Today we are joined by my` Buddy, Joe. Joe, what are we going by on our last name these days?
Oh, we’re still going by Joseph Michael, since it’s my official pen name, so I’m going with the pen name.
We’ve been in a mastermind together for about a year and a half or so, and we like each other. So that’s and eventually I’m going to convince you to move to Nashville. You don’t realize it yet, but my wife and I are trying to convince your wife and you to make that move. And one of these days we’ll get you. I’m just floating that stuff out there. Just when Carrie listens later, she’s going to be like, “I’m starting to sense it. I think we should move.”
We actually had you on the previous podcast How did you get into that? on episode 69. And we’ll link up to that if people want to listen to your full story. But today we’re going to be talking about courses. We’re going to be hosting a Live webinar coming up very soon on June the 16th. And we’re going to be talking about that a little bit more today.
First of all, let’s give a high level view of who you are, what you do, how you got into it, and then we’ll start talking about some core stuff.
Yeah, sure. Again, the official pen name is Joseph Michael. I started an online course called “Learn Scrivener Fast” in the writer’s niche and taught people how to use Scrivener and bend it to their will. Let them accelerate their writing for whatever their purposes are, whether they’re publishing books, they’re freelancing, or they’re copywriting. The program is hard to learn, so there’s a little bit of a learning curve. My course eases that and shows people things they never knew they could do before and it’s pretty much changed my life.
Because of this online course, I was able to replace my day job income. I had been working for the entertainment industry, a casino organization really, for the last eight years doing random odds and ends stuff for the marketing department there.
My journey just started as an everyday guy who found a pain point and decided to tinker around with stuff online and ended up blowing up. Now I’ve just been passionate about online courses. Then last year I released a new course called “Easy Course Creation”, where I’m teaching people how to not only put together their own online course, but how to turn it into a business and create a side income or a full-time income for themselves.
So it’s been a fun journey.
Part of the reason that I wanted to have you on the podcast is that a lot of people who are speakers and people that are interested in speaking face the challenge of: you show up, you speak, and then you leave.
And realistically, unfortunately, the audience is going to forget a large percentage of what you say. If you’re there to speak, let’s say for 45 minutes or 60 minutes, there’s only so much you can cover. Ultimately, if the goal of a speaker is to help people with life change in some way, then speaking is one way to do that.
But a lot of people are looking to build a bigger platform. Speaking is part of that, maybe having a book as part of that, maybe having an online training is part of that. And so Joe is the best that I know at teaching this stuff.
Let’s start by talking about that and if someone has some ideas of what it is that they currently speak about, but they’re trying to figure out if this translates to a course. Does it not translate to what makes a good online course in terms of just topic and subject?
So there’s really so much overlap between speaking, writing, and course creation. So as a speaker, you’ve got a topic already, which is huge. You’ve got something hopefully that you know you’re passionate about or you’re, or at least you’re finding that you’re uncovering that. With writing, it’s going to help you flesh that out a little bit more, really refine your thoughts.
If you’ve got those pieces together, really a course is just a packaging of that information. So it really is just that you’re teaching this material, you’re repackaging it. Organized format, very logical format and maybe going a little bit deeper on certain concepts. It’s much more about how to show someone how to do something.
Most folks who’d take an online course, myself included, take the course to get a result of some kind. I want to go from point A to point B and how do I get there? A course is really just to bridge that gap.
Especially if you’ve got some sort of a message that you’re speaking on that is teaching any kind of transformation in any way, chances are you can package that same knowledge up into an online course.
Make it a little more visual. Hands on, maybe include some checklists, some resources, things like that. And you’ve got an online course. So we’re in an information age where people love to consume information in lots of different ways. That’s why I think speakers really have a great advantage for this because you’re consuming the spoken word.
Now you can bring it digitally and others can consume the same type of information in a different way. So that’s really kind of how I look at it.
When we’re talking about an online course, I think some people may be familiar with that and other people are like what? What are we even talking about here?
For some more context, like what exactly is an online course? What, do you have a good definition or description of one?
I referenced some other things that most people are familiar with. So a lot of folks know of you Udemy, or like linda.com, or even online academies now. I finished my bachelor’s degree online, and so a lot of things are moving online. You can even build this out of a WordPress blog, like a membership site.
An online course is just like a protected membership site that you charge access to. That’s how I started “Learn Scrivener Fast”. It was a WordPress site where I put a bunch of tutorials, a bunch of videos. I just recorded my screen, had people watch over my shoulder. And I threw a membership plugin on top of it, charged for access, and boom, you’ve got an online course.
You make it sound pretty simple, and we’re going to get into it more.
Let’s imagine that I’m listening to this. I do some speaking. I have an idea of what my topic is. How do I begin to figure out what the course looks like? You referenced videos. Should it be videos? Should it be audio? Should it be worksheets? Should it be community? What pieces should go into what makes an online course?
First of all, I think you have to start at the beginning, which is something I teach, which is really knowing who your target market is, who you’re speaking to. The more you know about them, the more you’re going to know exactly what they want.
Certain types of people want to consume a very visual, hands-on, step-by-step approach. For instance, I’m teaching a software program and if I were just to be talking at you and you’re just watching me talk and I’m trying to explain these concepts of what to do with Scrivener, it’s not going to work.
They need to see me doing it, which is what I thought was missing in that market because there’s been Scrivener for Dummies and you’re reading all this stuff. But I remember thinking, I just really need to see that.
And so it really depends what your niche is, like what you’re talking about. A lot of folks can get away with just recording a PowerPoint presentation or a keynote presentation, which as a speaker you probably already have. And just record that into a video form.
You can put that on a page, do multiple of them or break it down into little pieces. So for instance, I have my course that teaches courses and one part of that is research –for those who don’t have an idea yet, researching different topics– and you can piece that off and make one course just about research. So you can go deeper, I think, with an online course.
But at its simplest form you’re just recording a presentation and you’re putting it in an organized fashion online. And nowadays these programs are popping up everywhere. You’ve got Teachable, you’ve got Thinkific, you’ve got all these different plug-ins that make course creation so much easier because they’re handling the tech for you. If you’re afraid of the technology involved and all the different pieces, you’ve got these programs that are just like a done-for-you platform. You just need to bring the information.
Let’s imagine I speak to insurance agents about work-life balance and my normal talk is about the five keys to work-life balance for insurance agents, or something along those lines. So maybe that’s a 45 or 60 minute talk. Each of those points within that talk is a 10 minute point or five minute point or whatever. I could really go in more depth with a 20 or 30 minute lesson on each of those points, expanding on it. I think that’s part of the key to an online course is it’s more like the nuts and bolts.
There’s only so much we can cover and the course allows you to go deeper on subjects and topics so that you can get a more well-rounded view and know what some of those next steps may be, rather than just the high level view. Would that be accurate?
Yeah, exactly. You’re just answering more questions. So the first thing you want to do is you want to find questions that people have about your topic. The more you research those people that you’re really speaking to, the more you’re really helping them.
Anything that is a frustration for them a pain, a fear, anything that you’re going to help them overcome or you’re going to help them improve on, those are the things that you want to go deeper into. Tackle each one of those, a speech or something may cover one or two, but you get asked so many questions and a course really allows you to go deeper on more and more of those questions. Your audience tells you if you do it right and what you should build your course on.
That’s why I recommend my students to be very hands-on with the research and the folks they’re making the course for. And if you don’t have an idea yet, then you’ve gotta go find these communities. You gotta go find these people and see exactly what they’re saying, how they’re framing it, what their pains are, and then you are just the solution bringer.
Solution-bringer. I like that. Is that hyphenated?
Definitely. I’m a big fan of hyphens.
So let’s say that at this point I have an idea of what I speak about. I know what the course could be about. I have some ideas of what that might look like in terms of the format. I’m intimidated by the technology. All right. This seems like there’s a lot of moving pieces that go into it, and you make it sound simple. You just record it and you put it on a WordPress site and throw a membership plug in on top of it.
I have no idea what those things mean. So talk me through that. I know what I want to do. What do I do now to actually create the actual course?
So first you’re going to start with a basic outline, which everybody knows how to do an outline, right? What I do is I list all the topics on a Microsoft Word doc, Scrivener doc, a Google doc, a piece of paper.
List out all the topics that you think you could teach a lesson on, or all the pain points that you’re going to solve, something that you have an answer to and then organize that into categories. Then you flesh out some modules. Module one might include three to five different subtopics, under that module two and so on.
The course doesn’t have to be really big. In fact, I recommend folks don’t make it so huge. It’s a common misconception or a common temptation for course creators to think that if they’re going to charge money for this they have to include everything and anything in this thing for it to be super valuable. Actually, the opposite is true.
You only want to include enough information to get somebody from point A to point B. Think about it in terms of the stuff that you log into and that you buy on. You just want to know, Hey, tell me the quickest way to get from point A to B. You don’t want to know every way, just tell me your way.
And that’s where everybody has their own unique sauce. Even if there’s multiple courses on the same topic, nobody’s going to teach it exactly like you. So back to the beginning point, after you’ve got your outline, and if you’re not familiar with tech and all those things sound like Chinese.
I recommend just going with a simple done-for-you platform, like Teachable or Thinkific, to get started. I’m a really big fan of both of those right now because they have these free starter plans where you can just get going. You can start flushing out your material. You basically take that outline, take the information, you start plugging it into these little sections that’ll have been pre-built.
It will literally walk you through where to put text, here’s where to put a video, or even upload a pdf, that kind of thing. You start getting traction and you can start interacting with an audience.
I didn’t have an email list or any kind of platform when I first started making my course, but I did know that there were people interested in Scrivener on Twitter or in Facebook groups or Google Plus groups. I would start to create parts of this course and I would reach out to them if I saw a problem that they were having.
Somebody was saying, “I can’t figure out how to get this image inside this document” or whatnot. And I’d say, “Hey, I’m working on this course. Check out this video I just made of that. Let me know if you like.”
Be very hands on with folks and then you’ll get feedback. And then somebody else might ask you to show them how to do this or that. The more you can build it with real people and get feedback in real time the better it’s going to be.
Choose a program that’s going to be easy. They handle the tech for you. The downside is like they take a little bit of transaction fees. But what I like about them is that they don’t make any money unless you do first. So you don’t really have to put up a lot up front. Now, if you’re the type who likes to tinker with stuff then of course there’s multiple options there as well.
But for somebody who just wants to get started, I think it’s a great idea to just start putting something up there. If you’re a visual person, you see your course start to come together. It gets really exciting and you start getting really excited to share it with folks.
So if we wanted to do the do-it-yourself type of option, then it sounds like, basically, we’re creating slides.
It depends on the context, but the typical format is, I create the slides with Keynote and then I’m using Screen Flow to record it and doing a voiceover as I’m walking through the slides explaining them.
There’s Screen Flow for Mac and then Camtasia for PC.
Yep, exactly. What’s great about those is that they record whatever’s on your screen and they record your voice. So really, if you’re going to invest in anything, pick up a decent quality microphone, because chances are you’re always going to be talking if you’re doing video, and that really is more important than even the visuals.
So pick up a good mic and then those programs are going to record your voice and your video, and they’re dead simple to edit at the end, which is what I love about it. I have higher end editing programs like Final Cut Pro and those kinds of things, but I always end up going back to Screen Flow because it just makes it so simple.
You record your presentation. You hit play just as you’re doing a live presentation and then all this time screen flow is recording your screen as you’re talking over your slides. You hit done. Then you edit any pauses, any kind of thing like that, out. That’s what’s great about this versus a live thing, you can polish it to your heart’s content. You can take out all your mess ups and the other thing is you can improve as you go.
So I tell people, a lot of times we get stuck on perfectionism. Just make a version 1.0 just as good as you can make it, and then get it out there to get feedback. And what’s cool about this, instead of a book form or something, is you can go back and update those later. You can change them later because everything is flexible online.
So that’s pretty much the setup. You record over your voice, you talk over your slides, you’ve got a video right there, and then you can take that video file, you can upload it to Wistia or Vimeo. I’ve used both of those before. These platforms like Thinkific and Teachable that I keep referencing, actually have those video platforms built in with Wistia. So you don’t even have to bother going out and connecting those.
You can even start on YouTube, which I know a few people do. They start posting some tutorials or at least getting in the habit of making some videos, starting getting some traction on YouTube and getting in the habit of doing videos.
So it’s really just wherever your comfort level is to get going, but just getting started in some ways is the big hurdle for most.
Yeah, we totally agree with that. Just getting version 1.0 is really key. So you create the slides, you record it within Camtasia or Screen Flow. Upload video, we use Vimeo and Probe, Wistia, like you said, is another option. So from there I’ve got my video files, they’re uploaded somewhere.
Then what does the actual site look like? This is a misconception for me early on, I felt like it was something fancy, but really it’s just a WordPress site and then I’m just oftentimes using some type of Template. I used an optimized press template to create the look of it.
So I’m just plugging and playing and just dragging and dropping some stuff there, and them embedding those videos there. Then you’re adding a plugin that makes it a membership site, which means in order to access those videos and access that WordPress site, you have to have a username and password, which people would get.
However they choose to register them. Am I missing anything there?
There’s gotta be a payment exchange. There’s a lot of options there as well. I’ll just walk you through the very first setup that I ever did, which still works today. I’m a big fan of just keeping it simple. Anytime I’ve deviated from that and try to get things too complex, I always end up saying, go back to what works. Keep it simple. I started with a very simple WordPress theme.
There’s a ton of themes out there. You can even use a free theme and I show this inside my course. So you can transform a free WordPress theme, put a video file on there, do some very simple tweaks with color, whatnot.
Try to make a brand out of it. Get creative. I show some examples there, but really you don’t have to spend anything yet. You can get a simple plugin, Word WP Courseware is a simple one for under a hundred bucks. It basically allows you to turn blog posts into a course unit, and then you can just organize them.
It makes a nice user experience, but you don’t even need that. If you think of a blog post as a course unit, and you could have a page which just links to different blog posts. If you can do a WordPress blog, you could transform it into a course. Now, the only difference at the very beginning with a WordPress blog is that anybody can access those Pages.
So that’s what we’re talking about. When you add a membership plugin, it just makes it so that if a visitor comes to that page and they’re not part of the course yet, it would just simply tell them, “oops, you don’t have access to this. Click here if you’d like to have access to this page”, and you just click on the pages that you want protected.
You need a simple sales page to describe what it is that you’re teaching in your course. Now, you can use a lot of different tools. Lead Pages is a great sales page template. That’s a cost. Or you can just create a page on your blog, on your site, a separate page that describes it.
Put a button there, Gum Road is a great option. I used that in the beginning to do a very simple payment exchange.You can even just stick a PayPal button on there. So there’s a lot of options there. And once you do that, it redirects to a thank you page or a welcome email that’s automatically triggered, which gives folks a username and password, like you said. That’s how they’re going to log into the course and access the material.
You can make this as simple or as complicated as you want to. I know we’re throwing out a lot of different terms and lingo and products and tools and all that stuff. You could start with a done-for-you type of service that really handles all of this stuff.
Or if you want to get in the weeds and you want to play with it a little bit more yourself, you totally can do that. I think Joe and I would both say that all of these little moving pieces, this is nothing you have to necessarily knock out in a weekend. This is something that you can always be improving on. You can always be tweaking and refining and making better.
So Joe, let’s talk about this. I think there’s this misconception that if you build it, they will come and that just doesn’t work. If I’ve got my course in place where I put up my speaking website and I got my demo video, and now I just wait for the bookings to come in the same way that I built my course. Now I just sit back and wait for money to pour in and that just does not happen.
So I built my course. How do I actually sell it? I’m not running a nonprofit here, so how do I get people to actually pay me money for the course?
You’ve gotta find a mechanism to get people to be aware of your course and bring them to it and even know it exists. Audience building should always be part of your activity. Whether that’s building an email list of targeted folks who would be interested in this kind of thing.
Building that email list is a whole other course for a whole other day. But I definitely recommend that, it’s not necessarily a requirement, I’m not saying that if you build this course and you don’t have an email list you may as well go back and do something else.
When I first started, I didn’t even know what an email list was. I didn’t even know you were supposed to collect emails and then give them value and do a launch. I didn’t know anything about AVA launch, anything like that. So it really just depends. If you’ve got an email list of folks, you’re just a step ahead. It’s going to be that much easier. You’ve got almost some guaranteed sales built in there.
If you don’t, you’re just going to have to do a little more grunt work. You’re going to have to do a little more old school reaching out with folks, providing value where you can. I’m a big believer in the more free content you can put out there, the more people can get a taste and feel for your style. You’re going to naturally build up a following of people that like you. They like your style. They know and trust you.
There’s a term we throw out in our mastermind group a lot, which is “learn out loud”. The more you can show bits and pieces of your work. Stuff you’re working on. I think that really keeps people interested.
Then if there’s a way to capture them with a free lead magnet, if you’re already blogging, if you put up a simple checklist, the five steps to course creation or, give people something in exchange for an email address where you can communicate with them on the backend, build that relationship, and then you can say, “Hey, my course is open”. Not like that. Go through a little sequence. You want to craft your emails.
But in the beginning, if you don’t have any of that, you can still reach out. I knew a lot of my writer folks lived on Twitter. So I decided I’m going to spend time learning Twitter, jumping in the conversation where I can, not just barging in and saying, “Hey guys, buy my course, I got a course, you’re going to love it.” Try to find and add value first.
So I would always try to give somebody a tip or jump in on a conversation, and a lot of times they’ll ask you more questions or they’ll open up the conversation for you to talk about your course. For me it was just a lot of grunt work.
The next thing I would recommend is to find and connect with those who already have a targeted audience that would be interested in your material.
So for instance Jeff Goins has a fantastic blog, Goins Writer and it’s all about writers. So early on I knew that if I could connect with Jeff, I knew a lot of his folks would love my course because chances are, they’re probably asking Jeff, “Hey, what do you think about Scrivener? Do you know how to use it?”A lot of people were intimidated by it.
After building that relationship over the course of months, we finally put together a webinar where I came and presented a free workshop, like a free hour presentation to Jeff’s folks where I taught all my best stuff on a webinar.
I always tell people, if you’re not a little embarrassed about how much content you’re giving away for free, it’s not good enough. Like you want it to be that good where it’s a standalone thing. They could walk away and say, that was an hour completely worth my time spent on that webinar.
And then at the end of that you say “hey, if you want more, if you like what I just showed you for free, I’ve got a completely packaged thing you can work through at your own pace.”
We had 500 to 1,000 interested writers who would purchase the course afterwards because it was a very natural step. They’re saying thank you. They’re saying thank you to Jeff for having Joe come on to teach us. And it’s a win-win for everybody. So relationship building is huge.
Number one. I’m a classic introvert as a lot of us who live behind the screens are. And so I remember thinking in the beginning, “I don’t need to do all this networking stuff. That’s uncomfortable for me.”
And my only regret is that I didn’t start that soon enough. It’s just as simple as reaching out, starting to make those relationships. Some of my best friends, you Grant and our mastermind, everything is all because of reaching out to folks. I don’t know where I’d be without it. So reach out.
Start building relationships, find where your audience who’d be interested in this stuff lives and start helping them ASAP. That’s the best advice I can give you.
I would totally echo all of that and especially the relationship piece. You and I both do a lot of partner webinars, that’s exactly what we’re doing with the one that we are doing together on June 16th. I know that a lot of our audience and a lot of people listening to this are interested in the course topic.
So rather than me just sharing it, let’s bring on an expert, you, who knows this course stuff better than I do and can come on and share and teach this. If people are looking for some additional support and help and training, then oftentimes on some of these webinars, we may have some type of paid course or paid training.
You mentioned just webinars in general, whether it’s for someone else’s audience or for your own audience webinars work really well for offering those. You can offer through email. The thing to avoid just throwing your course up on Facebook and waiting for the sales to come in, tweeting about it or posting on social media isn’t going to lead to anything.
Providing some of that training, providing some of your base knowledge for free, and then saying, “Hey, if you want more, then here’s this additional training tool. Here’s this additional resource or course that we have to offer.”
Exactly. There’s a lot of promotional strategies that people are familiar with in blogging, and the same concepts apply, whether it’s guest posting on other sites and the whole idea is just to get in front of that target audience. Of course there is Facebook advertising and things like that. But a lot of times when people are just starting up with this, they don’t have thousands of dollars to throw at Facebook ads.
So there are other ways. In a relatively quick amount of time I went from zero audience to replacing my full-time income in less than 12 months.
At my day job I was willing to put in five years of trying to climb that ladder to just get something over a 3% raise. And when people get a little discouraged by six months of networking and reaching out and hustling on the back end, it’s like, “are you kidding me?”
This is fun and this is so much easier than the eye-for-an eye-stuff out in the corporate world. With most folks online there’s this community of helpfulness. We’re all willing to partner up and help each other. You don’t always have to shoot for the A-listers at first.
I knew when I was first starting there was no chance I was going to get the attention of somebody who was considered an A-lister. But there’s a lot of folks that are in the same position as you. Partner up with them and grow together and find ways where you can cross-promote and just be helpful.
Another example that I’ll give real quick here is, I had nothing to offer in exchange for folks when I first met them. Some folks that I talked to would say “Hey, I can introduce you to would that be helpful?”
And I’m like, “Yeah, great. I don’t know anybody yet, so I can’t really introduce you to anybody, but I got some graphic skills that I learned in my day job. I’m pretty good at designing ebook covers. Do you have anything I could redesign for you? Is there anything I could help you with?”
And that’s what I did in the beginning. I just found anything that I could use as something that would be helpful and just adding value to those folks. And you know what? It worked.
It works. It’s easy to look at this and be like, man, this feels like a lot of work.
But part of the challenge with speaking is that I’ve always jokingly said, it’s a high paying manual labor job. And the reality is yes, we get paid really well to run our mouths, but you are trading dollars for hours. And so whenever you go speak, you can only give that presentation to that audience, and that’s the only time that you can be paid.
Whereas whenever you’re creating a course that you can offer to people online or offline or whatever it may be, that is something that can generate revenue, and not only revenue, but impact where you’re getting paid and creating that impact after doing the work one time. You create the course, you offer the course.
They can make a substantial difference and create a significant income for you as it’s done for both you and I. But it means that you’re just doing the work once versus having to constantly go out and constantly give a talk, which again, there’s nothing wrong with that, but having that online course is just another way to leverage that.
Joe just give us a high level view. What else are we going to be covering in our webinar? What else are we going to be talking about? Why should people show up with us live on June 16th?
Yeah so if you’re curious about how all this stuff works that we’re talking about, I’m a very visual learner and I find a lot of folks are who are online as well, and so I’ve taken a lot of these things and broken them down into some simple examples.
I’m a big fan of showing lots of examples for inspiration’s sake. I know when I started I bought several courses just to see what a course looks like and what they were doing and how they were organizing their information. What’s behind there? And I spent a lot of money on those.
But I’m glad I did because I really took a piece from this course and a piece from that and it made my own. What I want to do in a presentation like this workshop is show you a lot of those examples of what other folks are doing, what I’m doing, take you backstage and show you very simply how things are set up.
A lot of folks think I must have paid a developer thousands of dollars to create my course. And I tell them, “actually, I, I just did it all myself and it really wasn’t that hard.” I’m not am expert designer.
I don’t know, or even touch a line of code. It scares me to death to this day. And so we’re just going to do a lot of that stuff and then walk you through the process of start to finish, what it looks like to start a course, build the course, and promote the course, and some very simple strategies that a lot of folks are having some great success with.
So it’s going to be a lot of fun.
You and I will be there also just answering questions. We’re going to do a lot of Q-and-A at the very end. So definitely come. If you’ve got your questions, that’d be a great chance to have us help you. Just chime in and give you some feedback on your course or the idea, or any places where maybe you’re in the process of creating a course and you’re just getting stuck or hitting a roadblock.
If you’re listening to this way into the future, still go ahead and register for that. We’ll try to send you the replay.
Joe in the meantime, if people want to find out where you are and what you’re up to, where can we go?
Yeah, you can head over to josephmichael.net. That’s where I put projects out and what I’m working on there. You can also hit me up on Twitter @ScrivenerCoach. I’m always pretty active there and it’s a quick and easy way to reach me, interact with me, and say hello.