Let’s Write a Swimming Pool

“Let’s write a swimming pool.”

Some time ago, I heard the story that, in the early days of their success, The Beatles used to get motivated to write songs by the money they made. John Lennon turned to Paul McCartney and said “Let’s write a swimming pool!” and 3 hours later, the song Help! was written.

I can’t do a course in 3 hours, sadly, since it took me 3 months for the one that launched today.

But I always remember this Lennon quote. “Let’s write a swimming pool.” Need motivation to make your next course? There’s nothing wrong with thinking about the financial aspect to get you off the couch and into creating.


When to Give Up

Here’s a short list of businesses I have tried in my life, before I found course creation as a successful one:

  • I tried blogging every day for a year on coursemania.com
  • I tried selling novelty (Star Wars) USB sticks on eBay
  • I started a blog for affiliate marketing of products, and wrote dozens of posts too
  • I worked on upwork
  • I created a fiverr gig
  • I tried monetizing my YouTube channel
  • I tried creating a goal setting website where people can define their goals and steps needed to achieve them

It’s fun to wonder if I had stuck with any of the above for years, where I would be today.

CourseMania was a serious attempt to build an audience. I loved taking online courses (through sites like Coursera and Khan Academy) and so I thought I could share my adventures on my blog. Recommend courses and platforms, and be a good place for people to refer to when looking for a good course to take on a topic.

To that end, I decided to get serious about blogging. And I got really serious. I posted a new blog post every day, and at one point had 6 weeks worth of future blog posts scheduled in WordPress – about 30 posts ready and scheduled to go live.

At it’s peak, that site brought me $100 per month in Google Adwords income. I really tried hard to put out content regularly, but after about 10 months I did the math and realized the site would never grow to the level I needed it to be. I needed to 10X the income for it to be a good side project, and 100X the income for it to be a consideration for quitting my job and doing it full time. 100X income was just too big to imagine after 10 months of effort. And I could not imagine what more I could do to grow 100X anyways. I could not post 100 times per day or watch 100 times the number of courses I was watching.

That’s when I decided to make video courses and not to review them.

So where are you with your online business? Are you making $50 to $100 per month, and wondering how to grow it to something decent? Perhaps you should do an honest assessment like I did, and think “what are the chances of growing that to 10X results? And what are the chances to grow that to 100X the results?”

I’m not saying there’s a direct correlation between effort and results. But if you’re making $50 to $100 per month at something, you should ideally not be spending that much time to maintain that. If you find yourself making $1 per hour or even less, you might be better off ditching it and finding a new place to dig a well. There’s just not enough feedback from the market that what you are doing is in demand.


Ten Marketing Ideas for Your Udemy Course

You might notice a pattern below. See if you can spot it.

  1. Start a YouTube channel on your topic, and put out useful free videos relating to your topic. Grow your subscribers, grow your views. And link to your Udemy course in the description of each video.
  2. Start a blog, and put out useful free blog posts relating to your topic. Grow your email subscribers, grow your page views. And link to your Udemy course from your website.
  3. Start an email list, and send a regular newsletter relating to your topic. Grow your subscribers. And link to your Udemy course in the footer of each email, or send occasional emails promoting your course.
  4. Start a Twitter account on your topic, and link to useful articles written by yourself and others relating to your topic. Grow your subscribers, grow your favorites, grow your retweets. And send out occasional links to your Udemy course.
  5. Start a LinkedIn account, and post useful posts relating to your topic. Grow your post subscribers, grow your views. And link to your Udemy course in the footer of each post.
  6. Start a Facebook Group on your topic, and post useful links and content relating to your topic. Grow your group members, grow your comments and shares. Post a link to your Udemy course occasionally.
  7. Search Quora for your topic, and answer questions people have. Grow your followers. And link to your Udemy course in your Quora bio or mention it only if it’s directly relevant to the answer.
  8. Search Reddit for your topic, and answer questions people have. Grow your upvotes. And link to your Udemy course in your Reddit bio or mention it only if it’s directly relevant to the answer.
  9. Search other people’s Facebook groups for your topic, and answer questions people have. Become a recognized authority on your topic. Allow people to find your website or make it easy for them to find what you offer. Very rarely drop your course link.
  10. Podcast.
  11. Live Video is huge right now. Can you start a Live Video show on Facebook or YouTube and have regular weekly content for your audience?
  12. Focus on making your current students happy. Turn your current students into super-fans. Continually give way more to your students than they paid for. New videos, improve the course. Over-deliver, and let them become your biggest fans and they’ll market you for you.

Where do your customers hang out? Are they on Twitter, Facebook? Are they searching on Google? Are they on Reddit, Stack Overflow, Ycombinator News, Quora? LinkedIn? Go find them. And be an authority to them. Easy.


The farmer and the well: a course creators analogy

A farmer sees that many of his neighbors have dug wells on their properties and are getting water from them. This water is nourishing their families, their livestock, and watering their fields. His neighbors are prospering with their wells, so he resolves to dig a well too.

He digs a well on his property, spends a couple of months on the project, but there is no water there.

He asks Facebook what he should do, and gets a number of opinions back:
a) just wait, keep doing what you’re doing, the water will come
b) make another well, right beside the last one
c) move to a new spot on your property, and dig another well
d) buy a property in another state far from where you live and dig a well there
e) you need to do marketing to get water to come to your well
f) pray for rain
g) keep digging, and make it a “masterwell”
h) start a youtube channel

Everyone has a different opinion. So what’s the right answer?

If it was me, before looking out, I’d look in. I’d first ask if I was doing it right. I’d look at my well, and see if it looks like the neighbors wells. I’d ask my neighbors to look at my well. If my neighbors all agree that my well looks well-built, the you can eliminate “I don’t know how to build a well” as a reason. I build good wells.

That leaves “there is no water beneath this spot in the ground” as the answer.

Ultimately, you need to find a quick and easier way of discovering where the water is before you go through the process of digging more wells. For course creators, that probably means creating a YouTube channel, and creating lots of different videos until you find ones that get lots of views.

That’s just me. Pump out more free, quick, easy, content until something you do gets some traction, and go deeper on that and see if the traction follows you. Then when you’ve confirmed that people are dying to learn “X” from you, create a product on X.

Unless you are sure of success, or success doesn’t matter to you and you just enjoy digging wells, find where the water is first. Only then embark on a one-to-two month well-digging project.

Not a perfect analogy of course, because unlike water, students make decisions to which teacher they choose of the many available. But for the purposes of my point, the analogy is fine.

Where’s the water?

If what you’re doing doesn’t seem to be working, figure out how to find where the water is before spending months creating another product in the same spot.


Getting Email Subscribers to Self Select

If you are interested in this thing that I just happen to be an expert in, please raise your hand.

I thought it would be interesting to document what I am doing to get ready for an upcoming new course launch.

I haven’t emailed my list in a while. This is a big regret of mine, and I intend to do it more often.

So today I wrote a long email to my list on some thoughts about the software architecture industry. Big trends that are happening that affect my students. At the end of the email, I asked them to vote if I should spend more time on architecture, more time on Azure, or continue to split my time on both.

I created three pages on my website that say “thank you for voting”, one for each option.

Clicking the vote link will tag the reader with one of the three tags inside my email system. I can track the vote count through the page visits, as well as tracking the people who prefer each.

Later, I will post this same content as a new article to my blog. And even on Linkedin.

There are no sales message or calls to action in this one. The purpose is to warm up a cold list and get some people in my pixels.


The Return of the Skillshare

Allow me to make a bold prediction.

Instructor average revenue per minute watched will double (or almost double) by the summer of 2017.

And this means that instructors can consider making courses for Skillshare or at least it’s worth uploading courses you already have again.

Let me explain my logic.

Currently, students pay $9 per month on average. Skillshare takes $6.30 and instructors get $2.70 to split between them.

Skillshare raised prices such that the average is closer to $13 per month. Under the current 70/30 split, Skillshare takes $9.10 and instructors get $3.90 (at 44% increase).

BUT if Skillshare reduces it’s cut to maintain the $6.30 and gives the bulk of the increase to instructors, they can return to 50/50 split. Skillshare gets $6.50 and instructors get $6.50. That’s a 140% increase in the instructor pool over the $2.70 they currently get.

Even if they only give instructors $5 of the $13, it’s still a double.

So reasonably, the instructor pool should double after this, raising the 5 cents per minute to close to 10 cents.

What Do I Think of Udemy?

Someone on Twitter asked me:

Hey, Scott! I see you teach at Udemy. Mind if I ask you, how do you like it? I’m considering teaching there as well and just looking for opinions on the Udemy experience. Thanks!

And here is my response:

So I’m extremely biased because I’ve done very well, and Udemy sells a lot of courses for me every month. But I understand as well that many people have a different experience. I think if you teach an in-demand topic that does not have a lot of competition, you will love it. Choose a topic not in demand, or choose a topic with 100’s of established competitors, and you might not enjoy it as much. 🙂

I think that’s a pretty fair answer.

You’ll find a lot of people who are not fans of Udemy, but usually, it comes down to what topic they are trying to teach.


Udemy Coupons: Should I Continue Posting in Facebook Groups?

To the common question:

“I have been posting coupons to FB coupon groups for months. I haven’t had a single sale from this. What am I doing wrong?”

I have this response:

In general, stop doing things that don’t work. This will free your time and energy so that you can do other things that can work.

Two things at play here.

1: you need to find where your ideal audience is and they’re not on FB coupon groups. If your ideal audience is “people wanting to learn piano”, you need to present your course to those people in that place.

2: you might be asking for too much trying to get the sale so quick. I recommend you look into content marketing, where you build up trust using a steady stream of free content before asking for the sale.

“Date, date, date, date, marry.” as Gary Vee might say.

Udemy Educational Announcements for Fun and Profit

I’ll state right up front that this is a sensitive topic, and I hesitate even writing about it. I don’t want to encourage instructors to go overboard trying to pitch students or get their information.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t be prepared to accept them if they wish to give it to you voluntarily.

The main purpose of a course on Udemy or Skillshare should be to give a student good educational value for their money. They pay you, and in return, you teach them a skill. Over the years, of course, people have tried to change this simple equation and really aggressively try to extract money from the student. In general, I think we should try to give more value over time, and not just sell, sell, sell all the time.

Gary Vaynerchuk called this Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook.

But if you read the rules at Udemy, and the responses from the policy team, and the other official ways that Udemy communicates in the various groups, there are at least two acceptable ways to introduce the student to your other off-Udemy offerings.

I’ve talked about the bonus lecture before. In general, instructors make poor use of the bonus lecture. I did a sampling of around 30 courses and only a few were using it to sell other courses or to get people to their blog or social media accounts. Most instructors don’t even have bonus lectures. So if that’s you, go do that today.

But what is the other way? Can you use the educational announcement system to gently introduce people to your brand?

Well, certainly you can.

The official rule for educational announcements, as far as sending students a link, is that it must provide relevant, free material that does not require the students to purchase anything or hand over their personal information. You must not try to directly sell people anything, use affiliate links inside the post, nor request an email address as a condition downloading something nor overload them with promotion with popups, welcome mats, and pinned posts. In short, educational announcements need to contain links to free educational resources.

What some instructors do, however, is they write a blog post that is educational and relevant to the course.  Or sometimes they use a Youtube video. Or a link to a Facebook group post, or a Linkedin Post. You may sometimes see me doing that.

When instructors do that, people discover a few things about them.

  1. The instructor has a website and social media presence. While some people might just read the blog post and leave, others might click a link to read more about another topic. Some students will bookmark it or pop it into their favorite RSS reader. Some will follow the instructor on Twitter or subscribe Youtube. In general, the act of creating a piece of educational content outside of Udemy will increase the awareness of your students to your presence outside of Udemy.
  2. The instructor has other courses. Some instructors will see an uptick in sales of courses that use the coupon from their website. Now most instructors send promotional emails as well, so it’s not that students never have an opportunity to buy from them. But the combination of free educational content, followed by the student exploring their website, does lead to a sale from time to time.
  3. The instructor has an email list. If you provide people a box, somewhere out of the way, where they can enter their email to learn more from you, sometimes they do.

Those things are beneficial to instructors, obviously. But again, the post itself needs to be educational and make no attempt to sell or drive signups.

But beyond the obvious, instructors benefit in a couple of other ways.

  1. Facebook Audience Insights. When the Facebook pixel is installed on that page, we can look at the data Facebook gives to learn more about the type of student interested in this topic. We can use that data to determine how to advertise or communicate. Their gender, marital status, educational level, job titles, other pages they like on Facebook.
  2. Lookalike Audiences. Building up our main “website visitors” custom audience allows us to create a more relevant “lookalike audience”. Our ads to the lookalike audience should reach more people similar to the students that are in our courses.
  3. A Positive Student Interaction. And beyond all that, beyond the pixels and the data… you wrote a blog post and a bunch of people read it. Any time that you can have a positive interaction with a student, without it being promotional, is a win. It reinforces our positioning as an expert in your field.

Now you might be wondering, enough with the blah-blah-blah Scott… does this work?

I wrote a blog post yesterday and sent it to the 20,000 people in my software architecture and technical courses using an educational announcement.

  • Within 20 hours, around 1,300 people visited the site to read that post. (6.5% CTR in only one day)
  • 600 of those went on to visit another page of my site for 1,900 page views since yesterday.
  • Fun fact, the first visitor from Udemy arrived within 50 seconds of me hitting the “submit” button for the announcement, so the announcement went out immediately.
  • People were added to my list and bought courses from me, even though there is no pitching of either in the blog post content. They must have just clicked around my site and found those naturally.
  • Several hundred more people were added to my Facebook custom audience, and Google Analytics.

Again, I am trying to be careful not to say this is a roadmap to get students out of Udemy and on to your list. But it’s an allowable way to provide additional free value to students and have the possibility to benefit as well. Just don’t go crazy with it. And don’t blame me if you get warned for being too aggressive with it.


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