Learn how to choose the right course to build or membership site topic to focus on with Ryan Levesque. In this episode Chris and Ryan break down how to avoid choosing the wrong market to build your course or membership site in, and Ryan shares his experience building a learning-based business around orchids, including what motivated him to enter the space which he knew very little about.
Ryan is now the author of two books. Chris and Ryan discuss the business strategies and ideas expressed in Ryan’s new book Choose. In his book, Ryan explores finding the right business to start, and what questions lay the groundwork for a successful company. In this episode, he shares an introductory layout of those topics and how they apply to course creators.
Chris also shares his first business in the online course creation space with Organic Life Guru. The base for that business at the time was Chris digitizing the knowledge of experts in permaculture and sharing their knowledge with people around the world through online courses.
Chris and Ryan both started out in the organic life or plant space in online business. Ryan’s first venture in online business was a product-based company built around teaching people how to sell orchids. Detaching yourself from the outcome of your business is something Ryan endorses as a strategy to help you stay focused on using your business as a vehicle to learn the skills you need to be effective in your field.
By entering a space to which Ryan knew next to nothing about, he was able to channel the beginner’s mindset and address issues that experts are blind to. Ryan shares the process he and his wife went through to create their first course, and which aspects of the five hats of course creation they hired out.
One huge mistake Ryan sees people make with their membership sites or online courses is that they will invest a lot of time in creating it and then start selling to mostly find that people don’t end up purchasing their products. Ryan utilizes preselling to validate an idea for a course. By preselling and forming the content of your course as people go through it, you are able to adapt to questions they have and best address the student experience.
Ryan’s new book Choose is available, and as a special offer for listening to this LMScast you have the chance to grab a copy of that for free along with the audio book and over $200 in free bonus material. Check it out here: ChooseTheBook.com/LMScast.
At LifterLMS.com you can learn more about new developments and how you can use LifterLMS to build online courses and membership sites. If you like this episode of LMScast, you can browse more episodes here. Subscribe to our newsletter for updates, developments, and future episodes of LMScast. Thank you for joining us!
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 Lifter LMS. Enjoy the show.
Chris Badgett: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. Today we’re joined by a special guest, Ryan Levesque. He’s the author of a new book called Choose. You may have read his past book called Ask. Ryan is a membership site builder; he’s an entrepreneur; he’s a marketer. He’s got a strategic mind which we’re really going to dig in today. Ryan, thanks for coming on the show.
Ryan Levesque: Chris, it’s awesome to be here and I’m excited to dive right in.
Chris Badgett: Cool. Well, I have been listening to you a lot on YouTube and on the podcast wave. So I’m going to make this one a little different, and I’m not going to ask you the same stuff.
Ryan Levesque: All right. Let’s do it. I love it. When you do a book launch you have to do this big media tour and you get tired of hearing yourself answer the same questions over and over again. So, I love mixing it up. Let’s do it.
Chris Badgett: So, one of the reasons I really connect with you, I’ve recently learned we’re both, we’re probably about the same age. We’ve got kids at home. The earlier days of figuring out online business were… there’s a learning curve there and it’s stressful at times. And you started getting into the orchid care information product. My very first online course platform was in the organic gardening and permaculture niche and I started partnering with experts all over the world.
Chris Badgett: Eventually it had me flying to different countries filming these workshops in the jungle of Costa Rica and stuff like that. And I’m just like… I’m just bringing basic internet marketing to what’s going on out here, filming it and digitizing it.
Chris Badgett: And that’s really where my journey began as a course creator. But you were also in plants, orchids, and helping them not die, helping people learn about orchids is, just like permaculture, there’s a lot of irrational passion there. Tell us about it. Tell us about the… what it’s like working with in the gardening niche.
Ryan Levesque: It’s interesting. It’s not a space I ever dreamed that I would get into. I’m one of these people who when I started my first business I knew I wanted to do my own thing. I knew I wanted to be my own boss but I just had no idea what that was. And the thing that was holding me back for such a long time is I felt like I had to find something that was my life’s mission. And so I was looking, like what is that thing going to be? And I was just soul-searching and trying to find it.
Ryan Levesque: It wasn’t until I used the strategy, I talk about this is the book which is to just start with a practice business. To detach yourself from the outcome and focus on using your business as a vehicle to learn the skill of everything required to be a course creator, to build a business online.
Ryan Levesque: So, I specifically took something that I was dispassionate about, that I had no ties to. And so, orchids came about because I’d made a big long list of possible ideas. And I remember being in my apartment, I was living in shanghai, at the time. I remember looking around. I had couple orchids in the apartment. It was just like one of those like, “Oh yeah, orchids.” Write it down on the list. And when I start doing the research it just kept bubbling up as a thing to pursue.
Ryan Levesque: So, I went into that market, didn’t know anything about orchids. Now, fast-forward to today which is like more than 10 years later we have courses on all the different orchid varieties, I know the difference between dendrobiums and Oncidiums and phalaenopsis and paphiopedilum, and [inaudible 00:03:45]. I know more about orchids than I ever thought I’d ever learn. But what I learnt along the way is that there are some advantages when you are not an expert in the space that you go into because as they say a Zen mind is a beginner’s mind.
Ryan Levesque: And it allows you to see things that the expert is blind to. It allows you to come into a niche and really ask the dumb questions and have no ego attached to it and you ask, “Why are things like this? Why are people struggling with this?” And really allow you to make the customer your focus as opposed to being stuck with the curse of knowledge.
Ryan Levesque: So, I like to tell people if you don’t feel like you have expertise right now, if you don’t feel like you are an expert in many ways that can be something you use to your advantage. It certainly was to me and my wife when we launched that business, Orchids Made Easy a little over 10 years ago.
Chris Badgett: That is awesome. I love that idea, the beginners mind. I talk to a lot of course creators, would-be membership site folks and their usual story is they’re trying to monetize their expertise, their knowledge, their experience. But if you come at it with the publisher mindset like how did that work for you with that… did you find an expert and can you tell us how that happened or did you do the research and create it yourself?
Ryan Levesque: Yeah, it’s a great question. So, the first business that we ever started before the orchid business was in a totally random tiny obscure niche market, teaching people how to make jewelry using scrabble tiles and origami paper. Scrabble tile jewelry, something I knew nothing about. It was something my wife introduced me to and we found this because it was this trend that was just exploding on the website etsy.com at the time.
Ryan Levesque: And so, my wife saw this and she learned how to make the jewelry and she was the first expert. So she learnt how to make the jewelry. We created a tutorial, they created business called The Scrabble Girl, and the first business was born.
Ryan Levesque: When we launched Orchids Made Easy, very similarly we knew very little about orchids. My extent of… the extent of my orchid knowledge was I bought a bunch of orchids in China and we killed them all. They all died. That was my experience with orchids. So, first product that we ever launched in that business was our book Orchids Made Easy. The way we created that product is we did a ton of research in the market and just like you’re doing here with this interview. We said, “We’re not going to write the book that everybody else has written. Instead, we’re going to start with the market. We’re going to ask them questions to understand what their biggest challenges and struggles are and then we’re going to answer those questions in the book.”
Ryan Levesque: So, instead of assuming that this is what should be included in a book on how to care for orchids, we started with the audience first. It’s where the Ask method was first born. My wife, who is an incredible writer, she’s has a PhD, she’s just amazing, wrote the book. I did everything else.
Ryan Levesque: So you talk about the hats that you need the wear, I learned… And this is way before even WordPress was really a huge thing. So I learned HTML, I learned CSS, coded our first website. I learned how to write copy. I learnt a little bit of graphic design, I did the layout for the book, I learned how to do this in-design like [inaudible 00:06:47]. I learned Google AdWords, I learned how to do email marketing, I learned all these things. A little bit of technology. Like I had to wear all those hats and that was our first product.
Ryan Levesque: Now, second products, we had this problem. The problem was this, at the time I was a twenty-something year old kid. And we’d created this persona in the market of an older gentleman who is the voice behind the business. And so we were stuck. I can’t get on camera and teach people about orchids and at the time I certainly wasn’t comfortable on camera. I was weird, I was awkward, I was nervous.
Ryan Levesque: So, we went to enlace and we found someone who was a retired school teacher who loved orchids and had his own orchid greenhouse and his name was Chuck. We worked with Chuck to create our first video course on how to care for orchids. And that opened the door where we began partnering and hiring experts. We hired a woman who had a blog about orchids in New York City and she was writing about orchids in small spaces. We hired her to write all of our articles on her blog.
Ryan Levesque: We hired a professional photographer to create a course on how to photograph orchids in the wild. We hired a water color artist to create a course with us on how to paint a water color paintings of orchids. We hired an expert in hydroponics, you’ll appreciate this, to teach people he to grow orchids with what we call the just add water method, hydroponically, instead on potting. So, we ended up usually hiring experts in all these different areas, and we adopted that publisher model.
Chris Badgett: How did you do the cash flow for that? Did you give them a revenue share or you had savings to do that? How did you manage that?
Ryan Levesque: It’s great question. So, we experimented with a lot of different options. So, in the case of the first video, of course, with Chuck we paid Chuck and he had a friend who was a videographer, we paid them a few thousand dollars. Just lump sum and then we owned the material thereafter.
Ryan Levesque: So, we cash flowed it. We invested a few thousand dollars. And one of the things that I teach is the importance of the pre-sale. I talk about this a little bit in the book. I talk about this in my first book that the importance of everything that we’ve ever done we’ve sold it before we’ve built it. Right?
Chris Badgett: Yeah.
Ryan Levesque: I think this is a big mistake people make is they spend a lot of time building their membership, building their course, and they say, “All right. I’ve built this. Now I’m going to start selling it.” I’ve always adopted the mindset that we pre-sell whatever it is that we’re going to create and always do it the option… we build in optionality where we say, “Listen, we’re thinking about creating this thing. If there’s enough interest, we’re going to go through with it. If you pre-order the thing now you can get in at an amazing grandfather price, plus all these bonuses. And you get to help us shape the program.
Ryan Levesque: If you’re interested, pay here. If it turns out that we don’t do the course, we’ll refund the money to you, and if there’s enough interest you get in at this amazing steal of a deal. That’s been my move in that way. So, that’s how people always want to know, “Well, where do you come up with the money to do this?” We’ve always pre-sold what we create and then used that… the funds to hire and create the course.
Ryan Levesque: So, those are few examples. The woman in New York, we paid her on per article basis. So we did a deal with her where she would charge a specific amount per article, and we’d do a batch of like 20 articles.
Ryan Levesque: The orchid photography course, as an example, we actually partnered with the course creator. And the structure that we came up with there which is something I’ve used elsewhere in my career is it was a 50/50 partnership with a 50% affiliate commission. And what that meant is this. So, if we sold the course to our audience, we would get 50% of the sales as an affiliate. You also get 50% of the remaining 50% as the product owner. So we would get 75% of the sales.
Ryan Levesque: Now, if the course creator, a photographer sold it to his audits he would get that same 75%. And we found that that model has worked really, really well for co-creating products and a partnership arrangements.
Chris Badgett: Wow. That’s awesome. Thanks for sharing that. On a side note, you’re obviously what I would call a serial entrepreneur. So course creators and membership folk they see opportunity everywhere. You see gaps in the market. You see what can be and tribes you can build and lean and all the stuff. And I don’t know the right word, there’s a serial entrepreneurial, let’s just call it a mono entrepreneur.
Chris Badgett: I know certain course creators like somebody you know, Jeff Walker, who does the same course over and over again. He’s really focused. And there’s no one’s better than the other, but what advice do you have for other educational entrepreneurs out there that are realizing that they have that serial multi-interest personality like you do?
Ryan Levesque: First of all I would say… I’ve got a couple of pieces of wisdom that I pass along and I’ll answer it a few different ways. So, one of the things that I discovered in the research led to this most recent book, Choose, is I was looking at what was it that was separating people who had implemented my previous book and who were successful from those who had failed. I was looking at, what were the factors that differentiated the major successes from those that failed?
Ryan Levesque: And all roads pointed to the same thing. The people who were failing were choosing bad markets. That was the number one thing. And that’s what inspired me to write this book. And then in that journey I discovered that there are four different types of people when it comes to building an online business. Four different kind of groups of people and they’re different entrepreneurs. And I call these type the mission-based entrepreneurs, passion-based, opportunity-based and undecided.
Ryan Levesque: Now, for me, I was an undecided entrepreneur. What I mean by that is I knew I wanted to be my own boss, I knew I wanted to start my own thing but I had no idea of what that would be. Now, not everybody is wired that way. There are some people who are very mission-based. In other words they’ve got a mission, a cause that they would die on the hill for and they want… that’s their thing. Like that’s their life calling.
Ryan Levesque: You’ve got passion-based entrepreneurs who have a love whether it’s permaculture, or orchids, or playing the guitar, or dogs or whatever it may be. And their goal is they want to transform that passion into a vocation. And then you have opportunity-based. Opportunity-based entrepreneurs are entrepreneurs in those classic sense of the word.
Ryan Levesque: They’re the type of person who like looks around and sees an opportunity and says, “How is it that nobody has built this yet? How is it that no one has created a business around that?” And then they pursue that. And so, what I’d first say is, number one, whichever entrepreneurial type you most identify with there’s not one that is better or worse than the other. It is what it is. But it starts with self-discovery. Know thyself. Right? Know who you are and just be okay with that. If you don’t have a mission or a passion there’s nothing wrong with you. If you’re undecided there’s nothing wrong with you.
Ryan Levesque: If you have a passion go for it, but if you don’t, it’s okay. So, I learned I wasn’t someone that had a mission or passion. I was very much undecided. And what I learned along the way is to detach myself from the outcome and focus on the process. I learned very quickly that I fell in love with the process of choosing the market, asking that market what they needed. Creating something to serve that market. Getting a feedback loop to see what was I missing? What did I need to improve and lather, rinse, repeat. I really fell in love with that process. That’s why I went in to 23 different niche markets doing it over and over again.
Ryan Levesque: One of the things I’ve learned along the way if I would do all over again is when I first started my business, my business plan, Chris was I said, “If I go into 20 different niche markets and build a half a million dollar business in 20 different niche markets, I’m going to build a 10 million dollar of your empire.” That was my big thing.
Chris Badgett: That’s diversified.
Ryan Levesque: And I did that because my first business, that scrabble tile jewelry business was turned out to be just a fad. So we took that business from a few sales to within a few months making $8,000 a month and the next month it went down to almost nothing. At this point I’d quit my job, my wife was in grad school, we had burn through our savings, we had that moment where we said, “Oh, crap.” And so I never wanted to be in that position. I said if I diversify, that if the market ever disappears, I’m never going to lose more than 5% of my income. So, that was my vision.
Ryan Levesque: Now, what I learned along the way is that people who want to make scrabble tile jewelry are not into orchids. So there’s no cross-sell opportunity. People who are into orchids don’t want to improve their memory. One of our other businesses. So, there’s no cross-sell opportunity. So I realized very quickly that that was not a strategy that was going to deliver what I thought it was going to be, so I would be… I would offer the advice to anybody who has that itch to jump from thing to thing to thing to think about how these different ideas support one another. How you create a rising tide that raises all ships. You create the equation where one plus equals three.
Ryan Levesque: Don’t do what I did where one plus one equals 1.5, which is the situation I found myself in with the first few niches that we went into.
Chris Badgett: That’s great advice. We’re going to get into how to choose the right course to make in a second, but you’ve got a really generous offer here for your book which is at choosethebook.com/lmscast. What do they get with that?
Ryan Levesque: Yeah. So, I wanted to do something super special for your audience. And so what I’m going to do is this new book, Choose, it retails probably look at the price right now 24.99 in the US, 33.99 in Canada. But I’m going to ship anyone of your listeners a free hard cover copy of the book anywhere in the world. I just ask that they pay a few dollars shipping and handling. And I’m going to also include over $200 in free gifts, including the audio book. If you’re an audio book fan like I am, I’m going to hook you up with that.
Ryan Levesque: People always want to know when they see my book they say, “All right. So the book reveals the criteria you want to look for within a good niche. What are examples of niches?” Well, I mentioned I went into 23 different niches, I’ve had a private list of the niches I would go into next if I had the time. I’ve decided to give every single one of your listeners that exact list. The 25 niches I would go into in 2019 that check off all the boxes in the book for free, plus a whole bunch of other stuff. Over 200 dollars in bonuses. Go to that link, choosethebook.com/lmscast. I only have a limited number of copies though. I’ve negotiated this with my publisher to be able to do this. So go ahead and do this while you’re listening to this and I’d be happy to hook you up.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Thank you for that. So, I see a lot of course creators unfortunately fail for different reasons. Before we started recording we talked about the five hats course creators, coaches and consultants need to wear if they’re going to build these types of courses and coaching, training sites memberships. They have to be an entrepreneur, an expert, a teacher, a community builder, and a technologist.
Chris Badgett: So, there’s a lot of failure, unfortunately, I see happening that’s actually the motivation and the passion behind why I started the show. I’m in the technology side, but I like to help people across all the hats. Hence the show. I want to give you a specific example to work with and then you talk about five market must haves of how to choose the right niche or course, or topic to go after. And I wanted to share a personal example.
Chris Badgett: So, in my organic gardening permaculture, let’s just say YouTube channel. I take some of my best lessons, I put them on YouTube for free. There’s a link in the description to the paid course. Though some of my videos have 20/30,000 view but these are really famous experts in the niche. And I can work my buns off over here with education entrepreneurs, digital marketers, membership site people, do paid traffic and the view counts are like way lower.
Chris Badgett: So what I’m trying to build a bridge for you to talk about is the gardening permaculture niche appears to be much larger that this very specific type of education and entrepreneur website builder. How does that fit into the market must haves when we choose what to do?
Ryan Levesque: Yeah. So, before we get into market must haves I want to address the question that you really brought up, and it’s a really good one which is around market size. How do you know if your market size is too big, too small? How do you figure that out? And truthfully that was a question I was really interested in answering as well because it’s a question I get all the time, “Is my niche big enough? Is my niche too big? Should I niche down? Should I niche up?” And so, one of the things that we did first is we looked at every single one of the 23 niche markets that we’ve gone into. And we measured keyword volume in each of those markets, and we wanted to see is there a difference between the businesses that were most successful from the ones that were not a successful?
Ryan Levesque: And then we extended that research to our clients and our students of our paid programs. And what we found was very fascinating. We measured the keywords search volume across all these different business and what we found was that every single one of the most successful businesses all fit within this very narrow band. We used Google trends, the free tool that anybody can use to measure keyword volume. And they all fit within this very narrow band. And every single one of our less successful businesses was either way above or below that band.
Ryan Levesque: And for literally months we debated, we said, “Are we going to reveal these keywords?” Because it’s like the secret sauce. Everyone wants to know. And I knew that if we reveal the keywords we’d be inviting a lot of competition because people would see them and say, “Okay, cool. These are good markets. I’m going to build a business in this space.” So, for months we debated that and in the end, in the book, we decided to reveal what those keywords are.
Ryan Levesque: So, anybody can answer that question that you’re asking right now which is the market I’m thinking about going into or the idea for my course that I’m thinking about building is it too broad, too narrow or is it in this sweet spot? And you can use these benchmark keywords to compare it against your idea. So, that’s the first thing. So, I would start there to answer that question.
Ryan Levesque: Now, related to the five markets must haves. So let’s talk about those, which is another test. Right? So, the book is really a series of tests that you perform in order to determine if your idea is a green light, if it’s a yellow light, proceed with caution or if it’s a red light don’t do it. Start over and come up with something else. So, market must haves. Let’s talk about that.
Ryan Levesque: So, they’re five things. We’ll talk about the permaculture market with these five market must haves in mind. So, the first market must have is what we call an evergreen market. Evergreen market is a market that was relevant 10 years ago, it will be relevant 10 years from now. My scrabble tile jewelry market is not an evergreen market, right? That’s a fact.
Ryan Levesque: You don’t want to go into a market like scrabble tile jewelry or beanie babies or fidget spinners or more recently I imagine you might have some clients who went into the Bitcoin market. Remember when everybody was talking about Bitcoin? It’s like membership sites have Bitcoin and podcasts and everything.
Chris Badgett: Yeah.
Ryan Levesque: 95% of people who went into the Bitcoin market are doing something else now because that’s an example of a market that trended and then fell off a cliff. So you want what’s called the metro no market. A market that just goes [ch ch ch 00:21:30] every single year, just humming along.
Chris Badgett: So more like a parenting, gardening relationships like evergreen.
Ryan Levesque: Yes. Exactly. That list of 25 markets that I mentioned, they all check that first box, for anyway who’s interested, but yeah, great examples. An example I share in the book is newborn photography. As long as people are making babies, and as long as people want to look at those babies, newborn photography is a great niche that’s not going away anytime soon. So, that’s an example of an evergreen market orchid care, dog training is another one. Right?
Ryan Levesque: But it’s not enough to be in an evergreen market. You also need to be in a market that is not only evergreen but what we call an enthusiast market. Now, an enthusiast market is different from a problem solution market. There are evergreen markets out there that are problem solution. An example of a problem solution market would be something like wart removal.
Ryan Levesque: If you get a wart on your hand or your foot… warts have been around forever, they’re probably not going away anytime soon. But it’s a market where when you solve the problem you move on. You’re not signing up for any courses or membership sites or Facebook groups or email lists on wart removal. You solve the probably, number one it’s embarrassing, so you’re not talking about it and then you just move on, right?
Ryan Levesque: So, that’s a problem solution market. Now, compare that to something like orchid care or dog training, or even organic gardening or permaculture. That’s an enthusiast market that people remain consumers in that market for years and years and years. That’s what you’re looking for. You want a business where you can sell to the same person in the same market multiple products. As opposed to a market where you have to constantly chase after a new customer. So, that’s the second must have.
Ryan Levesque: Must have number three. And this is the one we’re going to start to get in trouble is you need to solve an urgent problem in the context of this evergreen enthusiast market. What I mean by that is it’s not enough to just go into the orchid market. It’s not enough to go into the dog training market, you’ve got to focus on what is the bleeding neck, urgent problem that people need to solve in that market that gives you this in. It’s like your niche doorway, it’s your doorway into that person’s life. So [crosstalk 00:23:36].
Chris Badgett: So is that like… For the baby photography does that mean like, “Well, my baby is only going to be small for so long I have to caption this while I can.” Right?
Ryan Levesque: It’s built in urgency. Newborn photography. [inaudible] were newborns, right? Remember how brief that window of opportunity was, to capture those precious photographs of you and your wife holding the babies in that precious state. It’s like weeks that you have, that’s it. And if you missed it, it’s gone forever. There’s so much urgency built into that market.
Ryan Levesque: Now, in the dog training market, or the dog market, for example, you can’t go into that market and expect to kill it building a course or a membership site on like a doggy mugs or doggy T-shirts or whatever. Because nobody wakes up and says, “We have to solve this today”. Problem that people do have is if you bring a new puppy into your new home, potty training your puppy.
Ryan Levesque: If you have a puppy that’s making a mess on the carpet on the floor that is an urgent problem. In the orchid market it’s all the flowers have fallen off the stem and they want to get their orchids to reflower. So, people will bring an orchid into their home, they don’t know anything about orchids. The orchid’s beautiful, it’s filled with the spray of blooms. It’s absolutely gorgeous and they go to bed, they wake up the next morning they flip the lights on in their kitchen and they wake up to find the orchid to be nothing but a dried up stick.
Ryan Levesque: All the blooms in an otherwise healthy looking orchid have just fallen onto the table. And they freak out, go online and say, “What did I do wrong? How did I get my orchids to flower again?” That’s an example of an urgent problem in an evergreen enthusiast market. That’s number three.
Ryan Levesque: Number four is you want a market that’s filled with future problems. Because here’s the thing. When you solve that first urgent problem for somebody, you have this opportunity to become their trusted advisor for life.
Chris Badgett: Like toddler photography.
Ryan Levesque: Toddler photography, that’s becomes your family photographer, right? When I look at Melisa who’s photographed our family since my two boys were super young, since my younger son was a new born we get photographed with her every single spring. We’re customers of hers for life because we want to capture all these moments, she does an amazing job and we’ve tried a whole bunch of other photographers, we love Melissa.
Ryan Levesque: Now, it extends beyond that. Melissa is also my photographer for all of our business events. So she’s become… she developed into what we could have been a one-time several hundred dollar photo shoot to literally a multi-thousand dollar relationship that’s now spanned years.
Ryan Levesque: So that’s what you’re looking for is a market where you solve future problems. Orchid markets perfect example. Once you get the orchid to reflower then my orchid is healthy but the roots have spilled over the pot how do I re-pot? Once you get it to re-pot, it’s. “Oh, the potting material is such a mess.” “How about you ditch the dirt and use the just add water method and grow your orchids hydroponically.” “Cool. How do I do that?” You have these beautiful orchids and you say I need a greenhouse. Well, let’s teach you how to build your own greenhouse at home to get a place for those orchids.
Ryan Levesque: So, there are all these future problems that you can solve for someone and that’s what you’re looking for. Now, so the permaculture one I’d be thinking about what future problems exist? What urgent problems do people have in that market? And the fifth and final one is you want to be in a market that is filled with PWMs which stands players with money. You got to remember this. As a course creator, membership site creator, you can’t sell to broke people.
Chris Badgett: I have some questions around that one. That’s a good one and I do see a lot of… it’s especially challenging for course creators who are creating their… in the context of pricing this often comes up, or if you have a recurrent revenue model that includes a coaching package or whatever. Some of the general advice is well you should go B2B. Go to other businesses. But there are still consumers. I was wondering if you could speak on B2C with money. It’s easy to say, “Yeah, businesses have money so you should move up market and go enterprise, or whatever, but there are consumers out there with money. Can you talk to that a little bit?
Ryan Levesque: So, what you’re looking for this market must have number five that we discovered. It’s not necessarily selling to millionaires or billionaires or businesses that have deep pockets, it’s selling to people who have demonstrated they’re willing to spend a disproportionate amount of their income in that area of their life. So in the hobby markets, like orchids and permaculture and things like that, you want to look at what is the barrier of entry into that market? How much money are people investing in that area of their life? Your pricing should be a derivative of that.
Ryan Levesque: Let’s take two extreme examples. So, on one hand you could be in the chess market. How much money is involved to learn and play the game of chess? Well, you and I could buy a chessboard for 20 bucks at Walmart. Heck, we could go to the park and probably play chess for free with the park tables that are with the built-in chess. There’s not a whole lot of money required to make chess work.
Ryan Levesque: Compare that to a market like golf. Think about the thousands of dollars that people spend in the golf markets to get your clubs, equipment, golf vacations, golf trips, trips to the masters, private lessons, private instructions. People spend exorbitant amounts of money on the game of golf. Just a single round of golf could be hundreds of dollars. More money than someone might spend in their lifetime playing chess.
Ryan Levesque: So, the type of market you’re in you can look at, is there evidence that people spend a high percentage of their income in that area of their life. And your pricing can be a residual from that. So in this respect orchids is like a yellow light for this particular factor, right? Because orchids is something that people might spend hundreds of dollars a year on that hobby but chances are with the exception of a few extremists, they’re not spending thousands of dollars a year in that hobby for their life.
Ryan Levesque: So, you want to be thinking about that as you choose your market and choose the subject that you’re thinking about building your course around. So Chris, I’ll turn it back to you. I’m curious, we went through the five market must haves. I could tell you were taking some notes, you’re thinking about the permaculture market, let’s go through them one by one. How do you think that the permaculture market fares? So start with evergreen market. What do you think, does it check the box?
Chris Badgett: Yeah. A lot of people are teaching the same stuff they taught in the seventies.
Ryan Levesque: So checks off the evergreen box. What about enthusiast? People stay consumers in this market for years and years and years?
Chris Badgett: It’s a lifestyle.
Ryan Levesque: Perfect. So, it’s a forever thing, right? What about urgent problems, is there, what’s an example of an urgent problem that gives you that niche doorway that you can solve in that market, is there one that comes to mind?
Chris Badgett: Yeah, those are obvious one, the doorway is I had just bought a piece of property or I finally got a more… I’ve got my land. So there’s a blank canvas. That’s the doorway.
Ryan Levesque: And I would be thinking about what was it that makes that urgent? Is there a window of opportunity, is there a brief opportunity, maybe there’s some seasonality, right? Maybe depending on where people are living they have to break ground and take action before the winter months come around. And so there may be some cyclicality to this business.
Chris Badgett: There is.
Ryan Levesque: And what about future problems? So, you get into that market and what are some of the future problems?
Chris Badgett: I mean, there’s lots of them. You can literally transform a desert… You can reverse desertification in some climates. You can always improve. I mean, you can, the whole idea of permaculture is it’s another level beyond sustainable. It’s not just like how do we keep things together, how do we keep making things better overtime? So this is a never ending regenerative things you can do both on your land or in your community, or in the world at large, it just keeps going out.
Ryan Levesque: There’s a philosophy baked in to the niche that implies that you’re constantly improving, you’re constantly doing things. So, with that there’s the implication that they’re constantly new levels, new challenges to solve. So, it checks that box. And what about PWMs? Are we selling to broke people? Are these just a bunch of broke hippies that are moving out to the middle of nowhere, we got people with money to spend on our stuff, what do you think?
Chris Badgett: I think that’s the counterintuitive one because this is somebody… you typically… you may not find them in a mainstream mall but they’ll just fly around the world spend $2000 on a two week workshop and they’re getting some real estate. So there’s money somewhere to make the land happen, so yes, It’s counterintuitively the market does have money.
Ryan Levesque: So, it’s sounding like that at first glance the market checks off the boxes on the five market must haves. So, in that case if we’re going through this process I would say, “Good, let’s give it a green light for this step. For this one step in the process, and let’s move on to the next test.” And we look at things like market size, we look at market competition. We look at the market niches. We look at who’s already selling. Who’s making money. Who’s having success as the next benchmarks to see is this something that we go all in that we pursue or is it something that we maybe inhibit or shift or rethink?
Chris Badgett: Yeah, that’s super helpful. I wanted to pivot a little bit to, if we look at, I see a lot of people learn these stuff and then they stay inside marketing or entrepreneurship. But there’s this whole world outside of marketing and entrepreneurship like what we’re talking about here with plants and permaculture or parenting or hobbies. I was just curious have you noticed that sometimes people stay, they forget that they had all these other passions that are often a lot less competitive because the people in there aren’t also entrepreneurs in marketing and business people. Could you speak to that issue at all just like the opportunity out there?
Ryan Levesque: I think it goes back to your five hats challenge, right? Is we live in a world where increasingly we need to think about wearing one of those hats as our dominant hats. We were talking before we got on the show about how difficult it is to try to do it all on your own. I’m often asked if I could start all over again and knowing what I now know the wisdom that I have.
Ryan Levesque: When I first started my business, my goal was to make 10,000 a month in passive income. That was my big someday maybe goal. Last year a little over 10 years later and we’d just passed 10 million dollars across our businesses and in that journey I’ve learned a lot of things. In the first few years of my business, we tried to do everything ourselves. When I say we, me and my wife. We did everything. We would spend late nights with take out, Netflix playing in the background. We would be packaging books and DVDs, putting labels on them, driving them to the post office ourselves. We did everything ourselves.
Ryan Levesque: So we wore all the hats. So I totally get it for anyone who is at that state right now where you’re writing your copy, creating the course, getting on camera, doing this thing. Doing the tech job. Answer customer service. Like all of the things I totally know what that’s like. But what I’ve learned along the way that I am, as we grow in our business I have, a company now with about 60 employees. And so I’m doing fewer and fewer and fewer jobs. Where once I was doing all of the things.
Ryan Levesque: And I think when you talk about what you’re describing right now is at some point we have to make this decision which is, “Am I going to try to be a jack of all trades and maybe limit the growth of my business or am I going to specialize in one of these hats? Am I going to become a technologist?” In which case, build a team of people who have expertise in these other areas. Am I going to be the expert? Am I going to be a world-class expert in this one topic and be the person who speaks on camera, maybe supported by a team of technologists and course creators and others that help support me.
Ryan Levesque: Am I going to be the course creator? Am I going to do frameworks and write content and create curriculum? Is that my thing? As we grow, you have to increasingly specialize if you want to ascend. That’s my belief. It’s been my experience, certainly. So I think the question is what do you want to do? What kind of life do you want to create for yourself? There’s no right or wrong answer. I do know that there are different pay-scale associated which with which of these you want to pursue. And I think a lot of people choose the marketing and sales path because that’s the one that provides unlimited income potential.
Ryan Levesque: That’s the one that gives you the ability to… you get to write your own ticket. You get to decide what your paycheck is going to be with no ceiling to that. In the orchid space there are a lot of broke orchid experts who relish at the opportunity to work with a business like ours because they have all this expertise they just don’t know how to monetize it.
Chris Badgett: Yeah, you’ll pay me a thousand dollars to write a long piece of content or make a course for you, like I’m stocked.
Ryan Levesque: Yeah, exactly. Exactly, yeah. And you can imagine, right? Because it’s an opportunity to share your knowledge with the world. So, I think that’s a predominant driver. Now, for me at my stage what I feel like I have this methodology, develop this methodology, have done it in all these different markets. I’m at a stage now where my kids are starting to get involved in our business.
Ryan Levesque: And this is where circle of life comes around. Where I’ve made the decision to be an educator, to be a teacher, to serve entrepreneurs. My favorite people in the world. I love working with entrepreneurs. I feel like entrepreneurs are put on this planet to change the world and to be able to work with people like that is like the best thing in the world.
Ryan Levesque: So I love working with entrepreneurs. That’s my who. I talk about in the book. The importance of choosing not what you’re going to do but who you’re going to serve, entrepreneurs are my who. I wouldn’t have it any other way. My kids are at an age though now where they’re looking at different things. And we’re trying to get them involved in the business in different ways.
Ryan Levesque: And we started to talk with them about building perhaps a niche business in one of several areas where they get to learn the ropes. They get to put this all together and build courses, and do videos, and all the things that we do in a space that has nothing to do with how to make money or do business or anything like that.
Ryan Levesque: So, I think there is a season of life that makes sense for all of us to revisit those questions and decide, do you want to go into one of these quote unquote “less competitive niches” taking everything that you’ve learned from implementing your software, what you teach, what you talk about. And then building a business way outside the marketing, or sales, or business space that maybe is a passion, or a passion of someone in your family that’s really important to you.
Chris Badgett: I love that. I like how you positioned as not a one size fits all, it depends on your strengths and what you want to be.
Ryan Levesque: Totally.
Chris Badgett: And who do you want to surround yourself with, and what adds the most value? We have people using our software who are advanced like you and I’m curious as your own expert who’s chosen to serve entrepreneurs, what is it that you hold onto in terms of roles or duties in your company?
Ryan Levesque: Yeah, that’s a great question. So, there’s this fascinating dilemma that happens when you grow a company and that’s this. The thing that the founder tends to be strongest at is the area of the business that has the biggest weakness. Because that’s the area that you’ve relied on the founder or founders for so many years. So you find that that’s where the gaps usually emerge.
Ryan Levesque: And so for me those are some of the places that I’m still involved in, in a big way. So, areas that I’m involved in, in a big way. Number one, in many ways I am part of the product. I’m not that product, I am part of the product. I’m the spokesperson. I’m here. We’re doing this interview right now. It’s my name on this book even though it takes a village to write a book like this. My name is the name on the front of this book. I’m doing the interviews, I’m on camera, I’m doing a lot of the teaching. I’m the face of our business.
Ryan Levesque: But we’re shifting that. We’re moving a lot more towards a faculty model where we’re bringing in other experts, some of whom were born out of our community. People who read my first book Ask, built a business around it and now they’re coming in and they’re now teaching how they’ve done things that are far more innovative than anything that I’ve created or come up with.
Ryan Levesque: So, there’s that. I’m still heavily involved in the marketing, right? So our marketing at a strategic level what campaigns are we running? What are the big ideas? What are the hooks? What are the campaigns, are the big promotions running? I’m still involved in that. And I’m very much involved in the strategy. There’s a model that we run the company on that I think it will be very interesting for anybody who’s sending in your business and it’s called rocket fuel.
Ryan Levesque: Rocket Fuel is a book written by Gino Wickman. Anyone not familiar, basically the model is that every business has what’s called a visionary and an integrator. Visionary is the person who oftentimes gets a lot of the credit. Oftentimes it’s the person who has the big ideas. They are the ones speaking on stage. They are the chief sales person in the company. The integrator is the one who runs the day-to-day operations of the business.
Ryan Levesque: And we run that our business on that model. My business partner, my integrator, Richard, he runs the day-to-day operations of the company. I actually don’t have any direct reports. So, I don’t have anybody who reports in to me. I sort of orbit the team. So, we have Richard our integrator who’s our COO, chief operating officer. Our senior team all reports it to him. And their teams reports into them.
Ryan Levesque: But I’m just a moon orbiting the planet where I pop in as almost like a highly paid consultant whenever we have an area of the business that needs support or help and I get to be the chief creative and creator behind a lot of the new initiatives that we put out there.
Ryan Levesque: So, that’s not the only way to do things but to answer your question, that’s how my roles evolved from the early days when I was the one writing HTML, writing CSS, building the website, now writing the book, all that stuff. A lot’s changed since those early days.
Chris Badgett: So we’re recording this in the spring of 2019. Can you just throw a timeline out there? Like when was scrabble tile jewelry, when did the integrator Richard join you on the journey and then till today? Like just give us a timeline because I’m sure this took a while to play out.
Ryan Levesque: Yeah, it didn’t happen overnight. So if I look back at the timeline, the scrabble tire thing happened in 2002, 2007 to 2008. So about 12 years ago. The orchid business happened in 2008/2009. I think the memory business, our next one is in 2010. And we started knocking at theses niches one right after the other. I wrote the book Ask four years ago was when I shared the story of how I entered all these different niche markets and then two years ago… Gosh, three years or two years ago? Two to three years ago is when Richard came onboard. And I think it was two years ago was when we first landed on the Inc. 500 list, the fastest growing companies in America and landed on it for the second year last year as well.
Ryan Levesque: All said and done, it’s been about a 12-year journey to get from the early stage, quitting my job, making no money, going broke in my first business to where we are here today. And it’s not a straight line. It’s not like people think it’s just the straight line. I mean, there is ups and then there are downs. And it’s a bit of a roller coaster. And I think, if I’ve learned anything it’s that one of my mentors shared this with me. He said, “Ryan, it’s never as good as it seems, but it’s also never as bad as it seems either.”
Ryan Levesque: So, we’re on this roller coaster as entrepreneurs and there are days where it feels like the sky is falling. Why am I doing this? I’m going to give up. I just got to do this, do whatever I was doing before or whatever. And there are other days where it’s like, “Oh my gosh, I’m going to take over the world.” And I just learn that the truth is always somewhere in between. It’s always somewhere in between and just take everything and try.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Well, I have one quick question for you that I’ll ask before we sign off. There’s just something I’m noticing in the industry and as an entrepreneur I’m a big fan of pre-selling validation, getting outside the building and talking to people. One of the things I noticed in my Facebook group and other Facebook groups and social media areas is I’m seeing a dramatic increase in people that are out there validating as new entrepreneurs and stuff like that which is great.
Chris Badgett: But what I often see is people come in hot and heavy, new member of the group and immediately I’m thinking about doing this PME, in your opinion, how do we, if we’re going to be out in our market trying to figure out our who and talk to them, and feel what their problems are, what’s the best way to open a conversation to get into and ask for, what’s the … how do you enter into that if you’re going outside of your audience?
Ryan Levesque: It’s a great question, right? Because it’s sort of like… sometimes we forget when we’re online how to be a human being. If you go online and it’s like you do the equivalent of meeting someone for the first time and you say, “Hi, my name is Ryan, can you tell me how much money is in your bank account?” “Like, wow dude. Calm down, let’s get to know each other a little bit.”
Ryan Levesque: And I think people do the equivalent online. They want to get right to it. Right? And I think we live in this world of immediate gratification. What was it? Is it Carrie Fisher who said that immediate gratification takes too long? And it’s like this idea that like even when something happens immediately it’s still people’s expectations are it should be faster than that.
Ryan Levesque: And so, I would take a step back and think about what would a human do? What would a normal human being do in a… to develop a relationship online? So, that’s the philosophy. Let’s bring that down to something actually tactical that we can do. So, if you join in your Facebook group and you’re trying to understand the market, number one, start by listening. Right?
Ryan Levesque: So, I think it’s an underrated skill that sometimes we forget that just sit there and listen. Imagine you’re in this new group, you’re sitting in the middle of Time Square, and you’re just looking around. You’re just walking by watching the people walk by you. You’re listening eavesdropping on conversations. Just do that for a little bit. You’re going to learn a ton. You’re going to learn about the tenure of the group, the cadence of the group. Spend a little time just soaking it all in.
Ryan Levesque: Once you’ve done that, then a great tactical approach that you can use in that group is to use, is the technique I described as does anybody else experience this? So, let’s say you’re in a group with new parents, right? And you want to understand that market, is anybody else’s kid just not sleeping through the night, is it just me?
Ryan Levesque: And what you’re going to find is one of two things is going to happen. Either, a, people are going to pour on that post and be like, “Oh my gosh.” That is so me. Yes, I totally identify with that.” Or you’re going to get crickets. If you get crickets, that’s a data point. It tells you, you haven’t struck a nerve. You haven’t hit a hot button. That isn’t something that has really resonated. But if you do it out there it’s a low threshold way that’s not slimy or scam-y or like, “Hey, I’m thinking about creating this thing.” And just asking, “Is anybody else struggling with this?” And Ideally it’s something that you’ve authentically observed or noticed yourself, right?
Ryan Levesque: “Anybody else has his orchid just like suddenly lose its blooms one night? I don’t know why this happened but is it just me or has this happened to anybody else?” And if you get people saying like, “Oh my gosh, that happened to me. Here’s a photo. Let me talk…” That opens the door for you to then say, “Hey Tammy, what kind of orchid is that?” “Oh, it’s a [inaudible] orchid.” You start a conversation. And then if you hit it off with someone then you can take that conversation to, “Hey, do you mind if I PM you? I had a for questions that I was hoping I might ask you, is that cool?”
Ryan Levesque: Then you PM them, and then you take it into a conversation. But you want to do it in an organic way. You don’t want to do it in a way that is just join a group, five minutes later say, “When it comes to growing orchids what’s your biggest challenge?” And you’re like, “Oh gosh,” you’ve bastardized the whole process. It like be a human, ask questions but do it in a way that is natural and authentic.
Chris Badgett: I love it. Ryan Levesque. Choosethebook.comn/lmscast. I’m going to go get that right after this call. I have one final question for you, Ryan. There’s this problem the course creators, coaches, consultants have is course creators specifically is they go in what I call the course creation cave. And I see it. Sometimes they’re in there for months. Even a year, even multiples years. And then they come out and the launch doesn’t go well, it doesn’t work.
Chris Badgett: Before they go in the course creation cave and commit to just pouring their heart and soul into the program, or the course, or the content, what advice do you have for them?
Ryan Levesque: So, I would recommend that you follow a model that we’ve used. It’s something that I call the [SCIDLE] method and it stands for screw it, do it, live. Now the SCIDLE method is very simple. You come up with a five or six big topics that you want to talk about in your course and here’s what you do, you pre-sell it before you’ve created a single one. People sign up for your course. And then what you say is this, “Next week, I’m going to be teaching the first module. Before I do so, I want to make sure I’m covering what you want to hear covered. Would you tell me, when it comes to X, Y, Z topic that’s your biggest question or challenge you’d like for me to focus on?”
Ryan Levesque: Then that’s the outline of your first module. When you’re finished with that first module, after that you ask people you say, “Hey, is there anything you were hoping that I would cover or talk about that maybe I missed. I’ll make sure to incorporate that in the next module.” Then you use that to define your next module. You do it live. You’re not creating anything ahead of the time.
Ryan Levesque: Now, if we look at this book, Choose, that’s exactly what I did. I did five iterations. I taught the course, I taught the framework that I teach in the book five times to five different cohorts of people. Every single time using this process, refining it, adapting it, and getting it to a place where it’s answering all the questions, removing all the challenge that people went into and then and only then did it get packaged up into a book that’s going to leave forever.
Ryan Levesque: Don’t try to write the book before you’ve gone through this process. So, use the SCIDLE method, screw it, do it, live. Get feedback from your audience. Ask the right questions and go out there and change the world.
Chris Badgett: Wow. So many jewels of wisdom there. I really appreciate it Ryan. Go get the book at choosethebook.com/lmscast. Thank you so much, Ryan for coming on the show. We’ll have to do it again sometime.
Ryan Levesque: Awesome, Chris. It’s been a pleasure and absolutely let’s chat soon.
Chris Badgett: And that’s a wrap for this episode of LMScast. I’m your guy Chris badgett, I hope you enjoyed the show. This show was brought to you by Lifter LMS, the number one tool for creating, selling, and protecting engaging online course 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.