In today’s episode, Steli and Hiten talk about creating online courses for your startup business. Creating a course that suits your audience well, requires some upfront work. Steli and Hiten discuss the importance of searching for the BEST topic first and from whom? No one better than your own clientele or target audience. Listen in as Steli and Hiten both share the steps you should take to create your content, and why quantity cannot replace quality when it comes to your online course.
Time Stamped Show Notes:
- 00:27 – Today’s topic is about creating online courses for your startup
- 00:58 – Opt-ins have become a typical thing for every market
- 01:43 – #1 You might think quantity wins
- 01:53 – If you create a lot of ebooks or content; at most, only one of them will get you the best leads
- 02:42 – Before actually creating the content, first find out what will be the best piece of content to create
- 03:10 – The danger of creating a LOT of content is that the courses you create may not be very good or attractive
- 04:14 – Steli has only done 3 courses over 4 years
- 04:21 – The basic email course that was based on a few of their blog posts was the most successful
- 04:53 – Steli also experimented with having someone create a course for them on Udemy
- 05:34 – Udemy does not allow you to capture people’s emails and the quality of people who participate are also questionable for Steli’s course
- 06:11 – Currently, Steli is releasing ebooks every 2 months where they target different user personas
- 06:33 – Hiten’s caveat is an ebook strategy that hits more than one user persona
- 07:50 – Find out what’s a winner and double down on that
- 08:05 – Instead of creating more ebooks or courses, focus on the ones that really work well
- 09:04 – Courses can be in the form of simple lessons sent thru email, on platforms like Udemy or Teachable, and via webinar course
- 09:54 – Hiten strongly believes that following a process can help eliminate mistakes
- 10:24 – Run a lightweight marketing experiment
- 11:10 – Once you figure out a topic, then you can figure out the best way to deliver that topic/lesson
- 11:26 – Hiten shares an example of this
- 11:31 – He has tens of thousands of people on his email list whom he asked the question, “What is their #1 product challenge?”
- 11:40 – They found out that product prioritization was their audience’s problem
- 11:43 – They built a course about product prioritization with 2 workshops
- 12:42 – As they discover what the problem is, everything Hiten does goes around that problem
- 13:02 – If they didn’t ask their audience in the first place, they wouldn’t know what their audience needed help with
- 13:25 – What matters most for Hiten is NOT wasting any time
- 13:50 – If you have NO email list, use ADS
- 14:53 – Hiten didn’t have any software when they addressed their audience’s problem with product prioritization
- 15:20 – They thought about the best way for their audience to consume the content
- 16:04 – Start with MVPs or minimum viable products
- 16:32 – Following up is a topic aligned with Steli’s business
- 17:39 – Courses that provide people a certificate
- 18:10 – Create courses to offer certification for people; this is a different marketing strategy
- 18:57 – Mostly big SaaS brands offer this
- 19:21 – If your company has thousands of paying customers, this is possible
- 20:17 – Specialist certification works best if you can start a trend of a certain type of expertise
- 21:57 – We want to hear your opinion on this topic! Email Steli or Hiten
3 Key Points:
- Before creating any course, research what would be the BEST topic to address.
- The platform you use to launch a course should be the easiest for your audience to consume.
- When you find the topic that your audience responds to best, double down on that course and keep improving it.
Hey everybody this is Steli Efti.
And this is Hiten Shah.
And in today’s episode, we’re gonna talk about how to create online courses, for your startup. Many companies and many startups and you, Heaton, and your businesses and products and real clothes … Create … When you do content marketing, one part of your content marketing strategy might be do not just publish blog post or videos, but to create courses. Online courses to teach your audience something specific. So we wanted to talk about how to think about online courses, what’s happening there, how to do the right, how to do the wrong. And to just share some of the tactics and the best practices that we’ve seen.
So what’s become a typical thing in almost every market, is that in order to market – Market, meaning like a SAS product or E-commerce product or whatever – There’s some kind of opt-in, like “Give us your email, and we’ll give you something,” whether it’s a course, an ebook, or something like that. So, I’d say that this is actually a really important topic because more and more people are doing it. And quite frankly, like a lot of other marketing tactics that are out there, people are not doing the best job of it. And they don’t know how, or why, or they don’t know any better.
So let’s jump right into that. What are people doing wrong? What are start-ups doing wrong when it comes to the online courses that they are creating?
I’m gonna share my number one most controversial point, that I learned king of the hard way, about this. And there’s a caveat too. So number one thing is, you might think that quantity wins, meaning you create more and more of these things, these eBooks or these courses. The truth is, if you’ve ever done that, you’ll know that usually, at most, one of them is really popular and gets you the best leads … Because you’re doing them for lead generation, at the end of the day. So, when you’re doing these courses or eBooks because they’re kind of muddy today, they’re just opt-ins? Right? You’re opting into something and you’re delivering value to people for free before they’re ready to use your product, or during the experience of them using your product, is oftentimes what also happens. But I think we’re talking more on the marketing side, right?
Yeah. This is more about marketing, not making money or anything like that.
Cool, just making sure … Senile … So, because content is very broad now. So, I would say that like, if you believe what I’m saying, then what you would want to do is before you even create the content, you would want to find the best piece of content you can create. The best opt-in, the best ebook, the best course and all that. So I’ll pause there and try to get an idea of what’s in your mind about that possibility.
Yeah, so, I agree and disagree with you. I think it really depends, right? So with … Of course, I do think that you can … That the danger of doing a lot of quantity is that none of the courses you’re creating are, A) Any good, or B) Super attractive to creating a lot of leads. Because these two things don’t necessarily have to be the same, right? You could market a course on the outside well enough, and it can be presented really strongly to the sort of people who want to give you their email, but then the course could be not that great, right? I don’t think that that’s necessarily impossible if like a shitty course performs really well just as a lead magnet. Conversely, I could imagine you having a really amazing course, that’s not doing that great as a lead magnet. Now, obviously if you can find the best of both, like you have … You’ve created a course that is … Where you have a really easy time to market it effectively, and people want that course so much, that lots of people convert and give you their email. And then the course is really brilliant, so that people will talk about it, they will share it, they will get a lot of value from it and come back and want more from you. Obviously, that’s what you should be striving for. And with courses, honestly, we … In like three years we’ve only done two courses – No, that’s not true, we’ve done three courses for years. One was the very first piece of content that we’ve ever done that was not a blog post, but it was based on a few of our blog posts. Which was a kind of a start-up sales basic email course. That has been, definitely the most successful course we’ve ever put together. Just an email course, like you sign up and you get multiple lessons over a specific period of time to kinda learn all the basics on how to do sales in a start-up. And that’s been a very, very successful course, very high level of engagement, lots and lots of opt-ins as a lead magnet. We’ve experimented with somebody creating a course based on our content, on a different platform for us. You know I’m not gonna, well, I could name it, I don’t really care. This was a course that somebody put on U2Me for us, and it’s all exclusively content that I created around negotiation. That course, in terms of its structure and all that, is okay, but it’s not the greatest thing ever. I don’t absolutely love it. It has a lot of people that have, quote unquote, “Taken the course.” Thousands and Thousands of people. But, it hasn’t really converted any business to us, or really hasn’t really done that much for us in the business. I mean, U2Me doesn’t also allow you to capture people’s email and email them. You can ping them on the platform, but not really get their email. And the quality of people that participated on these courses is questionable, at least for our course. So, this was just a short in the dark that really hasn’t done much. So, in general I agree with you that the quality … If I could only choose high quantity over high quality, I will always go with high quality, but … The reason why I disagree a little bit, or why I’m not fully in agreement with you, is that we’ve done something very different with our ebook strategy, which is something we might talk about a different day, where we’re releasing a new ebook every two months this year. And that has been very successful for us. Yes, some eBooks have been more successful lead magnets than others, but these eBooks are very … They are very different in terms of being target towards specific and different user personas, that we want to attract.
And that’s where you went after my caveat. My caveat is if you have user personas that you know are different, and you’re very good at determining those, then the ebook strategy of more than one works really well. My guess is, and you can correct me if I’m wrong, there’s a lot of repetition between the eBooks. Meaning like, it might be one persona but certain percentage of the content is very similar.
It is, I want to say not true … Yeah, it’s not as much as you would think. Just because of the vastness of our content, and we don’t just make a persona focus. But it’s very topical so one ebook will be about sales hiring. The first ebook this year that we released was about sales hiring. Another ebook that we released together, as the start-up chat ebook – And for people who don’t have it, if you want it, just let us know. Ping us – Was the easier to a thousand customers. And then the next one was the follow up formula. These three eBooks and no, zero overlap in terms of content. But you’re right, I mean if we were targeting everything to one persona this would be much more difficult. And also, to be fair, I wouldn’t say that every single … There is something to be said, and this is something we have not done a great job at, there’s something to be said to go and look at what’s a winner, and really double down on that. So this is something, that we can do a better job at, is identifying something that works really well. And instead of just creating more, let’s say courses or eBooks or whatever. Instead of creating more of that stuff, going back and saying, “Hey, we have a winner here. Let’s extend it, let’s update it, let’s market it heavier, let’s promote it more.” Versus just creating more and more stuff. And I think that we have not done a good job at going back and finding these winners, and really doubling down on them. We just recently have done this with blog posts, not even books, or courses, or anything like that. Just starting to go back to some older posts of ours that are performing really well, or older posts of ours that we think are amazing but are not performing well, and spending real energy, time, and money to push them up. And we’ve seen some tremendous success with some of these posts that they were old and good, but we thought they were outdated, and we just put a little bit more work in it. We updated it, we did a little bit more promo work and boom. They performed like crazy. So, doubling down on quality is for sure a big one. Now in terms of courses, Heaton, there’s many ways to do this, right? You could create … It could be just an email course, where people get email lessons sent to them. There’s platforms out there like U2Me, or Teachable, that’s a popular new one. You could have a course that’s basically, life and webinar based. Where people maybe it’s a course that people take four or five light webinar kind of sessions with you. Does it matter if you see one thing being better than another? Have you had great experience? What does … How much does form factor matter in terms of consumption? And what is the right type of person to even use a course for? When is a course better than a book, or better than a video or better than, what is the uniqueness to a course that makes it, that gives it certain strengths and weaknesses in your overall marketing strategy?
So, what we haven’t talked about yet is actually process. And I think you can avoid a lot of mistakes if you actually follow a process. I know both of us like process. And so, for example, to answer the questions that you’re proposing, in my opinion, I would take a very deliberate process. So, what I would do, is I would learn what topic is the most popular, and how to frame that topic for my audience. Whether it’s a certain persona in my audience, or all of them. Generally, when you’re first starting out, you just pick all of them. And the ways to do that would be, actually to run a lightweight marketing experiment. So, if you have an email list, ask people what their biggest challenge is. Orient it around the problem your product solves. That will give you a very good idea of what their biggest challenge is. Well, guess what your content should be about? Their biggest challenge. Number 2: If you don’t have a big audience, like on email lists, thousands of people, or whatever, then you can do advertising. Whether it’s Google ads, Facebook ads, retargeting, or even just landing pages on your own site with ads going to them. That can help you understand between five options of what you could do, or ten options. You use advertising to understand what gets the highest rate. And that’s just topic, I’m not even getting into like video, or a course, or a ebook yet. Because once you figure out the topic, then you can figure out the best way to deliver that to your audience. And it might be all those ways, to be honest. And you might be able to say, so for example, I’ll give a great example that’s been interesting and working really well for me. Which is, and I wrote about this earlier this year. So I have an email list, it’s on ProductHabits.com, I have tens of thousands of people on the email list, and we ask them, “What’s your number 1 product challenge?” And what we got down to was product prioritization. And so we started building a course around product prioritization, and this year we ran two runs of it, two workshops, online workshops on it. Now we could do an ebook on product prioritization, we can do all kinds of things on it. And on that one there’s no software attached to it yet, but that’s for a different podcast. But, the learning that we had is that the number one challenge that people have, that we can solve, is product prioritization. And that actually is the number one challenge when we dug in. And we did the same process to understand, the process I just described, to understand what it is for how we should create content, what we should do. So, honestly, ultimately, we’re going to create a course on product prioritization, and a bunch of software and stuff like that oriented around that problem, as we sort of discovered it this year and went after it, and wanted to help people with it. Because that’s what the audience really gravitated towards. And so, my opinion and my process is very deliberate so I don’t make mistakes.
Yeah, so as we discovered this problem of product prioritization by just asking people the question, everything we’re doing is all around that problem. Whether it’s an eBook, which we haven’t done yet, or the courses that we’re working on, or even software that we end up building, will always be about solving that number one problem that we learned. And because of that, it is having a major impact on our audience. If we hadn’t asked that question, just made it up, we actually wouldn’t have picked product prioritization. We wouldn’t have thought about it. In fact, when you look on the internet no one’s talking about that. And I mean it, nobody I’ve seen talk about that. But, we learned that, that’s the number one problem people have when creating a product, iterating a product, and building a business. And so, that’s how we discovered it, and what really matters to me is not wasting any time. So, we’re not wasting any time building ideas like “how do you get feedback from customers?” or all these other topics we could talk about, and focusing on that and then putting it out there and learning it doesn’t matter. Instead, we actually ask people, we learned first and then we basically started building this stuff out. So, that’s an example of this process that I like to use. Again, if you don’t have an email list, go use ads. And go learn what’s the number one problem based on the different ideas that you might have. Create an ad, create ten ads. In fact, when we do this, we create 20 or 30 ads and we target them at specific audiences to understand, both what ads work the best, what copy and what framing and what idea and what topic, as well as what audience resonates the most with it.
Now, let me ask you … So, I love that, right? But now let me ask you, when you discovered that product prioritization is a big topic … And I can’t believe nobody had discovered that before, and it’s even sounding great, product prioritization, it’s great branding. Why did you make the decision to go down the course lane, versus the book or video or blog posts or whatever. There’s many forms of content.
Yeah, we could do any of those, honestly. The reason we specifically chose it, in our case, and I’ll give another example because ours won’t be necessarily translatable to other folks, but we didn’t have software at the time, and we wanted to monetize that business and we knew how painful product prioritization was, based on the responses we got, so we decided to do a workshop, which is essentially a course. So, we decided to do that because we wanted to monetize with a certain business model. That was just a … ‘what’s your product’, ‘what’s your business model’ decision. So that’s what I’m saying, it might not be as translatable. Now if I’m running a software company right? And I need to figure this out, what I would do is really think about the audience and exactly what’s the best way for them to consume the content. For example, you wrote a book on follow up right? Or a course? Is it eBook or a course, it’s an eBook right?
It’s an eBook, yeah.
Yeah. And that gives people a whole bunch of follow up tactics and stuff like that. Now you could have done a course and a video but honestly that would have been higher production value, that would of cost you more to do, I’m just assuming, than an eBook, because you already had a ton of content on eBook. So to me, the smartest way, if you’ve done the first step, which is determine the problem that people have, the biggest challenge, the most likely topic that they’re going to love that you can write about or create content on, I would just start with MVP’s, minimum viable products, minimum viable content, to solve that problem and start experimenting. Because what happens is, in your case, you’ve done a bunch of these eBooks now, I know your topics are pretty deliberate because you’ve done a bunch of blog post and probably picked popular ones, I know we did when we did the one together. It was a popular podcast right? And so you have some idea of what people care about. Now, out of those, you were saying you would double down. So, which one of those worked the best? My gut tells me follow ups is probably really aligned with your business. That’s just my gut. So if that’s true then now you can double down and spend more effort, a little more effort, a little more money and then see what the fruits of your labor are. The good news about you, and how you would do it with software is, there is an ROI, you know how many leads you’ve got. You also know, you should know, if your systems are right and you’re using close.io and systems like that, that this is where I got the customer from, here’s how much ROI I got. So if you got that customer as a lead from the eBook than you can know the ROI and you can actually put dollars to it. And then you can figure out whether you want to double down and start creating courses and stuff, because on follow up, I think there’s a lot of room to create courses. I think there’s a lot of room to do a lot of stuff and I think, based on, at least my own opinion, not validated, most people screw up their follow up. But this is something I learned from you and this is something where I don’t even think that I’m that good at it.
Well you’ve definitely gotten better at it. I couldn’t agree with you more. Let’s shift to wrap this up to one slightly different angle of doing courses, that I see in the SaaS world, which is when you do courses to certificate, and either you certificate somebody on your software, being an expert in using your tool or advising other people or consulting them or integrating things for them, or/and being an expert in a domain that your product is dominant in. So, HubSpot could be certifying you as an inbound marketing specialist or … In Close we could maybe do a certification to make you an inbound sales expert or whatever. So you create these courses to offer a certification because … I assume the goals of these companies, they know that people, that certifications are something that is appealing to people because it sometimes offers-
… Credibility and job opportunities, right? And so, people want these certifications and then when they get them, they’re really proud of them, they use them and that kind of associates them with the overall brand. So it’s kind of a different strategy to create branding and market dominance, but it’s distinctly different from these courses as lead magnets to sell your software, often times. It’s more like ecosystem strategy right? Have you only seen really big brands, in this space, do this? Because I definitely know that Sales Force and HubSpot and some big brands in the SaaS space are offering certifications. I don’t know that super young SaaS companies typically do this, so I’m just curious to hear that, but that’s kind of another angle that I see, the online course strategy that SaaS companies use.
Yeah, let’s talk about that real quick. I think it’s pretty simple. If you’re large enough, you have thousands of paying customers, probably usually in the 3,4,5 thousand, maybe a little bit earlier, a certification makes a ton of sense. You could do it earlier. Here’s the thing. You talked about two separate types. One is the Sales Force example of yours, Sales Force expert, you’re a Sales Force certified, you know how to use their software. Or, another approach is you’re a Sales Specialist and there’s a Sales Specialist certificate of some kind. So, in the scenario of your software, I think your software has to be either complicated enough, useful enough, where it requires some certification. Because that’s, honestly, the software certification’s a much more old school concept when it comes to software being really complicated, right? Now, there might be other reasons, like your software integrates with a lot of tools, and there’s an ecosystem of providers around it, which is still old school, where you might want a software certification, so that’s a good reason for that. Now, this whole ‘Specialist’ certification, I think it works the best when you can own that … Or you can start the trend of a certain type of expertise. Like inbound marketing, HubSpot, not even arguably, they created that trend, right? That’s not arguable. They found it, they invented it, they doubled down on it, they used to be the inbound marketing company, now I don’t know what they are. But as they were the inbound marketing company, they were able to have … They could of, really, and I think they did to some extent, double down on certifications. What they did though, is I think their primary certifications are for agencies. So agencies are Inbound Marketing certified through HubSpot as a proved agency for inbound marketing and they happen to use HubSpot software and that comes with the deal. So to me, if you were to do it at Close, I almost feel like the software angle would work better, unless you could find an angle of certification you can own, that’s for a person. And them really wanting that and them … Basically, honestly, their identity becoming that. Because identity of these agencies are now inbound marketing agencies, and that’s because of the way HubSpot did it. So I think there’s a big difference between the two and that’s something to really think really strongly and deeply about in your business and figuring out which stage to do it at. I think at your stage, at Close, it might actually be a lot of credibility for someone to be a Close expert or a , whatever way you guys say it. By the way, I’ve never thought about your branding, but it’s brilliant.
Well, I’ll take that, I’ll take that as a compliment, I can’t believe that we’ve never talked about it.
No, we’ll talk about branding like that soon. I think it’s just … It just came to my mind, I’m like, “Close? Oh yeah, I want to close deals, what’s up?” Anyway, it’s good shit.
Alright brother. Well I think that’s it from us for this episode. As always we’d love to hear from you so shoot us an email, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet at us if you have feedback, if you have ideas for episodes, if you have questions and now, I think that’s it for us for this episode.