10 Books I Read and Loved

Several years ago, I read a book by James Altucher called Choose Yourself! This book was very impactful on me, and cause be to start a daily habit for years that improved how I think and perhaps led me to where I am with online courses today.

That habit was a short daily ritual of writing down 10 ideas per day. I have a Google Doc that I have been using since that time that I open up and write 10 ideas that come into my head. I find this helps spur action in me. Instead of these ideas just being in my head, I get them out on paper. Which lets new ideas take their place. And so I have hundreds or thousands of ideas written down at this point. It’s super interesting to go back and read what I was thinking a couple of years ago.

So today’s idea is “10 books that I read and loved”. I can’t call them the 10 best books, but I really think these books changed the way I think a little and so if you’re interested in these topics, it’s worth checking out.

1. The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey

That’s not a business book, per se. But I don’t mind saying that several years ago I had allowed my credit card balances to run up, and was never too concerned with it. But reading this book (and listening to his podcast) changed my mind on that. I became very concerned with the credit card debt, and worked hard to pay it all off. Today, I am debt free. This book will help you get out of debt if you have a problem with that. You still have to work very hard, but this is the plan to follow.

2. Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin

Do you think Phil Mickelson was just naturally born good at golf? That he came out of his mother’s womb and could swing a club? No. In this book, the author makes the assertion that anyone who becomes a master at anything (sports, music, anything that requires talent) is actually someone who just spent a lot of time practicing. Tiger Woods played more golf before he was 13 than most people do before they are 18. He had a 5 year head start practicing than all of his peers. And it’s not just playing rounds of golf that count, but deliberate boring repetitive practice. Hitting 100 balls out of the sand trap, and then 100 more out of the rough. Day after day after day.

3. The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber

This book tells the story of a person who loves to bake, and decides to sell cupcakes. They end up spending all day and all night baking, and then baking is not fun any more. They grow their business, and spend all of their time managing employees and no time baking. It’s a good story of how loving to do something doesn’t mean opening a business doing that. That’s the e-myth.

4. The 4 Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss

This book is a classic and really kicked off the “virtual assistant” craze into high-gear. While the 4-hour workweek really is a myth (there’s no such business that only takes 4 hours a week to run), the idea of outsourcing the low value tasks to concentrate on the high-value ones remains today.

5. Blue Ocean Strategy

The blue ocean strategy is what I follow when it comes to course creation. The red ocean is the one where the sharks are. For some reason, many people choose to go into the most competitive market spaces and try to compete with the big sharks, and come out the other side destroyed. I choose the blue ocean, which has a lot less competition. One of the best ways to be unique in this marketplace is to truly be unique. Be the only course on the topic anywhere online. A lot of people think that’s hard to do. It’s easier than competing with sharks.

6. Choose Yourself! by James Altucher

This is the book that got me to create lists, like this. Life changing habit if you can stick to it.

7. How to Fail at Almost Everything by Scott Adams

I am not a fan of his politics, but he wrote a good book. Scott Adams is the creator of Dilbert, and this book contains a lot of “aha!” moments for me. He talks about studying different fields besides business, such as psychology and human behavior. I spent years taking courses on all different topics (for my CourseMania blog), so I believe opening your mind to all these different teachers and not being hyper-focused on “making money” topics is great advice.

8. The Five Second Rule by Mel Robbins

I just read this book last month, but it stuck with me. Mel makes a great point about how you need to do things that are important as soon as you think about them. 5-4-3-2-1 and go. You can’t say “I should email Richard Branson someday”. That will never get done. If the thought comes into your mind and you think it’s important, open the email program and write the email and click send. Do things like that immediately. There’s no perfect time, except right now.

9. The Phoenix Project

A friend of mine turned me on to this book, and it really opened my mind to an agile way of working. You can only do 2 or 3 things at a time. There’s no point to having 7 or 10 items on your to do list. Cut things down to 2 or 3 and that is actually a more efficient way of working. It’s a good book and told in a good way.

10. Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion by Dr. Robert Cialdini

This book opened my eyes to the various human traits that marketers rely on to drive action. If you can master influence, you can get people to act in the way you want them to. If you understand influence, you can recognize when others are trying to influence you. Groundbreaking research.

So what do you think? Agree? Disagree? Like I said, not necessarily the top 10 books of all time (and I left off several fiction books that I love such as Snow Crash and Ender’s Game). But these books all opened my mind to things I hadn’t known before.

(This post contains affiliate links to Amazon.)

The No Lose Idea

Have you ever had an idea that you felt was a “sure thing”? Something that strikes you that is so clear, that it seems like there is no way that it won’t be successful?

Today I had one of those ideas. I wish I could say that it happens every day, but it doesn’t. But today, of all days, it seems like a clear vision that there was a product that I could create, that would be easy to sell, and where the competition would be caught off guard.

Not saying that the competition won’t catch up, and they surely will. But now, today, there is a demand in the market for “this thing” and a chance to be the first to market with it.

I really want to drop what I’m doing and go for it. But I can’t. I have a successful business that provides products to a market that is in need of them. I can’t stop working on that to work on this.

So I think I will try another way to do it. I think I will try to enlist some help. Maybe I can do both.

Will keep you posted.


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.