Learn how to create a lifestyle business through software training courses and more with Joseph Michael in this episode of LMScast with Chris Badgett of LifterLMS. Joseph is a course creator of Learn Scrivener Fast, Easy Course Creation, and some other projects. He shares his story and tips on finding your niche and community building.
Joseph has been entrepreneurial his whole life. But in 2013 he was working a corporate job. He had tried everything from real estate to network marketing, and he failed at them. So Joseph started looking for a side job delivering pizzas, but he never got one. His corporate job was not going anywhere, and he could not land a side job. Then Joseph discovered the massive opportunity in the world of online education. He found an opportunity to teach people how to use Scrivener. So during his lunch breaks he would work on researching and developing a course on how to use Scrivener. This ultimately set him down the path of course creation that brought him to where he is today.
Finding the time to work on creating online courses can be difficult, especially when you have other things going on in your life. But you just have to work with what you have and carve out any time possible to work on your course. Chris and Joseph also talk about pricing for your course, and Joseph shares why he ultimately decided to have a three tier price system. Eliciting feedback from your audience can also help you guide your course development.
Chris and Joseph dive into the online course landscape and how the people who make a product or software are rarely the same people that make the training around it. Joseph shares a phenomenal tip on how to find a niche to build your course around. When you are in a niche it is also easier to figure out what to teach, because what there is to teach in that niche is so narrowed down. Building in a niche is also easier when you put yourself in the customers’ shoes and think about the questions and desires they would have.
Joseph talks about how breaking down your course into smaller segments will also help the customer learn, because they can learn something new really quickly if they don’t have a large chunk of time to work with.
You won’t have everything figured out at the start, so constant learning and adoption of innovations is necessary for growth and development. When Joseph started his Scrivener course, he had his customers download a PDF that had a link to his page, and his website had protected pages. You have to just start out with what you have, and you can always improve it later. When you first get started, it is also important to not compare yourself to people who have been working in the industry for much longer than you.
You can post comments and subscribe to our newsletter for updates, developments, and future episodes of LMScast. Thank you for joining us.
Chris Badgett: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. My name is Chris Badgett, and today we’ve got a special guest. Joseph Michael is a multiple time course creator of Learn Scrivener Fast, Easy Course Creation, and some other projects he’s been working on that we’re going to get into. I wanted to get Joseph on the show because he’s just had an interesting run in online course creation starting in, I believe, 2013.
I pulled a quote off of your About page, which is, “In July 2013, Joseph started his online business out of his 2002 Honda Civic during his lunch breaks.” First Joseph, thank you for coming on the show, and can you tell us a little bit about your origin story and how you got to where you are today as a course creator?
Joseph Michael: Yeah, man sure. Thanks, first of all, for having me. I love talking about this stuff. I’m honored to come on here and kind of share a little bit of my journey and hope that it can inspire whoever is watching or listening, because it really is one of those things that, I don’t want to say I kind of fell into, but I was kind of on the other side and thinking, I see how some people could do that but not me.
If somebody is out there hearing that, I totally relate to that. I’ll just kind of dive in and start back in 2013 to the Honda Civic story basically. Kind of in a nutshell, it was working a corporate job, had been entrepreneurial like my whole life. Had tried a million different other things, everything from real estate, to network marketing, to you name it, kind of failed at it. I don’t really look at it as failures anymore because it all led up to something else. It was all experience, right?
Got to the point where really I had settled down in my corporate job. I mean, it was a good job. I wasn’t complaining. I was thankful for it, but if you’re an entrepreneur, if you’re a natural creator, there’s just something inside you that just kind of eats away at you. I kept shoving that down thinking, “I’ve tried that before, I’ve done that. It’s time to just suck it up, put in your time, and do what I guess everybody else does,” or whatever.
I’d literally kind of quit on my dreams and hopes of one day being able to travel more and spend more time with the family. I was like, “I am locked into my nine to five job. It’s all it’s going to do.” I was trying to hustle, trying to climb the corporate ladder and it was tough. There were layoffs happening and downsizing and was like … I remember one time, my job specifically for some reason was always in limbo because it was one of the things that they could just cut and save money on the budget.
I remember one time my boss came in like literally gave me a hug and was like, “I’m sorry. We had a meeting and it looks like they’re going to be eliminating your position. There’s nothing we can do.” I’m like, oh. I went home over the weekend that time and I’m telling my wife I’m like, “I’m going to lose my job.” Then they come back on Monday and they’d be like, “Oh well, hold on a minute. We might be able to work something out.” I’d just be literally hanging by a thread for like months and I’m like, “I can’t do this anymore. Like I hate this.” My security, my sleep at night is in somebody else’s hands, right?
That’s when I kind of started looking for something and I was like, I’m going old school route. I’m like all right, I guess I’ve got to go start waiting tables at night or try and go deliver pizzas. I thought at least delivering pizzas I could listen to something. That’s what I tried to do and I was literally going to … I mean Imo’s is …
I’m from St. Louis so like Imo’s is a popular pizza chain here. I went to a couple of different Imo’s, Domino’s, and I literally kept getting turned down by these pizza places because they were like, “Well, you’ve never delivered pizzas before,” I’m like, “Give me an address, I will deliver the pizza to it.”
Anyway it was like this ego blow. I’m like, I’m tired of my corporate job now because it’s not looking very promising. I can’t get an extra side job, so literally I’m like, “Man, what else can I do with some of my skills?” That’s when I turned online and I was like, let me just start researching some stuff online. Let me see if there’s any way out there. I was kind of desperate. I just stumbled across this whole online education sort of world that I was like regular people are packaging up stuff that they know or packaging up something that they’re passionate about or excited about and they’re literally teaching it and people are paying for it happily.
It’s like this win-win, because back when I was looking into that stuff it was like kind of scammy. It was like you had to sell stuff on eBay and I’m like, “I don’t know how to make anything.” I’m picturing myself making some crafts in my garage or something. So yeah, I literally just dove in, had no idea what I was doing, which is kind of something I tell people it’s like you’ve got to just start somewhere, anywhere. You’re never going to have it all figured out.
The pieces don’t start coming to you until you start actually moving. That’s when the idea starts happening. I started with a blog, like most people do. I started just blogging about productivity and self-help kind of stuff. I was using this program to like organize all my chaos. I had found it from a recommendation of a writer. It was called Scrivener. It’s this software that most people are familiar with it from writing long-form works of written text like novels and things like that, right?
But I found that it was incredibly useful to organize all kinds of content, like your blog and your blog posts and your social media and like everything. It’s really just like a database management tool. I was using it and then I kept stumbling across people saying, “Hey, I’m having trouble learning this program called Scrivener,” and of course it’s kind of like that new car effect. You don’t see any of these cars out on the road and then you buy a certain model car and all of a sudden you’re like, they’re everywhere.
Same thing with Scrivener. I just happened to notice all these comments about this software. Then one day I was always a fan of Michael Hyatt’s blog, michaelhyatt.com. He blogs about all kind of stuff, leadership, tech tools, and all kinds of good stuff. He talked about Scrivener and somewhere in these hundreds of comments that people were talking about where it’s like, “Man, this thing is hard to learn. I wish I could use it. I gave up on it.” Then somewhere in there I think Michael mentioned, “If there was a course on it, I would buy it today. I’m surprised there’s not.”
Then I was like, wait a minute, there’s not? So I kind of started researching and fast-forward a couple of years, I was the one who created that course for it and it took off. It kind of really sort of put me on the map and I was able to invest a lot of time and energy into it. That was sort of my ticket to live the lifestyle that I’ve always dreamed of that I had thought was too good to be true.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. So you found a real pain point.
Joseph Michael: Exactly. That’s what it all comes down to.
Chris Badgett: Tell me a little bit about the corporate job in the sense that many people, when they’re in that situation, they have no time to pursue their creative endeavor on top of family and everything else. How did you make the space or how did you figure out the time question?
Joseph Michael: Yeah man, that is tough especially, and we talked about this a little bit before we jumped on our call here, if you’ve got little kids, you’ve got a family, you’re juggling a bunch of things. If you’re not working, then it’s family time. If you’re not doing that, you’re shuffling the kids across to their sports and whatnot.
I just had to look at my day and think all right, I had this idea. I was passionate about this thing. I wanted to get it out there, but I was like where and when am I going to do this thing? It’s obviously going to take quite a few hours to put together, and I knew everybody has the same amount of hours in a day, right? Some people can get an extreme amount done and others it just seems like they never do, and what’s the difference?
I started looking at, there’s a few different slots that I could carve out time. It was either with my family at home at night, like I probably got home and I really wasn’t okay with that because that was really important to me. I try to protect that. It was either staying up late, like after the family went to bed. I’m not really a night owl or waking up really early, and I’m not really a morning person either.
Chris Badgett: Right.
Joseph Michael: I was like, well, you know what? I have got this one hour lunch break at work and instead of going out with the guys or doing whatever, just sitting there in my car half the time I bring my lunch and just sit there and stare at the window. Sometimes I’d even take a nap. I was like, why don’t I use that as like a productive hour? Literally I brought my laptop in the car and it’s a funny little hack. I would drive to a nearby Starbucks, sit in the parking lot so I could tap into their Wi-Fi.
It was too loud to go inside Starbucks and I wanted to record tutorial videos for my course. I bought this cheap little like $40 microphone, plugs in USB. I think it was a Blue Snowflake or something like that. I would sit in my car and tap into their Wi-Fi and just bang out one little tutorial at a time. In an hour’s time I could do two or three of them. Sooner or later that started to add up and all of a sudden I was like, “Hey, I’ve got kind of enough to put this out into the market.”
So you just do what you’ve got to do. I knew it wasn’t going to be forever. I was hoping anyway and then carving out any other extra time you had. If the wife was taking the kids out for the afternoon on a weekend or something I’m like okay, cool. I’d run down to the basement, I knew exactly what I was working on and just carving those little slots in. You’ve just got to be creative.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, that’s awesome. It’s not always like some Himalayan push over a weekend or a week. It might be just an hour over the course of a year. You’ve got to work with what you have.
Joseph Michael: Exactly.
Chris Badgett: Tell us a little bit about when you knew you were onto something. I mean you saw something. You saw a high profile person with a big audience with a bunch of … You saw trends with a pain point around not being able to figure out a software tool. After you launched the course, when did you realize or get some indicators that this might just work?
Joseph Michael: I did something that looking back is something I teach now that I did that I kind of fell into that was a stroke of good luck, that I didn’t know it was actually something you should do. It’s kind of co-created with the audience that might want your product, so sort of validating it as I was making it.
I found out early on that a lot of writer folks hang out on Twitter. They would chat all day long kind of about all these different little quirks, whether it’s Scrivener or … I just kind of found all these hashtags. It was sort of like a game to me like oh, here’s another hashtag that I find out where a bunch of writers are at, AmWriting for instance, a lot of writers they write in the a.m. and they’re talking about their struggles of writing or whatnot.
Chris Badgett: Does that still work today by the way?
Joseph Michael: Oh absolutely.
Chris Badgett: Okay.
Joseph Michael: Yeah, absolutely. In fact, I still go into the same hashtags and jump into the same conversations as I did then. It’s not something you can do at scale, like forever, but hey, in the beginning I didn’t have an audience. I didn’t have an email list. I didn’t have these things, and so you’ve got to do some of that groundwork in the beginning, but that was such a blessing for me then because I was able to talk with these people, find out their real struggles right from them, and just open up the conversation to where somebody might mention, “Hey, I’m using Scrivener. Has anybody ever used this corkboard feature before? How do I do this or that?”
I would jump in and be like, “Well, here’s how you do it,” and I’d send them a little screenshot and because it was fresh in my mind and they’re like, “Wow, thanks.” We’d just jump, “Have you tried this feature?” “No,” and then by maybe the third of fourth back and forth, I might say, “Hey by the way, I’m creating a course on this to help people learn it faster. Would you be interested in signing up as a beta member or testing it out for me?” Nine times out of ten, they’re like, “Ah, yeah. That would be awesome. I’ve struggled to learn it.”
I would just ask them questions, “What other things did you struggle with?” Those kind of questions and literally that’s where my content came from. I could see right away the excitement from real people while I was making it. Now, did I know for sure if it was going to sell, if there was a price tag on it? Not quite, but I started out slow. I think I used Gumroad at the time just like a quick or PayPal or something, but Gumroad allowed you to do a coupon code.
So I was super afraid to charge money for the course, so what I did was I just created like I think very first it was like 35 bucks and I created a $35 off coupon. I would go onto Twitter, have these conversations and I’d be like, “Here’s a free pass essentially. My course is for sale. Here’s a free pass in exchange for some feedback and what not.” People were like taking me up on that, taking me up on that. They were like, “How much is it going to be when you charge a full price?” I’m like, “35 bucks.” They’re like, “Oh man, I would have paid triple that. This is really well done and this is …”
My confidence started boosting after that and I’d more and more stuff to it. Eventually got to the point where it was a $95 product and people were thanking me all day long and saying, “Man, I would have paid double this.” Started adding in interviews with other writers and adding in all kinds of extra stuff to where today we’ve got three different packages really, because I wanted to keep it afforded for the struggling writer who just wants to learn Scrivener.
We’ve got three different price tiers. It goes all the way up to 295, still super affordable. I always wanted to offer like lifetime access that somebody could just literally have an encyclopedia of all things Scrivener right in front of them any time they wanted. So yeah, that’s sort of how I started. A lot of groundwork in the beginning, but it was really paid off because I was in there get those actual wording from the customers.
Chris Badgett: How do you do your pricing tiers? You just mentioned pricing, so I just wanted to capture that.
Joseph Michael: Yeah. I experiment a lot. I think the pricing game is a funny one because if you ask 10 different people, nobody is like, “I have a definitive answer on pricing,” because there are just so many variables, and you really got to know your market, the competition in your market, what is your value, what is your customers able to pay and what are they willing to pay? There’s all these variables, so you’ve kind of got to start somewhere with an educated guess. Obviously, I started with an educated guess. Scrivener the software was 45 bucks, I thought well …
Chris Badgett: So if they can pay for that.
Joseph Michael: Yeah, if they can pay for that, then they can pay for my course to learn it, right? Then people were challenging me on that going, “Joe, you went to college, right?” I’m like, “Yeah.” “Did you take a computer course on like Microsoft or something?” I’m like, “Yeah, I did.” “How much was that?” “Well, that was like 1,500 bucks.” That’s way more than the software cost. They’re like because the real value is in learning how to use that software. I was like, “Oh, that’s true.”
I started to believe that more and more, which is a key component to sales nowadays is you’ve really got to believe in what you’re selling. Again, somebody early on challenged me, you’re doing your customers a disservice by not charging what it’s really worth. All those kind of things were a learning process for me because I was never like I didn’t want to be the salesy guy. I didn’t want to have anybody ever feel like I was scamming them.
Over the course of a year I think, I was doing one price. It was just like $95 for a long time, and then we added a lot of extra stuff in and it was like, “Well, we could test this price by adding in another tier.” So you have at least two tiers you can say, we’ve got like a VIP package that’s got all these extras in it, and we’ve got the regular. You can kind of start to see okay, if 80% of your people are buying the VIP, well that means you could probably even go a little bit higher and raise the price because you kind of want that middle ground.
With three tiers, I find that to be a really easy way to gauge to where you want the majority of your folks buying at the middle tier, which is not the lowest. Some people will always buy the highest because they just want the best stuff, and then a lot of the times they’ll start around in the middle. Through a lot of testing, we wound up with the prices we have today. Something I like to do for promotional strategy is I do a lot of webinars. Along with the pricing, I always keep in mind, what can I do for a webinar? How can I give somebody something special?
If your product is only 47 bucks and you’re doing a webinar and you want to give an amazing deal, well, you can’t really discount it too much because now you’re not even making a profit. If you’re going to do something with an affiliate partner, then you split it and then there’s really nothing. You’ve got to think … I think about those things anyway because those all play a part into marketing. It’s a learning game. I always say just experiment. There’s no failure in this game, that’s just the one hurdle to get over this paralysis of failing. It’s all just experimenting.
I thought that with my Scrivener course was like, “Yeah, I’m going to spend a lot of time making this thing and it might totally flop, but I will still learn how to put together a course and I’m sure I could use that for something.” So that was the big shift that helped me get through those dry times of like, “Man, am I just wasting my time here? Is this even going to work?” We all have those doubts and fears. You’ve just got to persist through those and kind of trick yourself and say, “Yeah, but something good is still going to come out of it.”
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Just shifting gears to something that’s always fascinated me is just looking at the course landscape, in software especially, the people who make the software are rarely the same people that make the best training around the product. Could you just speak to that and also just your personal story?
Did you contact the software company to make sure it was okay with Scrivener or could they not be happier? I personally couldn’t be happier if someone made more and more courses about the software and they’re really awesome instructional designers and teachers and all this. What was your experience and why does it happen this way?
Joseph Michael: Yeah, it’s funny because I’ve heard some horror stories with people especially if you’re going to use their name, they can come after you to kind of basically shut you down. I wanted to make sure right from the beginning I didn’t run into that kind of problem. I’d built a really kind of, what I thought was a good enough version 1.0 to show a little bit of like what it was going to represent and I contacted them. Luckily Scrivener, they’re not this like huge organization. They’re still rather small, really focused on making the product the best it can be. They’re like coder guys, and whatever you call them. It’s not what I am.
Chris Badgett: Developers, yeah.
Joseph Michael: Yeah, developers. Yeah, exactly I always tell people like if you could start a business without knowing an ounce of code, if I could do it, trust me you can do it because I don’t even know what it’s called. I reached out to them basically and said, “Here’s what I’m passionate about. I’m making this to try to help your audience.” I framed it in a way that like, “Look, I want to make sure I represent your product good. If there’s anything you see in this so far, let me know and I’ll change it and by the way …”
Chris Badgett: Because you do affect their brand in some ways, so you’ve become an ambassador for it.
Joseph Michael: Yeah. Obviously my intent was hey, we’re going to have a partnership down the road, right? That would be ideal, and so first of all, they responded back with like, “Man, we love what you’re doing. Super high quality, it’s really great.” They even gave me some tips on like, “Hey, this feature was really like here’s the idea behind what it was supposed to do.” I was like, “Oh wow,” so I would literally kind of shape my training around that a little bit.
They were like … I told them I wanted to use the name. At that point I was calling it scrivenercoach.com and then it kind of evolved into Learn Scrivener Fast based out of it. I really wanted to call out the main pain point, which was it was taking writers too long to learn. It was just like let’s learn it fast, right?
Chris Badgett: This took some entrepreneurial guts. You didn’t get the cease and desist letter in the mail, but you limited the downside by making sure to talk to them and make sure it was cool.
Joseph Michael: Absolutely, yeah and they were totally cool with it. They were like, “Yeah, it’s great.” They were like, one thing that we can’t really like promote you per se. We could support you like we love what you’re doing, but we can’t really promote you because of …” This kind of makes sense now that I think about it from a marketing perspective.
They were like, “We understand what you’re doing, but to say that we think Scrivener is hard to learn would be kind of going against our philosophy. So by promoting you, it would kind of say we’re agreeing with the fact that Scrivener is kind of hard to learn,” which I think there are some gray areas there.
Chris Badgett: Right.
Joseph Michael: Anyway, I think it comes down to, there’s developers who are just focused kind of on their world, and then there’s creators who they really like to create. I guess my gift, so to speak, and people would tell me this years ago even in the corporate world like, “Joe, you’re so resourceful.” I would always be like, “Man, I hate that. What am I going to do with resourceful?” If somebody asked me directions, I was the guy who would literally take screenshots and then like, “When you come to this gas station you go … ” like kind of overboard.
But now I realize as a teacher, all those things really come in handy and so that’s my gift is to take a complex thing and like let me see how I can make it super simple for the average user. That’s basically what I did with the software program. The funny thing is I’m not even a writer really. I’ve never written a novel. I’ve never written anything other than really like a blog post and some sales copy, but this software piece is made for writers.
So you would think, “Well, Joe must be an expert in writing,” but it really has nothing to do with that. I see a lot of course creators think that they stop right there and they think, “I’d love to talk about this topic, but I’m not an expert in that.” I’m like it doesn’t matter. Can you teach it? That’s all that matters. Do you know a little bit more than the person who wants to know it?
A lot of times you have a fresh perspective, which is the other thing I realized. By me not being a super duper expert, I was still kind of a beginner at Scrivener. I was learning it, so I was learning it then teaching it, learning it then teaching it, so I was able to offer that fresh perspective versus somebody who has been using Scrivener who maybe develops Scrivener, like they know it like the back of their hand, but they forgot what it was like when they were new. Another challenging perspective there.
Chris Badgett: I just want to really highlight what you’re saying there about having a talent for identifying step by step. I mean, anybody who is trying to learn something and they’re listening to somebody really smart or who has been doing it for a long time, there’s all these things that are internalized in the subconscious.
But if you have that gift of being able to be like, okay screenshot step one, step two, and don’t make any assumptions in the path, that’s super valuable. I understand why I think as a software company, it’s like to go back to like okay, let’s take this from the beginning, step by step. They’re onto the next feature, bug fix, next problem. It’s a totally different skillset.
Joseph Michael: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: That makes a lot of sense. For Scrivener and what you’re up to and the listener out there, there’s all these different niches. I’ve always been a little bit fascinated with the author of the aspiring writer niche, like what can you tell us about that niche? For example, you said you realized they hang out on Twitter AmWriting. They get up in the morning. Maybe it’s a little isolating, so they’re turning to social media to connect and stuff like that. Tell us about the writer niche and just some of the interesting things you found out about that niche.
Joseph Michael: Yeah. Number one that they exist and they’re as active as they are. It was just mind blowing to me because I was new to this world. I thought I was going to do something in like productivity. I even made an ebook that was a massive failure. It was about a to-do list. I was all focused on productivity, and I thought but that space is really vague. It’s really overdone almost. It was a hard mental shift to think about all right, go really niche because you’re thinking if I don’t make something that’s for everybody, why would I want to eliminate people? Why shouldn’t I want to make something that’s for everybody?
What you don’t realize is you’ve got to get in there and somehow be seen amongst all the noise out there. There’s so much noise, so much static and the magnet to that, that will draw people straight to you is having something really niche, like really calling them by name. Scrivener was a very niche thing. I try to teach people in my course where I teach courses is, try to go like four deep. You’ve got writing, is like a huge niche or you’re a writer. Let’s talk about writing. Well, then you’ve got maybe how about self-publishing. Then self-publishing software programs, well then we’ve got Scrivener. We’re like we’re four levels deep now. That’s really kind of a-
Chris Badgett: It’s not just a course for writers. Not at all.
Joseph Michael: No. You’ve narrowed it down. You went really niche. I think as a creator, it’s a little bit easier to create something more niche too because now you’re narrowed on what to teach. Anyway, back to your question, the whole writer community, I think with the explosion of self-publishing, number one, has opened up so many doors for so many people. There are so many avenues to make a really good living, if that’s your goal to make extra income by using your writing, or if you’ve just got this burning desire to get your words out and read. You always had a dream to get your book out there, I mean, there’s a lot of hurdles along those way.
Anything that you can, just try to think and put yourself in their shoes. If I’m one of them, what’s a hurdle? Well, there’s a software program that could make it a lot easier for them to get their work finished and out there faster. Okay, well if you could help them learn that, could you help them succeed? Yes. Great, what else do they struggle with? And just kind of go along the way.
That’s why another course that I’ve just recently launched was a 30-day book writing bootcamp. Another struggle they had is like getting the thing finished. Like we start it but we never finish it, so I was like, “Let’s do a bootcamp. Let’s get this thing done in 30 days. What if we could do that? Or at least just kick things up a notch, get some momentum going.”
You just kind of look at who are they? The more you learn about your target audience like literally what keeps them up at night? What are their desires? It’s funny because the biggest shift in sales for me with my Scrivener course was when I wrote all of the copy, it was very product based. Like oh, look at this. We’ve got screenshots-
Chris Badgett: Features.
Joseph Michael: Yeah. We’ve got videos, okay. But I hired a copywriter, which was my first ever expense.
Chris Badgett: Just to jump in there, I would encourage everybody to go check that out for Learn Scrivener Fast. It is a long sales page, long-form sales page. So you’re saying you hired somebody to write that.
Joseph Michael: Yeah, if anything, go read the copy on that page. It’s super well written. I was very skeptical. I was like oh my gosh, this thing is forever long. She was like, “Joe, trust me. Just put this out there. Trust me.” It was like we didn’t really talk about Scrivener that much. We talked about basically the writer’s journey and a writer’s need to get their words read and seen by hundreds of people. They just don’t want to be like have the writing forgotten about somewhere.
We changed the whole theme of it and really when you’re tapping into that, that’s where the sales come in. It’s kind of counterintuitive to how we might think, but it all goes back to learning about that audience. I really fell in love with the writers and the whole writing space to where I feel like I’m able to listen to them and know what their needs are, and really you make one successful product and it’s so much easier for those people to follow you to the next one and the next one. There’s an endless amount of ideas as things keep growing and changing. It’s a land of opportunity. It’s amazing.
Chris Badgett: Speaking of niches, you also have a course called Easy Course Creation. Online course creators like writers, just the industry right now is exploding.
Joseph Michael: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: Were you coming at it kind of from an angle as like another way to serve writers? Because writers, especially non-fiction writers, are prime potential to potentially make a lot more money if they do online courses, package it differently, and just kind of take what they’re doing and also apply online course principles. Was it like also just an exciting avenue for you to share some of the lessons learned along the way or both? How did you make that transition?
Joseph Michael: Yeah, it’s interesting because I started really just listening to the questions I got asked. Yes, in the beginning there was a lot of Scrivener questions, but then a theme started happening. More and more people were asking me about the course itself. They were like, “I really love the look and feel of this course. Did you spend thousands of dollars on a developer to design this?” I was like, “No, actually I just did it myself. I don’t know anything about codes so I kind of hacked it all together.” They’re like, “No way, can you show me?”
I was literally jumping on one-on-one consulting calls and showing people just the backend of my WordPress basically blog turned into a course, and just showed them, “Oh yeah, look. Make this look like a fancy button by just making it an image and adding a link to it.” They were just like blown away by stuff I thought was just kind of simple but I just found my own way. This was over the course of a year.
People were like, “Can you show us how to do the course like you did? Can you show us how to make one like you did? I’ve taken a lot of courses, but I like how yours is.” I was like, “All right, maybe I’ll make something.” But I was like, “There’s already people out there talking about course creation. There’s a ton of courses on that,” and people kept saying, “Yeah, but we want to see how you did it.”
Chris Badgett: There’s only one you.
Joseph Michael: Yeah. Then it just hit me like, “Hmm, okay. I guess you’re right,” because I think about that when I’m learning different subjects. I may buy three or four different books from different authors on the same topic, because they all have a different angle at it. So then I was like, “Well, let me put something out there and put my stuff together, put my theories together, and my hacking skills together or whatever I do,” and kind of made it into a course. Then I was thinking, yeah, I can see why courses are combining with books now more than ever too. A lot of authors, their readers-
Chris Badgett: What do you mean by that? Can you give us more detail?
Joseph Michael: Yeah. For instance, when people are really engulfed in a book, they may want more because people are on their e-readers. They could put links in there now and they’re like, “How do I get more from this author?” They’re leaving a lot of money on the table by not having a follow-up course or something. Like let’s dive into the concepts I talked about in the book, which works really well for non-fiction.
Now, fiction is another thing. A lot of fiction writers are like, “That’s only for non-fiction.” It’s like no, it’s not true. People love a membership site to dive into the characters further, and to see behind the scenes. People are amazed with behind the scene stuff. I think we take that for granted because we know ourselves-
Chris Badgett: An insider.
Joseph Michael: Yeah, we’re like no, nobody cares about this, but they do. People love to see behind the scenes. I think there’s a huge opportunity there especially if you’re a struggling writer and you thought maybe this was going to be your ticket to some extra income. Let me tell you I’ve got author friends that are like, “Joe, if I never would have created a course, I’d have still been that struggling broke writer.” It’s so much easier to just charge money for a course and to offer more and put it together nowadays than it ever has been, and the audience is loving it, so it’s a win-win.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. A couple of final just kind of rapid fire questions here.
Joseph Michael: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: What’s your best tip on community building?
Joseph Michael: Community building. Let’s see. Probably just finding the common ground and being one of them. If you’re just guessing, if you’re not really researching like in my course on courses I talk a lot about researching your audience, because that’s the community that you’re going to serve. You’ve got to know them and be one of them.
That’s going to make sales a lot easier too. I think that’s one of the relatable things I always have on the webinars I do. I always tell people, “Hey, I’m just an average Joe from Missouri. Literally, I’m just one of you who is struggling with Scrivener myself and decided to master it and thought I would teach you now.”
I think if you could have that, a lot of people think we only want to learn from experts, right? The community is saying, “No, we just want to learn from people. It doesn’t have to be an expert. Just somebody to hold me by the hand and show me what to do.” Never underestimate the amount of handholding people want. I would think that with community building and start putting stuff out there and teaching, show your style.
That’s all I did and you start to develop a really good community around that. The people that like your style and can relate with you. You’re not going to be everybody’s style and that’s fine. But that’s how you’ll start to build your own tribe and your own community with people who are like-minded.
Chris Badgett: How about just mastering expertise like in terms of like Scrivener or course creation, like you said research is a big part of your method, but how do you stay sharp at whatever niche you choose?
Joseph Michael: Yeah. I don’t think I’ve admitted this on many interviews before, but with Scrivener, like I’ve always said, I was never the expert. I was still sort of new to it. I only used a fraction of what was possible. That’s what most people say, “I’m using Scrivener but I know I’m only the tip of the iceberg.” Literally I bought every book that was written about Scrivener. I researched every blog post that was written.
I wanted to find out what was out there. I’d watched every YouTube video and then I was like okay, now I can fill in the gaps, right? There’s kind of two ways you can create a course, either something that you’re already an expert in and you already have a lot of knowledge in, but there’s another way that people forget and that’s this, which is something you’re interested in but you might not be an expert in yet.
Chris Badgett: Kind of as you go.
Joseph Michael: As you go, and literally here’s what I would do. I had Scrivener for Dummies, I had three or four other books. I would look up one topic and I would read it in each book and find out what else was said about it, and I’d be like, “Okay, what does that mean to me and how do I interpret that? Okay, got it. Let’s record a video about it.” Literally just one piece at a time and I think it made for a really cool, fresh perspective on whatever it is that I was teaching. I was literally learning and then just teaching what I was learning.
Chris Badgett: Awesome. You’ve kind of already answered this, but just in terms of creating the course kind of method or outline or instructional design, you mentioned a real commitment to step by step, doing your research, and then translating it through you. Give us one more instructional design tip.
Joseph Michael: For me, and if you’re teaching something that’s more complicated, my kind of approach to simplifying that would be to break it down into its simplest form. For the Scrivener audience, it was let’s make them short bite size videos. I probably got more comments from the students of my courses the number one thing they liked the most, which was, “I love how the lessons are short and bite size.”
Yeah, there might be 100 of them, but people were like, “If I’m on hold at work on a phone call, I can jump in and watch a Scrivener video and learn how to do something real quick,” because they’re short like three to five minutes. It’s not something somebody is going to sit there and devote an hour of their time to. I kind of did it selfishly because it was easier for me to create it. I was like okay, three minutes on this topic. Let’s produce it, but the audience loved it. For really kind of instructional stuff that’s maybe hard to understand, break it down and I think people will like it.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Then the last one in the writing realm, in terms of like course technology or marketing technology and just this whole technology piece, what philosophical general advice would you recommend so that people don’t get caught in like overly complicated technology or spending too much money on technology?
Joseph Michael: Man, it’s so easy to do. A lot of folks … If anything delayed me, it was probably that. Like, “Oh I don’t have the budget to buy the fancy camera or the good mic.” It was like forget all that, forget about the logo, forget about the way everything looks for now. Just focus on the content and think, what do I have that I can work with?
Most people have an amazing smartphone that’s probably within two feet of you right now that’s got an amazing camera, good enough audio, and you can create your course right there, or your webcam or whatever you’ve got. That’s what I had. I wasn’t going to be on camera, because I wasn’t comfortable enough to be on camera yet. You know what? I could make some slides, and I could talk over them and hit record. That was my whole first course.
The other thing was, I really wanted it to be perfect and I knew it wasn’t. So I told myself, “Well hey, this is video. This is online. This isn’t like a book where you put it out there and you’re not going to be able to edit it. You can fix this stuff later.” That was a huge hurdle that got me to make things quicker. I was like I’ll go back and update it in the future, but let me get this part out first.
You know what? Most people were 100% fine with what I put out there. It was just I was being the perfectionist, but my perfectionism, my 80% done was a lot of people’s perfect. It was fine for them. Start with what you’ve got where you are. Gosh, my first part of the course like in its early stages, it wasn’t this fancy like you even had to log in. Literally it was a blog. It was like a WordPress site.
I didn’t have protected pages. Yeah, somebody could find it if they just searched it just right. I didn’t have anything fancy. Like I said, I used Gumroad and they downloaded a PDF that had a link to my page. That’s how they got there. You just learn as you go and update it, get more sophisticated as you go.
Yeah, I mean start with what you’ve got and you can always increase it later. Don’t compare your beginning to somebody else’s five-year journey. Don’t do it to yourself because it’s going to torture. It’s torturous. I used to do that and be like, “Oh, it’s got to look like this,” and like they’ve been in business for seven years and you’re just starting. So you can’t do that, but you can get there and they started that way too.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Well, I really want to thank you, Joseph, for coming on the show and sharing your journey with us. That was like a huge knowledge bomb, so I just want to honor you and thank you for sharing all that wonderful experience with all the course creators out there. If people want to find you and find out more of what you’ve got going on, where can they best find you on the web?
Joseph Michael: Yeah, three different places. Obviously the courses live at learnscrivenerfast.com and easycoursecreation.com, and you can go to josephmichael.net. We’re in the middle of doing a redesign on that, so depending on when you listen to this I’m not sure. Hopefully it will be up and running by then.
But that’s where you can kind of start collecting more of just my hey, here’s what I’m learning about all kinds of different things, as a place to share more stuff there. Of course, if you hang out on Twitter, if you’re a writer or even if you’re not but you like Twitter, @ScrivenerCoach is my handle there and I’d love for you to pop in and say hello.
Chris Badgett: Awesome. Well, thanks again for coming on this show.
Joseph Michael: Yeah, man. Thanks for having me. It’s been fun.