In 2016, my business went from an expensive hobby to a thriving business. Looking back, I attribute the success to 3 major shifts in how I approach my online business.
I am sharing them with you in hopes that these strategies give your business as much of a boost as they did for mine. I plan to keep all three as the bed rock of my business in 2017, too.
When I started my business, I was so sure that I knew exactly what online course creators needed. C’mon, I was an “expert,” right? After 17 years teaching online courses, I did know lots about how to design and teach online, but actually, I didn’t know Jack about what entrepreneurs creating online courses needed to be successful.
The idea for my business came after taking several online courses for yoga teachers. Wow! they were pretty darn bad. I naively thought that if I could just show folks how to teach online, I would be successful.
Uh… not exactly.
I was profoundly humbled by my epic failure. Rather than pack up shop, I went looking for help from online marketing pros. The first thing I learned was that I had to listen to what my students (or at that point “potential students”) were saying: how did they talk about the problems, what kinds of questions did they ask, what did they want to know?
I hesitated because I thought it was saying that I was not the expert I claimed to be.
But, I am stubborn, so I forged ahead. I started to listen radically to how people talked about their problems with creating online courses. I asked them directly in emails and surveys, had many eye-opening phone conversations, and talked to people in Facebook groups and other forums.
At first, I didn’t like what I was hearing because most people did not talk about curriculum or teaching strategies – my strengths. They talked about technology and marketing. My initial reaction was to think I had nothing profitable to offer.
The aha! moment arrived when I saw how to join my expertise with what I was hearing. I had something distinctive from my competitors: I could help entrepreneurs bring the best of marketing together with effective education strategies using basic technology tools so they could easily build inspiring and profitable courses.
Once I embraced a product idea that married my expertise and passion with students needs, everything started to change.
The lesson here is: ask and listen. No matter how much of an expert you are in your field, do not assume anything about potential audiences.
Toward the middle of January, 2016, I made a decision to post a weekly blog. I was terrified to make that commitment. In fact, I had spent several weeks prior to posting my first one writing blogs so that I had a few ready to go. I thought that if I could stay at least one week ahead, I might be ok.
As of today, I have written 40 blog posts in the past year.
Not perfect, but pretty damn good.
I remember when I was about to miss my first weekly blog after almost 5 months of a perfect record. I was convinced that if I missed one, my blog would shrivel up and die.
Jeez – very dramatic of me, eh?
But here’s the thing – if I had not gotten right back to it the following week, I might have let my commitment slide — to sabotage myself with the one missed blog.
Sure, I miss several more after that first time, but I remained committed to being consistent with my content production. And that made all the difference.
You don’t have to blog every week. Heck, you don’t have to do anything every week. The best thing about running your own business is that you get to decide what works best for you (Thanks, Rachel Cook, for always reminding me of that!).
I’m going to stick with weekly blogs. But if you prefer doing videos, or Facebook lives, or podcasts, or interviews, or whatever… that is what you should do. And if weekly is too much for you, then commit to every other week or monthly.
The key is show up consistently. And I’d suggest you make your commitment to something that scares you – just a little. A small amount of anxiety about whether or not you can do it means that you are stretching yourself. Be careful not to set yourself up for failure. The trick is to find a level of consistency that makes you nervous enough to do your best but doesn’t overwhelm you.
I stumbled on the third strategy completely by accident. I consider it a little miracle.
I was taking an online business strategy course, and one of the assignments required that we interview other members of the course who might be potential customers for our products. One of the course members who volunteered for me to interview was developing online yoga and self-care programs for busy moms. We had a great conversation, and it was so helpful to hear her perspective on creating online courses.
As the business program continued, the two of us got to know each other through the Facebook group. Her comments and questions seemed so spot on to me. I always learned something from her.
Then, out of the blue, she asked if I wanted to create a “mastermind group” of just the two of us. Uh… hell yeah!
We meet for one hour via skype every other week. We have a lose format that enables each of us to talk through what is going well and what we need help with. Then, during the time between meetings, we often exchange quick little questions or ideas via Facebook messenger.
We support each other, challenge each other, listen to each other, hold each other’s feet to the fire, and offer advice, (sometimes useful, sometimes not). She calls it a mastermind group; others might call it a business BFF. I simply think of it as accountability partners.
It is not hyperbole when I tell you this is the best thing I could have done to grow my business. First of all, the online entrepreneurial life can be isolating, so the comradery is priceless. It is also easy to lose perspective, so talking through a problem with someone who is less attached to the biz can produce enormous clarity. And making a commitment to another person is a guarantee that you will follow through.
One reason our accountability partnership works is that we trust each other enough to be brutally honest. Support and encouragement are important but we also expect to be told that we are missing the mark when our ideas suck. We also are in related businesses, so we understand lots about the other person’s market but we also have an outsider’s perspective. Lastly, it helps us lots that our businesses started at about the same time and are at about the same scales.
Oh – and we have lots of fun, too.
These three strategies are the special sauce that transformed my business from “meh” to something I’m proud of, that has started paying the bills, and is on a trajectory of growth. I am doubling my commitment to each of them in 2017.
In the spirit of listening, I always want to hear from you about what you need to make your online teaching business a success.
If you are looking for more tips on how to build a business with online courses, you will fine everything you need in the FREE Resource Library: