HOW TO CREATE, MARKET AND SELL AN ONLINE COURSE

Tips on how to create, market and sell an online course by Greg Smith

  • Thinkific makes it super easy for people to create and build and launch and sell their own online courses to help grow their businesses.
  • The more that you educate people about your business the more likely they are to talk about you. You turn them into brand advocates.
  • The biggest advice I have is to get going. Get something out there and start learning from the people you're sharing it with.
  • For online courses, I like the concept of two to three hours of education time. 
  • What really matters to people taking courses or taking education is am I getting the results that I expected out of this.

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HOW TO CREATE, MARKET AND SELL AN ONLINE COURSE

[just click to tweet]

HOW TO CREATE, MARKET AND SELL AN ONLINE COURSE

Thinkific makes it super easy for people to create and build and launch and sell their own online courses to help grow their businesses

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Doug: Welcome back listeners to another episode of Real Marketing Real Fast. Today we're going to talk about a little different topic. We're going to talk about using your expertise, how can you leverage your expertise to generate sales in maybe an automated fashion. Today we're going to talk about membership sites and selling online courses and who better to have on my show as a guest than Greg Smith. Greg is the founder of a company in my town in Vancouver called Thinkific. Now Thinkific has an online course platform that makes it easy for you and I to build our own online courses under our site and our brand.

Greg and his team at Thinkific power courses for about 27,000-ish businesses and have educated about 12 million students and has sold over $100 million in courses. If you're thinking, “Hey, I've always wanted to have an online course or have a membership site and I don't know whether it'll work. I don't know how to set it up. I don't know how to price my online courses,” Greg's going to share that with you as I'm sure you'll enjoy the interview. I'd like you to join me and welcome the CEO and founder of Thinkific, Greg Smith. Well, welcome to the Real Marketing Podcast, Greg. I'm super excited to talk to you today.

I have a keen interest in online courses. I'm an active buyer and have purchased many memberships from various people. I see some of them have been using your platform. Welcome to the show and let's get started.

Greg Smith: Thanks, Doug. I appreciate it. A pleasure to be here.

Doug: Do you want to give us a little bit of background on kind of what you guys do and how you help businesses and entrepreneurs to leverage the tools and technology that you have to grow their business?

Greg Smith: Definitely happy to. I got my start in online courses, geez, 13-14 years ago, 2005. What's that? I was creating my own online courses and they went quite well. Eventually, that turned into people reaching out to me looking to create their own online courses in a variety of subjects. We really couldn't help them initially and so that kind of led to us creating Thinkific as a solution to make it super easy for other people to create and build and launch and sell their own online courses to help grow their businesses.

In terms of how we help people, I mean really it's an all-in-one solution that allows you to create, launch, sell, market, deliver your online course and use it to grow your business. You can make it part of your existing site or brand. What I see people using it for are a few things. Usually, it's all around driving in some way or another to business growth or revenue and that could be selling membership sites on the platform or courses directly for revenue. That's probably the most common I'm seeing now.

There's also the concept of using it actually as a marketing tool, so even giving away free courses or less expensive courses to use that a marketing tool to actually bring leads into a filter in either to other courses or education products or to other components of your business. For example, if you were a yoga studio, you could have some free online training that might then transfer to personal coaching or yoga classes or online yoga courses or in person things. Then the last one I'm seeing is taking existing customers and giving them training to get them more engaged, help them be more successful and actually turn them into advocates and champions of your business.

Because I find the more that you educate people about the business that you're doing or the product or service that you've given to them, the more likely they are to talk about you at a cocktail party and share with others, so when you turn them into kind of brand advocates. Those are the three big areas I see people using courses from our perspective. Obviously, there are lots of other ways you can use them, but those are the big ones for business growth.

Doug: Where's the kind of low-hanging fruit? For our listeners that are saying, “Hey, that sounds great, but …” I think of myself as well, I look at them going, “Okay. Where do I start? There's so much to think about.” Where's the easiest entry point to get a start and get a feel for this to get it working?

Greg Smith: Well, I mean if you're looking for an easy entry point into Thinkific, if you go to … We'll do a … We'll share something with you in the show notes and stuff here, but if you check us out, then you can get something up and running very, very quickly. That's really what I suggest for people to do. Probably the story of me getting started illustrates this well. When I first started building out my course out, my roommate was my brother. I had this vision of building this 80-hour epic course that covered everything in the subject matter I wanted to teach. He looked at me like I was crazy and said, “You have 30 days.”

He said, “In 30 days,” and by the way, at this time I'm going to law school full-time, so I didn't have a lot of time on my hands to build this out. He said, “You have 30 days while going to law school. I'll help you one night a week. At the end of the 30 days, whatever we got we launch.” Some of the best advice I got and we also made a bet. He bet that we would sell nothing. I bet that we'd sell something. End of 30 days. We launched. It was 10% of what I wanted to build, but it was still something of value. We put it out there and in the first month, we sold 10 copies of the course at 29 bucks.

I won the bet, but [inaudible 00:05:07] because he was actually right that we needed to put it out fast and then we went from there. The big thing about just getting started is the tools … The nice thing, back then I needed a software developer to get this built and that was my brother and his kind of building a basic system to do it. Now the software is out there where you don't need that. All you need to do is put some content in and you're kind of all setup and ready to go. You don't need to worry about the tech. That makes it so much easier. Even 30 days, you may not even need that to get something up and running and going.

The biggest advice I have for getting going on the low-hanging fruit is get something out there and start learning from the people you're sharing it with. Because even if you only get two or three people to check out what you've created, you're starting to learn from them and learn how it's going, and then you can iterate and improve and grow from there.

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HOW TO CREATE, MARKET AND SELL AN ONLINE COURSE

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HOW TO CREATE, MARKET AND SELL AN ONLINE COURSE

Thinkific makes it super easy for people to create and build and launch and sell their own online courses to help grow their businesses

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Doug: Oh, yeah. That's great advice and I want to dive a little bit deeper down in that because I've suffered from this, and I'm sure a lot of our listeners do, is that you want everything to be perfect. I've watched people spend days, months, maybe years creating something and then putting it out in the marketplace to find out maybe the marketplace doesn't want it.

Greg Smith: Yes.

Doug: To your point, fail fast. How much content realistically do you think you need to get out there to get started?

Greg Smith: I think the concept of two to three hours of education time. Now that doesn't mean you need two to three hours of straight video. Just two to three hours of someone consuming it. If you get down into a sort of … And you can do shorter. You could do something 30 minutes, an hour, but something where … The two to three is my rough guideline when we ask for like a specific like how much content do I need to get out, but really what I'm looking at is how much value are you delivering.

If you're just delivering the value of a 15 minute YouTube video like how to install a, I don't know, closet door or something, then it's probably not enough to get out there as an online course and sell it, market it, promote it. You need something of a little more value than that where people are going to … You're making a promise of how their life is going to be different when they complete your program. That difference is meaningful enough for them to invest the two, three hours, one hour, whatever it is you're going to put in there, to actually get to that point.

It's really what's that minimum amount you can do to make a difference in someone's life, whether that is becoming better at a skill or more fit or learning a new ability for their career or something like that.

Doug: In terms of the tech, you're saying it's low tech, easy entry, get some content out there, get it tested. What sort of analytics do you need to get on the backside of that to take a look and see how people are engaging in your content?

Greg Smith: I love that you go right to analytics. That's great. The funny thing is talking about courses … I think you might even be the first person who's really just gone right into like let's talk about the analytics. You really got the marketing mindset that I love.

Doug: Sorry about that.

Greg Smith: No. No. It's awesome. I've got a shirt that “I love it when you talk data to me.” I love that. We share with you things like who signed up for your course, every single action that they've taken within it. If you include a quiz on it, are they getting the quiz questions right? How much of the video is watching? You can look at the videos and see how much are people watching, what's the average competition rate in the course or what are specific completions rates. Then you can dig in and filter down and say, “Based on people who joined in the last 30 days, how much have they done.” You can really start to break that out.

I love cohort reports because you can get in and … If you're saying, “My average course completion rate today only says 40%,” that's very different if that's 40% of people who joined in the last two weeks, whereas if it's 40% and those are people who joined six months ago. Getting into the cohorts of like when did they join. We have a little cohort report in there you can pull on that. The biggest things I'm looking at … Then the other really cool thing that is a very different metric that we've launched recently that helps is sort of my one metric to measure for courses is we encourage you to ask people, and we've got this kind of automatically set, but ask people.

Even if you're not using us to do your courses, you can do it. Ask people when they get started what their goal is, what did they have in mind when they signed up, why are they doing this. Then partway through, don't wait until the end, but partway through ask them on a scale of 1 to 10, how much closer are they or how close are they to achieving that goal. I actually ask the scale of 10 at the start and the scale of 10 partway through. If you're moving people up that scale, you're making a difference in getting them to their goal.

To me, that's a much better metric than did they consume all the content, did they watch all the videos, did they take the whole course because you can take the whole course or you can take part in the course, but what really matters to people taking courses or taking education is am I getting the results that I expected out of this.

Doug: That's a really great insight. I mean I would have thought, “Hey, I need to see how many people are completing it,” but you're right. I look at the way that I study and I read and I learn stuff. I'm pretty tech savvy, so I skip through stuff pretty quick. I don't need to listen to the whole video, so I can listen to it at one and a half speed, pick up what I need and then execute.

Greg Smith: Yeah. I took a course once I got … It was on Lynda.com and I was trying to learn how to edit a video for my niece's first birthday. I had a bunch of footage, and I finished about 30% of the course because I was kind of just jumping around and getting what I needed. Then I left and never came back. If you're looking at completion, I'm a total fail. But on my perspective of achieving my goal, I edited the video, put it together, presented it to my family, people cried, thought it was amazing, loved it. So total success for me. If you ask me the right question, you know that that course was super successful for me.

Doug: That's really interesting. Can you share a client or an example name or not name the client of somebody who came to you kind of hesitant and said, “Hey, okay. I'll give this a shot,” they got in there, put their toes in the water and executed and then they had this massive success?

Greg Smith: Yeah. Other than the awesome people I get to work with here because we really have a cool team, that's probably the coolest part about my job is getting to hear those stories every day all the time. There are so many of them. One kind of no names that … Not even tops because I don't actually know. Someone was just telling me here last night because Black Friday is coming up. Last year at Black Friday we ran a big promotion. We had a bunch of people sign up for it, and they just pulled up to say, “Hey, these people who bought on a Black Friday promotion, how did they do? How did they do over the last year?”

They found I think one person that done over $600,000 in revenue with their courses and many were in the over the hundred thousand dollar mark in their first year. The really cool thing for me is these are people who kind of were buying on a Black Friday almost whim. Like they didn't come in with quite the same level of a plan. They sort of waiting for that right moment got convinced last minute Black Friday, signed up, get this deal, and then still had great success. That was a really cool thing for me to see. On this specific side, the ones I love are the ones where maybe they're reluctant, but also I'm reluctant.

I'm looking at it and going like, “Really? You're going to be teaching hula hooping and there's a business there?” There literally is this wonderful lady in Australia who … Geez, I hope it's Australia. It is, yes. Deanne Love and Hoop Lovers I think is her site. She teaches hula hooping. It's for fitness and dance and her videos are super cool. I'm pretty sure she started with an iPhone, shooting videos in the park.

Then moved into her garage, set that up as a studio, has a team, and now she gets to travel to conferences and events all around the world and teaches hula hooping dance and is super cool and has done really, really well building a business around this.

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HOW TO CREATE, MARKET AND SELL AN ONLINE COURSE

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HOW TO CREATE, MARKET AND SELL AN ONLINE COURSE

Thinkific makes it super easy for people to create and build and launch and sell their own online courses to help grow their businesses

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Doug: That's amazing. Yeah, I mean everybody keeps saying that the money's in the niche, niche down, niche down. I think that often we're afraid that hey, we might miss something. I was chatting with a guy yesterday who's a podcaster in the US. I'm in a mastermind with him. He was talking about running this very successful web development business, but he also has a VA business. He said, “I needed to focus, so I sold my other business.” He said, “Because I just was too split.” Once he niched down, he said, “My sales have exploded.”

Greg Smith: Wow. Yeah. The focus is definitely key. I have an I call it a shiny object drawer and it's just a Google Drive folder where I dump all my brilliant ideas. I'm pretty sure Tinder is in there like before Tinder existed. We came up with the idea of this mobile dating app.

Doug: Yeah, that's funny.

Greg Smith: Probably wouldn't have been as successful as Tinder, but I just threw all the ideas in there so I don't get distracted and I can focus on only one idea at a time.

Doug: After reading the Getting Things Done book, I set up an Evernote. When these ideas come in, I put them there. The websites come in, I put them there so I won't miss them. I just need to get them off my desktop so I can do what I'm really supposed to be doing today.

Greg Smith: Yup.

Doug: On the other side of people that have successful, what's the biggest myth about using courses and membership as a tactic grow revenue or expand your customer base or dive deeper?

Greg Smith: the General theme of the myth I think is how much work it takes and what kind of effort. That can really go both ways depending on the person. I see people who shy away from things like this because they think it's going to be so much work. I've seen people build a course in … Like even since I've done this, I've seen someone or lots of people build a course in 30 days, launch it over a couple of weeks and do exceptionally well. One I saw last year was Jen Esquer. She's a physiotherapist who had build up a bit of an Instagram following. She gave herself 30 days to build a course, two weeks to launch it and did over $100,000 in revenue in that two week launch period.

It's not all just about the revenue. I mean she got some amazing feedback from people in terms of the difference she was making in their lives. As a physiotherapist, she's only able to work with so many people in person. Now she was able to get it out there. There's one myth on one side of the workload of “oh, this is going to take me forever to do” and you can actually get it done really, really quickly. In fact, I've now built courses in the afternoon. Still takes work after that to kind of get it out and promote there and all of that. Then on the flip side … That myth cuts both ways is it does take work.

I've literally seen ads of like build and launch a course in five minutes. I wish it were that simple and we had some sort of AI to just go in and extract the knowledge from your brain and build the course. We had a couple of like secret projects, working on things like that, but we're not there yet. It is something you have to acknowledge it's going to take work. You're not just going to magically make it and launch it and it's going to be perfect the first time in the first day that you get going. But on the flip side, it's not something that takes years to be successful at.

You really can see great success in a short period of time if you really dedicate. Then as I said, get that first version out and then most importantly, iterate on it. Learn from what's working and what's not working and make improvements.

Doug: We talk a little bit deeper than on getting that first course out there and iterating because it's a scary thing to get it out there and put it out. You're kind of exposing yourself if you will. People are going to see what you know and what you've done. How do you guys help or what sort of training or information can you share with people to make that process a little less scary and then understand that it's part of a process? It's a good thing to get it out there and get some feedback and then change.

Greg Smith: We have a bunch of training and then we even have partners. As you're talking to us, we'll often introduce you to people who can help get you through that depending on the level of help we need. I mean we have some courses that'll actually walk you through everything from setting up and lighting your videos if you want to do a video to how you should actually build out your course, things like should I include some gamification and engagement in there and what kind of a difference that makes. I mean that kind of stuff is one of my favorite topics to dive into and help people with. We share a lot of information about that right out of the gate in getting you going.

Then if you need more, there's a lot of programs that we can give you or refer you to that take it to the next level of building all of that stuff out. You mentioned an interesting point there that I think is more of a psychology one of feeling comfortable getting that out and people seeing you for who you are and how much you know and potentially criticizing. I had an entrepreneur. It's a funny thing. I think it was a psychiatrist share with me some videos that she'd created recently that she was concerned. She'd shot a year ago and sent them over saying, “Look, I showed these to a couple people and I really got the impression that I totally flubbed it and it doesn't look good.”

Had highlighted a bunch of things that she felt were wrong with it. I watched the videos and they were literally some of the best I've ever seen. It was really well-produced, well-shot, great audio. It was her and someone else in the video and their engagement and teaching style and sort of banter were awesome. I see a lot of these courses and a lot of these videos, but I really wanted to dig in and watch this stuff. I kind of wrote back and I sort of said, “What's the psychological impediment holding you up because this is some really good stuff?” I think for a lot of us it's just getting it out there. One way I find you can do well with that is to do something live.

Record it, but hop on like a Zoom or even a YouTube Live or a Facebook Live or something and get it out there and get it in front of people and then you can get feedback on it. But when you're doing it live, suddenly the fear of shooting and reshooting and editing and perfection has to go away because you have no choice. You can get that feedback. People expect a totally different experience live. The other thing I always tell people is we do a lot of analysis statistically as to what works in courses and education and training and how people learn. The funny thing is imperfect lessons, an imperfect video where you are yourself and you make mistakes and you misspeak, that actually helps people learn better.

You're doing them a disservice if you have this perfect scientific video with not a single mistake. They won't engage with you at the same level. Naturally, the brain will disengagement when someone is speaking without really being personal, making eye contact. Really what you're looking for is something close to that cocktail conversation where you're chatting with someone and they're making corrections as they go. Even like I am now, this isn't scripted for me. I'm obviously not speaking perfectly. I'm thinking some of these things as I go. That kind of thing actually helps people engage with you more. You're more human and they're more likely to follow along and listen and learn from it.

Doug: That's really interesting to know. I don't over edit our podcasts. There are lots of times there's mistakes and errors, but I mean that's just life. So yeah, I'm far from perfect. Unless the guests say, “Hey, can you really cut that,” we're going to probably leave everything in.

Greg Smith: If I drop my microphone or something and there's a lot of noise, then we might want to pull that out, but the little mistakes that we make just make it human and make people engage and listen more.

Doug: We've had kids come into our guest's office while they're recording. We've had dogs bark and I said, “Hey, why don't you just introduce the dog? Everybody can hear it and then we'll carry on like it's not a big deal.” I just want to dig a little …

Greg Smith: There's that interview where the kid and the nanny who came in in the background and the …

Doug: Yeah. [crosstalk 00:20:02] That was a great video. That was so funny. I can so relate. I work home based and my wife bought me a sign for my door that says “on air.” I turn it on so if anyone's over or my grandson comes over, they can see it. It's like, “Okay. Grandad's working. You have to be quiet. You can't be banging on the walls and turning up paw patrol. He's working.”

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HOW TO CREATE, MARKET AND SELL AN ONLINE COURSE

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HOW TO CREATE, MARKET AND SELL AN ONLINE COURSE

Thinkific makes it super easy for people to create and build and launch and sell their own online courses to help grow their businesses

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Greg Smith: Nice.

Doug: Can we expand on one of the words that you mentioned there that our audience may not have heard or understand, that's gamification. You think of online courses or at least I used to think of online courses like, “Oh, I got to sit there and I got to watch. There are 20 one hour videos. I just want to get this stuff done, and it's not engaging. It's just blah, blah, blah, talking head,” and then you bring up gamification which is obviously not that.

Greg Smith: Yeah. I mean there's nothing wrong with giving people a bunch of videos to watch and that's what a lot of courses are. I do recommend including video. In fact, in most of my courses, it's the biggest component, but-

Doug: Sure.

Greg Smith: … building in gamification is not at all difficult. It really takes your course to a whole nother level in terms of people's ability to learn from it, their desire to engage with it, the perceived value they get out of it. Gamification is not video games. It's not playing a game and it's not difficult to make. It's really just essentially little pats on the back as people go through or another way to put it is it is rewarding that are somewhat unexpected and ideally somewhat random as you move through the program or the course. Surprisingly, you should put them in fairly frequently. A good example of this, of a platform that's not in education … Well, they're into it now but LinkedIn.

If you've ever set up a LinkedIn profile and built that out, it is super gamified at every moment. I mean I've been on LinkedIn almost since they launched. I've got thousands or over a thousand something contacts on it, and it's still telling what the next step is to finish my LinkedIn profile. Oh, you should post this and add that. It's always giving you that little teaser of what's next and then giving you a bit of a reward for what you do. In a course, what this looks like is someone watches a video and I'd recommend keeping the videos to two to seven minutes. If you have a longer video, just cut it up into pieces.

Then in between those videos, put in a one or two question quick quiz that is multiple choice that is super simple. Basically just were you awake and listening. Then when they get 100% on the quiz because they were awake and listening, they feel good and they want to keep going and they get addicted to this idea of getting 100% on quizzes. If they get the quiz wrong, it's because they really weren't paying attention because you're making these simple quizzes about the most basic concept that you've discussed here. They're just reminded “oh, I got to go back and just rewatch that video.”

The other thing you can do on the gamification side is simple things like showing them their progress regularly. Having some sort of progress tracking built in to show them “hey, this is how far you've gone, this is how far you have to go.” You can also even just build in … And a lot of those things will happen automatically in the software. But if you want, you can take another step and just build in a bit of your own reward. After a few videos or a lesson or a couple of lessons or a chapter of your course or something, you can build in a special little lesson or page or something that gives them a bit of a reward.

I've seen people do this as like, “Hey, great. You've watched eight videos about complex rocket science things. Here's a cat video from YouTube that I've put in as a little reward for you,” or just a page that says, “Thanks. You're kicking butt and doing well and you're learning and you're doing well here,” and just sharing that. They didn't know it was coming and then it pops up disguised as a lesson, but it's actually just a little “congrats, you're doing well.” Those kinds of things go a long way in terms of encouraging people to keep moving through.

Now you can get way more advanced and dig into things and call people up on the phone to congratulate them for finishing or moving through. You can send out texts. You can send out emails. You can even mail people physical products, stuff like that. But at the start, just the simplest things make such a big difference.

Doug: That's really interesting. I think that's a really good idea. I had heard somebody once say that … I never really thought of it this way. Somebody I had interviewed said it's your responsibility to make sure that the person that's bought your course or your program gets what they want out of it. Like executes. I hadn't thought about that and I thought of how many courses or memberships have I bought over the years and how many people have really followed up if I've stopped or I haven't completed like early on? The answer is really like one.

Greg Smith: Wow.

Doug: I'm thinking okay, so if on the other side, so I'm thinking of building a course, I'm missing the opportunity to have that person be a brand advocate because I haven't done what you mentioned before by asking them what's your goal and are you getting there. If they feel good about themselves and their reach their goals, they're going to tell people. But if they don't reach their goals, they're not going to tell anybody. All I've done is sold a product one time and that person probably won't refer me and won't buy anything else from me.

Greg Smith: As you know in marketing, if the cost of acquiring a brand net new customer is much greater than keeping and keeping happy and creating referrals out of an existing one, so I'd much rather invest that time in making sure that everyone if possible, that's a lofty goal, but making sure that everyone if possible who comes through your program gets what they want out of it. It doesn't have to be that hard. I mean you can build in those automated things, but then imagine if you simply …

Actually if you're at a reasonable price point on your course where you can invest just a little bit of time in each student is if you're just shooting out a text or phone call a week after they get started to say, “How's it going,” and even if it's just the people who haven't signed in a bit and saying, “I wanted to make sure you're getting what you want out of this.”

Doug: Well, yeah, that makes sense. It keeps them moving and motivated. Also gives you a chance for some learning so you can continue to add in and maybe progress or change out a video if people aren't getting what they need from that one piece.

Greg Smith: Definitely.

Doug: I've been asking lots of really easy questions. As you said, this isn't scripted, so I'll ask you a tough one that you probably get asked all the time. How do I price my course?

Greg Smith: Oh, yeah. Okay. I've got a course on how to price your course.

Doug: There you go.

Greg Smith: In fact, you know what I'll do? We'll talk about it, but we'll set up a link here that we'll share with people at the end and in the show notes. We'll do Get.thinkific.com/realmarketing.

Doug: Sure. Just real marketing, yup.

Greg Smith: Real marketing. Okay. Get.thinkific.com/realmarketing and I'll put my course on How to Price Your Course in there if people want to dig further in this because it is a pretty important topic. Obviously, there's a lot of different ways you can go in. There's no perfect like the price is $297 or something like that for everybody. I look at it in two camps. If you have a lot of traffic coming to you, a lot of sort of people coming through, when I look at my first course, I had a blog. If I were to launch a course on it now, I get a whole bunch of visitors every month coming through, check it out, signing up for a free download or a free …

Actually, I give them a free mini-course. Because I have that consistent traffic, I can do a lot more price testing, but also for me if I was launching a new course there, I would start low and slowly work that price point up until I started to hit a point where my overall sales were peaking or dropping, and then I'd know I'd kind of hit my magic number. But that's because I have a lot of people coming through, so I can continually test that. You can afford to go to a slightly lower price point. When I say low, I'm thinking anything between $50 and $300, in that range, if you have that consistent recurring traffic.

For me, that site teaches the LSAT, so I've got brand new students coming every quarter as they sign up for the latest LSAT. If you're in a market where you're getting a lot fewer customers, potential customers, but you have something of great value that you're giving to them, then I tend to lean more towards starting and keeping that price higher in the sort of $300 plus range. In general, I'd say three to $600 or upwards of a thousand for something that is more on demand. At a thousand bucks, you want to be adding in some more bonuses on top of the course. Maybe even some coaching elements, group coaching, stuff like that.

Anything over that you really need to be adding I think a fair amount more or have a pretty comprehensive program on the coaching or group coaching or even one-on-one coaching above a thousand bucks. I guess the easier way to put it is what I'm seeing on an average that is working well is in that $50 to $300 range is more the on-demand, smaller course, higher traffic kind of business. In the $300 to $600 is the next step up in value, slightly lower in terms of the number of people that you need coming through to do well with that. Then $600 to $1,000 is the higher range end where you're starting to add some more bonuses on top of just on-demand course.

Then anything above that, you either have a more recognizable brand and you're adding a lot more value in that. Obviously, there's a lot of range within that. I see people do exceptionally well even with a $20 a month on a recurring subscription model, and they're just adding a little bit of content every month. But again in those models, it usually comes down to having a fairly … Working towards a larger number of people. If you're doing something around sowing lessons and you're going to be adding sowing content each month and everybody's going to subscribe on a membership of 20-30 bucks a month, that can work really, really well and then you're more shooting for volume on that side of things.

I know that's a lot to take in and there's a lot you can do on sort of testing it, but those are sort of some of the ranges. I'd say the more common things I'm seeing is a lot more subscription and membership sites coming out these days where they're pricing it on a recurring basis. The one time courses generally on average falling in the $250 to $600 range. Then anything over 300 bucks, I usually see people include an installment plan. That's the ability to pay in a couple of installments.

Doug: I think that's really good feedback. I mean often I see people that are looking at pricing stuff and they're wanting to price stuff at $97. I'm not saying that $97 is the wrong price, but I know there's a particular digital marketer in the San Diego area that talks a lot about $97 offers or tripwires. Listeners, here's what I'm getting from this. This is somebody that's running a platform that's looking at … You don't have to tell me how many, but I'm assuming thousands of clients that are using it. He's looking at the data saying, “This is what I see working.” This isn't theoretical. This is what these customers using this platform are doing and having success with. Would that be an accurate description?

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HOW TO CREATE, MARKET AND SELL AN ONLINE COURSE

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Greg Smith: Yeah. We've got about 30,000 active businesses selling courses on the platform and doing over $100 million in course sales a year right now. It's a lot of data that we get to look at, which is awesome for us. Again there's no like the perfect price point and I wouldn't say just price based on average course price point. You really have to I think to get back to what's the value you're adding in that person's life, how important is it to them, and also what is the volume of people you're going to put through this.

If you're doing a sowing thing and you're expecting to put a thousand people regularly paying a recurring subscription, then maybe 20 bucks a month is great and you're making a hundred grand recurring and that's excellent for you. If you're teaching people how to build the next Mars Lander and you're going to put 50 people at NASA through this course over the next five years, maybe you need to be charging 25 grand for that course or more.

Doug: And then what's the lifetime value as well, right? I'm assuming this isn't the only offering. If it is the only offering, this might be the tripwire, the $500 tripwire, that moves you to a $10,000 consulting or coaching contract.

Greg Smith: Yeah, definitely. I know the courses, the prices I'm mentioning are sort of on the lower end there, even up to a thousand bucks. But again if you start to add in more beyond the on-demand training element or you're going to do any coaching or that other thing and you can definitely … I see a lot of people packaging things up at the $3,000, $5,000, $10,000 plus mark where they're packaging in some more of their time. On the pricing thing, I was sticking more if it's pure on demand.

Doug: Sure.

Greg Smith: But if you're adding those other things in, then definitely higher price points make sense.

Doug: That's really cool. Lots and lots to think about. But coming back to your original point, get started.

Greg Smith: If there's one thing I'd say on pricing, most people price too low. Price higher than you think. Maybe just go pitch a friend. Not your mom, but someone a little bit more removed from that, and say, “Here's my pitch. This is what you're going to get out of it. What would you pay for that?” You'll likely get a higher number than what you were thinking of charging for it. Don't preface it that this is going to be an online course. People just tend to naturally sort of when they're thinking of selling it under price it, but the value is huge for this as a tool for people learning. I find on the buyer side, we're not undervaluing online courses. You don't need to price low just because it's something online.

Doug: I mean the online thing, the reason I like online obviously is that the world is available. If I'm pricing stuff local, it's local. I got to show up, stand up and be there.

Greg Smith: Yup.

Doug: What are you excited about the next six to 12 months in terms of marketing your platform or what you guys are working on that you can share that's not in the science lab?

Greg Smith: Yeah. No worries. We do like a whole innovation thing every quarter. We're doing a lot of really cool stuff there. We do have kind of a science lab thing. Some of the things I'm excited about. We're making some big changes to the student experience to give people a lot more ability to do more of this kind of gamification and better engagement with students in discussions and just generally making some big improvements on the student side. That's always been a big push for us and we have a lot of really cool stuff coming that way where we've applied a lot of this data. We've seen how people finish courses to help them get through it.

One of the more recent ones there was actually putting in this tool to automatically ask students what is your goal when you signed up for this course, how close are you to that goal on a scale of 1 to 10, and then asking them again later, and then presenting that to you in a data format so you know how well your course is doing and maybe even which students you need to reach out to. Let's see. Other cool stuff. Recently we got out our and have made some huge improvements to our sort of site builder. On top of Thinkific as a course builder, you've got the ability to build a whole site around it.

We have some pre-made themes specifically for courses in education that are all built in there. That's been really exciting to see how people are using that. A couple of years ago I would see a site built with Thinkific and a course built with Thinkific and I'd say … As soon as I saw it, I knew it was one of ours. Now I saw one this morning, I'm like, “Is this one of ours?” I have no idea because I didn't recognize it so much. That's really one of the cool things is that people are-

Doug: That's cool.

Greg Smith: … able now to just customize and brand it exactly the way they want it. It's kind of cool to see that stuff happening.

Doug: My last question before I move into the toughest question of the day and that is, I stole this from Tim Ferriss, what's some of the bad advice that you hear out there?

Greg Smith: Oh, bad advice.

Doug: I mean we all talk about best practices, but as experts in our own fields, we're at conferences and I hear people say things that make me cringe. Sometimes I want to go over and slap them. It's like, “Don't say that. You're screwing people's business up.”

Greg Smith: Yeah. Okay. There's one I struggle with a little bit that is … I'm cringing a little bit thinking about it is some of the marketing messages that go out there around, and I think it's all over the digital marketing stuff, of like anyone with no expertise can go and just make a million dollars next month. All you got to do is like to read a book on a topic and interview two people and you'll be an expert and you can go sell a course. I get that there's something to just being a little bit more knowledgeable about this than the person you're teaching and taking them from step A to step B and you don't have to take them all the way to launch to Mars, but I do think it can be dangerous advice.

I think if you're getting into doing training and teaching and educating people, you should have some base level of expertise. If you're listening to this and thinking what course topic is going to make me the most money and then I'll just go figure it out and launch that next month, that might be a long-term plan where you can become more expert in that, but I would really search for the things that you have the expertise in. This doesn't have to be “I went to school for 10 years for this.”

It could just be the thing that people ask you about most that you can really help people with, but it is a bit dangerous to just look at it as like, “Go find that topic that can make the most money and copy what someone else is doing and then launch it and read a book on it and just tell people you're an expert in it.” That's the tough one that I struggle with. I know it's great if you're marketing software like I am on how to [inaudible 00:36:27] Just tell everyone like, “Anyone can do this. Just read a book, create a course, and launch it,” but I hate to see people do that and then not be successful or not give good results to their students.

Just make sure that this is something that if you had three hours with someone, you could make a difference in their life by sharing what you've learned. It could be a personal experience. It could be a challenge that you've overcome, but it should be something that you have some base level of expertise in.

Doug: Well, I'll share what one of my buddies said to me. He's written a book called Lingo. It's Jeffrey Shaw. He said, “What are the things that people always compliment you on that you immediately dismiss?”

Greg Smith: That's a good way to look at it.

Doug: Just like, “Oh, you're so good at fill in the blank,” and you always say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.” There might be a way to look at what's your hidden talent, the one that you're not showing or you're not using to help people.

Greg Smith: I almost hate to say this as bad advice because I don't want to discourage anyone out there. You all have something that you can find that is the thing that people compliment you on or they ask you for help with. But make sure it's more around that thing the thing is that's your thing that you know about rather than just looking for how can I make money on the internet and make a course on it.

Doug: No, I totally agree. I mean I had that conversation with somebody not too long ago. I said, “So what's your goal,” and he said, “Well, I want to create an online course and write a book and make a bunch of money.” I said, “Well, on what topic? Like the job that you're in now?” “Oh, no. Something totally different.” He is doing exactly what you said. He's researching what he thinks is an opportunity online for demand and then he's going to try to create something to fill it, but he doesn't really have the depth if you sat down and talk to him. I said, “Okay. So what about this,” which obviously is a short game.

Greg Smith: You can get there. It's going to take longer because you then have to go and become the expert.

Doug: Yup. It only takes 10,000 hours to become an expert on any topic, so there you go.

Greg Smith: Yeah. I don't know if you need 10,000 hours to be an expert to create your own course. I've certainly seen people do it with a lot less.

Doug: No, I'm not talking about creating the course, but you better have some background.

Greg Smith: No. Yeah. Yeah.

Doug: We're not picking on the course.

Greg Smith: Yeah. yeah.

Doug: The toughest question I ask my guests is who's one guest I absolutely have to have on my podcast?

Greg Smith: You know what? I would love to dial in and listen to would be or download and listen to would be Chris Voss. You'd have to kind of figure out how to fit it into marketing, but he's the guy who wrote the book Never Split the Difference in negotiation. He was a lead hostage negotiator for the FBI. Wow. I got the book and then I went through the audiobook and listened to it. Just super cool stories and absolutely amazing. Just made me completely rethink how I approach negotiation and even to some extent change my relationship with my wife a bit in terms of how I approach our conversations.

He's got this concept called The Late Night FM/DJ Voice. That was my horrible attempt of trying to do it, but it …

Doug: You don't have to share all this you know.

Greg Smith: Yeah. It would be really cool to hear that. I think there are some applications definitely within marketing that would be really cool for, so that would be one person. If you got him on, that would be a lot of fun to listen to.

Doug: Okay. I'll make a note of that. I think I actually have a note from him asking me to come onto a podcast or be interviewed by him, so I should follow-up.

Greg Smith: Awesome.

Doug: Let's talk about you. Where can people learn more, find you, track you down? What's your favorite social platform? How do they connect?

Greg Smith: Well, I can be found through @Thinkific on all the different channels, and then we'll set something up as I mentioned with the pricing course and some other wonderful things to help people get started in courses at get.thinkific.com/realmarketing. I'm pretty active in our Facebook group and all our social channels. If you hop in anywhere there or if you need to reach me directly, it's just greg.smith@thinkific.com.

Doug: Excellent. I did take your gamification advice in advance of us recording this interview and sent out a tweet with a cat video with you tagged in it.

Greg Smith: Awesome.

Doug: I wanted to say thanks so much for taking the time. I'm so looking forward to having this chance to talk to you after having seen your platform and experienced it as a consumer and a purchaser of other people's courses that are hosted. My goal for next year is a course, so this is good timing to get my butt in gear and realize it's only going to take me 30 days and I'll have my course up and running. That's a good plan.

Greg Smith: Awesome. Yeah. If I can help with that, definitely let me know. I'm more than happy to chat. We're in the same town, so we could always meet up and hang out. We actually have a studio in our office. If you ever want to use it, go for it.

Doug: Super good. Thanks again, Greg, for taking the time sharing with our audience. Listeners, I would really encourage you to head over to their website and have a look at what they're doing at Thinkific. I've met several people on their team. I've been very, very impressed with the quality of people and just how easy to be able to reach out and have a conversation and how giving they are.

Thanks, listeners for tuning in. I'd suggest that if you like this episode, don't be shy when it's published to leave a question or a comment on our blog. Subscribe to us on iTunes and I look forward to serving you on our next episode.

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HOW TO CREATE, MARKET AND SELL AN ONLINE COURSE

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Free training from Thinkific for How to Price Your Course for Real Marketing Real Fast listeners. See Get.thinkific.com/realmarketing 

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