Episode 329

Growing a Niche WordPress LMS Business with LifterLMS Helping Adult Education Organizations Offer Remote Learning Solutions for Career Training, English Language Learning, & High School Equivalency

Learn about growing a niche WordPress LMS business with LifterLMS helping adult education organizations offer remote learning solutions for career training, English language learning, and high school equivalency in this episode of the LMScast podcast.

Growing a Niche WordPress LMS Business with LifterLMS Helping Adult Education Organizations Offer Remote Learning Solutions for Career Training, English Language Learning, & High School Equivalency

Most people are familiar with the traditional education system of K-12 programs and college. But higher ed is adult education. Every state in the United States has an adult education department, and there are programs all around the United States. Neil is based in Indianapolis, and Indiana is currently a national leader when it comes to adult education. 

There are three main areas adult education falls into:

  • English language learning
  • High school equivalency or GED
  • And career training opportunities

In times of flux like the pandemic we’re currently experiencing around the world, governments tend to invest in career training opportunities. So if there’s a shortage of welders, adult education programs around training people for the welding trade would be a popular choice.

Neil shares how he took the world of adult education online from the typically in-person format where people would meet in a huge room with dozens of tables and go from table to table. Neil adapted that to an online format via LifterLMS and Gravity Forms, where students can enroll in a course, go through a questionnaire, upload a photo of their ID, and go through the learning material to achieve the same outcome as with the in-person trainings.

One key tip as a website builder is understanding that people using the site may have less digital literacy than you do. So keeping it as simple as possible will help non-techie users navigate and complete a course with little frustration. Often course creators add a lot of bells and whistles to their sites, which can cause a lot of confusion for users. But keeping it simple is important, especially with sites that are multilingual.

To learn more about Neil Richmund and the great development he has going on around adult education, be sure to head to NeilRichmund.com. You can also find Neil in the LifterLMS community and on LinkedIn.

And at LifterLMS.com you can learn more about new developments and how you can use LifterLMS to build online courses and membership sites. If you like this episode of LMScast, you can browse more episodes here. Subscribe to our newsletter for updates, developments, and future episodes of LMScast. Thank you for joining us!

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Chris Badgett:

You’ve come to the right place if you’re looking to create, launch, and scale a high value online training program. I’m your guide, Chris Badgett. I’m the co-founder of LifterLMS, the most powerful learning management system for WordPress. Stay to the end, I’ve got something special for you. Enjoy the show.

Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. I’m joined by a special guest, Neil Richmund. You can find him at neilrichmund.com. That’s N-E-I-L-R-I-C-H-M-U-N-D.com. Welcome to the show, Neil.

Neil Richmund:

Hey, thanks a lot. Good day, and glad to be here.

Chris Badgett:

Yeah, I know. You got to spell it out because everybody gets it wrong. Yeah. And you have a quote, funny accent or whatever. So I just want to make sure they’re not spelling it like Richmond, Virginia. It’s Richmund [crosstalk 00:00:54].

Neil Richmund:

Yeah, this is Richmond, Australia.

Chris Badgett:

There you go. There you go. Awesome. Well, it’s an honor to interview you today. I heard about you and I’ve seen you in our office hours at LifterLMS. You’re building sites for the education niche, specifically in adult education. So, could you just tell us… And when I heard that I’m like, Oh, that’s a cool way of using LifterLMS. What is HSE and what types of solutions are you providing from your agency?

Neil Richmund:

Yeah, thanks so much, Chris. Appreciate the opportunity to jump in and share some things. We love sharing what we’re doing and our story and that sort of thing. Essentially, there’s this space in the education world between K to 12 and college, higher ed, and it’s adult education. Every state has an adult education department and programs all around the state in the United States. We’re based in Indianapolis, and Indiana is a national leader when it comes to adult education. So we’ve been plugged in on a lot of levels, but this space accommodates basically three types of adult students, adult learners. Those that need to learn English, those that need their high school equivalency or GED, as some of you may know it. And then some of the States have added to that now with career training opportunities.

Neil Richmund:

They’re looking at careers that really need more people right now and the States are providing funding for adult education to provide the training to improve their lives by offering them a job opportunities. Like welders and needed, so welding programs. HVAC, dental assistance, medical assistance, emergency, what is that, EMS. All sorts of [inaudible 00:03:05], learning QuickBooks, learning some of the computer skills for networking, computer repair and all that sort of thing. Those are the audience that we’re focusing our products and LifterLMS on. My wife was a time teacher in adult education. So I’ve been on the outskirts looking in. Traditionally what I’ve found, adult education not marketing minded, not web minded, not any of that. They have been so on online for so many years.

Neil Richmund:

I came to the program when my wife was in Indianapolis and presented some basic things like, Hey, you need to be on Google my business. You need a website that actually generates more opportunities for students to come into your program and stuff like that. Now, initially they were like, deer in the headlights like, “Ah, what? No, that’s scary.” And they said, “Thank you very much, but no, we’re not interested.” Then they finally came back around a little bit later and they said, “You know what? We do need to work on a few things.” We’ve helped that program grow to be the largest in Indiana and probably one of the bigger ones in the country leading in a lot of areas right now.

Neil Richmund:

We always have students on waitlists. We always have people who are wanting to learn about what’s going on with their program. I even snuck in a really good one, Chris. I happened to find adulted.info as being available online. I [inaudible 00:04:51] that for them. That is their website, adulted.info. And everybody’s jealous of that because it is so obvious. Obviously we’d love the .com. I don’t know where that goes, but that’s been embedded now and people know it and they go to it with all of that. That’s how this all started and what we’ve been doing for a number of years. But when the pandemic hit last year, it hit education hard, and K to 12 had solutions, higher ed had solutions, but our adult ed didn’t. And part of the difference is they don’t do grades. They need to measure progress and time that students are in the program.

Neil Richmund:

They’ve tried in the past to fit into other types of solutions, but they just didn’t work. The most common thing that people were using in the programs was a Google Form to gather information from people. So hearing the conversations my wife was having, she was a supervisor for the High School Equivalency Program. I was sitting in the background trying to work on other things, hearing these conversations, frustrations, and all that sort of thing. And I said, “You know what? I can build something that I think will solve this problem.” And the problem was primarily, how do we, in a now remote education world, how do we engage our students and how do we continue learning? And probably more importantly, how do we continue to sign up new students into our program without being able to see them face to face now?

Neil Richmund:

If you imagine, something that I think most people get that the old enrollment model was, you showed up at the school, there was a room, a huge room with like a dozen tables at it. And each table was a step that you had to complete. So you go to table one, they’d give you information, they’d give you their spiel and that sort of thing. Then you’d have to turn in some documents to them, and they would probably give you something out in return. Then you go to table number two. And then when you got to the end, you turn in your finalized document with all the signatures indicating you’d completed all the steps. Well, I took that model and turned it virtual with LifterLMS behind it. [crosstalk 00:07:20].

Chris Badgett:

So how did you choose Lifter? What was your process of… You had the light bulb moment, you’d been in WordPress for a while, but what drew you towards LifterLMS?

Neil Richmund:

I was looking at options, and I was a part of a group. We can say thanks to Troy Dean and Mavericks Club and all the guys in there for wisdom, because I popped into the group and I posed what I was considering. I tried a couple of others before. I don’t know if we want to name, we want to name any names.

Chris Badgett:

I don’t mind if you do, whatever.

Neil Richmund:

Look, the e-Learn Communists, that was one that I was using for quite a while, had some ingredients that were missing that I really needed. I’d use LearnDash with a client project the previous year. That was good, but it had some ingredients that were missing. So I went to the group, these cohorts of mine that was dealing with some of the same things. And I said, “What do you got, guys? Any suggestions on how to attack this?” One of them, Mitch Britt from up in Washington state came back and he said, “Neil, you got to try Lifter. You got to go watch some of Chris’s videos and what he’s talking about. What I’m hearing from you, Lifter is the answer for that.” So I did, I started digging in deep. I watched a ton of stuff. I looked at things, and then just launched in with every tool you had that I could start putting them together.

Neil Richmund:

We were huge fans and, and still are, of Gravity Forms. Any site we build can have anywhere up to like 50 Gravity Forms in it. When I saw that we could connect Lifter and Gravity Forms and do cool stuff with that, I was like, okay, this is something that I’ve got to spend more time digging up with. Right now, Lifter is at the heart of what we do now. We’ve rebranded it because we’ve got a bigger product around it. We call it Connectable because we felt like that was just something that resonated with our audience. But we have a stack that has Lifter at the core. And then around that, we have Gravity Forms.

Neil Richmund:

We use Gravity View to deliver reporting. On a front end reporting by delivering that, we use, boy, my brain’s going like 100 miles an hour right now, all the little pieces that we’ve pulled together. But at its heart is a user experience that is clean. Every time we pull it up and show people, they love the way we can get it to be a clean experience. Because most of them have used a product that had just a bunch of other stuff going on and distracting to uses. I love the fact that we can hide all the courses away and only allow a student to see the course they have signed up for, or have been assigned by a teacher. That is brilliant, and people love that piece of it. I love the fact, and what our users absolutely love, is the fact that we can 100% customize a website for them, for their branding. It’s not everybody else. It’s just them. And it’s very unique to what they want.

Neil Richmund:

We take the course approach and we turn that room full of tables into a course so that they can enroll into the program. First step, they get a video with a program overview and a brief little questionnaire, so we can identify them. Next step, they have to upload their photo ID as part of the program. So they take the picture of it. We were also helping many of these students with digital literacy. They don’t often have the skill sets. So we train them on how to take a picture with your phone or forwarding it to your computer. So you can upload that picture into the system. Something they’ll have to use often. We train them on how to complete a form and submit that and be requiring of all the information.

Neil Richmund:

We use translation. We use the Google translation plug-in as well on the site. We incorporate that because we have students from, in some cases, 70 different countries in some of our programs attending them. And this is their first exposure to some of these things. They struggle with the language component, knowing what things mean. I know Google translate is not a perfect solution, but it allows them to convert some of the things that on a piece of paper, you could never translate into a language that they can understand enough to go through and complete it. As a result, we have hundreds of brand new English learners going through our enrollment for an ELL program, so they can make an appointment to come in and everything is right there on a plate for the program, ready to go for the student. They’ve pre-qualified, they’ve gone through the process, they’ve gathered all the information they need and they love it.

Chris Badgett:

That’s awesome. I love what you’re saying about helping people with digital literacy. And my hats off to you because when you’re helping somebody, as website builders, sometimes we forget how technical we’ve become and how much we’ve learned. So it’s really important that a website for the end learner is, people can flow through and they may be more technology challenge than you, the website builder. So that’s a huge success that you’re able to keep that beginner’s mind as you design things and appreciate the clean and all that stuff.

Neil Richmund:

Yeah. The biggest headache we have is resetting passwords, number one item on the list. And I’m still studying on that one to make it easier for everybody because that is a challenge. Some of our students come and they do not have an email address. [crosstalk 00:13:34].

Chris Badgett:

That’s another one, yeah.

Neil Richmund:

There’s so much online. But we have chat on the site that is manned by staff members at the program so that they can answer questions. We have a Gravity Form for help that is available on both the logged out and the logged in user side of things, so that whatever happens, students have a way to reach out and get the help they need so that they can keep progressing with all of that. But that was a side thing. We didn’t plan that, but we discovered along the way. We are actually, the content we’re building is teaching students how to be successful in an online world today. That’s a side piece of what has come out of this.

Chris Badgett:

That’s awesome. When you say they are them like building for your client or who is this type of person? They’re the adult learning, who is your client, who pays the check?

Neil Richmund:

Our client are adult ed programs that are often associated with finding with either a college or with a K to 12 school system.

Chris Badgett:

And is there a particular role in the adult ed program of type of person that you work with? Who is it?

Neil Richmund:

There’s two main roles that we deal with. The director, typically, that’s where our conversation starts because they’re the one that authorized the check and that’s important for us to keep moving forward. And then the supervisors of the various areas. In most cases, there are typically three, and that’s HSE supervisor, an ELL, or an ESL supervisor and a career training program supervisor. Those are the ones that we work with hand-in-hand to understand their approach to things.

Neil Richmund:

What I tell them is, “Just give me all your papers that you normally hand out and need filled in and all that sort of stuff. Let us take them, turn it digital, build. We’ve just come to a point now where we know this well enough, let’s just build something for you. And then you could tell us if you like it, or you don’t like it.” We add WP feedback to the site when we’re building so that they can just really easily go in and click on a section and say, this isn’t right. It needs to say this, or this picture’s not appropriate for our audience and blah, blah, blah. It makes it really easy. I love that feature as well.

Chris Badgett:

That’s awesome. A creator of WP feedback has been on this podcast. Vito, he’s a great guy. Go listen to that episode. Are there any other tools or tech that you end up using on a regular basis, maybe around hosting or CRM or themes or page builders, any other WordPress tools just so we know what’s in the stack?

Neil Richmund:

We’re Elementor. WP Astra is always at the core of our sites. I’ve been doing WordPress websites since 2010. I built my first one because a client said, 2I need a website. Can you help me?” And I said, “I could work that out.” WordPress was different in 2009, ’10, that time than it is today. I always thought, you’ve got to make everything look different. With this model, essentially, every site has the same blueprint attached to it. It just has some cosmetic differences and you know what it, nobody cares and it makes our life a million times easier. So we use Astra on everything, we use Elementor. We use Groundhog on the back end, and a sense of things. Adrian and his team helping to work out how we get all that to play well with this.

Neil Richmund:

We implement text messaging use through Lifter and through Groundhog for different purposes, because sometimes somebody will log in and we got to send them reminders to get back to the ship and keep sailing rather than getting lost at sea somewhere. That’s an important piece of the tech stack that we incorporate. Like I said, Gravity Forms and just about every plugin. The Gravity PDF is huge for us because we turn those form submissions into beautiful PDFs that programs can print and put in the student folders. They’re still doing some of this stuff old school.

Chris Badgett:

I call it clicks and bricks. Sometimes digital transformation isn’t always like an all or nothing thing. They work together.

Neil Richmund:

Most of them had to been pulled into the current century. So with it and that sort of thing, but that’s worked out real well on all of that. We do send WP for notifications, trying to think of something, simply the calendar plugin, Simply Schedule.

Chris Badgett:

Yeah.

Neil Richmund:

I’m starting to work with that. Students can make their own appointments and manage their own appointment schedules. So they’re not having to email in or text in and go, Hey, I need to change my appointment. You’ve got it all in your own hands. Go change it, get notifications through it and all that. I’ve been testing that here recently. I’m constantly, my program’s constantly sharing wishlists with me about how can we do this? It stretches me sometimes for sure. I love the challenge of it though.

Chris Badgett:

I love that point. That’s one of the things that we see in our most successful users is their, I like to say the launch of the website is the starting line, not the finish line. You got to keep iterating and these are, they can be complex platforms. If you think about a website that its only job is to market a main street business, and then something like what we’re talking about here, these are apples and oranges. This is an entire online school, education portal, business.

Neil Richmund:

Yeah. This is something that we’ve developed for our clients. This is the playbook of all the steps and stages and things we’ll be doing that we provide them when our first meeting we add in the dates and times and all that sort of thing.

Chris Badgett:

Could you give us a high level overview of that, especially for the listener who… This is on YouTube as well, but if you’re just listening, what’s in it?

Neil Richmund:

Well, let me say this first of all, here’s what happens. You pitch a complicated process to clients who are not in that space and the deer in the headlights look comes faster than you can get your words out.

Chris Badgett:

Yeah.

Neil Richmund:

We have a very short-cut approach that we present to our clients about how we go from where we are today, exploring this opportunity, to getting your first students in. So we build, I use managed WP. I have a clone of the “perfect setup.”

Chris Badgett:

So that’s like a templated website that’s [crosstalk 00:21:05].

Neil Richmund:

[crosstalk 00:21:05] everything in it set and ready. I update that regularly so it’s easy to deploy. Client says yes, we go over onto our staging site, we deploy that clone into it. So we have a lot of stuff all ready to go. We’ve got about, I think, six to eight things we go in and change. Logo, colors, and a few other little things. So it looks unique to them. Then we create the very first course for them. We added in because of the great feature that Lifter has of being able to export from one site and being able to import into another. We use that as a sales feature. Because what we say is, if there are other great things that other programs who are on our platform are doing and they’re okay with it, we can export that and then we can import it in and add it to your program. So you’ve got it, and they love that.

Chris Badgett:

Is this the digital literacy course that you made or what is that?

Neil Richmund:

That, we’re developing still because that came up very recently as a request that they want to do that. The digital literacy is actually inherent in what we’re doing.

Chris Badgett:

Yeah.

Neil Richmund:

We’re not making a separate one, but we had a program ask us if we would build a digital literacy to help students learn how to use the platform, but also learn how to use Zoom and open an email account and all the things that are needed there, et cetera, et cetera. That’s actually on the drawing board. The course that we build is typically for the HSC. The most programs that is almost identical, we have that all mapped out and ready to go. We can pull it important. My wife, she becomes the video staff member for all these programs, even though we’re not a part of the program. She records the videos because we discovered real quickly, you tell a client, “Hey, we’ve got to have these seven videos recorded and you’ve got to do this. You’ve got to do that.” The very first thing they come back with is, “How do you record a video?”

Chris Badgett:

Yeah.

Neil Richmund:

We were like, okay, this is holding us up from delivering quickly for our clients. So we’re just going to record them. My wife stayed up all night one night and recorded these videos for one of our clients. They said, “We love them. We don’t need anything else.”

Chris Badgett:

We’ll remove some friction right there.

Neil Richmund:

We’ll remove friction by that. So we just recorded nearly everything, and they basically have about three or four things they have to provide. And then we can go build it, send it to them. They can log in and they can go, “Oh my goodness, we’re almost there.” That is a huge step in all that. That’s how we get the project moving fast so they can start getting students in. Because what we’ve worked out, and some of you who are in this space, wherever you’re doing in the WordPress world, you will know that there is nothing a client responding after the site’s gone live. And if it’s e-commerce, the first sale comes through, or if it’s lead generation focused, then the first lead comes through. They’re like kids at Christmas. They’re so excited about that.

Neil Richmund:

Adult ed programs are so excited when they wake up in the morning and there are students who have found their site, gone in, signed up for their program, made an appointment, and it’s all sitting there in their lap ready to go. That’s when the rubber meets the road. So we worked out the fastest way we can get them to that, the better. We have one program that, as crazy as it sounds, a 20 minute phone call and demo, they not only committed to the top package that we offer, but they committed for five years because this is so amazing. We have been looking for something like this, it hits everything we need, were in, let’s go. You don’t need to keep talking. Which was like, that was a big moment for us with that.

Neil Richmund:

Anyway, back to this. The implementation guide here. We have a project kick off. We do a meeting with them, where we just talk through the big picture, what the schedule will look like and what the process is next. And we map the dates out for all the deliverables on our implementation guide here. Then we do our portal planning session, where we actually go in and talk through the first portal that we will build, the first enrollment steps and what we’ll need from them. Usually by then, we’ve already given them examples. So they have a really good idea of what they’ll need, but most importantly what we do there is we identify in the program, who the key person is.

Neil Richmund:

Here’s a tip that I learned from Chris Martinez from [inaudible 00:25:57]. They are also a vendor of ours. We work with [inaudible 00:26:02] to deliver the other side of our business, which is business and nonprofit websites. Chris Martinez’s team does something with us that we love that we have turned around and used. And that is, we set a weekly meeting. We require a meeting every week with the project coordinator, our contact person, to talk even if it’s for three minutes about what’s happening, what’s next, any questions or problems for us, and if we have anything we need from them. That’s the agenda. Quick, it’s on the calendar. And for at least two months, that meeting happens every week. And if it doesn’t, I try to chase him down until we have a conversation, because that’s the difference between success. I won’t to say failure, but mystery about what’s happening on the other side of things. So we’re working really hard at that.

Neil Richmund:

Then we launch that portal. We start getting students in there, we then start working with the staff, training them and then offering support to them. Right now, we support about 50 WordPress clients through our care plans. I have a dedicated customer support person. So we introduce them to Mara and what the process is when you need changes or additions and that, how you do all that. Then we come back around and we build out the remaining programs that they need built out for enrollment in their thing. But that way we’re able to quickly show some wins, get some stuff going, get students coming in. The other key that we found, and for some of you developing out there for clients, this really does come important, people resist change. And in education, they resist change more than I’ve seen in most areas.

Chris Badgett:

So they have to remove a lot of friction. Oh my goodness.

Neil Richmund:

What we tell the program is, don’t go telling all your teachers that we’ve got a whole new world coming. They’re going to have to learn about and adapt to, and all of that, because that just freaks everybody out. What we do is say, let’s just keep it a secret. Let’s build this out, let’s get the first students coming in. And when the teachers look and go, “Why in the world do we all of a sudden have an influx of students coming in?” You can start to tell them about the exciting new world that we have awaiting them and they’ll jump in. We just did that this last week.

Neil Richmund:

We went to one of our clients up in Fort Wayne in North Eastern Indiana and hung out with them. We’ve only worked with primarily two people in the program for this whole launch. Three people actually in this program. The teachers knew that there was something going on, but they weren’t quite sure. So when I revealed it all to them, they were already bought in because the students are coming in. Now that we’re seeing what was behind the curtain, so to speak, and what was the possibilities for, and that were excited. That just moves everything forward even more. That’s how we launched our projects with that clients.

Chris Badgett:

This is what I dreamed of for this podcast. You’ve basically got a decade of experience condensed into some changes you can make in a day. If you’re a WordPress professional, re-listen to what we’ve said so far, because there’s just so many good nuggets and hard won lessons learned and improvements and change that you’ve done over the years to remove friction. That’s amazing. What advice do you have around packaging? What you offer in terms of, you said you have care plans, which introduces recurring revenue and ongoing work. Any just packaging advice or set up fees or spread out payments, half upfront, half on completion, or how do you package your offer?

Neil Richmund:

We’ll play with this a lot. My preferred model, and it’s scary, but I’ve had so few people give me issues on it, is to break a project up into monthly payments and make it recurring revenue for us.

Chris Badgett:

Forever, for like 12 months or three months or?

Neil Richmund:

Typically, for 12 months. So we bundle project plus care plan for the first 12 months, and then create a monthly payment plan for that.

Chris Badgett:

So instead of the sticker shock of this big one-time payment, it’s easier for some… There you go, removing friction again.

Neil Richmund:

Removing friction right there. And that’s been popular. That’s certainly how we have gone from zero to about 12,000 a month in recurring revenue in 18 months using that model, as well as introducing care plans. We were doing this work for clients and not charging. Troy Dean said, “Neil, I’m an idiot not charging [inaudible 00:30:52].” So we were like, okay. So we introduced it to clients. Most of them were great. Very few of them were like, “Nope, not doing it, going to go away somewhere else.” Because they didn’t have somewhere else to go. So they just did it. We’ve grown that much in care plans in general. What we found for our adult ed clients though, is most of them do not want to pay monthly. That’s just not their business model. Some of them don’t even use credit cards.

Chris Badgett:

Yeah. Paper check or whatever.

Neil Richmund:

Yeah. Pay by check. For our connectable product, with Lifter at the heart of it, we offer three models, and they are based on how much we are building, how many courses we are building for them in advance. We typically built a front end website for them as well because they don’t have that. That’s the lead generation part of it, or waitlists for programs part of it. The size of that website is a factor with all of that. And then our support time, our consulting as experts coming in and helping the program to build this out and all of those elements. We have three packages and those are priced with a bill one time fee. Then we have, depending on the size of the package, a care plan for monthly support. Then on top of that, if they want extra courses built than what’s in there, there’s a course price set in advance. So they know what that looks like, and that is cheaper for the bigger packages than it is for the little packages.

Neil Richmund:

Then we have a monthly support, which is more expensive for the bigger package because we have much more to service for them. That’s based on hours. Plus the standard WordPress support type services. We host all of our clients. That’s included. That’s one thing that I know is debatable out there in the world. I don’t want to mess with hosting versus I do. I’ve got such a great hosting company here locally that caters to marketing agencies. They know this world really well, and it takes very little of my time to manage any of that. So I’m very happy to do that, and it adds value to our clients. Then the last piece that we offer on that packaging-wise is an optional service, that is what we’ll call marketing or outreach services. We’ve also worked out for adult ed programs, how to find students.

Chris Badgett:

Wow, you’re an end to end solution.

Neil Richmund:

We can help them with so much. Here’s the thing, Chris, we are very shy about promoting this right now because we’ve gotten dialed in, but we don’t have all of our backend systems in place to scale this. Almost every adult ed program in the country is struggling right now to get students. So hopefully too many of them don’t listen to this because we can’t afford to be inundated with new opportunities right now. We’re taking a piece at a time and building them out and working some things out and creating our processes. But by the middle of the year, we are sponsors and doing talks and presentations and all sorts of stuff to national conferences and local regional conferences and all of that. So the word’s getting out on that, but that marketing services is the other piece that they wanted. We’ve got some really great solutions about how to find students. And then the system behind it, that all starts with sending them to a page on the website.

Neil Richmund:

We even have to get programs used to not taking new students over the phone or walk-ins or anything. Where we teach them, you guys have to send everybody to your starting page and get the students to start there. We use Gravity Forms when they choose the program, we send them to a landing page after submission that introduces them to the portal and how that portal works, and everything that I’ll need to know. And then there’s a button there for them to go to the sign-up page. They sign up, they log in, they start walking through it. Now we’ve got a whole solution that nobody needs to hold hands on from beginning to end, including bringing students to the program. That takes a lot more hands-on work. So it’s a little too expensive for some programs, especially smaller ones, but where we can, we offer some training on that for them as well, so they can learn how to do it. Anyway, those are some of the things that we’re pulling together on all that.

Chris Badgett:

That’s amazing. A couple of big things I heard in there. One is, you’ve obviously got a very clear customer that you’re serving and you have, I’m a problem solver focus. I’m sure you love WordPress and the tech and stuff, but it’s all about removing friction for this type of adult education thing.

Neil Richmund:

Absolutely. We did a call with-

Chris Badgett:

And not overwhelming. I’m not giving them too much or getting too technical and getting the mic drop moment, it’s called, or the time to wow. It’s awesome.

Neil Richmund:

Just bring that. We did a call with one of our clients yesterday, one of our logic clients that uses this, and they happened to have a couple people on the team who are very creative thinkers. They’re always thinking ahead about what’s next, what’s next. A lot of programs don’t have that, and that’s fine. We will introduce that into the conversation as time goes on. But they were like, “Okay, we’ve been thinking about some of this, and we’ve got some changes for next school year. Can we run those by you?” And that sort of thing. I’m like, “Absolutely. We love that creative thinking. We love being able to look at what you’re dealing with in reality, and turn around to the product and go, okay, how do we make this work better for you?” In this case, for one audience in particular, the ELL students.

Chris Badgett:

What does that stand for, ELL?

Neil Richmund:

English language learner, same as ESL.

Chris Badgett:

Okay.

Neil Richmund:

But that’s the new phrase.

Chris Badgett:

All right.

Neil Richmund:

English language learner. We love that challenge with all of that. My biggest challenge is, we’ve grown so much in the last year. We grew 170% in 2020 over 2019. That is a huge step for us. Now getting all the people in place, so I’m still wearing too many hats, but I want to be the visionary of our company that hears these problems and things like that. It goes back to the lab and comes up with some new things, bringing some of these exciting products that are out there to play together. And coming back and saying, here you go, here’s how we solve this going forward. Sometimes I have to say no, but most of the time I can say, well, I learned to say, let me see what I can do before anything else. But often I can come back and say, yep, I got it.

Chris Badgett:

Wow. So much great advice in there. You mentioned 170% growth. That’s amazing. You mentioned zero to 12K in monthly recurring revenues, if I heard that right?

Neil Richmund:

Yup.

Chris Badgett:

Is there any other just number thing, so many students, or this school? Give us a sense of some numbers, like how many teachers in a platform that you’re proud of or something like that.

Neil Richmund:

I actually just sent out yesterday. I have a page on our site that asks questions of people in the programs to get feedback for things we should do better, but also for testimonials. One of those was a question on data. What data do you have? I’m still filtering through some of that to see what we can say on that. I know have served over 5,000 students since about mid last year in the programs that we have. One of them has gone from being a career training program that could only deal with people that came to their location to moving everything online, and now being able to offer that around country, especially in the [inaudible 00:39:39] space, QuickBooks, that area. That’s been a big, huge shift for them. They’re able to serve thousands of students now.

Neil Richmund:

Our biggest program, I was looking at one of the numbers, that have had like 2,600 students come through this school year, so that we’ve been starting in July through our platform that, let me see here, like 2,400 of those have completed the registration process to come into the school now. They don’t show up sometimes, life changes and different things happen and that sort of stuff. But always just saw that number filter through, and we’ve been able to deliver that in a way to where it was hands off until the student was ready. I’m very proud of that model because sometimes we spend a lot of time with leads coming in, trying to get them all ready to go and all that. I know there’s a free program. There’s a lot about this that is a good deal for people, but they still don’t take care of it. They don’t take advantage of it.

Neil Richmund:

But having built a process now that delivers everything you need to know before you make a final decision and then go ahead and book that appointment as your next step in that final decision, I think that’s a good model for so many organizations to have in place. But more importantly, that no staff hours was spent in managing that. Yes, building it on the front end, absolutely. But now in managing of that, we wait until they come through the end versus holding hands along the way and spending a bunch of time on that. One program indicated it was a little worried about some of their staff members fearing for their jobs and all that. And I said, “Don’t you have too much to do already?” [inaudible 00:41:29] them into some other areas that you need, but you don’t have time for, and let’s take some of this off of the table.”

Chris Badgett:

Yeah. That’s a brilliant insight right there. Could you speak… Well, let me just say first, the e-learning industry is massive and there’s all these niches. We’re just talking about this slice of the e-learning pie called adult education. Marketing and sales, sometimes it’s called land and expand, you did one of these and then eventually you built a template. Can you tell us how you went from one to many of these? Did you stay within your state or your geographic area, or how did you go from one to several or many or whatever?

Neil Richmund:

We are primarily in our state. We definitely do, all but one of our clients is in Indiana.

Chris Badgett:

Correct.

Neil Richmund:

Again, because of connections and opportunities and different things like that, that’s happened. The one that we have is in Nevada, the Excel program in Carson city. They came to us because my wife did a presentation for [Co-ed 00:42:43], which is the National Association for Adult Education. And in that presentation, she talked about what we were building, what we had built for program to enroll students and that sort of thing in a more efficient way. So they reached out because of that and engaged us to build that platform for them. They are 100% remote this school year now. They were in-person, they were remote and they were in-person for a while, but because they’re connected to a college, college has gone remote for the semester, therefore they have to as well. They would have been in real trouble if they hadn’t had this platform.

Neil Richmund:

It came by word of mouth. People just talking and saying, how are you enrolling so many students right now and all that sort of thing? So they shared what we were doing. That was a big part of it. As we started to roll this out, we began to see that it just needed to look very uniform in the same, so that it was easy for us to deploy and not try to customize all these features. Even though our clients get a customized product, what we build is pretty cookie cutter for almost all of it. So when I realized that that’s what I needed to look like, I spent the time to build just a clone site, like I said, set that up. We keep that updated. We added in new plugins that we feel like need to be into the stack into that. Then we have that ready to deploy through managed WP very quickly to a new install. That’s really important too, because when a client says go, they usually actually needed this [crosstalk 00:44:32].

Chris Badgett:

Like last month.

Neil Richmund:

They are ready. So if we can get that first step delivered really quickly for them, that makes a huge difference in any way I can do that. Because I have my team, I’m primarily, 90% of the labor that goes into these products is me right now, still. I haven’t replicated this out for our team as much. They support the Gravity Form side of it a lot, especially creating the PDFs for programs and all that, because that’s something we’ve done for a while. But the actual building of it has mostly been on my shoulders, which is something that I’m committed to changing in this next few months, because that’s a bottleneck for us. But it really was about other programs hearing or us reaching out because of something we heard and talking to them.

Neil Richmund:

We are now doing, like I said, we’re doing presentations through regional and national conference that we’ll introduce this to a wider audience. We’re considering some sponsorship options to introduce this to a wider audience. I do a monthly tech talk for all Indiana adult ed, where they can put in questions about some of the things they’re wondering about in their program and that sort of stuff. I’m giving advice and I write a blog post for them every month to put on their website and share out. It’s just things like that, that we’re doing that are starting to get the ball rolling. We’re actually going to use our platform and Lifter to host a virtual conference for all the Indiana adult ed in April.

Chris Badgett:

Wow.

Neil Richmund:

We’ve volunteered to do that. I don’t know what that looks like, Chris. I’m not 100% sure what awe. I’ve got a lot of ideas and I got to get to my drawing board, but we say we can do that and we’re going to make it happen. And part of the reason was because they wanted, after the fact, to put recordings in and have a platform where they could track who completed, who didn’t, how much time they spent and all that sort of thing. So we’ve done that. One of the radical versions of this, we’ve done this, we pulled in GrassBlade, added that. And through LRS and a lot of customizations with their team, one of our clients has got a really slick setup for reporting of student time on the side and what they’ve worked on and what they haven’t and all that, because they need that full funding. They have to give that report for funding in order to get the funding that they need.

Neil Richmund:

It took what we started with and then that extra plugin, and then more development to build out this solution. I’ve been wondering whether Data Studio could plug into Lifter in some way or another to do some reporting for clients. But we’re using currently Gravity View to provide some front end reporting, where they can very quickly see a student’s name, contact information, and all the forms that they submitted and be able to just click on it to download and print, rather than having to go through the backend steps. I’m trying to keep people away from the backend as much as I can, but I have to open that door as well for some of them.

Neil Richmund:

The other next thing that we’re really working on is how do we get a lot of teachers in a program to build content using Lifter through the platform, but without exposing all the backend WordPress stuff that will A, confuse them? And of course, obviously we can change user roles. They don’t have access to things they shouldn’t. But I think primarily, just to make the user experience, to provide content for students, to be connected with. We’re working with a video provider who has built a platform that has a lot of the advantages of Google Meet, Zoom, and all of these. But we’re working with them to build it into the platform and offer it to a program as an all-in-one solution so we don’t need the Zoom element and so forth. So we’re working on other things around all of this to make it better.

Chris Badgett:

Man, that’s amazing. Neil, thank you for being a shining example of, what I would consider, a WordPress power user, solving really needed problems in the education space. This is so cool to hear the story. My last question for you, if somebody’s a WordPress professional and they’re wanting to do some kind of e-learning niche service offering, like what you have, what would you say to them on why Lifter is a good fit for that? And just some words of encouragement on how to get going with that education niche service offering clear customer stuff?

Neil Richmund:

Well, you really need to partner with somebody who understands that education world as a first step in all that. If you don’t, [inaudible 00:49:58]. I was a teacher for nearly 20 years. So I understand the education world pretty well. I taught high school kids. So some of this population is in that same age group. That’s number one in the whole process, is don’t go in, and we’ve been told this over and over again. We love working with you guys because you understand the technology, but you also understand our world. And if you go in understanding the technology and don’t understand their world, it’s going to be a real uphill battle because they are resistant to so many things and you have to work out how to maneuver it in so they can get there.

Neil Richmund:

That’s one thing. Then I’ll say the next thing would be, is just start with a simple process that you can build for them. I pulled in the demos that come when you install Lifter, I pulled those in and I used those as models in some of the very first stuff I did because I didn’t have anything to create and that sort of thing. Now we’ve got tons of stuff that we can show as examples for our clients. Before you get to that point, just show capabilities, show how you can help the program to take the next steps, and focus all of the language, not on the tech, but on the benefits that they will derive from the tech that you would put together for them.

Neil Richmund:

That’s really big. If you’re pulling marketing materials together, don’t get into any of this stuff. I actually went at one point and went to the page on the Lifter site that had all the features. I copied everything out. I put it in a document and I was starting to work on it. I gave it to my wife to review and she’s like, “Oh my goodness. If you share this with any of them, [inaudible 00:51:50].” “Okay, I get it, I get it. What do we need to do?” So we’ve taken it and we’ve boiled it down to three things. Our product is about engage, it’s about enroll, and it’s about educate.

Chris Badgett:

I love that.

Neil Richmund:

That’s what we’re doing. The three Es. Engage, enroll and educate. Then we build what happens around that model. That’s what makes a difference. Other part of the story is, we don’t even have a public facing website right now for this side of our business that we want anybody to see. And I’ve got people begging me for it right now. That’s why I got to go build now, Chris.

Chris Badgett:

Well, it happens when you find a need and you fulfill it.

Neil Richmund:

Yeah, it’s a good thing, but we now are getting asked for more and more resources. So we’ve got to go and spend some time building that out, showing people how it works so that they can refer that on to others and then they can plug into our world as well.

Chris Badgett:

Well, my challenge to you would be to use LifterLMS to build your own internal company training library. It sounds like you’re hitting limits and you need people.

Neil Richmund:

The out process is out like what we call our connectable business playbook, is the big thing. We just had our Mavericks conference and out of that, we’re always challenged to do three things over the next 45 to 60 days that will move the business forward. One of those big ones is to have the public facing marketing materials, A. And then B as that playbook.

Chris Badgett:

The playbook.

Neil Richmund:

[crosstalk 00:53:36] internal team to know what to do to get the job done.

Chris Badgett:

That is awesome. Well, that’s Neil Richmund. You can find him at neilrichmud.com. That’s with a U in Richmund. Neil, thanks for coming on the show. I really appreciate you sharing your story and you drop so much wisdom for the WordPress professional out there. You’ve added an incredible value. So thank you so much for that and keep up the amazing work.

Neil Richmund:

Yeah. Thanks so much. Glad I could come and share and happy to talk to people that got questions. Thanks so much.

Chris Badgett:

Awesome. And that’s a wrap for this episode of LMScast. Did you enjoy that episode? Tell your friends, and be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss the next episode. And I’ve got a gift for you over at lifterlms.com/gift. Go to lifterlms.com/gift. Keep learning, keep taking action, and I’ll see you in the next episode.

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