Episode 98

When You Need Custom Membership Site, Online Course, or Learning Management System Development and Design Services

If your online business is growing, the time will come when you need custom membership site, online course, or learning management system development and design services. In today’s LMScast Chris Badgett is joined by Mark Nelson and Ali Mathis of codeBOX to discuss how you can benefit from their services.

First some history. This LMScast program began in February of 2014 with the release of the original LifterLMS course development software. codeBOX is the parent company for LifterLMS, and the LMScast was designed to help education entrepreneurs, membership site owners, and learning management system administrators get the most out of the software.

The LifterLMS platform can be implemented by technically inclined users, but most people really prefer to focus on their business. That’s where custom development services come in. codeBOX essentially works with you to define the scope of your project and bridge the gap from your business needs to the technical system required to support your goals.

The codeBOX service uses a unique approach that they call their discovery process. They take the time to really get to know you, your business, and your vision before any other steps are taken. They help you expand and refine your idea, then collaborate with you to co-create a plan and a site map to make it happen. Their discovery process is also the most effective process for setting an accurate budget and timeline for your project.

You can benefit most from professional development services when you’re already successful in your business and need to go to the next level. You should really understand what you want to do and have a budget in place. If you’re a beginner just starting out, you’ll do better to use an off-the-shelf solution like the LifterLMS platform and get your minimum viable product up and running.

Once you’re ready to leverage the power of an innovative team of expert programmers, developers, and designers, make sure you choose a service that’s the right fit. Chris, Mark, Ali, and the rest of the team at codeBOX understand where you’re coming from, because they’ve all been there themselves. When you need custom membership site, online course, or learning management system development and design services, the codeBOX team members would love to be your long-term technology partners. Visit our website at gocodebox.com and discover what we can do for you.

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

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Chris: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. My name’s Chris Badgett, and in this episode we’re going to be talking about when you need custom membership site, online course, or learning management system development and design services. Wow. That’s a mouthful, but we’re going to cover all that in this show. We have some special guests with us, but before I introduce them … Just so you know what you’re going to get in this episode, because we’re going to talk about really what custom development services are, why you need them, how they should start with something we call a discovery process, who’s it for, who’s custom development not for, and how to pick a company. We’re also going to get into the story of codeBOX and LifterLMS and LMScast, and how these three different things all tie together through a common story.

First, let me introduce two of my favorite people. Mark Nelson who was the original lead developer behind LifterLMS, and he is also an all-star developer in the customer development service arm of codeBOX, which is the company that makes LifterLMS. How you doing Mark?

Mark: Fantastic. How are you?

Chris: Good to have you back on the show. It’s been awhile.

Mark: Yeah.

Chris: We’ve also got Ali Mathis. Ali has been with us for a long time and helping out over on the client services side of codeBOX, and has been involved in a lot of custom development projects. Very large projects. Medium size projects. Figuring out what kind of project it’s going to be from a project management perspective and also just helping kind of co-create the project which is a big part of what we believe at codeBOX. Part of our brand is that we co-create our projects together with our clients so more heads are better in lots of different perspectives. Thanks for coming on the show Ali.

Ali: Hey Chris. Thanks for having me.

Chris: All right. Let’s start out with the story of codeBOX and LifterLMS and LMScast. If you’re listening to this episode you’re an LMScast listener. We started this show back in I believe it was February of 2014 when we were originally getting ready to launch the first version of the LifterLMS software, so this show is designed to help education entrepreneurs, membership site owners, learning management system administrators to kind of see the landscape of what’s possible out there and to have conversations around the topics and issues that we run into. I’m one of the owners of the LifterLMS project and the codeBOX business, but I also create and sell online courses myself which is why one of the reasons I created this show is to help other people like me figure out the best options and to even find out about things that I should be caring about but may not even be aware of. LifterLMS, it’s a business by itself but the parent company that makes it is called codeBOX. You can find codeBOX at gocodebox.com, and we’re going to give you some other cool URLs that you should look at on that site a little later on the show. That’s how codeBOX, LifterLMS, and LMScast all fit together.

LifterLMS is more of a product whereas codeBOX is our client services and custom design and development services. That’s kind of what makes us unique in the space and somewhat well rounded is not only do we make online courses or care about LMS projects and membership sites ourselves, we create products in that niche like with LifterLMS and our various add-ons and also do this as a service for other people who may need more than just online courses, or need to build other software on top of their learning management system, or need just some kind of custom user experience where they can’t create it out of the box. That’s the story of codeBOX, LifterLMS, and LMScast.

In this episode we’re talking about taking and figuring out when and if you need custom design and development services. We’re going to get into that in just a second.

We’re going to get into how to go about doing a custom development project. You’ve got an idea. You know you’re ready to create an online course or membership site or an LMS, and you’ve decided that you’re ready to go the custom route. There’s not an off the shelf solution that solves all your problems. We do something a little differently, and to be honest with you at codeBOX we here a lot of what we would consider, I don’t know, horror stories or people basically coming from a bad experience with a web development or design agency, so we kind of start off needing to earn that trust back. We feel you and we know what it’s like if you’ve hired freelancers before, you’ve worked with agencies and left with not necessarily the best experience. What we do that’s totally different is we like to slow things down and start off with what we call the discovery process.

Just like building the house. You can get a cookie cutter house in a subdivision or if you want to really design something truly unique and do exactly and look in a way that you really want it to look, you’re going to need to have some custom engineering or architect type thing in the beginning of the project. That’s the nature of custom. If you’re not cookie cutter and you’re not using something off the shelf, it’s really important to invest that time in discovering the project and what it’s going to be and unpacking it and leveraging the expertise of experts.

We want to talk a little bit about what’s possible if you go through the codeBOX discovery process. I’ll hand it over to you Ali and Mark. Again, Ali is one of our all-star project managers at codeBOX and has worked on custom development projects with us for a long time. Mark here is an all-star developer and one of the original architects of the LifterLMS product that we have as a sub-business under codeBOX.

If you’re watching this and you’re thinking in your head, “What do I get if I invest in this discovery process?” What do I get and what are the benefits?

Mark: Well, you get a plan. A lot of times people come to us with an idea and the discovery process is really intended to take someone’s idea and come up with a plan. You have your idea for the website. You have an idea for how it wants to work. You have an idea for the custom functionality that you’re looking to get. Then, over a series of weeks we meet with you. We revise your idea. We work with you to vet out the possibilities of your idea. Help you come up with new ideas. Help you refine your idea to be even better than what you initially had, and then in the end you walk away with a solid plan on paper that outlines your idea. It’s no longer just an idea. Now you actually have a plan. If you want we carry out your plan, that’s up to you but that’s part of the discovery process is helping you refine that vision.

Ali: Just to add onto what Mark said, it’s not even just a plan but you also walk away with a site map. That’s one of our key deliverables that we promise. If you do go forward with the project the cost of the discovery’s actually applied to the overall project cost, so it’s a really good invest in making sure that you’re able to get the best product and help us deliver the best product.

Chris: Absolutely. That’s the other thing where we’re different is a lot of other agencies or companies would want to throw out a number and just start right away, but we can’t actually responsibly give you a financial estimate on how big the project’s going to be, how long it’s going to take, how much it’s going to cost until we go through a proper discovery process. That’s not something that can be done with a quick fifteen minute sales call, so it’s really important to invest in that piece.

Ali: I think a lot of people can be intimidated by the term discovery process because it sounds like such a big … They just want a number for how much their project might cost and that sounds like such a big investment of time, but we really have it kind of broken down to a science. We do it in two to three phone calls. In the first call we really learn about you and what you want to build. In the second phone call we kind of reflect that back to you and show you some wire frames and the site map and make sure that we are all on the same page. Then, by the third call we’re ready to discuss the scope of the project and the timeline for the project.

Chris: Mm-hmm (affirmative). That’s awesome. If I could throw a metaphor out there, a lot of us who have a project when we come we have a vision in our head but it’s really important to build a foundation under castles in the air, as I like to say, because by going through the discovery process we can uncover the details that maybe haven’t been thought about yet. You’re leveraging our expertise having done lots of projects in the membership site, the learning management system, the online course, and other different niches in web development. We have a lot of experience in e-commerce, integrating with other third party software through APIs and things like that so you get to leverage our expertise and we can help really define all the pieces that go into building that house or that web property.

Ali: Absolutely.

Chris: I think another thing to mention too is that we also take a value stance in the sense that we’re looking for the value that you’re going for in your platform and we understand that what we want to use web development and design, and software and tools to solve business problems. We can speak to you on both sides and we understand where you’re coming from as an entrepreneur, business owner, and expert of some kind. What we do is we help build that bridge from your business problem or needs into the technical system that’s going to help support and solve that. Then we do it in a visual way so that we can kind of orient you of exactly what you’re going to get, and then also in a line item way so that you can understand how big and what are the costs of the various features to implement.

Ali: Mm-hmm (affirmative). The discovery process is also a really good time for us to get to know you better and learn how you like to work and how we like to work, so that when we do start the project together we’re all really familiar and comfortable with each other.

Chris: Absolutely. I’d like to say, if you’re watching this I want you to know who the discovery process is not for. We’ll get into who it’s for, but who it’s not for. There’s a couple things that come to mind for me.

One is if you don’t have a budget. If you don’t have a budget you’re not at a place where you’re really ready for custom development, so you need to work with off the shelf tools and try to get your MVP, your minimum viable product, or your phase one do it yourself project off the ground. You’re not quite ready for the custom build. It’s important to know where you’re at on that journey.

Also, it’s not really for what I would call online or business beginners. What I mean by that is where codeBOX really shines is we help take already successful entrepreneurs to the next level, and what I mean by that is that doesn’t necessarily mean … You may be successful offline and you’re just trying to bring your business online, so that’s the way we help take you to the next level. Perhaps you’re already online. You’ve gone through the hard yards and you built your project a couple years ago, or this year, or five years ago but you’re really ready and now you see the value in hiring a professional to help you do that and you’re looking to grow to that next level. That’s another thing.

The other thing is technology overtime is becoming more and more approachable. The tools are out there for people with non-technical skills to get in there and start messing with things like WordPress or plugins or hosting accounts and things, but this service is not for the do it yourself-er. It’s true that we don’t build any black boxes that you can’t work on and maintain in the future, but this is for someone who’s ready to leverage the power of a team, and programmers, and developers, and designers and let those strengths come from the people who have been doing it for quite some time.

What else would you guys add? Who is the codeBOX discovery process not for?

Mark: Well, what you said’s really true. It’s not for people that are doing it themselves. If you’re doing it yourself or you don’t have a budget you have a hard time getting and collaborating and building out a solid plan. I think it’s definitely not for the small business that doesn’t really know what they want at all. I think if you come to us and you just want to get online we can help you do that, but we really want you to have something that you’re trying to do. We really want to take you to the next level, take your business model and move it online or take your existing system that you had built and move it to 2016. Make it better than everybody else. We like to make people exceed better than the expectations.

Ali: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris: Absolutely. Really who is the codeBOX discovery process for? It’s the opposite of that. It’s for folks who have a working budget, who have some kind of success already and they’re ready to kind of go to the next level, and then that values the time savings and the ability to leverage the expertise of the experts. That’s who the codeBOX discovery process is for.

Also, I just want to add that one of the questions we get is how much is a project going to cost. Well, we don’t know. That’s the purpose of the discovery process. When you invest in that we’re actually able to give you a concrete number that we can work with, but we can’t do that before we go through the discovery process.

Ali: I would add that most people that tell you that they can do that without really understanding the project are probably wrong.

Chris: Right.

Ali: It’s really important to really understand what you’re building and have more than a fifteen minute phone call before getting a number to work with.

Mark: Yeah. It’s as important to us to scope it out as it is for you. We’ve learned that from doing custom development for years and years. This is the best way that we’ve found that we can sit with you, we can come up with the plan, we can understand you, we can understand your budget, we can come back to you with what we can do within that budget. It’s really beneficial. We’ve never seen anything that works as well as the discovery process as far as coming up with an accurate budget and timeline for your project.

Ali: Right. That’s what I was just going to add to what Mark was saying was that it’s not just about a number, but it’s also about a timeline because that’s another thing that you’re worried about is, “When is my project going to be completed? I have this great idea but I’d like to launch it in twelve weeks. Is that possible?” The discovery process really helps us answer those questions.

Chris: Absolutely. Like we mentioned a little earlier in this video is that sometimes people have experience where they ended up at odds with their web development or design agency and a lot of times that comes from just not having gone through the discovery process, whereas with us we end up with being known as long-term technology partners. We have clients who have been with us for years. It started out with a discovery process. We built whatever the web property, or the application, or the website that we were building, and then these clients keep coming back asking for more and taking their business to the next level with more and more projects and so on. We want to be seen as a long-term technology partner and in order to do that properly we need to do our diligence with each other and leverage each other as best we can in the beginning with that discovery process.

Mark: We use the same process model for our current clients, the clients who have been with us for years. They come up with a new feature that they want to implement and we make them vet it with us. Sometimes they walk away and decide that it wasn’t a good feature. It doesn’t really fit their model or it’s just completely out of scope of what they want to do, and they end up walking away with a different idea. Sometimes we vet it out and it’s perfect, and that way we can execute exactly what they want.

One of the big things with discovery in general, whether you’re already a client or you’re thinking about becoming a client, is we want to make sure that what we build you is what you wanted or more-so what you needed. Sometimes you think you know what you need, but through the vetting process you actually refine and figure out exactly what you need and then when we build it you’re not surprised. That’s something that I’ve seen throughout my entire career in development and it’s one of the most common issues that you see is you come up with a great idea, you talk about it really quick, the developer goes and builds it, and pretty soon it’s not really what you wanted … Or, it might be what you initially wanted but it’s definitely not what you needed and it doesn’t work the way that you intended it to.

Ali: Right. It’s all about expectations.

Chris: Mm-hmm (affirmative). That makes sense. We’re also flexible. Like you were saying Mark, if a project needs to change on the fly or the scope needs to be adjusted we can absolutely do that. We don’t get locked in because we know that as projects evolve and deploy out that some things might change. Some things may become more important, less important, or need to change. That’s okay and we can work with that as technology partners.

Mark: Yeah. I think from a project manager’s standpoint the discovery process isn’t a waterfall system, it’s just a way to refine the idea before we get started. We like to approach the entire development process from an agile perspective. We like milestones. We like to do small implementations and refine that and work with you. Even what we came up with in the initial discovery might not be the final project, and that’s only because through the development process we came up with new ideas, things are refined, and it’s just changed slightly. That initial discovery process is still incredibly important because it at least gets us all on the same page, we define the scope of the project, everybody understands what we’re trying to achieve, and I’ve never seen it go from … The goal never changes. Pieces might change, but the overall goal, what we’ve solidified in the discovery process, is what you come out with.

Chris: Absolutely. If this is resonating with you, if you’d like to find out more about a discovery session with codeBOX, go to gocodebox.com/discovery-session. You can easily get there if you just go to gocodebox.com. You’ll find this video there if you’re not already there and then below that or beside it you’re going to see two buttons. One where you can go ahead and purchase and invest in your discovery process, and get on the schedule and get things rolling. The other option there is going to be a button or a link where you can schedule a quick call to kind of talk about it or figure out what your questions are that need to get answered about the discovery process before moving forward. Again, go to gocodebox.com/discovery-session.

We’re not done. We’re going to keep going here. We’ve got some more information for you about the discovery process. That is just to tell you a little bit about the codeBOX brand and what we’re all about. Really not all agencies, or companies, or freelancers are the same. There’s some different things that make us unique and why you should consider possibly working with us compared to, let’s say, trying to outsource your entire project overseas to a different country where you can find lower cost help.

There’s some great people all around the world in web development and marketing and all these things, but people don’t always have the best experience with that or they run into issues with timezone issues and trying to communicate on a decent schedule. Not all freelancers are the same and they don’t all cost the same. I’d really advise you strongly to watch out strongly for something that seems like too much of a good deal because there are cheap options out there for freelancers or agencies, but in our experience you really do get what you pay for in a lot of cases. Just like a hair cut. You can get the twenty dollar haircut or you can get the hundred dollar haircut.

Ali, I’ll hand that one over to you. What makes that different?

Ali: Well, Chris if you go get a twenty dollar haircut you’re going to get a less experienced stylist who doesn’t really take into consideration the texture of your hair, might not listen to your story and understand what your daily needs are for your hair, if you like to wear it up in a ponytail because you run all the time or if you like to wear it down because you have to go into an office everyday. Versus if you go to a high-end salon they’re going to listen to you, they’re going to listen to your story, they’re going to listen to your needs and come up with a haircut or a style that suits you and fits you.

It’s actually a great analogy because it’s just like using us. We are the experts and we can create a website that suits you, and that fits your needs and your user’s needs. It’s the same sort of thing.

Chris: Absolutely. I think one of the biggest benefits is the experience. You get to leverage our experience and all the other projects that we’ve worked on, so we have so much history that that gets reflected in the consulting process that emerges in the discovery process and the in quality of what it is that we built.

Ali: Right. You don’t want somebody cutting you’re hair that’s doing it for the first time. At least I don’t.

Chris: That’s right.

Mark: The twenty dollar haircut is for some people. Some people it would make a lot of sense to ship your product overseas have it done as cheap as possible, or hire a local developer because what you’re looking for can be done by that, or it’s just your budget. You just don’t have the budget to go to the high-end salon and get the best haircut you possibly can. That’s kind of where it goes back to who’s it not for. The discovery session or development work isn’t for the twenty dollar haircut type people that just need to get something done, and maybe we’ll meet again because this is an MVP. You’ve got to start somewhere.

What we focus on is, like you said, we want to be technology partners with you. We’re always innovating. We’re always pushing ourselves to be the best at what we do, and we are the best at what we do. When it comes time to build a learning management system on WordPress or it comes time to build an application or website that’s going to have a lot of viewers or a lot of data, we’re professionals in that realm. We can do it right.

Ali: Just going back to my favorite analogy, the haircut analogy, again: If you do invest in a good haircut you might not need to get your hair cut every four weeks because the hairdresser knows how to style it and knows how to cut it so that it will grow out well. Knows how to do it right the first time.

Chris: Absolutely. It’s not something fragile that’s just put together. It’s made just like a solid constructed building to last and stand the test of time, and if you want to add onto it later you can.

Ali: Right. Exactly.

Chris: Speaking of haircuts and our analogy here, one of the things that we get feedback on from our clients is just how friendly and approachable we are. We like to have fun. Just like right here we’re talking about haircuts. You can also see our faces. A lot of web development and design agencies like to pretend that they’re bigger than they are. They put up fancy office buildings and things on their website. As a technology partner we also like to be the kind of people that you enjoy interacting with. We don’t want to be the dentist that you never look forward to going to. A lot of our clients we meet with weekly, and we enjoy our calls, and we have a good connection with each other, and care about our clients above and beyond just the website or just another project.

Do you guys have anything you’d like to add to that?

Ali: I think that’s absolutely true. We have a lot of fun working together as a team on codeBOX and I think that gets translated to our relationships with our clients because we have a lot of fun working with them too.

Mark: Yeah. We love what we do. That’s the big part of it. Everybody on the team is obsessed with websites and internet technologies and technology in general. We’re all just a bunch of people that love that stuff, so we really get into working with clients that also love that stuff. If you’re looking to innovate that get’s everybody excited on the team.

When we have a client come to us and they want to do something that hasn’t been done before or they want to do something better than what they’ve seen, we love that. We love a good challenge and we just work with them, refine it, figure it out, and just build it to the best that we possibly can. We have a blast doing it.

Chris: Absolutely. We celebrate the success of our clients. What I like to say is, “Your success is our success.” When you do a launch of your membership site, or your course, or whatever your application or platform is and you have a successful launch where you earn way more than it cost to develop the thing, we celebrate that. We celebrate the success of our clients and invest in it. The better you do, that’s better for all of it. It means it’s working and everything is paying off and we’re getting the most value out of the project as we can.

Mark: Yeah. That kind of goes back down to the whole, “Who do you want to work with,” because what we’ve found … When you decide you’re going to get into the learning management space, you’re going to get into membership, you’re going to do a custom site, you’re going to do something innovative, that’s not a one-stop thing. You’re not going to have us build it and you’re done, and you can just manage it forever. That’s a life-long partnership and that’s what we strive to build is trust with you from the initial project, and ongoing trust, and that we know what we’re doing and that we can help you refine your vision and keep your project innovative. That’s the big thing is working with you forever because we’ll be hanging out every week if you’re successful and you just want to keep innovating.

Ali: Yeah. That’s my favorite part of the week, actually, is talking to our clients and hearing what they’ve been up to and talking about their sites and what new projects we have coming up.

Mark: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris: Absolutely. Well, if this is resonating with you and you’d like to move forward go ahead and click the button below this video and invest in your discovery process. That’s at gocodebox.com/discovery-session. If you want to jump on a quick phone call and have some pre-sales questions about the discovery process or just things you want to get ironed out before you move forward, go ahead and click the other button where you can schedule a call for that. We’re just going to talk about one more thing before we close out this video and that’s really how to get the most out of discovery call.

Let’s assume you’re here and you see the value in co-creating your project in the early phases, and avoiding mistakes, and leveraging our expertise, and saving your time, and we’re moving forward with the discovery process. How do we get the most out of that? Well, I think some things that come to mind for me is to really present … We may not know your exact business and what you’re trying to do with your web application to best benefit your business, so you need to educate us a little bit on who your customer is or your ideal customer, and how your business works or how it’s going to work, or what the problem we’re going to be solving is, and what is your vision. Your short-term, your medium-term your long-term vision. Those things are really helpful. You got to educate us a little bit so we can discover a little bit about you and really invest in your story, and your goals, and what you’re trying to accomplish. That’s one thing that I would really recommend is to treat us with a beginner’s mind and tell us what you’re trying to do.

Ali: The number one way I think that you can get the most out of your discovery session is really thinking about what your budget is and being honest with us about it, because when clients are hesitant to share their budget with us it hinders our ability to be able to be creative and come up with a plan that fits your needs. I think that’s a number one thing that’s helpful.

Mark: Yeah. That’s difficult because obviously … Maybe it’s people they’ve worked with before or it’s just a preconceived notion that sharing their budget means we’re going to try to maximize the project to their budget, but what it really does is it helps us wrangle in their vision because you can take any concept and it could be wide ranged. If we don’t know what your budget is and you’re telling us all these things you want to do you’re going to get shocked when we come back and tell you how much the project’s going to be, but if you tell us what the budget is through the entire discovery process we’ll be working with you in those means. Talking about that is a killer idea, but maybe that gets pushed to V2 while we work on this. Or all this is way below what you’re even estimating. We’ve seen both. What we’ve seen is we get a lot more out of it when the customer does share it and we don’t always go up to their budget. Sometimes they do realize that they need to come back later when their budget’s better and sometimes their budget’s beyond what we even need to charge them to get something done. It just helps us understand what we’re working in.

Ali: Yeah. That’s one of my favorite things about working with Mark actually is he loves a challenge and he’s really creative. If I tell him, “This client has a, and I’m just making up a number there, fifteen thousand dollar budget but they wanted to do x, y, and z.” Mark is really good at figuring out, “Okay. Well, this is what they can do now but maybe we can roll this feature out later,” and just trying to work with them. It just makes the process much more efficient for everybody and everybody’s much happier with the results.

Chris: Absolutely. If maybe don’t have a budget and have a budget range we can work with that range as well too. That’s a really good one.

I think the other one that I’d just throw out there is to really allow us to leverage our strengths in the conversation and let us come in and help create the best options or unpack your story based on our technical experience, and also our experience with other clients with what we’ve seen works, what we’ve seen that doesn’t work. Really leverage our experience, ask our opinion, and try to get the most value out of us as well.

Ali: Yeah. Absolutely.

Chris: Well if this is resonating with you, if you’re not there already go ahead and head on over to gocodebox.com and there’s two option on the discovery page which is at gocodebox.com/discovery-session. You can click the button and buy your discovery session start and then we’ll get that on the calendar and get rolling on your project or if you’d like to set up a quick call to kind of discuss what you have in mind and get your questions answered, we’re happy to do that as well.

Ali: Okay.

Chris: Thank you for checking us out at gocodebox.com/discovery-session. After that if you want to connect with us on social media you can find us on Facebook and Twitter. Over to you Ali, where are those at?

Ali: And Instagram. On Facebook you can like our page which is codeBOX. On Twitter our handle is gocodebox. Instagram we’re codeboxpics.

Chris: Awesome. Well, that wraps it up for this episode of LMScast. We look forward to catching you in the next one.

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