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 SEO Tips for 2017

As a new or beginning instructor on Udemy, it’s a good idea to understand how Udemy decides which courses to promote, and how students decide which courses to buy. One mistake I see a lot of instructors make is that they launch a course, and then let it sit there for a few months wondering why it’s not selling.

Here are a few tips and ideas to get your rocket off the launch pad quickly.


Udemy SEO tip #1 for new instructors:

You must must must get at least one review quickly. There’s no point having a course on Udemy for months with 0 reviews. Your first objective when launching a new course should be to get one review. Your second objective is to get 5.


Udemy SEO tip #2 for new instructors:

Make sure your course title uses unique words that potential students use to search for courses (keywords). Naming your course without using common terms people search for will ensure that your course will never be found on the search results page. For instance, “10 tips for a good nights’ rest” would not be easily found when searching Udemy.

People search for either problems or solutions by name. “Photoshop” is a solution. “Procrastination” is a problem.

Your title should include the common phrasing of either a problem or solution.


Udemy SEO tip #3 for new and old instructors:

Once you’ve optimized your keywords (tip #2), the number of reviews (and average review score) is by far the biggest factor for search results ranking on Udemy. But that’s a hard problem for us. Reviews are out of our control. Beyond the obvious rule-breaking stuff, there’s no way an instructor can get more reviews.

Well, let your competitor think that. Because after reading this, you’ll be able to get more reviews on your course.

Four ideas for getting more reviews:

Idea #1. We all have way more students than we have reviews. I have 12,326 students on one of my courses, and 1,492 reviews. That’s an opportunity. How can I get the other 10,000 existing students to leave a review? I can ask them. I could send an educational announcement, originally worded, that says I value their opinion and if they have watched a bit of the course it would be nice for them to leave a review. Be careful to follow the Udemy rules around asking for reviews – you can’t ask for only nice reviews. But I sometimes say “leaving a review would help this course be found in Udemy search and I would be grateful if you would take a few minutes to do that”.

If you have lots of students and few reviews, ask.

Idea #1.1. Related to the above, do you have a video early in your course that tells students that Udemy will shortly be asking for their opinion and it would mean a lot to you if they would take their time to leave a few words? Or near the end asking them to remember to update their review before the course is over?

Idea #2. This is more indirect. Udemy already asks the students for review. So perhaps what you need is more of your existing students to watch your course? Out of my 12,326 students, probably quite a few haven’t even started the course. If I sent out an encouraging message to students reminding them why they bought the course and challenging them to get started with that, a few would be motivated to click play for the first time. And that will indirectly get more reviews.

Idea #2.1 Related to the above, you could hold a contest. What if you offered a $10 Amazon gift card to one random student who has completed more than half the course by a certain date? Requires a bit of work on your part to pick a random student, and will cost you $10, but that could also incentivize students to watch and get you more reviews indirectly as a result.

Would love to hear from you if you have other ideas for getting more reviews.

 

The Skillshare Experiment

I guess it was about two years ago when I first uploaded a course to Skillshare – May 2015. I took my bestselling Udemy course and uploaded it. Then promptly did nothing about it and left it alone for a year.

You might not be surprised to learn that I earned nothing on Skillshare in that year. A big fat goose egg. Zippo. I had some enrollments, but you need 25 enrollments to qualify for “premium instructor” status, and so I didn’t even get the $3-$4 per month I probably earned in that time. Oh well.

That same course had earned more than $20,000 on Udemy in that time. (I always found it odd that a course that was very successful on one platform went unnoticed in a place that was cheaper for students.)

So then in the middle of last year – June 2016 – after Udemy had done some pricing changes of its own, I decided to turn attention back to Skillshare to see what it was about. Many of my friends were very excited about it, so why not? Step 1, was get the 25 enrollments. So I gave out some free coupons and quickly got to the level where I could at least qualify for payments.

June 2016

July 2016

August 2016

$11

$6

$1

Under the 2016 payment model, I could earn $1.35 for each paying student that signs up. On Udemy, I was making at least $10 for a student. So I quickly realized that I could not put my Udemy courses on Skillshare. I would not accept only $1.35 when I was easily getting $10 for that same student.

The other thing was Skillshare seemed to want courses of 10 to 20 minutes long. My Udemy courses were many times that. So, what to do?

But perhaps I could create special courses for Skillshare. I had a lot of ideas for lessons and courses that would not fit well on Udemy. So every once and a while I would take a couple of days to create some videos for Skillshare and uploaded it to the platform. I posted the free coupons to the usual groups and watched my income soar.

September 2016

October 2016

November 2016

December 2016

$64

$14

$41

$40

 

 

I was not terribly impressed, but to be honest, I wasn’t using Skillshare to make money. I actually enjoyed using the platform.

In 2016, Skillshare represented a place where I could create things “for fun” and make a bit of money on the side. No pressure. Hundreds of hours not required. Have an idea, create, publish. A simple yet powerful model similar to blogging or Youtube.

In January 2017, they changed their payment model. Now it’s hard to tell whether that was a good thing or a bad thing, but they were now paying ~7.5 cents per minute instead of a ~$1.35 per enrollment. Most instructors felt that it would be a 20% income drop. I calculated that you’d have to make 40 minute long courses to break even in the new model.

My take? Skillshare wanted to offer their students, for $9 per month, unlimited access to “Udemy quality” courses.

This, of course, will never work out in instructors’ favor. If you’re going to create Udemy quality courses, you might as well put them on Udemy and get paid for them.

But, let’s see how January works out.

January 1

January 2

January 3

0 minutes watched, $0 earned

0 minutes watched, $0 earned

0 minutes watched, $0 earned

 

 

On January 4, I emailed Skillshare and asked them to unpublish my courses. Today, January 5, they did.

For me, the Skillshare experiment is over.

Status: failed.

It’s better for me to focus on platforms that either make me significant money or have the potential to make me significant money. OR free platforms like Youtube where I can provide value and gain exposure to a huge audience. Skillshare doesn’t have that potential yet. I see no scenario where Skillshare would drive a reasonable amount of income to me for the effort required to maintain it.

Maybe they’ll grow and in a year they’ll have a bigger base of students from which to get revenue and do a better job making good courses earn money consistently every month. I hope they do. Right now, I don’t see the point creating several courses per month, with dozens of hours of work invested, for the hourly rate that it would generate.

The company itself doesn’t even have an instructor forum so that they can interact with instructors. That’s crazy actually.