Episode 122

Hot Education Niches, Organic SEO, and From Blogger to Online Courses with David Payette

In this episode of LMScast Chris Badgett discusses hot education niches, organic SEO, and from blogger to online courses with David Payette. David talks about his journey from being an online blogger with no profit to having a successful blogging business and online courses. He shares tips on finding education niches and about success that he has acquired from his business endeavors.

David used to work at an Apple Store as a technician. He decided to leave due to frustrations that it was difficult to get his ideas implemented in such a large company. He also did not feel like he was able to spend enough time on individual customers’ needs. After that he ventured out into his own web design business. This is where he discovered WordPress and the power that it has. Today David is the owner of Payette Forward, which is a successful site where he blogs about how to solve common problems people have with their iPhones, Macs, and other issues.

David lived in New York when he started his blog. He took a trip to Hawaii to visit a friend and decided it would be great if he could live there. So he found a job, continued to blog, and ultimately ended up living in Hawaii. David’s decision to make his life work in the land of his dreams greatly affected the outcome. Success is a change of thinking and a change of attitude.

Chris and David discuss the power of blogging and the details of monetizing blogs. David shares his tips with building blogs and how blogging at the start panned out for him. They talk about on the importance of organic SEO and quality content. The best marketing is results, as Chris says. And learning how to produce results for your audience is key to answering their questions and solving their problems.

Planning for success but being prepared for failure is one of the most important things you can do if you want to succeed in any business. Part of planning for success is finding ways to both find and optimize your niche. Finding a niche can be difficult, so it is important that you stick to areas you are passionate about. This will help you to stay in the game when times might be tough in your business. It is good to work with other people, because they can help you stay motivated and can help with managing fear.

You can find out more about David at Payette Forward.

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

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Chris: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. My name is Chris Badgett, and I’m joined today with David Payette of PayetteForward.com. And I wanted to interview David and bring him to you all today so that we could look into discovering a hot niche and how to really develop a blog and work with things like organic traffic and monetizing the blog. As an online course creator, if you’re starting, just a subject matter expert and you’re blogging, it can be big on your mind, like, well I need to get some income going here before I take more time and invest more into building my course and taking a risk on launching that.

We’re going to get into David’s journey as a really interesting journey with his blog over at PayetteForward.com, and also David’s going to be asking me some questions about where he’s at as he’s considering launching a membership site and courses. He has some questions that would be of value to you to see what we talk about in our conversation. Thank you for coming on the show, David.

David: Thanks for having me.

Chris: Well tell us a little bit about your story. How did the blog start, what is Payette Forward, and what is this hot niche you discovered?

David: Sure, thanks, and thanks for inviting me to be on the podcast today. Payette Forward, like it sounds, is a play on words. My last name is Payette, and I was working at an Apple Store in upstate New York, in Albany, a few years ago, and I don’t know who suggested the name to me, but somebody there did. My story is one of unexpected success.

About four years ago I was working in the Apple Store here in upstate New York, which is where I am right now, and I was a technician, and I was a family room specialist, not a genius, and I loved certain parts of the job, but in other ways I wasn’t a great fit. At the time, I was becoming frustrated with the way that things were going at work and some of the policy changes and really it wasn’t their fault at all, it was just that I wasn’t, there were some things that I wasn’t happy with.
One of the things was I realized that I wanted to be able to spend more time with each customer, but Apple, because it’s a busy store, they need to be able to get people in and out real quick, one of the things was that I like to come up with creative solutions, and I found myself suggesting things and those suggestions weren’t taken, but it was totally fine. Apple’s doing fine. Apple is great, so the reason I mention that is that, let’s see, in February of 2013 I got to a place where I realized that I was frustrated, I wasn’t a good fit, so I quit, and I started my own business.
Chris: I just want to interject there, for those of you listening, one of the words I use to classify the people that are listening to this type of show, we call them education entrepreneurs, and part of just being an entrepreneur in general is usually you hear a common thread of either you were unemployable or you discover some big opportunity or a combination of both or there’s some kind of driver in you that’s just really driving you to create in the world.
That unemployable quality, which I also share with you, it’s not that you can’t get a job. It’s just that certain things are fundamentally … like if you can’t see your ideas expressed or you’re being forced to minimize the parts that you love about the job or feel like you need to execute on what the promise is, you need engagement, you need to spend a lot of time with the customer, if you don’t get to fulfill that, it is really frustrating. It’s a very common thing for entrepreneurs to have that quality.
David: I think that’s good to hear, too. One of my takeaways was that I realized that even though I was told sometimes that my ideas … even if my ideas weren’t taken to heart or weren’t executed, it didn’t mean that they were bad ideas, and the reason I mentioned my frustration with Apple, is not to knock Apple or anybody at the store at all, because overall it turned out to be a wonderful experience for me, but I couldn’t see it at the time.
In February of 2013, I quit, and I started my own local web design and consulting business. My goal was to work with local web design businesses or local companies to help them increase their presence online, which is what a lot of people do when they start out. I called that Payette Forward, and it had nothing to do with iPhones or anything that I ended up doing later.
As part of starting that business, I figured, okay, I’m going to be selling websites to people, so that’s when I learned how to use WordPress, just really only about three years ago. I discovered I always thought that blogs were stupid, and I thought that WordPress, I thought it was just for blogging, and just like a lot of people have a misconception about how powerful WordPress is. The people that are listening to this podcast know how powerful WordPress is, if they’re there, but I think that probably a lot of people can relate to that preconceived notion and how that changes.
I learned how to use WordPress. I built myself a website because I thought, hey, if I’m going to sell websites to people I should have one of my own so I can put it on a business card. As part of building that website, I made a blog section, and the reason I did it was so that I could tell people when I sold them a website that, hey, I had a blog and you can have one too. I figured, okay, I need to put something in this blog section or else it’s just going to look empty. I wrote one blog post over breakfast one morning in August of 2013. I totally forgot about it.
Chris: I just want to share with you a similar story. Sometime in 2013, I believe, I wrote a blog post about my journey, on my web design blog, about my journey with building my online course when I was using some off the shelf WordPress plugins and themes to put together, and that blog post went viral. All the other posts I wrote, didn’t really get much attention. All of a sudden people started contacting me with questions about WordPress and online courses, learning management systems.
Over the course of these years, I specialize in that, build a software product for that, but it all started with me writing a blog post in 2013 that I didn’t really think much about. It wasn’t an intentional, I’m going to make a viral blog post, but anyways, I’m just noticing a similarity here.
David: Absolutely. That’s amazing. I had taken one WordPress course on Linda.com, and I really learned a lot from that. One of the pieces of advice that they gave as part of the course was for a blog post formula, ask a question, answer it. Make the title of the blog post the question, answer it in the body. I took that formula and I said, okay, what was the most common question that people used to ask me about in the Apple store? It was, why does my iPhone battery die so fast? Because anybody with an iPhone can relate to iPhone battery problems. As an Apple Store employee, I got a lot of experience solving that problem, and I had some answers firsthand.
I wrote that as the title, and I wrote the answer in the body of the article, and as I said, I forgot about it. I never intended to write another blog post, and then six months later, it went viral and five million people read it in a week, and it was one of those ridiculous, life changing experiences. I remember, I was sitting downstairs in my parents house with my dad and prior to that day when it started to take off, I had been getting about 150 hits a day on that article. I thought that was amazing, that 150 people from all over the world were showing up and reading my article.
Chris: That’s pretty decent.
David: It really is cool. It is. It is remarkable that anybody shows up. It’s still amazing to me that people show up and read my articles. I remember sitting with him, we watched the number go up to 26 people at once, and then we watched it go up to 95 people at once. I thought something was broken, and so did he, and then, I think at the peak there were like 13,000 people at one time reading my article. It was crazy, and it was great. I had monetized my website just enough to make enough money to move to Maui and it was a really cool experience, the way that everything happened.
Chris: Let me unpack that piece just a little. How do you monetize a blog? What did you do?
David: Well the easiest way to monetize a blog and the way that I did it at first was with Google AdSense. I think this was before the days of the official Google AdSense plugin. Yeah, it’s just that process of finding an ad network and placing the ad units on the page, and then letting the ad network do the work, in terms of finding the correct advertisers for the people that are on your website.
Chris: For the uninitiated out there, Google AdSense, and correct me if I’m wrong, David, but the version you’re talking about here is you have a blog and then you have these ad units, which are just squares that either go inside the content or around it, like in the sidebar or at the bottom or at the top of the website. The ad network, you put some code in there and the ad network actually displays banners.
David: Fair.
Chris: That’s pretty much it, right?
David: Yeah, it’s an amazing process. Google has two different sides of their business. They have adwords, which is where people buy the advertisements, so a lot of people, when they sign up for hosting plans get that $25, spend 25, get $100 adwords credit. Sometimes those are the ads that end up on my website, so there’s that side, and then there’s the publisher side.
With AdSense, I get paid .68 cents of every dollar that people spend with adwords, so it’s a really cool way that it works and AdSense, is … People come up to me all the time and they’re like, hey, I was on your website. I think it’s awesome you’re advertising the exact same product that I was looking at two days ago.
Chris: That’s called retargeting.
David: Right, exactly. Then other people will say to me, how do you choose the advertisers that show up on your website? How do you get these relationships? I tell them, AdSense does all the work for me.
Chris: For those of you that don’t know, that’s how Google really makes a lot of their money, so it’s not … they don’t make any money off search engine.
David: Right.
Chris: This is how they make the majority of their income.
David: They make something like $17 billion a quarter on advertising revenue. Of that, a lot of it gets paid out to … I think most of it is in the Google search stuff, but a lot of it, like billions of dollars every quarter, gets paid out to publishers like myself. It’s not like there’s just a little money going out right now. It’s an absolute ton of money that Google pays out to publishers for ad space.
Chris: If you’re going to do it, though, you need to have a high traffic site. I see a lot of people with AdSense that … they don’t have the numbers of traffic to really justify the ads or whatever. You can’t always engineer it, and I know you discovered this, all of a sudden it went from 100 to 13,000 people at once, but what other tips do you have for people about, that you had the question and answer format for the blog posts. Then you have just paying attention to your analytics to make sure you’re aware when things take off, but what else for organic traffic? What tips do you have for somebody who’s … courses and stuff aside, just for building a blog and content, how do you get good, organic traffic?
David: If I may plug a course that we’re actually developing right now and we’re going to call it Blog Winners. It’s something that I’ll ask you about too because I think I could be an interesting case study and some of the people that are listening to this course might be interested in, and probably in the same situation of someone who has developed a system that works or something that there are people coming to me all the time and asking me how I do it, and then for myself, realizing that, hey, this is something that is marketable.
Then when confronted with the choice between do I go into high end client work or do I try to put this out and give it away to people in a course format is a decision that for me, at this point, isn’t very hard for me because I love to … I love the independence and the ability to work directly with people and not necessarily high end clients that demand a lot of attention. Although I would make exceptions in certain cases, so just backing up though, to your previous question, I would say just about AdSense, to not wait to turn on AdSense or to apply. Even if you’re only getting five or 10 people on your website a day or not much traffic at all.
There’s really no reason not to apply for AdSense and set up a couple of ads, if you do it correctly, and as long as you don’t go outside the bounds of what Google allows or put too many ad units on a webpage. In that week, I made over $10,000 that week from AdSense. It could have been 50 or 60 if I knew what I know today about how to optimize ad placements and how to use that type of revenue. People should know that if I didn’t have Adsense on my website with my 150 people a day, making less than $1 a day on AdSense, if I had waited I might have missed out on a ton of money, so I think it’s important as one piece to set ourselves up for success in that respect.
Chris: That’s awesome.
David: About organic SEO, that’s my bread and butter right now, and I love talking about SEO. I think that it’s just such a valuable commodity right now of content. It’s a great opportunity. Someone like me who has a brand new website, I didn’t have domain authority. I didn’t have page rank. I didn’t have all these buzz words that people say that you need to be successful at SEO. There are a ton of people right now that are … there are a ton of websites, you Google SEO secrets, and people make promises about what needs to happen to be successful in SEO, and I found that a lot of those things are just entirely untrue or outdated. In some cases, the same things that worked five years ago, like tags or meta tags, they actually hurt websites today.
Probably everyone has heard content is king, and if that’s the truth, then people who are creating courses are in the best position to take advantage of SEO today. I would challenge people to, okay, I’m going to sell a course but every piece of content within that course is SEO material and is article material and can be used to get free traffic to the website and then can be used to sell the course. I think that content marketing is huge, and there are a lot of companies that are doing it well, and a lot of companies that aren’t doing it very well.
Chris: That’s a good point. I mean, the course creator out there has a unique advantage in that they’re pretty experienced at creating content, whereas for some people that’s a struggle, but typically if you’re teaching something you’re usually … no problem cranking out some written content or doing some video content or creating image content. The course creator has a unique advantage.
David: Absolutely. We’ve been able to replicate that success, not just on my website, and the iPhone battery article is no longer the most popular article on my website. I think it’s my iPhone won’t charge, is number one right now, and my headphones won’t work, or something. It’s one of those that is the most popular.
Right now I should mention my numbers. Obviously viral hits are great, but it’s not sustainable. I can’t expect to have that every week, so right now as a baseline, we see about 1.6 million uniques a month, and about 50,000 organic clicks a day from organic SEO and that website.
Chris: Let me ask, just right there, what makes this iPhone usability, common questions such a hot niche?
David: I think that it’s a built-in … I mean, a lot of people have iPhones, so it’s…
Chris: Ubiquity, widespread.
David: Absolutely. It’s ubiquitous. I think that also people who have iPhone problems are naturally going to use those devices to search for answers. Most of my traffic is mobile. Most of the people that show up on my website are people with iPhones because a lot of the problems that we address aren’t my iPhone is broken. It’s really, my headphones won’t work, my iPhone won’t sync to iTunes, and they’re using their phones to search for it.
I think that successful niches are all over the place. There are so many opportunities right now for people to leverage the power of the content that they already have. If you think about it, how much is organic SEO actually worth, right? If I’m paying $2 a click in Google AdWords, and I’m getting 50,000 clicks a day on my website for organic SEO, then I’m getting $100,000 of…
Chris: Worth of traffic.
David: …of traffic a day. If I had to buy it I’d have to pay $100,000 a day for it. That’s the value of organic SEO, and the message is that anybody can rank number one in Google. I can outrank Apple for their own support articles. I can outrank iMore and Mac Rumors and the other guys that have large teams and the big competition. Nowadays the playing field is really quite level, and it all comes down to the quality of content, and Google uses a variety of metrics to track user engagement, and they don’t necessarily publish those things, but it has to do with time on site, bounce rate and all that good stuff.
Chris: That’s incredible. That’s really interesting because I think in this day and age you often hear, it’s all about niches and stuff like that, which is important. I mean, there are micro-niches that you could build a blog or a course around, but there’s also … it’s important to not be scared of the mega-niches like the iPhone, something that’s very ubiquitous, it’s not really a micro-niche, but what you’re doing … the strategy there is to just provide incredible value. If you’re clearly defining the problem and answering the question and solving that pain, compete, like you said, with the big players in the space, like Mac Rumors or even Apple itself, which is awesome.
Whereas in a micro-niche, it’s more about showing up and just doing the work, whatever, but you can … I don’t know. I see people get into this all or nothing thinking, like I have to go to the big giant hungry market or I have to go to this tiny, obscure micro-niche, and then I’ll just be a big fish in a small pond there.
David: I think it’s important to go where some people are, and there are various tools that are out there to … and that’s the SEO game. Organic SEO is, okay, where are people searching, what are people searching for and the what hasn’t already been written? It’s not something that I’m afraid of. I’m not afraid to go after what’s already been written if I have unique content that isn’t on other people’s websites. A lot of the people that are listening to this podcast are people who have unique insight into the topics that they’re selling courses about.
I could write an article about, why are my eyes so dry? Which is a very common Google search, and it’s not going to do well because even if I can put it together in all the right ways, I’m going to be pulling information from other websites, and I’m not going to be giving anything really unique.
If I were to go to an ophthalmologist and talk to them about that problem they would have all of these unique insights that they could give me, and people would respond to that, and that would rank well on Google. I’ve done that before, so people who are listening to this might think, okay, this guy got lucky in one niche, and he’s talking like he knows everything.
If you Google, why are there so many mosquitoes in my yard, I’m number one for that because I interviewed a guy that knows that stuff, and I put it on a different domain so it’s not links … it’s actually called Pay it Back. I’m glad I separated the two, but we’ve been able to duplicate the success and rank on the first page and number one across a variety of topics.
Chris: That’s awesome. I just want to highlight that point. We talk a lot about, in this podcast, the four requirements for building a successful platform. One of them is expertise. One of them is instructional design. The third is the right online course delivery system, and the fourth is community. But the first one there, the expertise has to be there, and the fact that you can repeat something, especially in a totally unrelated niche is definitely a clear signal of expertise.
Perhaps there was some luck involved, everybody has good and bad luck, but when you start repeating things, you may not always win, but if you can repeat success, then it starts to become a lot more solid.
David: Absolutely. With regard to giving themselves the opportunities to success, I’m sure that you talked about this, but I think it’s very important for people to set themselves up technically, and we’re going to talk a lot about how this all works in the course that we’re going to put out, but setting ourselves … If I hadn’t set myself up technically for success, I was on a $9 a month net firm server, which was the company that … I was piggy backing off of my mom’s hosting plan for this website.
Chris: Did your site go down? Did your site go down when you got out?
David: Because I … one of the miraculous things that happened between the August and six months later when it went viral in February of 2014, was that I took a whole bunch of technical steps to make my site more robust and faster that I just did out of a desire to solve the, why does my WordPress site take eight seconds to load problem.
Chris: Right.
David: Because I thought … I did some reading and I know eight seconds, I found webpagetest.org, I found GT Metrics. I found some tools that I could use, and I saw how bad my website was, so I started to learn how cache and plugins use, so I learned how W3 Total Cache works, which is great. Then I also found out about Cloudflare, and even though I am absolutely not paid or endorsed by Cloudflare, no, I have no horse in the race, but I love Cloudflare because if it wasn’t for that, and it wasn’t for the caching, my website would have gone down.
WordPress just came out as being one of the slowest CMS’ out there, we’re talking about that, now it’s a problem at work camp, but if it wasn’t for Cloudflare my site would have gone down pretty quickly. A lot of the people that would have seen it would have gotten a white screen, and it would never have gone viral. I would have never made the $10,000, and I would have never gone to Maui, and I wouldn’t be having this conversation with you today.
Chris: Right.
David: I wonder how many smaller people’s websites start to go viral and then the server dies.
Chris: Or they get that big link from a high page rank site and all of a sudden, boom, site gets crushed.
David: Right, and then it passes. For me, it was Facebook. What happened was Facebook. Somebody shared it in Texas and that’s pretty much all I know. There’s somebody out there that changed my life in a very significant way. I don’t know who they are, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to thank them, but it happened. They shared it, more people shared it, and then Google Analytics, I saw it just bubbled out all over the whole country and then the world. It’s fun to watch when things do go viral.
Chris: Yeah, I’ve heard what you’re describing there described as, you should build the six lane highway even though you’re just a small thing, you should be ready. You should plan on success. I mean, you don’t want to spend more than you have in hopes that you’ll be successful, but you definitely want to plan as if things might actually work.
David: Yeah, I mean, why not? Also, even if it, at a smaller level, setting ourselves up for success is important because it’s the difference between a two second and eight second page load. Even if there’s only two people on your website, we’re pressing slow out of the box and then when we pile on plugins and I’m sure LMS’, it’s a lot of work to doing the backup. There’s just no way around having a dynamic website, so setting ourselves up for success is important no matter how many people there are.
Chris: Yeah, and just on a small side tangent, one of my recent areas of interest is this whole concept of … I never really believed it, the thing that people are … fear of success, or whatever. As somebody who’s worked with a lot of clients, customers, launched my own projects, I’ve recognized in myself and others that fear of success where right before launch is imminent of the new thing or whatever it is, there’s always this tendency to creep into delay, sabotage, slow down. Even with people that are already successful. I just find it fascinating.
Even that little thing about, just not even thinking about, well what if this works out wildly successful beyond my dreams? A lot of people don’t even entertain that thought, and like you said, they might miss, I think that’s actually stemming from a place of fear of success. They might miss that opportunity that their site gets crushed because they’re not really ready for traffic.
David: That’s absolutely the case. In my case, my success was really preceded by a change of thinking and a change of attitude around what was possible for me in my life. I would never have left Apple if I didn’t have this inner knowing that everything was going to be okay regardless of how things turned out. I think that fear has definitely crept into my life at certain times about success, and it still does from time to time, and I try to surround myself with people who help me to catch me when I start to go into those delays or self doubt or self sabotage.
I think there’s a balance that happens between being realistic about, okay, this isn’t going to work out. For instance, we went to Cabo Crest together, and I went in with an idea that we were going to build a course around … and I think we actually talked about it the first night briefly about iPhones, and I was going to build out this whole course, and there was going to be a section about interacting between myself and the people.
Bryan Clark and I had a conversation the first night. He’s like, Dave that’s not going to work. I was like, why? He’s just like, there is no way that people are going to pay money to do … now he talks about it with a couple of other people. They’re like, Dave, that is not going to work. In that case, I think it would have been foolish for me to continue to walk down that path, having gotten advice from people that were successful.
But with regard to fear and moving forward and fear of success, I think it’s definitely a challenge for all of us at any level to imagine … because my mind always goes to what’s the worst thing that’s going to happen to me, and then I think it’s going to happen.
Chris: Right.
David: I can’t tell you how many times the last couple of years since I’ve been doing this that I thought, this is it. It’s all going to fall apart now, maybe it’s a fear that people will think I’m a phony, or I don’t know. Sure enough, it’s never happened, so I just have developed this … I think it’s something that comes with experience. I know that you have it too, a resilience around not getting into that Chicken Little mode, the sky is falling. I don’t know exactly how everything’s going to play out, but I do know that everything’s going to be okay. If that makes sense.
Chris: It does. I think that’s just part of the entrepreneur’s journey. It has to do with risk tolerance, and it also has to do with hedging the down side, and sometimes there’s just classic grandmotherly advice where you plan for the worst but hope for the best. That’s really good advice.
That’s awesome. Let’s talk a little bit more about transitioning to … you’re creating a course and where does that … let’s start with where does that come from, and why not just keep writing blog posts and trying to monetize the blog? How are you shifting the courses, or rather why are you adding courses into the mix?
David: Right, and that’s what it is. It’s an adding, and it’s an expansion. Up until about six months ago I had done everything myself with the website, and I was answering emails and running the server and writing new material and all the different hats that I had to wear. It was becoming overwhelming. Fortunately I was able to get to a place where I was making enough revenue, I had continued to use AdSense but also added some affiliate networking to my website in areas that are very relevant to my users. Then I was … I lost my train of thought, where was I going with that?
Chris: Adding courses. When did those come into the diversification mix?
David: Right. I was able to hire people, that’s where I was going, over the summer, and we were able to start to scale the website because I got to a place where I realized that if I were to … if I could write more iPhone articles forever and ever, I’m making some money. I’m making more than enough to travel and live a life that it was beyond my wildest dreams a couple of years ago, and it was like what you were saying.
I hired a couple of guys. We started to scale the website. We’re doing well. But all throughout this time, and then at Cabo Crest people come up to me and they say, hey, how do you do what you do? A lot of people would come up to me all the time, just friends, and they said, hey, I know I can do what you’re doing. I know that I can start a blog. I have all this thing. I just need a couple of tips, how do I get started?
Then I would start to explain to them the beginnings of the process, and they’d be like, that’s not for me. It’s deceptively simple. It looks simple on the outside, but running a successful website and building and LMS, and building courses online, the people that are listening to this know how difficult it is to do that and be an entrepreneur, and stay sane, and do all those things.
What I wanted to do was start to be able to scale Payette Forward and bring on other people, and that’s what we’re doing, but also start to be able to teach people how to do what I do. Because I’m in an iPhone niche, which is highly competitive, and I was able to do this. These niches are all over the Internet, and the one thing that I find most people don’t realize is that they’re an expert in a topic. Most people that I talk to are an expert in a specific field of interest, even though they don’t think they are. I can start to ask them things like what’s the most common question that you get on a daily basis? They’re able to … from customers.
People don’t necessarily realize how valuable their knowledge is, or it can be from a hobby or it could be from … my friend with the mosquitoes thing, he didn’t think that knowing to spray oil in the leaves of this specific plant was anything special at all, but I had never heard of that and obviously the people that read that article hadn’t either, because that’s what they find valuable.
I wanted to be able to sell a course that teaches people how to do what I do, but also how to live the life that I’m able to live today, which is really ridiculously good.
Chris: That’s awesome. I just want to put a caveat on that point. This happens to me too where people will look at something, for example, recently I just settled in Maine, but before that I was on the road for eight months with my family, living out of the RV, going to national parks, but I was still working from the road. It’s not easy, and it was four years of hard work to make that happen, and even before that, a decade of experience developing as a manager, as a leader and things like that. Discipline, the ability to work on the road.
What may appear … if you look at the lifestyle, you’re talking about the stable income, the flexibility, the freedom, time, income and mobility and those things, and if somebody’s … there’s people who are like, okay, I want to do that overnight too. Those aren’t the people you want. If somebody wants to learn about how to build a web agency, or launch a WordPress software product, that may sound sexy, but I know it’s a small percentage of people that if I was going to train, there’s the right people that are going to do the work and ready to move forward.
But I think it’s fascinating, and I think as online course creators we go through this sometimes where we may fear or actually attract people that think it’s going to be easy or whatnot. Like you’re saying, when you start repeating things again and again and consistently stay in business and keep things going, go to a different niche, that’s always a sign of, oh, there’s something to learn there.
I’m interested in your course because I know what it takes to get to the point, to grow a team, the amount of risk you took when you walked away from the job to stand behind your values and things like that. Anyways, just keep going.
David: Sure. If I could back up to what happened when it went viral, because it went viral. I made, let’s say $10,000 that month. I went to visit a friend on Hawaii, and I’m a guy that comes from a very middle class background. I never thought of myself as a person that was going to be able to go to Hawaii. That was farfetched retirement type stuff for me. I don’t come from a family with a lot of money, so this is not an opportunity that’s reserved for the elite. It’s really open to everyone.
I went to visit a friend on Maui for four weeks, and I just never came back because I had my local consulting thing going on here a little bit, but it really wasn’t taking off that much. Then I got to Maui, and I looked around, and I was like, hey, this place is really nice. I grew up in upstate New York so it was very different. I stayed with a friend for four weeks and my traffic on my website went back down again. I forget how much, I was getting a few thousand people. I went from making $10,000 that first month to making somewhere between $700 and $800 the next month.
That was when I was like, all right, I can go back and I can make the web consulting thing work and try to do that, or I can just stick it out and see what happens. I ended up meeting some people who just happened to need an SEO guy, and then they offered me a place to stay in return for SEO work, which was just like this great experience that happened. That didn’t quite work out, but then the thing went viral again, and in that short amount of time a million people read it that month, and I was able to make something like $22,000 that month. I was able to live off that for a little while.
It took me, I’d say, less than a year to get up to, without viral hits, to get up to a baseline of revenue where I was making $2500, $3000 a month, which was enough for me as a single guy to live on. I wasn’t even really writing that many articles at the time. I probably had about 30 articles on my website that was doing that and paying the bills. I was actually working on other projects.
Not to get too far off track, but just to demonstrate that the reason I become overwhelmed was because I really wanted to expand and I really could have just chilled on Maui for a very long time, and I could be there today, but I really just have this … and I think it’s part of what got me to where I am today and wanting to sell the course, is this desire to continue to learn, to continue to grow. If there’s something that I don’t know how to do, as an entrepreneur I think that I want to naturally learn how to do that.
Chris: That’s awesome.
David: With regard to my online course that I want to sell, I guess I would have some questions for you too, if I may.
Chris: Yeah, absolutely. What’s on your mind? Before you ask, I just want to highlight that point that … and I’ve experienced this too where you go through dips along the way. You might have a success, but it’s never like this straight line or this hockey stick with no dips or whatever, so the fact that you … it’s just a common trend I see as people. They have their ups and downs and they stick with it.
David: My success has been like the stock market. It’s like this. The end is good, is what I say and there have been months that have been great and months that … the thing is, with organic SEO traffic, and the opportunity here is not to have viral blog posts. I’m not selling a course about … I don’t want to sell a course about how to write viral blog posts that make a lot of money really fast. I can show people how to build a foundation of revenue and then give themselves the opportunity to have those viral hits on top of that.
It comes down to a lot of the time picking content that’s evergreen, the content that people are going to be searching for, and it doesn’t have to last forever. My iPhone … iPhones aren’t necessarily evergreen content in the traditional sense. When  the iOS comes out every year I’d rewrite my battery article, but there aren’t a lot of things that need to change. I think that that foundation is possible, and that’s what I try to build the course around, is showing people how to change their lives significantly by setting aside their concept of the path that life has to take and getting more into, what could my life be like if I had the opportunity to make one, two, three, four, five thousand dollars a month passively. I don’t really love that word, but passively have that money show up, and then I can do whatever I want to.
When I wake up today, and a lot of people that are listening to your podcast and a lot of people in our world, when we wake up we don’t have to go to work. If I want to take the day off … one of the things I was thinking about was if somebody came to me today and said, I have this incredible life changing opportunity for you. All you need to do is pack your bags and head out the door and we’re going to Asia for three months. I could say yes to that opportunity, and I think that it’s important for people to be able to say yes to that opportunity or to put themselves in the position to be able to say yes to opportunities like that.
What you did with … even though it is hard work to do stuff on the road, definitely. But what you did with traveling with your family and giving them that experience is so amazing to me. I mean, how many kids get to grow up in national parks? It’s wonderful.
Chris: That’s the thing that, for me, I’m motivated by. Money’s one of the last things. It’s the ability to have location freedom and lifestyle freedom, those are really the top motivators for me. Of course, I love making products and adding value and being an entrepreneur, but my biggest thing is time with kids and experiences. That’s what I value most.
David: Where I am today is I make more than enough for myself to live on and to have a couple of employees, and I’m very fortunate to be there. However, there are people that are getting a small percentage of the traffic that I do on my website that make more money than I do. Part of my struggle as a publisher has been, how can I monetize my content, because it’s difficult. Generating enough money just from ad revenue, like AdSense is difficult, so by adding in some affiliate products I was able to bump it up.
If something’s relevant to my niche, people click through and buy hundreds of iPhone cables every month from my iPhone won’t charge article. I said hey, maybe your cable’s broken. If it’s not … if it’s broken, check out this six foot cable that I use. It’s on Amazon.com. I make something like .40 cents per cable that’s sold, but the way that Amazon works is you make a percentage of everything that person buys for the next 24 hours.
Chris: Oh wow.
David: Sometimes I get lucky and make 50 bucks if somebody buys a TV. I have my main … the way my website is right now is I have my main source of income, which is advertising revenue, and then I get a bunch of little checks from other places which also make up a significant portion of my income.
Chris: Well diversification is awesome, and I will say that I’ve often … I know a little bit about SEO. I don’t have as much experience as you but I know, just in talking to people and clients coming to me, everybody is … well not everybody, but there’s a significant amount of people who are hungry for ethical, experience based, repeatable SEO tactics and services, or whatever.
There’s a huge demand, and a lot of people have had a bad experience with poor SEO information or services that didn’t work out as promised or as expected, or whatever. I just know that if you can crack that and add value and add a reasonable offer, in terms of … you’re not promising the world but definitely like, okay, if you do this and if these variables line up correctly, you could expect this to happen. The market’s hungry for that sort of thing.
David: Yeah, absolutely. I will say that everything that I teach and everything that I practice is 100% white hat. I don’t do any of the tricks because Google is filled with rooms full of the smartest people in the world that are writing ways to take down those tricks, and it’s more than that.
I’ve seen websites, and I know people whose websites have been successful for a very short amount of time and then they fall right off the map. Their business goes from life sustaining to zero because they used a trick to get there, and they didn’t build their website on a foundation of good content and good technical stuff and good SEO.
For someone like myself, as long as my information is valuable and my website is optimized and I’m writing about the right things in the right way, then my website is going to continue to be successful, and I don’t believe in cheating, and I don’t believe that anyone has to cheat to be successful at SEO. If anybody is thinking about hiring somebody to generate a bunch of false backlinks or anything that people do to try to subvert Google, I would absolutely recommend against it because even if you get the short term success you can fall off the face of the map.
Then it’s like, all right, I need to get a new domain name and start from scratch because it’s really difficult to get those manual actions removed. I have friends who have done that.
Chris: If you think you’re gaming the system, you probably are. So avoid that.
David: Right. Should I do this? Probably not.
Chris: What questions are on your mind about moving into the online course space, or how can we help you?
David: Sure. Yeah, well, I think that one of the things that we talked about before we spun up the podcast was, you mentioned that you have some clients that … or you’ve seen some people that use your software that make $2000 a month, I think you said.
Chris: A year.
David: Oh, $2000 a year. Then other people that are using your software make $250,000 a year. I wanted to ask you, well what, in your experience, is the difference between those two courses?
Chris: Well I think one thing … there’s a lot of factors, but one thing that we share in common is the right niche. It’s a hot niche. That’s one thing. Another thing that I find makes a difference between okay success and awesome success is where there’s a requirement or some kind of governing body or board that has certified some course for something. If it’s like some kind of continuing education requirement that can be taken online and its endorsed by some board that says which programs can be used for continuing ed.
Whatever your industry is, if you can find continuing education requirement boards and you can serve that market, and they have … they or some publishing body has advertising opportunities to shortcut getting the right kind of traffic, those things can really take off.
David: That’s a great idea.
Chris: The other thing is people who don’t do it alone tend to be a lot more successful. Like I mentioned before, those four areas of expertise, instructional design or packaging the lessons and course progression, the system you use to deliver it and then also having a community around it or building that community. It’s very difficult for one person to do all four of those jobs. Having some help is definitely one of the things where success comes from.
The other is, I would say, it’s all about the content, like you mentioned content is king, which is a cliché thing we hear but the most successful courses that I’ve seen, it actually rarely has little, anything to do with how nice the design of the website is. It’s more about the content.
I guess another one would just be, the best marketing is a great course, that actually gets results. If you’re really clear in your offer and yeah, you got to fight and tooth and claw for your first 10 to 100 students, but if they start getting the results you promise, that’s the best marketing there is. Then that’s when things can really take off. You don’t have to try that hard to market if you have all these success stories spilling out of your program.
It’s important that whatever that success is, is something that people are really passionate about, like weight loss or healing from depression or even technology niches though, like drones, you know all the flying drones and cameras and all that stuff now? That’s a hot niche. If I had some drone experience, I might make a course about that, because that thing is going up and to the right like crazy.
David: You’re right.
Chris: I don’t know. I could keep going. I mean, what…
David: That’s all great advice, and I feel fortunate to be in one of those hot niches. I think, like I had mentioned before, we were going to spin up a course about how to use your iPhone, and I think there’s a a lot of valuable information there and that’s something that I’m interested in. I’m really interested in helping people, especially who may be new to technology, get to know how to use it better and become more … because technology is such a great tool to connect people.
However, when I started to look at who my ideal client is, and started to also build out a value letter or a sales funnel dump, that course specifically, I saw where it was going to have to go, and I realized for myself that I don’t want to be there. The target market for that aren’t necessarily the people that I want to work with. It’s not something that I would want to get up on stage and really talk about, how to use your iPhone better, but when I can get behind something like SEO, that I’m really passionate about, and something that I know works for people and I’ve seen change people’s lives that that is something that I could really write about and find that target client.
Chris: I think that’s really important. Some people call that the on-stage test. If you couldn’t see yourself on stage happily and excitedly talking about the subject matter, maybe you’re just going after it because it’s a hot niche or there might be some money there. Those are the wrong reasons, and those aren’t going to help you when you go through the dips of, okay, I had a great month, now I don’t have a great month. You got to be passionate about this thing.
David: We’re going to structure our course in a higher price point. We’re going to try to get people in and give them a preview of what everything is about and give away some valuable information. But then I also go for a higher price point so that we can individually work with people, because that’s what I love to do. I love to be able to work with people directly and help them to get started, because that’s what I love to do. It is definitely a smaller sub-section of people that we’re going to be going after, of people that are willing to invest some time into it and that are willing to … that aren’t looking for a get rich quick scheme, because I think that anybody that promises a get rich quick SEO scheme is probably making a false promise.
Chris: I’ll say that’s another thing I see with the successful courses is they … a high price point, and it’s usually achieved in one of two ways, one way is there’s a bunch of small courses. SEO’s a big topic, I mean you could come up with 10 different courses that focus on a specific aspect, and then you have a membership option where you get all the courses for a bigger but reduced price than buying them individually a la carte.
When you have that $500 plus high ticket course, that’s definitely a common trend that I see with successful courses, so that’s one way to bundle a bunch of small courses. The other one I see is that you just have one course, but it’s just that good. If you go through it, if the people go through it and they do the work they 100% of the time get the result. Those kind of courses that are truly life changing or whatever, can also take off, and the way that I see people with one course justify a high price, usually involves some kind of live element, but you can still do it at scale, for example, if you have a monthly recurring revenue model you’re like, well how do I justify whatever, $100 a month indefinitely? Well, you have to add recurring value.
The way people do that, at least once a month they have a live office hour where people can come and ask questions in an open ended, just like this, you’re using a service called Zoom to have a call right now. There could be 20 other people in here that could be stopping by to ask custom questions. Oh, and the other one is to do a monthly webinar where, either by yourself or with another expert, you go over a relevant topic, and then open it up to Q&A at the end. That’s another way people get to, and justify the high price or the ongoing recurring value.
David: That’s so great. I’m going to take your advice directly for those things, because that’s right about where our price point’s going to be and the course is designed to be able to be burned through right away. Part of, something in my niche is that we’re going to have to be changing a lot of things and updating as time goes on because SEO has changed significantly since I started to now. There are things like accelerated mobile pages, things like the featured snippet POCS that have recently been introduced to mix things up and HTTPS and all these other things that continue to change.
That’s a really great point, and I’m going to take your advice on that and add either a webinar or the … we had definitely considered doing some office hours in terms of being able to stop in and ask questions, because I really do want to work directly with people and not just sell some products.
Chris: That creates a feedback loop because when you actually hear the questions, you’re like, oh, maybe I need to make lesson two over here a little more clear.
David: Definitely.
Chris: Or I need to add to it. Another thing, in a recent LMScast episode we talked with Shawn Hesketh of WP101.
David: Great, yeah.
Chris: One of the things Shawn does really well is he updates his course with WordPress changes, just like you’re saying technology changes. SEO changes over time, and if you’re that course creator that keeps up with the time instead of, oh this was a classic two years ago and nothing changes, you’re not really sending the message of, this is the latest, cutting edge stuff. Now there are some evergreen topics like certain health or parenting things that never really change, but if we’re going to be talking about technology, there’s definitely a lot of value in keeping it updated with Google releases and SEO best practices that evolve over time.
David: Especially as we get going we’re going to be wanting to spend extra time with people to help them get going, so that they see the results that we know they can and also so we can learn more about how to structure a course in a more effective way. One of my questions would be what’s the best way to go about getting some of your very first customers for a course?
I’m fortunate because I have a website that gets a lot of traffic. I can put some popups on there or use that as a promotional tool, but also if someone, let’s say they didn’t have a website, how might they go about getting a very first few customers?
Chris: That’s a great question. You have to tooth and claw. You have to be resourceful, and one of the things that we say, which is counterintuitive because we make a learning management system software, is to not launch an online course in the way you’re thinking first. The first thing you do is you just need to find three people and you do it all through monthly calls with Skype or GoToMeeting or something like that, and everything is completely manual. You’re teaching live. You’re catching feedback live. It’s really your pilot program, and from these three people you can then, okay, now I’m going to take a step back. I’m going to record my video lessons. This worked. That worked, so you have your first more passively online course came out of that live pilot run with three people.
Now getting three people or five people or 10 people to start, which you can do at a higher price point, especially if they have a lot of direct access to you as the expert, you just got to do it, the three methods, which is inbound, outbound and relationships. Everybody has their own unique mix, inbound meaning content marketing. If you already have a successful blog, like you’re saying, with a popup or whatever you can do that. You can guest post. You can create really SEO targeted content.
Outbound thing, which I highly recommend, most people hate it. They think cold calls, or cold emails, and they want to go throw up or something like that, but if you are very clear about your offer and the type of person you want to work with, you can typically find where those people hang out. One of the best ways to do that right now is in a Facebook group. There’s so many really interesting niche Facebook groups out there that you can become a part of, add value, and start finding, potentially pitch some people inside there about your offer.
Then leveraging relationships is a big one, so if you know somebody who already has your customer or your ideal customer, especially if you’re in a non-competitive … your offer is totally non-competitive with theirs, it’s a no-brainer to work with somebody. They look good by bringing you in and adding this awesome option to their customer, and the customer’s happy because you’re there to provide them with the course.
It’s really a struggle though. The startup is the hardest part, but you were there with your blog where you had just a blank WordPress site with no traffic. I started with an email list of one with myself on it, and you have to start and leverage the content, the relationships or the willingness to go out into the world whether that’s in person, email or on the phone, and talk to people, your ideal people to get the first group.
David: Absolutely. That’s super helpful. The Facebook groups is a wonderful suggestion, to find people that are going to be receptive. We are excited to get going and like we talked about with SEO, I’m not afraid of going after high competition articles, even on brand new domains that don’t have any authority or any of these things that you’re supposed to have to be successful at SEO.
What we’ll do is we’ll take some parts of our course and we’ll write articles that give that information away and make it very valuable, and then demonstrate through that process that hey, there’s this whole other thing that they can get into that will teach them how to use this information more effectively. Companies like … the one company that I always like to think of is Digital Ocean, which is my hosting provider, so I’ll just mention, I pay $20 a month to host my website start to finish.
I love Digital Ocean because in their content marketing, because the way that I found them was I Googled something about a Linux circular command or something, and then they showed up. Then I Googled something else and then they showed up, and eventually you end up on this great website that’s full of great, helpful content and you notice, hey, these people are actually not just a content provider. They actually have this whole other component which is their products, their cloud hosting and I think that applies across the board to anybody with a product, especially if they have a database full of help articles, or they have support questions, or anything like that. A lot of that stuff can be repurposed fairly easily to become a great inbound SEO target.
Chris: When I’m hearing you talk about this, one of the most powerful things in marketing and sales and getting your first customers, which we can relate on here is, for example the cell LifterLMS, our WordPress learning management system solution, the number one place people are before they buy LifterLMS, which is free to get started, or download the free LifterLMS to get started, is our demo. Basically it’s meta, but they’re using … they’re taking our course about how to build a course, and then they buy the product.
Whereas for you, I would also recommend the same thing. Use your SEO and your content marketing strategy of take that lesson in content and then hype it, take pieces of it out, push it through the blog, and then basically what better sales tool than to talk about your journey, watch me build a course from scratch, from zero.
David: That’s really interesting, and yeah, that’s something that … we’re going to be doing that anyway, so why not bring it within the context of the course because, yeah, inbound SEO, and then it’s like, okay, hey, this worked on you. Maybe it will work on others.
Chris: People love that. People do that in the Internet marketing niche all the time where they’re explaining how they sold you and got you on their email list and stuff like that. It’s cool, because you can … if people have a level of self-awareness they can take a step back and analyze their experiences with all that. It’s meta, but it definitely works in some niches.
David: What I’ll say is one of the hardest parts for me about starting with this community of actually selling courses is the fear that I don’t know enough about the topic, and what I’ve seen, what actually happened for me was I saw some people selling courses, especially with how to make money online, topics like that make me think scam, scam, scam right off the bat. I saw other people selling courses. Part of what was … I saw them making a lot of money selling courses that were full of information that may or may not have been accurate or valuable.
I’m not interested in being perceived that way or in selling anything that is remotely like a scam, and so I wonder if you have any advice for people who may be wondering whether their information is valuable enough to sell as a course. How do you know when you’re ready to step up to the plate and really put your content out there?
Chris: That’s a great question. The first thing I would say is to go check out the LMSCast episode with Marcus Couch on imposture syndrome, because we talk a lot about that issue. The reality is, I think the best explanation I’ve heard of that and that I’ve seen in practice is on a scale of one to 10, you may be a six. You’re struggling with the fact that you’re not a 10. How can I possibly teach somebody else?
The reality is there’s a lot of ones and twos and threes and even fours and fives out there that could benefit from your level six knowledge, so as long as you’re just a couple of steps ahead, that’s step one. Step two is the ability to effectively communicate and teach. Step three is to stay with it and focus on continuous improvement and having a feedback loop and commit to making your course better over time and look at the launch of your course the first time as the beginning, not the end.
There’s a journey through it in that way, and it’s just that whole beginner’s mind zen thing where we often don’t celebrate our successes. We focus on our weaknesses or we talk to other people as if they’re a reflection of ourselves but really they may not … they haven’t had all the experiences we’ve had or the domain expertise in the specific topic. If the desire is there and if they are, in fact, at level two and you’re at level six, that’s really all you need.
David: Absolutely. That’s a great point. It took me awhile to get to come to that realization, and it took practice too, also I find myself teaching these techniques to people automatically and that also got a lot of confirmation from people who put them into use and had success, or put them into use and then asked me to consult with them. It took a little while for me to get that confidence around this to realize that it’s a difficult thing to make promises about. It’s a difficult thing to say, I promise you that if you follow these instructions that you’re going to rank in SEO.
I can say that it’s worked for me every time. I can say that it’s worked for my friends every time that they’ve followed the instructions, but it’s something that … it’s like I don’t have direct control over what every person that buys the course is going to do, so I think there’s a certain amount of detachment that I have to have about the result and just do the best job that I can about putting the best information out there.
Chris: That’s a really good point, and one of the things we talk about sometimes on this podcast is what I call the dirty little secret of membership sites which is that, I think Udemy published a statistic that 10% of the people who bought courses there actually finish the course. If you keep that in mind, that’s why at LifterLMS we really focus on the whole concept of engagement but your course should be so awesome that not finishing it is not even really on the table. If you get somebody in there, and you get them some good results right away or as soon as possible so that the motivation is strong, then I guess that’s my advice, is focus on making your course … having people be successful is almost a foregone conclusion as long as they do the work.
However, the best we can ever do is share our experience, and the world is a dynamic, changing place, so the best place to know for certain what’s going to happen is just for people to do it in the real world. You can’t be responsible for that, so you do have to let go of … reality is the ultimate judge, and your job is, you’re really just a guide out there who has a lot of experience who’s helping people achieve the best possible outcome as quickly as possible. The terrain is uncertain and that sort of thing.
David: Absolutely.
Chris: Excellent. Well, if people want to find out more about you, David, Payette Forward is P-A-Y-E-T-T-E Forward.com. I’m imagining people can go there. Is there anywhere else you want to send people who are interested in finding out more about you and possibly your course?
David: Well, I think that at this point, Blog Winners is still being spun up, and it’s going to be BlogWinners.com and right now there’s a couple of demo pages, so I’m going to have to install a coming soon plugin, now that I talked about it. I think that the Facebook group is a thing to check out, so if you Google … if you want to find me it’s hard to type in PayetteForward.com. Type in something like my iPhone won’t charge, why does my iPhone battery die, or my iPhone won’t vibrate, my iPhone won’t ring, or any of those things and we’re right at the top. That’s the easiest way to find me.
Chris: Look at that, David he’s showing you right there. He’s showing his material by showing how he ranks for what you would think would be impossible to rank for.
David: That’s the thing. I couldn’t teach it if I wasn’t actually living it.
Chris: Exactly.
David: I can do it, but also the Facebook group. If you Google iPhone help or Payette Forward, or Google. If you search for iPhone help or Payette Forward within Facebook you’ll find our Facebook group. I think we’ve got 2400 people. We ask questions and we interact about iPhone related problems, if that’s something that they’re interested in. Otherwise, they can shoot me an email on Payette Forward, and I’m happy to hear from everybody.
Chris: Awesome. Well thank you for coming on the show, David. We’ll have to do it again some time.
David: Thank you so much, Chris. It was great.

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