was talking about earlier, it’s kind of a compounding effect where it’s not just like a one and done launch and all of a sudden you’re retired on a beach in Bali, right? That’s not how it works. You have to do this again and again. You’re iterating. Going back to the pricing question, as you learn just how much you’re making people, how great of a return they’re getting, if you’re charging $200 for lifetime value to the course and the average person is making $40,000, you’re charging way too little, right? If you can tell someone that you’re going to make them $40,000, they should be willing to pay you $2,000 to $3,000 for that, right? Raising your prices over time eventually you hit a cap.
Then you kind of figure out where their price sensitivity is or what you need to show them. Asking them, “Okay, you’re willing to pay me $500. What would you want to get out of this course in order to pay me $2,000?” You’re going to learn so much about what you can add in order to raise your prices and end up making more money and making them a better return as well.
Chris Badgett: Wow. That’s awesome. Well, I can’t wait to dig into your sales eBook. I always appreciate talking to someone with such great wealth of knowledge around sales. Let me throw you another hard question at you. What if I’m trying for premium pricing, but the return is not quantifiable? Let’s say it’s some kind of relationship or health course where there’s not like a monetary return, but maybe a quality of life return. How do you sell that? Is it any different than like just straight up business ROI or is it really the same thing, different terms?
John Doherty: That’s a great question. I mean basically at the end of the day, if someone is paying you for something, they’re expecting something in return, right? Then you have to ask what is that worth to them and also ask them what is it worth. I have a friend that we actually lived in Switzerland together over a decade ago now. Now she is a very well-known basically relationship coach in New York City and she charges a lot of money. I mean she worked with billionaires helping them sort out why their past marriages failed and helping them have a successful relationship moving forward.
Yeah, they’re billionaires and so like they’re willing to pay her a lot of money, but she basically has this built up that like if you really care about this, if you really care about finding a mate, becoming the person that is the right kind of mate for the kind of person that you want to attract, then this is the work that we need to do. This is time that we need to spend and people are willing … Basically figure out like once again where is their price sensitivity. Are they willing to pay $100 for that? If so, what can you give them? Do you even want to work on that level or do you need to find the people that are willing to pay $10,000 a month for the next six months in order to find the mate that they want to have for their rest of their lives?
Really it comes down to who is your customer, how much is this advice worth to them and part of that customer is like how much do they make and what time do they have and where are they located and all of those things. You’ll learn as you go. Maybe you start off with, I don’t know, $200 an hour. You’re doing like hour long phone calls with them and you realize that actually I want to scale this up and this advice is worth way more to them. This is something a lot of people don’t think about with sales, Chris, is your potential new customer or new client doesn’t know what your other clients are paying you, right? People often forget that. You know that your client’s paying you $200 an hour.
What if you pitch this new one on $500 an hour? If they say yes, then you know that there are people out there that are willing to pay $500 an hour. How do you find more of those, right? Then the next one, pitch them $800 an hour. If people are willing to pay, great. If they’re not, why not? You can keep leveling up your pricing that way. It comes back to whose your customer, what are they expecting to get out of it and what is that worth to them?
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. I love that advice about just being scientific and testing hypothesis and just being comfortable with experimenting with your pricing and moving it up and seeing what happens. That’s just part of sales and evolution of business and pricing. I really appreciate you doing that.
John Doherty: Totally. It’s also you can take a scientific approach to raising. It’s not just like, “Oh, I’m going to raise my prices from $200 to $400 and see what happens,” but only raising your prices to $400 when you found out that people are making a 40X return on what they’re paying you. How do you make that a 10X return, right? They’re still making as much money, but they’re paying you a bit more for it. Once again it’s getting that feedback from your current customers about what is this actually worth to them and then ball parking where it should be.
Once again ask for that question of okay, you paid me $200, what would it have taken ahead of time for you to be willing to pay me $1,000 for the same type of return and really listening that feedback and building your marketing that way.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. I have a whole on pricing. It seems like the Holy Grail of it all is priceless, what MasterCard sells. You need it for these priceless thing like the ability to walk your daughter down the aisle or see your grandchild born. If it’s a health course or whatever, somethings are so valuable you can’t even attach a price tag on it and then the question becomes well, who is my target market, what can they actually afford? I mean there is ultimately a price, but there are things out there that are kind of intangible. They are extremely valuable to people. I love the conversation around pricing. Well, let’s talk a little bit about some of your skills in SEO. Course creators, membership site builders, they have this big problem.
There’s two problems. One of them is and correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding is when your course content is behind a log in or a member’s area or whatever, it’s not really indexed. Even if it is, it’s not going to like rank in the search results. Then the other problem that course creators have from an SEO perspective is it takes a lot of work to build a really quality course and membership site and learning experience and coaching program. That sometimes creating a bunch of indexable free content it’s a challenge of capacity for somebody who’s already that busy with the learning content. It’s private. Let’s get some SEO advice to those two challenges.
John Doherty: Yeah, totally. I have a couple of pieces of advice for this. One is first things first, I mean your content is what you’re selling, right? You’re logged in course content is what you’re selling. That has to be amazing and having amazing content like that and having customers that are really happy, that are getting a great return from it, that’s going to be your best marketing because other people are going to want to tell their friends about it. If you have a course that teach people how to make like, I don’t know, vegan food, just as an example, then … The vegan community is like … What’s the joke about like the only people that’ll tell you more about their lifestyle than people that do CrossFit are vegans.
Something like that. My point there is like that’s not a knock on vegans at all, but they’re a passionate, passionate community just like the CrossFit community, right? If you can nail that group and really teach them what they need to know, then they’re going to tell their friends about it. That’s great. You absolutely have to start there. Once you have that content there and you have your different lessons and that sort of thing all logged in and there’s actually something to that that I’d like to touch on. I was talking about this with Joe Casabona, who was in Cabo with us, where basically he’s teaching people how to like make websites and make WordPress themes and that sort of thing.
Within SEO there’s this idea of keyword research, right? Basically you can use Google AdWords tool or Moz is a very well-known software tool in the SEO community. They have this thing called Keyword Explorer. It’s like moz.com/explorer where basically you can do research into terms that people are searching for and see how many times per month they’re being searched for. The higher the volume is, often the more competitive it is, but you can also get more traffic and it’s going to be worth more potentially. One thing that I advise Joe to do is go search for like people searching how to create a WordPress theme, how to build a website on WordPress or how to use LifterLMS to create …
How to create a membership and then basically funneling people down into that. Create your course first. You can use that keyword research as well to inform the lessons that you’re creating. Then once you’ve done that, then I recommend going back and yes, it does take lot of time to create awesome content and provide this great experience and do the coaching and all of those things, but once you’ve created it, then you basically have an evergreen asset in order to sell again and again and again. Obviously you’re going to have to update it over time, but it’s relatively evergreen. Then you can go back and the time that you were spending creating that course, you can now actually use to build landing pages.
I say build landing pages that don’t give away the secret sauce, but create a landing page. If you’re teaching how to build a WordPress theme, you can do the keyword research around like what are the simple files I have to include in a WordPress theme. You have lesson about that. You have a sign up button at the bottom, “In this lesson you will learn about the eight different types of templates that you need within a WordPress theme,” and all this different stuff. You can go back. I would just go back and very systematically try to get out one or two a week, dedicated landing pages, logged out landing pages, about the different lessons that you have that have been informed by keyword research.
Then over time those will rank and you get someone in to … If they’re looking for how to build a WordPress theme, then you have a whole course about that, but also like smaller pieces. Then you can play around with even different pricing, right? Like maybe they don’t want to know how to create a whole WordPress theme, but they want to learn about a specific thing within WordPress development. You can charge them one-off for that lesson as opposed to making them pay $199 for the whole course, right? That opens up a lot for you as well.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Let’s get clear on some terms. In terms of landing pages, could that just be a blog post? Define the term for the non-marketer out there. When you say landing page, what do you mean?
John Doherty: Yeah, totally. It could be a blog post, but in this case these are more like conversion oriented pages. Obviously wihtin WordPress, there’s ideas of and taxonomies of your pages and your posts, right? Posts are often like blog posts. Pages are like dedicated pages that you have to link to from your navigation or something like that. I would actually say build these out as pages within WordPress specifically. You could start with like yoga domain.com. Just in general like your domain.com/WordPress. That’s your WordPress theme, right? That could be like your learn to build a WordPress theme course and then off of that, you can have that as like your parent. Then you can have the child of how to …
The files that you need and hosting and whatever the lessons are that you have there. Within each of those, having content about this is what this specific lesson is about and having a call to action at the bottom, sign up or information about how much it cost and all of that. Those are basically like your product pages, right? You don’t want to post as your product page. Like actually build a dedicated page around that. Then post some more like free information about how to build topics basically around the information that you’re teaching. You can go a lot deeper with WordPress themes for example. Give away some free recipes or whatever it is that you’re teaching people about.
Chris Badgett: That’s super cool. I’m going to give one tip and then I’m going to hit you up for some free SEO advice. My one tip is if those of you listening are using LifterLMS to build your courses, we have the ability to mark a lesson as what we call free and open. That’s a lesson that somebody can easily view. It is indexable by the search engines. They don’t have to log in to see it. It’s kind of like the free cookie at the cookie counter. It’s like a free soup that people can try. As one tactic, I always recommend people giving away two of their best lessons for SEO purposes, but also just to build trust and show that you got the goods in advance of asking for a log in or money.
John Doherty: My tip with that, Chris, is and maybe you’ve taken this into account because you’ve studied SEO as well, but making sure that you’re linking to those lessons that you’re giving away, those public lessons. Making sure you’re linking to those from other pages on your website. Because if they’re just orphans, they’re not being linked to from anywhere else, they’re just not going to rank, right? They might not even get indexed. If they’re on your site maps, then they probably will get indexed, but they’re not going to rank for anything substantial. Make sure that you’re linking to them from blog posts and the sidebar of your blog. Maybe your top navigation if it makes sense as well.
Chris Badgett: That’s great. Correct me if this is the wrong term, but is that called deep linking where when you’re writing about something, you link to something else inside your website? Is that what that is?
John Doherty: Yeah. That’s one of the terms that can be used for it. I just call it internal linking. You’re just making sure you’re linking from other relevant pages to it.
Chris Badgett: Okay. Well, the part where I hit you up for free advice is another strategy for course creators. This is something I do for LifterLMS, which is a software, not necessarily courses. I have a podcast that we’re doing right now. I send the audio files. They get transcribed. All these words we’re using and phrases become keyword phrases that get indexed and then the podcast kind of sits like at the top of our funnel where people who are searching for things like SEO for course creators or how to price my course or how to add coaching to an online course, all these like phrases it would take forever to write articles about all this, but it’s not that difficult …
For me anyways, it’s more time efficient to talk to smart people like you and get great content out there and then just do some best practices. I send it through to something called rev.com. They transcribe it. My team helps with the post to go and the podcast episode and it gets syndicated to iTunes and all over Stitcher Radio and everywhere. I think course creators especially since they’re focused on a topic, that means they could potentially have a podcast around that topic and interview other experts or even run a solo show if that’s their thing. What do you think about that idea or any other ways to optimize that idea?
John Doherty: I like it. I actually do the same thing. I’ve been producing a series of videos and interviews just like this on the Credo site as well with like well-known marketers talking about entrepreneurship and ads and technical SEO and enterprise SEO and what have you. The goal there is to rank for some of those keywords. I think that’s a great way to do it and another kind of interesting content as well, right? I think the interesting thing there is you have this podcast, VideoCast, whatever you want to call it. The audio goes out, but then we’re also talking about it. People can see you. They can get to know Chris Badgett, right? They start to come to see you as an authority on the space on course creation.
Even though you already are, but now they actually realize it. Rand Fishkin did the same thing with Moz where he started doing Whiteboard Friday where it’s a video every week. He’s been doing it for like 10 years now and that really built his name as a SEO expert. He is very good at SEO, but that’s what really help build his name. You can use these videos as basically building trust with your potential audience where it’s not just like … Erin Flynn was in Cabo with us, right, and so she teaches online courses. It’s not just like, “Oh, I’m going to but this WordPress course by this woman named Erin,” it’s, “No, I’m going to buy this from Eric Flynn who I know who does these great interviews, and I’ve seen her talking about this stuff. I trust her.
I know she’s going to be able to teach me what I need to know.” That can be a great way to do it. One other tip around SEOs specifically is I like what you’re doing, putting out the video, doing the transcript that gets indexable. You need content on the page. I do the same thing. I use Speechpad instead of Rev, but I’ve heard great things about Rev. One of the things I recommend doing is publish the post. Promote it everywhere. Get your audience to promote it as well. Get your community to promote it. Then some months later I would actually recommend going back to Search Console, Google Search Console. You don’t really see organic keywords in Analytics anymore, but they show them to you in Search Console.
Go back and actually drill down to those posts, like the video interviews that you did and all that, and see what your actually getting impressions for on those posts, right? You might be doing content creation or SEO for content creators as the title of this episode that we’re doing, but maybe you’re also going to start getting impressions for like sales for course creators and exactly the examples that you were giving. Maybe you’re ranking middle of the second page, middle of the third page. You’re not going to get any traffic for that, but a couple of people have seen it. Then the question becomes okay, what’s the search volume of this term?
I would recommend using a Chrome extension called Keywords Everywhere where basically within Search Console it doesn’t tell you the search volume, but if you use Keyword Everywhere, it puts the search volume right next to it within Search Console. It’s super cool and you can say, “Okay. This is actually a high traffic term that people are willing to pay money for with ads. That means it’s going to convert.” Then go and create another episode or write a blog post or create a course around that, right?
That’s another way to kind of identify what are the terms that Google or yeah, specifically Google in this case, things that your website is relevant for and then you can go and create dedicated pages, dedicated content around those terms to rank on the first page and drive traffic for those terms as well.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. That is worth the price of admission, folks. John just threw out a lot of knowledge bombs there. I love how you put on the scientific hat and be like, “Okay. That’s great we’re doing these best practices, but let’s go see what’s happening in Google. What pages are actually ranking and then if we want to optimize, let’s double down on what we’re ranking for,” which is always not actually what we thought it was going to be. I mean every time I’ve done any kind of SEO research I’m surprised. I’m like, “Oh, it’s that thing over there.” I know that this podcast is one of the number one things when I ask somebody, “How you’d hear about us?” They’re like, “Oh, I saw a video or I heard you on a podcast.”
I know that that is like big, but I’m not really looking at like where is the majority of the traffic coming to into that piece of the funnel. That’s a really great insight. I appreciate that.
John Doherty: Yeah, absolutely. Then just how you expand it, right? That’s the proactive part of SEO. It’s not just like blindly creating content by taking that data-driven approach to it. It doesn’t have to be dry like keyword stuffed content, right? You can actually write like really interesting content around these keywords and that’s what the search engines wants you to do anyways and that’s the kind of stuff they want to rank.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Well, what do you recommend for SEO as people go through the various phases of business? I’m a side hustle and I’m just starting out, I have no resources versus okay, I’m making money, I can hire a part-time SEO help, what do I do, and then somebody who’s doing really well and I’m like, “I’m ready to scale. I’m ready to pay to play.” Can you talk to those three levels a little bit?
John Doherty: Yeah, totally. I mean everyone has to start somewhere, right? I had a point in my life where I didn’t know what SEO was. I was hearing about like search engine friendly URLs was like 2008. I was developing on the JUMO platform. I was like I have no clue what these are. Everyone has to start somewhere. I would actually say if you’re a course creator, it’s a side hustle, you’re just getting starting, you’re trying to figure out how do you build an audience, if you want to learn about SEO, I would say the best place to go is still to … The very first stuff that you learn, type Beginner’s Guide to SEO. Search that in Google. It’s on Moz.
It’ll come up first and basically it’s like a 10 to 12 page dive into SEO to give you a primer on like what do we mean by URLs and what do we mean by keyword research and what do we mean by all these different things. Start there. There’s a PDF version that they offer. I would say download that. Download that. Print it off. When I first started in SEO, when I got my first full-time job in SEO in 2010, I walked in on my first day. My boss had a PDF copy of that printed off on my desk. I carried that thing with me for the next year in my backpack. I’d be at a laundromat in Philadelphia where I was living at the time and I’d be reading this. It’s all marked up. I think I still have it.
I need to find it, but like that’s how I got started learning SEO, right? Reading Moz and reading Search Engine Land and these other sites. Learn as much as you can. Find the people to follow on Twitter. The SEO community is super active on Twitter. People share a lot of stuff there. I would say start off there and educate yourself as much as you can. Especially around like WordPress SEO, LifterLMS mostly is just WordPress at this point, right? Yoast, Joost de Valk is the founder, yoast.com. Yoast is like the most well-known and honestly in my opinion the best SEO plug-in for WordPress. They have a phenomenal guide there. Glen Allsopp of ViperChill have great guides to WordPress SEO. Go read those. Absolutely you have to read those.
Then as you move the chain and you have more money to spend on it, you’re starting to see more traffic coming in. You’re getting more conversions. You’re making more money. If you want to go deeper, I would actually recommend … My old agency, Distilled, distilled.net/u, they have this thing called DistilledU where basically we built out a training that we always wanted to see that we wish we had had. It’s like 40 bucks a month. Pay for it for a few months. Go through it and learn all about. There’s like interactive quizzes and that sort of thing. It’s a super cool platform. Spend 80 bucks, 120 bucks and get an SEO education from some of the best.
Then from there as you’ve grown, if you have a six figure course, multiple six figures course and you basically want an expert to get a perspective on it, you can go to like 30.fm and hop on the phone for an hour and pay someone by the minute to chat with you about SEO. If you actually want someone to get in and do a deep technical SEO on it, keyword research, help you put together a content strategy, maybe even help you execute on that content strategy, come talk to me. Shameless plug, Get Credo. Fill out the form there and let’s chat about what you need. We mostly help people that have thousand plus dollars a month to spend on something like, but if you can spend …
Let’s say you spend $2,000 a month and it helps you increase your organic traffic by 10,000 visits a month or 20,000 visits a month, that’s the gift that keeps on giving. You’re going to keep making that money even after you stop working with someone. There are multiple things you can spend. You can spend time. You can spend money. You can spend expertise. You’re spending some combination of those. If you don’t have money, you’re going to spend time. If you don’t have time, you’re going to have to spend money. It just depends on the phase that you’re at.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. I really like that. For those of you listening, having a solid SEO person like John on your bench is so worth it if you can afford it. I happen to be an SEO geek and I kind of get into it, but most people aren’t in my experience. They don’t want to go deep or once they figure out something, they don’t necessarily want to implement it because SEO, it takes an interesting mind. If you can find an SEO partner to work with like John and his team and people John recommends, I highly recommend it, but before you do all that, I think it’s well worth it to just spend a couple days or a month or two just getting the fundamentals.
Because once you understand the fundamentals, those things naturally create better content, name things better, write better headlines, all these things that help the way you title the images you put on your website. All these things add up and you just get a few best practices that can really move the needle because most people don’t do those things.
John Doherty: You also know how to hire for it I think is the thing. You know the questions to ask. If someone’s talking to you about keyword density, which was like a pretty industry accepted thing back in the day and now it’s like complete bonk, right? If someone’s talking to you about like the keyword density of your articles, you know not to hire them because they’re like super old school or they’re not actually going to move the needle for you. Just to give a quick example of that, I don’t think SEO is that hard to learn. Getting it implemented can be hard. Especially if you’re not a developer, it can be hard. I recently spoke with a woman that she’s also a relationship coach. All these relationship coaches. I’m happily married.
She was telling me about she basically had about 5,000-6,000 visits a month, something like that, from search. She went and she watched basically all of Rand’s Whiteboard Friday videos. Devoured the Beginner’s Guide to SEO. Read as much as she could and she went back like reoptimized a lot of her content and then created new content as well. In the last five months she’s taken her traffic from 5,000-6,000 visits a month from organic to like 27,000-28,000 a month just on her own. She’s a relationship coach. She’s not an SEO, right? She got the basics right. It’s definitely possible to move the needle on your site to get more traffic in business from SEO without being an SEO expert.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Well, for those of you listening, if you want to connect with John, go find out more at getcredo.com. That’s G-E-T-C-R-E-D-O. Where are you at on Twitter, John?
John Doherty: I’m @DohertyJF. D-O-H-E-R-T-Y, which is my last name, J-F, John Francis. That’s actually the best way to reach me. I’m on Twitter a lot and I try to respond to everyone. Yeah, that’s the best place. Then if you want to chat about this sort of stuff and you’re looking for someone, my email is just my first name at getcredo.com. Feel free to shoot me an email. Tell me you heard me on the LMSCast and happy to chat.
Chris Badgett: Awesome. Well, thank you so much, John, for coming on the show and sharing your story with us. We wish you all the best in your sales training work that you’re getting into.
John Doherty: Thank you, Chris. I appreciate it. I’m really glad I met you all in Cabo because I was looking for a good LMS. I’m definitely going to give LifterLMS a look.
Chris Badgett: Awesome.

EPISODE 159

Kim Shivler Reveals 23 Instructional Design and Business Best Practices for User Centric Course Creators

In this episode of LMScast with Chris Badgett of LifterLMS, Kim Shivler reveals 23 instructional design and business best practices for user centric course creators. Kim shares the story of how she entered the online learning space, and talks with Chris about some key insights on course design and how you can make your online content more effective.

Kim started developing HTML in 1995, and she worked as a part of an IBM worldwide team. Kim has a master’s degree in education, and she’s an expert in online courses, membership sites, and WordPress. She works as a speaker, teacher, and instructional design consultant. She saw that some things were missing with most courses and membership sites, whether it was on the business end or on the learning end, so since she has experience with both she started working with online content creators to help make their products more effective and profitable.

Your course will see students who have different learning styles, so having multiple forms of media in your course will help your students internalize the content. Reflecting on course material in the form of a review will also vastly improve retention of information. Having a quiz at the end of course sections will help your customers apply the information they learned, and it will help you figure out where students are falling off from an analytics perspective.

Having your course content in small modules that are easy to consume will help your students digest the information and put it to use in a more effective way. Chris and Kim talk about why this is useful and how it will help your customers avoid information overload.

Courses are not just about sales or just about learning. They are about connecting with your audience and instilling them with a skill or solution to a problem. Testing of your course material is crucial for having success with your course. Kim and Chris talk about why this key piece of development is necessary and why it should never be left out. Creating a relationship focus rather than a transactional focus with your courses is a mindset you should take whenever developing online learning content.

Chris and Kim talk about why challenging your assumptions is also critical for creative problem solving, and how acquiring this habit can greatly improve the content you produce. They also discuss the journey from being stress aware to solution aware.

It is important to change your students’ views of quizzes and tests as well, because they are not meant to be punitive – they are learning tools that help both of you learn. Don’t create quiz questions with the intention to trick your students, because that is not very productive for learning. Chris and Kim talk a little bit about what a good quiz question encompasses.

To learn more about Kim Shivler check out kimshivler.com, and you can find her on Twitter at @KimShivler.

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, Kim Shivler, from kimshivler.com. Kim is an expert in online courses, membership sites, WordPress, and also just business and teaching. We’re going to get into some of these topics and how they all blend together. I recently met up with Kim at WordCamp Sacramento in late or mid 2017. She gave a great talk on membership sites, and I just had to get her on the show. Kim, welcome to LMScast, and thank you for coming to the show.
Kim Shivler: Thanks for having me. I think we found when we met at WordCamp Sacramento, this is the kind of stuff we could both geek out on for quite a while.
Chris Badgett: I’m sure this is part one in a series. For those that don’t know you yet, tell us a little bit about your world. How do you help people and what are you all about with WordPress and courses and membership sites?
Kim Shivler: I consider myself a speaker, teacher, and instructional design consultant. I work with companies to help them build educationally sound courses. Sometimes that’s online courses, sometimes that’s actually workshops. I’ve done that because I noticed I have a master’s degree in education, and I’ve been teaching for over 30 years now. I noticed as I worked with people who had to get out and teach whether it was online or not that there were just some things missing that they didn’t understand whether from a business perspective or a learning perspective, and being that I had that technical background I worked at.
In technology, I started developing HTML in 1995, and also was part of an IBM worldwide team. I had the tech piece and the educational piece. I just blended them together to help my customers go forward, and most importantly serve their customers.
Chris Badgett: That’s an awesome combination because if we’re all really honest with ourselves, usually on the technology side or the teaching side, or the expert … If you were to throw in a third leg on that stool, just general expertise, they’re usually not level at all. To have some strength in both tech and teaching is a really great asset. When I was listening to your talk, I heard you talking about things that I didn’t hear a lot of people talking about, but they were super valuable and things that course creators and membership site owners really need to consider, and think about as best practices when they build their platforms.
I want to get in to that and if you’re listening or watching this video in YouTube, I’d encourage you to grab a pen, and we’re going to lay out some tips that if you were to just absorb these and then do your best to implement these ideas, this is coming from a lot of experience across Kim’s experience, lots of clients and that sort of thing. These are some real best practices and insights that are worth trying out. You mentioned that there’s some business and instructional design or teaching best practices for the course creator. Which side do you like to start on?
Kim Shivler: I think let’s start at the beginning which would be the course design, and then take it through the second piece, which is you mentioned I talk about that a lot of times, people don’t, and that is the actual launch process, and things from a business perspective you need to do before your launch and during your launch to make sure that it’s the success, not just for you but for your customer who is really why you’re building this in the first place.
Chris Badgett: Absolutely. What are some key insights on course design?
Kim Shivler: A few of them. First of all, courses are one of those fun things that we all figured that we sat in school for a long, long, long, long time, so we can all teach. We sometimes forget that there’s actually a science behind this. One of the key things is that people don’t all learn the same way. There’s a big argument within the industry on whether or not they are true hardwired styles or just preferences, but it really doesn’t matter because some people are going to learn better very visually.
They like to watch videos. Others want to hear so you’ve got the audio aspect and then others actually need to see text. What we really find is you’ll get the best if you combine all of that. Not to mention the fact that until someone does it, they really haven’t learned it so we need to have activities in there that allow them to experience the success in whatever you’re teaching them to show that they are learning it, they’re doing it. Interestingly we’ve actually found out within the instructional design fields and the psychology fields that the deepest learning actually comes after you’ve done all the things I just said and then reflecting back upon what you did.
That’s when we fully absorb it. Reviews at the end of a course are really helpful for that student to take it away and internalize it. I don’t just mean a review like giving them five bullet points. Interaction with them allowing them to maybe some information delivered and then some they have to give back, they have to answer a question or complete a task to really cement that into their body and their learning. That’s a big one.
Then the other one is really the key for online learning. It’s not as big a deal in the workshops, but you really need to break it into teeny tiny little pieces because we don’t consume … We’re not people who want to sit and watch a 40-minute video for the most part. We want to consume it in small bites. We want to then interact with it however we’re going to whether it’s for example, [inaudible 00:06:36] drawing if you’re teaching drawing or installing WordPress, if you’re teaching WordPress. We want to have those little bites and those little successes going forward so really break it down, that’s so critical.
You also have the difficulty of when you teach live and I teach both live and online. When I teach live, I can layout across the room and you can tell that some people are getting it, some people aren’t. You always have that one guy or girl in the back. They are viciously nodding their head, yes, in agreement and you can just see in their eyes that they missed everything you just said so you can come back around to it.
Online, we’ve got to figure out where we’re losing people without being able to see them in the eyes and that’s whereas I mentioned before, we’re building this for our user. It’s a concept of breaking it down and then having some quiz questions, et cetera between there so you can see where people are falling out and where you need to pull them back in and what you need to address to make sure you’re reaching them.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. I think that’s just one of the things that makes them more professional course, and of course experiences, it’s not just about getting the content and getting it ready for consumption. There’s a lot more that goes into it like the activities you’ve mentioned and reflection, and circling back, having a feedback loop if something is not going through. I mean that’s the more professional way to do it. It’s not just about content.
Kim Shivler: Absolutely, or about sales. Not just content, not just sales, it’s absolutely about connecting with your audience and that’s where something I did talk about in the presentation at Sacramento is testing. Testing is so, so critical. I mean having people who are your target audience testing. A lot of times when we develop it, yes, whoever developed our platform tests from a technical perspective, we as content developers test from our perspective but like my business coach loves to tell me, “Kim, you’re not your target audience.”
I mean we need to have our testing done by that target audience. That’s where we find the places that we thought we were so clear but if 30% of your audience is missing it, you really need to go back and address it. The more of an expert you are in your field, the bigger that can be because we forget what we didn’t know when we were just starting out a lot of times.
Chris Badgett: Prelaunch testing is critical. I mean it can always get better after a long review, “How is it going? Can it be improved? I like to say that the launch is not the finish line, it’s the starting line in many ways.
Kim Shivler: Agreed.
Chris Badgett: The way I look at that sometimes is assumptions play such a big role and how we operate as entrepreneurs or as teachers and really where you get the big breakthroughs is where you challenge your assumptions. I think being open as a teacher, as an instructor, as a leader, as a coach to be able to have your assumptions challenged that yes, I can teach this material with your target audience not other people just like you. That’s so critical and rarely done, I think, or not done as much as it should be.
Kim Shivler: I agree. For one, I think a lot of times particularly the testing piece, it’s done as an afterthought. Again, they test the technical piece. We make sure that Stripe is working and PayPal is working, and “We can get your money,” but we forget the testing of the users, and I agree. The launch is just the start. However, if you will back up and do some of this testing ahead of time, you can make the launch go even better and then it’s a start where you continue going on, but I have seen in a couple different case studies where no testing was done with users beforehand.
Both were situations where they had a pretty good size audience already. As we know that’s important if we’re going to have a successful launch and sell something but without that level of testing, there were so many issues in the launch that we lost a good percentage of people just from frustration that they couldn’t get through what they needed to get through. This was a warm audience. Think if that’s your warm audience you’re losing, if you’re running Facebook ads, and you’re paying to get people here, and you can’t serve them it was just waste in marketing money.
Chris Badgett: It’s miraculous what you can do with the technology tools available today and the internet, and building all the blocks and putting your online school or online program together but it’s just like building a car, something like that. You should test it before you go out on the open road with it just to make sure everything is good to go.
Kim Shivler: Absolutely. For example, what you guys do at Lifter, it’s fabulous software. It goes beyond. I built my first online course in 1997. It was hand coded HTML with CGI scripts piecing it together.
Chris Badgett: Wow.
Kim Shivler: It was ugly. I wasn’t even using active server pages and JavaServer pages yet. What you provide now is perfect. As course developers, we just have to still remember it’s about serving our audience. It’s not about our bells and whistles, and having fun, and sometimes particularly our engineers really like to just, “We’re going to do it because we can,” but when we’re trying to teach, that is a service to someone else, and we need to make sure that we are really reaching what their needs are, what their level of learning is. One of the things I find when I worked with people in instructional design, and the more expert they are again, the more this is true. They’re to cram 30 years of experience into one class.
Chris Badgett: How do you help someone who’s in that position?
Kim Shivler: The first thing we do when we work together is we do a big brain dump. When they get it all out, and I can show them how this isn’t one class, this is 12 classes. This is a series that builds upon itself. Usually they get really excited about that. It’s almost a freeing thing to them and of course they’re also saying, “Hey, multiple classes is multiple products to possibly keep your customer base going and purchasing et cetera.
Chris Badgett: Awesome. What about the business side?
Kim Shivler: The business side, I do, I look at two things. One, the testing that I actually consider part of the business side. Testing with your target audience and if that somebody … Say, you’ve got a warm audience already. Reach out to a small core of them that you know will do what you ask them to do and do a true beta program. We always think of beta from a technology software engineering perspective but this is a beta for your customer to go through the course and don’t even just tell them go through the course.
I actually give them a sheet. I want you to go here and sign in. It should take you here. Does it? They don’t know what the flow is supposed to look like, so they just go, “Good.” What if I’m sending them to the wrong page? I actually walk them through exactly it should look like. If they’re having problems, I do have them fill that out, but I actually give them little exercises to do and questions for feedback so that I can really get their picture. It’s a great place to use heat maps to see where they are clicking as their going through and make sure that they’re doing the flow that you’re looking for, and really look for things like particularly in your quizzes.
Make sure that you’re asking things in a way that people are getting it and you’re getting the right answers. If you built something, and a large percentage of the people are not passing it, that usually has something to say about your teaching, your content and what you’ve put out as opposed to the fact that your students are just dumb because it’s usually on you. Learn a little bit from that business side as you’re going into it. Really work with any activities or questions that you’re going to give them and make sure that you’re helping them along. Quizzes and activities should not be punitive. They should be learning tools.
Chris Badgett: How do you make quizzes fun? I think for some course creators, they hear about a learning management system or an online course. They have this quiz or assessment tools, but they have … Maybe they’re somehow traumatized from their experience in school or something like that. How do you explain the value, or of quizzes, or make it … Get them to get over that hurdle of quizzes are evil?
Kim Shivler: First of all, I tell everybody that, with my students like, “Guys, first of all quizzes aren’t punitive. They’re learning tools.” I tell them my goal with this is not to quiz you, it’s for you to look at it and, one, check your own learning and two, quiz me because if you can’t answer it, I didn’t teach it right.” Once they turn the tables on you a little bit and then open to doing that, they’re like, “I’m going to get you.”
Then the onus is on me to write good quiz questions. One of the things people have when they’re writing quiz questions is they’re afraid of giving away too much information. Don’t be. Give away a good chunk of information so that they know where you’re going. Then they can get that next answer right. Whatever you do, make sure you’re not ambiguous. That’s where in the testing, I keep hammering on testing. You’re going to find questions that the students thought were ambiguous that you didn’t.
Don’t ask things like where was Lincoln shot? Which one of my brother’s history teachers did ask and when he put in the head, she had to give it to him even though she was going for Theodore. Go ahead and build those out and just make sure you’re testing. The other thing during the launch is prepare for support calls, prepare your team and make sure all hands are on deck because you’re going to have somebody that has a problem filling out their credit card information, tries to log in to the course, the platform, whatever you have and gets an error or somehow didn’t get their email conformation because their mail spam did, and we need to then be able to help them. Just whatever you do, don’t say you have to wait for the email. We need to be there to jump in and help get them on boarded if we’re needed to because we’re serving them.
Chris Badgett: That moment right and before after the purchase or the enrollment is so critical. You should be ready to provide a little extra hand or just be available because once you help get people seated in the classroom and going, they’re pretty good. I mean they’re still going to need help and have questions, but I don’t know. I think about it in the real world of going to college, and you get dropped off and there’s all this stuff going on. You got to find your room, you got to figure out how to eat and all this stuff, but once you got it, you got it. It takes a little extra guidance there in the beginning.
Kim Shivler: Absolutely. That’s definitely a huge part to make sure that you’re focused on them. Also remember, relationships span transactions.
Chris Badgett: What do you mean by that?
Kim Shivler: Most of us if we’re good business people and truly want to serve our customers, we’re looking to build a long-term relationship. I don’t you to buy just one day of consulting from me, or one class, I want you to be part of my tribe that thousand true fans that buys everything I put out. You’ll only get that when you build a relationship. If you look at something just as a transaction like “Got that person. Now get them out the door.” You will never build that successful … You’ll have to work harder because convincing strangers to become customers is harder than really serving your base well enough that they want to keep working with you and bring their friends, and they’re friends, and their friends.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. I’m just going to restate that again. It’s a mindset thing to have a relationship focus over a transactional focus. That’s so key and so critical. That’s for sharing that. It’s easy to get lost in the weeds of making sure the transaction runs okay. At the end of the day, you’re doing business between two human beings or teaching between two human beings, or a group of people. It’s all relationships.
Kim Shivler: Absolutely. Yes, you’re right. We definitely want to test those Stripe transactions, those PayPal transactions. We need to test that. We need to understand that but if we take a relationship mindset, it’s going to be easier to build a successful business. It’ll also make the whole thing easier. Approaching that, “We’re doing this launch. We’re going to have a webinar or an email list, tell everyone we’re going to do it. We know that this is a core time that we’re going to be having this extra support. If we look at it as relationship building then it’s much less stress when we get those calls.
We’re going to work together to fix this, and we approach it that way. This is not the 1980’s day of being in IT which I was back then where it was, “No. We’re IT. We say it’s this way. It’s going to be that way.” The world is different now and particularly if we’re going to serve customers whether it’s through an online course, or a series of courses, or a whole platform then we have to approach it with that mindset because the tools are there. You guys have even added this … What I’m looking forward to playing with. I have it and I haven’t installed it yet but where you can actually have special pages for private clients. For those of us who coach and consult that’s beautiful. The tool is there. I have to approach it with that mindset.
Chris Badgett: I think that’s really key. Another thing that I like to just add to that is from the relationship standpoint, and I’m speaking as a guy with a software product, LifterLMS people can … I make it so that anybody in the world can schedule a 15-minute call with me. I make it so it can’t fill up my entire week. I have blocks where it happens and I talk to lots of people. At the end of those calls, people do a ton of research when they’re selecting an online course or a membership or LMS system. They have tons of questions. After we talk for a while, they thank me for my time like, “Wow. I can’t believe you do that. I really appreciate it. I can’t believe you answered all my questions.” Sometimes I’m referring them to a different product because that’s not a good fit for Lifter. They’re like, “Wow. I can’t believe you’re doing that. “Thank you”
Then I just turn right back around and say, “No, thank you, because I’m understanding what you’re needing, what you’re looking for and if we don’t really know what our customers or perspective customers are like, what the questions they’re asking, we’re just at a sink, or we’re making a lot of assumptions.” I just turn right around and tell them I really appreciate your time too. I think in terms of relationships, it’s a two way street. It’s all benefit to the student. It’s also like to the teacher, or the web learning platform owner to have that feedback loop and be available is really critical.
Kim Shivler: Absolutely.
Chris Badgett: I wanted to ask you another question about that. It just pops in my head but on websites one of the most useful pages that can help save a lot of frustration is a FAQ or frequently asked questions forum. I mean that should be part of the beta program? I’m on a mission to discover what my FAQs are and not just assume I know what they are. I’m having trouble paying. How else can I pay for the course? That’s not the only FAQ you need, right?
Kim Shivler: Absolutely. The earlier you can bring a few core target customers in and get them going, the better because you’re going to learn what they’re needing, what you may be missed. What you really don’t want to do is build 12 modules only to find out, that it’s not what they needed or wanted. Then you can’t even sell it. When I did that presentation, I do talk about we actually do start with a brainstorm on what is needed and then I take it to my audience or to my client’s audience, to get their feedback on that, get their questions on that. Then we build a little bit. Then we have some core testers and then we fix and we build a little more at the time that we’ve got those modules ready and when you hear me say 12, I recommend no more than usually eight to 12 for a class.
Chris Badgett: When you say modules, you’re referring to those are lesson count, or those are sections that then contain those lessons inside of those modules?
Kim Shivler: Yes. Sections, chapters. If you’re getting to more than that, then you’re probably need to break this into two courses. Maybe even three or five, it just depends on what you’re teaching. Build those out, get that feedback and then once you’ve got it done, that’s when I go to my next size where I really try to get a 40 to 50 people if possible to go all the way through it and really get that feedback, see that they’re getting where they need to go. For example, say I’m building WordPress or teaching WordPress which is one of the things I teach. Have they been able to actually go through and build their site? If they have they probably got it. If they’re still stuck on the install, then we have to evaluate that they actually do the lessons or are they really not getting it? Just keep testing and checking back and checking back. If you do that, you’re going to end up with a course that is much more successful for your students and then again what’s the next course? What are they going to be interested in next? Keeping that pulse with them to find out.
I’m always reaching out to them. What is the next problem? Don’t ask a tip for that when you’re getting in touch with them. Again, as you’re doing this, you’re building out those FAQs. Don’t ask them always what they want to learn. Dig in to what is their business problem because they may not know what they want to learn. They may not know the solution you have. They may just know that my business problem is I’m not able to easily share information with my group coaching people other than emails, and the emails get lost et cetera, et cetera. Your private page within the system might reach that. They may not be thinking as far as private pages because how much of the technology do they know?
Chris Badgett: They’re just problem aware. They’re not necessarily solution aware.
Kim Shivler: Exactly. Your customer doesn’t so much care about the technology the bells, the features, the whistles, they just want that problem solved as quickly and easily as possible. That’s all they care about.
Chris Badgett: I think that’s a really helpful thing to think about when you’re a course creator. There’s problem aware and then there’s solution aware. Before problem aware, there is unaware. Somebody just may be like stressed or they don’t know what’s going on but something is not right. They’re unaware. Then after solution aware, they become product aware which is it can translate to different context depending upon where you’re interacting with them but I think that’s one of those assumption pieces because as the learning platform owner, course creator, teacher probably solve the same problem in our own life at some point, we’re already at solution aware, product aware. We’re past all that now.
We’re coming back to help, but we have to remember what it was like for that unaware or who came into your circle and is like, “Wait, there might be something here.” Then you define the problem a little better than they realize and like, “Oh, yeah. That’s what I’ve got going on. I have this problem.” They’re learning from you. That’s really cool. Just for the listener, I thought it would be fun if we could do a short game where you come up with three, and I’ll come up with three. We are saying to do a beta program, do a small beta than a larger beta and then launch but what do you think are three questions that need to be on almost every FAQ on an online course website?
Kim Shivler: The first one, other than payment. I’m not even going to talk about payment because we all know that. One, what do I need to know to take this course already? Sometimes there’s prerequisites and people get hung-up actually in like, “I read this, and it looks really good.” Particularly if you’re teaching technology like a lot of times I am, “Am I going to be able to do this? Cam I do this?” When I can say, “Here are my 70-year-old, completely not technical people building their first website. This is all you need for the prereq.”
A lot of times, it’s just easing fears so whatever the fears might be around whatever you’re teaching whether that’s for example fitness maybe, someone who’s a little out of shape. Am I going to be able to keep up? That type of thing. That applies to almost any type of industry. What do I need to do or need to know in order to do this return on investment?
Chris Badgett: Is it worth it?
Kim Shivler: Is it worth it? What return are they going to get? That’s particularly when you’re charging more than $29. If you’re charging $29 eBook fee, it’s a little easier, but if you’re charging more, then they really want to get that. I like to let people know what they can expect as far as personal interaction with me because a lot of times people actually try … They’re buying access to you. Again, if it’s a higher level course. If I’m charging $1,000 for something, I’m going to be giving people more access not just to my brain that I’ve laid out here but to how did they get help? Where am I available? I am frequently known for holding office hours. I will just send out a link. My office hour is this week or this. I hang out in a Zoom room. When someone need help, they bought in. Those are my three that I like to make sure are on every FAQ.
Chris Badgett: That is awesome. I’m really glad I ask that question. I thought you were going to steal the three that I had, but you didn’t take any of them.
Kim Shivler: Good.
Chris Badgett: Before I do my three, I just wanted to touch on Kim’s three here. What do I need to know to take this course? Underlying all of these frequently asked questions are subconscious. I mean maybe conscious but emotional needs. What do I need to take this course? They’re asking themselves like is this really for me? Can I do it? I’m scared. Will I be able to pull this off? Will I be able to go back to the gym? Will I be able to build a website even though I’ve never … I can barely check my email or whatever. These are fears.
Return on investment. People are scared about losing money and can I trust that I’m going to get a result on this program? This comes back to Kim’s conversation around quizzing and testing and making sure it’s working in getting that feedback loop open because the best marketing is a course that gets results for people not a high converting sales page. Having an obsession on student results is the best marketing activity can do in my opinion. The third thing she said is how much do I get to interact with you the course creator teacher leader coach?
People are paying for access, and it’s important to manage those expectations upfront. As course creators, it’s easy to get a little bit scared about my time doesn’t scale. I can’t do one on one. Kim mentioned some group coaching which is a great way to do it like weekly, monthly, daily, office hours, bringing a special guest, email support. I’m a big fan of doing things that don’t scale and just charging more for your program but I think access is really important and it’s one of those things that’s often overlooked in this day and age.
You don’t necessarily want to automate everything. In fact, it’s really … That would be one of the most challenging things to build an online course that gets results 100% of the time with no human interaction. Sorry. I just had to get on my soapbox a little bit because I thought your FAQs were brilliant and I just want to unpack them a little bit. Mine are more technical which is a good balance. Mine is just how I log in? That’s something that as you done your site a million times, you know how to log in. You might even go into WordPress or somewhere else where your users don’t go to log in, so you’ve probably forgotten how they log in.
The other thing is I forgot my password, so the question is like … It’s more of a statement. I forgot my password. I do. That’s a good one that you can save yourself a lot of time, frustration on you customer’s part. Then my sixth one is just how do I start? When somebody comes into an online course right after they bought or if it’s a free course and they enrolled, that very first lesson is when the excitement, the energy, everything is the highest. I encourage people to really, really focus on that first interaction and getting people comfortable, getting them excited, getting them some kind of result or at least forward progress.
You may know how it’s going to start. You design the curriculum but if you hire someone to build a house and the builder shows up on your raw piece of land, you could very well just be like, “What do we do first?” I mean you don’t know, the builder knows. Excitement is high to take advantage of it. That’s my three FAQs there.
Kim Shivler: I love those. The excitement is high. Also, there may be a little bit of fear in there too. Thinking of your first day of school, back in elementary school, you might have been excited. You might have been also a little nervous. I love that. On boarding them right there at the beginning and making it fund and easy and building that excitement is really a good one.
Chris Badgett: Just trying into what you said there. A lot of FAQs, the underlying emotion is fear. It’s fear of can I do this. It’s fear of can I trust this program or this person? It’s just important to acknowledge that, and it’s scary to go to school for the first time no matter a new program, a new yoga class, the gym, whatever it is.
Kim Shivler: Right. For some people you tie in to that fear. I so much agree with you. Not everybody had a good school experience, so they maybe even tied back to, “I really didn’t like going to school. Why would I want to do this?”
Chris Badgett: That’s a good point. Let’s leave the listener, Kim with one more just insight or something, best practice that people should consider when building an online course either from the instructional design side or the business side. What’s something that you don’t see talked enough about that’s super valuable and everybody all course builders should consider?
Kim Shivler: This one, I’m actually going to throw out a technical one because it’s when I have seen so much trouble with and it will save your butt. You’re going to have. When you’re building an online course, you are going to have some dependents on emails being sent and received from that course, from your WordPress website, from wherever you’re doing it. Make absolutely sure you are using an outside mailer like SendGrid, one of those that is a trusted mailer because if you’re just using the default from WordPress, the PHP mail, they’re not going to be getting those emails.
You will save yourself hours of hair pulling and dealing with one on one with clients if you make sure that that’s put in right so that people can get the emails you’re sending ou,t and they’re not ending up in spam. What you’ll get from people is, “They can’t be in spam. They’re not in my spam mailbox.” Then you have to deal with, they’re not even getting there. They’re being caught up here in the ether that says no. It’s spam. It’s not even getting to the spam mailbox.
Chris Badgett: I feel like you’re a psychic, Kim because I’ve been helping some LifterLMS customers today, and they were having those exact issues with just setting up transactional mail service like SendGrid or Mandrill. If you’re listening to this, and you are a LifterLMS user, just head on over the documentation and search email FAQ. Your website can send emails, but it’s not … if you’re really going pro or turning professional on your platform, it’s best to use one of those transactional mail services and of course test that. I think emails like one of websites sends emails, or the password reset function and all of this is something that people really don’t … A lot of people don’t test as much as they should. Thank you for that tip, I really appreciate that.
Kim Shivler: You’re welcome. It’s when I deal with people a lot also, and I’ll tell you … I will not say their name. I’m not going to throw them under the bus but there is a software as a service company out there who doesn’t have this ready. I am therefore not their customer but because they refuse to help me in any other way when I didn’t get their email so I use a competitor’s product.
Chris Badgett: It’s a big deal. Kim, thank you so much for coming on the show. Everybody, I encourage you to check out kimshivler.com. That’s S-H-I-V-L-E-R. That’s K-I-M S-H-I-V-L-E-R, kimshivler.com. Kim, what other ways can people connect with you on the web and just remind people how you can best help and serve them if they’re resonating with this episode?
Kim Shivler: Absolutely. You can find me on Twitter, @KimShivler. From kimshivler.com, you can see how to get to my How to Build an Online Course and instructional design if you’re interested in that. My general web training site or any of my business communications, training and consulting that I do, it’s all tied in there. I’m here to serve you just like I want you to be there to serve your customers.
Chris Badgett: Awesome. Thank you, Kim for doing part one. I cannot wait for part two.
Kim Shivler: I look forward to it.
Chris Badgett: I hope you have a great rest of your day.
Kim Shivler: Thanks. You, too.

EPISODE 158

Build an Engaging Recurring Revenue Online Course Plus Membership with Mike Morrison of the Membership Guys

We discuss how to build an engaging recurring revenue online course plus membership with Mike Morrison of the Membership Guys in this episode of LMScast with Chris Badgett of LifterLMS. Chris and Mike talk about the different types of online education content and how you can build up a high performing membership site that delivers tremendous value to your students.

Mike is one out of the two founding Membership Guys, which is a membership site for membership site owners or creators. They help people create memberships and provide cutting edge tips on what is happening in the membership industry online. The Membership Guys is also a podcast containing strategy and tips for planning, creating, and growing a successful membership website.

Chris and Mike talk about the differences between an online course, a membership site, and a learning management system. Membership sites are basically sites you have to log into in order to access something that is otherwise protected, and generally you have to pay money to obtain a membership. An online course is more of a finite group of content that you normally pay for once, and you have access to all of the content within the course. The main difference is that a membership site is normally ever-evolving, whereas a course is more of a finished product. A learning management system is the tool the creator uses to deliver the content to the consumer in the form of either an online course or membership site.

Some of the biggest difficulties with a membership site are keeping students engaged and turning your site into a community. Mike shares some strategies for how you can make your membership site produce ongoing value. Many people assume that consistent value means consistent content with a membership site, but you can provide value for your customers in the form of checklists, worksheets, and live Q&As or webinars.

It is important to go into creating a membership with the right mentality. Delivering value on an ongoing basis is key. You also need to remember that running a membership site is much more of a marathon than a sprint. Mike tells that online courses are mostly about the launch, but with a membership site it is about building a community. One of the biggest mistakes people make with memberships is getting too tied up in the content. People will join a membership for the content, but they will stay for the community.

Chris and Mike discuss the three C’s of memberships, and they are: Content, Coaching and Community. They go into depth on each of these points and how you can integrate them into your site. Mike shares some tips on how you can establish your brand and create a tribe feel around your product.

Holding non-topical discussions and events with your membership site can help to establish the community feel of your site and break the ice between members, because it is much simpler to start conversation if you have your audience weigh in on the latest Game of Thrones episode before getting into their thoughts on what they think the Bitcoin market is going to do or a topic like that. Holding non-topical events can have the same effect, too, such as going bowling with local members of your membership community.

To learn more about Mike Morrison go to the Membersiteacademy.com where you can learn how to build a membership site around the business you love. Also check out the themembershipguys.com.

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. Today I’m joined with a special guest, Mike Morrison, one half of The Membership Guys, or is it The Membership Site Guys?
Mike Morrison: The Membership Guys.
Chris Badgett: Membership. The Membership Guys, and also a podcast by the same name. I’ve been following Mike over at LifterLMS for quite a while, and his podcast is on my short list, because it’s one of the ways that I keep my finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the membership site industry. I was just thinking the other day, I was listening to a podcast that Mike was doing over at The Membership Guys podcast about Amazon payments, and things that were changing over there. There’s just no better way.
Mike saves me tons of time and all that research he’s doing, and I can tell when I’m going on my hikes and my bike rides, he’s just on my short list. You had a great one with somebody who was helping people launch virtual summits, and I noticed that was an emerging trend. And Mike did kind of a deep dive on that topic, so I would highly encourage those of you listening to check out The Membership Guys podcast and themembershipguys.com.
The other half of that is Callie Willows, and they have basically a membership site for membership creators, so it’s a little meta, just like we have some courses about creating courses, more different for selling software or whatever, but we’re kind of both in that meta category of teaching about a specialty that the teaching is the specialty. It’s just really interesting.
Mike, thank you for coming on the show. Can you kick this off and help just cut through like a laser, what is the difference between an online course, a membership site, and a learning management system from your perspective?
Mike Morrison: All right. Thanks for having me on the show, first and foremost. It’s awesome to be on the level you guys are doing over at Lifter. Now, you want that cutting through and getting a bit of clarity. I’m worried that this is just going to muddy the waters a little bit more because a lot of it, especially between a course and a membership, it’s semantics, it’s technicalities. Technically, a membership site is just a website that you have to log into in order to access something that otherwise is protected. In a pure, bare bones definition, that’s what it is.
The way that you and I and your listeners and pretty much anyone talking about memberships in an online context know them as, usually it’s a combination of e-learning and community, some sort of premium content that you paid in order to access. A course still kind of fits into that but you do typically find a course is usually more of a finished product than a membership. A membership is something which will be ever-evolving so the expectation is that will be new content or that will be value delivered in terms of community interactions or something that you are getting month-to-month in exchange for a regular payment whereas a course is usually, one, a payment, what you buy is what you get. It’s all tied up nicely in a bow, polished, but there’s no expectation that you’re suddenly going to get lots more bonus content and all that sort of stuff.
With a membership it’s always about that ongoing value. If you want somebody to pay you on an ongoing basis with a membership you need to deliver value on an ongoing basis. That really changes the way you need to approach it from a strategy point of view, how you operate and run it because that makes a membership much more of a marathon than a sprint whereas with a course you might spend months and months and months creating this perfect final product and then it’s all about the launch, it’s all about selling and you’re not really going to change too much after the launch.
With a membership, when you get that initial sale, then the work stops, then you’ve got to get members, then you’ve got to keep those members and you’ve got to keep them for months and years to come and that means content, that means access to you and the community, that means maybe a little bit of coaching and, yeah, that turns it into much more of a long-term business.
LMS, I would say kind of almost sits outside of that conversation. It’s the vehicle, it’s the tool that makes the delivery of the content part of your membership better or more optimized. You don’t just want to dump people into this big repository of content and leave them to it, you’re going to want to have some structure, maybe you’re going to want to control the pathway somebody takes through that content. That’s where having a LMS and being able to really fine tune the member experience so people don’t get overwhelmed, so people are kept on track, so people are actually getting a result. That’s where using great tools like LifterLMS come into it because they let you create the best kind of learning experience, whether it’s a course or a membership site, as you possibly can and one that best serves your member or your student.
Chris Badgett: That is very well said. I appreciate that. I can tell you’ve been looking at this topic for a long time.
Mike Morrison: I blacked out for a moment there so I have no idea whether that’s any good or …
Chris Badgett: No, that was very good. I’m probably going to transcribe that and use that later myself in a blog post, so thank you.
Mike Morrison: Do it.
Chris Badgett: Let me guide the laser a little bit and go to a really targeted question at the intersection of courses and memberships. With LifterLMS we have a membership functionality which is designed to sell course bundles, like multiple courses at once, so you could basically buy a course a la carte or you could get the gold membership or whatever you call it that has two, four, a hundred courses in it. The other purpose of a membership in LifterLMS world is to create a package or a vehicle to sell the course plus something else. That could be access to a community, it could be access to whoever the leader is, it could be access to an event.
What are some just spitball, brainstorm ideas, what kind of components could people add to a membership that included a course that’s kind of outside of the course but adds a lot of value and potentially adds the ability to really charge that recurring revenue.
Mike Morrison: That’s a great question because I think one of the biggest mistakes we see people make with memberships is getting too tied up in the content. It’s not just about the content. People will join a membership for the content but they’ll stay for things like the community. That ongoing value we talk about, you don’t just want to be giving people course after course after course. Maybe you’ve got a membership where it’s not necessarily a course, perhaps it’s downloadable checklists. Again, you don’t just want to make it so every single week there’s more stuff.
A membership typically comprises the three C’s: You have content, you have coaching, you have community. That coaching can be direct hands-on actual one-on-one coaching or just coaching by means of an online forum or a community or something like that. The content side of things, that’s also where you get a bit creative. Again, people think content, they think it’s got to be long-form videos or educational videos, it’s got to be guides. Things like worksheets, things like checklists, things like processes that you could import into all these different project management systems. Things like downloadable, editable files like if you’ve got a design membership or something like that. These kind of resources that are real practical, they deliver far more value in a lot of cases than a typical traditional educational course would be.
Again, I tend to try and steer people to thinking not about content but instead to thinking about deliverables. Content has too many connotations of, like I say, it’s video, it’s text, it’s imagery, it’s audio. Think about deliverables, what can you deliver to your members. Typical content might be that, but might also be things like live Q&A’s. It might also be things like perks and discounts, so you can go out there and hustle on behalf of your members for exclusive discounts on stuff they’re already paying for. If you think about that, if you’re charging $50 a month for a membership but you can score member-only discounts, that could potentially save somebody more than $50. It then becomes kind of revenue neutral for them or cost neutral for them and that becomes a no-brainer, so even if they’re not getting any value from the course or the community, they still have a reason to stick around because you’ve gone out there and you’ve got discounts.
Get a good balance across different types of deliverables. Really understand that not everyone is going to join for your courses. Not everyone is going to use your community. Not everyone is going to take up your member perks or discounts or download your files. Different people are drawn to you for different reasons and there will be different things that make them stay, so getting that balance and varying the kind of content you’re offering in your community I think is key to reaching as much of your audience as possible.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Can you just lay out the three C’s again?
Mike Morrison: Content. Coaching. Community
Chris Badgett: Cool. For those of you listening, we’ve recently released Private Areas for LifterLMS which helps you set up …
Mike Morrison: That is …
Chris Badgett: The coaching aspect.
Mike Morrison: That is a killer feature, by the way. We test all the plug-ins on the market, all the systems on the market. Private Areas for students is an absolute gold star kind of feature. It’s ridiculous. You guys don’t know how lucky you are getting this stuff. I’m not being paid for this, by the way. Seriously, that is an awesome feature and that, as a membership owner or a course instructor, that lets you deliver value on a level potentially that your competitors are just not going to be able to match.
Chris Badgett: Let’s go and dive a little bit deeper into that issue of … I kind of want to frame it in in a couple of different ways. One way is that we talk a lot about the dirty little secret of membership sites, which is like a lack of engagement, people don’t finish it, they churn out really quickly. They may have all this lackluster around a launch and then it just kind of peters out. Basically we like to … At LifterLMS if you could sum it up in one word it would be engagement. That is all about, I mean, the internet marketing and the sales is important, and we’re not saying that it’s not important, you still have to do all that stuff, but we want to focus our value much more on the results.
As long as a student or the member is getting great results, that’s what matters the most. It’s not necessarily the conversion optimized course sales page or membership sales page, which is also important. So there’s that aspect of like elevating the conversation in our community of as we guide the conversation around memberships and courses and learning management system, it’s not just about sales, that’s actually a small percentage of it. There’s a lot of other things that are important.
What do you see as, in terms of coaching, it’s a little bit counterintuitive because we’re often learned in more of a pop-culture online business sense, let’s say something like the four-hour work week and a lot of sites that are out about affiliate marketing or passive income and these types of things that we want to automate everything. Coaching is like against that. The way I say it simply, which these aren’t my original words, is that it’s important to do some things that don’t scale. So if you’re coaching, maybe you have a cheap course but the course plus the private coaching, that’s really valuable but it also is going to require the site owner to invest their time or build a coaching team or whatever.
When you talk about advising people on adding coaching or not, how do you frame in the conversation and the opportunity?
Mike Morrison: There’s a few things there. First, nobody works a four-hour work week, not even the guy who wrote Four-Hour Work Week. This is a mentality people need to put aside. If you’re looking for passive income, again, passive income is very rarely actually passive. Anybody who has got visions of kicking back on a beach somewhere sipping cocktails in a hammock as the money rolls in, you need to go bark up another tree because memberships, online courses in this world is not for you. That is important and I’m so glad that we kind of preface it with that, especially as we talk about engagement and retention being more important than sales.
It is a very good point about managing your workload. The best thing, and the thing I love about memberships is, you get to set the pace. You get to set the rules. If you’re listening to this thinking: There’s absolutely no way I have room in my business or my life to give one-on-one attention or giving them coaching, the good news is you don’t need to. There is … It’s not like there’s 10 elements of a successful membership that you absolutely have to have in place and if you don’t it won’t be successful. You’ve got to build your business on your terms. As long as you’re accurately representing what your membership offers on the front end, then that’s fine. As long as you’re not telling people they’ll get direct coaching or direct access and then not delivering it, it’s fine. You don’t have to do it if it’s not something that fits.
In this world of increased automation that has ramped up over the past couple of years, now we’ve got Facebook bots and you’ve got all this sort of stuff. A little bit of a personal touch, even just a tiny little bit, goes a very, very long way. Coaching doesn’t have to be one-on-one, it doesn’t have to be: Here’s an hour of my time every week. It can literally just be once a month. You, a business partner, a VA who perhaps reviews everything and sends you the Cliff Notes, goes to the progress people have made and just pops a little note on congratulating them and giving them a suggestion. We’ve seen that you’ve powered through this module. This is what I recommend you check out next.
Something like that, just something that’s a little bit of personal intervention. It doesn’t take much. The more automation comes in, the less you almost need to do in the personal touch to actually stand out. We recently started sending personal welcome videos to all of our members and it takes us maybe five minutes per video to [crosstalk 00:15:04].
Chris Badgett: What do you put them knows? I’m just curious.
Mike Morrison: It’s literally, I can give you the script right now. Do you want the script right now? If they haven’t introduced themselves on our forum, typically the script is: Hey guys. Mike here from Member Site. I kind of just wanted to reach out to you personally to thank you for joining the academy and to welcome you on behalf of the whole team into the community. When you get a moment, pop over to our forum by clicking the link beneath this video and introduce yourself. Let us know a little bit about you, about your membership and if there’s anything myself or any of the team can help out with, don’t hesitate to ask. We look forward to having you around. We’ll see you on the inside.
That’s it. We’ve mentioned them by name. If there’s something that they … If they’ve introduced themselves into our forum I’ll read that introduction post. I’ll look at where they’re from. I’ll look at what their business is. I’ll maybe check their website and just get a little tidbit of info about them, enough for me to be able to genuinely kind of say … Again, there was a guy joined who was from Texas. He wasn’t affected by hurricane Harvey, he was kind of out of the way of it, but timing wise kind of: Listen, I hope you and yours are safe with all this crazy stuff around the hurricane. Just that, it doesn’t take a huge amount of effort and you batch this stuff.
It’s up to you to decide how much intervention you want. On a coaching front, if you want to do traditional coaching you can do small group coaching. You could have a private section and a forum where … We use a forum software called IP Board that allows you to have a forum section in which only the person who started the topic as well as you and any other admins can see that conversation. It’s a great private channel for giving coaching in the same way as Private Areas through Lifter will let you do the same kind of thing.
It doesn’t have to be taxing. You get to kind of set the boundaries and as long as you communicate that and you manage that appropriately, then you can fit it into your work and your life. But, as you said there Chris, you can’t be scared to do things that don’t scale. Would you rather have a couple hundred long-term committed members or 1000 people who come through your door where they all disappear because you’re not engaging them?
Chris Badgett: Yeah, that’s a really great point. Just to let … My technical geek-out brain has gone off so if I could ask a few questions there.
Mike Morrison: Go for it.
Chris Badgett: Does your IP Board require a separate login from your membership site?
Mike Morrison: Typically it does but there is a bridging plug-in available. We used to have our own that we built and then IP Board in the typical way that some software developers do, they totally pulled the rug out and changed their whole API. It is better now, but it did mean that overnight the bridge plug-in between WordPress and IP Board broke, but there is a far more robust single sign-on plug-in available now. It costs like 80 bucks and it just means that all logins get pushed through WordPress and the login just gets synchronized into IP Board.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Why did you use IP Board instead of like a native WordPress [crosstalk 00:18:20]
Mike Morrison: It’s just sexy as hell.
Chris Badgett: Okay. There you go.
Mike Morrison: It’s very, very cool. The problem … I love WordPress but obviously the more you take WordPress away from just being WordPress the more it sometimes starts to buckle under the weight of that. While you’re using something like membership plug-in with an LMS with a few extra bells and whistles it’s fine, but when you throw in BuddyPress and bbPress on top of it and then you’ve got, and then you’ve got, and then you’ve … It just starts to groan, especially if somebody has listening to an internet marketing podcast and they’ve heard someone say that Bluehost is the best web host in the world and so they’re building these mammoth resource-hungry websites on this $2.99 a month shared hosting, over-sold server, it starts to fall apart.
That kind of resource management was a part of it but WordPress also designed it as a discussion forum so bbPress is great for what it is but it’s limited. With IP Board you can have private groups, you can have reactions, you have status updates, you have all these really cool sorts of things like that. Private, you know the private forum permissions that we talked about there. It’s very, very cool and it looks great and it’s more well friendly out-of-the-box and all that sort of stuff. It’s kind of worth it if the community is going to be a real big part of what you’re doing to do that little bit more wrestling to get everything to work, but once it’s in place it’s seamless and most people don’t actually realize it’s two different pieces of software.
Chris Badgett: Oh, that’s very cool. I have seen a lot of ghost town forums that just didn’t take off. What do you see in your experience that makes a successful forum or not or what variables are present that indicate that a forum might be a good idea?
Mike Morrison: I think first and foremost, it starts with you. Most of the ghost town forums, they don’t even have the forum founder showing up and in a lot of cases the reason they became a ghost town was because the person who set it up didn’t show up. You need to show up in your own community because if you don’t want to come in and post and reply, nobody else is going to. I think some of that is this idea, and I think it was popularized by the book Influence, this idea that you have to put this big gulf of distance between you and your customers or your fans if you want to position yourself as an authority. You would have situations where people will build a membership or a community with them as the expert, as the figurehead, but they would see it as good strategy to never be around in order to make people think that when they did descend from upon high it was a special day and it just doesn’t work like that.
People expect accessibility now and so showing up in your own community and actually taking part, not over-thinking and overdoing it in terms of the number of forum sections. If you’re just starting up you don’t need 20 or 30 subsections in your forum, you need five or six at the very most and you can start small and expanded it as time goes on.
You also need to think about your audience and whether they’re ever actually likely to use a forum. I hate Facebook groups for paid memberships. I love free Facebook groups. I hate them for paid memberships for a variety of reasons but some markets will never engage in any social group that isn’t a Facebook group. In some cases you have to bite the bullet and go with that. If you’ve got a membership that targets busy working mums or busy working dads then it might be that you’ll never get them out with something like a Facebook group, you might need that convenience of a Facebook group.
I would also say you need to not treat your community as something that is separate, as one of five sections in your membership. You need to find ways to thread it into everything you do. For every course you set up on your main content port of your membership, have a link to a discussion area. It may be a discussion topic, it may be a whole section of your forum so that accompanying every single lesson of a course there is a call to action. If you have any questions, you want to discuss this, click here and it takes them into the community.
Maybe do some things if you’re bringing in guest experts to do workshops or live training for your members. Allow members to submit questions in advance but only allow it through your community. Maybe even bring in guest experts to do kind of a Reddit, ask me anything style session that only takes place in your community. Finding ways to make that community an integral part of the member experience, working it into your onboarding, making sure that the first four or five things you ask people to do include: Set up your forum profile. Introduce yourself. Start a coaching log or a journal or something that locks people in.
Finally, don’t ignore or don’t overlook the attraction and the benefit of having non-topic discussions. So much easier. If you’ve got, especially if you’ve got like a business membership, it’s so much easier for someone to weigh in with their opinions on the Latest episode of Game of Thrones than it is for them to weigh in their opinions on what they think the Bitcoin market is going to do or something like that. Have that low-hanging fruit, easy content. What was the last film you saw? What book are you reading right now? When was the last time you bought a CD? That sort of stuff that can just get people to break the ice and get over the hurdle of actually making a post.
Finally, so this has gone on a little bit but I want to get this in here as well. Level your expectations because we talked about engagement typically being lower than you might think for memberships. With a community you have this rule of thumb rule, it’s called the 10% rule, which is where only 10% of your members on average will actually participate in the community. 1% will be power users. These will be the guys who show up every day, multiple times a day, they start conversations. That’s 1%. 9% will be people who maybe show up a few times a week. They don’t ever really start conversations but they’ll reply. The rest either don’t show up or, and don’t overlook these guys, they show up, they consume, they get value, but they never post and you would never know that they’re there.
Just have the right sort of expectations about the sort of engagement activity you’re going to get. If you’ve got 100 members, you’re maybe only going to get 9 or 10 people actually posting and that’s fairly standard. There will be a whole bunch of people who are still showing up and logging in and reading and getting value, they’re just not peaking up.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Well, let’s do a brain dump a little bit, because we’re kind of transitioning from coaching to community. Just to throw some brainstorm ideas out there, I’ll lay out a few and then hand it over to you, but you can do a Facebook group. At Lifter we’re working on our own social learning community add-on so we can have that right on the site.
Mike Morrison: Cool. Nice.
Chris Badgett: You could have, if your users are pretty technical you could use forums or, even more technical, like a Slack community. You could do some kind of virtual or in-person, live events. What are some other community ideas that people could add to their membership?
Mike Morrison: I think you kind of covered a majority of them. I think live events are the ones that get overlooked.
Chris Badgett: When people do live events would do you advise? Is that like an annual thing? Is it like a weekly thing?
Mike Morrison: I think informal stuff as a jumping off point can work really well. It kind of depends on you and your day-to-day operations. If you’re someone who travels to a lot of different events then you should get into the habit of looking for opportunities to organize an event on the back of traveling around. We do this … We did a member meetup for our community in March, I think, back in San Diego. We then did a workshop in San Diego as well the next day, which we charged for.
Chris Badgett: Were you piggybacking on an existing event?
Mike Morrison: Social media marketing world.
Chris Badgett: Oh okay, so you piggybacked there, which is common. You see it like …
Mike Morrison: Absolutely. People are going to be in town. Find out in your community, we’re going to be … There is an event coming up in the UK headed up by Chris Ducker from youpreneur.com in November. I’m speaking at that event, but as soon as the date was down in our community the post goes up. Who is going to be at Youpreneur? Here’s the details. Let us know, we’ll organize a member meetup. Once we start to get a read on how many people were coming down, then we advertised a mastermind day that we’re going to do, a private [crosstalk 00:27:46]
Chris Badgett: Is that in addition to the member meetup?
Mike Morrison: In addition to the member meetup. The member meetup, free, all of our members can come along and I think we’re going to end up with maybe 20 or 30 people there. Next day we’ve got a six-person private mastermind that people have paid for that we give first dibs on that to our members and they got a discount rate than the public date when we opened it up to the public. Again, just find ways of tying in the online and the off-line. If you can piggyback on other events it lessens the travel workload for you because if you’re going to conferences and stuff like that anyway, but it also increases the chance that you will have people around.
Sometimes there’s not. I was at Podcast Movement in, again in LA, it was in Anaheim just a couple of weeks ago and we had members in town but most of the members were speaking at the event and there were a million and one things going on so we didn’t bother doing a meetup. I still want out of my way to go to see those guys who were members to get a picture to tweet, that kind of stuff. Don’t discount the off-line side of things.
If you’re not somebody who’s traveling around and going to different conferences and events and stuff, first look into whether that’s something you should be doing, but you might then look to organize more official kind of events. Maybe you do a retreat or maybe you do an all signal dancing live event where you’re looking at hundreds of people and a few speakers and stuff like that. If you can, start small, just little gatherings like … My favorite member meetup was Chicago, just going and grabbing deep-dish pizza for literally the first time with a bunch of our members. They got the most out of it. I mean, they bought my pizza but they got their money worth because they grilled me for like four hours, which was how long it took me to shovel my way through … Those pieces are big, man.
But yeah, they grilled me for four hours on everything membership-related, but they loved it. It was all over social media, which creates social proof which creates the whole formal thing, as much as I hate that term, for people who aren’t members. It creates excitement amongst people who are members who weren’t able to come for the next time you’re in town. That is what takes your community from being just another place someone hangs out online to something people are part of.
Chris Badgett: That is very cool. Just to get super-detailed, what are some ideas for a member meetup? You could do a meal. You could do like drinks. What else could you do?
Mike Morrison: Yeah. I think …
Chris Badgett: Meal, drinks co-working space.
Mike Morrison: Yeah, You can do a co-working space. Actually we came across a guy’s podcastwebsites.com, it’s a good friend of mine, Mark Asquith.
Chris Badgett: He might be the episode or two before you.
Mike Morrison: Awesome. I love Mark. Mark’s very, very cool. They just did a big member meetup at Podcast Movement in Anaheim because naturally it’s a podcasting event. That’s their crowd. They went bowling, so they had 70 or 80 people and they hired out half of a bowling alley in Anaheim and they got some drinks, they got food, they had it catered. Everyone had a good time and again, that’s what people were talking about for days after. I think it was the night before the event kicked off as well so again, people were just feeling good …
Chris Badgett: Fresh.
Mike Morrison: Yeah, they were fresh. They were feeling good that they were meeting up with other people for the first time and of course the whole Podcast Websites brand was elevated from it because everyone went home with T-shirts and with Podcast Website fidget spinners and all that. Literally sitting with three or four of these things surrounding me on my desk to show you how well it works. But yeah, that sort of stuff. You’re probably not going to have it in the early days of your membership. Again, it might be too much in terms of expense, in terms of size, but just kind of think of something fun to do. Don’t make it too official, make it something you would want to go to.
Another thing I would say as well on the community side of things, and this possibly ties in: This isn’t going to be possible for everyone but if you can come up with a name that people in your community can refer to themselves as, a collective label, some brands just don’t fit. Our membership is Member Site Academy. There’s nothing cool or catchy derived from that. We keep trying to think of a name but you have guys like Screw the Nine to Five, Jill and Josh Stanton, their members call themselves ‘screwpies’. You have …
Chris Badgett: I was just on the Entrepreneur On Fire podcast and they had the whole Fire Nation.
Mike Morrison: Fire Nation. Yeah. That sort of thing gives someone something they can identify by and they will identify by it and as a result they’ll feel more part of something, and then you can bring that into your meetups and stuff like that. I think the screw guys, their meetup things they do are like ‘screwpie’ house parties where they literally just rent an Airbnb, they get a whole lot of booze and they get everyone together and it works.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. I’ve seen people on the LifterLMS Facebook group calling themselves ‘Lifters’ and I didn’t even … It just happens naturally sometimes.
Mike Morrison: Love it.
Chris Badgett: Well that’s super cool. I feel like we could go on and on forever, but a few more things. You and I are both podcasters and for me it’s, over time it makes me a better presenter, interviewer, more comfortable on camera. I slowly improve the technology I’m using and that kind of thing. I’m more like on the software side but you have the Member Site Academy, which I would encourage … Or the membership … Say the name of the membership.
Mike Morrison: Membersiteacademy.com.
Chris Badgett: Membersiteacademy.com. Podcasting is a part of what you do and you create so much great free content, which I really appreciate. When do you recommend podcasting as a kind of a free content channel, a networking channel, a way to add value in the community. How well has it worked for you and who do you recommend try it, or how would someone even run a test to see if they wanted to do the podcasting.
Mike Morrison: I would do it from day one like we did. We ran a digital data [crosstalk 00:34:42]
Chris Badgett: How long ago was day one for you?
Mike Morrison: Just over, oh no, actually two years and three months ago, roughly. 113 episodes ago, that’s an easy one for me to remember, as of today. Yeah, we did it from day one. We ran a digital agency for years before planting our flag and essentially embracing the whole The Membership Guys brand and so …
Chris Badgett: One second, was your digital agency focused on membership sites?
Mike Morrison: It was. It didn’t start that way, and that’s how we got into memberships. It …
Chris Badgett: I just want to acknowledge a similar path for me. I ran an agency and we built a lot of stuff but then we got really into memberships and online course sites.
Mike Morrison: Yeah. That’s exactly what happened with us. Gravitating towards the kind of stuff that we enjoyed the most but also the stuff where we were seeing the best results for clients. That’s part of why we enjoyed it on the strategy side, the marketing side and given the tech side as well obviously helps because that can be a big differentiator. If you can invite someone on a killer strategy and show them how to get their website to behave, that’s awesome. But yeah, when we pivoted in terms of moving away from working with clients to going broader and putting out content and doing the podcast, the podcast was one of the first things we did.
We started with the blog podcast and a YouTube channel. The YouTube channel never quite found its legs because it was the one that we were less suited to, I think. I’ve done a bit of internet radio in the past so I can sit behind a mic and I can just shoot off and create something that maybe a handful of people might want to listen to. Yeah, that was day one for us. I think even if you’re not as comfortable behind a mic, push yourself to do a podcast because I think, especially if you’re doing memberships, it creates better members because these people are coming in with more …
Chris Badgett: Are you talking about a free podcast?
Mike Morrison: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: Not a members only podcast.
Mike Morrison: Yeah. Sorry, yeah. Do a free podcast in terms of the content you’re putting out to build that credibility, build that expertise. Most memberships are centered around some form of figurehead who is seen as an authority. A podcast is a great way of building that authority and establishing that credibility, but more importantly than that it establishes your voice and it gets that whole like no trust factor in place because people get a sense of what you’re about, they get your personality. If somebody can’t make it through two episodes of my podcast, they’re not going to make it through the 30+ courses we have in our academy. If you don’t like my accent, if you can understand what I’m saying, don’t join my membership because you’re going to hear it a lot. It does a lot of those things that help almost pre-qualify or pre-frame the type of members you get and it makes for longer-term members.
We also found very early on that consistently from people who we didn’t already have in our audience, the podcast gave us a whole new dimension of discoverability. We were getting a lot of people when the academy doors first opened saying that they discovered us through the podcast and that they listened to the show, then they joined the membership. Other people, it was: I joined your Facebook group and then I saw a blog and then I came on this webinar, I did this challenge. A lot of other people there was a lot of multi-touch marketing going on, consistently a big chunk of people where they listened to the podcast and they went directly to the membership.
Chris Badgett: Interesting.
Mike Morrison: It’s still on so many different fronts as well. In terms of just being an inroad to connecting with influences. We’ve had pretty much all the big names in our space on the show in terms of online marketing space, although it always does tickle me that some of the lesser-known people they are the more downloaded ones than the big guns like Henry Porterfield and JLD and people like that. We broke the ice through the podcast. Some of those guys we were then able to go back to and kind of say: Well we had so much fun doing the podcast, why don’t you come in and do a live workshop for members for free?
That kind of icebreaker and then going to conferences and events and having that already established in common. So many different fronts that podcasting benefit you on. I think what you said before as well is key in terms of helping you become better at communicating, better at educating and tuning you in a little bit more to what’s going on in your audience’s head as well because the kind of feedback you get, the questions you get, that helps inform both free content and, importantly, paid content for your membership as well.
Chris Badgett: Awesome. Well two lightning round final questions and then we’ll wrap it up. Just curious, in your podcasting how often do you publish? Is it once a week?
Mike Morrison: It’s once a week.
Chris Badgett: Once a week.
Mike Morrison: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: You said something really interesting in the last thing that you said, which was conducting a workshop for your members. What is a workshop?
Mike Morrison: Just a webinar essentially.
Chris Badgett: A webinar.
Mike Morrison: Yeah, kind of a private member-only webinar. You can do them live or … We started getting them, pre-record them. Pre-recorded 30 to 45 minute essentially webinar but not delivered to anyone live, just a single video or piece of content that is practical, that is easily applicable to not just high level theory. We got Chris Ducker to do a one on hiring VAs. We got Mike Vardy from the Productivyist to do one on managing your time around your membership and how you actually juggle it all.
30 to 45 minutes expert content and that’s one of our deliverables. I’s not of course. It doesn’t … Well you could probably break it down into like 20 two- or three-minute long lessons but, yeah, it’s basically just a webinar. I think with those, if you can get guest experts to bring in as well, the difference in format as well as the difference in host marks it as something that is a distinctly different deliverable and it helps if they’re known names in your field because you can then stick them on your sales pitch and say: Not only do you get all my awesome stuff, you’re getting expert regular training from people like these guys.
Chris Badgett: Beautiful. Well, Mike Morrison, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for coming on the show. That was really a gold mine. If you liked this episode, I would encourage you to go find Mike’s podcast at The Membership Guys podcast. Just do a Google search and find it. Yeah, every … Like this conversation with you and the hundreds of other episodes is just a gold mine of good information that’s really sharing experience out there in the world. It’s super good stuff if you’re in this whole membership courses coaching community thing. We appreciate your leadership in this space. Go to themembershipguys.com, check out Callie, check out Mike and everything that they’re up to. Yeah, I just want to thank you so much for coming on the show and we’ll definitely have to do this again sometime. I feel like we could do a series.
Mike Morrison: Yeah man. My absolute pleasure. Yeah, anytime you want me back on give me a shout.
Chris Badgett: Sounds great.