EPISODE 115

4 Access Models for Courses and Memberships

There are different ways you can choose for people to gain access to your courses or memberships. In this LMScast Chris Badgett of codeBOX will tell you about 4 access models for courses and memberships and how to choose the one that will work best for your situation.

In a previous episode Chris detailed the top 10 pricing models for online courses and membership sites, and these 4 access models dovetail nicely into continuing that discussion. The first access model is lifetime access, which works well for passive, evergreen reference content. It can help you make the sale, but it’s not scalable. If you do one-on-one coaching, email support, or other forms of direct interaction you won’t be able to maintain lifetime access to that. Software requires updates and support, so think hard about sustainability before promising lifetime access.

For most online training applications you want to get in, do the training, and get out. It’s a temporary contract, and most people don’t have a long-term attention span. Our second access model is called limited time access expiration. It lasts for a set period of time and then it ends. Really, most training is only relevant for a certain time period even when the results are good forever. With this model you set an active window of time for access to the course. At the end of that time the user is deleted from the course, but not from your site. Their account will still be available if they want to take another course from you.

The third access option is the specific access window that has a start date and an end date for everyone taking the course. It’s a great way to train a group all at once, perhaps a team, within a set time frame. And finally the fourth access model is the specific launch or ability to buy window. This is excellent for launching a new or updated course and involves setting a limited time to buy or gain access to the training. You can even combine the specific access window with a specific launch window. And you can layer pricing models with access models in a variety of ways.

These 4 access models for courses and memberships are already built into LifterLMS for you so you don’t need a third-party eCommerce engine to use these capabilities. You can simply create and sell engaging, protected online courses the way you want them all in one solution. For more details on these access models and how to choose the right one visit the LifterLMS blog.

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

Chris: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. My name is Chris Badgett, and in this episode we’re going to be talking about the four access models for courses and memberships. Now what are we talking about here? In the last episode, we talked about the top ten pricing models that you can use to sell your online courses or your membership or your memberships or stack some side by side to give people multiple options or a pricing table, if you will, at checkout. Another important component besides pricing, things like a one-time payment, a flat recurring payment or free-with-membership or a dollar trial, these things are really important. What also dovetails nicely into that are four access models that you can use to automate and add an access component to your pricing model.

The first one … we’re going to talk about four of them, and the first one is called lifetime access. And I’m sure we’ve all come across this. We’ve seen this. When you discover a course is for sale, if you invest in it, if you purchase it or if you enroll in it for free, you are promised lifetime access to that course. Now, that’s a good thing in some cases. It’s not a good thing in other cases. When is it good? It’s good when the content is just of a passive nature, it’s evergreen, there’s probably not a live component in there, and it’s really just reference material and you can put it on your shelf metaphorically and just come back to it over and over again as needed. I like to say lifetime access might help you get the sale but your platform still needs to scale. What do I mean by that?

I mean, I see a lot of people offering lifetime access to their courses and memberships when it’s not really a good idea. It may help close the sale and create higher conversion because you’re making a promise of you’ll have lifetime access, but if you have things like live one-on-one coaching, email support, these types of things, it’s not necessarily a good idea because if your platform does become very successful, you might have a scalability problem where you can no longer keep that promise for all that one-on-one direct high touch interaction with you. It just may not scale. You might be making a promise that you can’t keep. We see this all the time in the software world.

People ask us about LifterLMS, “Hey, is this a one-time payment for lifetime access?” The answer is, “No, it’s not. It’s an annual license fee.” The reason for that is because software requires updates and support, so if I were to promise lifetime access to those things, that doesn’t scale. The product needs to be able to fund future development, to pay people to provide support and pay people to make updates to the software. You need to think about sustainability very carefully before you promise lifetime access.

The other thing I would add to that is there’s attention scarcity out there, so people are very busy, people have never been so busy and so bombarded with information, training options, opportunities, courses, opportunities for personal and professional development that if you think lifetime access gives you a competitive differentiator in your marketplace, I might argue that you might be a little off on that statement. The reason I mean by that is in most cases, when there’s a promise of training or to help somebody solve some kind of problem, it’s temporary in nature. It’s not that …

You want to get in. Your training needs to help somebody and then you want to get out. You make your promise. It happens over a set period of time and then you’re done because if you think about it, when you’ve learned things in your life, the actual training part was only relevant for a certain period of time. Sure, there’s things where you’re constantly doing lifelong learning and so on. In a lot of cases, for an online course or some kind of membership or training system, it really is only relevant for a certain amount of time. The results may last forever but the training does not need to happen for a lifetime.

A lot of people have books on their bookshelf that they never touch again, so I would encourage you to perhaps think about not doing lifetime access. That gets into our second access model which is called limited time access expiration. Now, there’s two ways to do this. One way is to expire the access to the course after a certain amount of time, from purchase or free enrollment. A common option for this is like a ninety days access, so after you buy this course or this training program, you have access for ninety days. Or what’s also common is like a year, so you have access to this for a year, but then when you’re done, like with LifterLMS, if you set it up this way, it will automatically remove that learner from that course after one year.

It doesn’t delete them off of the system. They still have a user account. They could buy another course and not have to create an account again. They are removed from that course. The other option is to expire based on a specific date. If your course is more temporal in nature or there’s really a reason for people to be moving through there and really finishing at one time for whatever reason, whether that’s there’s tutors that are involved and they’re only going to be around until the holiday or whatever it is, sometimes you expire a training program or a membership on a specific date. That’s another way to do limited time access expiration.

The other option is to do a specific access window. I think it’s easy to get seduced on the Internet with the “Everything’s always for sale, always online. Take any time. It’s evergreen. Your course could be bought at any time anywhere by anybody.” In some cases, some of the most valuable courses are actually … They want people moving through there as a cohort, as a group. There’s a start date. There’s an end date. You may buy it before the actual access window opens, or you may not be able to buy it until the access window’s open or you may be able to buy it during the time the access window’s open but then it’s going to shut down a week before the end or something like that. A specific access window is really important too for …

Like I said, be very careful with that access lifetime mentality. Perhaps you just want people, you want to move, let’s say, a group of people through your training program once or twice a year or even quarterly, four times a year. You start on the first of the month. It’s a thirty day training program. It ends on the end of the month. You only offer it once, twice, four times a year, even once a month. Maybe you’re always rolling people through it but they’re going through it at the same time, starting at the beginning of the month and ending at the end of the month. That’s a specific access window.

The next option is the specific launch or the ability to buy window. Now, in a software like LifterLMS, this is where you can set up a time when people can only invest or get access to a course during a certain period of time. This is often called a launch. You have a launch window, cart open, cart close. People can only get the ability, the right to purchase or enroll for free if it’s a free course during a specific enrollment access window. That’s really common if you’re doing a launch just like you could combine this way of thinking with the method we described before where you have a specific access window accompanied by a specific launch window. Let’s say you open up your course twice a year. One of them opens up on January 1st.

Let’s say you have a specific launch or ability to buy window one week before January 1st, so the last week in December, you may have an access window for the ability to purchase that course. Now then, on top of these access plans, you can layer on pricing. Let’s say we’re doing that pre-launch, cart open, cart close one week before a course. It’s only going to last thirty days starting on the first of the year. Let’s say we want to offer a one-time payment of a thousand dollars or three payments of three hundred and ninety-nine dollars and then potentially we could add another payment plan option on there as well.

You can see how I’m combining access windows with pricing to really structure an intelligent pricing and access model for your online course or your membership. If you want to find out more about this, you can head on over to the LifterLMS blog. Just do a quick search for the four access models for courses and memberships. You’ll also see a post right before that about the ten most popular pricing models that you can do with LifterLMS. One of the amazing things about LifterLMS is that it allows you to do all this without needing a separate third party eCommerce engine or membership site plugin to control access.

It’s all built for you inside of this online course tool and membership site tool so you can really create engaging online courses that are protected and they have the ability to be sold and accessed in the way you want all for one solution without having to string together a bunch of third party options to make it happen. All right. Thank you for checking out this episode of LMScast, and we’ll catch you in the next one.

EPISODE 114

Connect Your Learning Platform to Your CRM with Jack Arturo’s WP Fusion

In today’s LMScast Chris Badgett of codeBOX discusses how to connect your learning platform to your CRM with Jack Arturo’s WP Fusion. You’ll also learn about the benefits of doing business as a micro, multinational, digital nomad.

Jack Arturo has been a web developer for five years. He created WP Fusion when he saw a need to simplify the process of interconnecting WordPress to CRMs and other marketing automation tools for his clients. Jack’s WP Fusion works with LifterLMS to send your user data to your CRM. That includes contact information and tags that you can use to enhance your user’s experience with your courses, services, and other products.

Unlike most competitors, WP Fusion is an open source solution that you purchase one time, and it’s yours. The only recurring cost is for support and updates at three pricing levels based on your usage and needs, but there’s no commitment for that. It’s also more optimized, lightweight, scalable, and user-intuitive than most.

Basically when a user creates an account, WP Fusion can apply various tags that prompt your system tools – the CRM, the LMS, the shopping cart, automated emails, and forms – to take integrated actions. It also bridges a lot of WordPress plugins in innovative ways and provides extensive reporting capabilities. Plus it’s possible to dynamically add on new capabilities like special coupons and software integrations.

Jack’s vision is to help systems become more standardized. Being part of the digital nomad community gives him access to an organic network where people are working together on advancing technologies, tools, and methods, like optimizing existing PHP using JavaScript and REST APIs to integrate more tools and resources together. These non-hierarchical transient groups are opening up the way global business is done, solving the problems of the future, and keeping up with the rate of change through relationships and mobility.

We’re living in interesting times. The economy is changing, as is the way we work, and that rate of change is accelerating. If you’re willing to learn and evolve with it, you’ll be doing business in a more exciting and scalable way than has ever been possible before.

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

Chris: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. My name is Chris Badgett, and today I’m joined by Jack Arturo, creator of WP Fusion, and we’re going to get into what that does and how it can help you as an online course creator or digital entrepreneur. And we’re also going to talk a little bit about the digital nomad lifestyle. Jack, thanks for coming on the show.

Jack: Yeah, thank you.

Chris: Where are you? Where are you coming at us from today.

Jack: I’m in Lima, Peru. It’s finally summer here. We’ve got the inverse weather of the Northern Hemisphere. Pretty great today. I’m liking it right now. In about three months when it gets foggy again I think I’m going to head up to Europe as it starts to get warmer, but we can talk about the nomadic part of my life at the end of the call. Yeah, it’s a nice place to be. There’s actually a lot of people working in tech here. I’ve got a few friends from Canada who do major, like from scratch systems for airlines and banks and stuff like that because you can get a very talented angular JS or PHP developer down here for much cheaper than you could in the states. Believe it or not there’s actually kind of a cool programmer community down here. Yeah, it’s a cool place to be.

Chris: That’s awesome. That’s awesome. Jack is the creator of WP Fusion. I first came across Jack at LifterLMS because we created a learning management software that makes it easy to create online courses, but a lot of times people want to get those contacts and get some data over to a CRM. We have a MailChimp integration, we have a ConvertKit integration, but there’s so many different ones out there, like for example there’s Infusion Soft, there’s Drip, there’s Active Campaign, which we actually use ourselves and love as our personal favorite CRM of choice, and then there’s also Ontraport, and what jack was able to do at WP Fusion is made it so that you could connect your LifterLMS Users and send that data over to those CRMs.

In the past we’ve used some kind of hacky systems where we do these Zapiers and things like that, but when I came across your product at WP Fusion, I was just blown away by how clear the thinking was and how it’s really, what it does to connect WordPress to different services and things. It was really just amazing and I think you really nailed it on the market need there.

Jack: Thanks, yeah. Sorry, go ahead.

Chris: Just tell us, like where did this whole idea for WP Fusion come from?

Jack: I’ve been a web developer about five years, and doing a lot of client sites. They get more and more complex and started doing a lot of API work, and I ended up doing a lot of sales sites where we’d be using Infused Woo, we’d be using the Gravity Forms Infusionsoft add-on and then we’d be writing a ton of custom code connecting advanced custom fields over to Fusion Soft and every single time it was reinventing the wheel, and also you might need four different plugins to connect the stuff you need on our site to this one system. You’re doing a lot of duplication there and you don’t know how well they’re going to be supported or maintained, and so what it originally started as, was we needed a system to connect User Pro to Infusionsoft which was just impossible at the time, just to have a new user register and make a contact record. There’s nobody that can do that.

There’s nothing out there. I was like, “All right, well well start with that,” and then somebody’s like, “Well, if you do user pro can you do Ultimate Member.” Yeah, okay. “Could you throw in a little bit to make LearnDash apply tags when this happens?” From the beginning, we started thinking like there’s a lot of different CRM solutions out there, and depending on the size of the business and how comfortable you are, and what you’re looking for there’s no perfect one, but they all basically revolve around, you’ve got a contact, and that’s got some data, you know, some fields that are information, and then you’re segmenting your contacts with tags. If you just boil it down to that, you can pretty much do anything you want in your CRMs. There’s some other systems out there similar to ours that are more like all-in-one membership systems where you set up membership levels and restrictions and that sort of thing. We wanted to keep it really simple.

Basically once you connect your WordPress site to whichever CRM using data diffusion, all of your WordPress contacts get mashed up with CRM contacts, and there’s a link, and the tags flow back and forth between them. If a WordPress user gets a tag applied by enrolling in a Lifter course, then that tag goes up to the CRM. Instead of trying to create … a heavy overblown interface in WordPress, now you’ve got all the power of something like Active Campaign, where you can say, “If this customer used a coupon to enroll in the course before September, and then he finished the course two weeks later, and referred a friend, send him another coupon.” Active Campaign’s all ready built that. They’ve put millions into that. I think we’ve come up with a very lightweight, elegant solution for letting you just take that WordPress data and hook it into the awesome power of those marketing automation tools.

Chris: That’s awesome. It’s like a really focused Zapier is one way I think about it. How are you different from Zapier?

Jack: Well Zapier just kills me. I actually use it a little bit myself. If I was rich I would use it for everything because it’s fun connecting stuff together. Basically, my whole career has been on WordPress and I’m a big open source person. I think code should be free to, not, I mean, WP Fusion is free. When you purchase it you’re purchasing support and updates, and I really believe its important for customers to be able to see what they’re buying, to understand the effort and qualities we put into it, and there’s no commitment. You don’t have to pay us every month or we cut you off. Like you know, with Infusionsoft or something like that.

Those guys aren’t trying to be WordPress, so that’s fine, but if you’re going to run it on WordPress, I think that you should stick to the principles of WordPress. Zapier is awesome, but if I was going to automate my life the way I would like to with Zapier, then I’m going to end up paying hundreds of dollars a month. I wish I had thought of that first, I wouldn’t be here right now. Also, we had a lot of benefits too because Zapier is … It’s not really, fully tied into anything. You can do some tricks to get it to notice when WooCommerce makes an order. It’s kind of sitting between two systems and it’s watching one and then going, “Oh, hey something happened.” And letting the other one know. Whereas we’re a lot more optimized, lightweight, and I think user-intuitive, because when you create your LifterLMS course, you can say, “When the user begins the course, apply these tags. When the user clicks the complete button, apply these tags.” It’s just done in one go. There’s, I don’t think even Zapier does Lifter, do they?

Chris: They don’t.

Jack: Yeah.

Chris: Yeah.

Jack: A lot of things you just couldn’t. We’re able to actually hook into your code, and where your code says, “This guy just completed a course.” Then WP Fusion’s like, “Okay, that happened. Let’s let Infusion Soft know.” It’s just more integrated, and I think more streamlined system, and easier to understand too for other people who want to build on top of it later.

Chris: That’s awesome. Well tell us a little bit about WuCommerce as an example. A lot of people who are listening to this, some of them don’t start with courses. They may all ready have products or services that they’re selling with WuCommerce, and then they want to add courses later. We have a WuCommerce integration for that, but if you’re using WuCommerce as your store, how does that work in terms of connecting to the CRMs?

Jack: Yeah. We actually, we didn’t really think of this at the beginning, but because all of our integrations are tied together through these tags, so for example our WuCommerce subscriptions integration. You can apply a tag when the subscription begins, but you can also have it removed if the subscription fails to pay, or expires, or whatever. With our Lifter integration you can enroll somebody in a course based on a tag. Right there without any extra work you can just say, “Apply my cool course tag.” As soon as WuCommerce applies that tag through their diffusion, the user gets enrolled in the Lifter course. If the subscription expires, the user is removed.

Also, because the tags are getting sent to your Crm as well you can send that automated email a week before or something like that. “Your payment is a week overdue, click here to update it.” That kind of thing. There’s a lot, like we have Gravity Forms integration so you can submit a form like a survey and then apply a tag at the end of the survey saying, “Survey completed.” Then have a page on your site with a special coupon that only shows if you completed the survey. With some creativity, it’s not only a connection between WordPress and the CRM, but it even can bridge a lot of these different WordPress plugins, and make them interact in ways that maybe the original authors didn’t think of. Some fun possibilities there, yeah.

Chris: That’s really cool. The next question I’m going to ask you is about your pricing and the addons. I’m in the exact same boat, where we have single site or more money for a five site license. We have all these addons, and even though I know in my head how everything works and what the offer is and you can get this package, or you can get this package. Sometimes people need a little bit of education around what the addons are, what they do, or what in general are they. How does the pricing work, how does the licensing work.

Jack: Sure yeah.

Chris: Can you walk me through, it looks like you have the three pricing levels, you have personal, plus, and professional. With plus and professional you get four pro addons, and then in your addons there you’ve got Abandoned Cart Tracking, E-Commerce Tracking, Media Tools, Birthday Tools. Help the first time person who’s never heard of you before understand your pricing and the offer there.

Jack: Sure, basically the price … We just started off with personal and professional. I wanted to keep it really simple. I’m a big fan of easy digit downloads and Affiliate WP, and I think their model works well, so I just copied what they did. You pay, it’s no automatic or recurring billing. At the end of the year you’ll get an email. If you wish to renew your licence you get a 30% discount and then you continue to have free support and automatic updates. Obviously we recommend you to renew because WordPress updates, WuCommerce updates, something might break, and if you have an active licence you’re guaranteed to get the fixes right away. It’s free software. Once you buy it you own it, and we can’t cut it off or anything like that. We had a ton of people about six months ago saying, “Well I really would like it, but you don’t do what Infuse Do does, which is sending e-commerce data.”

I started thinking about what I really wanted to focus on is users, tracking users, segmenting users, and contacts. If we start to add in, and especially since we were expanding as new CRMs, Infusionsoft has a very complex and very different e-commerce system. Active Campaign has a interesting one, but quite different, and the other CRMs don’t really have one. We started thinking about, well we don’t want to include this massive feature if three quarters of our customers aren’t going to use it, and it’s going to take a while to develop. So that’s what we launched with the e-commerce add-on. With our basic plugin, if you purchase, if a customer purchases in WuCommerce, the tag gets applied, the contact record gets created, but your sales data is still being run in WuCommerce, and that’s how I do it myself.

I think WuCommerce does a great job of reporting and that kind of stuff. Some people in enterprise situations they need to get all those sales also into Infusion Soft so they can assign sales reps and that kind of thing. With or e-commerce addon it actually creates the products in Infusion Soft based on the WuCommerce products. It creates an order record. It applies the products ordered, and then it logs the order to the customer’s record. You can use Infusion Soft’s reporting tools. The other addons grew out of that. It was things that customers asked for.

Chris: Like cart abandonment.

Jack: Yeah, cart abandon tracking. It’s something that if it’s running it will slow down your checkout a little bit, because of course we have to notice when they start checking out, and then we have to do something else when they start checking out. Even if it only adds two thirds of a second to somebody’s checkout, I wouldn’t want to push that on all our customers if only a small subset of them are going to use it. Yeah, and it basically, the way WP Fusion without the addons works, if you’re running Gravity Forms, our Gravity Forms options show up. If you’re not running Gravity Forms that whole part of the plug-in is just not there.

You can really be running, it’s really very fast and lightweight. It depends on how many things you’re integrating with, and anything that’s not directly fitting into that spider’s web of plug-ins and then back out to CRMs, we decided to do as addons. We get to do experimental things too. The birthday coupons was a customer who just really wanted to try that out, and we’re like, “Oh, yeah sure why not.” There’s only a few people using it, but it’s kind of cool. It’s out there if you like it.

Chris: What’s the media tools?

Jack: Media tools was fun actually. I don’t think anybody else is really doing this. For example, if you have a, you could have a video in one of your lessons, like an uploaded video, either in an MP4 or a Vimeo video, and when you click on the video we add some new options there that say, “Apply tag when the user begins watching the video. When they reach a certain time-code, and when they reach the end of the video.” For example, with our course progression, you have your own built-in one, but say, for example, you wanted to use tags to manage course progression, you could say the user has to begin watching the video and make it at least two thirds of the way through, or else when he clicks on the next course it’s going to send them back to there to finish the video.

Chris: That’s very cool.

Jack: Yeah, even outside of you learning. I’m doing another big site right now where we’re doing a huge training platform for a large company, and employees get bonuses by watching replays of their training seminars in video form.

Chris: Oh that’s really cool, incentivized, but there’s a way to actually track that, that’s cool.

Jack: Yeah, and they don’t know we’re tracking it.

Chris: It’s a surprise.

Jack: It’s kind of a mystery thing, yeah. It’s like they get awards and bonuses for being the most engaged and I don’t remember what the business terminology is for all that stuff. We can see which employees are actually watching the replays after they attend the seminar. At the end of the month, because we have all the tags there, we can see if this group of employees has watched five of them they get this, if this group has watched two they get this, and if this guy didn’t watch any maybe we’ll send him an email, and we’ll also get a task for a supervisor to follow up and be like, “Get on the ball there.” I don’t get too much into the marketing automation side of it, just because it’s so overwhelming, but I’ve seen some amazing stuff done by people who know what they’re doing in that area.

Chris: That’s really awesome. For us, we use Active Campaign as our main CRM. For LifterLMS, which is a software product, the number one thing that where people are before they buy LifterLMS is our demo course. I’m going to be setting up WP Fusion on there to get our users into Active Campaign. I have it set up in a really hacky way through Zapier, but now that you’re on the scene I can’t wait to play with it in detail and try some of these more advanced, messing around with the add-ons and stuff.

Jack: Yeah, I get a kick out of pitching in and helping you out with that. We could do a little like, when the video button gets clicked we could have a bubble pop up and say, “Tag applied.” Something you know?

Chris: Okay, yeah.

Jack: A little interactivity just to get them a sense of where the data is flowing out. That kind of stuff, whatever. I like playing with that kind of stuff.

Chris: That’s really cool.

Jack: Let me know, that’ll be fun.

Chris: Yeah, I’m super excited to go deeper with WP Fusion. You’re just hitting such a big need for people and doing it in an intuitive way.

Jack: Yeah, I’m glad we found you guys too, because I’ve done so many LearnDash sites over the years, and it works, but I train clients on it, and it’s like you have to explain in all this course progression, and then the points and the quizzes. The quiz is kind of a different plugin that got shoved in their later, and from a developer standpoint it’s not much fun, and like I was saying to you, I got this Brazilian TV show that we’re setting up a big Lifter site on, and I showed it to them. Even just the fact that it’s a little more colorful or something like that. They’re like, “Yeah, okay we get this, so this is price, right? We put our stuff in here?” I was like, “Yeah, that’s pretty much it, and I’ve got a little custom field here for your video, and oh, you’re good to go.” I’ve been made a convert for sure. It’s finally nice to see an alternative.

Chris: That’s awesome. I appreciate that. Thanks for saying that. Well let’s close it out and just talk about something that’s near and dear to both of us, and the listener, perhaps, which is the whole digital nomad thing. I just got off of seven months on the road with my family living out of a travel trailer, visiting national parks in the US, but also running my business from the road. I was just down in Mexico for a conference with some other WordPress business folks, who do similar things. Just because you have that freedom to be location independent it doesn’t mean you always are living out of a backpack on a plane and in a hotel. It sounds like you’ve been in Peru, or Lima for a bit. You move around, but it’s not like you’re traveling every single day. Tell us about your digital nomadism.

Jack: Yeah, I’m easing into it. I’ve been freelancing on and off. I haven’t really had a real job so I’ve been doing websites probably since I was like 15 …they weren’t very good back then. Yeah, but still I work part time as a contractor with real companies, you know you have that security and that kind of thing. Probably four years ago my wife and I were like, you know, we just want to go somewhere for six months. Before we just get sucked into people who never leave this town again, and at least try that. We love where we were, but we wanted to at least see something completely different. It was almost literally a dart on a board. It landed on Peru, and ended up here, and actually kind of hated it the first three months, but we realized I wasn’t making quite as much money, but I had my laptop. I was helping a woman publish her e-book and do print on demand stuff, and it all pretty much worked. She thought it was cool that I was traveling.

I thought clients would be like, you know wanting me in the boardroom. I talked to her every morning, and she’d be asking, “Where’d you go yesterday? What’d you see over the weekend? How was Machu Picchu?” It almost made the, in becoming less professional made everybody have more fun, which I was surprised at. Then, it kind of grew from there. I’m now, like, my skills and rates are going nuts, so I tend to take on clients who are doing interesting projects. Like I was saying earlier I’ve now started to get involved with these sort of digital nomad groups. I was surprised that they have these kind of co-labs, or co-working houses.

It’s kind of like a hacker house, but a little more classy. Yeah, you can live like on a beach in Bali. It’s like 140-200 bucks a month. Private rooms, very clean, and with say 60 other designers, developers, marketers. There’s a chef there that caters everything. Free surfing lessons, yoga classes, a pool in the middle, very nice, and then they’re in a shared office space. A lot of people I’ve met who are doing this say it’s actually better than being in a fixed environment, because you might roll in and meet somebody with a great app idea, as rare as those are, but maybe stuff just clicks over a drink. Then great things happen.

I’ve met a few people on this cruise I took. A nomad cruise, we took from Cartegena to Lisbon, and they were just sitting … We had like a hack-a-thon to develop four prototype businesses in 48 hours. They were kind of silly, but I was amazed at what a group of strangers who are all kind of independently minded and just willing to get out of their comfort zones could come up with on a boat with a lot of alcohol and laptops and 48 hours. We had a, what was Michael’s, about phoning your mom? One guy had a, he created a app within a day that on your mother’s birthday it would start yelling at you, “Phone your mother! Phone your mother!”

Chris: That’s good, I could use that actually.

Jack: Yeah, you could see, even a 99 cents sale. I got really inspired by that, and I started thinking maybe next year I might, I like having an apartment, but it might almost be fun to do four weeks here, four weeks there, and soak in some ideas and meet some people with mentalities and different cultures and backgrounds and stuff like that. I’m a real programmer type guy and if I could meet a great marketer, who knows what would happen, or designer. It’s an exciting new frontier. A lot of people don’t really understand it. Some governments are actually … I heard that the-

Chris: No, like how do you tax that? Is that what you’re-

Jack: Yeah, well and actually the other great thing is as long as I spent less than 30 days a year in the states I get a huge tax deduction.

Chris: Are you supposed to do Peruvian taxes or something?

Jack: No, because my bank accounts are all in the states, but if I don’t reside there for any more than 30 days you get a foreign-earned income tax deduction.

Chris: Then digital products are, I don’t know. I’m going to go off my expertise and I don’t know it’s kind of confusing.

Jack: Exactly, so I have customers in 160 countries. That actually makes that a lot easier. Even I have nomad friends in Europe now who are relocating their businesses to Estonia. Talk about Estonia you can get your, they will make you a electronic resident of Estonia over the internet and create your bank account, your business licence, and you get this, I’ve even seen some super fancy bio-metric card you just hold up to your computer and it certifies you for doing your banking activity.

Chris: Okay.

Jack: They want entrepreneurs and creative types to come to Estonia, establish their residency and business there, and the tax rates are super low. I think it’s Malaysia now that’s just started offering seven year visas for entrepreneur types, if you want to come there and do that kind of co-working thing or something and you like it and you want to stay for a few years they’re fine with that. You can’t work legally, but they’re realizing a lot of people are working for European and North American companies and spending that money in the local currency. It’s kind of cool to see some countries are starting to make allowances for that, or being more welcome to people like that. It’s a cool, evolving scene. It’s an interesting time to be in it for sure.

Chris: Yeah, Dan Andrews from the Tropical MBA Podcast, he calls that the rise of the micro-multinational.

Jack: Yeah.

Chris: I don’t know if he’s, he was going to write a book about it. Dan if you’re listening I’m of just what happened with the book. Yeah, so interesting times, and when we work in this space, whether you’re a software creator, a marketer, you’re an expert and you’re creating digital products like online courses or e-books or whatever, it may feel like the party’s over, but in reality I think this is just the beginning. The economy is changing rapidly, more and more people are coming online, there’s parts of the world that are just now coming online. They’re skipping the whole desktop thing and going straight to mobile. It’s a really exciting time, and the tools have never been more powerful.

Jack: With the web technologies now too, especially because we’re moving towards so many open APIs and stuff like that, it’s no longer, “I’m an Oracle guy and you’re a Microsoft guy.” It’s like there may be ten of us with odd little web services sitting at one of these co-working retreats, but if we’ve all got the same REST API, we can just make those work together in ways, or even let our customers blend our tiny components however they like. I guess that’s what we’re trying to do with WP Fusion in a way, is like for every plugin we give you a little bit of power, and then you can do what you like with it, and I think that that’s, yeah I think that’s a … I don’t want to get too philosophical. But you could go into small, good systems that all talk to each other in effective ways, that would be a good future to move into.

Chris: That’s awesome. Well, let me ask you a question related to that for the non-technical person out there …

Jack: I get a little technical sometimes, yeah.

Chris: No, it’s okay, but we hear about it in the WordPress community, or whatever, about the rest API, and moving all to JavaScript. What does that mean for the layman? How does that open up the opportunity?

Jack: I’ve got to actually start studying again. That stuff’s confusing. It is exciting because, I mean, PHP is actually, PHP is the language WordPress is written in, and it’s an old system. It’s been optimized a lot, but you can’t really change the groundwork there. You get some limitations like when you go on Facebook, you never really reload a page. Your notifications slide in, and everything slides in, so that’s your JavaScript layer. Facebook is still built on PHP. PHP’s doing the like, it’s figuring out who your friends are and what pictures you want to see. On top of that, they have pretty shiny layer that makes it cool and hip. What WordPress is doing right now is it’s not getting rid of that powerful under-layer, but it’s just opening it up so that if you want to sit your shiny, pretty layer on top of it you can. I’ve seen some interesting stuff done with it.

Like you theoretically, when all these things come together you could build a Facebook copy on top of WordPress and have it run just as well. That’s, I think, where they’re really focused. Also where we’re moving into mobile applications and things like that your website could behave just like an app. No real reloading, everything available all the time. I don’t fully understand it and it scares me a little bit, but I do think it’s the right direction. It’s also, well, in layman terms, when you click on a page in a WordPress site, the whole page gets thrown away, and the server churns up and figures out what the next one’s going to be, and then it gives it to you. The way things are moving now with these new technologies is if you like your friends photo, just the like button changes. Instead of rebuilding all the stuff, so we’re saving on electricity, we’re saving on data storage space, and it makes it more modular and easier to understand, and easy to stand upon later too. Efficiency, yeah.

Chris: That’s awesome.

Jack: Yeah, it’s exciting and terrifying for me.

Chris: Yeah well I mean the rate of change is accelerating. That’s one of the reasons why I think, like you mentioned in the digital nomad community, when you’re in these networks of other people, in the future, going forward having good relationships and not trying to do it solo, or just having a network is going to become even more important to solve the problems of the future and to keep up with the rate of change, and all that sort of thing.

Jack: Yeah, and I like that because it’s not … I grew up thinking you have to be a businessman, wear a suit, and go to official meetings and contracts and stuff, but you could meet a guy who’s a really good interface designer when it comes to pet websites, or something like that, and have a good time. Two years later you happen to get a, I don’t know, government contract for a animal rescue. You’re like, “Hey, yeah, how are you doing man?” There’s this cool, like organic network of we all have our interests and our focus and our strengths. It’s more organic.

There’s no, “I’m the boss, this is the project, you guys do it.” It’s more like, “I’ve got an opportunity, but I can’t do it on my own and I know some people. I’ll bring together a team, make it happen, and the team disperses.” I think even that’s more efficient in a way too, because you’ve got interested people doing what they want to do instead of a rigid hierarchy of people being told what to do.

Chris: Absolutely, and if you haven’t read the book-

Jack: I like the future, I’m optimistic about the future all the time.

Chris: If you’re listen to this, and you haven’t read the book Rework yet, go ahead and check that out. It’s a good book about remote teams.

Jack: Yeah.

Chris: Well, last question, what is the future for WP Fusion? Like where are you going? What’s your strategy? What can people expect down the road?

Jack: I’m not really sure. We’ve gotten to the point now where it works really well. I got really into making it faster a couple of months ago, and just … Well I won’t even begin to talk about that. It was complicated and I’m happy with the way that it turned out. Now really, it’s just somebody will email and say, “I’m interested in this.” Somebody emailed this morning and said, “I’d like to buy it, but I need it to work with MemberPress.” So we did MemberPress. Because of the way it’s written we could add a thousand integrations and the download size would be a little bit bigger, but it doesn’t affect your site performance at all. Eventually I’d hope, I’m even talking to some other businesses right now. I’m hoping that this might become a standardized framework for communicating with these CRMs, because the CRM industry is expanding.

Chris: They’re all different. There’s no standard, right?

Jack: Yeah, there’s no real standard, but what you want for the most part is pretty much the same. WordPress has just made an announcement. They want to get 51% market share of all new websites in the next ten years or something like that.

Chris: They’re currently at like 27% or something.

Jack: Yeah, so it’s ambitious, but they’ve got a dedicated team called the 51 Team.

Chris: Okay, sounds like WordPress.

Jack: WordPress, I think they could do it, is pushing in that direction. CRM is market, or like total sales, and that kind of thing year over year is growing 20-25%. I think they’re great. When I first saw Infusion Soft I was like, “Why would you need this?” Now that I see how, if you’re running a huge business you can’t have a one-on-one relationship necessarily with a customer, but if you don’t let a customer feel taken care of you lose them. By creating these rules and automations, you can make sure that you get notified exactly right before that customer needs you. You can still have that close, personal relationship, but not be driven insane by it.

I think with WordPress growing, and CRMs growing, one day if we could become a standardized framework so that there doesn’t have to be this fragmented ecosystem of different people trying to connect different things in different ways. If you created a new CRM and wanted to connect everything that we work with to it, you could easily do that as a separate plug-in just interface with ours. If somebody creates a new plug-in that we don’t want to support, but they want to connect to our CRMs they can just attach that in there. Maybe one day it would become kind of a hub that just standardizes. Like what we were saying with rest APIs for example how now services that couldn’t talk before can now talk. Maybe just be like a baby version of that for WordPress. For just getting data out of the website and into the marketing system.

Chris: That’s really cool. Well, Jack Arturo, ladies and gentlemen. WP Fusion. You can find him out more at WPFusionPlugin.com.

Jack: Check it out.

Chris: Check it out, and thank you for coming on the show.

Jack: Yeah, thank you so much. It’s been a great time talking to you.

EPISODE 113

SEO Basics for Online Course Creators with Scott Magdalein

This LMScast features Chris Badgett of codeBOX explaining SEO basics for online course creators with Scott Magdalein from TrainedUp. You’ll actually gain enough knowledge in this episode to get SEO working to increase traffic to your own website.

TrainedUp is a volunteer training and leadership development tool for ministries that Scott created originally for his own use. It has since become a growing online course platform for training volunteers, missionaries, and pastors. He talks a little about his beginnings with creating search engine optimized content and learning how to rank on Google. Discussion then continues around how to do SEO that will get you ranked without getting Google Slapped.

Unethical practices can get your site banned, blacklisted, and removed from the internet. Focus on creating good content and building a trustworthy reputation through earning link integrity. Stay away from shady or even questionable black or grey hat SEO tactics. You simply can’t game Google’s algorithm. The key is to make sure your content has relevance and authority. Follow white hat SEO techniques using original content to generate organic keyword propagation.

You may have an online course website, membership site, or LMS where your content is restricted, and thus not open to the general public. This kind of content is generally not indexed by Google, so it’s not going to help you – or hinder you – in getting ranked.

One element that will get you ranked is a great blog with SEO-rich content. Each blog post is a new page in your site. Blog posts are searchable, they get real traffic, and they generate linkbacks from high authority sites. You can create blog posts from content in your courses and include previews and teasers to attract interest in those courses. Images and media content on your website also pull in viewers using proper SEO-based titling. Also use good anchor text on all of your links, and remember the blog title itself is very important for SEO.

Chris and Scott also discuss tools like Yoast, Moz, and Majestic, as well as traps to avoid like malicious linkbacks, invasive pop-ups, dead-end pages, and duplicate content. They wrap up with the 3 SEO Basics you need to have in place for success.

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 in this episode I’m joined with Scott Magdalein from TrainedUp, which is a online course platform designed to create highly engaging ministry training and to help use online courses to train volunteers, develop leaders, equip missionaries and resources pastors in getting their skills out there. So thanks for coming on the show, Scott.

Scott Magdalein: Yeah, Man. My pleasure. Thanks for having me. This is really cool.

Chris Badgett: Good to have you here. Well, the main topic of this episode is we are actually going to get into SEO, but before we get into that, tell us a little bit more about TrainedUp. What’s your story? How’d you get into it? What problem are you solving with your LMS platform TrainedUp?

Scott Magdalein: Yeah, well TrainedUp works on a really really specific problem and that is volunteer training and leadership development in ministries. That would be like churches and mission organizations and faith base non profits, local non profits, that sort of thing. It’s a challenge that is just kind of a budding technology. It’s just now kind of coming around to letting technology solve that problem but it is a problem or at least a challenge that pretty much every ministry related organization has. Most ministries are really have to lean on volunteers and so being as volunteers trained is a big, big job.

We came around it because I myself have been in ministry and I’ve always had the trouble of training my own volunteers in a way that’s kind of scales and is efficient and is consistent across the board, so I built Trained Up originally for myself so I could use it in my own ministry. Then, as some of my other ministry leader friends found it they decided that it was something they could use and over time it kind of turned into a little business that’s now growing into a bigger business. It started out as a tool for myself.

Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. What does Trained Up do?

Scott Magdalein: Well, Trained Up is pretty simple. It’s an LMS that allows any kind of ministry leader to create a course online and … It’s usually video courses but they can be any kind of content and allow their volunteers to go through it and complete full courses for training. There’s also, we have a couple of other features in there that we kind of say that there’s 3 legs to this Trained Up stool.

There’s the main one which is courses, and it allows you to make courses just like you can imagine. Then, we also have 2 others that are called resources and webinars. Resources is a way to share collections of files, sort of like DropBox but branded and behind the log in domain in your Trained Up accounts. Then, there are webinars which is like a live streaming, live chat kind of tool to be able to do live training in remote areas. A lot of our missionary organizations use the webinar feature to be able to train missionaries over seas without having to site them in for training.

Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Well, if you are listening to this and you would like to check out Trained Up, you can head on over to TrainedUp.org and see what that’s all about. Today we are really going to get into SEO, search engine optimization and this is a great topic because there’s so much junk or garbage out there and just bad advice or over confident advice. Scott is somebody who really cares about SEO and can get traction, can help actually create search engine optimized content. This is an issue that I’m really excited about.

I’ve done a lot of the hard yards in learning how to do SEO. I’ve also, when I’ve run an agency, I’ve kind of come on to projects that had involved some kind of SEO agency and I found something that were a little unethical or weird or all kinds of link wheels and really just a lot of bad advice. I understand the promise of search engine optimization, everybody wants it, everybody wants to be number 1 on Google for whatever but the reality is is it’s a lot of hard work but you want to be doing … It doesn’t have to be hard but it takes consistency, it takes doing the right things, it’s not a passive thing that you just throw money at. You have to do the work, create the content.

I’m really excited to kind of merge our experience together here and talk about SEO that actually works. I’ve often, if I had some free time, I’ve always wanted to create a no BS SEO course that teaches people, just beginner, and trust me, just doing the basics can bring you a long way, especially over a decent time horizon. This is not over night success land here. Anyways, maybe one day we can collaborate on a course about that.

Let’s get into it. What’s your history with SEO? How did you get into it? Let’s start there.

Scott Magdalein: Man, I’ve been working in search for probably 8 years now which isn’t as long as a lot of other people but I have what feels like a long history with working around, tip toeing around, Google’s rules. Mainly we say search, we mean Google. I mean, it’s pretty much Yahoo and Bing and even all those others, they still use a lot of the same rules so if you can rank in Google then the others are fine.

My search history kind of goes back to my own business when I started a marketing company, really a mortgage new generation company back in mid 2000s I guess. I didn’t have a whole lot of budget so I couldn’t run ads or whatever so I had to figure out how to get in front of people searching for buying a mortgage. We were up against big banks and all that kind of stuff trying to generate leads for mortgage brokers.

At the time, of course, there were link farms and you could do a lot of whole various stuff and still get ranked without too many penalties. Overtime, of course, those penalties grew harder, bigger, and harsher and tighter perimeters around what you were allowed to do. Over time my techniques really just simplified into what you were talking, the long hard work of content creation, technical SEO, just making sure all of the bits and pieces are lined up properly and site map is generating properly regularly and everything is indexed well and all that stuff. Content creation and building reputation, building authority through link building, link earning rather.

Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Yeah, I mean, just to give people an idea, SEO back in the day, like if I wanted to rank for the phrase ‘word press LMS’ I could just put the word ‘word press LMS’ 137 times at the bottom of my home page and that would help me but the reality is, you can’t outsmart Google. You shouldn’t try to. It’s not there as a system to be gamed. Yeah, I mean people always find a loop hole to exploit or something like that but over time it’s gotten so much smarter and what Google really cares about these days is relevance, authority, these kinds of these you are talking about.

They have, Google’s algorithm for figuring these things out is not something that you can crack and you hear about it with penguin and panda, all these Google updates that all of a sudden this loop hole that all these people are exploiting like, I don’t know. I can’t think of one off the top of my head. Maybe like using anchor links …

Scott Magdalein: Over using anchor links, yeah.

Chris Badgett: Yeah, all of a sudden you get slapped and now your website disappears from the internet. It’s called a Google slap. If you feel like you are gaming the system, you probably are and I would avoid because eventually it will catch up with you.

Scott Magdalein: Yeah, that’s true. Usually what I like to say is in Google search if you think you found a loop hole then you probably found a noose because it’s probably going to come back and hang you. The thing is from with a Google slap as you called it, I never heard that. That was funny. Is that it’s not just that you get un ranked but you get banned and black listed. It’s not just a matter of undoing what you did, you have to regain authority and regain trust with Google and a lot of times it actually even takes contacting Google to prove that you amended your ways and you have rehabilitated. It’s not easy.

Chris Badgett: There’s another couple … We’ll get into some tactics and some ideas here but one of the key things to just realize is there’s something called black hat SEO, white hat SEO, and grey hat SEO. The black hate SEO is all the shady, not cool stuff that you might get away with. The grey hat stuff is things where you are not sure, maybe it’s a little bit shady but it works but it’s not necessarily clean as a whistle. Where as organic content that you wrote yourself that happens to include in a natural cadence the key words related to your business, that’s a white hat technique. It’s very much legit.

We want to talk about really the white hat techniques here but you’ll hear that if you start researching SEO and you hear people talking about black hat or grey hat or white hat. Focus on the white hat, that’s the stuff that’s good and that you don’t even have to worry about, it’s just best practices.

Scott Magdalein: Yeah.

Chris Badgett: Maybe Scott we can get into something, just some specific concepts that people should understand and then give some examples. Before we do, I just want to frame in, a lot of the people listening to this you probably have an online course website or a membership site or a learning management system which gives you a unique SEO challenge in that a lot of your content is protect and restricted so that members only or customers only who have enrolled in a certain course or membership are allowed to see the content, therefore, Google is not going to automatically necessarily index that protected content. They are not going to give you a bunch of … They are not going to rank you for stuff that isn’t openly available to the public.

What Google really likes … They don’t like dead ends and stuff that’s kind of hidden. It’s not bad to have your content restricted to members only, just know that that’s not necessarily helping you a lot for SEO. If you have an online course or a membership site, it’s really important that the content on your home page, on your other pages, like your about page and all kind of feature pages or whatever, that that content you pay a lot of attention to that from a SEO perspective.

Also, I highly recommend that you do something like have a blog that’s free and open to the public which is your opportunity to really create a lot of content, SEO rich content for your platform so that you are not just keeping a secret from Google everything that’s kind of locked in and hidden inside your courses and your memberships.

Let’s get into somethings. What are some key concepts that people should pay attention to? What would be some tactics that they could try to do?

Scott Magdalein: Some key concepts probably would be like you said, you mentioned how important it is to have a blog. Blogs, although they feel chronological to us as humans, they are considered pages by Google, and so every blog post you create creates a new page in your site. Of course you should be, whatever website building you are using should be indexing those individual blog post as well. Blog post are the easiest way to create new pages in your site. I mean, it’s one thing to create a topic specific page on your site like a feature or a service that you provide or some topic that you know about, it just feels more natural to create a blog post.

Blog post can use more natural language generally. They can be a little bit more time sensitive so you write something about something that’s happening right now or happening recently. Keeping up and maintaining a blog is probably my number one content and creation suggestion. If you don’t have a blog it’s tough to rank all your other pages because generally pages on a website don’t get the link back, kind of stuff that blog post usually have.

As far as coming up with content, the hardest part about blogging is content creation. It’s not writing the actual content, it’s coming up with content and then, not just the content idea but how do you feel it out? The great thing is that course creators, people who create any kind of teaching or training content, that’s my clients too, they have a great opportunity to repurpose and reuse and restate all that content that’s inside their course. All those videos and hopefully the transcripts for those videos. They live behind a log in wall so they are not being index so that’s good for the course side of it but there’s no reason that you can’t repurpose that content into previews or snippets or teasers or whatever that can become blog posts, that become pages on your site, that become teaser videos with transcripts on Youtube. These are all highly searchable pieces of content that don’t have to give away all the apples in your course and you don’t have to give it away so that the course becomes less valuable but they are good search pieces that Google can hang on to and chew on and provide for when they are searching for stuff related to your topics.

Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. I’ll give you another pro tip in terms of content which is images. A lot of people don’t pay enough attention to images. Google likes to see multi media types of content and Google … It’s getting better. AI or whatever, it’s a thing and Google might be able to tell what’s in an image but contributors usually can’t tell what they are looking at so you have to tell them what we are looking at here.

For example, even just the title without getting any of the more fancy titles and things like that. If you have a picture, if you are going to add it to a blog post or any where on your site, take 20 seconds and re title that photograph by the name or the phrase or whatever is in the picture so you are telling Google what this image is. For example, if I take a picture off my phone and the title of it is image 0157 on my site, it’s not really doing anything for my SEO but for me, if I’m selling a word press plug in. If I take a moment and take that logo image and re title it from image 0157 to lifter LMS a word press learning management system plug in for online courses and then I upload it to my site, I’ve just done a huge value to my SEO. You can even go back into your media library or word press or whatever, you can redo this stuff later if you need to. Images is often one of those things that can really help you if you get some good habits around that.

Scott Magdalein: Yeah, absolutely. All those little things matter. Making sure that you have good anchor text on all of your links instead of just kind of dropping the URL itself in there. Make sure it’s turned into a text link instead of a URL. Add titles to your URLs if you have time to go back … Not to your URLs, to your links. If you have time to go back and do that. There’s also, I mean, we tend to think about the content itself but it’s really also important to have page titles and page descriptions on all of your pages as well as your blog posts.

I personally manually write up a title and description that’s a search title and search description that I want Google to know about and Google to use when they rank one of my blog post. A blog post might be ‘How to train church leaders in 10 seconds a day or something like that but the search title is a little bit more optimized. I make sure that it’s tighter. It fits in within the … I forget what the character length is, Yoast helps mewith that, but it fits within Google’s search parameters and then I write a description that fits within their limits on the description text. Of course, I use WordPress, so the Yoast plugin makes it really easy to add a title description to everything but that’s really valuable because it helps Google to know what to actually show in the search results page.

Chris Badgett: Absolutely. The Yost plug in, which is called, I believe it’s called Yost SEO, it’s one of the … I take a mentalist approach when it comes to plug ins but whenever I’m building a site I always put that one in there and use it as a tool to make sure those titles are optimized. A meta description it’s called, so when you go to Google and you search for something and you see that big blue title and that short paragraph in black letters, that short paragraph in black letters is where you can put in the meta description and the SEO title. If you want that to say something else that’s more focused or shorter than the title of the content, you can do that. That’s a really good tip there.

Well, let’s talk more about the difference between in bound and out bound links. In bound links are where other sites link to your site and the authority of the site linking to you, like if the Huffington post links to you or some crazy spamming site links to you, the opposite thing can happen. You can actually get hurt or you can be dramatically helped at the quality or the authority of that inbound link. Let’s talk about in bound links a little bit. What else should people know about in bound links and how to get more of them?

Scott Magdalein: Yes, so I mean, my number 1 tactic isn’t so secret. It’s trying to get in touch with site owners, content producers on other sites and either produce content for them, ask for a back link on one of their pages, tell them about my service so they’ll link to it in their suggestions places. Those old school link roles. You remember, I don’t know if you’ve been around long enough, but those blog roles from back in the day?

Chris Badgett: Oh yeah.

Scott Magdalein: Like the sidebar, those are essentially like my friends, my internet friends. Those things were actually good links to you back, so that’s really good. I also try to focus on high domain authority sites within my niche, what I’m talking about, what we talk about. Domain authority you can use tools. There are probably a dozen tools to evaluate the domain authority of different sites on the web. I use Moz, they’re an open site explorer or something like that, fresh web explorer. I’m not sure, they have all these different explorer tools. It tells me domain authority of the fact that I want to target with content, either as guest content or with links or whatever. I do that, I kind of reach out.

Also, I’ve heard that .gov and .edu sites, if you get a link from one of those, they have natural high authority because they typically have higher trust and so if you can get a link back from one of those it’s really good. Especially if you are a course creator and you are doing your own teaching you might be able to find some sites in your category or your area that might be willing to … Not trade links. I don’t know if that’s even a thing anymore but essentially be able to post content in their space and link back to you.

Also, again, I use Moz and they’ll tell you the standing links coming back. You can check and see if there are links that you didn’t want to create, like someone created a link back to your site and it’s getting flagged for spam because if you get to 8 or 9 or 10 spam flags, Google will start to black list you and penalize you for it. You want to watch out for any links that are triggering Google’s spam alert system.

Chris Badgett: Absolutely and you can go through a process through Google web master tools that’s called devaluing where you can be like, “I don’t want those to count at all towards my SEO or whatever. Just don’t pay attention to those because i don’t like them because they are spam or whatever.” That’s cool.

Another thing, I like your point about guest posting, that’s a really good one. There’s a lot of people out there who, especially if you are course creator, you are probably better than average at creating content, there’s a lot of other publishers out there that’d be happy to have some new fresh content on their blogs or whatever are more than happy to give you are link back to your site.

The other thing you can do is rate some of your own back links. For example, Left your own mess, we have a YouTube channel. All these podcast videos go on YouTube. I think we are up somewhere around a couple hundred videos, maybe 300. Every single one of those in the description has a link to LifterLMS.com, a specific blog post, specific product, or whatever is the context of that video. That creates a huge amount of … I don’t know if they index it in the same way then like somebody else’s site that isn’t open to the public or whatever but what I’m saying is that when I create something somewhere else, if I have the opportunity to create a link, I’m always going to throw a link in there. Not to the point of being annoying but I’m just going to throw a link in there if I’m trying to move traffic in.

In my approach, a lot of times, on that kind of website I usually don’t put social media on the site at all. If I’m on Facebook, I want people to come to my website. If I’m on YouTube, I want people to come to my website. If I’m on Itunes, I want them to come to my website. It’s not bad to have links out to these places either especially if you are pretty active on them. Just think about your link strategy. Really at the end of the day, I think what Google wants is more of an organic web. If your link strategy is too perfect, and it looks …. You are not going to get penalized for linking to content.

Scott Magdalein: No you won’t get penalized for linking to your content from your own social. They aren’t counted at the same weight as general web links but there are some sort of signal in there that counts buzz and social conversation about your content so that helps for certain. Of course, social activity helps. Google can associate your social accounts with your site and will help to effect your domain authority and page rank based on your social activity and social interaction as well. Those are all signals that kind of play in.

There’s also other signals, I was just thinking a moment ago another big signal … Oh, something else we haven’t talked about yet is Google upped … Last year they upped the value of the signal for mobile friendliness. Most websites now a days I guess, unless you are building it from scratch, HML, most websites are automatically responsive. Especially if you are using any kind of modern WordPress theme or a Squarespace site or anything like that for your public-facing site, it’s going to be responsive but, if it’s not responsive Google will ding you to the point of even saying if it’s not a responsive site Google won’t list you because it’s not friendly to the users so that became a big signal in 2015.

Then also, there’s one other big signal I heard about recently.

Chris Badgett: I heard recently there was some issues with pop ups.

Scott Magdalein: Yes, that’s the other one.

Chris Badgett: Go ahead.

Scott Magdalein: Yeah, Google started penalizing, not penalizing like black listing but lowering your page rank essentially, lowering your quality, user quality if it detects any kind of interpretive pop ups or any thing like that. Re directs, of course, those have been negative for awhile but now I guess since so many sites are using … Doing newsletter pop ups that overlay the entire page, Google is docking you for those kinds of things. I think you’ll start to see the rise in drop down banners, the 20 pixels or 50 pixels at the top of the screen or the corner pop ups that just kind of get your attention and we’ll start to see the over lay pop ups that kind of cover the screen go away, hopefully, as a result of that.

Chris Badgett: Yeah, at the end of the day Google is trying to protect and respect the end user and that’s what we should all be caring about is their mission is just for people to find what they are looking for and they don’t want people gaining the system. If a marketing company is like, “Okay, if you put this kind of pop up that the user didn’t trigger and you can increase the size of your email list or whatever.” It may help but if it’s also annoying, eventually Google is probably going to cut you up because you are not … You are actually getting in the way of what the user is looking for. I mean it may be valuable to be on your email list …

We have some pop ups on our sites that we use. We haven’t gone away. We have gone back through and adjusted anything since that news came out but we’re also not super aggressive. They don’t pop up everywhere. Just be careful when you are using that kind of thing.

Let me ask you another one Scott in terms of out bound links. I don’t even know about this one, like the technical Google stance on it but I do know that Google does not like dead ends. If you have, let’s say a landing page, also known as a squeeze page or a sales page, and there’s one page and there’s no way to escape besides the back button. The menu is gone, the footer and the links are gone. You are going to have a hard time ranking that page because it’s like a dead end on the internet. What Google likes is like a web and they always want the user to easily be able to leave if it’s not good. If you have it like a dead end on the internet and then a pop up, I mean, you are just asking for … You are not going to get any SEO value there which is okay. I mean, maybe on a sales page you are trying to limit options and I understand the reasoning behind helping your user maintain focus as they are checking out and that sort of thing.

In my mind, I like to be pretty generous with out bound links, even on a product page. If there’s this other piece of information that’s relevant to someone making an informed purchase, I will put a link to somebody else’s website on that page. What’s your take on outbound links?

Scott Magdalein: Yeah, I mean, just what you said. Your pages need to not be dead ends like that. I mean, the way that I work that is I always have our logo in the top of every page and the logo always links back to the home root URL. And I have footer navigation. Those are all pages where I want to not have my navigation distractor possibly pull them away from the page that I really want them to stay on and read through the whole page or take an action on but again, if you make a dead end on those pages because you don’t want them to leave Google will say, “Oh, well we’re not going to send them there if you don’t want them to leave. We need people to be able to come browse through the web.” Yeah, that’s important.

I think also, the little things, like your out bound links being anchor text and not just URLs. That tells Google that you know what you are linking to and also having titles on your links is good structure and all that kind of stuff.

Chris Badgett: Another good one just to watch out for is duplicate content. If you are like, “Oh, I need to create a bunch SEO content.” And you just start reusing something that already exist and you don’t modify it or if you have multiple sites and you think that taking the same blog post and copying it word for word and pasting it on 5 sites, that can actually hurt you.

Scott Magdalein: Oh yeah.

Chris Badgett: Duplicate content is something to be aware of. Think about it, Google just wants everything to be unique and not just plagiarism from somewhere else. It’s not going to help you to copy the best stuff on some popular site.

Scott Magdalein: Yeah, some of what I do … You are talking about taking your blog post content and copying it to other sites? That used to work truthfully before they started binging you for duplicate content. I don’t do this for myself. In my space, ministry training, there’s just not enough searching that’s happening or search competition for me to have to really put a lot of work into it but I do some ICO work for some clients and more high search competition on spaces, what I’ll do is actually manage through 4 separate sites that are all peripheral topics. If the topic is drug rehab, I’ll have 1 site that’s the actual company’s website and we do content of course on that site but we have also have an intervention site that talks about intervention specifically and intervention service-

Chris Badgett: Are these micro sites? Is that what you would call them?

Scott Magdalein: Yeah, they are simply just blogs. I may produce 3 pieces of content on the primary plant site per week but each one of those peripheral sites gets at least 1 piece of content per week as well so I might be creating 6 or 7 pieces of content, 300 words, 500 words, not these massive pieces of articles but enough to continue those sites. These other sites don’t have to have massive domain authority, they just can’t be spam sites. They need to link to one another and they also need to link out. These other sites are legitimate websites, they’re not clone sites. They are actually valuable in and of them selves. they are ranked in Google, somebody lands on it, I want them click that link back to my client’s site not just because it’s Google juice but also because I want them to follow the link.

They do help. That is one way if you have the time and the energy to produce that much content. It’s not necessarily always best to produce that good content on one site because you lost the opportunity to be able to build some domain authority by building that content elsewhere and linking it back.

Chris Badgett: Absolutely. That’s a really good point. I also just want to say when you are trying to rank for something, if you are a beginner, I really want to drill in the point that having a key word is important but what’s almost more important is a key word phrase. A single key word, like cars would be really hard to rank for but if you would want to rank for the term ‘used Tesla cars’, you are in a niche there so that key word phrase … It’s all about key word phrases.

For me, selling a learning management system software, I like to rank for phrases like ‘how to create an online course’. That’s like 6 words or whatever. I don’t just want the word ‘word press’. I don’t really care about that as a key word. I like the phrase ‘word press LMS’ or ‘word press membership system’ or ‘LMS software comparison’ or whatever. These phrases for me are way more important than individual words. It’s just a cool-

Scott Magdalein: That’s right, for a couple of reasons. I mean, there’s a lot of reason to target long tale key words like that. One is because the competition is lower and so ranking for those long tale key words is easier, takes a little less effort, little less time, but another reason is the search traffic that comes from when somebody searches ‘how to create an online course’ the search traffic is much more focused so it’s different than just ‘online learning’. Or eLearning. Then, you get 10,000 hits in a month for that thing but only 10 of those people actually care about an LMS system or you could rank for ‘how to create an online course’ or rather even better ‘how to build an online course for a learning management system’ something really long and specific and it’s like bam, LifterLMS, but that’s … It comes to your site because that’s exactly what they were looking for. You may get less traffic from it but the traffic you get is much more focused and actually the people you want on your site.

Targeting those long tale key words is good for a lot of reasons and also helps to make your content a whole lot more interesting. If you are targeting short key works, one of the 2 words or 3 words in a phrase, you are going to find that your content gets really boring and you start using that word over and over again instead of a variation or kind of mixing up that long sentence.

Chris Badgett: Yeah, so the basics of using a key word phrase is put the title of the post or whatever, page, preferably toward the beginning, mention it in the first sentence of the first paragraph, maybe twice in the first paragraph, a couple times in the other paragraphs, but don’t over do it. Don’t talk unnaturally, or try to squeeze it in 17 times in each paragraph because then you are kind of trying to gain the system there. What I’m saying is it’s good just to kind of, I call it thinking like a search engine. I like to think like that when I’m like, “What podcast episode am I going to make next? What kind of blog post am I going to do?” I think about key word phrases that might help but more importantly I’m caring about what’s of value to my user base. Once I figure that out ….

For example, this episode, I know that our user base, I want them to have a better understanding of SEO so whatever I end up titling this episode like ‘SEO basics for online course creators’, that would be a key word phrase right there. If I say it multiple times in this video, SEO basics for online course creators, and then this video gets transcribed it’s going to keep coming through but I’m not going to over do it. What I’m saying is, when you are uploading that image, when you are thinking about the title of the post, when you think about the words that are in your first sentence in something, try to think like a search engine. It’s a learned skill.

Scott Magdalein: Yeah, there’s some tools that will help even. Again, I use Moz, but for a keyword research I also use this other tool called Jacksie. These 2 tools will tell me not just … Okay, I have an idea for this phrase ‘how to create an online course’ but I can also go search that or do an recent research on that with these Moz or Jacksie and it’ll not only tell me the potential for that particular phrase, the competition there, the number of searches that are happening around that phrase, but it’ll also give me 1,000 variation of that phrase so that I can know what other … What people are actually searching for. That helps me in a couple of ways. That helps me to know how to talk about what I want to write about or produce content about but it also helps me to know what to produce content about. That way I’m not wasting time producing content that isn’t being searched for.

Chris Badgett: Absolutely, and I’m going to give you, everybody watching and listening out there, another free tip which is go and do a search on Google.com and as you are starting to type in your main key words, whatever they are, let’s say you are teaching about horses, training horses, and you are typing in ‘horse training’. Google is actually going to start auto populating the most popular phrases. You’ll see them show up below the search box. There it is, it’s telling you this is what’s in demand. Especially if you get way out on the long tale of some very micro niche, it’ll give you some great suggestions to let you know what’s on the mind of the user like what phrases people are typing in. If you even scroll to the bottom of the SERP, which is the search engine results page, it’s just the page that comes up after you do a Google search. At the very bottom of the page, there’s a bunch of key word phrases down there that you could click on that are like basically relevant searches saying “If you like the results here, you might also like these searches down here. Click on these.”

Just got a slow down for a second and think like a search engine and look at what’s already there for you to help you kind of come up with those phrases.

Scott Magdalein: Yeah, that’s actually … I mean, that kind of thing, the search auto complete as well as those other … I forget what Google calls it. The links at the bottom of the SERP page. Those are a really great content idea sources. Like, “I don’t know what to post today. I’m trying to fill out my content calendar for next month and I can only come up with 10 post but I need 15 post.” You can go start a search and Google will tell you what else you should write about is what people are searching for.

Chris Badgett: That’s true and just to give you a personal example of how powerful this is, I wrote a post once about affiliate marketing for online courses and then, just because I kind of think like a search engine and I made sure I kind of optimize it for that phrase, 2 months later I was on a plane to New York to do some affiliate marketing for online course consulting with a company there but it’s all because I did … I just consciously thought about that and these long tale phrases are powerful so, if you are in business you should know what those are for you.

Scott Magdalein: Yeah, that’s good.

Chris Badgett: Well, this all sounds like a lot of work Scott and I know you offer some services related to this kind of thing so, if somebody’s not … If they are more like, “This all sounds great. This sounds awesome. Can you just do it for me?” I know you do help out people from time to time, tell us about what you’ve got going on over there.

Scott Magdalein: Yeah, so we do … We have our product close to this training platform but I also help with some search stuff for some clients. We don’t take on a lot of clients. We are small shop. We only have a couple of guys and we try to keep our client load pretty light but we do take on some SEO clients and we sort of stopped building websites for clients a couple of years ago just because building websites is so easy to do on your own now. Building websites has become a commodity but even websites found on the web is still a really high in demand, hard thing to do. I mean, honestly it doesn’t take a whole lot. I mean, the knowledge that we gave already in this particular episode is probably just about as much as you need to get going and do a good job if you have the time and the patience to do the research and create the content and to build a relationship with the publishers and all that kind of stuff.

What we do is we focus on 3 things when we serve clients when it comes to SEO. Making sure the site is built the right way and that doesn’t take a whole lot of work but that it’s set up and then a review of all the pages and the structure, that kind of stuff. Of course, making sure that Google and other search engines recognize it. Then we work on public … More like PR really, building relationships with publishers and we go after guest post opportunities. There are ways to find guest post opportunities on lots of blogs. Then there’s the consecrations on site and if you are really in a lot of need, we also will from time to time, if it makes sense depending on the search competition, build a network of sites that are all built to rank well and then bring traffic and build the ranking of the main primary site.

We do that, it’s usually based on a package deal based on the needs of our client when they come to us and we kind of talk about what they want to accomplish and what their competition is but we do that a little bit here and there.

Chris Badgett: Good deal. Well, what’s the best way for people to get ahold of you?

Scott Magdalein: They can just email me. Scott@TrainedUp.org is the easiest way to get ahold of me.

Chris Badgett: Awesome. Well, Scott Magdalein, Ladies and Gentlemen. Thanks for coming on the show, Scott. We’ll have to do it again some time.

Scott Magdalein: Yeah, my pleasure. Thanks for having me, Man.

EPISODE 112

Elite Learning Environments and The Outlier 360 Project with Peter Fallenius

In this LMScast Chris Badgett of codeBOX discusses elite learning environments and the Outlier 360 Project with Peter Fallenius, including what defines an outlier, what motivates them, and how understanding them can make you more successful.

Peter’s early involvement in e-business and background as a competitive athlete give him a deep interest in peak performance. He defines outliers as people who are performing on a very high level. He hopes to learn from them in order to boost his own performance as well as teach others how to do better.

The Outlier 360 Project seeks to understand the basics of motivation, meaning, survival, and success in relation to how outliers achieve their elite level leadership, learning, and team results, and then create an environment in which others can learn to work that way, too. Especially for new businesses, outlier leadership, outlier learning, and outlier teams can be crucial to scaling the business.

Three things outliers have in common are a sense of autonomy, competence, and relatedness that give their lives meaning. Instead of identifying a pain and seeking to solve it as most businesses do, outliers focus on making life more meaningful for themselves and those around them. Outliers also tend to do what matters in simple, yet excellent and elegant ways. Simple, so it’s understandable. Excellent, so that doing it matters. Elegant is efficient, and it works.

In an online learning environment you seek to keep students engaged. Establish a sense of meaning in your learning environment and you’ll create momentum and energy. People want to learn, and they will if you show them how to do things that matter. Outliers imagine what they want to do, then focus on what they actually can do. Through doing that they quickly learn to do more, and that progress motivates them to go even further.

Chris and Peter continue discussion around how outliers think and do things differently from other people. They examine how outliers look at relationships, why companies need to create environments that support people rather than push them to perform, and why a focus on gaining wealth is less effective than seeking to improve people’s lives. They also show how consumer mentality prevents people from being successful, and how outliers learn from failure and acquire knowledge through ROI (Return on Ignorance).

Listen to this information-packed podcast to learn even more about the outlier approach to learning, the Tao of Peter, elite learning environments, and the Outlier 360 Project with Peter Fallenius.

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

Chris: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. My name is Chris Badgett, and today, we’re talking with Peter Fallenius about the Outlier 360 project. Peter is an entrepreneur and athlete. Originally from Sweden, he’s been an entrepreneur involved in many projects. He was involved in the internet, or e-business, back in the ’90s. He’s even taken a company public from the early days of the internet startups, which he originally got started with in Taiwan, and he’s done business on four continents. Peter’s also an accomplished athlete. He’s a runner. He’s competed at the international level as a running athlete, and we’re going to get into a lot of things in this episode about peak performance and really going beyond that into this Outlier 360 project. I think you’re going to get a lot out of this episode and what we talk about here, but first, Peter, thank you for coming on the show.

Peter: Thank you, Chris.

Chris: What is the Outlier 360 Project? What are we talking about here? What is an outlier, and help set the stage for the listeners.

Peter: Yes. Outliers are people that are achieving or are performing on very, very high level. They are … in some areas you would call them geniuses, and Steve Jobs could be an example of an outlier, Leonardo Da Vinci. Elite athletes are outliers, and so outliers is a term where they are very, very much away from the average. Researchers often don’t like them, because they mess up all the readings. To me, on the other hand, from my background, I was always interested in them because I thought that those were the people I could learn from, and to see how they were doing things. Fortunately, I was lucky to not just model them, which is a very popular way of trying to learn from outliers, but looking at the basics, what created outlier performance.

What we can say is that geniuses or outliers are often achieving things because of superior mental models. We will talk a little bit about what mental models are, and also what meaning, motivation, and success, what they have in common, and that doing meaningful things, and things that leads to success, are really the same things. They just happen to be very motivating, too, if picked the right ones, and if you understand things correctly. Another thing that is important to outliers is that success is not an event, but a process. It’s a thing that it’s not like a lottery where you hope to win. It’s more a structured process, and it can be imitated, or you can do it because imitation is not good in that way. That is kind of some of the background.

Also, the reason I call it Outlier 360 is that many outliers are outliers within one area of their lives, so what they are doing, and then they are quite … Then they may not be at all good in a whole lot of other areas. You have scientists that are having so-so personal relationships. There are also scientists that have great personal relationships, and the other thing is that some people are performing like elite athletes, they don’t understand. They have great coach that help them to become great, but they couldn’t coach anyone else because they never understood what the coach was doing. The great athletes or others that are in an environment where they understand what leads to the success, they can often coach other people themselves.

The 360 part is looking at how you help someone be successful in all parts of their lives, and that is not really as impossible as it seems like. We need to take a step back then, and do it from scratch, because the basic things that are leading to that are a very solid foundation and where you understand things much better.

Chris: That’s great, and if you’re listening to this episode, you obviously care about learning, and helping others, and you need to be operating at a high level yourself, so this is really relevant to you out there if you’re looking to improve your own life not just a little, but do what we’re talking about here to the outlier level. Also, help others get outlier elite level results, and also to create environments, almost more important just creating the environment for outlier results, and processes, and training to happen. Keep that in mind as Peter unpacks this. I’ve learned a lot from Peter about what outliers are, and how it’s different from pretty good results, like what outlier results are, and how that’s something completely different, and also how the process for achieving those and operating at that level is completely different.

Peter: Yeah. I think we go through a whole lot of examples of the difference between what average people do and what the smart way of doing things, and then the outlier way of doing things. We will get to a number of examples of that, and so that is very, very important. Maybe we should start with getting into a thing called self-determination theory. Self-determination theory was a model for research that was done by two great American researchers, Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, started in the ’70s, and have been going on ever since. What they found out about people that live meaningful lives were that they were quite successful, and also that there were three things they had in common. The three things they had in common was that they felt like they had autonomy, they had influence over their lives, they felt that they were competent, they had competence in some area, and they felt relatedness, and relatedness is another word of having friends and so forth, and having great social life.

Those things were commonalities that they found in just everyone that heard that they lived a meaningful life. However, the research didn’t give clear directions of what to do, so I rework that a bit from my experience with what outliers do, and what they’re looking at. What I introduced then was that autonomy is really leadership, and competence is really learning, an ability to learn fast, and relatedness is relating, being able to create great reams, both in personal environment and in a professional environment. People can do those things have huge advantages, and people can ignore these and do a whole lot of other things. If you’re interested in motivation, meaning, survival, and success, then you maybe should take a serious look at them. All of those things, leadership, learning, and team, and outlier versions of them, outlier leadership, outlier learning, and outlier teams, are crucial for survival and success.

The reason why they are important for survival is that if you’re not leading yourself, and leadership on the basic level is not leading other people. It’s leading yourself, because if you’re not leading yourself, you can’t lead anyone else. If you don’t want to follow yourself, it’s not really that surprising if no one else wants to. If you’re excited about where you’re leading yourself, then there is a chance that other people will be. Otherwise, don’t try to get anyone to follow, because like someone said, what kind of leader are you? Look around and look who’s following, and there won’t be any outliers or great people following you unless you’re doing something worthwhile. When we get to a few simple rules for what is necessary there later on.

Leadership is a necessary thing for survival, because otherwise you just have to hope for that someone else will take care of you. That’s not a good survival strategy, not even today. Previous in history, it was even worse. Learning in relation to survival and success, in a constantly changing world where jobs disappear and then you show up, and new possibilities, if you can’t learn fast, you will constantly be scared about what is going on. You won’t see new opportunities, and you won’t see the dangers. Ability to learn fast and understand changes is quite crucial, and the alternative is very dangerous, I would say. If you can’t great teams and attract great people, and have a team around you, you will fight or have to do things yourself, and that is not the most effective way. You won’t win anything big, or anything of any significance, or even achieve something or have fun on a bigger scale if you’re doing it alone.

If you’re doing it with people that are just around you for the sake of that they just were too bored by themselves, I’m not sure, but they may not be the most fun people to hang out with. If you hang out with people that they’re, or do things with people that have lots of great alternatives, then they are probably great resources and can be very, very useful. This is some of the ways that the … Also, if you’re building a company, leadership is a bit important. The faster you can learn, the more likely it is that you can innovate, because learning is one of the key things in any great company. It’s the foundation for innovation and development. If you don’t have a team, or a great team that works extremely well together, then you have a serious problem, and the company will not scale.

Create outliers, and outlier teams of outlier learners, and getting them to understand how they can lead themselves, and lead others, is crucial. The way I look at it is that any company that wants to do really, really well, or any person that wants to do really, really well, the more they can help other people get the meaningful life, and become better leading themselves, learning faster, and both lead teams, create teams, and be part of great teams, those would probably be extremely motivated people. They probably will love what you’re doing. For a company delivering teaching services or courses, or for any other company, if they can deliver products and help the people internal in the company become better at at least one of these things that Deci and Ryan pointed at in self-determination theory, getting more autonomous, becoming more competent, and getting better relationships, they probably will have an extremely loyal workforce or associates, and they will probably have great success with the products, because they are actually helping making the lives of their customers more meaningful.

That’s a completely different way of looking at things than looking at a pain and solving that is often looking at something where you’re solving it by addressing the symptom rather than looking at fundamentally helping people become more successful and happy, because they will have the things that makes their lives more meaningful.

Chris: When that meaning is there, it’s just so powerful. It’s almost effortless. We talk a lot about engagement, and keeping things engaging, but if you have meaning in your learning environment, or in the company that’s delivering the training, or whatever, that meaning really carries 95% of the momentum and the energy. You don’t have to try to keep up the pace, because meaning is, it’s like an engine and a fire that pulls a lot of the power and the force.

Peter: Yes.

Chris: As opposed to punishment and reward-based training.

Peter: Yes, and people want to learn. Humans are designed to learn, partly because they had to in order to survive. That fire for learning is kind of getting almost extinguished, but it’s still there in all people, whatever age they have. They just need to do something that matters, and also they need to do something that can work. What unfortunately in today’s society, people are taught that if you can imagine it, you can do it. Leonardo Da Vinci had a little bit of a different view on that. He was focusing on doing what he could do, not what he imagined. Doing what he could do made him learn very, very fast, and he did what most people couldn’t imagine. The thing there about starting with imagination, that is completely disconnected from reality, and what someone’s abilities are, and what the world allows … There is a reason why the first Apple Mac wasn’t as fast as a Mac today. The technology was not there.

In a whole number of ways, the technology wasn’t there, so now it wasn’t because the people were stupid back then, and if one looks at what is written by the chief technologist of Microsoft today, Bill Buxton, most of the people knew 20 years ahead of time a bunch of things that would likely be possible to be done. The building blocks were not there, so if I can do the things that are possible to do 20 years from now, that’s not really that useful. Those guys could imagine it, but they had to help produce the things that made it possible, step by step, but if you focus on what matters, what can work, and what you can do, and doing that on the foundation of what we talked about before with that determination theory, then it’s amazing how much progress you can make, and how quickly you can make it. Progress in that way, in what matters motivates like nothing else.

Chris: What are some examples of that? What do you mean by progress motivates?

Peter: What should we say? When you train, being able to run faster, lift bigger weights. I started with a thing that … I did a thing a couple of years ago that I wanted to see. I want to improve my balance, and so there were some small balls that were kind of dense, that were used in a gym. They were quite so hard, so I kind of figured that, see, if I could stand with two feet on that ball and balance. That was very easy, and then I figured that it should be possible to stand on one foot on there. That was a whole lot harder, and especially that the ball, if you didn’t have the balance pretty good, the ball could just shoot out, and you kind of fell off. When it started to move to the side, and you know you were lost balance, you just needed to jump off before you hit the deck pretty hard and jarred your back.

Basically, I kind of knew the model for how it could work. It was basically just get back and do it, and after half an hour after a lot of not all polite language about the ball not cooperating and me not being balanced enough, I could start to do it for a few seconds. The thing was that I knew that if I can do it for a couple of seconds, then to extend that would be fairly easy. When you can catch the balance at all, then do it for longer periods, that’s just practice. See, that’s more practice. The same thing with learning things. The first thing, I think we both listened to an interview of Heinemeier Hansson, one of the founders of Basecamp, or previous called 37 Signals that was made by Tim Ferris. He pointed out that his programming was the first version of the program was getting it to work, and then after that, it was not just leaving it that way, but to make it better, cleaning up the code so he understood it better and could make it more effective, and also more elegant.

The second or third version usually became a whole lot better and faster. Those things are with everything, and if you focus on what you can do, and learn from the basics of anything, most people can learn very, very fast, and talent for things. People say, “Oh, yeah, but that person has so much talent.” It’s very often when you have a great coach somewhere, all of a sudden, you have a lot of great talent. Coach moves on, and in the place where there was so much talent, there is no talent any longer. All of a sudden, where the coach goes to, the level of talent rises dramatically, which to me says that talent is everywhere. Developed talent, that is what is rare. Most people use the excuse that, “Oh, yeah, but I’m not talented. That person is lucky,” and so forth.

Yeah, that may be the case, but we can either complain about that, and sit and wait, or look at what we can do. Like you said there, yes I’ve been involved in long distance running, that long distance running, and I’m 187 tall, or six foot two, and my weight is, I carry around like 20 kilos, close to 40 pounds more than most of the other guys that were running. Some of them were a little bit heavier, but there were few of the top athletes that I competed against that were carrying around as much weight as I did, which in long distance running, is not an advantage. I knew that my height and my body size was not optimal. However, it didn’t stop me from doing what lots of people told me that I couldn’t do, because I focused on what I could do, and that got me very far. It gave me lots of opportunities, and I learned a lot from it. That’s another thing.

Another thing there about doing what matters. Do what matters in simple, excellent, and elegant ways. The alternative to not doing it at an excellent level, that’s to do mediocre things. Mediocre things, no one cares about. Excellence, and excellent work attracts people, and that is what goes viral. That is what people talk about, so we have talked about this before, and if you look at very successful people, they didn’t randomly get to excellent work. Steve Jobs set out to do excellent things from the beginning. Richard Branson had a standard of excellence when he started most of the projects. He wanted to do excellent things because he knew that if we don’t do it on that level, there is no point, and the chances of success are very slip.

Like Sapos became very successful because excellent customer service, and which generated enormous trust. The same thing with anyone else that has been very, very successful. You start with aiming for doing excellent things, because otherwise you will never get there. If it’s not simple, so simple, excellent, and elegant. Why simple, excellent, elegant? Yes, because if what you’re doing is not simple, you do not understand it. If you don’t understand why you’re doing something, then you might as well buy a lottery ticket, because if it doesn’t work, you don’t know where to look for improving it. It needs to be simple, so you can explain it to others. It needs to be simple, so you understand it and can correct the things that don’t work very well.

I guess like I just said, you need to make it excellent, because excellent … If that is the standard, you can’t do everything in your life excellent, but if you focus on what matters, like I said, then you do the things that matters excellent, and then you will improve in those things very, very quickly. You will compare the work you have just done with what would be excellent work in the area. Elegant, elegant might seem like, who cares, but in most areas, elegant is not for the sake of it. Elegant is in running, for example, elegant running, whether it’s a human or an animal, is energy efficient. If it’s jerky and so forth, there is energy lost somewhere, and it’s not very effective. Elegant things, humans recognize elegant things instantly because it is good.

Elegant code for a programmer is usually very good, and it has less likelihood, if some other programmer has to look at it, it would be easy to look at, easy to understand. If it’s elegant teaching, it’s something that is explained in a way so that people can understand and can use it, can be given models that improve the lives of people. If you don’t do that, you’re wasting … You likely do not understand what you’re doing, and you likely don’t give people information, or something that is useful that is really beneficial for them. That’s kind of some ideas about what I’m working with, and you were mentioning before about engagement. We could talk a lot about that, and we should probably not do it right here and now, but progress, and the other things that I mentioned, creates engagement like nothing else.

Chris: Another way to look at that issue is people talk a lot in learning about gamification as a tactic to make something more engaging. Whereas from the outlier perspective, is gamification necessary?

Peter: No. The reason why people love games, one huge reason is that first of all, they do not … The world that is outside and dealing with people is usually not that convenient, and people prefer the virtual world, and they also make progress. They’re going from one level to another, and if people can do that outside in the real world with other people, people usually prefer to hang out with other people.

Chris: If the meaning is there.

Peter: If the meaning is there, and if they do things where there is progress, and there is a thing about relationship building. We can get into the thing that I can … It’s connected to the how we’re looking at average smart, and outlier way of looking at it. One thing that is how you look at relationships, like the average way is kind of not focusing on relationships, but being annoyed with other people not being bad. We could list a whole lot of names, or labels that people put on people, like narcissist, bully, this, that, or the other, and yeah, maybe there are narcissists, maybe there are bullies. However, my experience is that there are way more cool people out there if you allow them a chance to be cool.

I’ve seen good people do things that, isolated, don’t make them look too good. Have I done that? Yes, probably, and I think most people have. If you look at the snapshot of what someone does and so forth, and the most evasion models that are out there is try to push people, et cetera, et cetera, when no one wants to be pushed. The companies and others have not created an environment for people to give them a chance to do great in life. Where they are doing things that benefit their lives in a way, and that is, in many ways, people are seeing that as, “Yeah, but that’s life.” I’m not sure that it has to be. If we’re taking relationships further there, the smart way is to understand the relationships are very important, so you network, and try to get people to sign up to your email list, or getting their business card, handing out business card, this, that, and the other, and then you try to monetize that in some way, shape, or form.

The reason why people signed up was often no connection to what it is that people are trying to sell them, and I’m not sure that that is a very effective way. Anyway, John Wooden, the famous basketball coach, pointed out that rather than beginning with relationship building, relationships evolve out of getting something done that everyone agrees is important to accomplish. If you get people around doing something that people find extremely important to get done, and you have a path forward where people make progress and eventually successful, if that is in sports, or if it’s in anything else, relationship usually develops very effectively around that. You meet a lot of cool people. It can be a hobby. It can be anything.

Chris: It’s a byproduct of doing something meaningful.

Peter: Exactly.

Chris: Could you say the same thing about wealth?

Peter: The same thing there. Steve Jobs never focused on making money. He focused on helping delivering great products, and when he was successful, that kind of turned into a lot of money. The same thing, Leonardo Da Vinci was developing weapons and so forth, and the fact that he was very good at what he was doing. He was in high demand by people that wanted to get help for creating new things, because he had the competence. If you deliver something that improves the lives of people in a meaningful way, then you have the basis for also making a lot of money. The people that are doing that, they are often doing it for other reasons, because they want to do something exciting, and they want to do something that benefits other people. You look for the intersection of one of those things.

Chris: What would be an average and a smart approach to wealth creation that’s different from what you’re talking about here?

Peter: Okay. Most people are brought up to be consumers. They’re looking for consuming things, and if you’re consuming things, you are looking at what you can get. There is no limit to … You have a serious problem because traveling to exciting places, playing with exciting things, doing all manners of things, what you can imagine that you want to get. You will always be disappointed by what you do not have, and I happened to go to school at Boston, and there were lots of people from really, kids from really wealthy families. Some of them could get pretty much anything they’ve pointed at, and I’ve been around some very rich people afterwards, too. The ones that were creating things, a number of them were really happy about their lives.

Then you had people that were, they could get anything that they wanted, and they were absolutely miserable. Consuming things, I have not seen any connection to happiness. Then you have, many people are starting business, and very many online, or looking at making money online, or creating a product, and so forth. They have as a goal to get to a beach, and lay down on the beach, and so forth. Their goal that’s producing something is to producing something that people will pay money for so they can consume. Most people will not succeed in making so much money so they can afford to go and lay down on the beach, but I’ve also been around people that have had that possibility. Very many of them go and travel, and lay down on the beach, and realize that they are bored to tears soon.

The problem of them is that they have sold the company and so forth, and cashed out, and now what? If they do it young, they may do it in their late twenties or even earlier, or their thirties, and they have 50, 60 years or so to go. Little bit of a problem there. If that was success, they are not that well about it. The outlier way of doing things is, you’re doing things, producing things that have value for other people, that you’re excited about doing, and you’re doing it because it gives you a chance to do something that is good for the world, and work with some really cool people to do it. That very often can generate huge amounts of money, too, but that’s not the reason the people are doing it. That’s another way of looking at it, if that makes sense.

Chris: It does. What if we go to the opposite side from success or wealth, and look at a concept like failure? What would a average way, a smart way, and an outlier way of approaching failure look like?

Peter: The average way of failure is, failure is often something happens and you don’t like what happened, and so forth. You’re upset about it then. Yeah, that’s it. The smart way is something didn’t go your way. You analyze it, and try to learn as much as possible from it. The outlier way would be, you design and experiment, like an engineer will test something for it to be able to know when it breaks, so you design with intention for it to fail, but you have an idea of what will happen, when it will fail, and in what way it will fail. If it doesn’t fail, then you have a serious failure. Usually if it’s something that is tested to failure, if you just push it far enough, it will fail, which may not be a useful thing to do in relationships. You need to be careful in some areas.

Then you learn, you decide on what areas where you could learn the most from and then you learn from designing things to fail, so you can see how it fails, how you can learn the most from it. That’s a completely different way, and it gives a completely different level of learning, and the speed of learning is completely different. It also has everything to do with things that most people, that average and smart people are afraid of. They want to know things. They are afraid of being wrong. Outliers are thrilled about realizing that they were wrong about things, because that very often gives a possibility to have a big leap in performance. They stop doing the thing that they were wrong about, and that delivered probably a whole lot of bad results, but they were unaware of it. That’s mental models that are behaving like viruses, and most mental models we learnt without knowing we learnt them. We don’t know what assumptions they were built on, and they are invisible to us.

Chris: Let’s look at something like ignorance. How would you funnel ignorance through an average, smart, and outlier framework?

Peter: I would say that ignorance is something that is seen as very negative things by most people. People want to know and believe that knowing is great, and being ignorant and not knowing scares a lot of people, and doubting. However, it is the thing that most outliers are friends with. I have an expression that I’ve started to use more and more. Return on ignorance. ROI. Most people refer to it as a return on investment, but return on ignorance. What is the area of ignorance that you have, that would give you the biggest improvement if you could get a better understanding about it? That’s the the way that scientist researchers are discussing. They rarely get together and discuss what they know, because they all ready each other’s papers, and know each other’s things, so they’re discussing about, what other things that, if we could get better funding, the areas of ignorance, that would make us know more about the subject?

That’s where they focus their efforts, rather than randomly try to learn something. If you start to think about what are the areas that I should learn something, that being excellent in them would be of serious value, then you can start to learn must faster. Most learning, and what people refer to as learning, and people looking up things in Google, is they’re getting some facts that means nothing. Yeah, they can parrot it, and sound intelligent. However, if they’re going to use it in any meaningful way or create something new with that information, if it’s just a loose fact, they can’t do it. Understanding and where it fits into other things is crucial, and when you understand something and how it connects to other things in the world, and understand how it connects to other things, then remembering it is very easy.

The things that you understand, and that connects with other things, you don’t need to remember them. They are almost impossible to forget. School is rewarding that you can give the right answer, rather than understanding how it fits into something else, and how it’s connected to something else, and how something works. Without that knowledge, you know nothing, really. Ignorance and not knowing are friends of someone that wants to learn and do great things. The thing where there is the story about Edison and the light bulb, about that he found 1,000 or how many ways of how not to do it, that was only half true. Edison has lots of working light bulbs. The reason he tested all the different filaments was that in order for it to be a product that could be produced, first of all, he needed to have pretty good knowledge to be able to put together a light bulb that would work at all.

The reason that he tested all 1,000 things was that he needed to find a material, a filament, that could last. He couldn’t sell something that lit up for a few minutes. The market for lights that you need to change every two minutes was very limited, plus the cost would … It was just not a commercial venture, so it was not the idea of just getting it to work. It was the fact of making it useful, making it excellent to a level to where it was functional and useful for people to use. That’s a completely different story. It was not randomly testing things, and then happily ending up with the result. It was very targeted, and where he knew where he needed to get for it to have a future.

Edison had also habit to read up on the research that everybody else had done in a new area, and then take his experience that he had from other areas, and see what they had done already and tested, and what were the things that they did not see, that would give him huge opportunities? Because of his experiences from all manners of different areas, so that was the first thing he did. All of that made a slightly different story than many self-help books and other people that are teaching those stories, that the way they have looked at it. Edison was also created an environment, the same way Steve Jobs did, an environment where people did really meaningful work. They worked really exciting things, and they got a chance to work with other great people. They were at the cutting edge of things.

That’s crucial to build something really successful. One of the employees that Edison had was maybe a man that was way smarter than him. Many people may have been smarter than Edison, but one in particular, Nikolai Tesla. He was thought that Edison was stupid in many ways, and he quit, and then ended up working by himself. The difference with Tesla and Edison was that Tesla could not work with other people. He could not create a team. He was absolutely brilliant, but he could not create a team. His ability to work together with other people, and create a culture and an environment where things could be done, like at Edison’s lab, was nowhere close. Both of those men had enormous impact on the world we live in today. However, in very different ways, and Edison had a happy family life. That could not really be said about Tesla. He did not get along with … He got along with pigeons, I think, better than humans.

Chris: What about this concept of self-interest?

Peter: Self-interest is a thing that I find a bit interesting, because most people see as self-interest as, self-interest is really bad. To me, it’s not bad at all. I’m doing what I’m doing for completely self-interested reasons. This may sound bad, but I want to work with, do things with, do really things with really cool people. If I’m going to do that, I need to do things that gives that type of people a great incentive or interest to work with me. If I’m not the person that they want to be around, then they won’t want to be around me. Self-interest, and in doing good things in the world, if you want to be around great people, are really the same thing. You’re doing things that are great for yourself, and are great for other people in the world around you.

In general, it’s not a huge conflict there. You do things with great people that you enjoy doing together, that are exciting. If you only look after, if you step on other people when you do that, then great people will leave very quickly. The people you have left are people that have no other alternatives, and are desperate, and that to me would be a failure. Self-interest, if you really want to have great people around you, learn fast. Then you also won’t have great people around you, and do things in any possible way then that’s the highest level of self-interest, I think. Most people, when they’re smart, they unfortunately end up on the side where they try to manipulate other people, and where they are using games and other ways of trying to get people to do things.

If you offer people a great opportunity that is good for them and for you, they would be thrilled to go for it. The other thing there is that people know and have read books about that authenticity and being genuine is very important. Trying to manipulate, or trying to get someone to do something that is not in their own interest, is not genuine. Then you’re faking genuine, which will never work. The whole thing there, and you have another thing that is very interesting. People are worried about not being their true selves. First of all, when people are doing really exciting things, they rarely think about themselves. The self is not there, and you cannot do something on a high level if you play a game in sports, or competing, or you’re not constantly checking out, thinking about yourself. You’re so focused on what you’re doing, and enjoying that, so self does not really exist.

You’re having a great time, so you cannot really have a self there. What people often find that they are losing, or that they are not themselves, that’s when they are trying to fake, faking who they are, and then you will have a problem. You’re afraid of being exposed about who you are.

Chris: Now we’re talking about confidence.

Peter: Yeah.

Chris: That sounds like maybe an average or a smart way to work with confidence, or fake it till you make it. Make sure you have all the paraphernalia, and the things you’re supposed to do to be confident, and put off an era of, I know what I’m doing. Therefore, I could be confident. How would an outlier approach confidence, or is it a non-issue because they don’t have time, it’s just a byproduct of …

Peter: Yeah. The confidence is a very interesting thing. People try to get rock solid confidence, that cannot be shaken whatsoever. That’s the same thing as having something that will be shattered easily. The truly confident people know that there are limits to things. The best athletes are not certain they will win. They may be convinced that they have a very good chance. Military special forces when they go out on a mission, they know that if they are well prepared, their odds are really good. They are confident in their own skills, they are confident in their training and so forth, but they are not certain of success. If they are, that’s dangerous, because then they will be careless, and not be prepared, and check things, which is, you don’t want to have people like that on your team. You want to have people that know what they are good at, but also know the limitations of that.

Knowing the limitations of what your skills are is crucial, because otherwise, you do things that will end up with really bad consequences. Which is another problem that when you cheerlead people to do things without knowing if they have the skills to do it. It causes serious problems, and if it’s someone that is really good … You have a really big problem, and when you have someone that is telling you you’re doing great work, and you know that it wasn’t that good, that tells you two things, one of the two things about the person that said you did a great job. One, they are incompetent. Two, they are lying. Neither one looks, reflects very good on them, so if you tell someone about something that you do not know about, if it’s someone that is good at the other end, they will just discard you, or dismiss you as someone that is incompetent or lying.

If it’s a great person that you try to impress that way, you have almost certainly disqualified yourself from their interest of having anything to do with you. Congratulations. People that are good, they know that, and they may be polite afterwards when you continue, but they have almost certainly made a note that this is a person to keep at a distance.

Chris: That makes sense. That makes a lot of sense. Let’s bring it all the way around, and look at the smart, the average, and the outlier approach to learning.

Peter: Yeah. To learning. Average way of learning is to really try to avoid learning.

Chris: Right.

Peter: Learning in meaningful way because that seems to be a whole of trouble and giving no rewards. Which is a reasonable way to look at it, after having most people have been through school and so forth. Jumping through the hoops there, and trying don’t really deliver the rewards that people were saying. They were told to do things and didn’t see the connection between why they should do it, and then the exams or tests mainly focused on everything they did wrong. That’s not really encouraging. Smart people are looking after looking at, how can I find the shortcut or a way where I can imitate someone to get the result as quickly as possible? The problem with that is that you do not really know … First of all, whatever progress you may make, it’s very hard to understand learning so that, because you don’t know where it fits in, and how it helps you in the rest of your life, or in your business.

Chris: I may have some really advanced mental models I pulled off the shelf, but I’m lacking understanding.

Peter: Yes.

Chris: True understanding.

Peter: Yes, and if you don’t do that, if you don’t have an understanding about what it is that makes them work, you cannot see if they fit where you’re trying to use them, if they are a good fit. Second, even if they are almost right, you only need one step that needs to be adjusted a bit, and if you don’t adjust it, the whole process may fail. If you don’t understand at all, you won’t know to adjust that, and the whole thing may seem like a failure when only a small piece needed to be adjusted. If you understand the whole thing, you don’t need that script, or that model, because you take a look from scratch. What are these steps that I need? Then you design it yourself, and you design it way more elegantly. If you take a thing off the shelf, you usually include lots of things that are meaningless, and in some cases, may even annoy the person or the people that you were trying to do things with.

It’s a little bit like when you have scripted things. I can give another example. I was involved in a bunch of things, and I was looking at hypnosis. A lot of hypnosis that are taught this using scripts. Problem with that is that if you know it works, then you know what to do and what to look for, and you do what makes sense, and what is meaningful in the moment there. The scripts often so clunky, so they are doing some things right, and get a few steps forward, and then completely crashes the whole thing, and then it does not work at all. The same thing in anything. You’re not doing the things that matters, and you don’t know when you can cut out things, or you just build something from scratch, which is what most people that understand the subject, any subject, do because they design, they create the thing that is needed. Does that make sense?

Learning, it’s also looking for a whole lot of, like we said before, what do I not know that could be useful?

Chris: The ROI, the return on ignorance.

Peter: Yes. Yes, and looking at it like Edison did, what is the cutting edge? What has other people done already before? The most effective way is to do the things where you learn a whole lot of basic things about how the world works, and how human nature is, if you want to work with people. So many things that are taught in schools and so forth are completely ass backwards, or are things that they work, but they are simplified models that only work in special cases. Anything outside of that, they don’t deliver.

Chris: The model breaks down.

Peter: Yeah, and people don’t know what to adjust. Considering that everybody else uses the same model, it doesn’t need to work that well to look great. Until someone comes around and do what Sapos did, or in any number of other cases, or look at things like Apple did with how they built things under Steve Jobs. All of a sudden, it changes the game completely, and everybody else tried to imitate the outside appearance of things without understanding why it was created in the specific way, how it helped people, and how it made it easy for people.

Chris: In that light of helping people, if we look at the Outlier 360 project, and we look at what you’re pointing to here, the concept of helping build outliers from scratch, you also have a concept called the Tao of Peter. What is that? What are you referencing? The Outlier 360 project is a spin off or a part of the Tao of Peter. What are we talking about here?

Peter: The Tao of Peter is basically … The Tao is referring to ancient Chinese, and there’s a book called Tao de Jing, and there’s another book called The Art of War. Both of those are coming from the same area, and I said many, many years ago that those two books, if people understand them, they don’t really need to read any other books. The Tao is basically the nature of things, reality. If you work with the Tao, and understand what that means, you will be … You have mental models, and then understanding that makes it easy to leverage things, and see new opportunities. The Art of War is still seen as the best book ever written on strategy, after two and a half thousand years, but few people understand what’s behind it, and the thinking that lays behind it.

It’s read, and I would say very rarely understood, but the concept of the Tao and reality, and understanding that in a better way, that is very powerful. I’m basically, it’s a playful way where I bring my perspective on how you can understand that better, and I’ve used it my whole life. Now I’ve started to help other people see it, and when I tried starting to do that, the success was very, very limited, because I thought it was obvious, many things I said, and it wasn’t. I needed to find a way to help people see what I saw, and when people do that, then they usually change a lot very quickly. A lot of things that they did before doesn’t make sense to do any longer, and that’s a very, very … It has very little to do with intelligence.

Someone said that, not in relationship to my work here, but with mental model, says that mental models that are closer approximation of reality. Someone that understands that better and improve that a lot, that’s worth 50 IQ points, and that’s a lot. I think that that’s also, that’s very true from what I’ve seen.

Chris: The Tao is this ancient wisdom coming from China, with a focus on ultimate or true reality, which is the world that the outlier operates in, and looks for feedback from, and runs experiments, and takes things to failure.

Peter: Yes.

Chris: The Outlier 360 project is through you, and the Tao of Peter is a application of this ancient wisdom to help people rebuild from scratch, or become an outlier from scratch, potentially 360, all the way around in their life and work.

Peter: Yes, and the reason it is from scratch is that otherwise you’re trying to unravel piece by piece of things that are not working, and …

Chris: Peeling the onion, as you say.

Peter: Yes. It’s onion peeling, and one layer after another until you get closer to the truth.

Chris: Or deconstruction.

Peter: Yes, and it’s onion peeling, and I’ve said that about searching for the truth or searching in history. It gives you lots of reasons to cry, like peeling an onion, because you take one later off, and you believe you’re close to the truth. You probably are, but you have lots of layers left, and lots of reasons to cry, because … Doing it from scratch and focusing on what is meaningful in life, what matters, like from self-determination theory, is a much, much faster way. When you start to look and compare to, “Does this help me learn faster? Did I learn something today that is really meaningful? Did I do something that I was getting closer to become excellent? Did I learn or be better at working in a team?”

If you look at it that way, and then you have something to compare with, and you can improve very quickly. Also, you can work with other people by learning together in pairs, and learning ways where you look at things and get a better understanding. When you do that, you can do it online, or around you, and when you do that, things can change very, very quickly. It doesn’t mean that you will be ready to compete in and win the Olympic games in two years’ times, winter games or, that’s less than two years, or win summer games in four years’ time, or get a Nobel Prize for something. However, the odds will definitely increase, but even if you don’t get the whole way there, I think that it can change your life in dramatic ways, both personally and professionally. That is what I’m focusing on.

Chris: If anybody listening to this, you want to find out more, I’d encourage you to check out the Tao of Peter dot com. That’s T-A-O-O-F-P-E-T-E-R dot com, and also Peter Fallenius dot com. That’s P-E-T-E-R-F-A-L-L-E-N-I-U-S dot com. What do you want to send people off with, Peter? What’s your closing thought for getting into outlier learning and Outlier 360?

Peter: Check with yourself if you’re doing things that truly matters in your life, that helps you getting better relationships, and enjoy time with great people, and doing great things. The only way to get there is to look at starting with excellence, and starting focusing on what is truly meaningful and matters to you. Otherwise, you will probably end up regretting a lot in your life.

Chris: Peter Fallenius, ladies and gentlemen. Thanks for coming on the show, Peter. We’ll have to do it again sometime.

Peter: Thank you very much Chris.

EPISODE 111

How to Work with WordPress and Service Agencies with Matt Medeiros

If you’re planning to offer online courses or memberships and you’re looking for an agency to help you, or if you’re a WordPress agency or service provider, this LMScast with Chris Badgett of codeBOX discusses how to work with WordPress and service agencies with Matt Medeiros of Slocum Studio in Boston.

Matt focuses on WordPress development for mid-tier businesses and universities using WordPress products, themes and plugins, and he hosts the Matt Report and PluggedIn Radio. Today Chris and Matt pool their experience to give you some pro tips and advice for choosing or running an agency.

WordPress is accessible enough that anybody can use it to get a website working for a product or service. Still, it might be wiser to hire a professional to help you, because getting your site up and available to customers will take longer if you don’t, especially if you’re new to WordPress. Either way, finding professional help will be a top consideration, even if that’s reading articles or watching YouTube video tutorials.

Next you’ll need to get WordPress, a good LMS like the LifterLMS platform, and a solid theme. Know your capabilities for doing design, development, and content, and be clear on your goals for what you build. You need to drill down to the minimum viable product (MVP) for your first offering and stay focused on that until it’s done. You can expand from there, especially once you see what’s working and what needs to happen next.

Launching your website is not the end of the process. You have to continue doing marketing, support, and improvements, and hiring a professional may be your best solution. The best agencies will perform a discovery process to help them understand your goals, business problems, and expectations to design your website conceptually before you ever get into technology. This process needs to be a paying engagement so the incentives are right for all parties.

Chris continues discussion around how to work with WordPress and service agencies, with Matt Medeiros offering advice on communication, pricing and billing, setting boundaries, establishing trust, and managing expectations.

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

Chris B: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. My name is Chris Badgett, and today I am joined by Matt Medeiros. How are you doing, Matt?

Matt M: I’m doing well, Chris, thanks for having me.

Chris B: Good deal. Matt, he runs a WordPress agency called Slocum Studios. They have some products over there as well as themes and plugins and a very similar business to what I operate in terms of client work and software products in the WordPress space.

Matt and I have recently connected and because we are in a very similar situation, there’s a lot of knowledge between us that would be great to get out there to all of you who are maybe new to WordPress. You can leverage our many, many years and long history with it. Also, if you are wanting to get into pulling courses or memberships for other people as a business, we have some pro tips for you, just some hard won truth, life experience, work experience, some success stories, some flaming to the ground failures and you can learn from that.

Also if you are in the market looking for a WordPress agency, I think this episode will shed little light on all of that so thank you Matt for coming on the show. Can you tell us just a little bit about where you are, about Slocum Studios, where you came from and what you guys specialize in?

Matt M: We are a family-owned boutique agency. We are an hour south of Boston. Our background and history in the community is we come from three generations of car sales. My grandfather started one of the very first Mazda dealerships in the country back in the 70s. That has transitioned over the years a couple of decades after that into a General Motors franchise, Chevy, Cadillac, Oldsmobile at the time. Then we got out of the GM side of it about four years before the financial crisis and before General Motors went bankrupt and at the time I was working …

When you are in a family-owned business, you can never get out of that business. I had a full-time job at an ISP, but I was still doing things at the dealership over the years. When we got out that, four years before GM went bankrupt I was, again working at this ISP. My father had always been into pro photography and one of the things at the time he was randomly just shooting a photo shoot for a small business and they were like, “Hey, can you build us a website, too?” So I knew how to do that and that was the genesis of the studio. I helped out doing this one small site and then he got another customer and they said it.

At that point, which was the end of 2006, full on 2007, the agency really got formed in 2008, but that whole year in 2007 dabbling with “okay, there is a need here. We have roots in the community that span 30, 40 years that come to us for business stuff,” and especially with all the contacts my father had and I had, we said let’s make a go at it and we formed the studio back then. Lots and lots of burning failures later like you said along the way that we learned, but here we are going into 2017 and we are still doing it almost eight, nine, ten years later.

Fun stuff and that has sort of evolved into being much more focused on WordPress development and at the higher level with his some mid tier businesses and universities and higher education and then also got us now into WordPress products, themes, plug-ins and that kind of thing. It’s really been a fun ride, but I have plenty of stuff I can say about it.

Chris B: Another similarity between Matt and myself is just that we both operate podcasts. Tell us about your podcast or podcasts.

Matt M: Sure, I have two of them. I have the Mattreport.com, which is WordPress entrepreneurs, so if you’re interested in the business side of WordPress I have been doing that for about three years and that’s Mattreport.com in Season 4 of that.

If you are more inclined to say,”I don’t really care about how people run their businesses with WordPress, I just want to learn how to use plug-ins in the WordPress space for my business,” the show that Chris joined us is Plug In Radio. You can get that at Plugintut.com or YouTube.com/plugintut and that’s all the baseline “here’s how you use a plug-in. Here’s how you use these things in WordPress,” and then I invite on other WordPress plug-in developers or company owners like Chris. He teaches how to use Lifter LMS and all kinds of other folks join us there. That’s again, YouTube.com/plugintut. Those two different podcasts, but both in the WordPress space.

Chris B: That’s awesome. Well yeah, I started back in WordPress I think it was around 2007-2008 as a hobby for a side project. Actually, I think my first one was actually on Drupal. In the beginning for me, I started to teach myself WordPress just by watching YouTube videos. That’s how I learned WordPress. Nobody showed me how to do it. I installed it. I just started messing with it. I started building websites, started writing blog posts.

At the time I was managing a helicopter-supported sled dog tour business on a glacier in Alaska and WordPress was just a hobby for me. I built a site for people that were into the outdoor lifestyle like I was. I know I’m a technologist and these days as the online course guy or learning management system guy with WordPress and technology type things, but I actually came into technology from not being a technology guy at all. I am the guy you want if you are out in a remote wilderness area. I was a wilderness guide and outdoor leadership.

I say that and I bring that up because WordPress, even for me as a dog sled musher and a guy who has spent a lot of his adult life camping out, was approachable for me. I could build websites in WordPress and blogs and things became a very interesting vehicle for expression in solving business problems. My point is if I can do it, anybody can do it. I have ridden that and done so much with it, like I just stayed with it. If all you want to do is get up a website and marketing site for your product or your service or whatever it is, it is approachable and that’s the goal.

But I have definitely seen a lot of people struggle with it, too. I think maybe what we could do here in this first segment is if we could take all our experiences, about a decade of experience each here, and boil it down to three top recommendations for somebody who is brand-new to WordPress, like what do they need to pay attention to? How can we save them tons of time? How should they approach it? Go ahead. We’ll go one and one. We will go back and forth.

Matt M: One thing I just wanted to say about your experience with being in the wilderness and being a guide out in the wilderness and maybe even that bleeds over, I’m sure it does into survival if something were to happen and you are stuck out there, WordPress is no different in the sense where if I told you, “Hey Chris, I went to the LL Beans store. I bought the best boots. I bought the best sleeping bag. I bought an awesome walking stick. I bought this GPS thing. I am the man. I am going to be out there surviving because I just bought the best stuff …”

Chris B: Of the gear.

Matt M: Right or the best gear and then all of a sudden there’s an avalanche and I lose power and I have lost all my gear. Now I am totally screwed, right? Which is no different in any of this stuff, so people can go and they can buy their themes, they can buy their plug-ins, they can do all that stuff.

But if they do not understand the fundamentals, they are in trouble. They could be in trouble or they will get the bumps and the bruises along the way and learn it. It’s just going to take a lot longer versus if they hire a professional to come and do something for them. If they hire the wilderness guide to tell them, “Here’s the part of the mountain that you stay in. The black bears and brown bears are over here, so don’t go that way.”

It’s no different and that would be my first real piece of advice. If somebody is sitting down, especially with their LMS, which could be building a very fruitful business for themselves, especially in the way of today’s digital age where we are talking about membership plug-ins, online learning, you are accepting a transaction, somebody is coming to buy knowledge from you, if you are really making a true go at this like somebody who sits down and says, “I want to make a business. I will make a six-figure business doing this.”Heck, even if I wanted to sit down and get out of my career and make whatever the number is, $40,000, $50,000, whatever that is and you are really focused on that how to find some professional help first.

Get the gear you need. You need WordPress. You need the LMS. You need a good solid theme, maybe some other stuff in there. Find someone to learn the fundamentals from if you can. You can do that by watching a show like this. You can do it by watching a couple videos I produced. Again, it’s not to just sit here and say, “Hey, watch our stuff,” but I think that’s the way people learn. Like you said you self-taught, you did the research.

That’s one of the greatest things about WordPress because the good and bad about WordPress is there is no one place to just go learn WordPress. There’s a whole variety of personalities and web properties out there that you can learn from and finding the one that best suits you is more accessible than ever.

That would be my first step is you can buy all the gear or you can get all that stuff, but if you don’t know how to do this at a fundamental level, business, website, marketing, course creation, invest in some good solid advice or professional help out of the gate so you have a clear, concise plan. That would be my first piece of advice.

Chris B: Yes that’s really started. That’s really awesome. In a lot of ways I see a lot of people make it harder for themselves than it needs to be because they are either not asking for help soon enough or they just jump right in and try to do it themselves without just taking a moment and whether it’s going and watching the WP-101, WordPress 101 course or just getting started on YouTube, watch somebody build a website in a couple hours.

My big tip would be to think about something you already are somewhat aware of and for a lot of people they know at least the basics of the house. They know there’s a foundation. There’s a roof. There’s the plumbing system, the electrical system, but you have to have a metaphor and have to admit that you don’t know it all and there comes a time to hire a contractor or a specialist who do certain pieces.

There’s four pieces that are coming to mind for me right now that I would recommend you are just aware of and know you are either strong at, weak at or willing to learn at which is design. We know good design when we see it, but you may need a really good theme to get design or have one custom designed for you to get really good design.

In terms of functionality that what you want the website to do that’s development. Then there’s the actual content itself. You can have a great design, a nice functionality, but if you don’t have any good content or copy or you are asking your web designer, you might falsely make the assumption that they are also going to write everything for you and everything like that. You need to get clear on the pieces of what makes the house together.

Like you mentioned also in marketing that’s really important and just having that business mind of what’s the goal? What’s the business goal of this website? Is this a hobby? Is this a lead generation thing? Is this something to educate my customers? Is the website itself the product? You need to get crystal-clear on those things and then start looking at how WordPress can support you on that. What’s another one for you, Matt?

Matt M: I am almost going to piggyback off of that and I would say get that clarity and get that focus, but also I think a lot of people to start when they hear all of this stuff now we are like, “Oh, I have to have this plan. I have to have the tools in place. I have to know where my business is going. I have these projected revenue goals.” I was like, “Man, this is overwhelming.”

I think a lot of people just need to really drill down their first offering to the most simplistic core value they can put out. A lot of people sort of love to introduce an online university. There’s all these courses and tracks and chapters and materials they can download, but it gets so overwhelming to the potential customer. It gets overwhelming to you because you are thinking about all this stuff I can do. It’s the whole chasing the shiny object syndrome.

I would really say getting as focused on your first offering is going to make this leaps and bounds easier, I hate that word for this, but we can make it a little bit easier in the short term to launch, to promote because all of this stuff takes a lot of time and effort to produce this stuff, specifically talking about creating a course or a membership site or that kind of training material. There’s all the structural stuff, putting the site in place. All the way from getting the site, getting the theme, possibly hiring a professional, doing some payment gateway stuff and getting all of that configured.

Then it’s like, “Okay, I have to make the course.” That’s a bazillion hours depending on what you do and then it’s the marketing and promotion side of it, which is again another bazillion hours that people are not ready for. Then there is, “Hey, you have actually made sales,” which is a good thing but now you have to support people and answer some questions, answer some pre-sales questions, forum questions, which is another thing that a lot of people sort of under-value.

It’s underrated in the beginning where they are like, “I will get it. I will sell it. I am selling it and I am done.” No, now people are going to start asking you questions, asking you to change things to iterate on your product and that kind of thing. I would say really focusing down on making that minimal viable product that Word has been throwing around for years now.

Just the other day I had a client call, a pre-sales call. I literally talked the woman out of doing business with me because I just thought … She was very organized. She was actually just like the scenario that you and I are talking about right now. It was she had a great plan. She came from the real estate industry and she just wanted to get into this content marketing, online magazine thing, had a membership site component, had an e-commerce component, had all these things. But that was the problem. It had all these things.

She was very organized, very detailed, but she had like, “Okay, I need this. I need a theme for this part of the site. I need a different theme for this part of the site and I am going to use this plug-in over here. I’m going to use that plug-in over there.” I was like, “Wow, there is a lot of stuff here. Very well organized and it looks like it could be very well executed, but from a business standpoint how are you going to start getting people to buy stuff in this e-commerce store and at the same time you want people to post real estate listings on this other section of the site? There’s so much there.”

By the end of the phone call she was like, “You know what? You are absolutely right. I am not ready to take on this project because how am I really going to get all this stuff to market?” She is just a solopreneur. She is the only one here. Aspiration is to hire other people. Aspiration is to get all this other stuff going, but you have to get that one nugget to get you out of the gate so that you can get that on repeat and getting that thing promoted and people are just picking up on it with no problem and then you launch all your other verticals.

Anyway, that’s a long way of saying really focusing down and getting that offering as concise and as easy for somebody to understand as possible, which again comes from years of failure and promoting my own products and services and people are like, “What is that? I don’t really understand.” I’m like, “What do you mean you don’t understand? The button is right there, a big red button. It says what this is. It says buy. Why can’t you see that?” That is something that just takes time to learn.

A lot of people here this advice and they are like, “Yeah but …” and it’s always they had this other thing and, “Well, I am going to do it differently,” or “But my thing is …” No, no, guess what? Once you get out into the real world that’s when you will start to learn if people get it or not and keeping it simple as possible in the beginning is the best thing you can do for yourself and for your potential customers.

Chris B: Yes. The Lean Methodology or The Lean Startup, The Minimum Viable Product, The Lean Startup is a great book to read. Lean in terms of even plug-ins you install on your site. That’s a classic beginner mistake I see is open up a website and there’s 40, 50 plug-ins going and there’s a conflict. It’s like of course, there’s a conflict. You have way too many softwares going at once that were not designed by the same person. There is a conflict.

Being a little bit minimalist and iterative and pivoting your offer, pre-selling, all these things you learn in The Lean Startup, the agile way of doing things is really the way to go because the last thing you want to do with that client you mentioned is spend a ton of money and time and realize your market wants something completely different or only wants 25% of it. Or you could avoid the whole thing and pre-sell the thing in advance before you even build a single thing. There’s so many different ways to approach that so it’s important to iterate and launch early and often.

One of the biggest misconceptions I see when people come to building a WordPress website, whether it’s just information or a product is they look at the launch of that website as like the end, but in my mind it’s like the beginning. We have our MVP up. Let’s iterate, let’s improve it, let’s look at what’s working, what’s not, let’s improve conversions to opt-ins or sales or whatever we are going for. We can add new products, we can double down on what we have and invest on marketing. There are so many different ways you can go that a launch is not the finish line. It’s the starting line the way I see it because this world evolves fast.

Matt M: That’s for sure. Here’s one other story that comes to mind which was again, I had this phone call this morning. The lesson here is the expectations, what are the expectations that you have for your launch, your overall business model, what are the expectations you have for your site?

I had an organization we had been supporting for years now and they were just trying to upsell. We built their site for them five years ago, so I don’t think it’s even responsive. In fact, it’s not responsive. They are using a mobile theme layover.

They still don’t want to reinvest in doing a full redesign, so their marketing person, she came to me. She’s like, “We are going to try to do it all ourselves,” all this stuff. “So we can’t afford your package redesign rate. Can you just do something by the hour kind of thing and just help us out?” “Fine, I will do that. You have been a customer for literally 5 years.”

They built it all themselves and she’s a power user. She knows this stuff. She knows her way around WordPress for sure, but she went in and she installed a theme that I have never really used before and I really don’t have any experience with. She used a whole bunch of other plug-ins to do a variety of things on the website, some that overlapped each other. Things you could do with the other plug-ins that she did know but again, the expectation was she doesn’t want to spend a lot of money. She just wants to do it with all herself and that’s fine.

We launch the site or we go to launch the site today. She has finished putting all the content in. She’s ready to go and she says, “You know something, Matt? The website is running a little slow for me.” I said, “Okay, let me just take a peek under the hood. Part of the deal was we will do a quick audit to make sure you did everything okay and then we will go from there.”

All of the plug-ins she picked, they are all fairly well-known plug-ins. Again, just a lot of them doing a whole bunch of different things. Between the theme and the plug-ins, there are an additional, I’m not even joking, probably 20 additional CSS files being loaded, 20 additional JavaScript files being loaded, other plug-ins and the theme pulling in font files that they will never use. There’s 50 requests at the top of the site before the site even loads her content.

I said, “Look, you did not want to go the customer route. You wanted to pull in these things and do it yourself. The expectation is you were just going to do it and you were going to save money,” and guess what? The good thing is, what she realized is,”Hey, my expectations were I didn’t want to spend a lot of money,” and with software you can always iterate.

Her thing is, “We will relaunch now. We will get everybody happy on the board. We will see if we can get some more sign-ups and then we will reinvest in drilling down and making this site perform the way it should be.” That’s one good thing and you mentioned that before is you can iterate on this stuff.

Even in the beginning if you do throw a whole bunch of plug-ins at the walls is the only thing that’s break. I know it’s a little bit of taboo to say this stuff, but even if you throw all the plug-ins at it for now and you prove the model, you get the model working, then you iterate on it, then you reinvest. That’s a perfectly acceptable thing but just have those expectations of what’s actually going to happen when you do all this stuff.

Chris B: Absolutely, that’s a really good point and that reminds me of like building a house. You could build your own house, and we are going to segue this call into if you are really ready to work with a professional and if you are a professional service provider who could offer these types of services to people, we are going to lay down some tips and wisdom here.

If you were to come in and want the $100,000 kitchen, but you have a $20,000 or $10,000 budget and you expect to install it all yourself, it’s just pipes and things you screw together, right? It’s you would not do that on a jobsite per se, but maybe if in the beginning maybe you do do that and that’s when you learn, “Oh wait, maybe I should hire somebody? Maybe I should not try to work on my own car or build my own house if I don’t have all this training?”

One of the cool things about WordPress is it’s so approachable and you can do it, but you just have to, like you said, manage the expectations and the results you may get from that kind of effort. You can get there, make no mistake about it, but it may not be the mansion or the Tesla sports car you had in mind. That’s just something to keep in mind.

If you get to that point and you are like, “Wait a second. I am going to hire a professional mechanic. I want to hire a professional, somebody to build this house.” Before you build the house, one of the things that’s really important to do is to do what we call a discovery process, which would be you would hire an architect to actually design the house conceptually before you go start buying hammers and nails and lumber and spending up $30,000 projects with subcontractors and all these things.

Let’s slow down a second and actually have our first engagement be talking about what we are going to build. If you are the agency you want to make sure you understand the business problems you are solving. You need to make sure you advise the client one way or the other if you see them heading … Yes is not necessarily always the correct answer because you could save them tons of money.

The other big mistake I see people who are offering services make is they should be charging for that process in the same way you get charged by an architect for doing the blueprints and the designs. The incentives need to be right. You can have sales calls and talk about it and get comfortable and build trust with each other but in my opinion in my experience if you are going to build a big project, it’s important to do that discovery first and to make it a paying engagement so the incentives are right for all parties.

Matt M: Yes, I totally agree. In terms of the way the agency business model, at least from my perspective in the world that I live in is the way it’s changing little bit is tools are getting better, WordPress is getting better, even though the purists might argue that. Regardless tools are getting better. There are more and more site builders out there, though at a much more simplistic level. Project management tools, drafting tools, all of this stuff to really help you build this online presence are getting better and faster and less expensive.

There are a lot of folks coming to us, like my example with that organization, they say, “Well, I’m capable enough to get it this far and this far might be good enough for us right now.” If you are an agency out there and you are consulting other folks, it’s always been one of those things like, “How do you sell the discovery? How do you sell that first level engagement with people?” This is chatter I’ve been hearing for years now.

Now it’s even easier because a lot of people are coming to us with a pre-built model and they are just like, “Hey, I sort of started building this or we started building this and we need help now.” Those people who have already been dabbling in it themselves, they could see the value in buying that time from you and buying that discovery or investing in your agency to do that work for them. It’s a little bit easier to do that now, which is a good thing.

The bad thing is it’s still the expectations are, “Well, once you get that done it’s going to be easy to just build this stuff out superfast. We did all that planning, let’s just do it.” That is still a bit of a challenge in the agency-client model. The discovery process, understanding who your customer’s customer is is the most important part out of all this stuff.

I don’t know about you or anybody listening to this, a lot of our business owners come to us and they are like, “There is a color blue that I like. I like this font and I like the layout from Amazon.com mixed with the way that the Verge does it. Can you just combine all that stuff to make it really good looking for me?” It’s like, “Hold up. First of all, we are taking all your design cues and throwing this all together in a bucket and hoping it spits something out. Let’s stop and look at who your customer is.” We first engineer it that way.

Again, the reality of that part is if you are in agency, a lot of people don’t want to go through that. I should not say a lot, but there is a bunch of people out there who are like, “Just give me the website. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to have to sit through this hour-long or multiple day long discovery process,” and that’s something that it takes some finesse. It takes some finesse to get somebody to agree to something like that. It takes a little bit of years of practice to sell the importance of that and that’s on the agency owner to do that if it fits within their workflow.

But definitely one of the most important things is getting that discovery down, understanding who the avatar is for the website and hopefully, tying that into something that has a good ROI. Are you creating sales? Are you generating leads? Are people picking up and calling you or emailing you about your product or service or subscribing to your site? Just being able to track it to that, drill it down to that is also very important in this whole part of the project.

Chris B: Absolutely, yeah that’s brilliant. Let’s get into some things just to be careful about and just to watch out for for both sides of the transaction from an agency and for a person looking for a service provider. One of the areas I caution people about is just the always-on nature of the Internet. You need to manage expectations.

If you are launching a website and the website is the business, whether it’s a membership site or online courses or e-commerce store, up time is very important to you. But we are still human beings living on earth using technology that need to sleep and eat and have families and go on vacations and have dates and things like that.

It’s really important whether you are on the buying side or on the service providing side to keep the humanity in everything, but that takes good communication and boundaries and managing expectations, office hours, using the team. If you are going to promise around the clock, you need to find people around the world or swing shifts to make it work if you are doing a really big engagement.

That always-on nature of the Internet it’s just one of those areas where rookies, especially in the service providers, can really burn out and just go down in flames because they get an email at 11:00 at night on Friday. Now they stayed up all night fixing something or trying to keep a project on track. Just be careful with that one.

If you are looking for that, I would say when you are shopping around and somebody has boundaries, somebody is using a calendar and schedules and they are doing paid discovery and things like that, these are signs of maturity that learning how to work in this digital space there’s a lot of experience there. The second thing … Go ahead, Matt.

Matt M: I was going to say I have a lot to say about that, but I will just try to condense the response. Again, this goes from an email I received. It was last night or the night before. Here’s the thing. I grew up in the car industry and a lot of my customer service and sales process is face-to-face. 99.999% of it was somebody coming to the car lot and I am shaking their hands. I am looking at their body language. I am hearing their voice. I am seeing the way their facial expressions are. All of that stuff is wrapped up into the sale.

I know how anxious they are. I know how excited they are about a car. I can realize they don’t even want to be here. They are not going to buy from me in the beginning. In the digital age, it’s an email. It’s a couple lines and text or paragraphs of text. You have to decipher that.

Like you said, this email I received the other night was through my plug-in tut channel. Here’s a person who said, “I watched your video on moving from DIVI to Studio Press or something like that.” Already right there I know what kind of customer this is. I know what kind of person this is. Then they say, “It should be easy,” red flag. “It should be easy,” so here’s the customer telling me that it should already be easy.

“It should be easy to move our site to this theme. We will just need a little bit of help,” red flag. “A little bit of help to get me into the site. How much does it cost?” Red flag again. It’s just somebody thinks it’s going to be easy and they think it’s going to be a set price to just go and approach this.

Now this person is a videographer, which we used to do videography in the beginning, and you could make a 30 second commercial, it could cost $10,000 depending on how much editing you did into it. It wasn’t because it was 30 seconds. It was free. It was 30 seconds and a lot of editing. It was $10,000.

I reverse engineer that. I look at their site. I look at what kind of person is. I even look at their social profiles and I understand who this person is before I generate my response. My response is to him was, “Look, there’s a base fee for me to just set up a theme or my team to set up a theme for you.” Again the team is letting him know that the person you see in the video is not the one doing the work. I am not a freelancer in my basement punching away at these numbers for you. I have a team of people that I onboard this to, ergo there’s going to be a little bit more of the cost involved because I have mouths to feed.

I relate to that whole thing to “depending on how much editing we are doing, just like you do in videography, it’s going to dictate our custom fee of $5000 and up. If these two packages make sense to you I think we should probably have a conversation.”

10 minutes later and this was 10:30 at night but he was West Coast so he is Seattle and he said, “What’s your phone number and what’s your time zone? I want to have just a quick call about it.” Again red flag right there. Like you said, there’s this immediacy to everything and people just like boom, boom, boom, let’s just get this stuff done.

My tactic in that is I always tell people that I am booked for the next two days. It’s always the next two days, unless I look at your email and you are from Microsoft and you want to do this massive six-figure project with me right away, then I will be more inclined to talk to you. But if you are a regular consumer to me, it’s always 48 hours away for both of us. Some buffer in between, a little bit of margin in between when we are going to have this meeting and let’s make sure we have all key points outlined before we get on to that phone call.

Chris B: This is not unusual for a doctors office or a massage therapist or a chiropractor.

Matt M: Anywhere, can you imagine calling up … Let’s say the only thing you buy is pizza. Can you imagine calling the pizza place down the street, “Hey, do you guys have the fresh peppers today? Okay, I will call you back. I will call you back when you get fresh peppers.” You call back, “You got the fresh peppers? Oh, what about that cheese? How old is that cheese? Where did you get that from? Did you get that cheese from over there? Okay, nevermind, I’m not going to do business …” At one point, at some point, the pizza place is going to be like, “Hey man, we are done.”

But in our industry, like you said, because he could have not liked my response for 40 hours and he hasn’t even responded yet so maybe he didn’t like my response. He just went to somebody else. It’s that easy in this business. You can’t do that with somebody building a house or building your kitchen. You have this radius you work with and maybe 20 or 30 miles and that’s it because anywhere else no one is going to travel from 50 miles away. So we are definitely living in an interesting space with this on demand, everyone has access, everyone is a professional kind of thing but really shaping that and corralling that is up to you as the agency owner.

Chris B: Absolutely and just piggybacking on that, the trick to all of it is just good communication and navigating expectations. I think if I have one talent it’s building that digital bridge and slowing down, educating people where they are at. Like you said, you start to recognize, “Okay, this is somebody asking me this kind of question. That means these learning things are already here. This person knows this. They may not know this. Let me test that.”

“Let me make sure I really understand the underlying problem here, so we’re not just talking about technology and tools. What’s the end goal? What’s our starting point? Is this client a startup with very limited resources? Is this somebody with a $100,000 business, $500,000 business looking to get to a million and scale up and they are trying to use technology to help make that happen?” Just knowing that and then being able to adapt to that type of person is really helpful.

Just to tie-in the power of communication, you also have to be able to build that bridge to your team. As an agency owner or if you are more on the sales and marketing side of the agency, you also need to have that respect of the developers, the designers. You are connecting all this to deliver a good result for your customer.

Like you mentioned earlier Matt, the most important person is not necessarily the customer. It’s the customer’s customer. It’s the end user. It’s what they want to see from a design perspective. That’s what I like to say is, “Let’s just really focused on the end user here.” I use that to steer our conversation. If I need to pull in metaphors about building houses or working with another type of professional to help, I don’t hold it against a client if they have been allured a little bit by the immediacy of the Internet or they outsource your life.

I get it. It’s hard. A computer screen on a laptop is 12″ x 10″. If you are looking at a million dollar mansion, it’s obviously not a trailer. But on the web, in the Internet to the untrained professional, they may not be able to tell the difference. I look at it as part of the job if you are on the sales and marketing side to help communicate that effectively.

Part of that in doing good marketing, in doing good communication, the big thing you really need to get clear of, too, is what you want to do and what you are capable of doing from a budget perspective and also getting that information from the client as soon as you can. You need to earn trust, but there’s a big difference and I have sold it at all levels from a $500 website or even a free like, “Hey bro, can you help me out? I will trade you some whatever for a website?” I have done that. I have done the $5000 website, the $10,000 website, the $30,000 website, with a $60,000 WordPress-based web application on and up a little bit from there.

Those are all very different people. If you are going to do this for a living or if you are coming at it as a potential shopper of services, be honest and upfront about what you can afford and what your resources are to invest in your project. If you are the provider, what kind of work are you capable of delivering?

Matt M: That’s great, everything you said there. There’s a little bit or a lot of bit of some gamesmanship and some sportsmanship in this stuff and it’s really why I like doing agency stuff, but it also can be a burden at the sometime. What do I mean by that? People who are looking to hire an agency and setting expectations have to be fair to the agency. Like you mentioned, you have to be fair to the developer. You can’t just be calling them up at 1 in the morning, asking them these questions.

I have a client who has been with us for quite some time. They do multi-site stuff, multiple sites, multiple locations. They are always launching new locations, but they are also always making this web app better at the same time. They are constantly coming up with these new ideas. They will not sign a dedicated retainer contract with me. They won’t do it. They are just like, “Okay well …”

Part of it is my fault because I am not pressing too hard but that is because when I get on the phone I tell them, “It’s going to be whatever. This piece here is going to be eight hours, a full day’s worth of work to do, with testing, deployment and all that stuff.” “Okay fine, no problem.”

Every time I get on the phone with them I say, “You know I am just racking up the hours here, right?” I’m like, “Every time you send a request through, you are telling me you need it immediately. You are telling me that you don’t care about the time it takes, but you also won’t set a discounted retainer contract with me because you just don’t want to be locked into this contract. That’s fine. It’s even better for me because I am going to bill you a full rate every time you come back to me and if you are cool with that man, let’s keep doing business together. That’s fine.”

It’s like the sports agent kind of thing where they realize if I just locked in, yeah, maybe if I lock in I can save some money. But they are also afraid of locking in at the same time, but they realize when they come to me with this urgency that they are going to pay for it because I am going to get it done and we are going to move things around to get it done.

There are also times when they come to us and say, “Hey, can you get this done this week?” I said, “No, I have other clients that we have already scheduled in.” Then he goes, “Okay, can we get this rushed? Can you get another developer?” and I charge them more because it’s just the nature of the game.

I think there are some customers out there who are willing to spend money because they realize that this team is going to get some stuff done and you, as the agency owner that’s when you can really capitalize on it. It’s not a bad thing. I have seen so many developers just narrow down to 15 minute increments. I’m like, “What are you doing? Why? Why do that? You think your customer is going to care one hour and 15 minutes versus charging them three hours and you got it done?”

Just do it because you know there are going to be questions and answers after that. There’s going to be some other thing they are going to come at you with on that same feature. Go with the half a day. That’s how we bill. It’s either half a day or a full day and half a day at a minimum. You are going to send me one little edit, it’s going to be half a day or send me a couple edits and we will do it in half a day. It’s just the way it has to be because we can’t be shifting the pipeline around all the time for people.

Chris B: That makes a lot of sense. Just to close out, Matt and in the spirit of keeping the end user in mind and in this case we are talking about somebody who has realized they want to hire a service agency, one of the things I come across, I’m sure you do, too, is the service provider is starting off in from a position of mistrust. The potential client has been burned before. They tried to outsource some work before. They had a really bad experience. The people they worked with before in the worst situations went dark, which means whoever they hired before disappeared either completely with their money or with the project half finished or in some big blowup about who owes who want in terms of work for money.

A lot of times by the time they have gotten to a company like ours, sometimes they have just had some bad experiences and they want to really make sure they are in good hands and they are taken care of and that that doesn’t happen again. If you are looking to provide that kind of service or if you are looking to hire a trusted company, my best advice to you is to not go to the bottom. There’s a sweet spot. If you pay too little, you are rolling the dice. You may get lucky. You may get some good work done fast. You may have a really poor experience.

It’s like hiring somebody on Fiverr five dollars to design a logo for you or hiring a multi-thousand dollar branding engagement. It’s a totally different thing. But if you’re looking for somebody under $10 an hour or you could find somebody who is really good at $100 an hour or more, it’s a thousand times as good and faster than the $10 an hour person. There is not always a direct correlation between the hourly rate. The work may take infinitely longer with a cheap, unexperienced, solo freelancer or inexperienced agency.

That would be my big piece of advice if you are shopping around is don’t go for the best deal. Talk to people, be open and honest about your bad experience and ask the hard questions up front to make sure you are dealing with a good agency that has your back and will help keep you going in the right direction.

Matt M: That’s where I was going with the whole sportsmanship, gamesmanship thing and the negotiation and the tact of a client-agency relationship is like you said, more often than not unfortunately, the projects kickoff with, “I don’t know if we really trust that agency? We have been burned before, but geez, let’s hope this goes okay.”

The best thing you can do is have those discussions up front. Hopefully, you will learn that in the pre-sales process. Somebody emails to you and they say, “We started this project and it’s still not finished yet.” Again, red flags. You dive into that. You find out why. Who worked on their site before? Do you have access to them? Was it an amicable breakup or is somebody holding the keys to the DNS records and you don’t know about it? There’s all of that stuff.

Coming from the car sales world, everyone hated me. No one walked on the lot was like, “Oh great, a salesperson. I can’t wait to talk to you,” never. That sort of thing it is sort of already instilled in me. The point is in the beginning you have these discussions. As the agency you negotiate a price. The customer negotiates the price they are comparable with.

The one thing I would say from the agency perspective is never just discount the price. I know this sounds obvious, but I see a lot of people still do this where somebody goes, “Oh geez, $5000? I can’t do it. Here’s our feature list,” and you say it’s $5000. “Oh, can you do it for $3500?” Then some people go, “Okay, no problem. I will do that.” No, you have to take away something. You have to take away some feature, some of value-add that they were looking for because you shouldn’t just discount your price just for the heck of it.

Once you do get that person in that’s when that relationship starts and that’s when you start to earn your trust. Maybe that’s how you approach a project. Very often what we will do is we will look at somebody’s RFP, their Request for Proposal, even though I hate that, the requirement list, and we will say, “Look, you want a lot of stuff,” like my first example in this discussion. “You want so much stuff. Can we get it down to an MVP? I want you to spend a little bit less for this idea right now. I don’t think you should spend everything in the kitchen sink on this now.”

“But certainly charge you and that’s totally fine. I’ll give you that option, but I can build it faster, cheaper without all this extra stuff on it. Are you willing to do something like that and let’s see if we can prove this together?” That really starts to show I am saving them a whole bunch of money, which they already appreciate, and secondly it shows them that I care about getting this to market for them or whatever the case might be.

Then from there, trust hopefully is established, then as an agency you can go back on top of that and charge for version 2, more iterations. As an agency you are making more money. If somebody is listening to this they go, “Oh my God, this is what an agency is doing to me?” Well, at the same time we should be providing value to you. Whatever that second iteration is, you shouldn’t feel like you don’t want to give us money because we are going to help you get to that next level. A good agency should be doing that and that’s the hope that good agencies are doing that.

Now, of course, there are plenty bad agencies and like you said, a lot of them come to us because of that. Having that conversation really aligning with the customers that you want to work with, don’t say yes to everything if you can. I know people have to eat and pay the bills, but if you have the opportunity to say no to a project, take it, the same thing for a client.

I will always ask a client would you rather do business with somebody locally, depending on what I can tell from the project and the people. If you care to do some business with somebody locally, you should find somebody locally because they are going to be in your office helping you. We are not. If we are in Boston and you are in Seattle, we are not going out there. You can pay us to fly out there, but chances are you’re not going to. If these things align with you better and you want to have somebody on the site, then get somebody on site.

If you are comfortable working remotely through GoToMeetings or Zoom, like things like this, then do that. Both sides of the fence, finding trust, a little bit of sportsmanship in the beginning but once you get there you establish that trust and hopefully, it becomes a long-term engagement for both people moving forward.

Chris B: Well said, thank you for checking out this episode of LMScast. I hope you got some value and we have saved you some kind of hard luck, hard won experience with WordPress or if you are looking to hire an agency or if you are an agency. Thank you for coming on the show Matt. If people want to connect with you where can we find out more about you?

Matt M: They can go to mattreport.com, the best place to find out more.

Chris B: Sounds great, thanks for coming on the show and we are going to have to do this again sometime.