EPISODE 128

Becoming an Online Instructor on Lynda with WordPress and Freelancing Expert Carrie Dils

In this episode of LMScast, Chris Badgett of LifterLMS talks about becoming an online instructor on Lynda with WordPress and freelancing expert Carrie Dils. They also discuss how podcasting has helped both of them in their careers as teachers.

Carrie is a content creator, she has courses, and she is a teacher on Lynda.com. In this episode she shares her story of how she became a podcaster and her background with blogging. Carrie and Chris discuss her transition from running a blog to becoming an online educator. Carrie tells of her experiences with navigating into the teaching space while also being a freelancer and running her own business.

Podcasting is something Chris and Carrie both do, and they discuss the different ways that it has helped them in their careers and other endeavors. They value the relationship created with people through podcasting, and the interesting experience that occurs when you meet up with the person who has taught you in real life. Carrie has found her podcast has brought people to the other aspects of her life, such as teaching and blogging. They discuss their experiences with podcasting and some cool things they have been able to do with it. Podcasting can also help you with becoming a better communicator and teacher by getting you in front of a camera and delivering information to an audience.

Carrie fills multiple different roles in her business and life. Moving between positions within her business helps her figure out what she is interested in. She shares how she is able to do that, and the mindsets that she uses to fill those roles. There is room for anyone to join the WordPress space. Becoming a unique instructor and finding your niche market is what is important for success.

Carrie shares her journey of learning WordPress using Lynda to teaching WordPress on the same platform. Chris tells of his origin story with creating LifterLMS and how similar it is to Carrie’s story. Carrie has a book coming out soon called, “Real World Freelancing. A No Bullshit Survival Guide.” Chris and Carrie talk a bit about what went into that book, what Carrie’s inspiration was, and who she wrote it for.

You can learn more about Carrie Dils at CarrieDils.com or her book Real World Freelancing.

Thank you for joining us on this week’s LMScast! You can post comments and subscribe to our newsletter for updates, developments, and future episodes of LMScast.

Chris Badgett: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. My name is Chris Badgett, and today I’m joined with a special guest, Carrie Dils. How are you doing Carrie?

Carrie Dils: Good, how are you?

Chris Badgett: Excellent. Carrie is somebody I first came across in the WordPress community. She’s a prolific content creator in mini formats, has a lot of awesome multi-disciplinary wisdom to share. She has courses, and she’s a teacher on Lynda.com. We’re going to get into kind of how she does that, and how she rolls. And Carrie’s just an awesome all around person, so if you ever come across her on the internet or in person, she’s super approachable, and it’s always great to hang out. So thanks again for coming on the show, Carrie.

Carrie Dils: Wow! That was an amazing intro, thank you. You made me sound maybe better than I actually am.

Chris Badgett: No, I think you are that good. I first came across you on one of your podcasts called, “Genesis Office Hours.” So that was when I first came across, and I watched your show, and you just had a lot of great tips. I was doing similar stuff. I was building websites for clients. I wasn’t using Genesis, but it really resinated, and I could see too like you had a really, you know, there was a tribe of followers forming around you. And that was quite some time ago. I can’t remember how long ago that was, 3-4 years maybe? Was it that long?

Carrie Dils: Yeah, I think about three years ago, and then it morphed into the office, just plain office hours.

Chris Badgett: Why the change?

Carrie Dils: So that I didn’t have to… That’s a good question. So it’s, you know you said it started off as “Genesis Office Hours” and, so most of my guests that came on were somehow involved using that software. But what we ultimately ended up talking on the podcast was rarely about that software. So I felt like it was limiting the people that might listen to the show. Their like, “Awww, I don’t used “Genesis”, this podcast isn’t for me.” When in fact there was so much great information being shared from my guests that I just ended up axing that to make it a little bit more approachable for anyone that’s doing WordPress for their business.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. So was that your big first foray into content? Like are you like a person who likes to talk and speak? Or were you like really into blogging? A lot of people get into blogging before they do podcasting. Is that true for you too?
Carrie Dils: Yeah. I blogged for several years, and writing, I like blog writing, but it’s so time consuming. And podcasting on the other hand is you push the record button, talk for an hour, and then you push it out. Of course, as a podcaster, you know there’s more to it than that, but it’s another median for creating content that to me is much simpler, and less stressful, than actually writing.
Chris Badgett: I agree. I’m at about a little over a hundred episodes too, and its just so much easier to do this. And I also have some help in terms of somebody who does transcription, post-production, or whatever. It gets transcribed, which gets a lot of the SEO benefit, which is fantastic. But I still write blog posts from time to time.
From a marketing perspective or whatever, whenever I talk to people who come across Lifter LMS, or for different reasons come across me, often they say like, “Oh, I saw you on YouTube.” Or I was like how did you hear about us? And like, “I found you on YouTube.” Or “I found you iTunes. I heard your podcast.” I had no idea how far these things can go, and because they are a little kind of hard to set up, a lot harder than a blog, I think it just, and you know you have to get on camera and stuff like that, that it’s just not as competitive, and what not.
So I don’t know, did you have a similar experience? Cause I’m really focused on this like online course, LMS nitch, and if you are really focused in Genesis and this freelancer nitch, like how did that podcast do for growing your tribe?
Carrie Dils: Oh my gosh. So funny story. The woman that does my transcriptions, she used to work in the corporate headquarters for Dick’s Sporting Goods, and she was looking, she was searching YouTube for something appropriate to communicate a message in one of her meetings. And she came across one of my YouTube videos that had nothing to do with WordPress, it was just me being silly, and she ended up using that video in her meeting, and then it turns out she’s now left that and is moving into the WordPress space, and is connected with me. Yeah, it’s just a small world. You never know who is out there.
I don’t know how to actually measure the impact that the podcast has on my other endeavors, but somehow I feel certain that it’s a really important piece of that. And that it’s something that draws people into other aspects of like my teaching or my blog or something, that might not have encountered me somewhere else. So man, I would love to have actual numbers on that, but I don’t know how you connect numbers to that.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, I haven’t been able to measure it either, I mean cause it goes to the website, YouTube, iTunes, Stitch, or all these places. It’s like, well I don’t know, I give up. But it seems to be working, so.
How about another cool thing about podcasting is it seems like it gets you really comfortable with like being on camera, talking to your computer screen all day. I mean my neighbors are probably walking by the house like, “There he is, talking to his computer again.” But, it’s actually an acquired skill that I think it helps you develop as a teacher, and as a communicator or whatever. Did you have a similar experience? Do you cringe when you listened to your first podcast episodes or anything like that?
Carrie Dils: Oh it’s terrible. It’s terrible. I only leave it up there as proof that everyone can start with no skills and grow it into something. But yeah, I think it’s definitely something that, it’s a good, you said it more eloquently than I’m trying to say it, so I’m just going to agree with you on that front, and then also say it’s much easier when you have a companion that you’re talking to like we’re doing right now. As opposed to the folks that just look at their computer screen and hit record and their not talking to anyone. That to me, I feel like I sound like an idiot when I try to do that, so I’m much more comfortable with the conversational… having someone on the other end of my computer screen.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, absolutely. I totally relate to that. What was the first foray into teaching? Did you do it, especially teaching WordPress and Freelancing stuff, and all these things, was it in person? Was it online on your own site? You teach at Lynda.com, which we’re going to get into a little bit, but how did you kind of navigate into the teaching side while also being a freelancer or doing your own business?
Carrie Dils: That’s a good question, and it wasn’t necessarily anything I did on purpose. I think as I… So when I started my blog, what I would do is just write usually technical how-to’s, so whatever it was that I was learning, I would then blog about it. More for myself, because I didn’t know who was out there reading it, but it, overtime I realized you know people leaving comments on my blog and stuff like that, like “hey, this was awesome! Thank you. That helped me.” You know, “I’ve been trying to understand this and I finally understood it because the way you described it.” Blah, blah, blah. And I didn’t realize it, but that’s a form of teaching. And I think from there being a part of the WordPress community, you know applying to speak at Word camps, which standing up in front of people talking was nerve racking. It still gives me sweaty armpits.
Chris Badgett: Yeah.
Carrie Dils: But I’ve gotten a little more comfortable with it. Yeah, so all that sort of went into teaching, but I didn’t call it teaching. I didn’t even think of it as teaching. I thought of it more as just sharing my experience, sharing my knowledge. And then Window, which we can talk more about kind of put a formal package around that, and once I had a taste of that, I was like, “I like this!” This is a really good spot to be in. Teaching is something that I found that I really enjoy, and it’s a way to empower other people, and like you said, the reach of you podcast or your YouTube videos… You know, you have no idea how many people that you can impact, but its just cool to think that you’re making a positive dent in someone’s world.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, that’s awesome. Yeah, on that note on how many people you impact, sometimes like I’ll get on a sales call, and they’ll be like, “Is this really Chris Badgett?” I’m like, hey, I’m just a normal guy, like… I just have some videos and a website and stuff, I’m not a celebrity. But it’s interesting how the internet does that or whatever.
But I want to get into Lynda in a second, but you mentioned on something like you realized you found a love for teaching and just connecting with people, but it seems like often times the same person is not necessarily the expert, the business person, and then also the teacher. But you’re able to juggle all those. Like I know you’re way more of a developer than I am, but you’re also like a business center, and an entrepreneur, and you do marketing, entrepreneurial projects, and then you’re like a solid communicator. So how did you develop those skills either simultaneously, or in a different order? And then how do you kind of switch between them? Like I mean surely your head is in a different space when your like doing something in PHP vs. like being on the green screen at Lynda or something.
Carrie Dils: Oh definitely. First let me set the record straight, I am not a marketer. I am a terrible marketer. I hire someone to help me with that. But you know anybody, and I know a lot people that listen to your podcast are entrepreneurs, so I think the concept of wearing many hats is probably quite familiar to them. You know I think that those, it’s the combination of a lot of little things over time that’s kind of, and I mean I’m still learning how to do things, but that’s brought me to currently where I am now.
So technical skill, I’ve been developing websites since the late 90s, but I wasn’t teaching it. I couldn’t have taught it at that point in time. Also, I’ve always kind of had that entrepreneurial spirit, but didn’t have any actual business savvy, other than you know, you can’t spend all the money and make it. You’ve got to set some aside in your coin box. And you know over time and experience in different jobs. I did a stint at Starbucks where I was part of their management, part of a local management team. I got to do a lot of employee training, which I found was a whole lot of fun, and also learned how to just run a business. So how to look at a P&L and understand where we needed to push and where we needed to go back and all of those things. And then out of that, I came into this freelancing career, so kind of a rebirth of those technical skills that I had put on the shelf for a while, and then like we were just talking about. I didn’t mean to teach, it just sort of happened.
So anyways, that’s the really long rambling answer that I don’t even know if I properly addressed your question. But yeah, there are distinctive hats you put on and the way I’ve found to be the most, I guess effective at that, is to not try to do all of them at one time or even in the same day. So like there’s one day a week where I’m putting on my business thinker hat taking care of business, looking at strategy, all those sorts of things. And there’s you know a few days where I’m just the developer. I’m not thinking about you know any strategy or whatever, I’m just working on code. And then again when I’m working on say like a Lynda course, that’s all I’m doing. So fully immersing in whatever I am for a good chunk of time before I peace out and put another hat on.
Did that make any sense?
Chris Badgett: It made total sense, it made total sense. I do want to add though that I think you are a marketer, because like when I talk about sales or whatever, there’s three kinds. THere’s inbound, outbound and relationships. And perhaps you don’t do a lot of outbound code calling or knocking on doors or whatever, but you definitely create a lot of content, which creates inbound leads, which is a form of that. And then you know, you’re very involved in the WordPress community and there’s a lot of relationships and that kind of thing there. So that’s really cool, and I think one of the big take aways there is there’s a big difference between like multi-tasking, like trying to do all that at once vs. like having some structured walks. I’m kind of anal about that stuff too where I even have like four hour blocks on my calendar every week for certain things just to make sure I don’t let that thing slip or whatever. So that’s really cool.
Well how did you get into Lynda.com? I mean Lynda was just acquired by LinkedIn right? For a billion dollars or something like that? Is that right?
Carrie Dils: Yeah, I can’t remember what the price tag was, but a hefty sum, and then LinkedIn, the deal was just finalized here recently, but LinkedIn was acquired by Microsoft. So it’s like the fish just keep like… I don’t know, I thinK we’re probably at the end of the line in terms of big fish to keep going. And LinkedIn is going to remain its own kind of individual thing. But Lynda has been completely swallowed by LinkedIn. Not in a negative way, its just I don’t know how much longer the actual Lynda brand will stay around. But anyhow, that was not your question at all.
So I used Lynda.com, their training videos, to learn WordPress and to learn kind of beef up some of my technical skills when I was entering this space, and it so happened that they had one instructor in the WordPress space, and that was a fellow named Morton Rand-Hendriksen. So I watched his classes, learned WordPress, and I don’t know, maybe a year or two into my WordPress journey, I met Morton at a Word camp. Its like you on the phone, “Is this really Chris Badgett?” And I mean I saw Morton from across the room, and I mean I totally went and was just a big fan girl. Because for me he was a celebrity. So I got to meet Morton and start a friendship with him, and over time he introduced me to the folks at Lynda, and the rest is sort of history. But I think it’s funny that I am now teaching what I learned from that resource, so you never know.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Well is Lynda, do they come after you? Or you have to go after them? Like not anybody can teach on Lynda. It’s not like necessarily like you Udemy. So how…
Carrie Dils: Yeah, so there was an interview process and where I was sending in demos of me trying to teach some concept or whatnot. So there is, I mean its not just anybody that knocks on the door. But now that I have an established relationship with them, I can come to them with course ideas, more often than not their coming to me with course ideas, or refreshing older content in their library. You know, wanting to bring some of that content up to date. If somebody ever wants to teach, like if you go to Lynda.com and I think on the very bottom of the page, and they call it author vs. teacher. Go click on that and apply. The worst thing they can do is tell you no.
Chris Badgett: Do you do it in person? Like do you have to be in their green room or whatever? Or is it, can you record from home?
Carrie Dils: I go out, so they have a facility in Southern California, where they do all their recording, and it’s, Chris it is state-of-the-art. I mean the equipment, even the people, I mean their so close to LA, so their pulling in people that have been working on Hollywood sets and stuff, that level of production. They’ve got all these little perfectly cubed sound booths and they would cringe if I submitted a video that looked like this right now with you know the halo behind me and you know, just talking on my built-in microphone.
So yeah, I go out there to do the recording. Folks like Morton, who he is a full-time staff author there, he has his own set-up at home, because otherwise he’d just be traveling out there all the time.
Chris Badgett: Right. That’s cool. Well how long is your average Lynda course? And then how long is the recording session for it?
Carrie Dils: Oh, that’s a good question. Average course length, probably an hour and a half. And I spend about 60 hours in a booth recording to get that. And all of that time is like the lights going, but its me you know prepping script. But even you know a video that eventually gets cut to like a three minute segment, there may be 12 minutes of recording that… because I mess up, or I don’t say something the right way, or I didn’t quite get the right message across, and oh my gosh. It’s intensive. But, what the resulting product, and this is the thing that I really think sets Lynda apart from other online education training libraries is that level of excellence in quality. So there is no fluff or you know, “umm-ing” and “ahh-ing” like I am right now. I’m wasting people’s time. They edit all that stuff out.
Chris Badgett: And somebody else does the editing for you at Lynda, right? Like they have a …
Carrie Dils: Yes.
Chris Badgett: Like they have their own post-production team or whatever.
Carrie Dils: Exactly. So its like you let the author be an expert at whatever their an expert in, and then other experts in that, you know in recording and production and all that can do their excellent work so you don’t have to learn that, which is really nice.
Chris Badgett: Well you mentioned something else that’s interesting, and I’m going to kind of tie it in to something you said earlier about Morton, but also just what you said even earlier about you didn’t know you were teaching, or that’s not how you approached it. I had a similar thing happen where I started making “How to Build a WordPress Website in a Weekend” videos, and the I just looked the other day, and it’s a free course I put on Udemy many, many years ago, and there’s like 10,000 people in there. I even have like one of my developers who was working for me for a while, he realized after we had been working together for like six months that he learned WordPress from me, like and he’s from Nepal, and he was living in Iceland, or whatever, but I was like, this is crazy.
Carrie Dils: That’s awesome.
Chris Badgett: That was just me challenging myself to make a … I was actually doing it to kind of attract new clients, and that’s when I first started freelancing, they’d be like, “Hey Chris, I saw your YouTube videos. This looks easy, but it’s actually kind of hard. Can I just pay you to do it?” I’m like yes! So this similar thing happened where I started blogging actually about, I created online courses around organic gardening topics with my wife, Sam, and I used a theme off of Theme Forest, and an LMS theme, and I started blogging about it. And like most blog posts Chris used to write, you know I might get 100 people on it here or there, but then all of a sudden I was getting like thousands of people a day. And then you know fast forward four years, you know my agency started specializing in online courses and membership sites and we build a product to kind of scratch our own itch, and solve some of the problems we solve in this space. It all started from just like creating content and just kind of becoming a teacher by accident and getting better and better at all the technology stuff.
But the piece I wanted to kind of tie into related to you know I teach WordPress, you teach WordPress. When I first met you in Abo, Mexico, I was like, “Oh, there’s Carrie Dis!” from the, it’s the same thing, from the podcasts. But there’s a lot of people doing similar things, so even like you mentioned, you did something in a similar way to what Morton did, perhaps updated it. Of course, its in your own style and flare and your own unique insights, but also I saw you at I think it was a Word camp U.S. show were you were with Shawn Sketcher, who also teaches WordPress …
Carrie Dils: Ah yes.
Chris Badgett: And Bob WP, I think you guys were being interviewed by W.P. Engine. But there’s not, I think what my point is, even though it might be crowded, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. So how do you approach that? Or do you even worry about trying to be unique? Or just trying to do the best you can do on your topic? How do you see all that?
Carrie Dils: Yeah, to me that’s not, just like you said, it’s not a bad thing at all, its a credit space. I think there’s still plenty of room there, especially with a piece of software like WordPress that’s so vast, and there’s so many different ways that you can approach it. Like Bob, W.P. Bob, or Bob W.P., has taken very, very beginners under his wing and wants to just demo the very, very basics of using plugin or whatnot. Whereas Hesketh has gone on with his W.P. 101 videos and really created a solution that he can make available to people like you and I that do client work or that used to do client work teaching clients how to use WordPress. And then there’s me who I’ve got a little bit more of a technical or developer bet on teaching WordPress.
I think there’s room for anybody that wants to play. I think the important thing is you can find, let me just Google you know “how to learn WordPress.” And you’ll probably find a bajillion different things out there, or different people that could teach you. But I think part of what makes an instructor unique and why a student might choose you vs. someone else is specifically because its you. So their part of your tribe, over time they’ve seen your YouTube videos, maybe they bridge your content, you are a trusted face and a trusted voice, and therefore it doesn’t matter if ten other people put out a class that’s just as high poly as mine. Those are people that want to hear what I have to say, which still blows my mind. But I think that you build a tribe, you build an audience, and then when you have something to teach them, you will be the obvious source.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, the world is a very big place, so people will find you. I think heard Chris Lema say that you know often times people do it backwards. They start getting online course or LMS software, and then they start building community, and then they start building content, or content and then they start building community, but you should actually do it the other way around or whatever.
Carrie Dils: Absolutely.
Chris Badgett: Cool. Well what about like the mediums? So you do client work. You write, you podcast, teach, like what’s up with all this like multimedia thing? Like instead of, why not be an author? Or why not be a podcaster? Why not be just a business person? Like how is it, I’m the same way, so maybe I’m just trying to look into the mirror here, but how does that happen to somebody?
Carrie Dils: So I’ve actually cut out client work. I phased that out at the end of 2016, which was a big chunk of what I was doing. So that lets me focus more on you know the teaching. And I think the fact that there’s all these different mediums, I really don’t know Chris. Maybe its just curiosity to try out different formats and see what works or see what people respond to. But the thread is the same through all of them. So whether I’m writing or doing a formal course or hosting a guest with some great expertise on a podcast, those are all informational and instructional things that you could broadly put under that umbrella of teaching. So yeah, Chris, I want to affirm you that it’s okay to have professional ADD. And I say that so I can feel better about myself.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Well like kind of like on Lynda, your still surrounding the same person with just different kind of offers or creations or works of art. You may be teaching something more technical in your course, but then like you have a new book that is about to come out or may be out when the listener or viewer sees this, but its called, “Real World Freelancing. A No Bullshit Survival Guide.” So maybe that same user has a, you know they learned something technical from you, but now they need some business advice. So you come at it from different angles. Your just helping the same person in different ways. What’s the book all about? Like what is the origin story?
Carrie Dils: I like that, I like that. Yeah, so origin story, I actually have a colleague, Diane Kinney, that I’m working with to write the book, and its, the origin was, and I don’t even remember who it was I was sitting down with, but somebody that was cranking up a new business and so I was like all right, get out your pen, and we’re going to talk about everything. First, you need to, you know, go establish yourself as a legal entity, and then you need to separate your money into different accounts, and then you need to … And we hadn’t even gotten to actually what it is you do for a living yet. We were just talking about all the business aspects that surround it. And I was like holy crap, I wish somebody had sat me down and told me this when I was 22 years old. And so the book is, you know if I could go back in time and sort of mentor a younger me, that would be who it was for.
So you know, there’s a ton of developers, designers, people in the WordPress space that want to hang out their shingle and start doing client service and make a living off of it. And while there is room to do that, I think that those are going to be a lot of candles that fade out quickly if there’s no like actual business savvy underneath it, or as a foundation. And again, I don’t think you need to go get your MBA, I certainly don’t have one. It’s just been the school of life. But that’s sort of the origins of the book, and yes, so the people that I’m teaching technical things to, if a lot of them, and I know this just from surveys of done with my readers yet, but a lot of them either are already freelancing or aspire to ditch their 9-5 and hang out their own shingles So that’s exactly who the book is for.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. And I think that that whole freelancer economy vocation, independent, work-from-home or wherever, co-working thing, is like, it’s just, I think we’re actually still just at the beginning of what’s happening there. I think the economy is really changing, and people need stuff like that.
My mom used to always say that I had to do things the hard way, and since its already, we already have the explicit tag on this podcast episode, when I first started learning WordPress, I went to YouTube and I was like, “This is bullshit!” Like it’s taking me forever to piece together all this stuff to like build a site, and I was just a user, not a developer. So then I was like, alright, I’m going to like scratch my own itch and I’m going to make like, okay, you can do it, you can do it fast, this is the critical things you need to know, and I started doing that, and then I you know started publishing that in different places and stuff.
But yeah, that whole like, you don’t have to do it the hard way, like you’re saying. Especially in this day in age when things, the world is moving fast, it’s really complicated, you need to be more and more integrated and interdisciplinary if you’re going to be some kind of expert or specialized skill. You really need to know how to run a business too, and stuff like that. So that’s just an awesome thing to do to write a book around.
Carrie Dils: Well thank you. Yeah, a lot of things that, this may be telling of my age, but we didn’t have the internet. The internet was very, very young, so it’s not like resources to learn WordPress. I mean technically, WordPress wasn’t even around at that point, but you couldn’t just go YouTube “How to do XYZ,” because there was no YouTube. So it’s awesome to have all these resources, and you can now tell your mom that you don’t have to learn everything the hard way.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. I mean I’m feeling the age too. My daughter the other day pointed to something, “what’s that?” I’m like, “that’s a payphone. You can actually like call somebody.” But yeah, I think that that overlap, if you were to make like a Venn diagram, like if your doing like web development WordPress skills, but also business. I see that a lot of people, that’s just how they find their unique angle or their tribe is like, they overlap something. And often times it may be harder to compete like at one thing, but when you find a sweet spot between two things or three things, that’s really where you start getting you know a brand and some uniqueness going on. So that’s really cool.
Carrie Dils: I love that. That’s a great way to think about it. And I’m going to start doing this for my Venn diagrams.
Chris Badgett: So if you’re listening, you’re going to need to come on over to YouTube to see what this is. But I would encourage you the listener to check out Realworldfreelancing.com. One of the great things about books and courses and things is that you can stand on the shoulders of giants and learn from people without necessarily making the same mistakes. You’re going to make mistakes, but why not shortcut the journey. There’s never been a better time to teach and to learN and to leverage the experience of others.
Well where can people find out more about you, Carrie? Where do you want to send them?
Carrie Dils: Carriedils.com. That is the hub of all of my various hats and adventures. And then on Twitter @CDils.
Chris Badgett: @CDils. All right. Well thank you for coming on the show, and I appreciate you sharing the wisdom and being an inspiration to all of us out here.
Carrie Dils: Thanks so much for having me.

EPISODE 127

The Current State of Online Education and the Engagement Opportunity with Mike Weiss

Chris Badgett of LifterLMS talks about the current state of online education and the engagement opportunity with Mike Weiss in this episode of LMScast. Mike is from the Client Engagement Academy, and he is a professional in online course and platform creation. They discuss the problems with eLearning in the online course landscape and how to solve them.

Online courses have an extremely low completion rate, because the mindset behind the people who buy them is to extract information rather than to complete the course. Mike explains that this creates a bookstore mentality, and students don’t care to finish the course. Mike shares ideas and tips that can help you increase your completion rate, receive better feedback, and ultimately sell more courses.

Mike offers advice on how to add value to your courses by using digital badges. The digital badge has grown in popularity lately. Chris and Mike discuss the value of the digital badge, and how that can help bring students into the course with the end in mind. This will help with completion rates, because it provides incentive to finish the course. The digital badge also provides a level of tangibility to the online course community.

Employers are starting to implement online courses into the job training process, and in some cases to the application process. Online badges serve as a new way of setting standards for industries that do not have many standards. It is currently difficult to prove that someone is skilled in social media marketing or email marketing. Digital badges provide a great way to prove the trainings that one has been through.

Mike believes it is essential to understand your company’s data and what all of the numbers and logistics mean. Measuring the velocity at which your students are completing course material is also necessary to improve your course completion rate. Having frequent tests and quizzes can help determine the speed of completion and help gather feedback necessary to improve your course. Knowing your course’s data will also help you motivate people who take your course.

People have all different types of learning styles, so Mike believes that you should cater to the people in your online course that want to open the floodgates and take on all of the content at once. But it is also important to know that some people will get overwhelmed by that, so having options within your course about the speed at which content is provided is important.

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

Chris Badgett: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. My name is Chris Badgett, and I’m joined today with a special guest. Today we have Mike Weiss from Client Engagement Academy, and Mike is a real expert in online course creation, platform creation, instructional design. And really if I had to pick just one area in all of that, it has to do with an obsession with engagement and really pushing the industry forward in terms of increasing course completion. We’re going to get into that, and we’re going to get into kind of some of the problems out there in the eLearning, in the online course, or the digital learning landscape. First, Mike, thanks for coming on the show.

Mike Weiss: Yeah, thanks for having me. I’m looking forward to spending some time with you and your audience. I’ve been watching you in the space, and it’s amazing to see your dedication and commitment to excellence, and so both for the educator and the student. I love that.

Chris Badgett: Thanks, Mike. One of the things that I really … I think I heard a statistic from you in a presentation in the Devin Slavin’s Course Creation Summit, which I think I’ve borrowed and been using, and I’m really happy to give you credit publicly, and also I heard in our earlier conversation you rolling off even more statistics that I’m likely going to borrow in the future, just with more detail. But one of the things you’ve really worked on is increasing engagement, and I have some other podcast episodes, way old ones, about the dirty little secret of membership sites, and that dirty little secret is that sometimes people buy stuff they don’t finish or don’t use. And I heard somewhere from you that there was like a 10% industry average completion rate, and I thought we could start there and kind of look at the problem.

Let’s start with some statistics. What are some of the either recently, or that you know about in the different types of eLearning, what are some statistics around course completion?

Mike Weiss: Yeah. Some of these you can find online fairly easily, like for instance, like I have some broad categories. There’s the personal development space, which I’ll share my personal experience from that space, and having spent many years in that space, and dealt with as an educator with customers, I knew what my numbers were, and I knew what some of the peer numbers were. That’s the personal development space, and then there’s the business opportunity space. That’s really anybody that’s looking to take a course, to improve their life in some way, shape, or form in business or hobbies or those type of things. Then there’s sort of the in between, which is really hard to classify, and then if we look at some of the newer channels like the MOOCs, the Harvard, Yale, University of Pennsylvania, that data for sure is online because they have a big challenge and it just goes to show, I think, our audience that they took the best professors at those universities. I don’t know what the tuition is a year, but it’s got to be 60, 70 grand a year now. They took the best professors, took some of the best courses and put them out for free, and they get 50% of people aren’t even logging in, and their completion rates are in, say, 4% to 8% range. That’s to me really sad.
Udemy, which has 12 million students and 40,000 instructors, because they’re an aggregator of educators and an aggregator of students, I’ve heard that their number is sub 10%. Around 8% completion rates. Personal development, which is where … We peaked out before we took action was around 12%, and then the business opportunity space, that is where it’s shockingly low. In my opinion, they’re all disgustingly low, but business opportunity is at like 3%. That’s a shame. That’s what inspired me six years ago when we only had 12% of our customers. I helped start a company with John Azeroth that was a client engagement company, and so we faced this problem as educators, and then we did move the needle into the low 20% but not because of anything that I’m doing today. It was because we hired human beings, the client onboarding experience. We used automation and some accountability. Just hard work, but not from anything that really we’re doing today. Yeah, those are the numbers. When you’re an educator and you’re faced with those numbers, it makes business really tough.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. That is a huge gorilla in the room, and I’m sure that in person classrooms or in person schools at all levels have a much higher completion rate, so there’s this challenge of the learn at home situation. I mean, the same thing I think happens when people buy books that they don’t finish, or other kinds of information products of whatever variety. In my opinion, some of that comes from the content. Maybe it’s not that engaging, or perhaps someone feels like, “Oh, I was sold this, but once I got behind the paywall, I’m not really feeling it. I’m not seeing the value, or I’m not seeing results fast enough.” What do you think underlies … Like, what are some of the key problems behind these low rates? You mentioned onboarding, and you know, engagement. Trying to hook people back in, encourage them to come back. What else is going on under the hood?
Mike Weiss: Well, that’s a great question. There’s a philosophical answer that will be general, and then I can get into more specifics. What you hit on is absolutely true. If I … Let’s take an example. If I’m interested in learning about socially conscious business, and I’m at an employer and I’m looking to change jobs, and I want to make a difference work-wise, but I also want to work for a company that’s socially conscious, so it would behoove me to learn about it before my interview. The traditional way is go to a bookstore. I guess people don’t go to bookstores that much anymore, but go online and shop. You buy three or four books on socially conscious business. You read some chapters here, there, ba ba ba ba ba, and then like you said, a lot of that stuff ends up on the shelf. It gets shelved.
That, to me, is where the online education industry is. There’s a clear line in the sand between online education and traditional brick and mortar education. Traditional brick and mortar education, when you enter in to high school, you’re going to graduate and you’re going to graduate because without that, you’re not getting into college. When you go to college, you go to college because you’re going to graduate, because you’re going to get a better job than if you didn’t go to college. MBA, doctor, lawyer, any other more advanced education, you go with one thing in mind, and that’s to graduate. The mentality of that student is completely different, because in their own selfish right they’re going into something with an end in mind because they want to then get the benefit of that ton of money invested.
If you really want to break down 500 years of education even more to its core, it comes back to the same concept of basically any investment we make in life, and that is if we can’t get a mathematical return, then the investment generally is going to fail. People don’t like to look at education that way, but my background in 29 years in the financial business and a spreadsheet guy, I look at a lot of opportunities like that. Then people say to me, “Well, look, doctors … That’s not been the case for doctors, because they want to save lives.” I’m like, “That’s bull crap, because if you think about what a doctor goes through, they go through college, and then they go through doctor school, and then they go through a few years of additional training, so the bottom line is, their education today, not only is it 10 to 12 years, but it could be close to a half a million dollars. Now, if they weren’t paid more because they were a doctor and they were just making $75,000 a year, the entire system would fail because no one’s going to spend 10 or 12 years and be in debt a half a million if you can’t make a return on your investment.”
It all comes down to this magic formula. Now, if we take that and we say, “Okay, let’s look at the online education world,” well, online education world is no better than a bookstore, as you mentioned. I don’t even know if you were actually thinking about it this way, but all the online courses out there, they’re bookstores with books. When people are buying these courses online, they have no real intention of finishing them like they would if they entered into a course that was in high school, college, or it was a prerequisite for them to get something, because that mindset is, “I’m going in with a beginning and end. I’m going to finish.” Where was the transition from, “Okay, online world is like just books,” which by the way is part of the reason why the graduation rates are so poor, because I don’t even think people are still focused on that, and where has it now changed?
For me, what caused me to pivot my entire business and go from being an expert in online marketing to basically shutting down that entire business and building my own platform is because of what Mozilla did with the Digital Badge. They recognize … They’re a global brand, so they can affect the world, and they realize I think a lot of what I just shared is that, “Okay, it’s a broken industry. What’s missing, and what can we help with?” That’s the magic, to me, of the Digital Badge, because for the first time now, an educator has an open source architecture, a way, a methodology, a tool that they can easily say, “Okay, my course is 10 modules, and you’re going to start, and at the end you’re going to be able to get a diploma and a Digital Badge.” Now, that methodology, which wasn’t available three or four or five or 10 years ago, now creates this new opportunity to actually shift the mindset of your students as they come into your course.
To me, there’s a lot of secret sauce that I put into building, because we consult, design, build, and host our platforms for our customers. I’m going to go through some of those. Those are more strategic, but the entire thing comes back to mindset, and if you can adjust people’s mindset prior to them coming in, saying, “Look, I’m up for a student outcome. That’s why I want you to buy my course. If you just want to buy it and shelve it, I’m not going to stop you, but I’ve designed this with one purpose in mind. That’s you want an outcome, and we designed it to get an outcome. How? Ba ba ba ba bum, and by the way, at the end you get a Digital Badge.” That Digital Badge becomes they way to get their return on their investment, you know? How so? Because it’s a way for them to show that they’ve actually made that investment in themselves and they accomplished something and they attained some level of specialized knowledge.
I know I spoke for a long time. I just want to just tie the bow tie on that example of that socially conscious person, that socially conscious business person. Now, the next woman is at a company, and she wants to change companies and go work for a socially conscious business company, so instead of buying books, she finds two courses online. They’re expensive. They’re a grand each, on socially conscious business, and they deploy Digital Badges, and they’re focused on student outcomes, so she makes the investment herself and spends a grand and a grand, and five weeks, and 10 weeks, and now when they both walk into the interview of the company, the one guy says, “Hey, I learned a lot about socially conscious business. I know your company is. I want the job.” He’s like, well the interviewer says, “Well, what do you know?” He says, “I bought this book, that book, this book, that book.” He’s like, “Oh, okay. Great.”
Next, the woman comes in, sits down, and he says, “You know, we’re a socially conscious business. What do you know about it?” She says, “With your permission, can I come over on your side of the desk?” The entire relationship has shifted, and she says, “Well, just pull up my LinkedIn.” She pulls up her LinkedIn, and, “You see this course and that badge? You see this course and this badge?” The guy’s like, “Yeah, that and a quarter will get you a telephone call.” She’s like, “No, no, no. Click the badge.” This is what I think Mozilla’s done that … This is the beginning of a trend that’s going to shake online education globally. It’s doing it already, but in a very beginning phase. The guy clicks it, and it instantaneously takes him back to the educator’s site, and it’s her encrypted portfolio, and it says, “Congratulations. This is the date. This is when she passed,” and it talks about all the criteria of the course, so the person can actually see, “Oh, it was 10 hours. 15 videos. Quizzes. Final exams. Blah blah blah blah blah.” Then it talks about her new skillset, and she’s like, “Now click the next one.” Then once again, boom, more stuff.
This person walks out of that interview with a completely different relationship to the chance to get that job, and the reason why is because she has a way to get a return on her investment. That is now quantifiable, and you know what? She is going to get the job. This to me, like your question was an amazing question. There’s a lot of things that we do strategically, but this concept is so big that this is the one I try to convey to my customers, is that we’ve got to get on board with this and everything else will come together. Does that make sense?
Chris Badgett: That makes total sense. That’s really cool, and I’ve often thought about this issue of jobs, education on the path to job or career, and how when we live in a world with increased uncertainty, I actually see a huge opportunity for employers to say … To put together like a course or some kind of learning track for certain position or the HR department, whereas like for example, I run a web agency, and I almost never ask people where they went to school. I actually care about what they’ve done and things about their personality, and how they interact with clients and things like that. If I wanted to build a … I could actually piece together, like, what I believe is the perfect set of skills required to be a perfect fit for that role, but I might, as an employer, I may have a very different story to tell than what that person might hear if they go to their community college or university. Like, “This is actually what I want and I will pay you however much money, salary, and benefits, and all this stuff, if you have this skillset which is diverse.”
I just see the job market shifting that way as the world becomes more uncertain, as there’s more automation. The skills required and the fluidity that businesses and economies change, it’s really hard for a traditional education system to keep up. It doesn’t mean it’s not necessary, but it’s a funny situation where one of my biggest complains is, as an employer, and a lot of employers will say this, like, it’s hard to find good people. And what a lot of great people say is it’s hard to find good jobs. Well, what connects those things? Learning. Learning connects those things. It just needs to be the right kind of learning.
I was reading an article recently on some kind of e-learning news site and it was trends for 2017, and one of those was the rise of accreditation and certification through badges or certificates and whatnot, but what’s going to end up happening according to this article is that people will start creating their own certificates that aren’t necessarily like … They might be kind of unique. Like, I may say, like, “Okay, if you go through all this training, which may seem random on the surface, all these different skillsets, you’re going to be a perfect fit for my company, or this kind of job.”
Mike Weiss: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, but go ahead.
Mike Weiss: Yeah. What you’re saying is so true. Like, I have a … One of my clients, he’s created a likeability course. You know when you’re hiring that, like … You’ve probably never heard of a likeability course. I never heard of it. The guy is just an awesome guy. When he told me about it, I was like, “That’s strange.” But people were very self-conscious about how likable they are, and they become maybe introvert because they don’t feel like if they are themselves, they’re going to be liked. If you’re an employer and you have, like, your project management people, they need to be likable, because they have to relate to your customers, where maybe the programmers don’t.
If you knew, like, you were going to scale and say, “Okay, I need 20 project managers, and these are the skillsets that I know that I need, because it’s the winning formula,” you could actually reach out and say, “Okay,” to this client, the likeability course, you can find four or five courses in their four or five disciplines that you know they needed, and you could actually say to them, like, “I want to put together an internal training. I’ll pay you per seat. Can I have your course and put it as part of our internal training?” Then you could actually have people go through it before you actually even gave them the job, and said, “Look, this is my requirement to become an applicant. I’ll pay for the training, so even if you don’t end up working here, you’re going to be much better off, but this is a prerequisite even before you come into the application process.”
The application for what you’re describing and for what we can do now is just as much as you can imagine, we can create, and specialized knowledge is what’s going to differentiate people as we move through the process, you know? This is great for a company looking to hire people. One of my customers is a digital marketer, and I consulted, coded, designed, built, launched, and hosted all nine of their certification programs for them, and some of those folks are doing it just to improve their own knowledge so they can be better at digital marketing, and some of them are newbies that are going through each of the certifications, and deep, deep, deep, and then going out and practicing, getting certified, and then creating at-home businesses. Those Digital Badges become their marker, where for the first time now they’ve got social proof that they at least meet a standard in an industry.
Digital marketing, you know, you don’t go to college for Facebook advertising, so how do you tell if someone’s good at Facebook advertising or not, or blog creation, or email marketing? All the core areas. There’s no standard, and so now there’s a way for kind of like digital marketers to create their standard.
I will share with you that in every industry there’s the “pooh-poohers,” right? The pooh-poohers are saying, “Well, anybody can create a Digital Badge, so that Digital Badge carries any weight. Because Harvard’s badge has been around for a long time, Harvard’s badge carries weight. It’s an association that approves coursework, so it’s accredited for a college credit, then stamps all courses in colleges because they went through the association as a college accredited. That makes them great.” Well, the bottom line is what makes a course great is if a student gets an outcome, and in my opinion, because of the outcome, they can change the directory of their life. Who’s to say a Digital Badge is good or bad, or it doesn’t carry weight? The bottom line is that it’s going to prove itself, right?
That’s, like, Digital Marketer. I love Ryan Deiss and Richard Lindner and those guys, and they’ve been great to work with, but at the end of the day, I don’t think they imagined how powerful the program would be because they didn’t truly understand the power of Digital Badges. Not that I did either. I knew that they were powerful, but now we’re seeing firsthand how they just shift the relationship of, “Okay, there’s a beginning and there’s an end, so I’m coming in with the expectation to finish,” and also how to connect those dots for people so they can actually have a live digital report card, which is there and available for them to get a return on their investment for the rest of their career. It’s totally cool stuff.
Chris Badgett: That is really cool. What Mike’s doing here, is he’s really elevating the conversation and what we see in the landscape. Information products like online courses is not just about taking book content or just some blog posts and like packaging it in a membership site and calling it an online course, which has higher perceived value. It’s about, like, creating real outcomes for people, and that’s the difference between the ones that work and the ones that don’t. The best marketing is a good product, and if somebody goes through a …
Mike Weiss: Great quote.
Chris Badgett: Do you know who … I’ll give credit. I don’t know where that came from, but that is a …
Mike Weiss:Great quote.
Chris Badgett: It is a good one, and as somebody goes through a course, whether it was made by the company that was offering the job, or let’s say an entrepreneur saw an opportunity, like, “Hey, I work at Google and I noticed that these five people, you know, are not like everybody else, or they’re not pedigree, but they still got in here. How did that happen?” And then he talks to them, figures out, “Oh, this is actually the magic formula to kind of self-style, get a job at Google,” or wherever. You can create, like, training content around that, and then over time if it works, other people are going to take off. Google might endorse it, be like, “Keep doing what you’re doing, because you’re sending great people through your certification program.” These are the things that happen when real results happen, which only makes the platform, the online course, the training even stronger.
Mike Weiss: Totally. Yeah. I know, like, we were supposed to spend more time together, but you and I when we had our scheduled call, we got in such a deep conversation before we actually went live. We sucked up a lot of time, which is great, because it was really deep, and awesome, and juicy. I do want to make sure that we at least cover some of those other additional engagement topics that I think are important, along with the Digital Badge. I think, Chris, this is … We’re really getting to know each other now, so we’re going to have an opportunity to do a bunch more of these together. I love your passion and what you’re doing, and how you’ve created the opportunity for all folks that have specialized knowledge to go out and create a product and give it out to the world.
I know we both believe that education is part of the solution to, you know, helping this world heal and move into a better place, so I think we’re going to end up having a lot of conversations like this. How much time do we have left? Let me just gauge it. I want to go through those, so, yeah.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. Let’s do a lightning round on that, and then we’ll plant some seeds of what … We’ll do some more of these, and tell people where to go in the meantime.
Mike Weiss: Yeah, perfect. The things that I speak about, and some of these are proven, meaning that you can go on Google and look them up, not that that means that they’re proven now. Some of them are just the ones that we know that work. I’ll share that for us, at Client Engagement Academy, we consult, we design, we build, and we host, and because we’re in the business of hosting, I’m looking at real data all the time. When I talk about what’s working, what’s not, it’s because we have a lot of companies that we’re managing their sites from. We’re seeing, and we’re constantly making incremental improvements for all of our customers and sites, based on their customers’ feedback.
If there’s one that I will harp on that I think is ultra-important, it’s being able to understand your data. When we say, “Okay, Mike, what is going to make us more successful with increasing those completion rates from 3%, 5%, 10%, 12%, to 20% or even 30%, that would be a 200% or 300% increase. I’ll share this. I can share it because I spoke at Traffic and Conversion, and last year I did a case study, so the completion rates were on average around 40% for a digital marketer. That number is just, it’s outrageous how high that number is, because those certification programs, it’s not like a course. We’re not comparing a Udemy course at 8% to 40%, because those certifications are intense, there’s a lot of content, there’s quizzes. The final is a 66 question final. Like, you’ve got to know your stuff to complete. If it was, like, a fluffy course, I’m sure it would be at 60% or 70%. What we’re doing is working, and so the things that we’re putting in along with Digital Badges, which to me is, for every traditional course you have to have that. That’s one. We have to have quizzes and certifications.
All these things, you can just go on Google and look, and look up “Adult education, quizzes, certifications, do they work?” And the answer is yes. Adults like to be quizzed, and they like the challenge. It helps boost confidence and engagement as well. If they know that there’s a quiz that’s coming at the end of a lesson, they need to pass it to go on to the next lesson, then that helps all areas of that. A lot of this stuff also, we have to thank the online universities, which is one thing that we didn’t talk about today, but they sucked wind when they first invented themselves, because they didn’t figure out how to engage people online, and they had high failure rates, and a lot of them went out of business. That is a lot of them that are very successful because they’re sort of crossing over between the traditional brick and mortar and the online world, and then there’s studies that they put out now. The quizzing is stuff that comes from the online universities. Like, if they don’t graduate people, they’ve got to go out of business, which is a lot harsher reality than, say, an online educator. A lot of this stuff comes from that.
It’s certification and quizzes. Reporting is crucial. Like, you’ve got to know your data. For what we do, we know exactly where every single student is at any specific point in time, which allows us to measure the velocity of the students going through the course, the average number of days it takes from lesson to lesson, where we’re looking at the quizzes they’re getting, the comprehension scores. We’re looking at engagement on the videos, drop-off rates, so we’re looking at … There’s so … Activity into the site. I don’t know. There’s like 40 different sort of topics that we can look at data on, but that’s imperative, because you have to make adjustments. That’s where, when you talk about another facet of gamification, or I call it “prizification” comes in, it’s like, we know that works. You just can’t randomly add gamification, because it’s going to have no effect. Where would you put gamification in? The place where people are getting stuck. They could be getting stuck just because that’s where everyone naturally gets tired in a course, which is in the second week. Gamify it. But unless you know your data, it’s pretty hard to figure out where to help motivate people.
Quizzes, reporting, gamification. This one’s a big one as a client pathway: Algorithms. I’ll just spend a really quick second on this. Back in the day, before learning management systems, when someone bought a course, you sent an email with 10 links to 10 modules. We were like, “Whoa, that’s bad, because they can just forward the email and everyone gets our content.” Then they said, “Oh, let’s put it behind a login,” so they did that. Then it was like, “Oh, the first membership site.” Then someone said, “Oh, that’s bad, because when they log in, they’re getting all 12 lessons from once. It’s like drinking out of a fire hose.” This is funny stuff now, right? “It’s like a fire hose. It’s going to overwhelm them. They’re going to get stuck.” True.
So then the next genius, which I think is ingenious, it was one of the worst things that people moved in a trend to, was locking down the content. Someone said, “Oh, this is a good idea,” without thinking through it. That, “Let’s … 10 modules over 10 weeks, and that’s our prescription, and they have to go week by week. If we restrain them, they’ll get a chance to digest. They’ll get through it. We won’t overwhelm them, and we’ll do something that’s good.” Bad. Worst. Terrible decision, because 25% of your customers are going to be type A people like me that act fast, talk quick, and if I see something that I want, and I buy it, if you drip it out, by the second week that you torture me, I’m out. You literally, if you say, “How is it only 12% completion rates?” Well, take 25% of the people off the board if you’re just purely dripping content, because you’ll torture them and they will not complete it, right?
You need to have a dual client pathway where you’re going to be able to control the experience through and also get people to go through as quickly as possible, not randomly jumping around, in your pathway, as long as they’re comprehending. That means they can take 10 modules and do them in two days, as long as they’re passing each one, which is the gateway to open up the next. It’s getting to figure out how to focus on that pathway.
What else? LMS course structure, that’s your bailiwick, so that to me is critical. Like, you know, if someone can’t figure out where they were, where they are, where they need to go within five seconds of logging in, you lost them. It’s got to be intuitive, for the student we’re talking about. Most all people stink at technology, so the LMS is critical. Your program is an awesome program. You come from being an educator, a technologist. An evolution of, you know, you just keep getting better and better, is driven by the customer’s experience. That’s critically important, is a great solution like yours. And then responsive design. It seems weird that we’re even talking about this, Chris. It’s 2017, but, you know, there’s so many online education platforms that are not responsive. It’s just old technology that’s antiquated, and if you’re … I don’t have my phone, but if your course doesn’t play on any device, any which way you turn it, anywhere in the world at any time, you’re toast. Now we’re up to almost like 60% of video being consumed on mobile devices. If you don’t play well on a mobile device, you’re toast.
Also, there’s a study out there- people can look it up on Google- that I think 60% of the LMSes will be replaced over the next 24 months, because the lifestyle of the LMS architecture of that software just in the last five years has gotten antiquated. Even people that were, like, early on when LMS and have had them, and are using the ones back from three or four years ago, they’ve got to be replaced. The product replacement cycle is driving right now, like, I think it’s a billion dollars or plus, into new investment of the new architecture and software like yours. That’s critical, and then of course Digital Badges. Those are the ones, boom boom boom boom boom. There’s a lot more, but that’s what we got.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Well, Mike Weiss, ladies and gentlemen, Client Engagement Academy. Mike also has a course out where he’s taking his best knowledge that a lot of his high paying clients use, and he’s publishing that for you to get some of his best strategies. That’s called E-Learning Engagement and Profit Mastery, so go check that out, and before we sign off here, Mike, is there anywhere else you want to point people to find out more about you and what you’re up to? And of course, if you’re listening and you enjoyed this, Mike’s going to come back on the show and we’re going to do this more, so thanks for coming on the show, Mike.
Mike Weiss: Yeah. Client Engagement Academy is the website, but somewhere on the page if you’ll put a link, the course is basically a super deep dive of everything that we’ve spoke about today and more. It’s outrageous. It’s for people that are just thinking about creating a course, because this is stuff you need to know prior to creating it. It’s for people that have courses, and then people that are doing really big business with courses. It kind of fits the entire gamut. There will be a link for that. We also actually have a free course, like a mini little free course as well. We have just a ton of content, and we’re going to continue to put it out. Client Engagement Academy, we’ll put the link below, is the best place to find me.
Chris Badgett: Awesome. Well, thank you for coming on the show, Mike.
Mike Weiss: Awesome. Thanks for having me.

EPISODE 126

How to Build a Strong Brand and Design for Your Learning Platform with Bourn Creative’s Jennifer Bourn

Welcome to LMScast! In this episode Chris Badgett of LifterLMS talks about how to build a strong brand and design for your learning platform with Bourn Creative’s Jennifer Bourn. Jennifer is an online course creator, platform builder, and education entrepreneur.

Jennifer talks about truly defining your company’s purpose, values, and personality. This will help shape your company. She also highlights the importance of putting the ‘why’ into your business. People will connect with a story that resonates with them. She talks about how brand promotion and providing clarity will help customers get excited about your product.

Chris and Jennifer discuss how finding a niche will help your business thrive. It is better to have a small target audience that is fired up than to have a larger audience that isn’t very connected to your course material. They talk about finding something that isn’t being provided yet or finding a unique twist on the topic. Jennifer believes that it is generally advantageous to market to a small crowd that will be raving about your product.

People most likely already have preconceived notions about what you do. This makes it very important to be as clear as you can be when telling someone about your business. Jennifer talks about some of the hesitations that clients can have, and why clear communication will help to get people on board.

Chris and Jennifer break down the steps course creators can use in order to create a brand with a solid design. They believe it is beneficial to outsource tasks for your color palette, your logo, and your brand style guide. They cover the importance of investing in a good design. Chris brings up course templates and the value you can leverage from them.

Jennifer talks about how you should focus more on your customer experience and interaction than you should on a logo. Don’t let an imperfect design stop you from going to market. They discuss creating validation for your course by test piloting it. A test pilot can help you get a feel for the demand for your course in the marketplace, and it is also an unintimidating way to get started.

Letting people know you exist is a vital part of the sale, so promotion is key. Jennifer talks about getting outside and going to networking events and conferences. A big part of promotion is clarity – a sense of knowing who you are as a business, what you do, and why you’re different.

You can learn more about Jennifer Bourn at Bourn Creative, or Inspired Imperfection. She is Jennifer Bourn on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

Thank you for joining us on this week’s LMScast! You can post comments and subscribe to our newsletter for updates, developments, and future episodes of LMScast.

Chris Badgett: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. My name is Chris Badgett, and today I have a special guest, Jennifer Bourn, from Bourn Creative and Inspired Imperfection. Is that right?

Jennifer Bourn: Yep.

Chris Badgett: Today we’re going to get into talking about design and branding for the online course creator, the platform builder, the education entrepreneur who is looking to grow in those areas, and Jennifer is an expert in that. I’ve learned so much from watching her and learning from her, but first, Jennifer, thank you for coming on the show.

Jennifer Bourn: Thanks for inviting me.

Chris Badgett: Let’s get right into it and just kind of get the lay of the land. Sometimes we think we know what things mean but it’s often important to pay attention to the words and what they mean to different people. For you, what is design, and what is branding? I know that’s probably a big question, but how do you get started having a conversation around those words?

Jennifer Bourn: I think it feels like it’s a lot bigger than it really is. A lot of people will say design is solving problems, but I think it goes a little bit deeper, in that design is identifying what the problem is and then figuring out a solution to solve that problem. You can really lead design in the wrong direction or almost the right direction, but just a little bit off, if you think you are solving for one problem, but the problem is actually something different. For me the design process starts with really figuring out what the actual problem is the client is having. It may be something a lot deeper than what they think it is. Actually peeling back the layers of that onion to figure out the actual problem, coming up with the solution to solve it, but doing so in a way that doesn’t just work, but works beautifully.

Chris Badgett: That’s awesome.

Jennifer Bourn: Thanks! Branding, that one confuses everybody. There are all different kinds of descriptions for it. If we look at the core word a brand is a noun. It’s a thing, it’s your reputation on the market, it’s how you’re known, it’s how you’re perceived, it’s what kind of experiences people have with you. It’s your reputation, it’s a thing. Once you add the “ing” it becomes a verb, then it’s something you do. Branding is the strategy and all the actions that go into building your reputation. That’s the easiest way to think about it.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. A lot of people who listen to this show are trying to teach online, either get into it or get better at it. They’re already doing it. At what point, you mentioned you start by figuring out, “well what is the problem we’re trying to solve here”? How much of design and branding isn’t just focused on the web property but focused off the screen? Design and branding is what people do, it’s who they are, it’s not just what goes into the website. How does someone, if they want to improve their design, or at least come up with a design concept and understand their brand where do they start?
Jennifer Bourn: There are five core steps to building a really strong, solid brand. It’s brand definition, so it’s defining your purpose, your values, your mission, your voice, your personality. It’s brand positioning, it’s where you are different from others, what kind of results you get, the benefits. Who your ideal client is, all of those things. How you’re positioned in the market. Then it’s the communication, it’s how you talk about what you do. It’s your brand message and the vocabulary and the phrases that you use that are uniquely yours. When someone hears, “Remembered, respected, referred”, or “Hire, buy, and learn”, they know that’s Jennifer. This is clearly hers, these are things I’ve said over and over and over for years they become part of your brand vocabulary.
The fourth step is brand recreation, and that’s where design comes into play. That’s where actually creating the brand comes in. The fifth is brand promotion. Most people get really, really excited about an idea, or they get really excited about their business and they go straight to step four, they go straight to creation, because it’s the fun and sexy part. It’s the make it pretty part. It’s the part where something actually exists and you can show people and say, “see this is what I’m creating, this is what I’m building this is my business”. It’s the fun part. When you skip right to that part, and you go straight to design, reaching the level of success that you want or your ultimate goal is going to be a lot harder than it would be if you started at step one and you defined the brand. You get the positioning right, you figure out your voice and then you start creating. If you skip all of those, you’re going to struggle and it’s going to be hard and eventually you’re going to have to loop back to the beginning and you’re going to have to do it anyway.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Let’s make it a little more tactical and get into a hypothetical example. I know that we both share a love of cooking and let’s say that I wanted to create a cooking course but it’s definitely my style, I want to create a brand around that. I want to have my own design and flavor so it’s not just some generic how to cook on the internet. How would I start with the defining? In the first step one.
Jennifer Bourn: The very first step is you have to figure out why you’re creating that cooking course. What’s missing in the market that isn’t being served or where is that gap that you can fill? What isn’t working for you that other people are doing. What do you wish that that were. You can look at why you’re doing that and what place it’s place in the market you can fill. Looking at the mission, what’s your goal, what kind of change do you want to see happen, or what kind of effect do you want to have happen in the community place or amongst your audience form you starting this course. What are they going to learn, how are their lives going to be different, how is this going to help their family, how is this going to reduce stress, whatever it is. It’s getting really clear on the purpose and why it exists in the first place. The goals that you have, the change that you want to create, the mission that you have. It’s getting really clear on the reasoning behind this existing.
People, they don’t really care a whole lot about what you’re doing, until they really know why. They can connect with a story that resonates with them. That’s the very first step, is just getting really clear and defining those values, the mission, the purpose. Then looking at the audience that you’re trying to serve. Positioning it in the market who you serve, what you do, how you’re different, the results that you are going to help them get. That’s really key, a confused mind, isn’t going to buy. Somebody who is confused about what you’re doing, what you’re offering, what you’re selling, what they’re going to get. They’re not going to spend any money because they’re not quite sure. People need clarity about exactly what you do, who you’re a great fit for and how you’re going to help them. What they’re going to get out of it.
If you don’t have that clarity, they’re not going to have that clarity. The very first step is being really clear.
Chris Badgett: Let me just add to that, if we’re, for example, my wife is a big organic farmer, we’re very much involved in the organic food thing.
Jennifer Bourn: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: Healthy cooking, whole foods, making our own stuff, making sauerkraut, whatever. We have the same struggles that a lot of families have, which is, I’m really short on time but I love to cook. It’s super relaxing for me, I work in the digital world mostly and I love to get in the kitchen, have kids playing, friends over, whatever. For me it’s a source of relaxation. I love trying new recipes, experimenting with different things and I also care a lot about my kids health. I want them to be energized and have an adventurous palate. Healthy food that people want to come over and hang out and enjoy a good time. I want to do all that without spending too much time and also without breaking the bank. I can see what you’re seeing in terms of defining why I like to do it. That’s maybe a place to start kind of getting into my brand or my design for an online cooking course.
Jennifer Bourn: When you try to just target everybody, when you think, “Oh, my product course is going to be great for everybody, everybody could learn this.” I’m glad that you’re excited about what you do and you believe that, but to really be successful you’ve got to be speaking to a specific person because then they feel, “Oh, you get me, you understand me, you know me, this is for me I’m really excited.” That’s how you build those raving fans that are going to share your material and share your course and become a brand ambassador for you. You can’t do that when you’re really general with your marketing or with your message. By looking at why you’re doing it and the purpose behind that, more than likely your ideal audience, the perfect people that are going to be a great fit for buying your course or reading your blog, they’re probably going to be a lot like you.
They probably have the same wishes that you have. They’re going to be people who also are busy and working but they care about the health of their family and they want to be able to make more home cooked meals. Spend less because they’re eating out too much, but they don’t want it to be hard. You look at a lot of the things that go into your why and your purpose for creating your course. You want to find those people that have that same struggle. That’s when you find in the community part of building your brand. When you’re writing your story, you’re telling your story, you’re crafting your marketing message. You’ve gone from point A to point B. You had a problem or a struggle and you learned how to solve it, and now you have expertise in that area. You want to teach other people how to do that.
The perfect people to buy your course are the people that were you when you were in point A. When you were just starting out, when you had the problem. Those people are the people you can serve with your eyes closed and your hands tied behind your back. They’re the people who are the easiest to turn in to raving fans because they have the same problem you did. They want to achieve the same results, and you’ve been there and done that and can guide them along the way.
Chris Badgett: That’s a really good point, and just to think tangentially to a different market. I remember when I was in college somebody gave me a cookbook called “A Man, a Can, a Plan” and it was less than five ingredients, there were cans involved, and it was good.
Jennifer Bourn: Nice.
Chris Badgett: That’s a different demographic, that’s totally different than what I’m talking about now. At that point in time something like that was helpful, so that’s cool. How if I have a cooking course, would I position it? In terms of, what does positioning mean to the online course creator in terms of branding and that sort of thing?
Jennifer Bourn: Positioning is really all about finding your spot in the market. Finding a different voice than what’s already out there. Something that’s unique to you, and a unique value delivery. Take food network, and I was actually just reading an article about some of the brands on food network the other day so this is pretty timely. We look at Sandra Lee, she has this show called “Semi-Homemade Cooking”. That’s a niche in the market that nobody was serving but it’s something that’s very different. A lot of her recipes use pre-done, prepackaged things and then it’s a combination of those plus some home cooking. It’s kind of home cooking, but it’s fast and it’s easy, and you can buys stuff right off the shelf.
That’s a niche in that food market that wasn’t being served at the time. Now it’s not for everybody, a lot of people are like, “Really? You’re buying this and it’s already done and you’re just tweaking it a little bit?” They’re not her audience, but she’s built this giant following of people because it fits them and where they are in their life. Those aren’t the people that are going to the organic farmers market. Those aren’t the people that are really focused on eating super healthy, because totally different audience, totally different show. We look at how they position shows, because those are basically courses, but they’re just on TV instead.
It’s finding something that isn’t being provided yet, or finding just a new twist on that that’s unique and different. It’s all about finding a gap in the market, that you can serve that somebody else isn’t serving yet or doing so in a new way.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. What was the next step? Was it words?
Jennifer Bourn: Communication.
Chris Badgett: How would that work for this hypothetical, busy, entrepreneur, loves to cook, stress relief, has fun, gets kids involved, kind of course we’re talking about here?
Jennifer Bourn: The hardest part of building any brand I think is the communication. It’s finding the voice and figuring out how to talk about what you do in a way that resonates with other people. It’s the hardest thing for people. It’s why when people are writing their website content the about page is the last one they do and they struggle, and struggle, and struggle, and ultimate probably ask somebody else to help them with it. People have a hard time talking about themselves and about their expertise and they have a really hard time answering the question, “So what do you do?” It stresses everybody out.
Chris Badgett: Why is that?
Jennifer Bourn: I think people have made this huge deal about elevator pitches and talking about what you do, and all this stuff. That you need to come up with something amazing to say. People will ask, what do you do? If I just said, “I do graphic design.” They immediately jump to preconceived notions of what that is, “Oh, I have a friend that does that, I already know what you do, oh my cousin does that, oh you use Photoshop, sweet.” People have preconceived notions of what you do, and trying to talk about it in an interesting, unique way that gets peoples attention and makes them want to learn more. You have to say more than “I have a food blog,” or “I teach a cooking course.” I know eighty people that do that and I love Food Network, so why do I need you, I have the TV.
Chris Badgett: Did you happen to see a cookbook that came out recently, called “Thug Kitchen”?
Jennifer Bourn: No! But that sounds awesome.
Chris Badgett: There’s profanity all through the recipes and everything. Is that an example of really stepping…
Jennifer Bourn: That is some good positioning.
Chris Badgett: Yeah.
Jennifer Bourn: That’s finding definitely a unique spot in the market, but communicating it too is all about communicating all of the things you want to say. I’m sure we’ve all been at a networking event, someone asked us what we do, or they asked us “Oh you have a course? Tell me about it.” You fumble with some answer and then walk away and later you’re like “I should have said this, or I should have said this, or I didn’t even tell them about this.”
It’s getting, one, really, really clear about your brand so you can talk about it in a really smart way that gets people excited or gets people who are the right fit interested. It’s figuring out and really communicating who your ideal client is. Who the correct audience is for your course. How you can help them. How you’re different. How this is different than anything else they’ve done before. The result that you can get for them, and not just the result, but that big benefit they receive from that result. Why that result is important, what kind of impact it’s going to have on their business, or their life or their family. It’s also looking at squashing some of the objection that people have and why they say no, or why they might say, “It’s not for me.”
Some of that is, we typically will walk our clients through a formula that has got a few different specs in there. We start out with, “I help”, or “My course helps”, and it’s the definition of your ideal client. Then we talk about what does it help them do, or achieve. That’s the big result that they’re going to get, and then we look at how it’s different from anybody else. What’s that positioning statement that makes you different, what you unique, and then what are they going to be doing as a result of achieving that. As a result of participating in your course, of taking it. When they have all that knowledge, what are they going to be able to do? Then looking at those objections, why people say no and overcoming them.
I help people do this big thing, so they can enjoy this great result, even if they think they don’t have enough time. Even if they’re already strapped for cash. Even if you’ve tried this before or you’ve taken other courses and it hasn’t worked. Even if, because you want people to listen to you talk about your course and communicate what your course about or what your brand is about. You want them to think, “Oh, that’s your ideal client? That’s me or that’s my friend”. You want them to hear that result and think, “I want that, I want to achieve that, I want that for myself.” You want to hear that big benefit and think, “Wow, my life would be amazing, or my business would be amazing if I could achieve that too.”
But then they’re thinking, but I’m busy, but I’ve heard didn’t work. I’ve invested in this and I actually had time. Even if, you’ve taken that course before and it hasn’t worked. Even if, you don’t think you have time to do any of the exercises. Even if, you’re broke, we can get this done. You want to squash those, and they think, “Oh, well I have no reason not to check this out, I have no reason not to take action.” They’re simultaneously qualifying and squashing objections in their mind while you’re talking about your brand.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. If we figure out a communication piece and we get into creation, I see a lot of either very poor design, just lacking design, or perhaps the wrong design for the wrong brand. Super corporate and polished but their brand is edgy and grungy. Just a misalignment between brand and design and sometimes I see great design too. Design is just one of those things where people know it when they see good design. Some of it they’re aware of, some of it they’re not. Let’s just assume we’re open to not being great creators of design and branding. What do we do, where do we start? As an online course creator, what’s step one? Is it a logo, is it colors? What is it?
Jennifer Bourn: The very first step is figuring out the actual brand core look and feel. It is the logo, it’s the color palette, it’s the type stack, the typography that’s going to be used. What are the headlines, the body copy, the buttons, the bulleted list. It might have icons, or PDFs, or whatever. It’s figuring out all of those individual elements. The pieces, or people will refer to it as the patterns for the design. It’s figuring out and getting really clear on exactly how the brand is going to show up in all cases. It’s always going to use these colors, always these design elements, because consistency is critical in building memory. In building space in people’s minds so they recognize your brand and they remember it from seeing it consistently over and over again. The very first step is defining those elements.
Chris Badgett: That’s cool, and my advice would be to really go get some professional help with that piece. That’s very hard to do unless you have training in a design background, an art background. It’s one thing that there’s so much that happens after that, that you might as well set yourself up for success with giving a style guide or design pattern, a professional logo. There’s different levels you can invest but at least try to get some professional help at that stage. What are your thoughts on that? Do you see the do-it-yourselfer? Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. What advice do you have on that?
Jennifer Bourn: I think there’s certain things you can DIY and certain things you can’t. Your logo, your brand style guide, your color palette, the choice of all of those things is something you should not DIY. People, they say, “They don’t judge a book by its cover.” That’s advice, it’s not a reality. People judge a book by its cover. They judge you on your design. You have a crappy design they’re going to assume your content is crappy too. If it looks DIY and homemade like a fifth grader did it, they’re going to assume that the rest of what comes after that is the same.
There are certain places you can DIY and we can talk about that, but building your foundation is not one of those. This is going to set up everything else you design. Your worksheets, your website, your handouts, your video intros. Everything is going to be based on this style guide and these initial brand elements so you want to get it right the first time. You don’t have to spend tons and tons of money on a logo. I’m going to say, this is terrible coming from the designer, but really nobody gives a shit about your logo, right? It doesn’t matter if it has an icon or if it has a cool design. It doesn’t matter if it’s just the word set really nicely in a good typeface. It doesn’t matter. You have all these designers out there that are like, “Your logo needs to communicate everything your business stands for.” Nope, nope, nope it doesn’t.
Guess what, when it’s used all by itself, it doesn’t mean anything anyway. All of the meaning and the messaging and the feeling that comes from people’s experience with your brand, it’s not going to matter if your logo has an icon or not. It’s what you say, and their experience and how they interact with you. How do you make them feel, what they learn. It’s all of the meaning, is the package of all of those things together. You don’t have to spend tons and tons of money getting this done, but you really should work with a professional who can get you something that, one, is clean, is scalable. You can use it tiny and you can use it big and it’s still legible, and that gives it to you in all the right files, so you’re not kind of screwed now on the road when someone says, “I need this in a vector EPS”, and you’re like, “I don’t think I have that,” right? You want a good foundation that allows you to do everything you’ve imagined, and not limit you down the road.
Chris Badgett: All right cool. If somebody is going to DIY, and let’s say they’ve taken a step back and invested in getting a professional design base for their logo and their style guide and typography and whatnot. Which parts can they DIY?
Jennifer Bourn: We work with a lot of clients who invest in the design, but then they also invest in templates that they can manage themselves, right? A lot of people have budget to work with the designer but they don’t have an unlimited budget, right? The places you where you can DIY, if you work with the right designer and you have clarity about what you need with your course. You can have them design the logo, setup and create that brand style guide, so you know exactly how things are going to look. Then if you can say, for my course I need, worksheets, I need these different elements, but let’s just talk about worksheets because they’re easy. We have a client that said, “Okay, I need to be able to create worksheets at three different levels of people in our programs, and I need worksheets that are just exercises, worksheets that are special that have a differentiation because they’re the end or the culmination of a section.”
What we did is, the first thing we do is find out what software you have, do you have the Adobe Creative suite? That makes my life really easy. You don’t? I have to design in Microsoft Word and that’s terrible, but I do it a lot. It’s terrible, but it’s great for our end clients. They’ve got their logo, they’ve got their whole brand style guide and now what we give them is a collection of word templates where we style the body copy, the headlines, the bulleted list. We styled all of these elements. You would style a style sheet for a website, well we can do all of that in a program like word. We can drop in the design elements in the header, in the footer, or in the background so they can just open it up. They can type in their worksheets, or they can add a transcript. They can do whatever they need to do with the content, but everything that they create uses templates that were designed by a professional.
It all still looks really good, and they’re selecting the right headline templates, the right headline styles out of the templates that we gave them. They’re not having to manually style things and then, they used the wrong font here, and they used a different one here. You picked the wrong color blue here, because it’s all built into the template they’re able to DIY the content, but a designer, a professional, designed the templates that they’re working from. That’s when you can start to DIY things. You want a professional to lay your whole foundation, to create your template so you’re consistent, and then DIY adding things into those templates if that’s something that you’re comfortable with.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Those of you listening are probably also thinking in your mind, well that’s kind of like a website. It’s got templates, if you’re doing courses you have a lesson template, a course template, sales page template. I think that’s the big mental shift to make is, if you’re going to invest in good design you can really get a lot of leverage out of templates. Then just become an expert and make sure you know the basics, so that you can then from there go create the content whether that’s on the website pages, in the earning management system. If you’re making worksheets or eBooks, or PowerPoint or keynote presentations.
I see what you mean because once you have those building blocks there’s just so much you can do, or you can outsource it to somebody else but the brand or the style is going to stay consistent. Whoever is working with you can build on top of the proper design template.
Jennifer Bourn: That way you have solutions for every budget level. We do have clients that do courses and things and we do every single worksheet. Every single slide, of every slide deck, for every thing, and it’s a lot of money. When you’re looking at sixty something worksheets, eighteen slide decks, that are sixty slides a piece, and we’re designing all of the graphics and all of the elements. We have some clients that have the budget and they care about design so much that they want everything designed beautifully. We have that level, then you have the level that’s, “Hey, I want to invest in a really good foundation. Give me a powerpoint presentation template, give me worksheet templates, give me all the base in the templates and then I’ll run with the content.” Then you have, those that are like, “Give me a style and we’ll hire a BA and do it ourselves.” We usually end up doing stuff for them later too.
The other thing to remember too is, you can always go back and upgrade your materials. Don’t let perfect, I say this and I’m the biggest hypocrite, because this is my issue. I say this to you to take my advice that I have a problem taking. Don’t let perfection in design stop you from going to market. If you have a limited budget up front, work with the designer to create your logo, your style guide, your worksheet templates. Get that content out there, and start working with people, build your audience, get some testimonials. See how things are working, where you need some tweaks. You can always loop back and say, “Wow, these worksheets have been, are absolute most popular”, or “We’ve got income form the first time we launched this course, we’re going to reinvest that into actually improving these worksheets, and having certain ones professionally designed, instead of done in Microsoft Word.”
I just look at, how can you take some of the profit that you got from your first launch to reinvest in making the course or the program even better for the next time that you sell it. So it continues to be a program that sells in an evergreen way, and people continue to want to be a part of it.
Chris Badgett: That’s a really good point. We’re big fans of that lean method of, “Okay let’s get validation, get this course to market, make sure that you really struck a nerve here.” Before you invest.
Jennifer Bourn: It’s hard.
Chris Badgett: Yeah.
Jennifer Bourn: It’s hard. I struggle.
Chris Badgett: We all do, we all do.
Jennifer Bourn: It needs to be perfect.
Chris Badgett: One of the things I tell people to do, which is kind of counterintuitive and I struggle to take this advice myself if I’m watching a course, don’t even worry about the website, or the learning management system or any of the technology. Go get three sales, and run the first version on Skype, live. That’s a way to really validate your idea. If those three people paid for it I have something here, maybe I have some fund I can start with, investing in some design and some technology. There’s definitely a problem in the online course industry of the failure to launch because, “Oh, I need design, I need this technology, I need this web developer, I need this high-end hosting account for all my traffic, and what if the site goes down, and blah, blah, blah.” That’s a really important lesson that we all need to learn about being okay with a little bit of imperfection and getting it out there.
Jennifer Bourn: Well I think we’re realizing that the full blown course doesn’t have to be step one. If we look at, I’m in the process of turning a lot of the branding content, we were talking about this, into a course. While that was my goal from day one, my day one step wasn’t Hey, I want to create a course”, it was, “I have this idea, I think it’s going to work.” I’m going to put together a little bit of content and some worksheets and host a workshop. I’m going to run through it live with some people and then see what they think, or where they got stuck, or where there were some hiccups, so that I can tweak it, and edit it, and make it better. Then I’ll video record it so then I can transcribe it and I have all that content that I can work from so I’m not starting from scratch.
You can do that with, I happen to have friends who were hosting a conference so they had me do the workshop. I got to test that content at two different occasions, hosting workshops with real people. If you don’t want to host a whole workshop you can gather, friends together, you can get people together, like you said, on Skype, or Google+ and you can run them through a lesson, and run them through those exercise and see what they think and get their feedback. You can record it, you can give people access to videos. You can say, “Hey, I’ve got a beta to test, this is module one of the course I’m creating. Who wants to take it?” and go from there. The whole giant full-blown thing doesn’t have to be the first step.
Chris Badgett: Absolutely, and for those of you out there saying I don’t have an email list so I can’t test it with a webinar, or with a beta version of the course, or I don’t have connections so I can go speak at a conference. Another thing you can do is, let’s go back to my cooking course example. I’m going to try to create a really awesome video that captures my brand and I’m going to put it on youtube. I’m going to take some time and make sure I use the right title and put a long description and tags in there. I’m going to do a little bit of effort and maybe share it on Facebook, maybe run some Facebook ads on it, $10 or something. Then I’ll come back in a week. If it has ten views on it, that’s one thing. If it has one thousand, maybe I’m starting to get somewhere. You can get validation in all kinds of different ways. In fact, it’s pretty fun to think about all the different ways you could validate a concept.
What about promotion Jennifer? That’s what comes next. So what’s that next step like?
Jennifer Bourn: The first thing is understanding that, that whole “If you build it they will come, no, they won’t.” They’re right, just because it exists doesn’t mean that anybody’s going to buy, and just because you think it’s great, doesn’t mean anybody’s going to buy it. The very first step is, nobody can give you any money if they don’t know that you exist. Your number one job as a course creator, as a website owner, as a blogger is getting people to know that you exist. That’s getting visibility for your course, or your brand, or your blog in as many different ways as possible. Ultimately you want people to say, “Wow, every time I googled this topic, I kept finding you.” That’s going to reinforce the fact that you know what you’re talking about and you’re an expert.
It’s looking at offline and online strategies, it’s looking at free and paid strategies. You’ve got to get out from behind your computer, you’ve got to go to networking events and conferences, and you’ve got to tell as many people as possible that your course exists. That your website exists and invite them to come and check it out. You’ve got to be on social media, you’ve got to be visible, you’ve got to be sharing helpful resources and writing blog posts and creating content. Participate, do a Facebook live, post videos on YouTube. You can’t assume that anything is not going to work, until you’ve tried it.
An email list isn’t an end all, be all. People launch successful sites and courses and things that don’t have an email list all the time because they’re willing to pound the pavement and get out there and do what it takes to get visibility. They’ll email that host twitter chats and ask if they can be a guest. They’ll email podcast owners, and radio hosts. Radio hosts and say, “Can I be on your show? Here’s why I think I would be a great fit for your audience. Here’s what kind of value I think I could deliver.” They reach out to people, and that’s the other key is looking at finding other influencers.
Once you know who your ideal client is, or who your ideal audience is for your course, or your blog or your show. Once you know exactly who that person is, you can find out where do they go for information? What influencers do they learn from? What influencers do they listen to? What blogs to they read? What people do they follow? You can reach out to those people and say, “Hey, I think that we have a similar audience. This is my ideal client, this is kind of who I see you audiences being, I think I have something that could deliver a lot of value to your audience.”
Maybe consider, post a webinar, do a show together, do a Facebook live together. You do something, write a guest blog post for them. You try something out to see if your content would be a great fit, and then if it is then that opens a conversation for them possibly being an affiliate down the road. But it’s looking at what the influencers and what other people compliment what you do but serve the same market. You can’t be afraid to get out there and take advantage of every opportunity that there is.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, that’s really great advice. I’ve heard it said that you really have to, especially if you’re at the beginning, you have to tooth and claw to get your first one hundred students in your course. You may get lucky or whatever, everybody out there really has to work hard to get people in the course and it’s a combination of trying to give away some free value, make some lessons for free, have some kind of awesome ebook or short video series on an object that weights into your course. I like to say, there’s really three types of marketing, there’s inbound, there’s outbound and prospecting.
Inbound just means creating content, and there’s no end to the amount of content you could create.
Jennifer Bourn: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: As blog posts, podcast episodes, you can direct mail people. There’s all kinds of things you can do. Outbound, prospecting people especially in the beginning, can be a little shy or nervous about that, but that’s okay to cold email people. Especially influencers, just be of value. I think if you did the branding right and you’re passionate about it and you have the right positioning. If it starts resonating with people and especially influencers, you’re going to get some good momentum. If it’s kind of bland and boring and not well positioned, which goes back to your earlier point that everybody wants to jump to the sexy design and color and typography conversation. In that time in the beginning, when it does become time to start marketing and pushing, your message is going to resonate or not. Which it should, it should really resonate, or not so much.
Jennifer Bourn: I think that’s the thing when you talk about reaching out to other people, joint venture partners, affiliate partners, strategic partners. If you don’t have perfect clarity, on who you serve, what you do, the results you get, why you’re different. If you don’t know those things and you can’t communicate them really well. You don’t have that clarity, they won’t have that clarity, and they’re not going to say, “Sure I’ll promote you to my list, sure let’s do a webinar together.” They’re not goin to say yes if you don’t have that clarity, they won’t have that clarity. Doing all of that initial foundational groundwork is what’s going to allow you to reach out to some of these people with confidence.
I think the other thing to remember too when it comes to promotion is, what can you do, or what can you give other people that’s going to benefit you and benefit them. It’s not just, “Hey, I think you have an audience that can serve me well, let me promote myself to them, please help me out.” You don’t create your course in a bubble, so you’re the expert, you’re the content, you’re the teacher. It’s the same with the blog or anything else. Look at, where could you possibly feature complimentary experts as part of your course so that they have a vested interest in helping you raise visibility.
If you’re launching that cooking course and you are looking at, “I really need to boost that visibility, I want as many eyes on this.” If you’ve got a specific module of your course, you’ve got a specific thing that you’re talking about. You can teach that, just like you’re planning, but then maybe add a bonus interview from a real life person whose done what you just taught. Whose implemented it with success, or has benefited from using that strategy in their business.
Maybe each part of your course, invite in an influencer, an expert who has been successful in that area to feature them as bonus training. “Here’s what we taught, here’s a real world implementation.” Then when you come to launch, the person who goes through that course is going to see that interview, is going to see that person. They’re going to gain visibility and it’s in their best interest to help you gain visibility, gain purchases, buys, whatever. It’s in their best interest for you to be successful as well because they, in turn will get more visibility.
It’s looking at, what kind of bonuses could you add, Q&A’s, interviews, things like that, that are going to feature other people, and get them vested in your success.
Chris Badgett: It’s all about the win-win. Jennifer Bourn, ladies and gentlemen, where can people find out more about you? You’ve got your agency at Bourn Creative, and you’ve got Inspired Imperfection. Where else can people find you on the interwebs?
Jennifer Bourn: I am @JenniferBourn on twitter, or @abitinspired, that’s my family blog. Inspired Imperfections is a family blog. Yeah, I’m @JenniferBourn on twitter, Facebook, Google+, all those things.
Chris Badgett: Awesome, well thank you so much for coming on the show.
Jennifer Bourn: Thanks for having me!

EPISODE 125

Kill the Course Building Chaos with Evernote Guru Charles Byrd

Chris Badgett of LifterLMS talks about how to kill the course building chaos with Evernote guru Charles Byrd in this episode of LMScast. Charles shares his story of how he became an online course builder and why and how he built an Evernote course. He also shares how Evernote has reduced the amount of stress in his life, added efficiency to his daily work, and helped him succeed in business.

Often we have a great idea, but it escapes our mind before we get the chance to write it down. Evernote is a phenomenal information tracking tool that allows users to create notes whenever they think of something they want to remember later. It acts as an external memory storage for your brain.

Evernote is an easy way to store information and have the ability to access it when you are at your computer later. It helps you store information ahead of time and is as a proactive way to manage productivity, so that later all the information you need is in one place. It is important to manage your time well so you can get the most out of it.

Chris talks about the four different skillsets found in people associated with the most successful courses, that are generally not associated with others. Evernote can help you organize your business so you can focus on the more critical areas that will make your business successful. Continuous improvement and becoming better at your craft is something that Evernote can help with. Evernote helps you become a stronger expert by adding efficiency to your process. It also helps you get your thoughts out and maintain a productive workflow.

Community building is essential for a successful business. Charles has set up a way he collects the feedback he receives in Evernote. The software can also help you build relationships with clients and partners. You can easily access notes that you take in meetings with them, so that in the next meeting you can start where you left off. Charles attests to how this has helped him with building strong relationships. It can also help you keep tabs on contacts and stay well organized.

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

Chris Badgett: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. My name is Chris Badgett, and today we have a special guest, Charles Byrd. He’s an Evernote expert. He has a course on Evernote called “Zero to 60 with Evernote,” and we’re going to get into that, and we’re going to get into how to use Evernote yourself as a course builder. But first, Charles, thank you for coming on the show.

Charles Byrd: My pleasure. Thanks for having me, Chris.

Chris Badgett: I’ve noticed a trend in the online course world with software. It’s usually not the company that makes the software that makes the best training or the course on how to use this software. I’ve just noticed that. I don’t have a reason per se. I’m still waiting for somebody to build the killer LifterLMS course or the … but I think like there’s a guy, Joseph Michael, who has a course, Learn Scrivener Fast, and you just see it where like the people that teach you how to use your computer software aren’t the people making the software. It’s just an interesting trend. Can you tell us the quick journey of how you became a course builder, and why Evernote, and how it came to be?

Charles Byrd: You bet. I worked in Silicon Valley as a director at a big software company, and couple of my friends had started businesses in the Bay Area making wooden sunglasses and wooden watches. That was the first time I realized, “Wait, my peer group can start companies and be successful at it? No one told me.” So then, I thought, “Well, great. What wooden product can I make?” I went to them, and they’re like, “No, digital products. Digital products. No inventory. No shipping. No this. No that.”

Pretty much literally when the big light bulb went off over my head and I’m like, “I’ve been doing this stuff anyway. I’ve been putting on corporate trainings for 6,000 people. I’ve been producing videos. I have a technology background.” So it was funny that I didn’t notice that before when I decided to build an online course.

Then, I just listed out different topics that I could teach on, and there was about 40, and then I narrowed it down. “What am I actually really good at?” That narrowed down to about 12, and then I just thought, “Off this list of 12, what has personally helped me the most with everything I do every day?” and Evernote was the top of that list, and so I did probably a minuscule amount of research just to make sure there was a market for that, googling the topic, and then just said, “I’ve got to start somewhere. That’s exactly where I’m starting,” and so that’s how I dove into the topic like very early on.
Chris Badgett: That’s really cool, and how long has this journey been from picking Evernote to where you are today?
Charles Byrd: Okay, so I’d say probably … Well, a little over a year. Probably a year and a half, but I’ve been managing some other things, other investments, and things I was working on, so when I actually dove into it is just over a year ago. I pretty much had the course in pilot, and then I discovered our common friend, Danny Iny, and his Course Builder’s Laboratory, and snapped that up, and so that was helpful to give me a framework for really launching the course and making it more successful.
In that process, I also started booking partners for Danny for different promotions, and that was very helpful in learning both not just how to make courses and launch, but the invaluable relationship side of course building because when we build courses, we want to get them out to people, and learning how to leverage joint ventures and like different people with audiences already that would be a match for that is an amazingly powerful platform to grow a business very quickly. We can talk a little more about how that transpired too.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Tell us a little bit about like how your course sits today. Is it like a side project? Is it like a full-on business unit or full-time job? In this year or year and a half, where are you today?
Charles Byrd: Okay, so to break that down, I had the course going, but I was booking partners for Danny for nine months, and then that got me pretty good at building relationships and aligning partnerships. The whole time, he was my biggest clients over that nine months. I did six webinars, and one of them was to the Project Management Institute because I’m a certified project manager, but six.
Then, I started booking a lot more for my course. Now, I book two to six webinars every week through partners, and it … Danny and I agreed it didn’t make sense for me to continue booking his when my course was taking off, so since going full-time at that, which was about five months ago, we’ve grown the list from somewhere around 600 people to 8,500 people, and it’s growing at a rate of 2,000 a month. We’ve reached 500,000 people in the last five months.
Chris Badgett: Wow, that’s really incredible. That’s really incredible. If you’re listening to this, this podcast, go ahead and make sure that you’re on the LifterLMS email list because we’re going to be doing a webinar with Charles very soon so that you can get more. We’re going to cover a lot of ground in this episode, but we’re going to go deeper in how you can leverage Evernote to achieve some of these results like you’re hearing about here.
Let’s transition, Charles, to talking a little bit about … get a little bit tactical with people on Evernote. On this podcast, we talk a lot about the challenge or the chaos if you will, and I know you’re the “kill the chaos guy” that course creators face.
Charles Byrd: Right.
Chris Badgett: I’ve been around course creation for quite a while, and I noticed that … I’ve been involved in some like really big launches, and I’ve seen things that are doing okay and some things that aren’t going well at all for the course creator. The difference between the ones that are really successful and then the ones that are not so successful are … There’s these four different skillsets that need to happen, which are not only … It’s very unique to find the abilities in one person, so maybe the secret to cracking through is getting another contractor to help with something, or a business partner, or grow the team.
Those four areas that I’ve discovered are community building, the actual expertise itself like becoming really good and sharp at something. Evernote in your case, and not looking at that as like, “Okay. I got it. I’m good. I don’t have to get any better.” We all know what it’s like to have a teacher who’s teaching the same curriculum from 30 years ago or whatever.
The third category is instructional design, and then the packaging of the course, and formatting the learning experience from an organizational, and multimedia, and strategic perspective. Then, the fourth area is to wrap all that in technology, learning management system, a membership site, an online course, what have you. If we go to the first part, community building, how can we leverage something like Evernote for community building? Before you answer that, just in case someone listening hasn’t heard of Evernote, can you describe what it is?
Charles Byrd: Certainly. Yeah. 92% of the audience as I speak in front of around the US and Canada, 92% have heard of Evernote. Three-fourths of them have Evernote, and then I’ll ask, “How many of you have it and know you could be making better use of it?” It is inevitably three-fourths of the hands shoot up there.
Basically, Evernote is a tool that is on every platform you could imagine, and it is a way to … a platform to create information whether you’re writing it, whether you’re capturing your own ideas, recording your voice, bringing in pictures you’ve taken, so you are the author and source of the information, or you can also collect information from all kinds of sources because we’re hit with broad of information that comes at us from all directions via email, the web, paper documents, receipts, on the cell, on the phone, at work, and at work.
It is enough to drive you crazy, so I like having and teaching about having systems and tools that you can trust and workflows that enable you in Evernote’s case to collect that information from all those sources whether it’s paper, business cards, handwritten notes. Basically, anything from the web.
You can drag files in there. You can, as mentioned, record your own voice or even search for text within pictures, so you can take a picture of a sign, or a menu, or this, or that and search for words inside the photograph. Again, it’s a place for you to get things off your mind or capture them, and a place to collect from other sources. That’s, in a nutshell, what Evernote can do as far as …
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome.
Charles Byrd: Yeah. The neat thing is it can become the hub of where and how you track information, and in the webinar that we’ll do, I’ll teach people how to put their finger on anything within five seconds basically just using tags, and search, and a few best practices, and you can be up and running very quickly with that superpower.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. How would I leverage something like Evernote for community building?
Charles Byrd: Okay, so for community building, that could be done various ways. Let’s start out in the research phase. You want to figure out who your audience is so you can find those communities. Google is your friend. Facebook is your friend. You can start finding people in the areas that you want to be a leader in or you want to contribute to. Basically, by doing the research and then using Evernote to start collecting that research, you can use a tool called the “Web Clipper.”
Let’s say you found this perfect Facebook group or this great community online, you can capture that information right in Evernote and tag it with “research for community building,” some ambiguous note title like that tag. It can be used that way, or if you’re researching for specific leaders in the space, you can capture all of that in one place.
The whole idea is the internet is a very big place, but if you can find what you need and then capture it so you can assemble the information in a simple, defined way. Let’s say you’re doing research for your course. It’s an amazing tool for outlining and capturing the topics that you want to teach about. You could just start with a simple outline, and then start on the research to populate the different subject areas that you plan to present on.
Chris Badgett: That’s really cool. That’s really cool. I think it’s like if we’re building a community or trying to figure out these Facebook groups that we should be a part of or we need to start on, what ends up happening, if you live in a world of chaos or just being a human being, is you forget like, “Uh.” You see this great web page or you see this article about this person. Tomorrow, you might have forgot.
Evernote is like outsourcing your brain and your memory so that you can actually … It’s not that you can hold more. It’s that you can let go, de-stress. It’s got a place. You’ve got an organizational method. You go in there and pull it out, and that’s super powerful because it’s all about the fundamentals. If you are looking to develop relationships in your industry, it’s important to have like a list of people you want to keep in contact with, and then you can time block some time on your calendar to make sure you reach out, and connect, and deepen relationships. A tool like Evernote just makes that whole process organized.
Charles Byrd: Yeah. I really like how you articulated that. It’s getting things off your brain, and of course, the Evernote icon is an elephant. It’s memory. You can remember basically anything. In fact, the last call I was on before we were chatting here, the woman introduced me to some new tool that is similar to Infusionsoft. I’m not going to remember the name of that tool, but I just used the Web Clipper and tagged it as “tools of interests.”
I can pull up all kinds of unique tools that otherwise, you’d be like, “Someone told me about a tool, but what was that? Where would I even find it again, and who introduced me to that?” but I can tag it with “tools of interests,” maybe the product name, and the name of the person who introduced it. If I go, “Oh, Chris was telling me about a tool. What was that?” now, I have a path to find it very easily, or if I’m like, “What tools of interests?” you can just pull up a list, and the info is very easy to find.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. That’s awesome. What if I’m an expert in something and I want to teach online, or I’m already teaching online and I want to get better at my craft? How can you use Evernote for getting better at being expert in your chosen field?
Charles Byrd: Yeah. Again, with the research for one. Number two, just getting your own ideas and workflows out. I do this all the time because one thing I found being … I’ll call it an expert in certain areas. Certain behaviors you’re doing that make you successful, you don’t realize you’re doing them, so sometimes you need to stop and break down, “Oh, this is one thing I’m doing in this process that’s making it work,” and you actually just write the step down.
That happens frequently where I’m doing something unconsciously that’s effective. Then, when I realized it, that’s the little bell in your head that goes, “Ah, time to write this down in Evernote,” and then you can tag it with whatever the project you’re collecting that for name is or just tag it with ideas. Just an easy to get back to it, to refer to when you’re actually in front of your computer, and you’re trying to assemble course content.
Briefly, back on the relationship side. Evernote s invaluable for that. Every meeting I take, the first thing I do is open a new Evernote note, and as we’re chatting, I’ll tag it with your name. I’ll tag it with the word “notes,” and then if we’re talking about learning platforms, or launches, or research, you can simply tag the conversation based on what you guys talked about if you’re doing introductions for each other. You can add a tag for that.
That way, we can talk a year from now, and I could pull up every conversation we’ve had and pick up right where we left or off and any important email you sent me. In fact, the one you sent out recently covering all the main features of LifterLMS, it’s like I can just pull that up and watch it any time because it’s captured all in one place.
To answer your question about how it can make you a stronger expert, it lets you get your thoughts out, your processes out. It lets you collect and augment those from external sources such as the web, or if you went to a conference and they had info on that, you get some handout, you can snap pictures with your phone, get it right into Evernote tagged and word-searchable straight out of the images. You can run it through the Evernote scanner. I’ve got one right there.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. If you’re a leadership expert, or a marketing expert, or a health and fitness expert, or a technology expert, I think the big takeaway here is that you’re capable of so much more, and it’s not that you need to become a cyborg and merge with the machine. It’s just about augmenting. You can basically empty the cup a little bit and allow … You can carry more with you just outsourcing some of the organization and cataloging to something like Evernote.
If you teach a special kind of yoga and you go to retreats in India or you’re researching some science that you’re going to combine with some yoga and some nutrition, and make this interesting thing, and run experiments on yourself or whatever, you need a way to enable that creativity for, “Oh, okay. I heard this little tidbit of science that I might try to integrate into my practice or whatever.” That’s really cool.
Charles Byrd: Yeah, and that’s right when you’d capture it. Speaking of the trip to India, I travel a ton. I was in eight cities and five countries in January and did 14 live webinars, and so every one of these trips, I just make a new note and tag it “travel,” tag it whatever city, or mastermind, or event I’m speaking at, and then I just have like four or five basic lines. One says, “Flight.” One says, “Hotel,” or, “Airbnb,” “Meeting Agenda,” “Talking Points,” or whatever I’m speaking about.
It’s the cleanest thing ever, and you can just make a shortcut to it, but all of those hyperlink internally within Evernote to … When I want the flight info, I just touch “Flight” and it goes straight to my flight info, so you can integrate it into your everyday workflows no matter what you’re doing. Certainly, for course building, but everything else in your business and your life to just simplify, so you don’t have to hunt for the confirmation email in Google about your trip itinerary because it’s just one touch away on something you have sitting in your hand waiting for you. It’s being proactive and just having systems that you do every time that just make everything easier. Will it make your life perfect? No. Will it help a lot? Absolutely.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. Yeah, and I like the way you say that. It allows you to be proactive and make your life easier. File note on that is then that makes space for something else to come in whether it’s a creative idea, or extra time, or less stress. These are all good things if you’re working on an expertise and a passion that you love. Now, let’s talk about the actual active course building. In instructional design like, “Oh, what am I going to do? Like am I going to do a video course? Am I going to have office hours? Am I going to have a webinar? Am I going to do a mastermind? Is it going to be passive income, or is it going to be highly active?” As I get into all these instructional design questions, how could I use Evernote?
Charles Byrd: You could map out what your different options are, what the pros and cons are, what the fastest way to monetize so you don’t drown in the meantime. You can make … Plan out like the simplest approach to get started and what your next iteration will be to build on it because something I had to fight and resist in myself was I’m like, “Well, if I make an Evernote course, I need to cover absolutely every piece of the tool, how you could use it in any situation.”
People don’t want that. They want to know how to get up and going quickly, so if you’re at all battling the concept that you can’t release this course because it’s not perfect and doesn’t cover everything, please do yourself and your students the favor. Just get started because anything that’s lacking, they’ll let you know about, and anything that’s great, they will let you know about that too, so you can keep optimizing and iterating.
Also, note that every time I work with a partner, at the end of a webinar or promotion, I ask them, “What do you think could be better about the webinar? What do you think could be better about the course?” because they go through the course too. You’re constantly eliciting feedback that’s collected in Evernote under a tag like “continuous improvement” and the name of your course.
Later, when you’re like, “Okay, cool. I’m going to walk half a day and just keep improving this course,” now you’ve got this easy place to go get your checklist that otherwise would have been forgotten or would have been lost in inboxes, would have been on handwritten notes left somewhere in your office that you’d never get to, so what you’re doing really is enabling is your own opportunity and your own path to create the best thing you can while getting it out there sooner.
Chris Badgett: I love that. I love that, and if you’re researching, if you’re seeing what other people are doing, and you like want to catalog different types of courses, or sales pages, or whatever that you can come back to, and look at one place, and go, “Okay. This is what I see is the industry seems to be doing.”
Charles Byrd: I do that all the time. I’ll see something, and whether or not I’ll be using what they’re offering, I’ll tag it as example like, “Here’s an example of the landing page that I like. Here’s an example email copy that seemed effective because it got my attention.” You can just capture them that way as they … One of the biggest secret is doing it in real time. If that little “ding” bell sound goes off in your head of, “Ah,” that’s your cue. Capture it in Evernote right now, and then you’ll have it when you need it.
Chris Badgett: That’s really cool. What is the difference between like a project management software like Asana, Basecamp, Trello? Like you could capture ideas in there in those tools, but what makes Evernote special and different from project management tools?
Charles Byrd: Okay, so these two things are different. They do play very nicely together, and I use all of the above. Evernote is still the core repository collection, idea generation, and capture space, but like out of a meeting with your team, inevitably, there’ll be actions as there should be, so basically, you can capture the core ideas or goals of what you’re doing. Then, when you start breaking those down into tasks, then go right ahead and put them in Asana, or Trello, or Basecamp.
This is how I do it. Let’s say you and I had a meeting, and we’re working on a smaller project together. We’d talk through what we want to do, who’s going to be responsible for what. Then, we start breaking it down into actions, which are put in the project management tools, but I’ll just make a link to the Evernote note or notebook that has the bigger collection of ideas.
When you do get around in working on a task two weeks from now, you’re like, “Okay. I get this, but I wish I had a little more context.” It’s a click away. You click the hyperlink. It takes you to the Evernote note where you’re like, “Oh, yeah. That’s what we were talking about,” and then you’re off and running. They work together seamlessly by simply a couple best practices like hyperlinking to the notes that generated those tasks.
Chris Badgett: It sounds like the way you tag things is very intelligent, so is it … It’s also like the way you can search and find things, right, because I’ve noticed with project management tools, if you use them for something like you would use Evernote for it, once the bucket gets too full, you can’t even look at it or it’s not as useful, but …
Charles Byrd: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: What’s your tag 101 philosophy? We don’t have to go super deep on it, but like how do you use tags, or how do you organize? As the bucket gets full, like how do people look through it?
Charles Byrd: Yeah, so probably, it depends on the context. I might be a little more conservative with tags in a project setting like Asana, but in Evernote, I used to not want a bunch of tags because I didn’t want it to get too crazy, but what I found is it’s okay to be generous with tags. You still want to be intelligent with the naming of the tag, and you will develop muscle memory for what a good tag would be.
In general, I’ll use between one and three tags per note, and they’re pretty basic. Let’s use the meeting with you and I. I would use your name as a tag. That’s pretty straightforward, and then depending on what we were … I use a tag called “notes” so I can pull up notes from any meeting, and then I would base it on the context of the discussion. If we were talking about a book launch, guess what the tag would be, and then that’s basically it.
Like if we were both working with a third-party company or if we were both using some other third-party tool, I’d throw that tag in there as well. You don’t need to go nuts with them, but they give you this very powerful path to find information depending on the context you’re bringing things of them on. If we were talking about a launch, I can pull up the tag “launch,” and our notes will happen to be there, or if you call me tomorrow or sent me a text asking me for something, I can pull up your name as the tag and see where we left off.
It enables multiple paths back to information based on the context that they’re coming up again or you’re thinking about them again. Yeah. I think it can be a little bit generous with how you use tags like if I’m going to any particular city, I will tag the note like “Toronto,” or “San Diego,” or wherever as well because it just gives you one more access point to get back to that like, “I thought of this great idea in San Diego. What was that?” You could search the tag “San Diego.” You can search the tag “ideas.”
Chris Badgett: That’s really cool. I think we really overestimate how much we actually remember like I think we do forget a lot of things and that’s … but I know that feeling like, “Oh, I had this great idea at that business trip in San Diego like what was that?” because you got this …
Charles Byrd: It’s the worst feeling to not … and every time, you will trick yourself. You’re like, “This idea is so amazing. There’s no way I’ll forget it.” You’ll forget it in 10 minutes. Write it down. Write it down. Period.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, and the relationship stuff. You know like your deep relationships, but if you’re doing things where you’re interacting with a lot of people, but in a high-touch way, you may get on the phone with somebody or enter into a conversation, and they’re like, “Hey, Chris. Remember the last time I talked to you about blah, blah, blah,” and like you’re frivolously like searching through your email to be like, “Who is this guy? I don’t remember him at all.” You don’t have to do that if you literally map it with Evernote and curate your relationships a little bit.
Charles Byrd: You’re right, and I will tell you. The reason I’ve been able to get partners like Brian Tracy, Asian Efficiency, The Productivityist, Chris Winfield … The list goes on, but it’s because I’ve been able to keep in touch and basically track where I’m at with each person like where we left off, what they’re focusing on that I could contribute to. If you don’t write that stuff down, you may not remember it.
I also use Evernote in conjunction with a CRM tool called “Cloze,” C-L-O-Z-E, and it integrates with your Google Calendar, and Gmail, and Evernote so that any emails from you or meetings we’ve had would show up there. Any Evernote notes with your name in them will show up there in that way because I meet with probably two to five people a day. I think I’ve got eight meetings today. Yeah. It is probably the only method you’d be able to use to really deepen those relationships and see exactly where you left off, and that’s how I’m able to book two to six joint venture webinars every week.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. That’s really incredible. Let’s talk about technology, using technology for your course. I know because at LifterLMS, we get tons of email like five-paragraph emails like, “Does your platform do this, this, this, and this?” or, “I was here, but I didn’t like this platform.” and, “Can you help me?” All these things. People do a ton of research before investing in an online course software, and the big reason for that is because they’re going to be tied to it for a while. They’re going to invest all this energy and build all this stuff. They want to make the right decision, so how could Evernote help with that person trying to figure out or optimize the learning technology piece?
Charles Byrd: Okay, so when you dive into the research, you’re going to be starting to find those sites that compare who does what, what their pricing is, the different models, the strengths, weaknesses, pros, cons. Evernote is perfect for that because, A, you can capture your own thoughts on the way. B, as you are on the sites, you can start capturing them with the Web Clipper into Evernote, so later, you can compare these things, and it is really important.
I come from a technology background, and even I was surprised how many tools and integrations can be involved. In fact, there are some rarely smart people with a lot to contribute, but they’re afraid of the technology because there are so many pieces. What I found when I was doing my research, you guys, for the WordPress site were the top of the list. Just like unequivocally, that’s who I recommend to people. I also was checking out some of the solutions such as …
Chris Badgett: Like Kajabi?
Charles Byrd: Kajabi, and actually I opted for Kajabi. I built everything in there because it was simple and integrated, and then found this simplicity was also very limiting because there was lack of customization, lack of duplicating of training courses, and it was sad for me because the platform was great, but not for someone like me who needs a little more horsepower.
I opted to be able to … I went with ClickFunnels for the funnel side because it’s very flexible and powerful there, but now that I’ve got a course that’s successful and out to thousands of people, I want to be able to track how far along are people are. I want to offer gamification. I want to offer quizzes, and I want to offer a membership area.
As our team expands, we’re up to five people now, we’re looking at revamping the course, and we want more powerful course tools, and so I’ll be back in the same boat of figuring out if we’re going to just up level where we’re at or change platforms to something a lot more powerful and integrated like Lifter.
Chris Badgett: Cool. Very cool. If you’re listening to this and you’d like to find out more about Evernote, make sure you’re on the LifterLMS email list. We’re going to be sending out invites to this webinar that we’re going to do with Charles and really go deeper into how to use Evernote and why it’s awesome, but let’s talk a little bit about the why.
You’re known as the “kill the chaos guy,” Charles Byrd with Evernote. Why? Like how do you help and just tell us? Talk a little bit about the why, and I just want to say that a lot of course creators I think carry it and even heavier than average amount of overwhelm simply because they’re creative. They have all these ideas. They’ve got this course to build, businesses to run, students to teach, families to feed at home, or whatever like it’s … They got a lot going on, so help the listener.
Charles Byrd: Yeah. Yeah. I’ll speak to my why. It’s actually a story I tell frequently, but before I do, I had a call I think yesterday with a guy who wants to build courses, and he was saying how they were building lead magnets and running Facebook tests to quizzes to figure out what type of course content would be the best received, and that was falling to this and that.
I’m just like, “Dude, just don’t do that. You’re going off the deep end into the technology trying to make this perfect thing instead of just sitting down and building something. Just make a Facebook post saying, ‘I’m thinking of making a course on these three things. Where should be most useful for you?’ Done.” Like I just saved that dude three weeks of unnecessary work.
Chris Badgett: Right.
Charles Byrd: As far as the big why, I’ve been an Evernote fan for a long time. I’m a certified Evernote consultant, and I just remember my mom. She ran a hospital in Central California. She was a teacher for College of the Sequoias and a floor nurse in the PE Department, so she’d come home with all these boxes of … those cardboard office boxes full of binders, and papers, and this, and that. Like boxes and boxes of them, and it was like just normal for the job, but also ridiculous because like carrying that back and forth doesn’t help, so I did what any good son would do. I got her a brand new Mac and an Evernote scanner, and taught her how to use that.
It really started improving her whole workflow, her quality of life around it, and she’d tell her students all about it and got them very excited. Then, basically, one day, I got a call. I was working at this Starbucks, and my mom and stepdad had that serious tone in their voice and something. Maybe one of the kids they adopted who were in trouble at school or who knows. Instead, my mom had been in a minor car accident, and then the next day was reaching for a fork and kept missing it like repeatedly, so they took her to the hospital. Found she had two stage four brain tumors. She went into surgery that night.
Anyway, the outcome of that was then we had to transition all her work for her three jobs. We had to start researching the hell out of medical care. Basically, the office went from being messy to you couldn’t even see the desk under all the papers, and her inbox stopped accepting emails. Anyway, I used the same tools I gave her to fix that problem, so we could put our finger on anything, get her the best care, and what it did was it improved the quality of her life. She lived one year from when we found that out.
She had a better quality of life, better care, and it also made me realize that we only have a certain amount of time here on this place, so if there are things we want to do, we need a system to kick their butt. We need a way. We need systems we can trust. We need tools and workflows that enable us to do what we want to do in the time we have, and if it’s a quality of life question, how much … Do you want to be overloaded, and buried, and drowning, and stressed? I would venture to say probably not.
If I can teach you a path to really turn the volume down on that, that’s my passion. That’s why I decided to make this course. That’s why I reached thousands of people every week and month with this message because if I can improve your life and enable you to meet your goals, that’s going to have a ripple effect for all the people you interact with, people you serve, your own families and your own mental health. If I’m successful at this, which so far so good, and you are successful based on learning a new trick, or two, or three by coming to our webinar, then everyone wins, and that’s the power of course building.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. I really appreciate you sharing your story with us and your why. That’s awesome. Thank you for doing that. All right. If you’re listening, be sure to sign up and be on the mailing list at LifterLMS so you can hear about Charles’ webinar, and he’s going to go a lot deeper into this. Charles, I really want to thank you for coming on the show. I had so many aha moments, and one of the things I’m going to do is I got Evernote several years ago, and then I stopped using it, but I’m going to recommit especially with the way you were talking about.
I’m a power project management guy and communication. I am juggling a lot of things. I’m going to recommit and go through your training. I definitely appreciate learning from someone who’s like honed the craft which you have with Evernote, so I’m going to recommit to Evernote, and see what I can do with it, and see what that does for me. Thank you so much for coming on the show. If people want to find out more about you or connect with you, where can they find you?
Charles Byrd: Sure, so we’ve got … To get info on our company, it’s byrdword.com, B-Y-R-D-W-O-R-D.com. We’re also big fans of killing the chaos. We have killthechaos.pro. It has a little info on the course, but I’d like to encourage you to sign up on Chris’ email list because when we do offer a webinar to the community, we’re all part of here. We’re course builders. I want to line up a really nice discount for you guys, so if you do go to killthechaos.pro, that’s the full price which … Buy that if you like, but I prefer you get it at half off working with Chris here. Yeah. Chris, such a pleasure to be on the show with you. Thanks. Thanks for having me on.
Chris Badgett: Awesome. Thank you for coming, and thank you for inspiring me to get going and start leveraging Evernote, so thank you.
Charles Byrd: You bet.

EPISODE 124

Technology Partnership and the LifterLMS Done For You Set Up Service

In this episode of LMScast Chris Badgett talks with Ali Mathis about technology partnership and the LifterLMS done for you set up service that has been re-released. They discuss what the LifterLMS Done For You set up service is, as well as confusion some customers in the past have had with terms used in course development.

The LifterLMS Done For You service was created by LifterLMS to help the person who is an expert in their own field, but they need technology assistance with building their course. Ali and Chris talk about what they have seen with the Done For You service and how going with the Done For You set up service can have a lot of benefits.

Many companies try to do everything themselves, because they think it will save money. But as Ali discusses, the hidden cost of creating your course alone is your time. Time is money, so it may be more effective for you or your business to sign up for the Done For You service and let the experts who have course design down to a science handle it.

Another benefit to using the LifterLMS Done For You set up service is the people who will be making your course are professionals that have done this before. So they have learned how to avoid the classic mistakes most first-time course creators usually make. Ali also makes the great point that as the content creator, you should focus on creating the content and ironing out the details rather than spinning your wheels putting together the website.

Chris and Ali talk about the difference between demo content and the teacher’s content. They also discuss the difference between content and design.

To learn more about technology partnership and the LifterLMS Done For You set up service, you can visit lifterlms.com/dfy

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

Chris Badgett: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. My name is Chris Badgett, and I’m joined by Ali Mathis. Today we’re getting into some exciting news about the re-release of the LifterLMS Done For You set up service. Thanks for coming on the show, Ali.

Ali Mathis: Thanks for having me, Chris. Good to be here. Hi, Everyone.

Chris Badgett: We got a lot of feedback around our Done For You services, and part of what it was is that we weren’t communicating as well as we could about what all was inside of it. So we spent a bunch of time recrafting the messaging, the pricing, and none of that changed. What we did is were just trying to better illustrate what you get when you get the LifterLMS Done For You set up service, which isn’t for everybody. There’s a lot of do-it-yourselfers out there. There’s a lot of people that are hiring their own agency to do a bunch of custom development and extend LifterLMS into interesting places.

But the LifterLMS Done For You set up service is for that person out there who is really just wanting to be the expert to do their piece, but they can’t do it all. They want to have a technology partner to help them on the journey. They want to get it set up fast, and they want to avoid the classic mistakes and leverage the benefits of working with the same team that makes the product – LifterLMS – and have that same team set up the service for them and launch in as little as two weeks. That’s what it’s all about.

Ali and I wanted to get in with you, and explain what we’ve seen and how going with the Done For You Set Up Service can have a lot of benefits, and the first one being just that speed to market of five to 10 business days, depending upon which of the packages you select … Launching quickly can have a lot of benefits, but tell us, Ali, what are some opportunity costs that people … What are you missing out on if you’re trying to do it all yourself and taking a long time? Like, what might be the hidden costs?
Ali Mathis: Well, one thing that I’ve seen in some of our clients is that they think that they can, maybe not necessarily save time, but save money by trying to do something themselves. When you don’t let an expert do it and you try to take it on yourself, while it can be a good personal learning and personal growth opportunity, sometimes it takes a lot longer for things to get done or it doesn’t work exactly right. Ultimately, I think we’re all very busy and your time is valuable.
I know it’s a cliché, but time is money, so the time that you spend fiddling around with things yourself when we could have the site up and running is time that really not only costs you your own money in terms of time, but you could be making money and getting a return on your investment from your website because we have it down to a science, and we have it perfected and we can just get it up for you in five to 10 days, depending on the level of the package that you need.
Chris Badgett: Absolutely. Yeah, having the team that built the product do it for you and save you all that time can be really critical. Like Ali said, it’s an investment, and our goal is always 10 times value, so whatever you invest in your set up service or if you’re a do-it-yourselfer and you’re just getting the software, we want you to see those returns. We’ve designed LifterLMS to be a publishing tool for building an online education platform that can create real results, impact and income in the world. In the beginning you do need to go through some investments, some startup costs, and if you’re going to have another team do it and do it quickly, there is an investment there. Our goal is to be a technology partner with you so that you can earn back that investment as quickly as possible.
The other thing, not only can going through the Done For You Set Up Service get your platform up fast, you can also avoid a lot of the classic mistakes that come with doing it yourself. Part of doing anything yourself, as we all know since we’re interested in things like education and learning, is that there’s a lot of mistakes. The very first time I built a website a decade ago I made a lot of mistakes. I can do it much, much, much faster now.
This ties into our earlier point about speed to market and how quickly are you going to start earning your investment back when you’re making some mistakes? Nobody is going to make less mistakes than the company that actually built the product. What are some mistakes that you see people making out there, Ali, who are perhaps trying to do it themselves when they do have the resources to invest in a team, but they just haven’t made that switch in their mind about partnering with a technology partner?
Ali Mathis: This isn’t a specific mistake, more as I guess an overall comment that you, you the customer out there, are the expert in your field and you have a vast knowledge base to share, which is why you’re putting together an online course platform, whereas we are technology experts. You should really be spending more of your energy finalizing and refining the details of your course in your area of expertise, and not worrying about the technical details or getting bogged down in terms of just wasting time or spinning your wheels by building your website when we could be doing that.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. If you want to find out more about this Done For You Set Up Service, you can just go to lifterlms.com/dfy. That stands for Done For You. You can also find the Done For You Set Up Service in the store. We have a little quote generator that you can select the type of things you want done, and it’s going to give you an exact price and the package for that. When you invest in that, you’re going to be … the stop watch has started and once we get everything we need from you so that we can get on the scene and do what we got to do, it’s anywhere from one to two weeks, and you’re up and running.
Ali Mathis: I think one thing, Chris, I know that you and I worked on a lot when we were pulling the service together is really listening to customers and their requirements. You know, I’m not interested in selling somebody a product that they don’t need, so that’s why we offer four different sort of levels that are tailored to your budget and your technological needs.
Chris Badgett: Absolutely. This is a big decision. It’s a big investment. If you need to have an email conversation or anyone to jump on a call, we have ways to do that. You can find all that at lifterlms.com. Really just I’d encourage you to take a step back and think about your project. As I’ve said many times on this podcast, there’s four things that you need to be successful. First, you need expertise. Second, you need community. Third, you need instructional design or the ability to teach and package your course. The fourth is the online course delivery system, the technology part. It’s very rare that one person can do all those things, so I would encourage you to consider, if you have the means and the resources, to have us just step on the gas pedal for you as a technology partner to get your learning platform launched as soon as possible.
Ali Mathis: Chris, one thing before we go that I think would be helpful would be maybe for you to go over the difference or for us to talk about, to help clarify, what demo content is versus people’s own content because that’s a question that we seem to get a lot in terms of different package levels.
Chris Badgett: Absolutely. In the web world, demo content it’s basically like placeholder content. It’s images, it’s text, it’s videos, it’s badges. When we get into e-learning and online courses, it’s certificates. It’s LifterLMS engagement emails that have stuff in there. It’s just not your stuff. It’s not your pictures, your courses, your lessons, but what that does is, it’s like going to a neighborhood, if you’re looking at real estate, and you go to the spec home. You can see, oh, okay, there’s a couch here. This is what the kitchen layout is. But this is not my stuff. This is just some demonstration stuff.
There’s really two reasons that people go with demo content instead of having us at LifterLMS install your content. That is, one is price. It’s more time intensive on our part to gather all your course materials and platform materials, and install and configure all that. Also, some people just preferred, instead of just … if you were to just buy the LifterLMS software tools, it’s like showing up on a piece of lawn with a bunch of stacks of wood and bricks and everything, and you have to put it together.
In this case, somebody just wants, “Well, just set it up for me. I know it’s not my stuff and it’s a little bit cheaper, and I’m going to come behind you, and I’m going to replace your paint with my paint. I’m going to put my course image where yours was. Now I know where that goes. Oh, I see you have these sample engagement emails. I’m going to go in there, but I’m going to reword the wording so that sounds like it’s coming from me, and I’m talking about the things I want to be talking about.”
That’s why people use demo content. Or if you really … you’re already … you’ve got your course material together and you’re not really using the demo to save money or as a starting point for your course, you might want to just really step on the gas pedal and have us install your content, and in the very act of us collecting it all for you, it’s going to ensure that you’ve thought of everything and have all the pieces you need to make a successful platform.
Ali Mathis: One confusion that I hear a lot is the difference between design and content. I think we should just clarify that all four levels of the package do include configuring, and styling the launchpad theme to match the basic colors of your logo and your color palette. You can give us a design reference to work with. That’s included in every level package.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, absolutely. Design is really important and that’s another reason to leverage the ability of the professionals out there. You may have a logo, you may have a color palette, but even if you just have a logo and you have some design references of sites that you like from a design perspective, that’s all we need to take those design cues and implement that on your learning platform. Design is really important, but just like going to some college dorm rooms versus that same person, when perhaps they’re a little older, you can see how the design changes over time or how the ability to appreciate good design changes. It’s good to work with a design professional, so that’s another important part of the package as well.
Ali Mathis: If you head on over to the lifterlms.com store, which is underneath the Ad-ons item on our main menu there, you can actually click on the Done For You product and see the difference in what each package includes.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. Just to give the listener just a little more like, “Well, what is it going to look like?” go look at the LifterLMS demo and see what that looks like. Just realize that those same tools can be configured to a very different design and made to look completely different based on your design preferences or your content and that sort of thing, so just to give you an idea of what type of platform it is that you can get through the Done For You Set Up Service.
Ali Mathis: Definitely.
Chris Badgett: Awesome. Well, thank you, guys, for checking another episode of LMScast. Go find us at lifterlms.com if you have any questions about the Done For You set up service, and let’s build great online learning experiences together.