Helping consultants, experts, and coaches smash through personal and professional plateaus with David Shriner-Cahn in this episode of the LMScast podcast with Chris Badgett of LifterLMS. David shares what he has learned about best practices in business from interviewing entrepreneurs, along with strategies you can implement to smash the plateau in your business’s growth.
Many business owners and entrepreneurs think about success as a linear progression. In most cases it doesn’t work out that way. Business owners are constantly hitting roadblocks and David shares how he categorizes and breaks down those roadblocks. One common trait among successful business people is the ability to ask for help.
Often the largest roadblocks in business and life are the ones we don’t expect, because we are likely unprepared to deal with them in terms of mindset and emotion. An effective strategy Chris shares for taking down those roadblocks is to embrace that you don’t know everything and may not even be asking the right questions. This mindset helps you keep an open mind, and when solving difficult problems that often is the fastest path to finding a viable solution.
Often you can add the most value as a business by focusing on the problems you can solve simply and repeatedly. This idea is naturally counterintuitive to people who sell their knowledge and creativity. David shares a methodology you can take that will help isolate your best clients to improve your ability to add value to their lives and serve them.
Clients you work with typically fall into four categories:
- The first being clients that are not profitable, and they are hard to work with.
- Second is the clients that are not profitable, but they are easy to work with.
- Third are the clients that are profitable, but they are hard to work with.
- Fourth are clients that are profitable, and they are easy to work with.
For most businesses we want to find those clients that fit into the fourth category. David brings to light how you want to focus on optimizing your time, so you can work the most with profitable clients that are also easy to work with.
One key characteristic David has noticed from interviewing entrepreneurs is that the business owners who are the best at creating the outcomes they want are very structured with their time. They also have time they dedicate to activities that are not producing client work. Having strict guidelines for the time you spend away from your business can be just as effective for your success as the time you spend dedicated to it. This also helps to avoid burnout.
To learn more about David Shriner-Cahn you can find him on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter at @smashingplateau. At LifterLMS.com you can learn more about new developments and how you can use LifterLMS to build online courses and membership sites. Subscribe to our newsletter for updates, developments, and future episodes of LMScast. If you like this episode of LMScast, you can browse more episodes here. Thank you for joining us!
Chris Badgett: You’ve come to the right place if you’re a course creator looking to build more impact, income, and freedom. LMScast is the number one podcast for course creators just like you. I’m your guide, Chris Badgett. I’m the co-founder of the most powerful tool for building, selling, and protecting engaging online courses called LifterLMS. Enjoy the show.
Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. My name is Chris Badgett, and I’m joined by a special guest, David Shriner-Cahn. He has a podcast called Smashing the Plateau. You can find that at smashingtheplateau.com. Welcome to the show, David.
David S.: Thanks so much, Chris, great to be here.
Chris Badgett: I’m a big fan of breaking limits or just leveling up. When I look at personal and professional growth, for me, it’s never like a line or an exponential curve. It looks more like stairs and sometimes with big jumps, sometimes with little jumps. To me, it feels like I’m breaking through plateaus, both personally and professionally and that’s just how it works out for me. How did you come up with Smashing the Plateau? I love the brand, I love the name. What’s the origin story of that?
David S.: It’s actually what you just described, which is that business and life are nonlinear. We often think about success in a linear progression. It doesn’t actually work out that way. We’re constantly hitting roadblocks and I would describe roadblocks in three categories. When we’re executing on a plan, the plan is based on what we know that we know and what we know that we don’t know. What we know that we know is easy. We know what to expect, we know how to plan it, we know how to execute it, but we know we don’t know means we need to find some resources to fill in the gaps of what we don’t know. Again that’s fairly easy the plan. You need to find the resources, acquire them and execute using those resources. The biggest roadblocks are the ones that we don’t know that we don’t know. I’m traveling from, before they were cross country roads, from New York to California. I didn’t know that there were some big rivers in the way right, no clue. What do you do when you get there if you don’t have bridges and you don’t have boats, things like that. Those are the ones that are the hardest and they’re the hardest I would say in terms of mindset and emotions because you don’t expect them. They’re often really hard to solve.
To me, a plateau can really describe any one of those roadblocks and the latter kind is the one that I have found to be the most difficult.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. I love that way of looking at the world. I think of it like the yin yang or whatever. There’s like what are your goals but almost just as valuable as like what you don’t know or is outside of your awareness. I’ve heard some people call that a ROI, return on ignorant, like if you really embrace that you don’t know everything or you may not even know the right question to ask, it gives you a different approach to like working on breaking through plateaus to have that humility.
David S.: Yeah, exactly.
Chris Badgett: You serve the expert space and like established, you call them mid-career and older expert coaches, consultants, people that have a lot of experience in something and trying to navigate our world and smash through plateaus just to … Something we talked about a lot on this podcast, which I brought up on your podcast, Smashing the Plateau is the five hats problem. Course creators have to become and step into the role of the expert, which is something that you help out with a bit and like helping get clarity around that. They have to be teachers, so they have to not just know something, they need to be able to transfer that knowledge and the ability to get results to another person. They have to be a community builder both before and after the sale. They have to be a technologist. Then, they have to do an entrepreneur, which includes all the business building and the marketing stuff. Given that framework, like how do you help people across some of those hats?
David S.: Well, to start with when it comes to expertise, particularly people that have been in their field for a while, they are excited by solving complex problems. The simple ones that they may have solved 10 years ago are not the ones that they most like spending their time on. However, if you’re a business owner, the greatest value from a business perspective is one that you can actually solve simply and repeatedly, which is naturally counterintuitive to people who sell their knowledge and creativity.
Chris Badgett: Some people call that the expert’s curse or they’ve lost the ability to step into or empathize with beginner’s mind, right?
David S.: Correct. What you really need to do is look back over particularly your recent business history, maybe the last several years and kind of map out your clients and look at who the best clients are that are easiest to work with and are the most profitable because clients typically will fall into four categories. They’re are the ones that are easy to work with, but you don’t make a lot of money from them. They’re the ones that you do make money from, but they’re not so easy to work with. They’re the ones that are not so profitable and hard to work with, you should fire those. Every so often, you should go through your book of business and look at the ones that are in that last category and see how you can find a way to exit them out of your business. The gold is the ones that are easy to work with and profitable, not just a lot of revenue, but profitable because when you’re selling your expertise, you’re investing a lot of time in the process, no matter what your pricing structure is, you are most likely putting in some time, probably a fair amount of time. You want to be able to optimize your time and be as profitable as possible. That usually means finding one thing that you can do repeatedly or maybe a small number of things that you can do repeatedly that have the most value for your target audience.
That’s kind of step one. You’ve got to figure that out before you can try to build your business.
Chris Badgett: I really love that. For those of you listening that’s a, what do you call it an X-Y axis thing, where you can plot out like profitability, easy to work with, unprofitable, not easy to work with and really get clear on that because when you started describing that when I think about some of my expertise, before we got into the product business of building core software, we did client work in that space. I’ve had clients that we’ve done $80,000 plus custom development, very complex, not as profitable as like $10,000 projects just, where it’s repeatable, systematic. It’s easy as an expert to just go to the high dollar complex, but it’s not as profitable and often, it strains the best resources of you. It’s an interesting dilemma that experts-
David S.: Correct.
Chris Badgett: … face.
David S.: Right and when you look at those $10,000 projects, where it’s very repeatable and it’s relatively easy to repeat them, next step is map out your processes and document them because your business isn’t worth much to anybody else unless there’s some kind of documented process. In reality, what people pay the most for in the expert space is learning your system. You have a system for creating courses and for somebody who has never created an online course if they can learn your system, whether it is through one-on-one guidance or through group guidance or just accessing written or audio or video material that will accelerate the timeline for those clients. It’s worth money to them.
Chris Badgett: There was a guy who was on this podcast a long time ago, his name was Frank Bria and he made a comment about high value consulting like as an expert, is a little bit kind of funny the way he phrases it, but it’s kind of lazy. If you can’t package that up in a system and you’re just in that. You’re handcuffed to your brain and your high value consulting and you fly in and you flex your brain muscles and it’s not really process driven. You’re just building business based on your expertise without slowing down and looking at and creating structure underneath it and repeatable processes. It’s actually lazy behavior, but if you’re a high paid consultant, it’s hard to get out of that or even be open to that idea.
David S.: Yeah, well, keep in mind any kind of transformation or change that you’re trying to make for yourself or your business, it’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to take time. You may want to make a major change in the way you’re doing business because you realize it’s not working so well for you, but you still have to keep going on the current road and you still have bills to pay. Don’t make yourself nuts that you have to throw everything out and change everything all at once. It’s better to look at what kinds of steps you can take in and what order and with what timelines, so that you can actually do it effectively.
Chris Badgett: Yeah that’s awesome and speaking of that timeline, I get this question a lot and I see a lot of course creators running into this, if they are like in your audience, like kind of mid-career and older, they have a successful day job or their own business, doing consulting and a lot of this high-touch complex work, they tell me that they just can’t carve out the time. There’s no extra time. I don’t really have a good answer for these people about how to start getting some time, even if it’s small. What do you tell people when that question or that issue comes up, it’s like, “I really want to do this, but I just can’t create the time.”
David S.: Well, it’s interesting, you and I were talking, Chris, before we started recording about the number of people that I’ve interviewed on my podcast, Smashing the Plateau, which is-
Chris Badgett: How many is it?
David S.: At this point, as of this recording, I don’t know it’s 450 somewhat, something like that.
Chris Badgett: Wow.
David S.: Yeah, so lots of people.
Chris Badgett: When did you start by the way?
David S.: When did I start?
Chris Badgett: Yeah.
David S.: Five years ago, 2014.
Chris Badgett: Awesome.
David S.: Yeah and one of the things that I’ve heard repeatedly from entrepreneurs is that those that appear to be the best at creating the kind of outcomes they want are really structured with their time. They have time that they dedicate to activities that are not producing client work. They’re relentless about it. I had one guests early on, who has half an hour a week of strategic thinking time.
Chris Badgett: That’s not a big sacrifice.
David S.: Right, like if you can’t find 30 minutes that you can actually focus on strategic thinking, I think you got a real problem.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, there’s this concept that I don’t know where I heard this, but little hinges swing big doors, not everything’s linear like you say. I’m a big fan of think a lot, act a little, like 30 minutes if you give yourself permission to not multitask on and really focus in, like for example on what is the structure behind your complex problem-solving that you can kind of systematize, if you can eliminate distractions and really focus on that like even once a week, in like three months, you might have something pretty solid there.
David S.: Yes, yeah and also speaking of sort of multitasking and planning your time, for anyone out there who has not read the book, The One Thing, I encourage you to do it because it talks about essentially how you apply the 80/20 rule in business and in life that 80% of our success comes from 20% of our activities. How do you reverse engineer your use of time to create the kinds of successful outcomes that you desire in every area of your life, not just business, but relationships, spirituality, health and wellness. It’s a worthwhile read.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. I’m in the middle of that on audiobook right now and it reminds me I think back to a classic productivity book called Getting Things Done by David Allen. I remember listening to that on my audio book when I’m super busy, my kids were super young. I’m walking the dog. I’m doing the dishes, but like just by investing like maybe four hours in that book spread out over like a couple weeks, game changer.
David S.: Yes that’s also a great book.
Chris Badgett: Yeah and I still use a lot of that stuff like all the time.
David S.: There are some very simple principles, but if you can follow even some of them, you’ll be ahead.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, totally. Another thing you mentioned is the importance of market research, like if we’re strapped for time and we want to be very strategic with how we’re going to move and who we’re going to serve, how do we do market research? I like the idea of like doing the inventory on clients you enjoy plus profitability, but what else can we do to understand our market because sometimes we’re so close to it, we don’t even think about that. How can we be deliberate?
David S.: We should have some set of questions that we ask our best clients and customers and have a schedule for doing that. If you have a kind of business, a consulting business, where you have long term clients, maybe you want to have, schedule a meeting with your client contact once a quarter, where you just talk about how it’s going. Also, you should have questions that probe like what are they really struggling with. If a particular kind of problem could be solved, how would they feel and what would it be worth to them? You’ll probably uncover some unexpected opportunities that are mutual opportunities. You have existing clients with a good relationship. They know, like and trust you. They’d probably be happy to have you solve a particular problem, you just have to ask them what that problem is. A lot of people don’t do that. That’s kind of step one is just existing clients.
Chris Badgett: One of my past clients, who served other businesses had a comment that, “Your clients are not in the witness protection program, like talk to them, like outside of just delivering the service, like probe them, find out how else you can add value or what they’re struggling with.”
David S.: Yeah and I find that if you ask them, they tell you. That’s with existing client. Then, with people that aren’t yet clients or they may not become clients, but they’re in your space, have some dedicated time set aside to actually have one-on-one conversations with them. I mean one of the things that I do is on the homepage of our website, smashtheplateau.com, I have a button, “Schedule time with David.” I’m willing to give people 30 minutes to hear where they’re at, hear with their problems are, offer a few tips. If it turns out that they can be a client, great and if not that’s okay too, but I’m also learning about the marketplace at the same time. It works both ways. It’s important for them to get some ideas and it’s important for me to hear from people who are out there, who are not currently clients.
Chris Badgett: As yourself an expert and somebody who cares about understanding your market, how did you have that insight because I see a lot of people fall into the trap of, “I’m going to automate everything, I’m not going to put a phone number, I’m going to like be really restrictive of who can schedule a call with me.” For example, like I have a Calendly link on my Twitter bio for 15 minutes, I’ll talk to anybody. I do have, like there is some constraints on my calendar of how many 15-minute calls can be scheduled, but I feel like I’m naked without that feedback loop happening. Even with existing customers, like after a certain amount of time, they get a link to have a conversation with me if they want to. I try to serve them and remove any friction that’s left over, invaluable. How did you come to that insight and not fall into that trap of, “I’m going to hide behind a website?”
David S.: Well, for one thing, I like talking to people and asking questions, so something I naturally do. I’ve heard this repeatedly from my podcast guests, particularly the ones that are the big names. The ones that you think are the most inaccessible, they all carve out time to talk to their ideal audience. Before they launch anything new, they spend a lot of time in that space, doing a lot of market research. They also will beta test things with a small group before they launch anything. They don’t publicize that necessarily, but I’ve heard this from them over and over again.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, they’re doing the piloting and the beta testing. Specifically for course creation, I say there’s like a real danger in going in [inaudible] side what I call a course creation cave. Some people disappear into the cave for like a month, three months, a year, even two years, making something without any kind of feedback loop open or beta testing or piloting with real people that are in their target market is very dangerous. You may get lucky, but in my experience, most people who take that route fail. I want to ask you about in the expert space, courses and membership sites are one thing. I have a concept called course plus, like in order to get results for people, it’s not just about the course. For every industry, it’s different what they might need because you can have a course plus and I’m just going to list off a bunch, you can have services, done for you services, masterminds, group coaching, private coaching, other products, live events, online events, social communities that help people not feel so isolated as they work through this issue or chase this opportunity. Let’s talk about that specifically in context of your focus on multiple income streams and having a long-term marathon multi-year plan.
David S.: If you haven’t done any of those, pick the one that’s most comfortable for you and that’s easiest for you to actually perform and start there.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, for me, as an example like I’m more of an introvert, like I’m not going to lead with live events. I may do that later, but I’m not going to lead with that. I would do more like group virtual coaching, which I like in smaller groups. I’m not saying, “Do them all,” but I think that is really important like you got to play to your strengths.
David S.: Exactly and by the way, you don’t have to do them all. Just because you see other people making money in all of those areas, doesn’t mean that you have to build a business doing all those things. For me, I like one-on-one conversations and I like asking questions. For me, a podcast is like a natural, it’s really easy for me to do. It kind of suits who I am and I actually really like the intimacy that audio conversations create. It’s interesting. You and I are doing this now on video, it’s very different than doing this on audio. You were on my show recently and we did an audio only. We didn’t see each other. It’s a different experience.
Chris Badgett: Well that’s because I’m a marketer and like I’m not going to miss out on the opportunity to get some more stuff on YouTube. With podcasting, I found that like just observing myself as I listen to podcasts, I have a pretty deep relationship with some podcast host that they have no idea who I am, but they’ve been in my ears for years. It’s very powerful. If you’re an expert coach, consultant type person, I think if I had to pick one, the podcasting skillset, at least for like getting that momentum and start creating content, I found it to be a phenomenal tool.
David S.: Right and part of the reason I think why is because as a consultant or coach, the better your listening skills are, the better you’re going to be able to connect with clients and solve their problems. Podcasting really trains your listening skills.
Chris Badgett: It does. Can you tell more on that like how does podcasting do that?
David S.: I find that people who are good podcast hosts, they have a rough idea of some of the things they want to cover. They have a place where they want to start a conversation. They’re listening for cues from the guest. This is like an interview based show, listening for cues from the guest and constantly probing to go deeper. One of the people who’s one of the best at it is Terry Gross from Fresh Air. If you listen to her show, she has a remarkable ability to enable her guests to feel comfortable enough to be quite vulnerable in what they discuss. I know she’s not out to trick people or to move them in any area where they’re uncomfortable. Her goal for the show is to have guests as comfortable as possible, yet her listening ability really extracts a lot of great detail from guests.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, listening is a big part of coaching and consulting. Especially with new coaches or consultants or if they’re transitioning into the online space to try to scale, it’s challenging to not like kind of rush in with all the answers and the plan, but to really sit back and listen and personalize. The power is in the questions, I like that a lot. In our pre-chat before the show, in terms of multiple streams, we were talking about Dorie Clark as an example expert. She does a lot of different things to kind of build her expert business or her online business or just her business. What do you see as like why has she been successful at that and what are the pieces that she put together or others like her that work that you’ve seen?
David S.: In Dorie’s case and Dorie has been a guest on my show more than once and I think the way she’s built her business is really quite extraordinary. People can learn a lot from her. First of all, she was unemployed and knew she needed to start a business. She did her market research initially and just did a lot of research in her space. As somebody who is naturally a writer that led to a book. The first book was really well done, it led to other kinds of opportunities. I don’t know in what order Dorie actually developed different revenue streams. I know that she’s a paid speaker. Paid speaking may have been fairly early on in her progression. I think she came later to things like online courses and community building, but I know that she has not done it all at once. She’s done it in a progression that I think works well for who she is and what her talents are. She’s also done this over a lot of years. This is not quick. She’s been at this, I’m guessing it’s like probably 10 years or more at this point. It’s not like she was making a ton of money the first year.
Chris Badgett: Yeah that’s an excellent point. It is a marathon and one mistake I see people making in the online training space is they try to start as their very first thing with membership site that has like this huge catalog of courses, all these other like ebooks. They build like this really complex like thing when you can just start with like one thing. Once you get a lot of that stuff together, then you can start getting into these bundles of things. Sometimes, it starts with one course, one book, one speaking gig, like it’s not so overwhelming when you take it like one thing at a time.
David S.: Correct.
Chris Badgett: I’m trying to think of just in terms of your experience across all your over 400 interviews, you mentioned that some of the people that are the most successful have a feedback loop open, where they’re actively engaging, listening and testing with their real target markets. What are some other kind of things that you’ve seen pop up by interviewing all these people that allows them to build successful businesses that just looks like a trend.
David S.: They get help. They’re not afraid to ask for help. Seriously, there is what I think is an American myth.
Chris Badgett: The rugged individualist?
David S.: Right, if you look at any successful business person, chances are they’re not the rugged individualist. There’s somebody who had an idea. They had a perception about a pain point in a particular target audience. They did some market research. They tested. They offered something. Very often, they’ll sell something first and then, they’ll actually figure out how to deliver it, which is a lot easier than building something and hoping they will come and being disappointed when they don’t. Like being a CEO, even if it’s a CEO of a one-person business, as you mentioned earlier, you got to wear a lot of hats. Almost no one has that complete skillset. How do you fill in the gaps of what you need to actually run a successful business? If there are qualifications that you would like to develop yourself, you can learn them. You can hire somebody who can teach you, coach. You could join a group program, where the group is all working on a similar kind of activity with a similar kind of desired outcome. You can hire team members and even if you’re a small business you don’t have to invest a lot of money in team members. I know, for example, people that have … Like in the podcast space, there are some people that actually do everything related to their podcast alone. In my business, I’m trying to think, we’ve almost never had only me doing everything related to the podcast.
There have been some times when I’ve had my hand in a lot of it, but for the most part, I’ve had a team that has helped with some of the administration and the production steps that are not really something either I want to spend my time on or where I have the most skillset. My skillset is actually doing the interviewing and having the conversations with guests. I try to minimize my time in all the other areas by either automating or hiring team members, which you can do in today’s world pretty easily at relatively low cost. Get Help is one of the big ones. I want to add one other thing about being in a group, the power of being in a group for learning is not only are you gaining some kind of knowledge from the facilitator of the group, who I guess in most cases would be the expert, who’s transferring some knowledge. You’re also getting both feedback and ideas from the experiences of the other group members. If you think about how innovation often happens, it’s like you’re learning something that might have been applied in a different industry as an example. You’re applying it to your own niche and that can happen really easily in a group, where people are non-competitive and have a trusting relationship with one another.
What I see from people that I’ve interviewed, they spend a fair amount of time getting help.
Chris Badgett: That is really awesome and I actually just want to restate some of the things you just said because I’m trying to mine as much value as I can out of you and then, therefore out of the 400 people you’ve interviewed, 400 plus. You said that some of the most successful people, they build a team. They don’t try to wear all the hats by themselves. Just as an example, one of my most successful clients when I did work with him, amazing consultant, expert. I helped him come online, my company did, not just me with the online presence, have really helped him scale, but he had three assistants. He had like a video crew. He would bring in other guest experts to help build out some of the content library. He hired us to handle all the tech. He was our most successful client. He’s still in business today. Even though he paid a lot of money, he got 10 to a 100 times the value out of what we charged him, but it wasn’t just because of us, it was because he had an A team. He started small and slowly added team members. I don’t know his whole trajectory because we came in after he was kind of in motion, but I’m sure he started with just like one assistant.
You also mentioned the power of validation and just saving time to make sure you validate. You mentioned having an open mind and humility around the gaps like what are you honestly not good at or where might you have a blind spot that you’re unaware of. You mentioned using automation and good processes. As a side note, this whole podcasting thing, I’m at 250 episodes or so and all I pretty much do is the live call and then, I have a process. This is like side thing for me, but if I did all the work on it, it would take up too much time and then, it wouldn’t be worth it. I have like three people that help with it. You’ve mentioned learning from different industries, which I find a really powerful insight. I’m constantly studying even things as different as like biological nature processes. Sometimes, you get an idea from some like ecological process running that you can apply to your business or maybe something from sports or whatever your hobby is that you pull out like a business insight from like being, what did I call them, like a polymath and just like loving learning across different things, it all compounds on itself.
You also mentioned the power of group learning, which is a thing I’m a huge component of and social learning and just getting with other people on the journey, whether that’s masterminds, online communities, in person, however you can do it, one-on-one, friendships, all that stuff is super powerful. Since you were giving all the wisdom from 400 plus episodes, I want to make sure to put a summary in there. Do you have any other comments on that before we move on?
David S.: Yeah, actually I have a couple other that I thought about with regard to team. One is when you delegate, if … Actually, let me back up a step. Entrepreneurs are notorious for the bright shiny object syndrome. I have a new idea that I’d like to roll out. I may start on it, but when the next new idea shows up, I drop it. When you delegate, it forces you to be accountable. If you hire a team member and you meet with that team member once a week, you get feedback on what they’ve accomplished over the previous week and you strategize and create a plan for the following week. Then, you’re creating accountability right there and it’s actually accountability for the implementation of your idea. That’s really powerful.
Second thing I would say is as you’re thinking about either starting or growing a business around your expertise, if you design the business in the way that it will run without you, you’ll be an awful lot more profitable because as experts, we’re used to being the ones to solve the problem, but that doesn’t scale. If you want to do things like online courses and build community and all these other things, what you’re really doing is you’re designing a business that’s going to run without you. You can actually think about how do I solve my ideal customer’s problems over and over again without me having to do it? If you have that mindset from the beginning, you’re going to be way more profitable.
Chris Badgett: Yeah that’s awesome, I love that. It’s almost like making the transition or the transformation from you being the talent to your system and your process and your transformation that you have organized. That’s the talent.
David S.: Which also means, by the way, Chris you’ve got to leave your ego at the door. It’s hard for people to do.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, one of the things that helps with that is a mindset that I’ve learned called failure is just a learning opportunity, so embrace it. If you love learning, like I don’t know, like some people say, what is it? Fail fast or fail a lot, there’s a lot of like kind of buzz phrases out there, but if you do your market research and you’re strategic and you’re committed and you’re passionate, you are going to have failures on the way, just treat it like a learning experience, not like this huge negative event.
David S.: Also, by the way Chris, as the CEO, if you have that attitude about failures, make sure that it’s actually part of your culture, not just apply to yourself. That if you have team members and they fail, don’t blame them for the failure, think about how it’s a learning opportunity. If people repeat the same failure over and over again that’s a different issue, but if they have a failure once and they learn from it that’s a different story because if you create a culture, where it’s a blame oriented culture, then people are going to be reluctant to take calculated risks.
Chris Badgett: Yeah that’s awesome. I love that you bring that up. We do that kind of in our weekly meetings. I like to push and bring out like failures and I usually lead with myself like, “I really just blew a bunch of money on this advertising thing, [inaudible] experience, meant for the month. I set it up, so that we could track whether it would be successful or not. I just totally bombed and failed on that one.” Then, I’ll pass it over to the team to like go around the table, we can learn together and move on. It’s almost like you just have to be like clinical about it and not take it personally like this thing, I tried this experiment, these were the variables, that didn’t work. Should we like pivot on that, try to tweak the dials or just throw it in the trashcan or maybe we didn’t instrument the experiment well enough to even tell if we’re successful or not, so maybe that’s the problem, I don’t know. I loved that comment about embracing a culture of failure.
You focus on helping people unlock recurring revenue in a way, what are some of the things you’ve learned? In general, in the online course, in the membership site space, a lot of people want recurring revenue. To do that you have to have recurring value, which some people overlook that fundamental. What do you see as some tips around creating recurring revenue?
David S.: Rather than think about how do I solve the particular problem that my client is facing today, think about what aspect of that problem does my client face every month, every week?
Chris Badgett: Recurring problems.
David S.: Recurring problems, yeah, you can’t provide recurring value unless there’s a recurring problem. It’s like the plumber comes to replace the boiler. That’s a one-time fix. If what the plumber is responsible for is making sure that we have adequate heating and air conditioning all year round and can charge a monthly price for that that’s a whole different story.
Chris Badgett: Yeah that’s a great analogy. I think in terms of learning from another industry, you can look like there’s this whole membership economy happening, where for example there’s all these things that come in boxes to people’s houses once a month or once a week, like HelloFresh I think is like a meal delivery thing or you get ingredients and then, you cook. Everybody needs to eat, everybody’s really busy, there’s a recurring problem there, so an entrepreneur built a process and a system around that.
David S.: Correct.
Chris Badgett: There’s other like recurring, like for example in the biohacking space, which is something I’m interested in, there’s companies out there that will send like a box of biohacking gear that you can experiment with like every month, which is fulfilling your recurring problem of like just an obsession with optimizing and experimenting and challenging assumptions around health. That’s a totally different kind of problem than just needing to eat, which is really primal.
I just want to throw this out there to the course building community, just as a thought exercise, whatever niche you’re in like could you actually do a physical box like thing that you add on to your offer that’s included in the price or whatever that’s profitable for you that comes once a month or four times a year. Even if it’s just reading, like I see behind you, you have a lot of books. One of the simplest ones to put together is like the essential books for whatever your niche is and you get a new one every month. Maybe you’re marking up the fee, so that it’s profitable for you, but what people are paying for is your expertise. Everybody’s really busy, so like maybe this certain book like The One Thing is really important. I would be glad to pay like a double, triple the price for that just to have it hand selected for me is like, “This is the one you should read, not these thousand others right now in your business,” because you understand my journey in whatever niche I am. Just throwing that out there.
Anything else on recurring revenue before [inaudible]?
David S.: That’s a great one actually. What you’re talking about is curated content.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, like a lot of people think about like newsletters is a free thing you do for content marketing and building your email list, but I’m a member of some paid email newsletters that I get a ton of value out of. I’m happy to pay, so I’m paying for the curation. It’s so relevant to like some very tight niches that I’m in that it’s a no-brainer. Well that’s a perfect transition actually into my next question for you, which is around community building. When I came on your podcast, Smashing the Plateau, I could tell that you have an entire system around like giving an introduction to another guest and like your process and like getting me ready for the show, knowing what I mean and all this stuff. There’s a clear process around that which is awesome. It may give me confidence, [inaudible] this is going to be a fun show, it’s going to be good, everything’s going to be organized and tight.
I’m sure like podcasting helps build your email list, your following or your community. Whether it’s podcasting or not, what is some advice you have for course creators on building community?
David S.: Well, one is actually what you just mentioned which is think about what the initial point of contact is and what the new person coming in will perceive as valuable. In our case, we ask a lot of questions of podcast guests because it helps create a better interview because it helps me be well-prepared as the host. Clearly, on the flip side, the guests know that this is going to be really focused discussion on your expertise. There is value in that. Second is once you’re in the community, what is it that your community members need and value on an ongoing basis? I think your example, Chris, about the paid newsletter is a really great one. What is it that your community members struggle with the most around the areas of your competence and how can you provide some kind of ongoing solution that they will find valuable and therefore, be happy to pay you because it will help solve their problems, so that they … Essentially, why does somebody join a community? They have a problem they want to solve and usually, it involves wanting to make more money, save money or save time. In today’s world, a lot of it has to do with saving time.
You got to think about what you’re going to provide that actually solves those problems and then, the second piece about community building, you need to be good at maintaining the relationships in your community because people often join a community because they have a particular problem they want to solve, they have some kind of knowledge they want to access. They develop relationships in the community and they will often stay because of the relationships. It’s like I was a member of a local business networking group for a number of years. It always astounded me that some of the best members weren’t getting a lot of new business from this business network, yet they had tremendous value in the relationships that they had developed with people who became their friends, not just their business colleagues, but their friends. They wanted to see them every week. That was as important to them, if not more important than actually bringing in new dollars.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, the community piece is huge. Some people ask me like how did you get like a 5,000 person Facebook group for course creators? I say, “The secret to my overnight success is four years of engaging daily and answering people’s questions, connecting them to resources, like I spend time in there every day almost.” A community is not something you build and like if you build it, they will come, but it’s not going to survive if there’s not that actual engagement.
David S.: Exactly.
Chris Badgett: I’m not a big follower of Gary Vaynerchuk, Gary V., but I did hear him say something the other day, which is one of the things he looks for for communities that are going to be successful is that the owner or the founder is like engaged like in the conversation or the comments or the replies or whatever it is because if it’s just there and somebody’s just posting and never talking in the comments that’s like a signal that, “Hey, this one might not last or might not grow.” I’ve got one more, I’ll just do the short version with you. One of my processes, I don’t have a super structured process for podcasting, but I know course creators face the problems across the five hats I mentioned. The way I interview is I actually work through those and we’ve covered a lot of those. The only one we didn’t really hit on is the technology piece. Whether it’s like hardware or like a computer program or something you set up in your office to make it productive, what’s one technology piece that helps you as an expert in your own right or like what’s your favorite microphone or any of that stuff, like what has unlocked some value for you tech wise?
David S.: The phone, plain old-fashioned telephone because I can actually have a live conversation with somebody. It’s so underutilized today, people are afraid to pick up the phone and call people.
Chris Badgett: Yeah and I’ll just add to that like if you integrate your Google Calendar and you integrate something like Calendly or Acuity or whatever, you don’t have to spend a lot. You can protect your capacity while automating all the back-and-forth of having to schedule all that when it’s convenient for everybody. That’s a great tip to close out on. David Shriner-Cahn, he’s at smashtheplateau.com. Check out his podcast. Anywhere else people can connect with you on the Internet David?
David S.: I’m pretty active on Linkedin, somewhat on Facebook and Twitter. I would say LinkedIn primarily.
Chris Badgett: Awesome. Well, David, thanks so much for coming on the show. That was a lot of fun. I really appreciate it. We’ll have to do it again sometime.
David S.: Thanks so much Chris.
Chris Badgett: That’s a wrap for this episode of LMScast. I’m your guide, Chris Badgett. I hope you enjoyed the show. This show was brought to you by LifterLMS, the number one tool for creating, selling and protecting engaging online courses to help you get more revenue, freedom and impact in your life. Head on over to lifterlms.com and get the best gear for your course creator journey. Let’s build the most engaging, results getting courses on the Internet.