Navigating the Digital Ecosystem, Preselling, and the Problems with the Culture of Free with Robin Harris

Posted in

Listen to This Episode

Navigating the digital ecosystem, preselling, and the problems with the culture of free with Robin Harris in this episode of the LMScast podcast with Chris Badgett of LifterLMS. Chris and Robin dive into why cultivating a community around your product is important, and what the state of the online education industry looks like in 2018.

Navigating the digital ecosystem, preselling, and the problems with the culture of free with Robin HarrisRobin is the founder and CEO of she works with experts and businesses to better market themselves and their services online. With all of the technology tools available today, it is not hard to put your services online. The challenge is in the marketing of your services, and that is Robin’s area of expertise.

It is important to cultivate a community around your product before you launch it, so you understand what the market is looking for and can find success with your course or membership site. If you build it, they will come is almost a cliche at this point, but it is a mindset that many course creators have.

Chris and Robin talk about how there is a lot more to building a website than many people think when they first start out, especially with the implementation of GDPR and the new privacy regulations. An online business now comprises much more than just a website. It includes a shopping cart, a CRM, social media outreach, and more.

If something is free online, you are the product. Robin talks about how nothing is truly free on the internet. You can find frequent online offers where someone offers a free eBook in exchange for an email address or other contact information. Sites like Facebook sell space to advertisers, and that is how they make money off of you as the product.

It is important to structure your business where you don’t give away too much for free. Many businesses like LifterLMS have a freemium model where the core product is free, but users can purchase upgrades to unlock advanced functionality. It is important to really understand and invest a lot of effort into establishing a stable sales funnel.

To learn more about Robin Harris you can find her on Twitter at @RobinMHarris21, and on Facebook at 3 Hellos. Be sure to head to to learn more about the services Robin provides.

Also check out to find out more about how you can add online courses and memberships to your WordPress website. Subscribe to our newsletter for updates, developments, and future episodes of LMScast. If you like this episode of LMScast, you can browse more episodes here. Thank you for joining us!

Episode Transcript

Chris: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. I’m joined by a special guest, Robin Harris from That’s the number three She specializes in marketing for small business, has a passion for online platforms, online education. We’re going to get into all of it. Robin, welcome to the show.
Robin Harris: Thank you. I am very excited to be here.
Chris: Yeah, I’m excited to have this conversation with you. How did your journey evolve into marketing for small businesses? Can you tell us who you serve and what your angle is?
Robin Harris: Actually the clients I seem to be attracting, they’re experts. They have brick and mortar businesses. They do phenomenal work. They’ve got 20 plus years of experience in different disciplines, and they are like, “I can’t keep doing this forever offline. I need to bring some component online, and I need to duplicate myself.” They’re bringing some pieces of their business into online courses. I’m helping them take these courses and put them online, but the primary issue is not taking their expertise and putting it online, it’s how to market once they’ve got that done. I’m just like, “Oh we need to tackle this sooner rather than later,” because the last thing I want them to do is we’ve put the course online and then they’re looking at me because they’re not having people come and sign up as soon as they “launch.”
Chris: It’s almost cliché at this point, the whole problem if you build it, they will come, is kind of the mindset. We talk a lot on this show and I go on and on about it, the five hats problems. Being an expert, being a community builder, being a teacher, being a technologist and being an entrepreneur. The entrepreneur skills of marketing, selling, pre-selling and the technology, I’m not saying it’s easy, but that’s the problem I’ve been working on for a while LifterLMS is to make it easier for a non-technical person or someone with basic WordPress knowledge to get the course and the eCommerce set up. At the end of the day, if you just build it they will not come.
Robin Harris: Right. Be like the empty classroom, right?
Chris: Yeah. Before we get into marketing and pre-selling and what some experts should be thinking about or starting sooner than later, can you tell us about the digital ecosystem and the WordPress ecosystem and the culture of free. We were talking about that a little bit in our pre-chat. What’s going on there?
Robin Harris: Well I’ve got noisy bracelets on. I thought I was like, “Okay, take your bracelets off because they’re noisy as heck.” A lot of people have not really connected the dot about how the landscape is changing. This environment, the online environment changes fast and it’s happening faster, faster, faster, faster. What you could do five years ago that worked, that wouldn’t put you at odds with the law, do it today and see what happens. The landscape is changing, and the consumer is becoming more mature, and also the consumer has been socialized into getting things for free online. Now what’s happening with all the privacy policy, the whole issue with Facebook, people are concerned about the misuse of their private information, that’s kind of throwing a monkey wrench in anybody who’s putting up a website online.
Unless it’s just your family and your friends visiting, you need to be concerned about this because you could actually be breaking the law. The digital ecosystem is all the pieces that play together for us to be online, be productive and have a business. You’re not going to just put up a website and that’s not going to be it. You need to connect a shopping cart to it. You need to be able to get emails so that you can stay connected with your people. You need a CRM so you can manage your customer relationship. You need a calendar if you do appointments. You got to plug all this stuff in to your website whether it’s WordPress or any other site.
What happens is all of these things don’t always play well together. What’s particular about WordPress is you can just go plug-in crazy and just add plug-in, plug-in, plug-in, plug-in, plug-in after plug-in and what you end up with is a mess.
Chris: I see that at LifterLMS, like on our technical support team. If we look at a ticket, somebody submitting a support ticket, we can see what plug-ins they have installed. If I see like 50 plug-ins down there, I’m like, “Oh there’s somebody whose knew to WordPress.”
Robin Harris: Right.
Chris: If I see somebody with like five, six, seven plug-ins, I’m like, “Oh they’ve probably been around a while and they’re picking and choosing what is essential for them.”
Robin Harris: Right. Chris, I was surprised. I did some testing. Some of the name brand plug-ins that you would think would have taken in performance and compliance all into scope, you put them in and they tank your site’s performance. I mean tripled the time it takes for your site to load. If you put YouTube, if you embed YouTube videos, it’s adding, I kid you not, 18 cookies to your site. I’m like oh my gosh. I can do this thing over here for free, YouTube, or I can go over here and pay for something like Vimeo which drops one cookie and it’s not doing any tracking. It’s almost daunting, and like I say, those kinds of dilemmas don’t change because if you’re on WordPress or you’re not on WordPress, you need to level up your understanding of what that ecosystem means and what you need to monitor and do some work to find the pieces that really work for your business.
Chris: Yeah, that’s really well said. I want to transition into the culture of free thing. YouTube’s free, Facebook’s free, and there’s a saying when I first heard it, it kind of made me scratch my head, which is if it’s free and you’re not sure, you are the product.
Robin Harris: Right.
Chris: Could you elaborate on that? Why does YouTube have 18 cookies? Well what’s it trying to do? It’s serving you ads.
Robin Harris: Yeah. The other thing it does, it does some things really good. I’m not cookie adverse, and I don’t care that the shoes that I saw on Amazon are stalking me all over the internet. I don’t care about that. I do care about the misuse of my information and putting my privacy at risk for doing bad things. What happens is these services are being financed by ads. Facebook is financed by ads. YouTube is financed by ads. The idea that it’s free, no, it’s to free. Somebody’s paying for it, and the way that you are allow that ecosystem to function is you agree to give up some of your privacy so that they can serve you ads that you are more likely to engage with.
Chris: Whether you realize it or not.
Robin Harris: Whether you realize it or not. Now what happens when you say I don’t want you to put the cookies, like you have to opt in, consciously opt in and say, “Yes, market to me.” Who’s going to say, “Yes, market to me,” when you go to their site?
Chris: Yeah, not a lot.
Robin Harris: What’s happening is people are seeing, “Oh my god, my marketing is dropping, my email list effectiveness is dropping,” because people aren’t going to say, “Yes, market to me.” Now that’s a whole different dilemma that the digital entrepreneur or anybody trying to operate on this platform has to deal with and I think the shock is going to come when we as digital entrepreneurs realize that we played a part in training people to expect everything to be free. Now we got to start placing more value on our digital assets, and everything can’t be free. Now we’ve got to start factoring in, okay, it costs me to be in business. I can’t give everything for free. Now if you want YouTube and you don’t want the ads, you got to pay. It’s $9 a month.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Facebook comes up with a subscription model because if everybody opts out, they’re out of business.
Chris: Yeah, that’s a really good point. Do you have any comments of the culture of free where it’s not free for advertising purposes but it’s like WordPress, the core operating system is free? That’s one thing. Even with us over at LifterLMS, the core product is free. Page builders, like Beaver Builder and Elementor, they have a lite version that’s free.
Robin Harris: That’s your marketing strategy. People say they don’t want you to market to them, but it’s kind of like being two-faced because you took my free thing, what do you think I’m doing? You think I’m in business to give everything away for free? No, that’s like when you go into Sam’s Club or Costco and they have the food there, they’re not just giving it to you because they’re nice. They want you to buy something.
Chris: Yeah, it’s a free sample.
Robin Harris: It’s a sample, or when they send you the little Tide things or samples in the mail, it’s because they want to get you hooked so that you will buy something. I think the allure behind WordPress and even sites like the Free Wick sites. I hate those things. Those free sites is because WordPress by itself is like a house frame or drywall. We’re drywall and nothing else. Its’ really not very useful. You really have to put the plug-ins in, and what the plug-ins do, they give you the free version, but I want to know what the paid version is because when you get the free version, you don’t get support.
When it’s free, you’re wondering are they keeping it up to date, are they keeping it secure? Are they keeping it compatible when WordPress comes out with the next version? You get this free thing, but if there’s not a paid component to it, I don’t want it. I don’t want it because a developer who’s developing these really cool things, guess what, that’s how he makes his living. If the money’s not coming in from somewhere, he’s going to actually start neglecting those plug-ins, right?
Chris: Yeah, you can’t really serve. It has to be an energy exchange or whatever. If you want to serve somebody and give away everything for free or way too low a price, ultimately that’s going to be a problem, and it becomes unsustainable.
Robin Harris: Yes. Charities actually have to go and they have to advertise to people that will give them money and in exchange for that, you know those people get? They get tax write-offs. There’s always this exchange. The idea that I want something for free and I don’t want to give anything in exchange for that is that’s a culture of enablement, and we see that. That’s kind of all over the place, but it’s really hurting us online. Digital entrepreneurs, we need to do something to actually ramp up the perceived value of our digital assets.
Chris: One of the metaphors I think about a lot is, and part of the problem, if you have a digital business that runs through the internet, let’s say online learning or a training school, if you had a physical school building out somewhere or some kind of academy for some niche topic, you’d have, I don’t know, $50,000, $100,000, $500,000 worth of real estate or rent. You would have buildings, personnel coming in, staff, tools, all these things. It’s really easy to see the overhead of a university, as an example. If you look at an online business where a website is kind of the business, to the outside looking in, sometimes it just looks like a screen that’s about like one foot wide or one foot tall or even smaller on the smart phone.
Robin Harris: Right.
Chris: What if you get the same … I’m not saying it’s always even, but what if you’re able to get the same or a little less or better results from the online version than the brick and mortar thing? Is it less valuable because it’s digital?
Robin Harris: Actually it’s more valuable because I live in, I’m in Georgia, and anybody knows anything about the Atlanta area, the traffic, oh my gosh. If I have to drive some place that’s really 30 minutes in traffic, it could be up to two hours.
Chris: Wow.
Robin Harris: If I had to go to this place because I’ve been working from home for like nine years, I’m thinking about getting some office, but I haven’t factored that commute in. Is my time valuable? When you go to a course and you listen to the lecturer and you’ve got to take the notes, if your notes were not good and you need to reengage with that material and all you have are your funky notes …
Chris: Is there a video to re-watch?
Robin Harris: That’s right.
Chris: It’s a super good point. A super good point. The other thing is you’re not geographically limited. If you have some niche interest in something, there may be somebody on the other side of the planet that’s the best teacher about it but [crosstalk 00:16:40].
Robin Harris: Right. I have an interest in animation, so I’m a writer also, a creative writer. I’m doing an animation story. I got superhero characters and all this other kind of cool stuff. My animator is in the UK.
Chris: Cool.
Robin Harris: We work through an online platform, and I’m like, “Okay, drop this in the Dropbox. Let me see this,” and so now this allows me to … my special effects guy is in India. Wonderful guy, does all this really cool stuff. Another person I work with is in Croatia. I have at my disposal, I can get the best people that I can afford and it doesn’t matter where in the globe they are. Technology has made that possible. I’m grateful for that.
Chris: That’s awesome. That’s the beauty of a global internet. It’s really hard to fathom how big the internet really is, and some people, I’ve heard it put this way that, the real genius of it all isn’t the information age or access to the information, it’s the connection, the ability to connect with people is essentially anywhere. It’s truly amazing. Let’s shift over into the marketing and the pre-selling, and if you build it they will not come. You identified an issue where your clients, if they’re going to have courses, they need to be marketing much earlier. Can you talk about the problem and what you’re doing to combat that or what you recommend, especially for a course builder who’s just getting started?
Robin Harris: I think it applies not just for courses but for course builders. I work with clients, they have expertise, they have brick and mortar businesses. They’ve been in business 20 something years. They’re truly amazing at their area of expertise, and they want to teach. Actually, it’s time for them to duplicate themselves and be able to create passive income streams, pass that knowledge onto the next generation and also prepare for retirement because they don’t want to keep working the hands on a yoga studio who is with a massage therapist and a woman who has an amazing spa with all of these therapies.
Getting their expertise into a course content, that’s going to be so easy because they know their material. They’ve built businesses based on this.
Chris: With paying customers.
Robin Harris: With paying customers, right. When they put this content into a course, the misconception is okay, now I have a course and it’s going to just sell itself. Now they’ve invested all this money in creating this course, and the time that it takes to ramp up and to get your marketing, it could be another six months because they don’t know what they’re doing.
Chris: A lot of brick and mortar businesses don’t have an email list. They may have their customer list.
Robin Harris: Their customers, yeah.
Chris: That’s different from a prospect list.
Robin Harris: Or therapists who want to own their own spas or whatever because basically what she wants to do is franchise herself, right? Franchise her business. What I’m having my clients do as they’re building out their course, we need to pull the marketing way, way up because the goal is that by the time they have something to sell, they have the community that’s made up of their ideal customers, salivating and ready because they’ve been engaging, they’ve been providing value. They’ve actually gotten inside the ideal customer’s head. My one client, we were looking at keyword search. What she discovered was the language that she was using is not what people are looking for. She has a large audience, but it would have been a total mismatch.
She would have created all of that content, and it wouldn’t have resonated with her ideal client.
Chris: There’s two names for that. One of them is called expertitis. You’re just so close to it and you’re so advanced that maybe you forgot what the beginners mind or when they’re first becoming aware of this problem or this opportunity. Another name for that is techno babble. If you spend a lot of time in an industry, I can start talking in a bunch of WordPress technical terms if I wanted to, but I don’t. I talk about building online courses and websites. I try to never forget what it’s like to be at that point where I’m thinking I want to build my first website. What does that person talk to? What are the words they use? I think that’s a great insight and you’re taking a data driven approach to doing it through actual keyword research.
It’s not just pulling it out of the air, it’s pulling it out of the data.
Robin Harris: It’s what you think the market wants is probably not what the market wants. Also, it gives you an opportunity to say, I worked in corporate 25 years, retired. What we would do is somebody would get a brilliant idea, and it’s like you know what, let’s do a pilot. Before we go spend $1 million going down the wrong road, let’s spend $10,000 and see if anybody really wants this.
Chris: Some validation.
Robin Harris: Yes. When you bring your marketing piece up, you can actually start validating your idea. You can actually address the core issues in your content that’s coming up for people because you’ve been in conversation with them. To me, it just makes sense. Why would you want to spend all of this time and money and effort putting the course together and then it’s not something that the market wants to buy?
Chris: What are some other ideas you have around specific types of marketing and validation? You mentioned keyword research, which comes in handy for language and what course to build and what problems people are actually searching for, competitors and things like that. How do you pilot or how do you pre-sell? How do you community build? What are some of the things you recommend?
Robin Harris: I would say, this is where Facebook can come in handy. I like content marketing. You can do your … we’re going back to an ecosystem. Instead of treating your social media like it’s just something sitting over here, your website is something sitting over here, your course is something, and they’re all doing their own thing, what you want to do is you create your core topics. The core topics that are relevant, and they don’t all have to be course driven. It can be related topics, adjacent topics, kind of like lead-in topics and different things like that. You create these core topics, you do your keyword research and then you actually create content hubs around the topic.
You could start the conversation on Facebook and end it on your blog.
Chris: That is cool.
Robin Harris: End it with them opting in to a piece of data, content that upgrades and relates to that same conversation.
Chris: That is very cool. It’s a way more holistic approach than oh, you just need a Facebook group or you need a lead magnet. It’s more holistic. Can you tell us about a customer journey?
Robin Harris: Okay, this is interesting. It’s kind of based on the heroes journey. We’re all on our own journey, but the customer’s journey has to do with, a customer will be in different places, a potential customer, prospect. The hardest customer to work with to get in is a customer that doesn’t know they have a problem. I’m sure you’ve probably seen people trying to sell something to people, yeah, it might help them but they don’t see it as a problem. If you’re trying to sell somebody on eating healthy and they’re like, “I’m a fast food queen … ”
Chris: You think it’s a solution but to them it’s a suggestion.
Robin Harris: Yes. Then there’s an awareness phase. There’s awareness. We call it tofu mofu bofu. Top of funnel, the middle of the funnel, the bottom of the funnel. The more down to the bottom you get, the more they’re ready to take out their credit card and buy something. At the top, they’re just doing research. I’m thinking about remodeling my house. You might be going out looking at pictures, Googling different ideas, collecting pictures or whatever, but you’re not ready to commit to anything, right? You’re just doing research. Well that audience is larger than the buying audience. Out of so many of those people, a percentage of those people are going to drop into the middle of the funnel where they are ready to, “Okay, I think I’m going to start with redoing my kitchen.”
Now they’ve settled on a certain thing they’re going to look for. Now they’re researching doing their kitchen and they’re going to compare. They’re comparison shopping. You might come up as one of the possible options. Then the bottom of the funnel is they’re ready to make a final decision. This is the place where you’re separating yourself from the rest of their possible kitchen remodeling people. That’s where the sale is made. The content and the conversations you have change depending on where the person is.
Have you ever gone into a store and you’re just browsing and the salesperson is like, oh my god, like creepy stalking you?
Chris: Feels aggressive. Yeah.
Robin Harris: Right. “Oh these are on sale.” It’s like well I’m not looking for that and following you around the store or whatever. That’s the mismatch. Just like it feels creepy or unpleasant when you go into a store, it feels unpleasant online and that’s really I think what has made people so like this when it comes to marketing because they feel like they’re being assaulted.
Chris: Yeah. That is a huge problem up there, and they’re just getting the wrong thing in the wrong part of the funnel. Another way I like to describe that is they go from unaware to problem aware to solution aware to product aware. If we use an example like let’s just say I have a course on becoming gluten free, a gluten free cooking course, the unaware phase, I’m not trying to sell somebody a gluten free cooking course. I’m just trying to get their attention. The content I might have is something about how a 47 year old with some eczema and inflammation completely cured themselves with a weird experience. That might be a blog post where they accidentally gave up gluten for a week and this lifelong issue they had just magically cleared up.
Now they’re becoming problem aware, so then I might have some content about oh what’s the difference between celiac disease and a gluten allergy or a gluten sensitivity. Then they become solution aware of well there’s courses, there’s doctors you can talk to, there’s nutritionists, and then they become product aware of specific products that they could try. It was just totally different content in that customer journey. I think people, they really annoying salesperson is, they’re always down at the bottom of the funnel screaming at the people at the top of the funnel.
Robin Harris: Right. Ryan Deiss from Digital Marketers uses the dating analogy. It’s like you go into a bar and the creepy girl comes over and says she wants to pick out wedding rings, right? The guy who is really trying to take you home. Like dude, I just met you.
Chris: Right. There’s a whole other thing to become just, are we even compatible? Do we like hanging out with each other?
Robin Harris: There’s actually a psychology about intimacy. Basically this came from that rim of understanding. They’re about 12 steps humans go from meeting each other to let’s get married or let’s spend our life together. What they found is you can skip one or two steps, but if you skip three, it’s like that puts you in the realm of a stalker or a sexual harassment or something like that. The same thing happens in the buying cycle. There’s maybe like five or six, you mentioned six. You might just skip one, but if you skip two, it feels weird to your potential client. It feels unnatural and it makes the company seem inauthentic and uncaring and like they’re just about the money.
Chris: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. I think one idea that popped into my head as you were talking about that is if you have something, like let’s say the dating and marriage thing, maybe if you have a course about how to for marriage happiness or something after seven years or something, you might have a bunch of free content that’s going step one of how to meet people, step two about dating advice, step three, choosing to engage, engagement or whatever, getting married. Then they get to the paid course of here’s how to make it last or whatever. Sometimes a product just sits across maybe steps five to eight whereas the first steps in the process are part of the marketing. There’s plenty of material, and now you’ve built your relationship with someone, like you said, who when the time is right, they’re eager and already sold and ready to buy from you.
Robin Harris: Right. Another thing I’m having my clients do is I’m having them, their courses are like mastery level courses. You talked about the expert. That’s too much. That’s too much too soon. What can you peel out of that that is suitable for the beginner, who wants to see if this is worth investing in and what we want to do is basically have this, it’s got to be related though. That’s probably with lead magnets. With people that offer lead magnets that has nothing to do with the next step you want them to take. It’s got to be closely related, so close that the natural next step is something in your course.
A lot of times just having one product doesn’t work. You need to create the baby version of it that’s the introduction and then something, depending on how expensive your course is, something in the middle. I went from the $69 course, and I’ve done this, $69 course to the $600 course to the $7,000 course, but there is no way I would have come in the door and went to the $7,000 course. No. Never. That’s a never. Also, the more expensive your course is, the more work you have to do to gain that trust for them to spend that money with you. You go to invest more in the upfront pieces and the upfront content. One client is like, they don’t want to give anything away. It’s like nobody’s going to come and just start spending money with you unless it’s $7, thus the trip wire.
That’s relative. If you’re selling something for $10, the trip wire could be $500, right?
Chris: Right. Yeah, that’s a really good point. It’s a long term thing. It’s often bigger, like there’s a bigger process in play. it’s important to look at the time horizon. It’s not just the launch and here we go. It’s like this is a relationship with a prospect, a potential customer that’s been developing across multiple channels, media, time and you’re learning how through keyword research to engage with the right words that they’re using so that they can understand what you’re talking about.
Robin Harris: Right.
Chris: So many good tips., that’s the number three, H-E-L-L-O-S, dot com. Robin Harris, where else can people connect with you on the internet?
Robin Harris: I’m on Facebook 3 Hellos. I’m on Twitter, @RobinMHarris21. I’m on LinkedIn. I think it might be RobinMHarris21 too there. Just look for Robin Harris. I haven’t made it to Instagram yet. That’s the other thing is people try to be too many places, and that’s just, I can’t. I don’t have the bandwidth. Those are the three places, and I’m right now actually doing a proof of concept for myself for actually creating a site that is optimized for my keywords, and that is The SEO Company. You can go to that site and actually get a free audit for your site. It’ll audit the first two pages and let you see what Google sees when it goes and it’ll give you some good insights into my site needs some work.
Chris: That’s awesome. We’ll have a link to that in the show notes as well. Head on over to and you’ll see the episode with Robin there. If you’re watching this on YouTube or listening to it on your podcast. Robin, thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing your journey and experience with us.
Robin Harris: Thank you for inviting me.

Know Your Value

Discover how much you can charge (no opt in required).

Stop Wasting Time Researching Tech

WordPress LMS Buyer's Guide Download Cover Images

Get FREE access to the official WordPress LMS Buyer’s Guide

Get the Best LMS Software Now

Get FREE instant access to the most powerful customizable LMS software

Create and Launch an Online Course with WordPress

Discover how to launch your online course website in 20 minutes.

WordPress LMS Growth Engine

5 secrets to create, launch, and scale your high value online training program website.

Try LifterLMS Before You Buy

Discover the world’s most powerful flexible learning management system (LMS) for WordPress.