EPISODE 103

How to Build an Audience For Your Membership Site or Online Course with No List

If you’re active in social media, you’re ready to start your own online course or membership site. In today’s LMScast Chris Badgett talks with Esther Marie of Esther Marie Creative about how to build an audience for your membership site or online course with no list and no funds. If you’re a beginner in online business, then this podcast is for you!

Esther is a military wife with a background in teaching, software products management, and software training. She’s using her experience with curriculum design and course launching to create online courses for clients. She started her business with a membership site based on her active contributions to a niche Facebook group.

Esther started her Virtual Assistant Internship membership site as a beginner with no email list or internet marketing experience. What she did have was expertise in her subject area, curriculum design ability, and a platform like LifterLMS to deliver her service. She knew her target niche market and where to find them, and had established herself there as a thought leader by interacting and sharing value. Her next logical step then was to start her own Facebook group.

After spending 6 months creating a skeleton beta test site, Esther did a couple of webinars that converted into her membership, and selected just 3 women as her first students. She advises starting small with a beta test to build a sustainable course. You make your mistakes here, your participants feel good about being involved in creating the course, and they become your first testimonials and referrals. She cautions against making your group about yourself, but to make it all about what your clients are looking for.

You’ll need to experiment with pricing. Esther set a founding member price with special incentives, then lowered membership fees once she was established. She also learned to limit enrollment windows to avoid cancellations and other drawbacks of rolling enrollments. Esther regularly updates content and resource materials to keep her offerings fresh and relevant. She stays responsive and experimental, and doesn’t hesitate to move forward at every opportunity.

This is not about pitching or selling. It’s about sharing value, building a community and acting as a thought leader for a niche you’re already part of. If you know what you want to do you, can learn how to build an audience for your membership site or online course with no list, just like Esther did. Start with a bare framework and let your first participants help you build from there. The sooner you start generating income, the sooner you can grow your business.

Esther is launching a free course all about outsourcing, and you can find out more on her Esther Marie Creative Facebook page.

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

Chris: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. My Name is Chris Badgett, and today I’m joined by Esther Marie. And we’re going to be talking about how to build an audience for your membership site or your online course with no list, so it’s for the beginner. Thanks for coming on the show, Esther.

Esther: Yeah, I’m really excited to be here. I love doing these kinds of things and taking knowledge and experience and passing it along, so happy to be here.

Chris: Awesome. We’re glad to have you. I came across Esther in a Facebook group, and we were just rapping about being online course creators, and I wanted to get her on the show because of all the experience she has with curriculum design, launching courses, building courses and she’s got a lot of nuggets of wisdom to share with you today. First Esther, tell us a little bit about yourself. Tell us your back story. Where’d you come from, and what’s your jam. What are you up to these days?

Esther: Yeah, sure. My primary business is Esther Marie Creative, and I create online e-courses for clients. I’ll create workshop materials for them for their workshops. A lot of repurposing of content, so if somebody has a lot of audio from something they did, I can turn it into a lead magnet or blog post. I’m really a content creator in the e-course and workshop curriculum space. How that came about was, I’m actually a credentialed teacher, so I went to school to be a teacher and all that good stuff. I taught for a couple of years and I did a lot of curriculum design. I worked at schools believe it or not who had no curriculum and I had to write it all myself. I had a lot of experience in that and I really loved it. Then I also worked in software products management and software training, so all of that just merged together and being in the right place at the right time. I started working for an online course and content creator agency and she went off to do some other stuff and I just continued on it because it really was a merge of all of my passions.

From that, I’ve created them for lots of clients and then I also did my own. I branched out and started doing my own as well because I know how to do it, so I wanted to do it for myself. That’s turned into some different kinds of membership sites and things that I’ve been able to put together and put out there. Still learning, still growing, but also trying to give back and give some of the information out there too.

Chris: That’s awesome. Yeah, we talk about it a lot on the LMScast Show and in the LifterLMS community that you really need a three legged stool. One of those legs is expertise or knowledge. The second leg is to be able to package that knowledge or the curriculum design, the instructional design that you do and then the third is to have some kind of system, online course or membership site or LMS system to actually deliver all of that. If you’re weak in any one of those three areas, you’re just missing out on the opportunity to go from pretty good to awesome. I think a lot of experts make the mistake that they don’t need help with curriculum design or they can do it themselves or they know how to do it properly. I’m sure some have already figured out that it’s great to get help from someone like yourself to do that, so that’s awesome.

Let’s talk a little bit about launching an online course and I know you had a membership site, I get this question all the time at LifterLMS, people are wondering, how do I launch, I’m a beginner, I have no email list, I’m not an experienced internet marketer. My stuff is awesome, but how do I launch with no list and we wanted to talk to you about what are some ideas and some strategies that have worked for you to make that happen?

Esther: Yeah, so that’s what I did basically. My membership site is called Virtual Assistant Internship and it’s closed for a moment until October when we’ll be relaunching. Not relaunching, but open of enrollment again and I teach my target market is military wives and moms who want to be able to work from home, but they don’t want to sell anything. I’m going to actually be telling you from my exact experience what I did and then I’m going to tell you what my results are. It’s so funny because I was just on a webinar yesterday by a lead membership building expert and he was saying to do exactly what I did and what I’m going to tell you. I was like, “wow, I was ahead of the curve a little bit. I know my stuff, okay.” You’re going to be getting some good little tidbits here.

Okay, so I had zero email lists, at all. I don’t really like marketing that much. I’m a creator. I like to create the course. I like to create the content, but the marketing part I’m like, “okay.” That’s part of why I didn’t really want to do any email list. The other part was, I really know my target market and I know that they’re just not in email as much as they’re in other areas. While I totally know email is not dead, it’s a great thing to do, I get all of that, but I had to be realistic about where my target were spending their time and where I was going to have the best reach and maximizing my time that I was putting into it. I could go down the email path all along, but if nobody is going to sign up or read it, what’s the point. I focused on Facebook. Facebook groups. That’s where my girls are at. I’m a military spouse myself, that’s why I created this, so then you have flexible, where I started at the VA years ago, I knew everything that there was to do.

I will say too, preface this with, I did a six month beta test and a six months of creating content as I went along with the beta test. I just want to put that out there. I didn’t just hodge podge this together and launch this. There was work that work that was into it. Because I think that that’s a misconception sometimes, like no, I did a beta test and you really want to make sure you do that.

I’m in the Facebook groups for my local base, my military base in the area and it was for moms, there’s two military bases here, so that’s my niche. Then I expanded to do military groups for military wives and also for moms all over the United States. I’m not a shadow lurker in there. I don’t just post my link to something and then peace out. I’m in there contributing, giving value, commenting, being in communication with different people all the time. I post value stuff that’s not selling things as well. That’s step one. Know your target market. Know where they’re at. Go to where they’re at. These are the basics, the foundational stuff.

Chris: For your example, was your target market military wives looking for new careers? Have they thought of the VA career yet or you’re coming in like, “hey-

Esther: They don’t even know what it is.

Chris: Okay, that’s awesome.

Esther: Yeah, they don’t even know what it is, yeah. One of the best groups I got feedback from was my local base is Camp Pendleton, which is a major Marine Corp base and it was who’s hiring on Camp Pendleton, so I just posted my stuff in there. Here’s what I did. I posted a couple of different things. One was, I started my own Facebook group and a failure that I see a lot of people doing, not a failure, but an issue is they make it all about them like, “Coach Bernadette here with my Facebook group, come join and learn all about me and the crap I’m going to post about myself.” No. I named my Facebook group how to work from home without selling anything because that’s what they’re going to type into the search box and that’s what they want. If I put virtual assistant, they’re not even going to know what that is, so I’m not going to put that in the title of my group, so that’s something to think about too. What are you people looking for?

That group has grown organically to almost 500 now in just a short time. I don’t advertise it, I just do what I’m telling you. I just advertise that group in other Facebook groups where I knew my target market was at and it just grew. It just grew and grew and grew. I offer value in there. I gave them Facebook lives and videos, some little e-books, some junk, whatever. Not junk, it was good stuff, but it wasn’t hard for me to do this, that’s my point. Then I just pitched my webinar to them and I had them sign up for the webinar that I was going to give to that Facebook group and to the other targeted Facebook groups and for my first webinar, I would have between 20 and 50 that would register via the events. I would have around 15 or so show up and I would have a 50% close rate. I did pretty well and I only did two or three webinars for my first launch and I had a very cheap membership site and I think I made two or three thousand dollars.

Chris: Let me pull out some nuggets there. On your last point there, 50% conversion rate on 20-30 people or whatever, it’s not about these giant numbers of hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, you don’t have to start with these huge numbers. If you do get good conversion on three, five, ten, twenty people, you’re onto something and that’s a really big validation point. The other point that I wanted to highlight on was you mentioned with these Facebook groups to use some terminology from a friend of mine Chris Lema, you didn’t make it about you, you made it about them and also people who are in their buying journey, they’re either problem aware or solution aware. There’s multiple steps on that journey and you very astutely realized they don’t even what VA, a virtual assistant is, so you start with a problem aware. The key words they would type in when they’re looking for solutions. Then the third point I wanted to bring up is you’re also launching into a community you understand as you’ve been through that journey or you lived the same lifestyle, so you know the lingo, the ins and outs. It’s easier for you to communicate. You’re not selling to niche or a market that you know nothing about, so that’s awesome stuff.

Esther: Yeah, it’s worked really, really well. Even when I’ve done webinars and I hardly even got people signing up for my current group, because it’s the same webinar over and over again, so after a while they’re not going to keep coming, so I’ve just marketed this webinar into other groups. I had 50 sign up just from that too, so there’s so much that you can do on where your target market are at that doesn’t have to be connected to an email list or a long list.

I was looking at somebody else’s numbers, they had an email list of 700 and the amount of people that they had sign up for their webinar and convert was the same as mine and I don’t even have an email list.

Chris: Right.

Esther: I was like, “all right, high five.”

Chris: Yeah, absolutely and like you said, the email auto responder, lead magnet thing maybe it wasn’t really the jam for this group of people, but it was Facebook groups. For somebody else, it might be Youtube videos or Snapchats or whatever. It’s very different depending upon what your target market is.

Esther: Exactly.

Chris: That webinar converted into a course of a membership? Is that what it was?

Esther: Yeah. It’s a membership site and I played around with pricing. I had them buy at a founding member price where they would have lifetime access and I think I charged $197 for it and I had a good amount of people join. Then I dropped the price down to- because it’s for military and so I wanted to make it affordable. I dropped it down to $30 per month. I tested it $50 per month, but what I didn’t do, this is a mistake, I didn’t limit enrollment. I just always have a rolling enrollment and you can cancel whenever. I had incentives if they signed up right then on the webinar. They got some calls with me, so you didn’t have to create anything else, just another tip. That worked great for them to sign up right away, but then when money got tight, they were cancelling. I’ve totally changed the way I’m doing it now and I’m just limiting enrollment to certain times and we’re going to go through it as a group, go through the content together, but I am changing it a little bit now. That’s one mistake that I made.

That’s how the site works. It’s a ton of content. I think I have 12 modules and worksheets and all that stuff. I do new content on a reoccurring basis. That’s how it works.

Chris: Awesome. Just to tie into something you said earlier on, I just want to make sure I understood you correctly when you said you had a beta period, that would be like a pilot where you let some people into your membership to make sure that or just workshop the material with them, got feedback and that sort of thing or did you mean a beta period on your marketing efforts?

Esther: No, not on the marketing.

Chris: Or on the product?

Esther: On the product, which is so important and I find even with my clients it’s the number one thing that’s overlooked. You’ll have a few people go through it, but you don’t realize how valuable that beta test period is. I did it with three girls. Every week we would have a meeting together and I would give them another bit of content just like on a thing like zoom here. It would be a power point deck or I’d do it-

Chris: Would you do that live?

Esther: Yeah.

Chris: Yeah, so it was live.

Esther: Just with the three girls and I recorded everything I did. This is the key. By the time it was time to go, I could’ve just put that stuff right into the membership site, but I re-recorded it because it wasn’t totally applicable, but I had my slide decks already done, so that was easy. Then those three girls were my first testimonials. That is huge, so now you have testimonials when you go into your marketing phase. They’re my biggest fans. They’re my affiliates, they refer people to me, so that’s why that beta testing period is so important.

Chris: Yeah, I 100% agree with that. It’s important to get that concept of like, “oh, I’m going to do a hundred seats or a thousand seats in my first launch.” Why not start with three or five and really make sure you have the best possible product and workshop or ideas. Make sure you can communicate what you’re trying to train effectively.

Esther: Yep.

Chris: How long did it take, after you got through the beta period, what was the timeline with working with the Facebook groups and everything into when you started launching and getting conversions into your webinar? How much time did you spend in these Facebook groups before you launched and pitched it-

Esther: I’m laughing because I’m a little crazy. I just go for it, so that’s the biggest lesson I hope that people can take away. I don’t know what I’m doing sometimes and I’m like, “I think this is going to work.” I just go for it. Imperfect steps. I just keep going and then when it doesn’t work out, “okay, I’ll just change direction.” When the price point, people weren’t really buying at this higher price point, “okay, let’s test a different price point and see how that goes.” That’s why I’m laughing.

These Facebook groups, because I’ve been a member of the community for song, I’m a military wife, I’ve been in these groups for a really long time. Have I been super active in them? Not a 100%, but I’m just a normal person that’s in there. If your target market is very similar to you and you’re already in those kinds of communities, those can be the first people that you start to pitch some of your free content to to lead into this more bigger site that you want to do eventually.

In terms of how long did it take me to start to send the webinar info out and then build up my group and get people on the webinar, maybe a month. Not that long (laughs).

Chris: Yeah, yeah, that sounds good. That sounds good and I like what you said earlier too about in social media you’re not just like, “hey, look at me, here’s my stuff.” You’d been a part of the community, been part of conversations of a non-sales nature or whatever.

Esther: I didn’t have anything to sell.

Chris: Right.

Esther: I was just being myself.

Chris: Yeah, I think that’s really important. Social media is designed to replicate real life or in person life and if somebody were to walk into your house and immediately just start sales pitching, it wouldn’t go over so well, but if you’d already known them for a while and you’re just sharing what it is that you do and offer it’s a totally different experience. That’s awesome.

Esther: Yeah, even giving free content in those groups that’s not some long post that you wrote with a picture of yourself attached to it. Nobody cares, it’s all about you. If you did a Facebook live, so I’ve done this, Facebook live what kinds of jobs you can do from home for free, no pitching, nothing. Just here’s a whole bunch of stuff you can do from home. Then if you want to join my Facebook group that’s all about how to work from home, I do job postings in there, blah, blah, blah, cool, come and join. It’s just giving value and building up that community and you’re a leader in that group, right? You’re a thought leader now. You’re starting to turn from just being a member into being a strong member and for groups that have even just 500 people in them, that’s pretty powerful. That’s a lot of people that you’re getting in front of.

Chris: Absolutely and they’re self selected in that, “I’m in a group, that means we have a lot in common.” At least some decent overlap.

Esther: Exactly.

Chris: Just in general, what percentage of your time, with this project, would you spend on the content and then versus the marketing or the networking and so on? Marketing versus content.

Esther: I have decided … when I launched I didn’t even have all of the content up on the site yet, which is another great way to do it.

Chris: Which is fine, yeah.

Esther: With the first one or two weeks and then I did it just to re-record things and got them up as I went, which was great and the members were all fine with that. In fact, the member, this is the thing, get over yourself, because the members felt honored to be a part of it. They were like, “wow, I didn’t know that you were still building it and you’re taking my feedback into account. That’s cool.” They thought it was rad, so don’t think that, “my things not done, I can’t launch it.” No, just go for it because you need the money so that you can reinvest it into your marketing, so there’s that.

I hate marketing. It’s my least favorite part. Like I said, I’m the creator. I can hop on a webinar and kick ass, I’ll do great. Filling over the webinar and writing the emails and making the landing page and making a marketing plan, I would rather die.

Chris: Yeah.

Esther: It’s just not my thing. Some people I think are more one or the other. I say that now, I’m trying to be more focused. I would like to say 50/50 percentage wise. I’m trying to be more focused and say, “okay, this is my creation time and this is my marketing time.”

Chris: It’s two different brains.

Esther: Yes, and they’ve been so interwoven and I was like, “I got to create more content and I go to market.” I just didn’t like that. I’m trying to get out of that and say, “no, the content is in a good spot right now. Let me take a break for three months from that and now this quarter is going to be focused on marketing and filling it up and then we’ll go back and add for content.” That’s a different way that I’m trying to get into it now.

Chris: Yeah, just to pull out what you said about having your founding members. It’s important to, because you can easily go down the mindset of like, “oh, I’m an impostor, it’s not even done,” or you can get all of these negative self taught going to like, “it’s not finished, therefore, I can’t sell it or people are going to think it’s weird that I’m still making it while I’m in there,” but that’s all negative stuff when the reality is, you can put a positive spin on that. You can be a founding member or a pioneer or the early bird people or whatever and like you said, that reason that you do that is not to sell something that doesn’t exist, it’s to sell something that you’re passionate about that you have some progress on, but then to get real time feedback and just make it better and better as you go instead of making all of the assumptions, build this giant course and launch it and find out you needed to make serious corrections earlier in the program.

Esther: Right, and I would say too remember I had done that beta period with three people, so I had testimonials, I had great success stories, so it’s not like I was forcing them to buy into something that I was like, “I don’t really know. I don’t have any credibility being me.” No, they saw that, they even talked to some of the girls, so yeah that’s the difference is yeah, what you said.

Chris: What are some common mistakes that happen to you or that you see other people doing in terms of launching an online course as a beginner with no significant email list or resources.

Esther: I would say that the couple of things. One was what I said before of getting stuck and not moving ahead because it’s not perfect. It’s not how that guy is doing it. I don’t have all the stuff done. I don’t have any money. I don’t have all of that stuff. In stead of just continuing to take steps forward, so it’s almost just like constant problem solving. I don’t have any money for marketing. That was me. What can I do? I can go into some Facebook groups. I can provide … That’s why that came about. Just taking some kind of steps and seeing where you can move forward and just not letting anything stop you.

The other thing that I see a lot of is that your lead magnet, what’s attracting people to want to be on your list or in your Facebook group is crap. Nobody wants a check list anymore. Nobody wants blah. You have to give away something that’s actually valuable. Something that really is going to be helpful to people and not constantly trying to sell them stuff. Even if once they join your email list, please don’t just start pitching them five things per email after that. Just continue to give them good value, build that report with them and the more, I find this, the more good stuff that you’re putting out, the more you’re going to get back in general. Whenever I’m starting to feel like, “I don’t have clients” or “what’s going on, my members are leaving?” I say, “calm down. You need to get some good content out there.” I need to start giving them some stuff because then they’re going to feel like they want to reciprocate or that’s just how the world works.

That’s one thing too and then not wanting to invest any money at all. My problem was that when I finally made that money from initial founding members, I did reinvest some of it, but some of it I needed to use to pay the rent.

Chris: Right.

Esther: Which happens sometimes, so things have grown slower because of that, but that’s okay. That’s just how it’s going to go. Also, just realizing that in order to build that list and build that Facebook group, sometimes I would have to do some $5 ads here and there, so you are going to have to invest a little bit of money in order to build that, but you don’t need $2,000 to get people to sign up for your webinar. No, please don’t do that.

Chris: That’s awesome. Good stuff there. Go ahead and get out of the negative self talk and don’t use the money excuse. That’s a big one. I see it a lot, so I just want to give a few strategies on that and I want to tie it back just again to the importance of doing a beta or a pilot, whatever you want to call it. It doesn’t take a lot of money to send somebody a PayPal invoice or even a check in the mail, cash in hand and then manage the whole training through Skype and email, free services to get your validation and figure out what you’re going to build and then to launch without having the full major course created. It’s not something that you necessarily have to go upside down on and go into debt to start and really you shouldn’t. You should validate it small and then reinvest like you said as you go, but take care of yourself too. If you got to pay the bills or go celebrate or whatever, you should absolutely do that.

Esther: Yeah. I think that’s an important one. I didn’t go into debt with this. I didn’t go upside down ever and I made a point of doing that because it’s validation too. If I’m not progressing and if this isn’t making money, then I’m going to have to find some free options to keep it going if I really believe in it, but yeah I didn’t ever have that kind of an issue with it. If I made some money, okay so I’d reinvest some of it and some of it I’d use to pay the bills.

Chris: That’s awesome. Well, I’d like to do a bonus round with you, Esther, because we’re talking about launching with no lists, but I want to see if we can get some nuggets of wisdom out of you about curriculum design or instructional design. If somebody is an expert at a topic, whatever that may be, what are some of the mistakes that you see people making when the expert transitions over to creating content for an online training? Then what do you recommend as some frame works or some tools that people can use as a beginner to start increasing their instructional design shops and creating valuable training content that makes sense?

Esther: Sure. Okay, so probably the biggest issue that I see and this is with some of my high end speakers that I work with. They’re almost the worst because they’re amazing at speaking, they’re brilliant, but it’s all in here and they’re used to just speaking like as a keynote or really more of selling from stage type things, not interacting, so when you transition that into a course, a workshop, any kind of instructional design, it’s not going to work. I can’t talk at you for two hours and you take notes and this is going to be a really valuable thing. Your learners are not going to retain it. They can’t retain that. Our attentions spans as human beings are not that long and also we have all different kinds of learning styles and so me sitting here listening to you is not going to work. You have to get out of that way of doing it. It works for when you’re a keynote maybe because you’re only up there for an hour and a half, right, and you can’t interact with thousands of people. You could. I do, but when I speak I’m very interactive, but not everybody, you can’t always do that if you have a lot of information to get across.

When you transition into this world of an in person workshop or an online course or whatever it may be, you want to make sure that your learners, even if they’re watching it, are having actually things that they’re able to do and that you’re also getting the information across in a variety of different ways.

One thing I’ve been learning that I really want to enhance and I’m trying to find some more resources on this is how to make my presentations even more visual. Even more compelling, so that it’s not just words on a power point. That’s one thing you can do to enhance. Your worksheets and your workbook, please do not make fill in the blank worksheets. This is my nemesis. You don’t want people to just be listening for words to put in. This is not worksheet. The worksheets and materials are supposed to help the learners take it deeper. How can they apply it to themselves, so yeah there’s going to be some spots where the main points where you want them to note down, but the rest of this content should be, how are they applying it to themselves. Take a minute and stop and say, “hey I want you to fill out number two. I want you to think about x,y and z, then talk about it with the people at your table. Then lets come back and keep going.” That’s how you have to change how you’re used to writing or speaking or whatever and make it more interactive. Make people able to really apply it to themselves and take it to the next step. Those are probably my biggest tips.

Chris: That’s awesome. Yeah, I totally get what you’re saying. You could be in the rhythm of just delivery content and then this person is just being passive, “okay, I’m receiving this information,” but then you can make it personal and then you can also make it active, so they have to do something and then apply it to their exact situation. That’s really good. Well, I appreciate that. Well, Esther where can people find out more about you and all the goodness you have going on?

Esther: Sure. I would love it if people would come to my page, Facebook.com/esthermariecreative, I always have goodies on there and I’m actually launching a free course all about outsourcing, so how you can outsource your e-course and get it done. All of the tips and tricks that are from me. There’s all kinds of good stuff on there, but that’s the thing that I would love to offer you guys. You can sign up for that on my page, esthermariecreative, easy.

Chris: That’s awesome. Well, thank you for coming on the show Esther and we’ll catch you in the next one.

EPISODE 102

How to Level Up Your LMS, Online Course, or Membership Website Business

You want your online course business to be as professional as it can be whether you’re already successful or just beginning. In today’s LMScast Chris Badgett and Thomas Levy talk about how to level up your LMS, online course, or membership website business with tools, support resources, and teams.

If you’re just starting out with a low budget, you can still build a great course with an inexpensive hosting account, a WordPress site with a free theme, and a course development platform like our free LifterLMS system. This is your simplest and least expensive starting point and will allow you to deliver and sell an online course. But it is only a starting point.

At the high end of the spectrum you can hire a service like codeBOX to build a complete custom LMS from scratch and deploy it through Amazon Cloud on Amazon Web services. You’ll have a complete discovery session to evaluate your needs and preferences, with a detailed timeline and estimate. It’s expensive, but it’s professional. Today we want to look at what you should be working towards in between starting out and reaching ultimate success.

Probably your most important consideration is hosting as that’s really the foundation of your online existence. GoDaddy and Bluehost are fine lower-cost web hosting services, but there are support systems you’re going to need that they simply don’t provide. Your next hosting upgrade should be to something like WP Engine which offers managed WordPress hosting. That means your WordPress-based online course site will have database caching and backups, package management, on-call support, and a staging site where you can do testing in a safe environment that won’t affect your live site.

Over time you’re also going to build a team, because on your own you simply can’t properly perform all the tasks your business needs. You need overall management, systems administration, web development, sales, content development, design, and project management. You’re probably proficient at one or two of those jobs, but not all of them. Plus, every upgrade you make will depend on your courses generating enough income that you can afford those upgrades as well as professional support services.

Tools like WordPress and our LifterLMS platform have made things so approachable and affordable that you might not think about going to the next level, but that growth needs to be part of your plan for how to level up your LMS, online course, or membership website business from the start.

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 here with Thomas Levy. Today, we’re going to talk about how to run your website as a business and to do that professionally. We’re going to talk about where we all start and where we all ultimately can end up, and we can also talk about some of the benefits of upgrading some ways we approach what we do, and look at some roadblocks that might be holding us back from progressing and becoming a more professional, established website.

To start it off, I just wanted to talk about where we all begin if you’re building a learning management system, membership site, or an online course. If you want to start at the simplest starting point, which is one of the reasons in our mission to democratize education with LifterLMS is so that it’s really accessible, you can get in the game really affordably and almost for free. You can get a very inexpensive hosting account. I’m talking, depending upon what sales is going on, $3, $5, $10 a month. You can install WordPress, and you can install a free theme and a free plugin like LifterLMS, and you’re up and running within a learning management system and a website that’s possible to deliver and sell an online course.

That’s like a beginning point. At the far end of the spectrum, you can have a custom LMS built from scratch, whether that’s on top of Lifter or not, on top of WordPress or not, but you can do all that and just anything is possible. You do a custom development that’s going to be very expensive. It’s going to take time, and it’s going to be tailored to exactly your vision. That’s a totally different story. I think it’s important to look at all the stuff that can happen in the middle on your journey from just starting out with a cheap hosting account, a theme or … a free theme or a paid theme and a plugin like LifterLMS.

One of the areas we want to focus on is let’s just look at hosting. If you get a GoDaddy or a Bluehost hosting account, those are really affordable. They’re cheap, and you can install LifterLMS and WordPress and things like that, but then you can get up to more of a mid-grade area. My top recommendation these days is WP Engine and then, for our custom builds at LifterLMS, in another Podcast episode we talked about our discovery session where we get ready for custom membership sites and learning management systems and spec out what it is we’re going to build where we can do a detailed timeline and estimate and that sort of thing. That’s a custom build. We deploy those under the Amazon Cloud on Amazon Web services. That’s a whole another level of hosting, but what a lot of people aren’t doing that should … but should consider is, perhaps, going to that middle level with WP Engine.

Thomas, what do you like about WP Engine? What makes it a good Web host even though it’s more expensive? It can be $30 US a month for 1 site.

Thomas Levy: Yeah. There’s a lot to say about WP Engine, and there’s a lot of things like WP Engine, too, so, for some reason, you have an aversion to the particular product, we’re talking about managed WordPress hosting. A lot of these managed WordPress hosting platforms have a lot of the same features.

The most advantageous part about them is, and we’ll talk about WP Engine specifically, is that with the click of a button from your WordPress admin panel, you can scroll up a complete clone of your website, a staging site they call it, where you can do all of your testing and in a safe environment that’s not going to affect what’s goes on in your production website because the fear here is that you get those 10 little icons on your plugin screen that say you need to update that little 10 in the red circle and you just start clicking all those buttons because you trust the developers, and then there are some new conflict introduced and, now, your Website crashed or critical a feature of your website is down. Like you maybe can’t take payments anymore because something broke with Stripe, and now you’re losing money.

If you do everything in that neutral testing environment, you now have an opportunity to work out all those bugs, figure out what’s going on, contact the support representatives of whatever plugin you’ve updated that caused the problem and, now, you’ve also made their job a lot easier because, now, they can go in and do their job without the fear of breaking what’s now potentially already broken or breaking something new in your production environment.

That’s one of the clear advantages. When you start to think about like what happens on your journey as you grow, you add team members. We all started, I started, Chris started kind of as a 1-man-shop, and then you start to supplement your skillset with the skillset of other people. I’m a Web developer. Chris is a product marketer and … a man of many, many, many talents, but he’s not a Web developer, so that’s where we’ve kind of joined forces. I don’t really like selling things. If anybody ever tried to buy something from me, I’d much rather give it away to you, than convince you to give me money for it, which doesn’t really maintain profitability.

One of those people you’re always going to need is a systems administrator. At codeBOX, we have one for our highest clients. We have somebody that handles the Amazon Cloud for us because, even as a Web developer, I’m just not that good at it.

Chris Badgett: Just to jump in, like when you’re on the cheap plan just at the beginning, your systems administrator is the GoDaddy or the Bluehost support person you get on the phone, but you don’t have to stay there.

Thomas Levy: Yeah.

Chris Badgett: Go ahead.

Thomas Levy: Anyway, so what the managed WP Engine type WordPress hosting does is it kind of gives you that person. Now you’re paying a little bit more than if you were paying $3 a month and you have to call technical support all the time. Now, you kind of have that person that’s taking care of the WordPress Core for you and caching and database caching and all that stuff that is maybe a little bit scary to some people. It’s just kind of done for you. Plus, you get the ability to scroll up that staging site and test all your things there. You get backups.

One of the really, really important things about backups, everybody knows you got to run a backup, not a lot of people know how to get your backups back when you have that critical failure. Like what do you do? It’s like, “Well, I have all these backups. What do I do with them?” WP Engine makes that kind of thing really, really easy from your hosting panel. From my perspective, one of the greatest advantages of that is you gain a team member, like an invisible ghost team member that really gets to do that high-end development stuff for you or systems administration for you without having to actually have that person paid under your team.

Chris Badgett: Absolutely. I just want to add that this is just an unintended consequence of these tools like WordPress and LifterLMS who have made things so approachable and affordable that you just miss out on the fact that you do need to spend a little bit of money if you want to take it to the next level.

Thomas Levy: Exactly. Yeah.

Chris Badgett: Yeah, and then we get in this situation at LifterLMS or WordPress learning management system and online course membership site product where we provide pro level support. We have a pro Support product. Our pro membership with some other features, some graphic design assets and promotional discounts and things, but, a lot of people, their main reason usually for buying Pro is to get direct access and private priority access to us to support the product, but there’s a difference between supporting the product, helping a user navigate like, “How do I do X?” or, “I can’t find the documentation on X,” or, “I’m having this conflict.”

Product support is really about supporting the product. It’s not necessarily about supporting whatever hosting environment you’ve chosen or … and even I believe that … At LifterLMS, we go above and beyond and, if we can, if it’s obvious, we help people if there’s a conflict that we didn’t necessarily create, but we can help identify where the issue is coming from, we’re more than happy to help, but there is a time where you do need to hire a Web developer to help you or you need to get a systems administrator or go with a hosting company where that’s built in to the price.

Give us an example, Thomas, of some things that are common for LifterLMS where somebody is … we have our support product, but they’re really asking above and beyond what is considered supporting LifterLMS.

Thomas Levy: Yeah, I mean one of the greatest examples or most common examples with that is going to be people that have or users who have been on some of these … I’m not going to call them cheap, maybe less expensive hosting platform, where maybe you’ve had that GoDaddy account of that Bluehost account for 4 or 5 years, and they don’t proactively upgrade your packages for you, so …

Chris Badgett: If I could jump in and just clarify that point, and I just really learned this recently myself, I didn’t quite understand the full ramification, but when you buy your cheap hosting account, I mean there is a piece of hardware that holds your website, and they’re not upgrading that piece of hardware proactively necessarily.

Thomas Levy: Exactly. Yeah, and you might not know that and it might not cause any issues for you for years and years and years. We’ve actually had this problem internally with some of our own websites where we just weren’t keeping up to date with updates on the server level, which is things like PHP or TLS, which is an encryption software that help … or package that helps deal with the little green lights you see on the browser bar that secure for HTTPS and things like that. If you’re not proactively upgrading those packages on your own, they’re not getting upgraded, so, again, if we want to toot WP Engine’s horn, and that’s managed, you don’t ever touch your server. They take care of keeping that stuff up to date for you.

Back to your question, Chris, one of the more common things we see is somebody who has one of those older servers that’s maybe still working on Version 5.3 of PHP which is now several years deprecated and we’re now on PHP 7 is the common standard. I’m not, off the top of my head, I don’t know what version of PHP WP Engine work runs on. I’m willing to bet it’s PHP 7, but it might be like a 5, 6. Anyway, so we’ll see that, and it’s understandable that if my response to you then is like, “Well, you’re having issues because you’re on PHP Version 5.3. You need to upgrade that.” We get a lot of people that are like, “Oh, well, please upgrade that for me.”

Chris Badgett: That’s not necessarily part of LifterLMS. That’s part of you …

Thomas Levy: Yeah, it’s a little bit more complicated than that. The reality is like we could absolutely do that for you, but if you think about the scope of what we’re responsible for, it’s … There are so many unknowns that I can’t go in there and just click a couple of buttons for you and expect everything to work perfectly nor can you. That’s the difficulty here and why, as you level up, you want to add people to your team or continue to consider other hosting options because upgrading from PHP 5.3 to PHP 5 or 7 or any later version might not cost any issues at all, but it might cause issues. You might have some weird plugin installed on your website or you might have other websites installed on your same server and you might have some unanticipated bug crop up as a result of the upgrading.

Now, in most scenarios, they’re not, but, in some, you might, so what the Web developer would do, to deal with your Web developer would be to create a bunch of backups and know how to restore them, create a staging website where they could test the upgrade and then after they’ve tested everything and made sure there’s no problem, then upgrade those in the production environment.

That’s a lot. There’s a lot of steps involved in that. As you ascend and grow your business, taking those steps makes more and more sense because it’s more financially responsible to have your site online and offline because of bugs. You’re hopefully making more money, so you can afford to pay people to do that kind of thing. Again, we’re just going to harp on WP Engine because they make all of those steps just kind of not essential because they’ll take care of it for you and you have that staging site and they’re managing your packages, but-

Chris Badgett: You might be paying $20 more a month, but that’s really worth it. You don’t realize how much it worth until that site goes down, until you start having those conflicts, until you need to call somebody and you’re on hold for a long time or getting somebody on the other end that doest know how to help you.

I mean, when you start out, it’s just you or maybe you and a freelancer is helping set things up, but if I were to design the dream team as a startup, if you’re building your online course or your membership site, you may have a very limited budget and you may need to do it all yourself, but that means you’re going to need to be the … do all the content. You’re going to need to be the designer. You’re going to need to be the developer even if that’s just installing plugins. You’re going to need to be the person setting up the hosting account.

If you need support, you can use the plugin support to a degree, but there’s so much room to grow from there. You can get a professional designer of low budget or high budget to help you. You can get an affordable Web developer on something like Upwork or kind of graduate up into the Codeable area. We recommend Codeable. They’re just vetted WordPress developers. Then there’s other services like we at codeBOX, creators of LifterLMS. We do complete end-to-end solution. If you’re stuck or you’re having problems, you might be ready to move up, and it’s really important to … You look at that when you’re creating your course and everything is … For it to be really sustainable, you need to be … Your course needs to be generating revenue. You need to be able to afford the basic team. That’s really key.

What am I missing from the team? What else?

Thomas Levy: I think there’s different stages of it, like you’re saying. At the beginning, you’re wearing every hat and figuring it all out. I think the dream team is really going to depend on you. If you’re starting as a solo entrepreneur building a website, you might be more inclined towards the management side or the content side or the development side or maybe you’ve got skills in 1 or 2 of those areas, but you’re weakest in the 3rd.

The way I see it is there’s really kind of the management of the website. We can call that person a project manager. There’s the developer who manages the technology side and executes on the technology side, and then there is, in my mind, content creation and designer kind of hand-in-hand. That design aspect might be a fourth person. It might be the developer who’s also a designer. It really depends. When we get to our largest projects, we have a dedicated designer, a dedicated designer, a dedicated project manager, and then our client is generally that content creator because they’re coming to us because they have content that they want to put out into the world, but they don’t have those other 3 members to execute on it.

Chris Badgett: Just to piggy-back on that point, the people who are ready for that, already have some success. You may want that or even feel like you need that, but a company can’t help you unless you can afford them. In order for you to be able to afford them, you already need to have some level of success looking to the next … to grow from there. If you’re starting out and you’re starting up with constraints, you need to grow into that.

Thomas Levy: Exactly. Yeah. I think you really just need to take a look at yourself and take a look at what you’re best at and what you’re worst at. I think whatever you’re worst at … and that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re bad at it. It might mean you’re just uncomfortable with it. I can write. I am a writer, but I’m just not as great at executing on the content as Chris is, and so that’s a natural addition to my team. Of course, it’s our team. I didn’t say like, “Hey, Chris, you’re going to come and write content for me. We’re a partnership here,” but … so I mean, I think, you just need to kind of look at what brings you the least amount of joy and what’s the hardest for you to get your head in to accomplish it.

For a lot of people, that’s going to be the technology side of things and like the doldrums of testing plugins. That kind of stuff is great for me. I love it. I’m great at it. I can do it all day long, and that’s why I’m the Web developer, but you might not be. Yeah, so I think you just need to take a look, but I think those 3 areas are really like the content, design, the development and then the overall management.

I think that overall management is one of those hats that can be worn by you for the … I see at least most commonly for the longest period of time, and that project manager is maybe the last thing that gets added into the mix, but, yeah.

Chris Badgett: Just to close it out, if you’re at the very beginning and you’re that crappy startup where it’s pretty much just you, the roadblock or the mistake that we see people making, and our call to action for you today is to get a good hosting account. Get something with a staging environment like WP Engine and then also get a … look into finding a developer resource. If funds are tight, there are freelancers out there. You can got to website like Upwork. Look for people with WordPress and even specifically LifterLMS experience if you’re using our software and start building your team because that’s where it starts, a good host, which is going to give you that better red phone or systems administrator and then a developer that could help you. If you’re ready for even a little more than that, start experimenting with some freelance design help.

Yeah, most people try to wear all those hats too long and they get themselves into trouble and, essentially create more … You can create more inefficiencies just by not letting go and kind of growing.

Thomas Levy: That concludes this episode of LMScast. Thank you for listening, and we’ll catch you in the next one.

EPISODE 101

Learning Management System All-In-One Software vs. Integrated Software Solution

If you’re deciding between learning management system all-in-one software vs. an integrated software solution, Chris Badgett can help you determine which is best for your learning management system, online course, or membership site requirements in this LMScast.

A lot of companies claim to have a turnkey all-in-one solution that will give you everything you need in one simple package, but can they deliver on that promise? Our own LifterLMS course development platform can function as an all-in-one solution, and for many people it provides everything they need for their online courses. But it’s not a complete solution for everyone right out of the box.

If you need services that are not included in any all-in-one systems available, then you’ll want to explore integrated systems. These allow for a variety of third-party tools and services to work together with your LMS. We provide a service for LifterLMS to bring integrated services together in a customized system for your specific needs. We give you the convenience of all-in-one software with the power of integration.

We designed LifterLMS for WordPress, because it provides an integration-friendly ecosystem readily compatible with a world of plug-in tools. One of those tools is Gravity Forms, and we’ve just released a LifterLMS add-on for it. The internet runs on forms, because they’re the best information gathering tool you can use, and Gravity Forms is a long-time favorite. You can use it for simple or complex forms, testing and evaluation, surveys, and signable forms. Plus it’s compatible with a wide variety of other solutions. You can find out more about Gravity Forms integration and LifterLMS by visiting our blog entry on the subject.

A big part of your online success is about creating the right connections to facilitate your goals whether that’s sharing information, developing online courses, selling products, or creating software. Whether you choose learning management system all-in-one software vs. an integrated software solution, or a custom hybrid solution from our LifterLMS service, your possibilities are endless.

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

Chris: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. My name is Chris Badgett, and in this episode, we are going to be talking about a big debate between learning management system all- in-one software, versus an integrated software solution. What do I mean by that? Well, a lot of companies out there claim to have it all figured out, to have an all-in-one solution. The other approach is to have a learning management system, or an online course delivery system, or a membership site system that does a lot of great things, but then further integrates with other best-in-breed third party services.

Let me give you an example about this debate. It’s really easy from a marketing perspective or from a customer or a business looking for a solution perspective, to want to find that magical all-in-one unicorn if you will, that just does everything you want it to do in terms of delivering an online course or managing the complete LMS, or members area. For sometimes you do find a piece of software, like some people may come to our software LifterLMS, and it does everything they need without needing to even use our own add-ons, or integrate with a third party service. For them, LifterLMS is an all-in-one solution, or perhaps LifterLMS with our add-ons does everything they need it to do.

In other cases, people come to it and they’re like, “Okay, I love what you do, you’ve got me 80% there, but I need to integrate with these other services.” You can do that through other products, you could do that through other WordPress plug-ins. At LifterLMS we also have a customization service we can do if you’re looking to build a custom solution from the ground up, on top of Lifter where there’s not a good fit for our products suite, or our boost implementation program doesn’t quite cover all the scenarios you need to do. We have custom developments for that, but in that case we basically build for you the all-in-one solution. That’s the difference between custom development versus off the shelf, or out of the box custom solutions.

We sit in the middle of this debate, in some cases we are that perfect all-in-one solution. In other cases through integration we are part of an ecosystem that creates a solution, which is one of the reasons we chose to develop on WordPress because there’s other plug-ins, and other integrations already in existence that you can integrate with to get the desired outcome you want either for free or for a low cost. That’s the beauty of the WordPress ecosystem is the connectivity or the integration possibilities through plug-ins and what not to other WordPress products or other third party services. As of this recording, this is being recorded in the mid-summer of 2016, we’ve just released a gravity forms add-on for LifterLMS. What that does is, that allows you to, instead of a student pressing mark complete at the lesson, they have to submit a form. Now, if you’ve ever worked with forms, and done more than a simple contact form, you know how powerful a form could be.

Gravity forms has been around a long time in the WordPress ecosystem. There’s other form solutions out there, that work with WordPress that we’re looking into developing as well, if there’s enough interest. With gravity forms, through their platform, you could design like a simple … Okay, “I want to collect this assignment, or I want to create this advanced quiz or test or I want the students to upload a picture of something like a piece of art I created, or a picture of me doing my work out routine, or a picture of whatever real estate property I just sold.” Whatever makes sense for you, in your niche, in your learning management system when you need to collect data, forms come in a lot of handy. A lot of the beauty of the internet is actually built on top of form functionality.

By integrating with gravity forms, we’re able to leverage their ecosystem, even though we didn’t build our own form solution so we’re not technically an all-in-one solution. We can now leverage that integration and let gravity forms do what they’ve been working on, for many, many, many years. Even gravity forms from there, integrates with other solutions. For example, they have add-ons to work with Slack, or Dropbox or with Help Scout, or with other email marketing systems like ActiveCampaign and so on. Through Lifter, you can then integrate with gravity and maybe you’re happy there, or maybe you need to integrate further with their third party integrations, with these other services.

This is just a good example of … It would be great to be the all-in-one WordPress learning management system or LMS solution, but by building complete form systems from the ground up, we get to leverage the power and the connectivity of existing solutions and integrate that out there. If you’ve been studying the web for a while, you’ll notice that a lot of the internet is all about this web if you will. It’s not like the internet itself, is not an all-in-one solution. It’s more about the connections and creating the right connections that make sense, for whatever you’re trying to do. Whether you’re just trying to create information or sell products or create software and so on.

If you’d like to find out more about the LifterLMS gravity forms integration, we wrote a blog post about that. You can go to blog.LifterLMS.com/gravity-forms, and in that blog post we describe 9 ways that you could use gravity forms and create a more powerful learning management system or online course, or just further add value to your membership site. Just to go through some of those real quickly, you could create a survey or testimonial which is a great thing to automate or at least automate a part of.

You could create more advanced tests, you could create signable documents, which is important for some learning management systems or course content. You could sell products from within lessons. You could collect registration details, you could get into the point of learning aspect of having people register for an invent that is either online or in person. You could collect assignments or other uploads, and you could collect all kinds of information with a form building plug-in solution. You can have forms that are formatted to collect things like phone numbers, name. You could have long answer, you could have short answer, you could put something what’s in this conditional logic in there to make forms more … Have simple programming in there. Like if somebody clicks this, then display this kind of thing.

You could even with the LifterLMS integration, you could customize the information you collect on new user registrations. You could tap in to the gravity forms, user registration add-on there. Like I said, you could interconnect or integrate with third party applications like Slack and Zpn or Dropbox and so many more. Head on over to blog.LifterLMS.com/gravity-forms, and you’ll get an idea for what’s possible there. Back to our original debate, when you’re looking for a solution for your online course, or your learning management system, or your membership site, just keep in mind that it is nice when you can’t find an all-in-one solution, but it is also nice to be able to integrate with different services. Really what we find is a sweet spot where you find something that’s 80% all-in-one solution, but then that other 20% is achieved through integration.

You’re never going to find that perfect all-in-one solution. That’s why we get a lot of people who are leaving these hosted platforms like Udemy or Teachable or some of these other ones out there. They come to LifterLMS and the WordPress ecosystem because they’re not happy with the all-in-one solution. They felt too boxed in, they didn’t have the ability to integrate with other third party solutions that they wanted to. There wasn’t this rich ecosystem like WordPress has of existing, integration and customization options through plug-ins and themes and so on. When you’re shopping around, you’re looking for an LMS or an online course solution, be sure to think deeply about how achievable that all-in-one concept is. If you do do that, you’re going to make some sacrifices which might be okay for you, but also think about what you’re going to want to integrate with, or have the option to integrate with later.

Thank you for listening to this episode of LMScast. Go to LifterLMS.com and check out gravity forms to see an example of an integration, and we’ll catch you in the next episode.

EPISODE 100

What Level Teacher Leader Are You? – Anniversary Edition

This is a special anniversary edition of LMScast. In this 100th episode Chris Badgett challenges you to ask yourself, what level teacher leader are you? Listen up to find out how to improve teaching, training, publishing, and administering membership sites online.

Chris tells why leadership is an important topic for him. Not only has he been at the forefront of LMScast since its beginning as the support podcast for the LifterLMS development platform, he’s also the author of the book, Outdoor Leadership Secrets. As you begin to understand what kind of teacher leader you are, begin by thinking from your students’ perspective.

There are several levels you can operate from, beginning with positional. This means you are basically perceived as the leader of your class simply because you occupy the role of the teacher. From this level you can lead by positive or negative influence. Naturally positive reinforcement is the best way, though occasionally negative persuasion may be necessary to reinforce consequences for negative student performance.

At the next level of leadership your authority is established by your credentials: your degree of certification, training, experience, and track record for success. Demonstrating what you’ve done earns you respect and validates your expertise. The highest level of leadership is reference, which is your reputation and precedes you so that your students already know who you are and what you’ve done. The greatest likelihood is that you actually embody a combination of these levels that form your identity as a teacher and a leader.

Knowing your personal answer to what level teacher leader you are and where you stand in your journey gives you a solid platform to level up from. Investing in yourself first makes you a better teacher and leader, with a reputation that will attract the best students to your courses. And we’ll be here to continue helping you do that for another 100 episodes and beyond.

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

Chris: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. My name is Chris Badgett, and in this episode, we’re going to be talking about becoming a teacher leader and how to improve as someone who teaches on the internet or helps publish others who teach on the internet through online training and courses and membership sites, and that sort of thing.

Before we get into that this is a special episode – this is episode number 100 of LMScast. We’ve come along way, we’ve been on the air for almost 2 years now, and I just wanted to celebrate that milestone with you. Thank you if you’ve been with us since the beginning or if you’re new and just finding out about us, thank you for being a part of the LMScast and the LifterLMS story. If you’re using our software for creating online courses called LifterLMS, we did it, we made it to a 100 episodes, and we’re not stopping. We’re going to keep going, and at the end of this episode I’m going to share some more with you about the future of LMScast and what to expect in the coming months and years.

Leadership is the topic that’s really important to me, I come from a background in outdoor leadership. I’m actually a publish author on leadership I have a book on Amazon called “Outdoor Leadership Secrets.” Leadership is one of those things where when you start unpacking it, it’s really, it can become your life’s work, something you can never truly perfect and you can always improve and keep traveling down that road.

This episode is about what kind of teacher leader are you, and how can you improve? I think it’s really important to look at this from the perspective of the learner or the student. Also, just be aware that if you’re teaching a group online or in person or both, some of those students or learners may perceive you a little differently and that’s okay. Those you can really be perceived as 5 types of leaders or experts or your ability as a teacher. The lowest level is what I called “Positional”, this means you’re just in the role, you’re in the job, so you perceived as a leader but it’s really only because you’re there and you’re the teacher.

For example, just the fact of the student come into a classroom either in personal or online, if you walk in, you are the teacher leader because you’re the teacher, that’s your position or that’s your job. That’s the lowest level and it’s an achievement to become a teacher or instructor expert or online educator in some way. It doesn’t mean it’s bad, it’s just the lowest starting point.

Then after that you can lead positionally through coercion or punishment which is a necessarily a positive thing but that’s things like, “If you don’t take my course or do my training or do the homework, there’s a punishment. You won’t get X or there’ll be some kind of punishment.” There’s like negative reinforcement that reinforces your ability to lead or your authority. That’s also at a lower level. On top of that in area I prefer to get into is the reward based or positive reinforcement, so if you take my training or if you take my course you get this benefit whether that’s on monitory or it helps, there are some other reward that makes me an effective leader teacher or instructor.

If you get in front of the room in the online space or in person’s space, you can lead and become an effective leader with the mix of positive reward or negative punishment type reinforcement. It’s important to look also at punishment is not necessarily bad like having consequences for not doing the work or not listening or not doing the training, it’s an okay thing. Overall, in my opinion, it’s better to live predominantly with positive reinforcement or reward based teaching.

The next level is you gain authority and your ability to lead comes from what you’ve invested in yourself, what kind of degree or training have you been through. If you are a Navy SEAL and you’ve invested that much and you’re teaching somebody about endurance or physical fitness, you’re going to have a lot of authority and expertise and you’re going to have an easier job, let’s say, if you’re creating an online course about body weight fitness training at home. If you’re an ex-Navy SEAL. Having expertise where you’ve really invested in yourself and it’s not just what you say but it’s also what you’ve done in the past.

That gives you a lot of authority and that gives you the ability to gain respect, but also to really teach you effectively because you’ve had your skin in the game, your time in the trenches. That’s expertise. In the highest level is what I call reference leadership so that is more subtle but it’s everything you do is everything you say is the reputation that proceeds you as an online educator. What does that impression come together? Are you a legend before you’re even step into the room like, how do people refer to you like it’s not even stuff that you actively try to do, it’s just that literally your reputation proceeds you.

What comes from a combination of all those things. Think about a reference position and leadership being that, “Okay, you have the position, you have some negative consequences if your people don’t go to your training or they’re not a good fit for your program, you have reward based things going on in your material,” you’re also an expert yourself, you’ve got the degree, the life experience, the training. Now, when you package that all together into just your identity in who you are that’s what the most powerful form of leadership.

To give you a good example of that, let’s think of Stephen King, Stephen King is a fiction writer an author and he was teaching online course about how to craft the story or how to become a professional writer. Everything he has done in his career and being a multi-time bestselling author, and just living that life of that guy who does the grind, who writes every single day no matter what he is the epitome of what it means to be a writer. If I was to asked you to think of a successful writer there’s a good chance Stephen King might be the name who pops into your mind.

If you were to teach a course on writing or storytelling he would come out that with the really strong teacher, leadership quality. I hope you enjoyed this episode on LMScast about teaching and leadership and to think about where you are at on your journey as a teacher and I encourage you to try to keep leveling up, keep investing in your own training and personal development and expertise, and to really embody what it is that represents what you teach because that’s the strongest form of teaching and leadership and allows you to attract the best students and really create that elite level training.

Also just to celebrate again with this maybe 100 episodes of LMScast. I just want to let you know that we’re not going away, we’re going to keep doing this, I’m going to work hard to start getting more guests on the show so that we can get other experts, we’re going to have relevant material and we can jam on topics around that. Looking forward to just serving in more detail with your needs to continually evolve as an online course creator or membership site owner, or learning management system, administrator or a person.

Thank you again for watching this episode of LMScast. If you’re feeling that, would really appreciate a review on iTunes or leave a comment if you’re watching this on YouTube on the YouTube video, I’d really appreciate that. We’ll catch you in the next episode.

EPISODE 99

How to Do Livestreaming with Online Courses, Membership Sites, and More

For the best online learning experience possible, you really need to include a live element in your courses. In today’s LMScast Chris Badgett and Mark Nelson of codeBOX talk about how to do livestreaming with online courses, membership sites, and more.

Livestreaming is basically real-time interaction with people through any device they use. Events, podcasts, and even interactive conversations can be livestreamed through the internet. It’s like a Skype session or video internet call, but it’s embedded in an application like your online course for a potentially broader audience. You probably won’t want to livestream your entire course, but as a support feature it’s extremely effective.

Setting up for livestreaming has become quite accessible with services like YouTube Live, which interfaces with WordPress. Livestream and Ustream also allow you to schedule broadcasts and collect analytics. For best results, though, you’ll want a custom setup on your own server that gives you minimal latency and complete control over your livestreaming. This is where codeBOX web development can help you with a custom setup.

In a blended learning environment you incorporate multiple teaching methods to reach each student the way they learn best. A livestreaming element contributes significantly here by adding a level of human connection that is too often absent in online learning environments. It demonstrates that you’re a real person who takes a personal interest in your students. It’s also an added value they’ll be willing to pay for.

You could have online office hours, live quiz sessions, or scheduled discussions where you’re available to your students for live Q&A. It offers you a unique opportunity to meet your students and provide adaptive, personalized learning in response to your live interactions with them. Beyond that, it allows students to interact with each other in a real-time online community setting.

To find out more about how to do livestreaming with online courses, membership sites, and more, or to discuss options we can help you with for your own custom project, visit us today at gocodebox.com.

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

Chris: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. My name is Chris Badgett, and I’m joined with Mark Nelson. Today we’re going to be talking about livestreaming, how to do livestreaming for online courses, membership sites, learning management systems, and more. Now we ended up getting some unique experience with livestreaming, and of course it’s an important part in our quest for creating better online education options and educating the community about what’s out there and what’s possible, but let’s take it back a second and start with what is livestreaming? How would you define livestreaming, Mark?

Mark: Livestreaming, it’s just real-time interaction with people. It can be one way, and you can livestream an event, or livestream a podcast, like we’re doing right now, or you could have a two-way conversation where you livestream with one or more people. It’s just real-time communication.

Chris: Absolutely. I think it’s important to realize, we’re all kind of used to perhaps using something like having a Skype call, or doing some kind of voice over IP, or video internet call, but when you put livestreaming in the context of something else, that’s more what we’re talking about here where it’s embedded in whatever it is that we’re teaching, or an application that we’re building, or whatever goal we’re trying to do with a web property or application. We’re introducing a livestream component, which of course is really important for online education. It doesn’t necessarily have to be just about clicking play on a bunch of videos that were recorded a long time ago. It doesn’t mean you have to go all the way in to livestreaming is all that your online courses are, but perhaps you want to blend in … you’ll have your passive video course, but then you’ll also have monthly livestreaming broadcasts, or two-way conversations.

There’s just so much opportunity with livestreaming, and with our web development company, the company behind LifterLMS, which is called codeBOX, you can find that at gocodebox.com. We’ve been recently built a livestreaming solution for an auction management system, so there’s all kinds of different ays you could incorporate livestream. How does someone get started, if they’re first getting into livestream, Mark?

Mark: Livestream’s really taken off this last couple years, especially in 2016, you started to see it a lot more with YouTube Live, Facebook has their own livestreaming service. Everybody’s getting into it, and that’s because it’s becoming more approachable from a development standpoint. Things like Skype, and Zoom, have been livestreaming for a long time. To be able to put it into the browser and allow people to access it from their phones, and tablets, and desktops, and being able to have a reasonable latency … which latency is the time in delay between people communicating, really moving into a place where it’s actually feasible. Really, livestream’s always just been thought of as chat. Chat applications, business meetings, or talking to your friends, or maybe team meetings, getting together, bridging that gap.

I think the possibilities are really becoming endless now that it’s becoming more of an approachable thing. It’s really easy to get started with livestream now. YouTube Live is probably the easiest, or even Facebook. YouTube Live, you can embed that into WordPress, and then you can just start up your channel and start sharing whatever you want to do. I think it’s really cool that entrepreneurs can start thinking about new ways to use livestream for interaction. It’s not just maybe a seminar, but maybe there’s office hours that you’re open, and people can pop in and say hi, and ask you questions, but you’re actually physically there. There’s this human touch element to it. Or, even just livestream quizzing, and discussions. It’s really cool. I think the things that we’re going to come up with over the next few years are going to be amazing, and it’s really going to become a big key role in online education.

Chris: Absolutely. Yeah, if I was just getting started, perhaps I could add a Facebook group to my online course, or my membership. Then within that group, I would have a schedule when I would be broadcasting, or have the livestream turned on. That way, you could introduce it at low cost, let Facebook do the heavy lifting to bring in that technology. You’re leveraging Facebook and that group there. What if I want to build my own livestream solution? How do I do that?

Mark: It comes with the ‘you get what you pay for.’ It’s really easy to get into using YouTube Live, or Facebook, and get those set up, and maybe you want to do that, just to find out … get a feel for how you like using it, and maybe how your customers like using it. Do you get a lot of people that are interested in it? You could even do polls, or just start hosting some live events, see who shows up.

When you start to get more serious about it, there are avenues like Livestream, or Ustream, they’re excellent systems that you can start to … They do the scheduling. They have more stuff that you can set up for your livestream. You can get a lot of analytics back from them. You can get a lot of analytics from YouTube, too, they’re actually pretty good. Then, there’s the big one, which is some of the stuff that we’ve done for our clients, is where you actually set up a livestream server and the big benefit to that is extremely reduced latency, and full control over how you’re going to handle it. There’s a lot of custom things that we could build into the livestream, with interactions and analytics, that you can’t get from the traditional third party sources.

Chris: Absolutely. Yeah, so if you’re … It’s cool to use Facebook, and Periscope, and Blab, and YouTube Live, and all these things, but there comes a point with your web property where you may want to have your own custom solution that you own, and does exactly what you need it to do. Like you mentioned, reduce the work on the latency issue, if real time down to the second is pretty important to you. There’s things you can do there. If you’re interested in finding out more about a custom livestream project, just go send us a contact at gocodebox.com, you’ll find the contact page there. We can go from there.

Let’s talk a little bit more about online education and livestreaming. When we talk about blended learning, often we’re talking about what are we blending? Are we blending a live classroom experience, like in person, along with some take home video course, what’s really cool about … that’s how a lot of people think about blended learning. If you look at livestreaming, you can do it without having an in-person classroom, so you can still have that global reach, then also bring in that live component. Which, if you’re interesting in charging more money for your course, or your platform, or maybe you want a smaller group of people in it, have it be more intimate and exclusive, livestreaming is a good way to add that value. Nothing beats the live face-to-face human interaction, even if it’s through the internet. Any other ideas, Mark, on how you could bring livestreaming into a learning management system, or online course, or membership site?

Mark: I think it’s pretty simple and can be approached in a really simplistic manner. We have a client that does really well with his scaling the human touch. He does a lot of stuff with emails, and a lot of stuff that LifterLMS already provides. He’s using all those different tools. One of the things that he does is he does a session where he sits down, people can get on and just start asking him questions and then using the livestream component, he just answers their questions in real time.

I think it’s one of those ways that you can really give people a sense of value in what they’re learning and what they’re paying for, if they’re paying for something. It shows your level of interaction interest in their problems. The issues could be related to the course content, or they could be life issues that he’s answering questions about. I think that’s a really good opportunity to scale that human touch.

That’s all types of different ways you could do it. Start small, just start with posting a schedule to see how many different people sign up for it, and then start it. Even if there’s only a couple people, just keep going. It will attract people. When I do a lot of online courses, and that’s one of the coolest things that I’ve found that’s starting to be a big trend with online courses is that there is this … not all of it, in fact, it’s probably 10% of the course will be a live interaction. Some of the courses I take, you do a lot of videos, you do a lot of book work, a lot of homework assignments, but once a week, there’s a 1 or 2 hour live session where people can sit and just ask questions about all the stuff they’re trying to cover.

It’s really cool because you get answers that you wouldn’t get. When you do something like a livestream where there’s multiple people, it’s not just you engaging with the professor or you engaging with the course author, you’re also engaging with the other people around. You make other connections, you build friendships, you build business connections. It’s an awesome way for people to connect that you just can’t really get from just a basic chat, or forums, or comment sections.

Chris: Absolutely, yeah. We’re big believers in the power of community and the place that needs to be to be a part of the online education system. Especially online where, if you’re not going in person, it’s easy to get isolated, or just not have those benefits of community. By introducing that livestream element, you can bring in that community piece. That’s awesome.

Think about it like a podcast, or YouTube video, or whatever. What if you could get to the end of the video, and raise your hand, and start talking to the person there? It would become way more interactive. Some of the big buzz words we hear today in online education, and things that need to change, and learning, are adaptive learning and personalized learning. What better way to adapt on the fly and change your role or your approach to teaching when you have live interactions from your students? You can see what’s landing, you can see what’s not landing well, and you can adapt on the fly to increase that engagement. You can also personalize it. You can call on people in the group. You can bring out examples that are the most relevant to the individual, the group that’s on the call live with you.

Mark: Yeah.

Chris: Lots of opportunity there in livestreaming.

Mark: I think anyone who’s ever taken a course has moments where they have a question that they can’t get answered. It’s just pretty much when you’re watching a video of someone teaching you and you’re like, “Well, why did you do it that way?” It’s a lot to go into forums and then ask the question, and get the response, when it’s just a simple question that you could have shout out to them and they could have given you an answer that sometimes you can’t get from a forum. It’s just knowledge that’s being passed down, like when you’re hanging out with somebody and you’re shadowing someone for a job, there’s a lot more you can learn than just watching a course on that. That’s what livestreaming gives you the opportunity to do.

One of my favorite course authors is Chris Coyier. He doesn’t do livestream, but one of the things he does in his video is he doesn’t edit them. He just lets them run, and so when he runs into an issue, and these are development courses … when he runs into an issue doing his development, he de-bugs the issue right there in the video. Sometimes he’ll make a simple mistake, and it’s obvious, and he eventually finds it. It’s a really good learning opportunity to watch someone go through that, because you’re picking up a lot of things that you wouldn’t pick up if he would have edited it and just give you only the facts. You get some of the discovery process as well as just the information.

Chris: Yeah, there is such a thing as being too polished. That’s a danger of going live is that you might make a mistake, or you might say “Um,” or you might click the wrong button, or say the wrong thing, or put the wrong slide up, but through all that, you could create a more real learning experience. In the same way that if you think about why Facebook is popular, it’s popular because it’s essentially trying to take how real human relationships and friendships work, and bring that on the internet. If you’re serious about bringing … and of course, they don’t do that perfectly, but they do a pretty good job and in some ways, do things that aren’t possible in person because you have the internet and this digital world.

If we’re serious about online education, if we want to take how people actually learn in the real world and try to put that on the internet, or on the world wide web, there’s no way you could look at that without somehow incorporating the live component. We’re designed to learn through mirror neurons and interaction with other people. There’s got to be some kind of live element if you want to really create the best possible learning environment.

Mark: Yeah, I totally agree. It’s a lot of fun, too. It’s a cool way to meet the people that are taking your courses. From your side, it’s really beneficial.

Chris: Absolutely. Well, that’s awesome. Well, thank you for checking us out at this episode of LMScast. If you want to find out more about livestreaming and discuss options for a custom project in that world, go to gocodebox.com. Thank you for listening. Thanks for listening. Thanks for coming on the show, Mark, and we’ll catch you in the next episode.

Mark: All right, thanks.