Episode 135

Leveraging Events, Blended Learning, and Uncovering Demand for an Online Course Idea with Brian Hogg

This episode of LMScast with Chris Badgett of LifterLMS is about leveraging events, blended learning, and uncovering demand for an online course idea with Brian Hogg. Brian helps developers and agencies turn the WordPress plugins they develop into products that generate revenue.

Brian is a big player in the WordPress community. He has created his own WordPress plugins, and he has created an online course about professional plugin development. Making Pro Plugins is the name of his course if you’d like to check that out. The course is for people who have an idea for a plugin, and maybe they’re not a developer, but they need to get the plugin out there into the market. The course will help you out if you are afraid of the launch process, teaming it, the support, marketing, and all of that good stuff.

They also touch on the marketing and innovation aspects of business. Peter Drucker said, “There are only two things: marketing and innovation.” The Making Pro Plugins course can help you get these things clear and help you get through the creation and launch of your plugin.

When Brian was 15-years-old, he created and launched a Bingo game online. People would download it, and the server would feed the numbers and cards players received. He was able to grow the user base to about 800 simultaneous players in the late 90s. Brian was able to build up a large community around that. He was also able to make some money from it in the form of advertising.

Podcasting can be a super powerful medium in the content marketing world. As Chris and Brian discuss, podcasting can promote your product or service, as well as establish credibility in a certain field. Chris gives a quote, “The information age is over. It’s all about the integration age.”

Chris and Brian discuss a podcast Brian created around electronic music. The purpose of the podcast was to get the music of lesser known artists popularized. He gained a lot of knowledge about that when he attended a couple of conferences in Las Vegas and Amsterdam. The podcast also covered topics for new artists who might not know as much about the industry, like how to release your own music. You can check that out at paidformusic.com.

Chris and Brian also get into what you should do after your course is launched, and a little bit of the breakdown about being the best at something in any topic.

To learn more about Brian Hogg you can check out BrianHogg.com.

You can 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. Today I’ve got a special guest, Brian Hogg, coming all the way from Ontario, Canada. How are you doing, Brian?

Brian: I’m doing very well. How are you?

Chris: Doing good. Brian is a big player in the WordPress community. He’s also created his own WordPress plugins, and he’s created online training, and he’s a man of many interests and passions and enjoys life. In this episode we’re going to get into Brian’s story a little bit. We’re going to get into his products, which have to do with events, and we’re going to talk a little bit about how to integrate events into a learning experience and what Brian’s plugins do and how you might benefit from them. Brian is also just about to release, by the time you hear this, he will have released, a course about professional plugin development. First, Brian, thanks for coming on the show.

Brian: Thanks for having me, I appreciate it.

Chris: Well, tell us a little bit about the mystery of who you are, because when I first met you, you’re a man of many interests. There’s the electronic music, you had a history in some kind of Bingo thing?

Brian: Yes.

Chris: And then you kind of came up in the WordPress community, and similar to me you run, you create a premium WordPress plugin, and that sort of thing. I guess let’s start with the Bingo thing. What is the Bingo thing?
Brian: So that was one of the first, I guess it was a startup before startups were called startups. It was a way to learn client server development over the internet. I was 15 I think when I launched it. And so obviously I lived with my mom, my mom suggested that, “Why don’t you do a Bingo game? Because obviously you have a client who’s the person playing Bingo, and the server that’s feeding the numbers and the cards, and everything else.” So, launched that, had a couple people that grew to four, and ten, and they told their friends, and eventually got up to 800 or so simultaneous players, and this was back in the late 90s, so it took like an hour to download the thing. So yeah, there was a really cool community that build up around that. It had IRC type chat inside, you could do /join, you could have different rooms. So it was a really cool experience for people who played for 10 hours a day and really enjoy it. And made some money off the advertising that you can do within the app as well. It was a really cool intro to technology and business in one.
Chris: At 15. I think that’s a common experience for the listener out here. There’s something in the course creators, or the creative type, or the entrepreneur type where they just make stuff.
Brian: Yeah.
Chris: And they just try things out, and when it works, it’s pretty fun and it’s cool. But sometimes it doesn’t work.
Brian: And you don’t know til you try, right? So you can get a sense when you talk to people. Otherwise you don’t really know for sure until you put it out there.
Chris: Yeah. It seems like you also have some podcasts, and you do some content around the community you live in. And also you’re into electronic music. So tell us, it seems like you use the web to really accentuate your passions or build community around them, or teach around them, or draw other people together. What’s the mix that makes up Brian Hogg?
Brian: I guess we’ll start with the smaller one, electronic music. I don’t create music, I just enjoy the genre. So I actually went and personally went into a couple conferences in Vegas and in Amsterdam, and just learned a lot, learned as much as I could and was trying to figure out a way to use technology and my experience to help get people get paid what they deserve, and get their music recognized. Again, they can get paid what they deserve when the music’s actually played. So the podcast was really just an educational tool where I wasn’t making much progress and I was actually revolutionizing the industry. So I’m just like, “All right, lets create a little podcast, get some big names on there that I met through these conferences and through other people. And just hopefully just put it out there.”
And things like how to release your own music, stuff like that. So you can definitely check that out at paidformusic.com and those episodes are just kind of there for anyone who wants to listen to them. And they’ve still got my finger in the pulse of that, but as a business thing, it’s not the top priority. In terms of the local community podcast, that was on Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, where I lived for years. Really big in the community there. We also do, I’ve co-started a freelancer or consultant meetup about three and a half years ago, that’s grown to about 700 members or so. The podcast is really an extension of that. And running the WordPress meetups and events and stuff in Hamilton.
It’s neat to mix the online and the offline, and just try to build a community wherever there’s a need.
Chris: That’s awesome. I just want to highlight what you did there when you went to those conferences in, was it Amsterdam and Vegas?
Brian: Yep.
Chris: And then you leveraged that experience, and you build a podcast around that and made connections and stuff. You’ve really got out of the building. Which is really cool.
Brian: Yep.
Chris: One of the things I see course creators run into, is they get so into the online world that, even something like podcasting, even if you’re still home, you’re still reaching out outside of the bubble and you’re still sharpening the saw, following your passions, getting better at stuff, networking. Podcasting can be super powerful medium. Especially from an SEO perspective, or just an in-bound marketing perspective, if all your content is locked behind a membership site or an online course, it’s a lot harder for people to find out about you, so it’s good to do things like podcasting and blogging and so on.
Brian: Yeah, definitely. And like you said, getting out of the building. That really what drove the latest course that I did. Because I thought initially, “Well, this stuff’s pretty straight forward. You can find a lot of the stuff online, so why would anyone be interested in a course?” But actually getting out of the building, going to work camps, speaking with other developers and getting a sense for the questions they had, and the fears they had about say, launching their own plugin, really was just kind of eye-opening. Like, “Oh.” And some of the technical stuff, where you developed a plugin, “You’re a developer. What do you mean you have questions about setting up the sales platform, or setting up some of the automated marketing stuff?” And just hearing those questions and concerns and trying to help made that clear that there was a need for like that. To how to knock out of the building, it just would have been assumed everything in my head as to what questions or concerns people did or didn’t have. That was a huge part of the research factor that you just can’t find by searching online or not talking to anyone.
Chris: Yeah. I’d like to say that information ages over. It’s all about the integration age. I mean, I have a similar story. One of my first courses I built a free how to build a WordPress website course. Part of the reason I did that, is because I was just painfully looking through YouTube channels and all this stuff, trying to figure it out myself. And then I kind of curated it, went to meetups, did things, I figured it out, and then I put it all into one package. Last time I looked, there were like 10,000 people in that course. It’s a free course. And I used that, the free course, to help build up my agency in the early days. People would get in there and realize, “Oh, there’s a lot here. Maybe I’ll hire a professional. How about that guy’s who’s head’s talking at the bottom of the video?”
But yeah.
Brian: That’s exactly … we did an online Webinar for our freelancer group. Similar thing, right? They can go through and they can see how to set up a WordPress website and it was free, but yeah, it definitely, they hit a point where they’re like, “Oh, there’s a lot of stuff to know.” So, if there’s not something  I can help with, I try to refer it to some of the community who can help them get their presence out there. It’s a great way to build up that trust, and it’s a big part of it.
Chris: Yeah. Another metaphor I use on that is, when I was a kid, I remember I went out once into the forest to build a house, or a little fort. And I started stacking logs into square shaped, but then I realized, you know, there’s really a lot that goes into building a house, even a tree-house that I’m not even really prepared for.
That’s one of the cool things about … There’s so much nuance to the build world around us, and digital and physical and stuff like that, that there’s just really an unlimited amount of things that people can teach, and things that people can learn.
Let’s talk more about your course, and we’ll circle back to what you do with events. The course is called, Making Pro Plugins. Is that correct? How do you say it? What’s the title?
Brian: That’s correct. Yep, Absolutely. Making Pro Plugins.
Chris: So what’s the elevator pitch for the course?
Brian: So it’s if you have a plugin, maybe that you’ve developed for a client or maybe you had developed for a client or if you’re not a developer, and you just kind of see a need to get that plugin out there, but you’re afraid of the launch process, teaming it, and the support, and the marketing and all that good stuff. This course will basically help you do that. So it doesn’t teach you how to build it, there’s a lot of great courses on that, that have been out there over the years that have actually program over plugin, and it does go over some of the technical of integrating software lacing and automatic updates and all that good stuff. But the crux of it is really the getting over the fear of launching, actually getting it launched. By the end of module 2 you have your pro plugin out there. And then getting a free version out there and growing it. That’s what the course is all about.
Chris: That’s fantastic. Another really cool thing about that is just that, sometimes to launch a business of that kind, but it could be another kind, it could be like a dental office, like you may be a great dentist, but you still have to figure out how to run a practice. Or you may be a great engineer or developer, but there’s a lot more … The way I look at it, I always go back to this quote by Peter Drucker, that in business there is only two things: marketing and innovation. The innovation, that’s the engineering, that’s the coding, that’s making it work. But now you’ve got to market it and sell it, and support it and all these other things. That’s really cool.
So how did you, I know you got out of the building, but what kinds of things did you start hearing from people that made you realize that maybe you should build a course? Or that there was a need?
Brian: Well, I mean, a lot of it was around the fears of launching. Like, most people were thinking, “Okay, if I put the plugin out there, I’m just going to get buried with support. I’m going to release a bug. I’m going to take down someone’s site, I’m going to break the whole internet, and everyone’s going to sue me.” It’ll be this horrible thing. Which, I always say, well look at Jetpack recently, right? They had version 4.0, took them millions of sites and then 4.0.1 still took down millions of sites. Hopefully 4.0.2 will fix it. Right? So it can happen, but you just have to be there and respond, and don’t push an update and never test it and then run out of the building for a week. That’s probably not a good idea.
But otherwise, most of the time, you test it during development and it’ll be good to go. So a lot of it was getting over that fear, and I heard that over and over again from the presentations I did on this at work camps, and just talking to different developments. And some of it was just the technical process. I can never remember the SVN command to actually update a free version. Why can’t it just use get? So there’s a video on integrating get and SVN, and just little videos that you can refer to every time you have an update. And then some of the technical integration of setting up the sales platform, setting up automatic licensing and what your options are for that. Automatic updates. So yeah, a lot of it was just hearing all these different questions and this one over and over again, and not seeing any resource that really brought it all together. And a lot of it was, I’m very thankful to talk to a lot of different plugin developers who have been doing this a lot longer than I have, and have much bigger plugins than I have, and just that encouragement and saying, yes, you’re definitely create a course on this. And because you’ve been doing it for a little less time, you remember what it was like a little better to start. What it was like to start. And building it on the side, kind of thing.
It was great to get that encouragement and also some additional ideas for content and whatnot that I can include. Yeah, it’s been a great process over the last few months to get it built, and looking forward to getting it out there.
Chris: That’s awesome. How did you come up with the buckets for the sections? Like, this is an instructional design question, or a curriculum type question. You have like, “Getting Started.” And then you have “Preparing and Launching The Pro Version.” And then “Adding licensing.” And “Automatic Updates.” Then “Preparing and Launching the Free Version.” And then “Keeping Plugins Up to Date.” “Getting More Paying Customers.” “Handling Support.” How did you, in the swirl the 107 steps, how did you create those buckets or modules?
Brian: A lot of back and forth.
Chris: Okay.
Brian: For sure. Just coming up with ideas, eventually I started, I had it in I think an Evernote node, or something, trying to rearrange it there. Eventually moved over to Trello, so I could kind of drag and drop, and do that. But a lot of it was, yeah, a lot of back and forth. At first I had the free version first, but then the flow wasn’t feeling right. Because if you’ve already got a plugin, you may not be sure what the free version might be, you might not even want to do a free version necessarily, if it just doesn’t fit right with your plugin, or maybe you just can’t, because it doesn’t meet the rules of the WordPress.org repo, so you might not be able to do a free version at all, right? So I’m just like, “Okay, cool, I’ll do Pro first.”
And then that started to feel a lot more better as a flow rate, but it was a lot of dragging and dropping and editing the Trello cards, and figuring out where stuff can go. Trying to be as ruthless as possible. Take stuff out if it wasn’t needed to be there. I can always add stuff later. Otherwise it would just never get launched, right? That was a big thing, editing, I’m glad I was part of Masterminds, where they were just like, you know, offer feedback and were also, “I challenge you to take what you think you need in there, and then take out 25%. Can you do that?” And I was like, “I could, yeah, actually. I think there’s some stuff that doesn’t need to be here, at least for the first version. It was a lot of back and forth. And it can feel like you’re doing a lot by having that outline, but until you actually start recording and getting a better feel for how the content is kind of coming out, yeah, it’s a big part of the work. It’s good to start getting some actual scripting and then you really start to see if the flow is there and if you’re missing something. Or if you’ve got too much.
Chris: Yeah, it’s important to be flexible. And for those of you listening, if you’re not familiar with it, Trello is a great project management tool. It has all these lists, you can drag and drop things around and it’s a great way to brainstorm.
I like what you’re saying. After you get going, it doesn’t mean your outline is locked. “Okay, I’m going to move this entire thing higher in the course. Or I’m going to move this lesson around. After I’ve recorded a lesson, I can still be the ruthless editor and go back and chop 25% off.”
Brian: Exactly.
Chris: So that’s really cool.
Brian: At least I made that decision before I recorded the 25%, so. That helped.
Chris: I think we all kind of intuitively know this for the book writing or publishing world. But making an online course, especially if you’re not just doing a little topical skim, it’s going to take some time and that’s an iterative cycle or process. So that’s …
Brian: Everyone who I’ve spoken to who’ve done video courses of a similar size has said that. One I had lunch with recently, he was working on it since July. To come up with the outline, figure out what kind of project that would be that that forms the core of the course. And stuff like that. Yeah, it can take time and it’s a process. Yeah, but once it gets locked down it can come pretty quick after that.
Chris: Well there’s a group of people who listen to this that are, you know, what they teach is technical in nature, like what you’re doing here. How much of what you did was screen sharing, slides and talking head? What was the ratio?
Brian: There’s no talking head. I guess so. It’s either slides or screen cast.
Chris: Slides or screen cast? Okay. So if you guys want to see what Brian looks like, come on over to the LMS cast on YouTube and you’ll see the talking head. But if you’re listening on Itunes …
Brian: I might do one similar to what Wes Bos did for ES6, and just do a little intro one minute video or something that’s a talking head.
Chris: Oh like the kind of commercial for it, you mean?
Brian: Exactly. Yeah yeah yeah. I think that’s good to do.
Chris: That’s cool. When I did my first WordPress course, I would put my head really small down on the bottom. And I got two types of feedback. One type of feedback was, “It’s really annoying to have that talking head down there.” And the other feedback I got was, “Oh, I feel like I know you.” Like, when I would meet them later, talk to them later, they would be like, “I feel like I know you, because I’ve seen you talking all this stuff.” It’s funny.
Brian: Especially, I think that’s why the commercial’s good to do. I’ve actually convinced another course creator recently, because he did a little slide based commercial. It’s like, “No, do you have a camera? Can you do an in person thing?” And it totally … You can see that they’re a person, and that they know what they’re talking about, and that builds a little bit of that trust. So that’s good.
Chris: Absolutely. I actually sell … I’ll search for it while we’re talking here. I sell an SEO course made by somebody that had a really nice talking head commercial at the front end of it or whatever. But the course is mostly technical in nature.
Brian: Nice.
Chris: Let’s shift gears and talk a little bit … In order to teach this course, you did the thing yourself. So you have some plugins that you sell, called EventsCalendarNewsletter, and EventsCalendarShortCode, right?
Brian: Yes.
Chris: In my past, I’ve done a lot with the EventsCalendarPro, by Modern Tribe. I know there’s other Event Calendar systems out there. For the course creators out there, many of them are often integrating … They may have an online course, and they may have live events that are separate, like Big Ticket Items, or whatever. Separate parts of their overall offer. Or part of the course itself may include online specific time meetups through something like Zoom or Skype, or GoToMeeting, or whatever it is. Or it might include actual in person class time, or workshop time. And some people call that, that’s one application of the word Blended Learning, where you’re blending the live and the passive stuff together. Both in person or off online, and that sort of thing. Tell us about EventsCalendarNewsletter. What problem were you solving there for the website owner who has an event calendar, and they’re publishing these events that are happening?
Brian: Yeah, totally. A lot of it is errors that come up. It’s through no fault of the person who’s creating the newsletters, just that it’s super easy to get the title wrong, the date or time wrong, the link to the event wrong, the venue details wrong, or the link to that. There are so many elements that come into it. You usually want to format your newsletter in a different format than you do on the web, right? So you’re not just copying and pasting a whole list of your events and throwing it into the newsletter, right? So you’re piecemeal copying little lengths and details and everything else, or retyping it and often times mess it up.
So, I’ve made that mistake, or either people have corrected me or they come there at the wrong time, which is really bad. Really what prompted it was someone else was creating these newsletters, and they kept messing up the time of our events. They were volunteers, so it’s not like I was super angry, but I’m like, “Oh, what’s happening, are you doing this manually?” And he’s like, “Yeah.” So we cranked out that first version for his specific use case and so that was the main driver, so if you’re creating a newsletter of your upcoming events, you can have all the details you want in there, and you’re not going to mess up the date, time, link, title, details, anything. It’s a great time saver, and headache and nervousness. Because you can’t take an email back. If you send that newsletter out, and it’s got some bad information …
Chris: Right.
Brian: It’s out there. You’re now going to have to fight fires to try and correct anything or people don’t notice and then they show up at the wrong time. Or go to the wrong event, that’s not a good thing.
Chris: Yeah, that’s a huge efficiency boost. The short code part of that plugin, what that does is it allows you to move your events portably to different locations, is that right?
Brian: Yep. So that was a totally separate plugin, but they’re sold right now through the same website. Because the free version of … It’s just for like the EventsCalendarNewsletter, the EventCalendarNewsletter plugin supports a whole bunch of different WordPress calendars, and a couple themes. But the EventsCalendar short code is really just for the Events Calendar by Modern Tribe. Their Pro version has some short codes, though not with as many options and stuff as this one does. This was really to fill that gap between, there’s a free version, there’s a pro version, which like a few extra options and a nicer design, but it’s really to fill that gap, because the free version of the Events Calendar doesn’t have short codes that you can use. Yeah, just lets you pop it in wherever you need it on the site, which is nice.
Chris: Yeah, that’s really cool. So if you were using a learning management system, you could port your events lists, or you could put them in interesting places like sidebars of a certain course, or in the lesson content, an that’s the beauty of short codes. At LMS we have a lot of short codes, and people move stuff … It’s always amazing, how creative people can be with moving pieces around. That’s awesome.
Brian: You can filter by category. Some people actually use it to show details of one specific event, because like you said, it could be part of their LMS, and they might be doing an event and then they just use the short code to kind of pull in those details, so, again, they’re not manually typing or copying and pasting that stuff. Yeah, it’s served a great need, and a lot of people are using it so it’s great.
Chris: Very cool. Well, what’s next after you launch a course? Do you plan on doing a different course, or staying with that one for a while, or what’s your plan? Because you’re a creator.
Brian: I’m not sure…exactly, it’s going to be hard to stop. I’ve got the Pressnomics coming up in April, heading to the first little bit of Micro Comps just to say hi to people and then flying out before that starts, and then the trip, and then a family visit after that for a couple weeks. There will probably be a bit of downtime.
But I think one course that could come out of this is the next step, could potentially be growing it outside just the WordPress plugin. Like perhaps making it sort of like a stand alone SAS out of your plugin? A lot of people I’ve been talking to have seen this as a need, and there are some that are so obvious. It’s like, this doesn’t need to be, if it’s a project management system plugin, obviously this doesn’t need to just be WordPress, and to have that as a requirement, that you need a WordPress site to do project management doesn’t really make sense. Right? I think that could be a potential next course. I’m just looking forward to getting more feedback on the course content, probably adding and tweaking stuff that’s in this course. And yeah, just see what people are looking for and asking for. I’ve gotten some of my ideas already on more technical ones as well, but I’m really liking this almost marketing business growth, getting over fear side of things quite well. It’s probably about 90% of the work I would say of doing a plugin business.
The technical stuff is not trivial, but it’s definitely a huge marketing and getting your stuff out there is a big part of it.
Chris: Well how did you get so that you could live in both of these worlds? The technical world and the business world? Because I see that kind of as a unique skill. How are you the engineer and the marketing or entrepreneur CEO type, too? How did that happen?
Brian: I don’t now. I’ve always described myself as the most social computer nerd you’d ever meet. And I’m just not one to just stay and code. And I struggled with that, actually, for a long time. I’ve been developing since I was 12, and would spend countless nights just coding and hacking on stuff, and whatever. I just kind of started to realize, I like getting out of the house and talking to people, and not spending all my time just sitting at the desk. It’s great to spend some chunks of time just messing with stuff, but that was, that just kind of came and evolved over time. And then I definitely struggled with it for a while, because I’m like, “Oh crap, I don’t know the latest JavaScript technology. I don’t know the latest whatever library, technique and everything else.” Even without knowing that, if statements are still if statements, loops are loops, you can still create some awesome and valuable time saving stuff, without being this epically amazing developer.
And just being that a bit of writing on the wall, I guess, just being a pure developer or a developer without any real thought of why you’re building what you’re building, and the business case behind it and everything else. It’s kind of going down a bit. I know a lot of very talented developers that either have been let go or because they’re just 100% focused on the code, and not looking at the business stuff. So just all of that together have kind of made it where, “Okay, yeah, I do like social aspect more than just sitting on my own for hours a day.” And so it really built from there to kind of focus on the marketing stuff. And it’s a lot of fun. I missed it from the Bingo days, I guess. Building and marketing products, as opposed to just the consulting side of things.
Chris: That is really cool. And I just want to highlight something there that, to be the best in the world at something, I’ve heard that you’re in the top 1%. Now if you combine two things, like engineering and business, you really, when you combine them, now you only have to be in the top 25%.
Brian: Right.
Chris: And then the insight I have talking to you, is that you bring in a third circle into Venn diagram, which is the social component, the getting out of the building component, the listening component, and that just makes you super powerful and it really just opens up the world or really your mind to be able to solve problems in interesting ways for people and to teach people. So that’s really cool. And I admire your journey.
Brian: Thank you. It starts getting to the point where the only person who you’re beating is yourself. You’re the only person you have to get out of your own head sometimes, right?
Chris: And then the competition’s not so hard anymore.
Brian: Or it’s a lot harder.
Chris: Yeah, that’s true, it depends. Well awesome. Well I want to thank you for coming on the show, Brian. Brian, if you want to find out more about him, and there’s links to all his stuff, you can find him at BrianHogg, with two G’s .com. And where else on the internet do you want to send people to, Brian?
Brian: Yeah, not really, BrianHogg.com is kind of the hub now. And transition from BH Consulting that’s B.H, Brian Hogg consulting to just me. Because I have no desire to hire people anytime soon for custom stuff. So yeah, BrianHogg.com is the social links to the course, podcast, all that good stuff.
Chris: All right, well thank you for coming on the show.
Brian: Thank you for having me.

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