How Thomas Levy and Chris Badgett Solve Technology Problems for Course Builders in Partnership with WordPress and the LifterLMS Community

Welcome back to another episode of LMScast! Today we discuss how Thomas Levy and Chris Badgett solve technology problems for course builders in partnership with WordPress and the LifterLMS community. Chris and Thomas talk about how we approach development at codeBOX, and what problems LifterLMS is here to solve.

One of the key visions for LifterLMS is to remove friction in the course creation process. The core of LifterLMS is to create technology that facilitates your students education through your course or membership. Designing for scale is another big aspect of LifterLMS, and Chris and Thomas dive into that in this episode.

The course builder in LifterLMS is really great in that it is versatile and flexible to your teaching style, instructional design layout, and post-launch modifications. Thomas highlights the evolution of the course builder and dives into the origin of the LifterLMS software.

Chris and Thomas talk about how they work to reduce friction with the process of course building on both the front end and from a developer’s standpoint. The new Advanced Quizzes update to LifterLMS brought a lot of upgrades to efficiency when building your online course with quizzes.

A lot of people underestimate the power of quizzes and tests when it comes to building online courses. Now with the LifterLMS Advanced Quizzes add-on, you can incorporate these elements into your online course, and it is easier than ever. Chris and Thomas also dive into how they are working to make LifterLMS align better with how WordPress likes to function.

LifterLMS is built around the community’s best interest, so we are always looking for feedback from the community to drive the platform’s development. In our VIP Facebook group we are constantly running surveys and soliciting feedback.

Extendibility is a key factor of success with the plugins and themes of WordPress, because most sites use many plugins that do different things, and some sites have add-ons for specific plugins. The LifterLMS team focuses a lot on extendability of the platform so you can use other plugins and add-ons to form it to your vision for your site.

Head over to LifterLMS.com and check out all of the awesome things we have going on over there, 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 today I’m joined by a special guest, the co-founder of LifterLMS, Thomas Levy. Today this episode is going to be a little bit different. We’re going to be talking actually about software in the context of LifterLMS and how we approach the development in it, and what problems it’s there to solve, and just talk a little bit about the vision of where we’re going. First, Thomas, thanks for coming on the show.
Thomas Levy: Thanks for having me.
Chris Badgett: One of the big things with the vision for LifterLMS is we see ourselves in the friction removal business. We’re trying to remove friction between the would-be course creator and the results they’re trying to get for the student or the learner. Now, they need software to create courses. The student needs to interact on the other side of that software in terms of taking the course.
Our job at LifterLMS is to create technology that facilitates that exchange and ultimately the transformation that occurs and the results that occur through the education. I wanted to bring Thomas on and share with you guys more on the technical side our philosophy of development and how we approach where to put things in the software and how it works, and where we’re going, because sometimes change happens gradually, sometimes it happens fast.
Specifically, I wanted to get in to the concept of the course builder. Thomas, could you talk a little bit about where the evolution of the course builder came from, moving to its own interface, and what the origin story of the new and improved course builder that rolled out, which later we’ve added the quiz builder, but how did all this start?
Thomas Levy: Yeah, so if you go back to the very first version of LifterLMS, back October 2014 I guess, somewhere around there, we built, if anybody has been with us for that long or was using LifterLMS prior to six months ago, there was a meta box inside the course, the traditional WordPress course edit screen, meta box being all those little boxes you can drag around and move them, things like that. You can close them and open them, and they have all kinds of custom content for that course.
Chris Badgett: And settings.
Thomas Levy: Yeah, settings and all that kind of stuff. We had a meta box where you can kind of drag and drop courses or lessons around create sections. When we first released that, it was I think pretty novel. A lot of our users really, really liked it. It was something I’d never seen inside WordPress before, was an interface like that where you can create other posts from inside one post.
To understand why that really matters, I suppose you need to understand a little bit of how LifterLMS actually works, and even maybe more so how WordPress works is that everything in WordPress is essentially a blog post. It’s stored in one database table. It basically all has the same core content, which is the content in that what you see is what you get editor, WYSIWYG editor. You get a title. You get a URL. You get a published status, all that kind of stuff. That’s a blog post, but a page is also that with the type of a page. LifterLMS courses are a custom post type called the course lesson sections, all that stuff, our quizzes, questions, all custom post type.
Essentially we’re looking at blog posts that we put at different UI on the front of. They all share the same core API. LifterLMS does something that WordPress doesn’t do, which is relates different types of content together through custom relationships and the database and things like that. I don’t think it’s the most unique or inventive thing in the world, but it’s something that WordPress doesn’t do natively.
When we created that first version of the course builder, our goal was to allow you to quickly create a skeleton of your course, and then after you create that outline, you need to jump into other areas of WordPress. You need to go to the lesson editor. At one point you had to go to the section page to edit your sections or your section content after initially creating it.
Chris Badgett: All these different custom post types, they’re all different.
Thomas Levy: These are all different, yeah exactly. They’re all custom post types. Again, essentially blog posts just with a different user interface and a different strategy or goal of what it actually accomplishes on the front end of your website. What we realized, and then as LifterLMS grew, we added engagements, emails, achievements, badges, all those things.
Chris Badgett: More custom post types.
Thomas Levy: More custom post types. What we found both while we used our own product, because we do use our own product, Chris a lot more than I do. I use it for testing purposes. Chris actually uses it. Then through user feedback, which we see a ton of. You guys let us know what you like and you dislike.
But the other thing about this is that we never actually receive very many complaints about the interface itself. Now going back to what we originally built in version 1.0 of LifterLMS, which did not change at all, up until six months ago. Maybe it was three or four months ago. We didn’t get very many complaints about that. However, in support, what I saw day in and day out, what Chris would see day in and day out is people creating issues that they didn’t realize they created as a result of a bad user interface.
What we built originally was wonderful. We loved it. A lot of people said, “Oh, I love the way you can build courses in LifterLMS. It’s great. We love it.” But then there was all these issues that happened as a result of this interface, and nobody was saying, “Oh, if you fix this interface, this problem would go away.”
Chris Badgett: It’s one thing to understand a problem. It’s a very different thing to understand the solution.
Thomas Levy: Right, right, or the reason that problem even exists, do you know what I mean?
Chris Badgett: Yeah.
Thomas Levy: Over time, and I mean this started for Chris and I over a year ago when we started talking about where the course builder was going to go, and ways we can revamp this. As Chris said at the very beginning, let’s remove friction. One of the biggest issues I see with that old interface was that you’re always bouncing around. There’s a lot of page loads. There’s a lot of page loads to build your course, because yeah you could build a skeleton really quickly, but then if you want to edit settings on a lesson.
Prerequisites are a really great example of how many page loads you need to go through to set up prerequisites. If you have a course with even 10 lessons and you want each previous lesson to have a prerequisite of the lesson before it, you need to load each page, and not oh shoot, I want to move one of those around. Now you need to load up two lessons in order to change the prerequisite structure, at least two lessons, you know.
It gets really time consuming. Maybe what’s initially really, really wonderful gets really tiresome, as your course grows, as your platform matures, as you add more courses. We started to see these issues and we started to figure out, started to theorize what could we do differently? As Chris said, remove friction. We had this vision to bring everything, condense everything, shrink everything down onto a single screen, where previously you could create the outline from one screen.
Our vision is to allow you to create essentially, with some exception, almost your entire course from one screen. That’s what we started working on, I think it was in 313 I believe, 3.13 was the original, the initial update to the course builder. Now we’ve moved quizzes in there as … Again, quizzes, the quiz building interface is something we built in LifterLMS 1.0, and almost did not touch up until two weeks ago.
Chris Badgett: I just want to park on that for a little bit. As someone who’s built a lot of quizzes with LifterLMS, it was painful. I would have to create a quiz over here. I would have to create a unique question over here. I would have to attach answers to it. Then I would have to jump over to a lesson to attach the quiz, questions to the quiz and then the quiz to the lesson.
I had to go like five places per question. It was a lot. When the new course builder rolled out, oh my God, not only did you get all these new question types, I mean it’s easy to get distracted and look at that, but the fundamental architecture just accelerated my speed to create the course by a factor of 10.
Thomas Levy: I’m very much anti-propaganda. Actually I was talking to Chris yesterday, and he’s like, “Let’s do a podcast about this,” and I don’t want this to come off as propaganda for our newest feature, because it’s not. I 100% understand that people dislike this. People dislike users, and it bums me out a lot. I get really bummed out when I see negative feedback about what we’ve done.
I understand that we’re actually building this for you. We’re not building it … I mean, we are building it for us to a certain extent, and yes we make money off this. We’re not as generous as … We are generous, but we’re not doing this for free. We’re a business. We’re trying to make money.
But I want everybody to like this, but I understand that not everybody is going to like this. I understand that, and there are things we lose as a result of doing this, this way. I think one of the biggest concerns maybe that I’ve started to see come across the brow is that we’re not doing things the WordPress way. I understand that, and you’re 100% correct. We are not doing things the WordPress way. We’ve eliminated elements of the core WordPress user interface when you’re in the course builder. Selfishly, because we want more space for what we want to do.
That sidebar in WordPress takes up a lot of real estate, and it was something that we arguably were like, “Let’s just get rid of and see what happens.” If you’ve been with LifterLMS since 1.0, you know that once in a while, we do something and we say, “Oh, you guys are right. We made a mistake here. This was not the right way to do it.” So we made an assumption that removing that sidebar was a good idea, and time will tell if that actually was a good idea.
If you don’t like it, keep letting us know and maybe we’ll put it back. But there’s other things we lose too. One of the things is that you don’t have the whole post editor that you used to have on quizzes, which means you will never be able to use the page builder or the forthcoming Gutenberg with your quiz description. That’s something you’re never going to be able to do. We’re not going to give you the capability to do that, I don’t think. I don’t know. Things might change. Two years from now we might undo this decision and make quizzes work some other way.
But again, this is something that we’re weighing the pros and cons of what we ultimately want LifterLMS to be capable of. By moving that into this new interface, we do realize that we’ve sacrificed some things. We’re justifying it. We think it’s a good decision, and it might not be a good decision, but ultimately the goal here is let’s reduce friction and let’s make it as easy as possible for you, the course creator, to create your courses, that includes every aspect.
If we look forward, what we want to be able to do is you set up your whole course, you set up all your prerequisites, and you’ve never left the screen. Now when you want to start adding content to your lessons and adding content to your courses, you jump out back to the familiar WordPress editor where you can use page builders, where you can use Gutenberg when Gutenberg is fully a part of the core. For today, you can use your regular WYSIWYG content editor.
Chris Badgett: Let’s just [inaudible 00:11:59] parking lot for a second. I mean, WordPress has always done content very well. It is originally a content management system, a publishing platform. What we’re talking about sacrificing is we’re making a sacrifice for the user experience around settings, and architecture and building a skeleton and configuring a bunch of little details that aren’t really the content. I mean, the quizzes do contain content, but it’s a unique type of content that is actually positioned inside your greater website. It’s where it runs.
I think it’s also just very important to note that we are very pro-WordPress. We’re all about it. We have no plans to turn LifterLMS into a SaaS and get outside of WordPress software as a service. We’re committed to the WordPress community. We love WordPress. Thomas is currently the organizer of WordCamp Los Angeles. We attend these. We sponsor him. We work with other people who develop products in the WordPress ecosystem and try to figure out how to help remove friction and solve teaching needs together.
We’re very much pro-WordPress, and we’re very much getting ready for Gutenberg and we do want to find solutions to optimize the page builders. Just on the note of the page builders, which are growing really quickly, there was a time when those first came out and I remember myself included, I did not trust them. I’m like, “This is not the WordPress way.” Whether it was the back end page builder or a front end page builder, and now these are the fast and growing systems on the WordPress platform. We’ve kind of seen this narrative before. I just want to highlight that.
Thomas Levy: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: But also mostly just talk about our commitment to the WordPress ecosystem. We’re not anti-WordPress. We’re just anti-friction.
Thomas Levy: Yeah. That’s actually a really good point. I guess I get distracted and lost in my mind sometimes, but essentially what I wanted to emphasize was that this is not an attempt to build a code base that’s portable to something like Drupal or to a SaaS platform. I don’t have any problem with those other things, but I mean Chris and I both have a long history in WordPress, and maybe almost to a fault. I don’t really want to start exploring other platforms, because to me that just means more headaches and more compatibility problems.
I just don’t want to deal with those personally as a developer. I’d rather just have my one stack and we just move on. When I say we’re sacrificing parts of WordPress, I mean we’re sacrificing the parts of WordPress that for a quiz, or for a lesson, or for a course don’t really matter, because these aren’t concepts that exist in WordPress. These are things that exist in LifterLMS, and we’re trying to make those parts make more sense within the framework of WordPress. What do you want …
Chris Badgett: [crosstalk 00:15:04]. A custom post type is not for everything, right?
Thomas Levy: Right. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Exactly, exactly. There’s reasons to use them and there’s reasons not to use them. Yeah, yeah 100% we’re doing away with areas that it makes it more difficult to do it the WordPress way. We’re getting rid of that stuff. Then other things where it makes the most amount of sense to do it the WordPress way and use the WordPress core UIs. They’re going to stick around. As far as settings are concerned, like Chris just said, we want to move more and more settings into the course builder so that you can set up your restrictions, your prerequisites, your engagements, and all those kinds of things from one …
Chris Badgett: Start dates, launch dates.
Thomas Levy: Start dates, yeah, yeah. But then when you actually want to write your content, put your video in, that sort of thing, you’ll go over to your WordPress editor. That allows you to continue doing things like use SEO plugins, to use page builders like we’re talking about, any other plugins, your theme to adjust the layout and maybe custom theme settings that let you customize the header and footer per page or per course or something like that.
All those kind of things are going to stay. We felt it was okay, and I feel really strongly that it’s okay to remove quizzes from that because quizzes are very much a contained element that sits what’s inside your quiz, but LifterLMS is going to do that for you and you can skin it with custom CSS. Your theme could support quizzes and add their own CSS to quizzes, but the quiz infrastructure itself is something that’s self-contained, and we just want to control 100% of LifterLMS.
You don’t need to add SEO to your quiz, because your SEOs aren’t public. You don’t need to page build the quiz, because I’m just not going to make that possible. There’s too many variables inside quizzes for me to build a short code for every quiz. Although that’s not actually entirely true, and you may see quiz short codes down the road. I’ve already had a couple of requests for areas of quizzes that might make sense to actually create short codes for.
Chris Badgett: I just want to highlight that what you’re hearing there is we are listening. We’re openly … This is an active conversation with you, the listener. We have hypothesis, we test them. You see us doing a lot of surveys, soliciting feedback, we take feature requests. We’re doing this together with you. We do have a culture of feedback and trust and valuing community, and I think this podcast episode is really important for …
I just want you guys to kind of see some of the backstory and the conversation and how Thomas and I work together and how we make decisions to move forward. Really at the end of the day, we have your best interest at heart, but even almost more importantly, your students’ best interest at heart. What’s in your students’ best interest is that you can build a course. You don’t get lost in the technology when you’re trying to build the course. You have enough other things to do to teach and build the content, and that your student experience needs to be optimized and frictionless as can be as well. I just want to throw that out there.
The other thing that we’re always aware of is, and we’re always trying to get better at, is designing for scale. LifterLMS is a flexible platform, but when you look at some things in the course builder, like for example, the sections are closed by default. The reason for that is with all the lessons inside, somebody comes in with what we call a giant course and everything is all expanded and loaded up, it’s unmanageable. You may have one course or you may have 100 courses on your site, and interfaces are designed to grow with you. I don’t know if you want to speak to that, anything else that we’ve come across in terms of designing for scale.
Thomas Levy: Sure. There’s actually a lot of things under the hood in this latest quiz update that had to do with scalability and just working towards being able to support 100,000 member courses and things like that. Scalability is always a question where there’s a lot of factors that go into that. It’s not just your code base. It’s not just the plugin. It’s also your server and your host.
If you come to me and say, “LifterLMS doesn’t scale well,” but you’re on a $3.99 a month shared hosting plan, you’re pointing your finger at the wrong person. You might be right if you point to a particular area of the code base that doesn’t scale well, but that could sometimes be overcome by just having the appropriate amount of firepower behind your code base.
Actually one of the motivations for the course builder was there was no way to collapse anything in the old version 1.0 of the course builder in the meta box. If you had 30 lessons in a course and you wanted to move lesson number one down to the bottom, you had some issues with trying to drag and scroll at the same time. It’s 100% possible, but it was just complicated.
There are a couple of other scalability issues with the way all of that stuff worked as well that just didn’t work well for larger courses. That’s one of the issues we’re trying to combat here. There are still some things that need to be worked out there. I’m not going to come and say we’re finished here. If you’ve been with us for a while, we iterate, we improve. We’re always improving and there’s more improvements that need to be made on the current iteration of the course builder around scalability, but I think we’ve got a lot of those issues dialed in.
On this update, there was actually a lot of scalability concerns with how quiz data was saved. Not only scalability, but also extendability. That’s something that if you come back to the WordPress way, if you’re a developer, you understand what actions and filters are. If you’re not, actions and filters are essentially the part of the WordPress core that allows us to build something like LifterLMS.
We can hook into all these different things. A great example of that is when the page loads, we have the opportunity to tell our plugin to do something. The WordPress core loads your page, and there’s different points where we can fire in our own content or data or information or functions. Actions and filters are one of the core parts of the WordPress ecosystem that allow us to do what we do, that allow page builders to do what they do, that allow SEO plugins to do what they do, et cetera, et cetera. Without that, there’s nothing.
Then plugins themselves, really good ones, follow suit with this kind of development philosophy of extendability, which means if there are some … If you’ve ever had a custom request in support and talked to me, you’ve probably seen me say something along the lines of, “No, it’s not possible through a LifterLMS feature, but it is possible.” That’s the kind of thing where it’s like almost anything is possible in WordPress. You just need to know how to write the code to do it.
LifterLMS itself uses a ton of actions and filters in order to allow you to extend our core functionality to add whatever you want. I’ll use WooCommerce as a really great example of the way this works. WooCommerce is an eCommerce platform designed initially, I believe, to sell like t-shirts. Then the guys from Prospress came along, their development company, and they built WooCommerce subscriptions, which is an add-on to WooCommerce. It’s not the WooCommerce core. It’s something that you can add to WooCommerce.
Chris Badgett: It’s made by a different company.
Thomas Levy: Yeah, it’s made by a different company than the team that originally started WooCommerce, which I believe was actually just one guy who originally started Woo. But yeah, it was a completely different company, and they were just like we want to do recurring subscriptions. The WooCommerce core doesn’t do recurring subscriptions because WooCommerce subscriptions, this other team does that for them, so now you can do recurring payments that happen on a monthly schedule, on a yearly schedule, whatever.
That is possible because of the extendability of WooCommerce, which is possible because of the extendability of WordPress. This is like an overarching developmental philosophy that permeates everything in WordPress, or it should permeate everything in WordPress. That was one of the things that quizzes were this black hole that was just like people would ask me, “Oh, I want to do something with quiz data,” and I’d be like, “Oh, it’s going to be really difficult for me to explain how this works, because it doesn’t make any sense.”
That’s like one of those dirty little secrets that developers like you code something sometimes and you’re like that wasn’t the right way to do it. Now you need to spend six months undoing that mistake so that people can now gain access to that data. That was one of the big updates in quizzes, which you didn’t notice because you don’t have to, but if you’re a developer that wanted access to that data, it’s a really, really big deal.
What does that mean for the average user that doesn’t care about a black hole, that just wants to interface the work? It means that other developers can come in and if there’s a question type, for example, that we haven’t thought of yet, or we haven’t built yet, or that you want to custom for some very niche thing, I can’t think of any example off my head, and even if I did, I might not share them, because I think I want to build them myself. That’s not entirely true though. Reader did have issues, and if there’s anything you want to do, go build it.
You can go build that in a custom plugin and add it to yourself. That was one of the big, big things was extending LifterLMS. Then also scaling the quiz data around LifterLMS. The way the data was previously stored, not only was it not accessible, but thankfully we haven’t run into a lot of issues with it, but it was one of those things where I just knew if we keep going the way we’re going, we’re going to run into scalability issues for those of our users who have much larger courses.
So we moved all that stuff into a custom table that’s more easily searchable, and sortable, and scalable, so that it’s just easier to use that data and that data will be more performant as the website grows and more people take quizzes, more students take quizzes on your website. I think you asked me about scalability. I don’t know. I rambled [crosstalk 00:25:27].
Chris Badgett: No, that was good. I just want to highlight Jack over at WP Fusion, that’s an example of someone who’s building a product, then hooks into certain things like LifterLMS, enrollments, and courses and memberships or whatever, but this is part of a bigger conversation about when someone comes to LifterLMS or they’re thinking about doing a course on a membership site, the very first question they need to ask themselves, in terms of platform selection, is do I want a self-hosted or a hosted LMS?
WordPress is self-hosted. Like Thomas mentioned, you buy a hosting account, you get your domain name, you install WordPress or it’s already installed there for you. You start adding the Lifter plugins. You can add plugins like he was mentioning in the Prospress example in WooCommerce. You can add other plugins from other companies to build a really custom solution where you get to benefit from the whole WordPress ecosystem and the flexibility of all the WordPress options, the openness of it, the opensource nature of it all. You can hire a developer to build a custom feature for just your site.
You can’t do those things on a hosted platform. They may have a place to upload your logo, change the color scheme, but it’s just kind of like their way and you’re paying for monthly access. If you’re going to do a self-hosted LMS and you’re going to do it on WordPress, this is where LifterLMS lives, and you can see as we innovate and move forward, we’re building off of what the best WordPress has to offer. We’re open to the community and trying to make it to be a good citizen, if other people are trying to serve education, and entrepreneurs out there need to get access to certain pieces of data or connect, this is what we’re all about. But yeah, I just wanted to highlight that.
Thomas Levy: If I could jump in on that point, kind of calling back to earlier about the course builder not being the WordPress way, one thing that I’ll rant a little bit, it bothers me to hear that kind of thing sometimes, because I think if all we ever do is look at the way we do things currently and we never look outside of our ecosystem or our space or our sphere or our circle of friends or competitors or colleagues or whatever. There’s absolutely no growth that will ever take place. This isn’t me. I haven’t figured this out. We’ve all heard this before.
But in the context of doing things the WordPress way, a great example is what’s going on with Gutenberg right now. Some people are very, very excited about Gutenberg, and some people are very, very scared of Gutenberg, and others think it’s the worst idea in the world. What Gutenberg is, is the WordPress core team, perhaps specifically Matt Mullenweg, looking outside of WordPress and saying, “How can we do better to solve problems that WordPress wants to solve?”
It’s different. It’s not the way WordPress is done. It’s not the way page builders are done. It’s its own thing. They’re looking outside of WordPress to figure out how to improve WordPress. When Chris talks about self-hosted versus hosted LMS, do not think for a second that we’re not looking at what the hosted LMS platforms are doing, or what other things are doing outside of LMS altogether. We don’t just sit here and think, “Oh, this is a great idea.”
We draw off sketches and we come up with interfaces, but we’re drawing inspiration from outside of our own space to figure out how are other people doing similar things? How are other applications doing similar things and being successful at it? What can we draw from them? What can we steal from them? Not in terms of lifting code bases, but like how can we …
Chris Badgett: In an opensource way.
Thomas Levy: Yeah. How can we use that as a source of inspiration to improve and solve the problems and these friction problems that we’re talking about. I spend a ton of time sharing, and I’ve shared all this information with Chris, looking at different places like how do other people build questions, quizzes, questionnaires, things like that? What do those interfaces look like, and what can we drop into WordPress that’s similar to that, but still kind of feels like WordPress to a certain extent?
If we only ever do things in meta boxes and the WordPress way, we’re kind of stuck. I know that’s a little bit of a side and a little bit of me ranting, but change is hard. We don’t like it when we upgrade our phones. We don’t like it when we upgrade everything. But at a certain point, you need to look back and think, we didn’t have cellphones.
You know what I mean? So, changes are changes. I’m really excited about the changes we’ve added to this course builder and improvements we’ve made to quizzes. Again, I will acknowledge that there’s things that we’ve done wrong, and there’s improvements that still need to be made, but yeah so …
Chris Badgett: Yeah. Sometimes a vision takes a long time to execute on. Like Thomas mentioned earlier, like engagements are also a custom post type. It would be nice to kind of manage some engagement settings or certificates. Unifying the course building experience from 50 different places to one is a really … I mean, that’s the overarching vision. That takes a long time to execute, because there’s a lot of moving parts into building an online course or a membership site.
I think sometimes the path doesn’t really make sense or it makes more sense the further you get along down the path. But the hope for this episode is just to kind of take you behind the scenes and look a little bit at this vision about removing friction. Thank you to Peter Fallenius who helped me with that concept of friction removal. I heard that from him, and then it really started influencing how I looked at things. So, thank you, Peter, for that.
But yeah, the vision takes time. There’s always like a why behind the what. That’s why things are happening. Not every decision is mutually exclusive, which means we’re not going against WordPress. We’re actually taking the best of WordPress and then taking the best that we’ve got from outside and what our users need, and their students, and combining that all together and moving forward. It’s more of a question of integrating what’s working, and continuing on the path in service to the end user. That’s what it’s all about.
Thomas, I want to thank you for coming on the show, and that was a lot of fun to take people back behind the scenes and look at the high level. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on that, and I feel really lucky to work with Thomas. When we come together around a problem, it’s a lot of fun.
I know a lot of people out there who this is your business. It might be a side project or it might be your main business, so we take this very seriously and value your trust and value your feedback. So, thank you for being with us in the journey. Thanks, Thomas, for coming on the show, and we’ll catch you guys on the next one.
Thomas Levy: See you.


How to add Quizzes and Surveys to Your Online Course

We discuss how to add quizzes and surveys to your online course in this episode of LMScast with Chris Badgett of LifterLMS. Chris gets into the value behind having examinations in your online courses, and how you can do that with the recently released Advanced Quizzes add-on for LifterLMS.

Integrating assessments into your online course or membership site can bring a lot of versatility to your online platform. Quizzes and tests allow you to check to make sure your students are retaining the information you are teaching. This can be very handy if you are giving students the opportunity to earn certifications through your course.

Online courses can be used for certification purposes to show competency in a particular skill, such as digital marketing. Earning certifications from online courses is one reason that many people take an online course. When offering certifications it is important to have some kind of test or examination to guarantee somebody has an acceptable understanding of the subject matter.

We talk a lot at LifterLMS about the power and importance of engagement, and a big part of that is feedback loops in online courses or membership sites. Quizzes and tests open up that feedback loop and allow you to teach in a more effective manner so your students will be able to apply what they are learning in the real world.

One of the things that is so innovative about LifterLMS is the instructional design aspect of the course builder. It allows you to lay out your course however you want to, and now you can have different types of questions in your quizzes, such as upload questions where your students upload a picture of themselves doing a yoga position or something else for your course.

Another new option is that you can rate the importance of a question on a scale of one to ten, and if you want to have a question that has no weight on the grade you can enter a zero point value in, and it will not be counted in the score.

LifterLMS also has different roles for your site such as the LMS manager, student, and instructor’s assistant, and these roles have different permissions for what they can do on the website. You can also add more instructors to your platform so your site can scale with your business.

Let us know how you are using LifterLMS quizzes and if you want to come on the LMScast Podcast and do a case study interview about your online certification program. Let us know and we would love to have you on!

You can 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 today we’re going to be talking about using quizzes, assessments, and surveys in your online course or membership site. In this particular episode, we’re going to be focusing in on the release of the LifterLMS new quiz builder system and also the Advanced Quizzes add-on and what you can do with it. But at a high level, it’s one thing to have an online course. It’s another thing to have quizzes and tests and examinations.

So what are some of the main reasons why you might have quizzes or tests inside your online course? Probably the most popular reason is for certification purposes. So if you are creating a course that helps somebody fulfill mandatory continuing education requirements or they’re trying to get a certificate that will display some kind of competency in a particular skill, like digital marketing or how to use a certain piece of software, that they can then use to help them get a job or get more clients and that sort of thing.

But in order to guarantee that somebody has a minimum level or acceptable level of competency, you have to have a test or some kind of examination, not just the fact that they purchased the course or went through the course and watched the videos. But did they actually understand? Are they actually able to implement and do the things that the course promised it would teach them how to do? Examinations or quizzes or tests are a way to help do that.

And for some of us out there, I know quizzes and tests historically may have somewhat of a negative connotation of sitting in a cold, hard, uncomfortable chair, filling out bubbles on a piece of paper. But quizzes don’t have to be that boring. You don’t even have to call it a quiz. You can call it a challenge. You can call kinds of other things. So I’d encourage you that, if you kind of have a negative reaction to the word quiz and test for your online course, then perhaps you don’t have … you’re not really testing for a certificate or whatever. You can still use quizzes to reinforce learning, to challenge people.
But also, importantly, open up a feedback loop. We talk a lot at LifterLMS about the power and the importance of engagement, and part of that is feedback loops. And if you want students to actually complete and finish the course, it’s very important that they understand the material and are able to get the results with the material. And what we’ve found is, and as you know intuitively, is not every person is the same in your online course.
So when you have a quiz and a test, especially with a situation where some of the questions require manual grading, you are opening up a feedback loop that allows you to teach more effectively, make sure that what you’re trying to teach is landing well with the student, they’re retaining it, and, more importantly, they’re able to apply that out there in the real world to get the results that your course promise. And you can test all that through quizzes.
So the LifterLMS … the learning management system, online course, and membership site software behind this podcast, that sponsors this podcast, is … it’s exploding in growth in terms of adoption. People are moving in from other tools, or they’re building their first course with Lifter because it makes it approachable and it has a good model where you can get going essentially for free, validate your idea, and then start adding add-ons for various other features or integrations and things of that nature. It’s really growing very fast right now.
And as this new quiz system rolls out, I’m seeing more and more people coming in to Lifter to use its quiz system. I want to talk about it a little bit. So the first thing is, one of the innovative things about LifterLMS is our course builder. So you can essentially build out the curriculum, the outline, the skeleton … whatever you want to call it for your course very quickly. So instructional design is a real skillset, so I don’t mean to understate it. I recommend spending a lot of a time, especially if you’re not a classically trained teacher or instructor of any kind, mapping out your knowledge.
You could use mind maps. You can make lists. You could use post-it notes, but once you’ve kind of got it in a … at least conceptually in an outline format sort of like the chapters in a book or the table of contents, once you have that penciled down or in a spreadsheet or whatever, now, you’re ready to create the course itself with the learning software. So you can basically … with the one-screen course builder, you can lay out your course, your sections, your lessons. And then, at the lesson level, you can start attaching quizzes and start building those out.
So we’ve added the ability to use the quiz builder on the course builder, which means it just furthers the vision and the mission we have to make course building and having your own learning platform without getting locked into renting space on somebody else’s platform. You get to own it. You get to control it, and we want to make it easy for you to build and drive and create and be creative with your course.
So you can now open up the quiz builder. You can add … you can create a short mini-quiz or a long exam, whatever you want to call it. You can do that now from the course builder, so you can add different question types like multiple choice, picture choice, true/false. In our advanced add-on, you can bring in all kinds of other stuff like fill in the blank. You can do long answer requiring manual grading, short answer … we even have an upload question type. So if you want to kind of test somebody or ask them to upload a picture of themselves doing something, like a yoga pose or working out in a certain way or a spreadsheet about their business metrics or whatever it is, you can do that with the upload question type.
We’ve also got a code question type and more. There’s just a lot of new question types in LifterLMS advanced quizzes. So basically, what that allows you to do is when you get to that point where you’ve got your outline and you’ve got, hopefully, some of your content together … but let’s say you’re kind of really ready to start bringing form to this curriculum to actually put it inside the website, to start building it out and polishing it, potentially piloting early students through it, getting some feedback on how it’s working, starting to grade some people and collect feedback from them. You can start doing that with LifterLMS and the new quiz builder and advanced quizzes.
Also, at Lifter, we’re super focused on our community and our user base and our customer base and even people who aren’t Lifter customers yet and they’re trying to do things. We’re always listening, and one of the things we heard was that some people wanted to use the quiz tool, but not as a test or exam tool. They wanted to use it in a different way. So we heard that, and what they wanted to do was basically use it as a tool to collect information from people where it’s not graded, but you can use some of those same question types I just described to do things like collect a testimonial, collect feedback on how effective was the course, either in qualitatively or quantitatively. Like, on a scale of 1 to 10. The scale, that’s another question type.
You could have people rating your course so that you’re getting that feedback. It doesn’t count against their grade, but you’re using a certain question within a quiz or just kind of creating its own assessment that comes towards the end of the course where you get that kind of feedback. Or perhaps you’re just checking in with your students along the way about how their results are coming along and so on. That’s a way to use that hidden feature inside the quiz system, which basically works like this.
You can have a question that has a certain point value. That’s kind of how you come up with a grade. The classic example is 9 multiple choice questions, and then the 10th question is a long answer essay that’s worth, let’s say, half the grade. So each one of those other questions are one point each, and then the essay at the end is worth nine points. So that’s how you would come up with that scenario. But if you put a zero point value on a particular question’s weight, what you’re doing there is you are making it so that that question happens, but it doesn’t count against the grade. So that’s how you collect that assessment or survey data and potentially open up a feedback loop if you want to add remarks. So that’s just a secret feature we snuck into the LifterLMS quiz system based on the feedback of the community.
So quizzing is … it’s an interesting thing. Not everybody uses it. You don’t have to use quizzes, but maybe even just that little piece I said there at the end, about why not collect a testimonial or honest review or whatever you want to call it at the end of the last lesson in order for them to complete the course. That’s just an idea that you could use the quiz system for, but maybe you want to do a deep dive, and you’re doing lots of deep assessments and really personalizing the experience. And just the ability for a teacher or an instructor’s assistant to leave remarks can be very helpful.
So that’s also important to note. In LifterLMS, there are these various different roles that instructors … or that you have on your site. We’ve got the instructor. We’ve got the instructor’s assistant. We’ve got the student. We’ve got the LMS manager. All these different roles have different permissions and can do different things, so when you design your course, it doesn’t always have to be just you. If you’re building a team or you’re doing a multi-instructor platform, you can kind of scale all this that we’re talking about and move from the online course to the online school. So LifterLMS can scale with you, if that’s where you’re headed. Or you could just be a one course show, or you could be a membership site that has several courses in it and other premium content or benefits. LifterLMS is completely flexible and scalable in that way.
So I’d love to hear from you and how you’re using LifterLMS quizzes. If anybody would like to come on this podcast and do a case study interview about your online certification program and how you use quizzes, I’d love to do it. I’d love to really get into how it’s working for you, what you’re doing with it, how you add value, how you personalize so that the community here can learn from a case study.
So that’s it for this episode. This is a … I haven’t done a solo episode in a while, but I just wanted to share the good news about the new LifterLMS quiz system and the advanced add-on called advanced quizzes. If you’re at all interested in that, head on over to lifterlms.com. You can find out more about that, and yeah. Check out LifterLMS advanced quizzes and see what you can do with all those different question types. So thank you everybody for listening, and I hope you have a great rest of your day.


How to Get More Leads and Students through Sales Conversations with Jasmine Powers

Chris Badgett of LifterLMS talks about how to get more leads and students through sales conversations with Jasmine Powers in this episode of LMScast. Jasmine and Chris discuss sales, marketing, and audience building for course creators and membership site owners.

Sales conversations can be unpleasant, but they don’t have to feel forced. Sales can actually be a lot of fun if you sell in the right way and focus on providing a service to another person, rather than focusing on the bottom line. Having one-on-one communication with your customers when selling is important, because in recent years automation and auto-responders have taken a lot of the personal touch out of sales.

Chris and Jasmine discuss the value behind offering multiple packages with your product or service. Jasmine offers a few packages at different price points for her sales and marketing business. In the world of online courses, it is often useful to offer a course and then have a higher price point set for personal consulting and/or a mastermind group.

If you have a free product with your offers, you can ask the customer which package is right for them. So if they are not ready to purchase something, then they can get your free package, and then they can learn more about what you’re teaching and maybe purchase one of your paid packages in the future.

Jasmine talks about how important it is to figure out what your customers’ needs are and what they ultimately are trying to accomplish and how your products or services can help get them there. Chris and Jasmine talk about following up with customers and how you can do that in a way that is not pushy or rude by focusing on adding value to their lives.

Setting boundaries when hosting a webinar and giving away information is important, because you don’t want to give away too much information, and you want to be in control of the dynamic on a live call. Clearly defining what the services you offer provide is important so that when you are interacting with customers you are always in control of the sale. It also enables you to portray a level of confidence and surety.

Learn more about Jasmine Powers at JasminePowers.com, and you can find her on Facebook at JasminePowersDotCom.

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

Chris Badgett: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. My name is Chris Badgett, and I’m joined by Jasmine Powers, coming to you from New Orleans, Louisiana. Jasmine and I first met a while ago, actually through my business partner, Thomas. They met at a WordCamp in Los Angeles, and I’ve had some great conversations with Jasmine over the years about sales and marketing and courses and membership sites and audience building.
I’m really excited to get into a conversation with her about sales conversations and marketing in general, and just this whole expert industry. But first, Jasmine, thank you for coming on the show.
Jasmine Powers: Thanks so much for having me, Chris.
Chris Badgett: If you guys want to check out Jasmine as we get into this call, just check out her main website at jasminepowers.com. The audience here, Jasmine, we’ve got a lot of course creators, membership site owners, or people who want to get into that, and I always like to say it’s really … it’s challenging, because you have to wear five different hats to really do this whole thing well, or at least your team.
A lot of us are doing this solo, but some people have a team and you need to have all these skills either in yourself or in your team or outsource some of it, and those that I described are being an expert which most people have. Then you have to be an instructional designer, someone who can create content and organized and teach. You have to be a community builder. You have to be a technologist and you have to be an entrepreneur, so there’s these, all of these very different skills that for an online course or membership site to be successful that someone needs to have.
One of the things I see people struggling with as course creators, and membership site builders, and people with digital products, is they’re really passionate. They can create the thing, but sometimes they struggle especially in the beginning when they’re first launching on selling. Can you talk to us a little bit about sales conversations and instead of just doing the content funnel and automating everything, what are your ideas on that topic in terms of how people can look at selling in a different way?
Jasmine Powers: All right. So I think the first problem with sales and that whole idea of sales conversations is we have these experiences with salesmen where we felt very uncomfortable, forced. If you’ve ever been to a Mary Kay Party or know somebody who sells Avon. Sometimes their sales strategy is very pushy and just get away from me. When we think about actually selling or making calls or otherwise trying so that people know our value and that they should purchase our products or courses.
We immediately assume that people will feel the same way that we do when we’re in a pushy situation. I think that’s one problem. The other problem is I think that marketing. Around about circa 2008-2009, social was the big thing. It promised to almost replace the need for these real conversations with people, and immediately you put something on social and everybody buys.
That’s not the case, salesmen and sales calls and cold calling and all of that still exist and people are still having success with those things, so for me, unless we’re selling high end courses, we do need to start having conversations with people, real ones, not pushy ones, and I found that having the sales conversations made a world of difference in me enrolling people into my courses and memberships.
I definitely think that it’s an important step especially if you’re selling something that’s not automated funnel in ClickFunnels. Especially if you’re not using all of that heavy stuff or maybe in an addition to the automation. You need to add a level of one on one communication.
Chris Badgett: I love that. I think it’s a very classic notion that the pushy salesperson. Nobody likes that experience but that doesn’t mean that all conversations in the sales process are like that. So especially experts who don’t necessarily have a lot of experience marketing or selling. It can feel like, oh, I don’t want to do that, I don’t want to be a salesperson.
Sales conversation doesn’t have to be unpleasant or forced. It can be a lot of fun actually, and it’s actually, to sell is just to be in service to another human being, make sure they’re a good fit, and everybody walks away with, a winner. That’s what sales is really all about. I really like how you highlighted 2008. That’s really when the information product business on the Internet, and this whole online automation, email marketing, and auto-responders and all this stuff really started to take off.
I think you’re absolutely correct that we sometimes drink the Kool-Aid, or we get lost in these automation tools and forget about this critical selling piece. What is, if somebody is like okay this sounds cool. What is a simple strategy for an online course creator to do to create sales conversations and when they have those, what do they actually look like?
Jasmine Powers: One of the easiest ways to starting sales conversations is really via inbox message. A friend told me when I was struggling with sales, and I was like I can’t get anybody enrolled. I can’t get anybody on my consulting. What should I do? She said well, first off, get into some other communities. Be a part of another community, post great stuff, comment on other people’s things, and then friend, do a friend request, so I’m talking primarily using Facebook. Do a friend request and of course you’re already posting great content on your own wall. When they see that, shoot them an inbox message and try to book a meeting.
I was like okay. I already inboxed friends and things before, but this time it was warmed up conversation because they’ve already engaged with me and have some value, just as my Facebook friend. But with the addition of the great content that they’ve liked or commented on. You warmed up the opportunity for you to shoot an inbox message and say “Hey, I want to be doing a webinar tonight. I’d love for you to get involved and maybe when you have a free moment, I’d love to chat with you about your goals and what you’re promoting this year.”
I’m a marketing consultant so of course my theme is going to be geared toward sales and marketing and helping people with that, so I’ll say something like that. They usually always oblige and I get on a sales call and what I used to do was, been trying to solve their problems on the call, and I wasn’t converting. I’d answer all their questions on the call. I was basically like consulting during the sales call, but once I switched to doing more of a discovery call where I asked the questions. It gained me a lot of vital information so then I could propose my solution.
After I find out what they’re doing, what their goals are, what their next level looks like, get a big picture overview of what they want to accomplish and the transformation they’d like to see in their life, then I can say well great goals, I definitely think that you can accomplish this. So let me tell you about how I work with people. I work with people in three different ways. A one on one consulting where we work together for a period of six weeks. We do weekly calls.
They’re a one hour a week, record them on Zoom, so you have it to use for later reference, and we primarily cover messaging, content marketing strategy. And whatever their goal is. I have this online course where I have a self-study version of the online course where you just watch the videos and you study at your own pace, it’s really not a lot of engagement, but if you, it’s a cost effective option.
The option that I recommend for you is this particular course because it has a combination of the online course component but you get access to me and group members, and you can ask questions, and then at the end of that, I usually say which option works for you. Some people are like I want the self-study version, so okay, course sold.
Some people are saying okay, I like the middle option. I would like to get the course but have the opportunity to talk to you and interface with other community members, okay, course sold. Or the third option is VIP which they still get access to the course and gain consulting, so there’s really not an opportunity for them to say no. I give some options.
Sometimes if they say no, of course then they’ll go into and turn people into some type of what do you call that. I can’t think of the word. Like HubSpot or something, HubSpot CRM, follow up with them in a week or a month or something and then hopefully you could sell again at a later time, but what I really found transformative was really making the sales call really less about me, the pitching how wonderful my courses, and how they need to buy it.
But really finding out more about them and then trying to fit my product into what they really ultimately need, and by doing that. I found and I was able to convert much, much, much better in day and feel like pressure because if you really want this and you know that this particular solution is going to work for you, you buy it. I never want to push people but I do followup with them and some of the ways I’ll follow up with them is sending articles that I’ve written since our last conversation say I thought about you when I wrote this.
Here, check this out. Let me know when you want to catch up, and then you can sell later. That’s really the cut and dry version of what a sales call looks like for me.
Chris Badgett: That’s beautiful. Well, I want to unpack that a little bit and I’m going to go in reverse order of what you were just talking about. The last thing you talked about was the followup and if you’re worried about being a pushy salesperson, you just don’t be a pushy salesperson. It’s that simple. Like you said when you followup, you’re adding value. You’re not just calling and saying are you ready to buy it? You’re saying like hey I was thinking about you, and your problems, and your goals, and I think you might like this article, or I thought of this video, or whatever it is.
Always adding value every step of the way is key. One of the cool things that you talked about that was very clearly laid out is a model for experts to use. I call it the 3Ds, where it’s do it yourself, that’s the online course, the done with you, that middle option, and then the done for you which is like the consulting option. Those aren’t, not every offer fits perfectly in those boxes, but when you have a spread like that, like the do it yourself option.
I recommend at least like the do it yourself option and then the consulting, more high touch, more expensive option and then you can put a middle option in there, but when you have a spread of offers like that. It really helps when you are qualifying that person and learning about their goals. You’re figuring out, okay, where do they fit, which is the right package for them, what can they afford, what do they most need.
That goes back to your ties into what you were saying before that which was having those sales conversations, doing a lot of listening, asking a lot of questions, what are your goals, and finding that information out, so that you can direct them into the appropriate offer. Makes a lot of sense. That’s what really quality marketing and sales is all about. It’s just seeing what fits where, and helping people unpack their problems, understand their problems, understand the solutions that are out there, and the different options they have that they may or may not be aware about.
I just want to go back in time a little further to what you said before that, which is a common thing for new person in sales especially if they’re getting into sales conversations as an expert is to let that 15 minute call or even hour call to transgress into free consulting, and the economics get a little messed up, or the relationship gets a little bit messed up.
It’s always good, I believe in consultative sales, but it’s very easy for a beginner or someone who’s just really passionate about their subject, and a really giving personality to end up doing a lot of consulting for free on sales call, which if you’re a giver, you really want to give as much as you can, but sometimes it can mess up the expectations or set the relationship off in a not the best path, with the economics are aligned and so on. What other advice do you have, Jasmine, about sales conversation versus getting into consulting for free?
Jasmine Powers: I think you’re right. Definitely consultative sales work, but I think it’s a lot easier to do a consultative sales process if it’s not information that you’re selling. For example, with LifterLMS, if you are talking to someone like they don’t actually get LifterLMS in the sales call. They’re still going to have to buy into in order to get that solution and so talking about how to use it, how to upload your videos, or the better content breakdown and instructional design.
They get information that’s useful, but they don’t get the solution. With information marketer, what they struggle is a lot of times in the conversation they’re giving the part that they need to sell, so I think that the only way to really balance adding value is to share, maybe share tips, or a couple of resources, but don’t necessarily give the answer to the question.
You can say something like you know what I know exactly what would work for you and we cover in our course, or when you get a chance, as we start to work together on our third call, we go over building your online course and I have a five step process that I really think will be helpful for you but you don’t give the five steps on the call, or if you say the five steps you don’t go into extreme detail and give it all away, because there has to be some type of barrier.
So that there’s a reason to pay. People love free information and they’ll take it, and then go sell it to their community, so you have to create some boundaries and editing of yourself especially if you’re a natural giver, so that you really present your products and services as the solution and not that first discovery call.
Chris Badgett: I love that. I think the boundaries word is critical. Really what that boundary is from my perspective is knowing what your offer is. What is your offer, like what is the paid premium offer, and there’s this whole conversation that goes before that you cross the boundary, there’s a simply framework called I don’t know what it’s called, but I think it’s about buyer awareness or something.
At the first, they’re unaware and then they’re problem aware, which is when really when a sales conversation I think makes sense. If they’re unaware maybe they come across your content or something but once they’re problem aware, and know they have a problem or a goal they want to achieve, then they’re problem aware, and then they find out about you or they find about the solutions out there that are could help with their problem.
Once they find out about the solution in general then they become product aware where they’re like aware of what it is you specifically offer, but in that journey to becoming product aware. There’s so much you can talk about and consult with somebody on a 15 minute call, or in a short email that you can help add value in advance before you get to that boundary that you talked about where they’re getting into the actual offer.
Jasmine Powers: Yeah. Absolutely.
Chris Badgett: What do you think, you mentioned Facebook, you mentioned some emails and getting involved in social media which I totally agree. I personally, I’m in probably 200 Facebook groups. I don’t get in there every day, I don’t just drop links to my stuff. I will if it’s relevant and it’s okay with whatever the topic is with the specific group.
I’m always going in there with that consulted sales conversation mindset of like if I’m in a group about membership sites, and somebody is like well, the microphones that I use, I just share my microphone that I like, I don’t say anything about list or anything but I just try to help people. Over time you really build some influence that way. Can you tell us about your experience in more detail in the groups or on social?
Jasmine Powers: Yeah, so with social, number one I’m obsessed. I’m on there all the time. But I think where people go wrong with social and especially groups is that you do make it very self centered and focused on their solution rather than what other people might need. If you’re on a group to sell, don’t be obvious. Don’t be all going there like I have this event to promote, I have this course to promote. Don’t approach it that way.
Their opportunity is right there when people are doing their regular posting and asking questions for you to merely comment and answer their questions or make recommendations. If they want help or more help, they typically will ask for it, or you can gently say I’d love to talk more about it if you’re free, just shoot me an inbox message, so that it’s still up to them and not pushy, and things like that.
The other thing is you can share thought leadership content in groups so I’m in a group called brand build and launch, and this is for e-commerce store owners. Since a lot of them are not doing SEO, one day I just came in and say I know you guys are focused on ads, and Facebook ads, but let me introduce you to the tool, Google search console tool, and I did a video on how to setup search console.
And that particular post was useful, it wasn’t promotional because I wasn’t promoting that I was setting up search console but what it eventually led to was me being able to do some consulting around that so just add value but add value for adding value sake and not because you’re like I got to sell 100 courses today. Because it comes off as desperate and pushy, and some group admins will delete you.
Definitely if you’re going to do it, I just say be a friend, add value, and the opportunity will come. Then if people tag you in things, this happens to me a lot, people tag me because they see me on social media and sharing videos all the time. Respond to the tag. It’s really simple, but people won’t respond to the tag, they won’t inbox, and further the conversation and they’ll be very passive about getting clients, and I think it requires a little bit of assertiveness to say yes, I provide the solution. I’d love to talk to you and you send them.
I use Acuity, and you use Calendly, so whatever your booking tool is, send it to them, have it ready, and let the person book a conversation, and you get on, you sell to the person, you have a client, or invoke in your course, especially if it deals directly to the person’s problem. So I think it’s just a matter of really being a giver, and really thinking about how can I truly serve these people.
I know some people are a lot more aggressive, I don’t like that style, but posting great content and responding when you see people with those questions has always been extremely helpful for me.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. That’s beautiful and I think it’s a real skillset to develop the live call. It’s almost like a lost art in the Internet these days, like you mentioned since 2008, but I’ve over the years tried as much as I can to make myself accessible to 15 minute calls with anybody in the world about who have questions, about Lifter, building their course, membership site, marketing questions, whatever it is.
I do a lot of those. But you can also time box it. It doesn’t have to take over your life. I think that’s a worry some people have. Their calendar is going to get overrun, but you can have a two hour block, one day a week, and another two hour block, another day a week, and when I do that, it fills up. It’s always, it fills up, but it doesn’t expand outside of the boundaries.
Sometimes people say like “Hey, you don’t have any openings until March.” I’m like “I’m sorry, I’m booked up.” But then I opened up like a group situation where I’ll do some webinars which are more scalable and so on, but the 15 minute call is a challenge especially for the newer person because what ends up happening when you start talking and adding value and showing interest in this person and what they’re trying to do or what their problems are, they get really excited which is good, but they tend to go right over the 15 minute and just keep going.
It is a skillset to develop if you are going to do, open yourself up to this kind of engagement, and sales conversation to kind of … What I like to do is when I start the call, I like to set the expectation of like okay, here’s what we’re going to do. Here’s what I’m going to talk about and try to do for you today. We have 15 minutes. I’ve got it so much down to a science that I actually have an alarm on my phone that goes off, not to be annoying, but just so that I know like all right I got to go, because I got another one of these starting right up, because I time block it.
I don’t know what, and if we look at that whole issue of unaware, problem aware, solution aware, product aware, I might be having a sales conversation with someone who’s just at the problem level. For example, in the online course world. I talk to a lot of speakers who are like I travel, I live on planes, I live on hotels, I miss my family.
I want to figure out this whole Internet online course thing, and deliver my content, and develop online programs. They’re solution aware but they’re in between problem aware and solution aware. There’s a lot we can talk about that has nothing to do with the actual offer that we offer, and just add a lot of value and help them think through the options, which is good.
What other advice do you have for a sales conversations, if people get it going, start adding value, maybe invite people like hey I’d be glad to talk about this problem you’re having or this solution you’re looking for in a 15 minute call. How should they approach that call?
Jasmine Powers: I think the framing is good. When you said to be coming to the call and you set the expectation, that’s definitely a good way for set the tone for what’s going to happen but I would recommend, I think the book is called this is how you pitch, I think. Pitch anything. The titles are very close. One of them is about PR, the other one is about sales pitches, and in the book is he talked about really assuming an alpha role in a sales situation and what will happen and what you will encounter is a person who is very type A, who’s like I’m going to take control of the call.
What ends up happening typically is you’re trying to pool whether or not you’re worthy to work with them, and I hate that energy. It just feels yucky, because I’m a professional, I know myself, I’m not going to beg you or try to prove that I’m worth working with. If you want to work with me, you do, and if you don’t, you don’t.
I think it’s important to make sure you set the tone even if the person has that personalities, make sure you’re the one asking the questions. They’re going to ask questions but make sure that’s after you’ve already established that you’re the right person for their job. Because a lot of times, I think clients don’t know how to qualify a service provider and so they’ll ask you a bunch of stuff that really isn’t relevant to actually whether you can do the job, so you just fix that up by saying, doing what I said earlier is you ask them relevant questions to their project or the problem or whatever the goal that it is that they have.
By doing that, you actually establish your authority on it because you’re asking very well thought out questions. If they have questions that make you uncomfortable or you don’t know the answer to, just admit it. I don’t know that or I don’t use that tool. I had a guy who wanted to, needed a video and I don’t do video editing, but this is what I do do. Don’t ever lose your stance, whatever show up as insecure or uncomfortable because a client will pick that up and they will not feel confident in hiring you.
You have to make sure that you feel at least give off confidence and surety, and I feel like one of the ways you do that is by asking the right questions. Answer when appropriate or if you need to redirect and just shift the energy. Make those necessary move. I know that was long-winded, but that’s where I think people lose their footing in the sales call is letting the person take over the call, and you never want to be in that situation.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. That’s such a great tip. I think one of the things too you can do is when you open it up, is just restating your value proposition or your offer. I help people achieve this result through this method. Yeah. I help these kind of people achieve these kind of results through this method. That’s the basic elevator pitch. I experience the same thing like you’re talking about.
Where I may have some knowledge and some other things outside of what my actually business offer is or I may not know at all and I know you’re going to need this other thing to be successful but it’s really easy as a beginner in consulting or selling online to just like all of a sudden your offer changes and now you have something else you’re going to do for the project or whatever.
Being strong on your offer, I think it’s important to be open to a customer, your type of person, requesting some and be like you know what maybe I should bundle that into my offer. It’s okay to take advantage of that when it make sense, but it can get you into trouble if you take on SEO if you’re doing websites or whatever, and you don’t necessarily have a background in SEO.
I also love what you’re earlier talking about in terms of it is important that you do the qualifying as the expert on the sales conversation because if somebody is either type A or you’re just not really getting into it, they’re actually going to take over on that job of qualifying. Can this person do what I need and maybe they’re now constructing what the offer is and stuff like that.
I think it’s actually really relaxing for the prospect if you will to just have, they get to sit back, they get to be interviewed, and you doing the interview are the person that is responsible for qualifying to see whether one or some or all or none of your services are a good fit for this particular person at this particular time. I really love that. Lots of great tips in there, Jasmine. Go ahead. Did you have something else?
Jasmine Powers: Yeah, I did. One of the things I was just thinking about is sometimes also in the sales call when you feel a strange energy. Also take note that that couldn’t be an opportunity for you to not move forward, so feel comfortable in saying I’m not the best person for this project because you never want to, I understand you got bills to pay, but usually with clients that are extremely, I don’t know how to say it.
They’re unclear. I really get uncomfortable with this. What they need is unclear because to me that means the project scope is going to grow and grow and grow, and they’re not going to want to pay and pay and pay. If you start to feel like I don’t know this project is feeling really. You’re not comfortable, and it’s not a hell yes type of situation.
Have referral partners, sub-contracts. If you want to still manage the project or something but decline moving forward because I think our businesses should be something that we actually enjoy, and the whole qualification process is about choosing the right people and the best people to work with and the people that you know you can deliver the best results for, and if you don’t think you can do it, don’t take it on, because nobody will end up happy.
Sometimes it ends up costing you to work with that client, and so I think intuition is going to be extremely helpful in those sales conversations, so you know what you should and shouldn’t do in terms of moving forward with the project, or enrolling them in your course.
Chris Badgett: I think that’s such a great point. There’s no greater joy in business to working with great people and the projects you really enjoy, and that’s up to you, the entrepreneur to qualify who it is you want to work with and really thinking about that before you invest in an online course project or membership site or a bigger stack that also includes consulting and other things.
It’s important to enjoy the people you work with especially for sustainability, and I do this sometimes where I refer in my sales conversations, taking up my valuable time. I will refer people to my competition if what they’re looking for is it’s a better fit with the competition. What ends up happening funny enough is sometimes they go, sometimes they don’t, and they end up buying my stuff anyways.
Even if they go, I’ll see them somewhere else on social media being like recommending our product because it’s a better fit for these reasons, for what that person is asking for, and people really appreciate the honesty of my offer is not a good fit for what you’ve got, and if you are ready with another option that is a true good option for them to check out or at least a particular Google search to do or whatever to find the right thing that they’re actually looking for.
That comes back to you as a benefit, as just goodwill. Helping qualify but they didn’t fit into what you offer but now they’re going somewhere else to get the help they needed. That’s a really good thing. Well, this has been a lot of fun, Jasmine. A lot of wisdom in here, and I’m going away by some of these insights and just the clarity of what it’s like to have sales conversations.
It’s just not something that people are doing enough of as time goes on, we tend to be, it seems a little more just behind the websites and behind the smartphone or the social media profile. But actually engaging with someone directly, it’s almost like a lost art in some ways, and I feel like you’re bringing out a lot of those skills required. If you want to be this kind of artist in the sales world, and it’s almost, because it’s almost a dying art it seems.
Just doing even a little bit of this stuff or implementing it on a small scale can have big results, and it can also be very differentiating. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on the sales call, and sometimes be like I can’t believe I can talk to you or I can’t believe we could schedule meetings like this or I really appreciate you being able to talk about this in advance of me buying anything or figuring out what I need to buy, it just means a lot. It seems like it’s a dying art, would you agree?
Jasmine Powers: Yeah. I definitely think it is. Automation is great. I love automation. However, as a service provider, I also feel like I want to get to know the people that I work with as well. I’m a very, like you mentioned yesterday in our conversation just high touch. I want to be deeply involved and so I don’t know that a lot of people are doing it.
I think a lot of it is like let’s just scale, get as many people in here, and make as much money as possible, and if you are successful, cool. If you’re not, well. I think for that reason, sales calls are not something that people want or they want to always outsource that to a VA and maybe that is what works best for some, but that’s not something that I necessarily want to do. It is to me beginning to be a lost art to have a real relationships with the people that you work with.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. I would encourage those of you listening to not be scared that it can takeover your calendar because you can scale it, this is just an example. I still do a lot of one on one calls, but also I have at least one webinar a month and I always have Q&A at the end. If it ends up taking an hour, or even longer to get through the Q&A at the end of the webinars. Those are sales conversations.
I even have, I just started doing a weekly sales Q&A for people to ask. I’m not coming with a presentation. I just open up a webinar and however many people come in, they can raise their hand, and I’ll talk to them one on one. Lots of people like to hang out and just listen to the questions. Maybe their question gets answers or whatever, but it something that can scale which is part of the reason the whole automation thing is so attractive is it can become passive or whatever.
I can guarantee most of the influence and I guess a lot of the actual product sales that happen started somewhere in somebody having some kind of real conversation and it is a lost art. Jasmine, if people want to find out more about you. What’s the best place for them to look? I know you said you’re active on social. You’ve got your website at jasminepowers.com. If people were looking for, to get into your world of marketing and sales, where can they go?
Jasmine Powers: They absolutely can go to jasminepowers.com, but I am on Facebook at jasminepowersdotcom, so Jasminepowersdotcom spelled out. If you want to get started working with me, you can go to letscheck.jasminepowers.com, and hopefully we can get a chance to talk and see what we can build together.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Well, thank you so much Jasmine for coming on this show, and this has been a really fun conversation and I know there’s a ton of value in here for the course creator and the membership site person out there looking to spool up and get new customers, so thanks so much for coming on the show.
Jasmine Powers: Wonderful. Thank you so much for having me.


How to Prepare Slides for Teaching Online Courses and Other Instructional Design Secrets with Janet Kafadar

In this episode of LMScast we discuss how to prepare slides for teaching online courses and other instructional design secrets with Janet Kafadar from JanetKafadar.com. Chris Badgett of LifterLMS and Janet talk about marketing funnels, the different stages people go through when building a course, and how to remove the roadblocks that are standing in the way of course creation.

Janet is a course creation expert who works with specialists in various fields to turn their knowledge into an online course. She has been working on this business for around four years now and she has learned a lot about what it takes to make courses successful. She shares the strategies her company uses to turn an expert’s knowledge into an online course, and you can use the startegies to improve your course building processes.

Many experts in various fields will struggle with building courses, because they throw together content, but lack the instructional design element of course creation. Janet’s company has the experts write out the content they are teaching onto index cards with one point per card, and this will translate into roughly one point per slide in a presentation. She then has her team listen to that content and turn it into an engaging slide that helps get the learner to an outcome. Then the expert can re-record their presentation, and it will have a stronger instructional design within their course. Janet’s company also works with the experts on how they lay out their course and what should be said in their course.

When building an online course it can be very easy to get sidelined, distracted, and slowed down. Many course creators fail to launch their courses, because there are so many pieces that need to come together to make it happen.

You want to be cognizant of where, when, and how your students will be learning your course material. Are they going to be at their child’s swimming lesson listening on their phone, or are they going to be in front of their computer with a notepad and pen? Janet highlights this key element of focusing on the student experience as it applies to course creation, because being mindful helps to make your content stronger.

Chris and Janet talk about how beneficial it can be for you when creating courses to do a deep dive on your course structure and outline before diving into the content. This makes it so that you don’t have to do as much editing work on the back end of your course, and you can focus on the content moving forward.

Focusing on the outcome is something that Janet and many course creators believe is key, because the customer most often purchases the course to attain a desired outcome. When building courses you want to always think about how you are taking the student from where they are now to where they want to be.

To learn more about Janet Kafadar visit JanetKafadar.com/quiz to take her course journey quiz that will help you determine the next steps you should take with your course creation to make it a success.

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

Chris Badgett: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. My name is Chris Badgett, and I’m joined by a special guest, Janet Kafadar from JanetKafadar.com. She is a course creation expert, and we’re really excited to have you on the show. Thank you for coming, Janet.
Janet Kafadar: Yeah, thanks for having me.
Chris Badgett: Janet shares a unique knowledge set that I love to geek out about, so we’re gonna have a lot of fun on this show. We’re gonna get into instructional design, marketing funnels, the different stages people are at when they’re trying to build their courses. And a lot of what we’re going to get into is how to remove roadblocks that are standing in the way of course creation, ’cause it’s really easy to get sidelined, distracted or slowed down, or failure to launch, because there’s all these different things that need to come together to make it happen.
One of the things I’d like to get into with Janet, it has to do with her approach to instructional design. I heard her on the Productize Podcast with Brian Casel, and I was really interested to follow up with her, because she was talking about one of the things she does with her Done For You services, work with experts on getting their course launched and set up. And she talked about a process of really getting into the slides.
So this there’s whole problem that happens where if you’re an expert and you want to have an online business, you need to go through this huge gap, which is called instructional design. Not to mention the selling, and the membership, and mocking down the content and getting the money and all that, but you actually gotta take that expertise in turning it into an online course.
How do you do that, Janet? Talk to us about slides.
Janet Kafadar: Oh my goodness. Yes, no, I totally hear you with what you’re saying there, and that’s the set of a really big problem that my clients have. So what I’ve found over the years, I’ve been doing this for about four years now, coming up to four years in this business. I had a previous business before. But in this business, what I’ve found with my clients is at the very beginning of trying to get them … it was just me at the time working with my clients to try and tease the content out of them and get it down on paper, and get it down on slides, and then in a way that I can translate that. And so they’re students, and learners can get the most out of it.
But it just didn’t work. Now when I did this in my corporate setting it was fine. You could quite easily go ahead and talk with the subject matter expert, and you can sit down and have a clear discussion about that. But because most of my clients are overseas, I’m over here in Australia. Most of them are either US or Canada or UK. Having that fluid discussion didn’t happen so easily.
So a way in which I found to work for me and my team, and for my clients as well, is for them to just get out a blank slide, a blank slide deck with nothing on it, it doesn’t have to be fancy, nothing at all. And just write one point per slide. Now I say it like that because that’s literally how it needs to be. One point on this slide, one point on another slide. Yes, you may end up with about 200 slides in the end, but it works, because then I get my clients to then record themselves talking through each of those points. And so the things that they may not necessarily say to me come out when they’re talking through it on the slide. So things that they may want to get across, or an area that they wanted to elaborate on, they can do that quite freely. Then it’s easy for my team to then go away or listen to what they’re saying and then translate that into an engaging slide that helps the learner get to an outcome.
So that’s the way we found it to work the best, and yeah, my clients, students and learners seem to get the best results from that. So if anyone’s kinda struggling and that’s their big roadblock and they don’t necessarily have a team or anyone to help them, that is my best advice to you. One point per slide, and just record yourself doing that and then you’ll realize that there are bits that you may not say that come out that actually really do help you and you can use them either on a side deck or you can use them in worksheets or anything like that.
So yeah, I hope that’s answered your question. I think I went a really long way around your question.
Chris Badgett: No, that’s really good. So what happens if somebody doesn’t do that, or what is the default mode of operation for an expert if they’re not going one point per slide, what’s the alternative?
Janet Kafadar: Well the reason that I like this method the best is because it works if you know your content and you know your subject matter inside out. Now if you don’t and you’re kind of not sure about it, this is not going to work, this method. And if that’s the case, you really shouldn’t be creating a course because you should only be creating it if you are an expert at what you’re doing.
So if someone is kind of struggling with this, then don’t … and if that even kind of freaks you out a little bit, then don’t worry about it. Just go ahead, just get out a slide deck and either type it out or use images. I’m a big fan of images and the ink. I’m a visual learner, so I have to have images. Text just doesn’t work for my brain, so having images or even symbols, or you know those little icons that you get where it’s just like a person sitting at a laptop or something, or just little outline images? Use those instead. Use diagrams to help illustrate your point or whatever it is that you need to get across. So that’s another way in which you can go about if putting one point per slide is not ideal for you.
Chris Badgett: That’s fantastic. Well let’s talk a little bit about your Done For You service. What would your team then do with that slide presentation?
Janet Kafadar: Yeah, so it’s then their job to go through, so let’s imagine the course is four or five modules. And then there may be three, four lessons per slide. Sorry, per module, then it’s their job to go through and then translate what the client has said in that recording and in that plain deck that they’ve sent across to us, and then translate that into their branded slides or whatever it is.
Chris Badgett: So are they re-recording the presentation, or is this the editing function, or they were just-
Janet Kafadar: Yeah-
Chris Badgett: … research or how does it work?
Janet Kafadar: Yeah, so they’re collecting all the information from that they’ve done. They’re then creating a brand new slide deck and interpreting what the client has said, either using images or diagrams, or whatever it is and putting those all into a slide deck. Handing it back to the client and then they can go and re-record it, ready for us to then upload into their members area.
But prior to that, a lot of work on the actual structure, the outline, what’s going to be said inside of each lesson and each module has already been determined beforehand. So we never really get to appoint where a lesson is anything more than 20 minutes long. We always try and cap it at the 20 minute mark, because people lose interest and no one wants to watch a video for 30 minutes. So it’s really important that we see everything from the learner’s perspective [inaudible 00:08:23] really conscious about how they’re going to be engaging with this information. Where are they going to be? Are they going to be on their phone whilst their son or daughter is at swimming? Are they going to be in front of their computer? Being mindful of that really helps us make sure that the content is stronger.
So yeah, so then that’s what my team then go away and do and work on the slides for the client, and then hand it back to them for recording. So yeah, it’s quite a lengthy process, but especially for my clients who are time-poor, they just don’t have the time to sit and try and put all the pieces together and work out what needs to go on the slides and all of that. That’s our job to take that information, their expert knowledge and turn that into a course for them.
Chris Badgett: That sounds like a really professional approach. It also sounds like a very professional expert who sees the value in getting some help. ‘Cause if I’m an expert and I’m going to do the work of making 200 slides where I’m going over these key points of my expertise, for me, it makes a lot of sense that I want an instructional designer who really knows their craft to help take that further.
So I love what you’re doing, and you’re also making it an iterative process where it then comes back to the expert, am I right? Where then they are gonna come in with some voice or …
Janet Kafadar: Yeah, yeah, that’s right. So it’s all their voice and all their recording. So they go through the slide that we send them, and most of the time there are only like a couple of things that they want to change and they can change that when they get it back. That’s fine, it doesn’t have to come back to us to do, but it works quite smoothly because they know when the slides are coming to them, and then I tell them and my team tell them beforehand, “Okay, you’re going to have to block out at least an hour or an hour and a half on your calendar on Thursday because we’ll need you to sit down and do your recordings so it can come back to us.” And then they just put it in a Dropbox folder when it’s done.
And there isn’t really much editing to that, once it’s done they just-
Chris Badgett: Because you did the hard work in the slide creation process.
Janet Kafadar: That’s right. And even at the very beginning where we’re working on the slides and all of that stuff. So working on the lessons and what’s going to be said, and how it all links together. All of that stuff, there’s not very much for us to do, maybe just put some intros and outros if we need to. If the client has that.
So to anyone that’s got a listing, my best advice, do your planning and really deep-diving into the content structure and how it’s gonna hang together and what’s going to be in it, and then start recording ’cause that frees you up a whole heap of time when it comes to the editing side of things if there’s any editing and kind of getting things uploaded, ’cause that in itself [inaudible 00:11:33] a whole heap of extra time. So do as much of that work upfront, and then it will save you in the long run.
Chris Badgett: That’s beautiful. That’s almost counterintuitive, I see a lot of people how just put a Himalayan effort into creating content, and then someday later they figure out the editing process. But why not make it a little more structured on the front end so that the editing on the back end is a lot more minimal?
Janet Kafadar: Yes, yeah, absolutely. Like it may just be a few ums and ahs or something like that, but I normally just tell my clients “Okay, just pause it, and then get yourself together again and start again.” Like don’t even worry about it. Don’t think “Oh, I’ve got to start from the beginning … ” “No, don’t worry. Just press pause, just keep going.” Because as soon as you think “Oh god, I’ve gotta do it again,” then you know what happens. You kinda get in your head and you start fumbling and it just makes it really difficult. So I’m like “You’ve only got an hour and a half on your calendar, remember. So don’t even worry about it.”
Chris Badgett: The heavy lifting of the core structure and curriculum is already there, so I mean that’s really the biggest worry.
Janet Kafadar: Yes, yeah. Exactly, right. And they feel relieved, they’re like “Oh, okay. I’ve got this and it’s fine … ” It always comes back “Oh, I’m really sorry. Around the 10 minute mark I really mumbled … ” I’m like, “Don’t worry about it, it’s fine. We’ll just cut it out, it’s all good.”
Chris Badgett: I have to ask you, I need to understand a little bit of the story behind all this. This is a really unique skill set, and you mentioned in your … I believe in the corporate clients in the past or something, how did you develop this skill?
Janet Kafadar: Yeah, so god, really interesting question. So in my corporate days I worked for a management consultancy and we did a lot of learning and development, and creating workshops and training programs for government departments here in Australia. So I am an Australian assistant but I was born in the UK, so I’ve been here for about eight years now.
So when I first moved out here, this was the main job that I had and very different from what I was doing in London. I was working in advertising and marketing and stuff. When I moved out here, I wanted to do something totally different, so I launched myself into working with this management consultancy, worked as a project manager there and then kind of worked my way up as kind of a consultant, and working on creating and developing course content.
So once I did that and … I really got to see how programs, ’cause these weren’t courses so much then, they were a more three day workshops, or three day masterminds so to speak. And it was really interesting at a high level, at a government level, having to help these leaders within government, help them get to an outcome at maybe over the span of 12 months or over the quarter or something like that. So the content that we had to create had to be really robust to lead them to an outcome.
And so that kind of curriculum, e-learning, development kind of came about then. Then I had my son and my other two kids, so I’ve got three kids, and then I just realized, especially when I had my eldest son, “I can’t do this. I can’t work for anyone and I don’t want to.” I think it’s more the fact that I just didn’t want to work for anyone else. I just wanted to do my own thing. And I’d already kind of had that [inaudible 00:15:15] in the back of my mind but I had no idea what that was.
And so once I had my son, my eldest, sorry, I kind of figured out like “What am I going to do with myself? How’s it going to look?” I didn’t even imagine that it would like how it is today. It wasn’t even on my radar, and so when I first started I kind of did a bit of VA work for people to kind of figure out what it was I wanted to do, and so that didn’t work at all, having a newborn baby at that stage. My son and I had to go to sleep school, we have sleep school here in Australia, which helps new moms kind of figure out what to do with their babies. So I suppose three days trying to learn how to put my son to sleep and myself to sleep, because we were just really struggling.
And shortly after that I was searching on the computer, I think I came across … I thin it’s like Brendon Burchard’s, like the YouTube video or something, you know how it is. You click on something and end up randomly somewhere. And I watched his video all about living your purpose and doing your own thing, and then I clicked on something and then I ended up on a sales page for a course. Now, I bought the course and it wasn’t Brendon Burchard’s, by the way. And I bought it, I went in there and I thought “Holy smokes, what is this?” I just couldn’t believe it. I thought, “And I’ve just paid $1,000 for this. What is this course?” It was really messy, totally all over the place. Yeah, the content was okay, but just the structure was not there. Just the delivery of the course … the content itself and the slides, I just thought “Wow. Is this for real?”
And that’s really where it began. I thought “God, there must be someone teaching people how to do this. Surely.” This is four or five years ago now, so the landscape’s a little bit different now. I couldn’t really see anyone. Yeah, there were a few people here and there, but not that many. I thought “Well, it looks like people …” and then I realized that in the expert industry there are people that need help with this to create products to leverage their time, et cetera. That’s where it really began and I just kind of one step at a time, just put one foot in the other and just started helping people out with creating courses. Because what I was doing already in my corporate days was already really transferrable to what I wanted to do, and I just nerded out on tools and plugins, and all of that stuff. I enjoy that, so it wasn’t a big deal for me to kind of figure it out, and I kind of had a knack for making sure that my clients were using the right ones and the right fit for their business and their goals.
So yeah, that’s a pretty short version of how my business came about.
Chris Badgett: That’s super cool. I love that story, and you’re right. There’s this whole expert industry and there’s a lot of focus on the e-commerce, or the selling, or the launching. But not so much on instructional design. And even on community building, like list building or growing a following on Facebook and stuff, there’s a lot of information and stuff out there. But the active actually teaching through the internet, there’s a gap.
I heard you in that gap, and I was like, I gotta go talk to Janet and get her here ’cause people need to hear about this part, ’cause it’s important. And I’m also a big believer in … there’s a lot of “Escape the 9 to 5” type stuff. I have kids at home, we do the homeschooling thing. We’re home, I spend a lot of time with my kids, I love the lifestyle. But I also know there’s a lot of wisdom and knowledge that we can pull out of the corporate world of management consulting like you mentioned, and there’s a lot of ideas and information and research and investment that have gone into figuring things out on a corporate level that can come down to small business and startup. And we don’t [crosstalk 00:19:44] reinvent the wheel down here. We just need to understand and know some best practices.
Janet Kafadar: Yeah, absolutely and I think that’s a really great thing that you brought up. So I remember my early days, like I had a lot of people reaching out to me like “Oh, can you help me start my business?” And I was like, “I have no idea, I’m just starting mine.” Like I am not the right person to be speaking to. But I want find quite interesting was that a lot of these people … and that could’ve just been their preference, were really just discounting what they knew how to do really well in their corporate jobs. So what I was doing already, I just transferred over into my own business, really. So I wasn’t really moving too far away from that.
To anyone listening, if you are in that place like “Oh I don’t know what to do,” or “I’m not sure which direction to go in,” yeah, you can go and follow your passion. Do what you really want to, but don’t discount what you know how to do. If you’re really good with processes and systems, or project managing, like seriously, just move forward with that for now until you kind of figure out what it is that you want to do kinda further along down the track. I think you’re so right, but there’s so much investment of time and energy has been put into us as people in our corporate careers, and so just kinda use it and leverage it to your advantage.
But then also going to what you said just a minute ago about people really focusing in on the marketing and community managing and all of that stuff, I always say to my clients and the type of clients that I work with, I say to them, don’t worry about the sales and marketing stuff. If you focus on your message, the positioning of your cause, and you’re already an expert in what you’re doing and you’re already doing it every day it will sell. Because you’re already doing it and you’re already serving people who need what you have, you’re just repackaging it and presenting it in a different way.
So the sales and marketing stuff will come. It won’t happen overnight. Don’t believe anyone who says you’re going to blow the roof off in 30 days, they are lying. It’s just gonna take some time to figure out … if it doesn’t happen … you will get some sales but it may not happen as some may say. And it’s just an iterative process. You’ve just gotta keep working at it, updating it, changing it, tweaking things here and there to be able to get it to a point that you think “All right, I think this is … ” it’s never going to be done, just like a website, but it’ll get to a point where I can feel satisfied with it and I’m getting the desired results that my students require from it.
So yes, doing the work upfront on the course structure is hands down the most important thing to do.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, that’s beautiful. I’d encourage anybody listening to this to press pause and go back to listen what Janet just said there, ’cause it’s not just about the marketing. And if you’re already getting paid every day to do a job, or you’re in a job looking outside, looking at this whole online education industry and your employer’s giving you money to do stuff, it’s a very valuable skill.
And tailing off of what you said there at the end, having it be an iterative process, even what you do in your services are iterative. And I love that, that it’s not just like, okay, there’s this starting line, and then the money comes in and then the product comes out and you’re good to go. There’s a little bit of back and forth with the customer in terms of getting the course curriculum dialed. It’s almost like a Done With You [inaudible 00:23:50] service, I would call it. It is done for you, but there’s a component where the customer puts something in, you put something better out, then they [crosstalk 00:23:57] and then they do more with it that then creates the ultimate awesome product.
Janet Kafadar: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: And then the whole iterate approach to collaboration, and consulting, and productized service I think is really powerful.
Janet Kafadar: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And it really works. It’s taken probably good year up until now, so last year this point is where things kind of really took off and started to feel more like “Okay, right, we’ve got this. We’ve got this process kind of down and it’s working for us,” whereas before it wasn’t pretty much, I’m not gonna lie. It was a hot mess.
Chris Badgett: [crosstalk 00:24:38] I recommend that. I’m doing a book club right now about this book about instructional design called Design for how People Learn, and there’s skill development. Skill has to happen. You have to work on it.
Janet Kafadar: Absolutely, I 100% believe that. So yeah, so it was really messy, it was very stressful, and I’ve not long had my third child about a year ago, so it was really quite difficult and I was feeling quite burnt out and thinking “Oh god, I just want to close the whole thing down and go to holiday.” I was just over it. And then a friend of mine said “Why don’t you just hire someone else?” And it didn’t even occur to me. Like “Oh yeah, maybe it shouldn’t just be me and my assistant. Maybe I should bring on someone else.”
And then at that point is when I brought on a project manager, they deal with the client. So they only kind of come to me when they have something they’re not sure about, but they kind of do the client delivery of the work and kind of manage that communication between them. So that really has kind of freed me up now to just have some breathing space. I can’t believe I’ve waited so long to do that. I hit my every day, like “God, why didn’t I do that before?”
Chris Badgett: Well I have to ask you about this, and I guess it’s probably a skill that also came from the corporate time, but in order to successfully bring in project management, it’s helpful to be skilled at developing processes.
Janet Kafadar: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: For them to manage. Otherwise it just being like, “Here you go,” you’re just trying to stick a body on a problem.
Janet Kafadar: Oh gosh, yeah.
Chris Badgett: I think you’ve done more than that based on what I’m hearing, how did you get so good at process development?
Janet Kafadar: You know what? I think I just really love it. And I didn’t realize that I really thrive on a process and knowing how something works. I’m one of those people like if I think back to my corporate days, I wanted to know how it all … what I needed to do and the steps I needed to take. Leave me to go and do it, and I’ll come back if I have questions. I don’t want to keep bothering someone, and I think that’s something that stuck with me. And when I remember going early on in my working career, I would find myself working somewhere and I was doing a little bit of temping work, and I got into an office and I said, “Oh what’s the process?” And the lady looked at me strangely, like “What process?” And I equally looked at her as strangely thinking “What do you mean you don’t have a process?” It just didn’t compute. And it’s not how my brain works, and it’s not that I like processes so that I know where I’m a real stickler or anything like that.
There’s definitely room to move around that, but I like having everything laid out so that someone can just go and do it, and obviously come back when we have … especially when you’re training up new people, but come back to me if they have any questions and we can work through it together. To be able to do this, sometimes we have five, six clients’ projects going on at a time, obviously at different stages, there needs to be a process there for us to be able to communicate as a team, for us to be able to communicate with a client if an issues arises, to identify which stage people are at. It all has to kind of come together, and it didn’t all happen at once, it just kinda happened bit by bit quite organically. That’s where my nerdy brain goes to and I love it.
Chris Badgett: Well I have to geek out with you on another part of your nerdy brain. [crosstalk 00:28:41] said earlier in this conversation from your corporate background, which had to do with the outcomes?
Janet Kafadar: Yeah, yeah.
Chris Badgett: So in online education or information products, or membership content, premium content, there’s this whole knowledge thing. Like premium content, there’s great ideas, curated well, great information. That’s a given these days. But results and outcomes, in many ways is almost more important than the actual content itself. Based on your experience from corporate or just in your own way of developing in your skills and your offer here, how do you help experts help people not just get great information, but get to outcomes?
Janet Kafadar: Yeah, so that’s a really good question, and focusing on the outcome is the only thing that matters. When I say “Outcome,” I’m not talking results. Because when people sometimes think of a result, they’re thinking of a result that’s monetary. That’s how I differentiate the two. I’m not really into that kind of [inaudible 00:30:03] marketing where it’s like “Oh, get X amount in 30 days,” or something like that. It just doesn’t happen, it’s rubbish, chuck it out the window. Chuck the course out the window.
But outcomes focused courses really focus in on taking the person from where they are right now, the struggle and the problem that they are having to the solution and what they actually want. And what they want, yes, might be monetary, but at the core of it, it normally isn’t. “I actually just want to feel better,” or “I want to have a pathway to be more fit, just guide me to that. Guide me on those steps in that journey to get to that outcome.” And that’s the only thing that matters for us as a team, focusing in on the outcome and taking them from where they are right now to that point. So at least it can be broken down in stages. It doesn’t necessarily have to be like you’re gonna promise that person the world. Don’t do that if you’re not going to do that, if you can’t.
So yeah, focusing on the outcome is the only thing that kinda matters, and is the most important. Because with an outcome you can’t write any form of marketing, or sales message or something like that. But don’t make it hypey and based on money, because that’s not always the most important thing, and you’re actually leading people down a path to disappointment. And the fact that they actually won’t complete it as well, if you hang everything about your course or mastermind, or program or whatever based on money. That’s what I found, anyway.
Chris Badgett: That’s beautiful. Janet Kafadar, ladies and gentlemen. That’s JanetKafadar.com, check her out. She’s got a quiz on her website, can you tell us about the quiz?
Janet Kafadar: Yes, yeah. It’s JanetKafadar.com/quiz, and it’s a course journey quiz. So if you’re kinda stuck with whereabouts you are and what you need to do and the next steps you need to take to be able to create your course, then just go ahead and take the quiz. It will ask you just, I think it’s five or six questions, and then you’ll be given two action steps to help move you forward along with a couple of videos as well.
So this has kind of come after four years of working, and basically what I’ve seen from talking to hundreds of people, and I’ve put that all into a quiz to help give you the right steps and what you need to do.
Chris Badgett: That’s beautiful. For those of you listening, you have to wear many hats as a course creator. You have to be an expert, you have to be an entrepreneur. You have to be a teacher, an instructional designer. A technologist and a community builder. Those qualities are very rarely found in one person. If you need help with the teaching and instructional design and strategy, it’s Janet. As soon as I heard her on some other shows, I knew I had to get her on here and help share some of her wisdom with you all.
So Janet, thank you so much for coming on the show. I really appreciate it.
Janet Kafadar: Oh, thank you so much.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. Is there anywhere else people can connect with you?
Janet Kafadar: Yeah, so you can also connect with me on my YouTube channel, Course Creators TV, and I do video tutorials and platform reviews, and I’ll also do one for Lifter as well. I do reviews of platforms and all of that kind of stuff, so yeah, you can find me on Course Creators TV, or even if you just type in Janet Kafadar to any social media platform you’ll find me there as well.
Chris Badgett: Awesome. Well thank you so much, Janet, I really appreciate it.
Janet Kafadar: Thank you so much, Chris. I appreciate it.


Learning, Leadership, and Entrepreneurship with Pippin Williamson of AffiliateWP

We discuss learning, leadership, and entrepreneurship with Pippin Williamson of Affiliate WP in this episode of LMScast. Chris Badgett of LifterLMS and Pippin talk about affiliate marketing for your product or service and what it takes to create a strong brand. Pippin shares his story from growing up surrounded by nature to entering the software development and WordPress space.

Pippin grew up with four siblings and his parents on an apple orchard in the middle of central Kansas, about 30 minutes from the nearest town. He had a very nature-oriented childhood and a technology-oriented family, so Pippin developed a love for the outdoors and a passion for software development.

Pippin has done a lot of interesting things as an entrepreneur in the WordPress space. He created many plugins for WordPress, including AffiliateWP, Easy Digital Downloads, Restrict Content Pro, Sugar Event Calendar, Love It Pro for WordPress, and many more.

Competition is the driver for creativity and progress. Chris and Pippin discuss competition and how niching down to a particular set of people with your product is key to its success. Pippin talks about how he builds products to serve a specific purpose, and how he would rather send customers to his competitors rather than make the platform do something that it was not meant to do, because those customers shouldn’t be using his platform in the first place.

Affiliate programs can be complicated to set up and run for your product or service. Chris and Pippin talk about the major pain points when setting up an affiliate program for your product, and how you can go about avoiding those obstacles.

Affiliates have a significant impact on your brand, so it is important to vet them carefully, lay out specific guidelines, and make sure they provide value to your brand and image with your customers.

‘Build it and they will come’ is a popular saying in content creation, but unless you have a really stellar brand or product, this is not going to be the case. It is important to educate your customers and affiliates on what your product or service is and how they can use it.

Entrepreneurs often suffer from overload with work, and it is important to constantly re-evaluate what is important to your business and your success. Often you will find projects in your business that are not enjoyable and that are not making you any money. When you find these resource wasters, you can cease working on those activities and repurpose the content you have. Chris and Pippin talk about this, and Pippin shares his thought processes behind shutting down products and services he has offered.

To learn more about Pippin Williamson head over to Pippin.com and PippinsPlugins.com. Also check out the AffiliateWP plugin available for WordPress.

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

Chris Badgett: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. My name is Chris Badgett from LifterLMS. I’m joined by a special guest, Pippin Williamson. Pippin is somebody I look up to in the WordPress space and as an entrepreneur. He’s done a lot of interesting things for WordPress, as an entrepreneur, as a product company, as a leader of teams, and just as an all around interesting guy. We’re both twins. There’s a fun fact for you out there. I want to start by just welcoming you to the show, Pippin, and ask you about your tagline, just on your side or your blog or whatever where it says, “A nature loving farm boy that found his way into the internet and technology.” I’m kind of a nature first guy technology then the technology thing happened, but how did that happen for you?
Pippin W.: Sure. Thanks for having me on. It’s a pleasure to be here. That comes from growing up. I come from a pretty large family. There were five siblings and then my parents. We grew up on an apple orchard in the middle of Central Kansas about 20 to 30 minutes from the nearest town. We grew up, really, unschooled. We were, pretty much, free to run around the property. We had about 100 acres of woods and prairie out there. Growing up, I grew up surrounded by nature, encouraged to go out and be outside all day. I prefer to be outside all day. I ran around barefoot most of the time.
We had very just nature-oriented childhood. That has become very much part of me. Being out in nature and being connected to the natural environment is really, really important to me, but at the same time, we had a very technologically-oriented family. My dad is a software developer. We had computers in the house. As long as I can remember, we were one of the first houses in the area to get high speed broadband. We’re probably one of the first to have a dial-up connection. Then we were the first to have a fiber connection. Even though we were very nature and outdoors oriented, having an apple orchard and a little bit of farm, we were still computer people. That naturally transitioned into me turning into a software developer as well. I gained love for programming pretty early on. Maybe around 10 or 12 years old when I started programming robotics.
During college and late high school, I started transitioning into web development, building things online, which then eventually turned into business that I run today, but I still go back and try to remember the importance of being outside. Yesterday, for example, I decided I have enough for the internet and decided, “I’m going to spend the evening just splitting firewood and going back and having a goal of being completely sustainable on our own.” If I could be anywhere in the world, it would be outside in nature. Well, I’ll probably take my laptop with me.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. That’s awesome. Yeah, I really relate to that story. Just for those of you listening, unschooling, it’s actually a parenting style that I practice where our kids are homeschooled without a traditional curriculum and just lead what they’re interested in. We facilitate that as parents. It’s an emerging trend now, but it’s been around for a long time too. I’d like to get into a little bit with you, Pippin, about just that piece, how old are you right now?
Pippin W.: 28.
Chris Badgett: Pippin, some of the products he’s best known for in the WordPress space is AffiliateWP and then there’s a membership system called Restrict Content Pro and then Easy Digital Downloads. For those of you who are familiar with Lifter for sewing courses, it integrates with AffiliateWP. If you want to add an affiliate program, you can do that with Pippin’s product. We’ll get into that a little later, but before we get into the business and the technical stuff, what was it like as a … When did you start your first company? You’ve got between one and 200 WordPress plugins free and paid out there. You’re prolific. You started programming robotics at 10 years old or something like that, but how did the entrepreneurship start?
Pippin W.: That probably started maybe around when I was 14 to 15. My brother actually beat me to it. When we were about 14 and 15, I have an identical twin brother, he got, really, into 3D modeling and using an open source piece of software called, Blender 3D. He started creating a business around that before we ended high school. He was already doing that and making pretty good money for himself before we went to high school. With our inschooling experience, we were unschooled until high school and then we chose to go to public school. He did that. My dad was a freelance software developer. We had that just naturally in our family. I started it, basically, my freshman year of college where I went to the University of Kansas. I just started taking on freelance clients from building websites or anybody that would hire me. Eventually, that turned into building plugins for WordPress.
The first plugin I built, I threw it up on a website called codecanyon.net, which is a marketplace run by Envato. I sold a couple copies of it. That just got me started on building a whole lot more. I built another plugin and then I built another and I built another. I had a lot of time on my hands. I was really interested. I was having a lot of fun. I just kept building out. Eventually, it turned into a large enough revenue stream to be able to quit doing freelance work and move solely to building plugins, at which time, I really started looking into setting up as a real company as opposed to just an individual. That would have been 2012, 2013. Once I did that, then it started really growing and turning into an actual company where we have employees and other team members and things like that over the next couple of years. Where we are today, we have a team of 13 with a few contractors.
Chris Badgett: How did you pick your niches or your niche? Again, it looks like there’s a common eCommerce thread here.
Pippin W.: All of our three main products, which are all eCommerce based memberships, digital products, and affiliate marketing all started through solving my own problems, solving my own pain points. Originally, Restrict Content Pro is the first. I wanted to run a membership site. I was writing development tutorials, teaching people how to write plugins and I wanted to have a membership site to lock down access to the tutorials to paid subscribers. I didn’t like the membership plugins that I found, so I built my own. Eventually, I wanted to move the plugins I was selling off CodeCanyon. I didn’t like the options for selling plugins on my own site, so I built my own. I was then running a successful eCommerce store through my platforms. I wanted to run an affiliate program. I didn’t like the options. I built my own.
Chris Badgett: That’s really cool. Scratching your own itch. Were you, at all, intimidated by, let’s say, going up against an established leader and the WordPress eCommerce space like WooCommerce? When you did Easy Digital Downloads, you just went for it and it sounds like you were going to go for it anyways because you wanted to build a better mouse trap to solve your exact problems. Did you even care for a second about the competition?
Pippin W.: No, I didn’t, really. Obviously, we know it was there. We don’t pay attention to it, but we also realize, look, competition is good. Competition breeds creativity. Competition, as long as you’re not going out trying to sabotage each other, it breeds collaboration. Well, we just solve pain points that are not on their radar or that are not their focus. They just solve pain points on our work. It comes a nice ecosystem where I don’t want every customer that’s out there because we want to build a product that is built to serve specific purposes. If a customer comes to us and our body didn’t serve their purpose, they shouldn’t be using our platform. We would rather send them to a competitor that does solve their problem, then try to make our system work for them in a way it’s not mentioning.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. That’s a great way to talk about it. Easy Digital Downloads, even in the name of the business, you’re differentiating exactly what it’s for. It’s for downloads.
Pippin W.: Right.
Chris Badgett: It’s not for everything store.
Pippin W.: Right.
Chris Badgett: I want to get into the affiliate area a little bit. I do the same thing. I scratch my own itch. Lifter started as a reaction to me trying a lot of course, membership, solutions, and just wanting something different. We ended up charting our own path. Other people have found that useful that’s why we have a business today that’s growing and doing great. One of my very first site that I built on a WordPress LMS, I’m actually in a process, finally, of moving it over to LifterLMS. One of the things I can’t wait to get it over to Lifter for besides … there’s a lot of reasons, but one of it is-
Pippin W.: Eating your own dog food is good.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, it is good. The affiliate system I have attached to it, it doesn’t work as well as it should. It’s had issues. I’m going to be, very soon, picking up my own copy of AffiliateWP, relaunching the affiliate program. Affiliate has actually been a big part of that project in terms of, I don’t know, a portion of the revenue. In my experience, and I’ve also just seen a lot of sites and been around as agency of platforms and have an affiliate program, I’m curious, in your experience, what percentage of sales do you see coming through the affiliate channel? In my experience, I’ve seen between 10 and 40 percent. It just depends but where do you-
Pippin W.: It’s actually funny that you mentioned that because that’s one of the reporting metrics that we don’t have built out very well with AffiliateWP, but it’s one of our biggest needs. It’s one of the things that we’ve been looking at trying to get built out. We don’t want store owners to have to guesstimate. We’d much rather just give them a number that says, “33% of your sales come through the affiliate site. That’s what we would like to do.” It becomes a little bit challenging because we integrate with so many different platforms. Obviously, we integrate with LifterLMS, as you just mentioned, but then, EDD, WooCommerce, those are just a couple of the top ones, but we have almost 30 different integrations. Then you start building out like you want to build and do that for everybody. Anyway, we have, I believe the last number that we looked at is somewhere around 15 to 20%.
Chris Badgett: Cool. Yeah. That sounds about what I’d expect. What advice do you have, not necessarily, for software companies but in general, for people to recruit affiliates? What do you recommend?
Pippin W.: Well, I think the biggest point of failure we see in people implementing their affiliate programs is them installing the plugin, turning it on and just like letting it sit, assuming that it’s going to magically make them money. Well, it’s not a set and forget system. Yes, the system itself is set it and forget it in terms of doesn’t function, but you actually need to be proactive in encouraging people to join your affiliate program and actually, helping educate them on your product or do you have new items coming out, educate your affiliate based on that. I think that the biggest thing, and this is something that I will be perfectly honest with you, we have not done well at X, but we recognized it. We have been working a lot this year to actually improve this. You just need to communicate with your affiliates. You need to give them tips. You need to give them resources. You need to give them heads up.
If you’re going to have promotional sale coming up, give your affiliates a heads up, so that if they want to put out material to help advertise it, they can do that. Don’t say, “Hey, today, for the next three days, we’re doing a sale. Go ahead and let people know.” Great. Those affiliates, one of them was on vacation, one of them was already busy for two days. If you don’t give them a heads up, you’ve lost any traffic that they might have been able to give you. You need to communicate with them. I think that’s the biggest failing point that we see most of the time is people just not communicating … Well, to their existing affiliates but also communicating to new affiliates and actually reaching out to people an encouraging them to join. That’s probably the number one thing that I would recommend above anything else.
You can figure out what percentage of a commission you’d give affiliates. You can figure out how often you pay them. You can figure out all of those other stuff, but if you’re not communicating or you’re not practically reaching out to them, it’s not going to work to anybody.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. That’s a super good point. Also, once you have them, that’s one thing but going after them, if you build it, they will come and tell. You’ve got to go recruit. Go find somebody that has your audience that’s not a direct competitor.
Pippin W.: Just build it and they will come can work every now and then. If you have a super stellar brand or you have a super stellar product or something like that and you have a proven track record, but you … You might get a lot of people but you may not get through ones that you want. Keep in mind that one really good affiliate would probably worth dozens or hundreds of mediocre ones.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. I think, maybe, we can just give out three tips. I’ll do one while you think about it …
Pippin W.: That’s great.
Chris Badgett: … and then you can come up with two, but for one of my educations sites that I have an affiliate program for, one of the ways I get affiliates is, I’m in a very specific hyper focused niche. If you Google the niche name plus affiliate program, it’s the number one search result on Google. I wrote a blog post to introduce the affiliate programs specifically targeting, “Hey, this niche has an affiliate program. Here it is.” Basically, if you’re a publisher, a blogger, or you’re looking to monetize your site and you teach them this topic, for this one, it happens to be a sub niche of organic gardening called, permaculture, you’re going to find our affiliate program because there’s not that many out there affiliate programs for that niche per se. One tip is, just introduce it, write a bunch of content. Even just one nice blog post about it talking about your niche because there’s so many bloggers out there who write about that stuff looking to monetize their content.
Pippin W.: Yeah. I wrote a blog post and they first opened the affiliate program for Easy Digital Downloads. I wrote a blog post on my site, basically saying, “Hey, they feel the program is up. You’re welcome to come join.” We then, maybe six, nine months after that we closed it down. Now, we have since reopened it, but immediately after closing it out, I didn’t realize that that was actually getting a ton of traffic because I would get emails every single week like “Hey, I can’t join. What’s up? We’re going to join?” It’s like “Oh, I’m able to join, it works.” I think my tip would be, yes, you want to invite people to join because (1) how are people going to know about it if you don’t, but simultaneously, be careful with who you let in. Don’t just let anybody in just because I said, “Hey, I’ll help promote you.”
You wanted to make sure that you’re controlling your brand and your reputation. You don’t want to have a bunch of really subpar affiliates just dropping spammy links on a bunch of random sites that had no pride or value to you and potentially, actually, harm your brand even if it’s in a minor way. Moderate them, be thoughtful on who you do let in and why you let them in. At the same time, consider why are you turning somebody down. Is it just because you don’t like them and they didn’t give you good enough application? What is it? Just think about that. Don’t just assume that everybody that applies is going to be a good affiliate.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. You already gave another tip, which was, it’s better to have one really good affiliate than … If you’re going to just do a couple things, make sure people can easily find your affiliate program, invest and maintain the quality. There’s all kinds of shady affiliate activity out there and that’s going to hurt your brand. If you have limited time and resources, go for one really good affiliate. It’s better than 100 ones that aren’t falling.
Pippin W.: Absolutely. For each of our brands, we’ve got two or three top affiliates. They easily send three to 20 times as much traffic as anybody else. Not just traffic but actual conversions. It’s not that they converted it in actual sales.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. If you’re new to affiliate marketing, there’s a concept called a super affiliate. What you want is a super affiliate, ideally or a couple of them or several of them. Well, let’s switch gears in the conversation a little bit to just your entrepreneurial side. I know some people look at you and they’re like “I want to make sure I’m supporting my kids if they want to become entrepreneurial.” What tips do you have for somebody looking to raise entrepreneurial kids or empower them to pursue that if they want to do that? What tips do you have about that?
Pippin W.: Looking back on it, one of the things that my parents did that really encouraged us … Well, first of all, it was just encouragement of, “You can do it if you want to.” That’s pretty important.
Chris Badgett: That’s enough.
Pippin W.: Yeah. Have it. It’s an option to pursue anything you want. Whether you succeed or fail, you have the option to pursue and do anything. Just being open and acknowledging that, yes, in the digital age, especially that we can even if we fail, we can try. I think that’s really important. Having a mentality that it’s okay to fail is good because … The Silicon Valley Model tends to celebrate failure and I think, maybe, too much, but at the same time, we need to recognize where did that come from and it’s acknowledging that it’s okay to fail. It’s better to try and fail but to not try at all. It doesn’t mean that it’s a celebration of a failure if you fail, but it’s still okay to do that. I think those are some of the big ones.
Honestly, everybody is in a different position but some people have a lot more flexibility to try and fail because they’re more financially stable than others or maybe they have whatever kind of resources is it that they have. What your resources are really going to determine whether how much flexibility you have, but overall, it’s I think more than anything. The mental mindset is really important of just saying, “Yes, I am going to try.”
Chris Badgett: Yeah. That’s good stuff. I think this is related to this in some ways. We breezed by it earlier that you had made somewhere between 100 and 200 plugins. You don’t have one product. You have three main products plus …
Pippin W.: Three main links to the table.
Chris Badgett: … you have started a brewery. Is that right?
Pippin W.: Working on it.
Chris Badgett: If someone call that prolific, how much of it that is personality? How much of that is just you as an entrepreneur? What’s going on with your prolificness?
Pippin W.: A lot of it is my personality. I’ve always-
Chris Badgett: You’re a doer.
Pippin W.: I’m very much a doer. I’ve always had a lot of projects going simultaneously. As a kid, in high school, in college, et cetera, I’ve always had lots of names going on. I think the freedom to be bored is an amazing gift. However, if you are bored, my question is why. Because if you’re bored, then obviously, you’re not doing enough. That’s the way that I’ve always looked at my own mentality. If I find myself sitting around and bored suddenly, and to me … In the evening, I can go to bed and watch Netflix for two hours. To me, that is very different than being bored and watching Netflix as a result of being bored. In my mind, if I’m bored, it’s because I don’t have enough to do. I have not been bored in 15 years at least. If I have open time, if I’m going to do something and whatever that is. When I was originally building the WordPress, it was well. If I have the time to be bored, I’m going to build another plugin or I’m going to enhance a plugin.
Right now, if I have the luxury of being bored, it’s because I’m going to take that time and I’m going to build something else. Right now, I’m building a brewery. At home, if I start building a project at home, whether it’s something in the workshop or I’m building a little wood shop right now, that is really just a mentality, I think. I think that is something that most business owners, especially those that have a bit more entrepreneurial spirit, probably are familiar with. Just this idea that you’re always doing something. You’re always pushing on something. Yes, there is a drive to succeed, there’s a drive to do more, but it’s also, it’s curiosity. I want to go explore new things and have fun doing it. If I decide that it’s not for me after a year, that’s fine. I had a lot of fun doing it. Hopefully, I don’t bankrupt myself doing it.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. That’s really good. I share that where actually I’m never bored. I can’t remember the last time I was bored. If I find myself alone with nothing to do or walking in the woods, not work, great, now, I have time to work on these problems in my head.
Pippin W.: Yeah. Absolutely.
Chris Badgett: I don’t experience boredom either. That’s an interesting way to-
Pippin W.: I don’t think any successful business owner entrepreneur experiences boredom. They’ve experienced boredom. Absolutely. I can remember when I was bored last, but I remember changing that and say, “I’m not going to be bored again. I’m not trying to be bored.” I don’t know. Maybe there’s just a different wiring in brains that … I don’t know what it is but-
Chris Badgett: Well, related to this being prolific, sometimes you shut things down. Recently, I was actually on the WP Tonic Panel podcast. One of the articles discussed was your recent article about closing your membership. I know you recently put your podcast applied filters on pause. What’s going on with those two projects? What’s your approach to maintaining focus? What’s your reasoning behind all this?
Pippin W.: There’s two things that I think are the main reason behind shutting some products down, at least for the ones that we’ve shut down recently. We’ll talk about the podcast and the memberships on plugins.com. One of them is simply, are we still having five billion? It’s a little bit of a luxury to be able to say, but I think if we’re not having fun doing it, why are we doing it? Obviously, that doesn’t always apply. There’s things that I do everyday that I don’t enjoy, but I do them because they’re necessary. If we look at something and say, “Does disabling industry [inaudible 26:11] to work on this? Does it permit any way?” If the answer is “no” and we’re not adjoining it, then why are we doing it?
The podcast, I really loved doing it, but eventually, we got over the honeymoon phase of that podcast and it started to become a little bit more mature. It was not a focus for us. It wasn’t primary focus. We decided, “Let’s pause it indefinitely.” If we want to come back to what we can, and then the memberships on Pippin’s plugins. As I mentioned earlier, that was a membership that I launched back in 2012. That is what built Restrict Content Pro, which is now one of our primary products was, I want to draw in membership so I pulled the plug and do it. I’m in that since 2012. There was a couple reasons for shutting it down; (1) I was simply not able to produce content for anyone. There was a large catalog of content that was provided to members. It wasn’t getting updated anymore. I could not justify continuing to accept payments from people if I was not going to be producing new content.
I held on to the hope that I could produce new content for a long time and kept it going, trying to get back in the producing content and eventually just decided, it’s just not going to happen because it’s not a priority or X, Y, and Z. It is not going to significantly hurt us, financially, to disable it. The best thing that I can do is to discontinue it because (1) I no longer have this battle inside of whether it’s okay to take people’s money but I’ll produce you with content, get rid of that problem and (2) relive the burden of knowing that I’m failing it, taking care of these memories. At the same time, I can do a good thing by taking all of the content that was blocked behind the membership and just open it up. There’s no reason we can do that. All of it comes down to getting better at saying no and choosing where our time is going to be spent where our focus is put. I decided that the membership and the podcast were two things that I needed to say no to because they were not, in terms of the value that I was getting from them personally, they took more even just being there than I was getting out of them.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. That’s really good stuff there. Let me ask you, also, about leadership. A lot of the course creators and membership people out there may be a one person show, a lot of them are, just like you and I were when we first started freelancing or whatever, charging or building our first products. You build a team. How big is Sam Hill’s development now?
Pippin W.: We have 13 full-time team members as well as a couple of contractors.
Chris Badgett: What were the challenges for you in transitioning to a leader? I think I’d also might be an inspiration to younger people starting businesses.
Pippin W.: Probably the biggest challenge I have is just delegation. Coming from a one man shop and coming from the doer attitude of I can do whatever I want. I can-
Chris Badgett: Get it done.
Pippin W.: Yeah. I’ll jump in. I have no problem being on the front line. It was a natural challenge for me to let go of doing certain things and delegating those out. A lot of our initial team members that came on either did complementary work to me. For example, the first people that I brought on were there to help with customer support, but I was still doing customer support. I didn’t replace myself. I just added on because I couldn’t handle all of it. I was still doing just as much as they were. Next was development. I hired a couple developers. I was doing just as much development as they were. That expanded out. More developers, more support. It took, at least, a couple of years before I had truly offloaded tasks that’s why I stopped doing it.
Today, I do very little of the development. Up until about a month ago, I still get a lot of the support. Now, I’m working on stepping out of the support site as well. My main challenge has always been delegate. I think some people might ask if it has to do with trust. I know that I can do the job well. Do I trust someone else to do the job? Well, it’s not that. I’ve never had a problem with trust, the only people that I hire or people that I trust 100% anyway. Look, if I can’t trust you with the keys to the business, why are you here? If I can’t trust you, then you shouldn’t be here. It has nothing to do with trust.
Okay. Let me give you a very specific example. I recently delegated or worked with one of my team members to take over handling fraud cases and charge disputes and things like that. We’ll have sales come through, they’ll either get disputed as fraud or somebody disputes it as, “I didn’t like it” or whatever. I have always handled those myself. I’ll go to Strife. I’m going to work on any of the disputes. I recently assigned that over to one of my team members to take over, but I’d get an email every time a dispute pops up. I inherently just dive in and start doing it. I’m like, “Whoa, wait a minute. No. Stop. I was supposed to give this over here. He is supposed to handle that. I shouldn’t do that.” I just naturally do things. I, now, have to tell myself, “No. Stop. Hold on. Somebody else is going to do it. You don’t need to do it.” That’s been an interesting transition for me.
I think this last year, the last 365 days, was when I really started to recognize the effects of that because I actually have a lot of days this last spring and summer bored in my office. Now, I say bored because it’s what I recognize is, I was sitting there trying to … I’m used to having a big long to do as if, “Here’s what I’m going to work, here’s what I’m working on today.” I started, at times, when I realized that I had nothing explicitly assigned to my to do list for that day. I’m like “I have to figure out what to do. What am I going to do? All of the stuff that I was going to work on is now taken care of.” It has been a great opportunity because then, in the same way that boredom encourage is a breeder of creativity, all of a sudden, now, I realized, “Oh, I’ve got three hours. I’m here until five o’clock before I go home. I’ve got, at least, three hours to do something. What am I going to do? Where can I just put my time?” Getting used to that has been an interesting aspect of leadership that I had not anticipated.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. That’s super interesting. I call this …
Pippin W.: I keep telling my-
Chris Badgett: … slow down to move fast. Before you jump on that fraud dispute charge back thing, you’ve got to slow down. Once you empower your team, your company starts moving faster, which then frees your capacity.
Pippin W.: Right. Absolutely. Well, that’s precisely what has happened. It took a little while to recognize that as I keep telling my team like “I hired myself out of a job.” Now, I make it a new job for myself.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. That’s really cool. Just as a side question on team, I come across this where I’ll create a job description or I’ll pull out an isolated thing like you’re talking about fraud and disputes and whatever and move that over to somebody else, how much do you focus on the job description versus the person? If you know a great person and maybe they don’t fit into the box of whatever the job title is perfectly but they have the skillsets, how do you do that because I’m sure you have a diversity?
Pippin W.: We just don’t do it.
Chris Badgett: No job title? Is that what you mean?
Pippin W.: We have no job titles.
Chris Badgett: Okay.
Pippin W.: We don’t have titles. We don’t have job descriptions. We started to think about that a little bit more this year as we’ve grown. We’re starting to get to the point where it’s a little bit more important to actually have titles for people, not to give them a role but to explain what they do to new people. For example, we brought on a new person, brought on a couple of new people to this last six months, but one of them that came on was coming in from a very different work experience was not super involved and the WordPress world was not involved with development. When she came on, it so then became important to explain, what does Chris do, what does Andrew do. Like, sure you can ask me or you can ask them but if you want to go and read about on, let’s say, your first day, you want to know who all your co-workers are even though we’re remote and you’re talking it in in slack, also, it is important to have a description of what everybody does. That was interesting. That was not something I had considered.
As we grow, we start to recognize the importance of those kinds of things for more. An example of an idea is that all of the original crew, which is four to five people, they came on after I sent them a Twitter DM and said, “Hey, want to come to work? Awesome. See you tomorrow.” Things have to formalize a little bit more as we get bigger. That’s been a little bit of challenge. When it comes to job descriptions, we don’t really do job descriptions unless we’re doing a job posting, which has only happened once or twice. Most of the people that we have have joined us organically, but everybody that we bring on is, it’s made known that they have the flexibility to do anything they want to the company. We will bring them on for a specific role or for a specific job and sure, we could get that a job description, but they have the flexibility to move within the company.
If they come in doing customer support and recognize that they really enjoy a different aspect of this thing, they have the freedom to move over there and make themselves the most valuable as they can where their skills can be put to the most use. If that means that they move from customer support to marketing or they move from customer support development, that’s great because honestly, if you’re better in that, that you are customer support, I don’t want you to be customer support anymore. Of course, I want you to, but it would be silly to not recognize where the most value is. We don’t get people set titles or job descriptions because … just because you know how to write code doesn’t mean that is your job. Your job is where you are the most valuable to the company. One of our developers is a really good data analyst. He does a lot with Google analytics, but we don’t put Google analytics at the job description. We don’t just say you’re a developer either because it becomes limited.
Chris Badgett: I love that. That’s Twittable there. Your jobs is where you contribute the most value to the company. That’s a great word of a credit. I do need to ask you one more question before we wrap up as being a leader in the WordPress community. What is your advice for end users and WordPress companies to navigate the transition with Gutenberg that’s coming? I know that’s kind of a big question, but what is … People are just trying to figure out the future and deal with change. What’s your take on this whole thing?
Pippin W.: Well, I have a bunch of different opinions on it. For end users, I think, for anybody that is actually that’s familiar with following it as an end user, be patient. Can I say something bluntly?
Chris Badgett: Sure. Yeah.
Pippin W.: Shit’s going to break.
Chris Badgett: Yeah.
Pippin W.: Shit is going to break everywhere. This is not because the core team is building something unreliable. It’s not because plugin developers build things. It’s just that there is a ton of moving parts. If we look at the overall WordPress ecosystem, there is WordPress core, there’s always plugins, there’s all these themes, there’s always platforms built on top of it. The possibility of everything just working perfectly together out of the box is just not going to happen. I would love to say let’s keep the reality, but it’s not. As Gutenberg comes around, things are going to be able to rough. Be patient. I think in the end, it will work out well and it will be beneficial to everybody once the rough edges get smoothed out.
As a product creator, one of the challenges, and so we don’t know what it’s going to look like in the end. It’s a little hard for us to prepare for it at the moment. Sure, there’s rough ideas and we could participate in development discussions. We can participate in testing, et cetera, but we’re not really sure what the final picture is going to be. We can’t tell you, “This is the way that Easy Digital Download is going to be with Gutenberg” because we don’t know. We won’t know for a while. For end users, you need to be patient but let us obviously tell people feedback, tell product creators feedback. If you have things that you rely on, plugins, themes, et cetera, let them know but yeah, be patient with them. Yeah, I hope that it works out really, really well. I think we’re going to have an interesting next year.
Chris Badgett: Yeah. In all that, there’s a leadership opportunity, there’s new businesses that can be born on the back of this change and helping people adapt or it can draw a line in the sand of, “That was then, this is now.” Any software, a major release when 2.0, 3.0, 4.0 typically has major changes like this. It’s a natural process.
Pippin W.: Yeah. Absolutely.
Chris Badgett: Awesome. Well, I want to thank you for coming on the show. Thank you for everything that you do. If you’re …
Pippin W.: It’s been my pleasure, Chris.
Chris Badgett: … listening to this or watching the video, I’d encourage you to check out especially AffiliateWP. If you want to add an affiliate program to your courses, your memberships, and then just check out all the other stuff that Pippin is up to. You can find him at pippin.com as well. Yeah, thanks so much for coming on the show. We really appreciate it. I enjoyed this conversation immensely.
Pippin W.: My pleasure.