Last week, we closed the doors on the biggest launch we’ve ever done, for the biggest course we’ve ever put together: the Course Builder’s Laboratory.
Now, you’ve probably seen a lot of these launches from the outside. And they look pretty simple: you receive an email (or several!) with an invite to a webinar or some free content, and then you get more emails about the product itself.
But there are a lot of moving pieces to make it look that simple, especially when you’re launching a brand-new product. So today, we wanted to pull back the curtain and show exactly what we’ve learned from our biggest launch yet.
Because this launch involved most of the team, we asked several of the Firepole team members to weigh in on what went well – and what didn’t – with their part of the launch.
Let’s get started with Danny talking about the planning that’s involved in this kind of launch.
Danny Iny (Owner) on Planning
This whole launch really drives home the Eisenhower quote that “plans are useless but planning is indispensable”. Because, on the one hand, we started planning this launch way, way in advance (around September, which was about 4 months in advance). Not only was that lead time crucial, but it felt in a lot of ways like it wasn’t enough. And at the same time, once we were in the thick of the launch, we ended up abandoning and changing a ton of our plans, right there on the fly.
Because, as is always the case, many things didn’t go as planned, and many things came up that we just couldn’t have anticipated. For example:
- The messaging that we thought was so clear and compelling turned out to be confusing to a lot of our audience, and needed to be rewritten.
- Facebook unilaterally shut down our advertising accounts about three days into the launch, with no explanation given, and no recourse.
- The payment plan that we originally made available just didn’t fit with the needs of our market.
Here are just a few things that we ended up doing that weren’t in the original game plan, but we added them mid-way because we realized that it would be critically important:
- The webinar that Ryan Eliason hosted during the cart re-open window (originally, there was nothing like that on the books).
- The two amazing sign-up bonuses from our partners (Social Media Ad Genius from Curt Maly, and free tickets to Milana Leshinsky’s JV Experience conference).
- The bonus audios about selling coaching services along with products, and about selling courses on Udemy.
- Almost all of the messaging from about January 25 and onwards (we rewrote everything that weekend, based on feedback from our customers).
Now, as much as we ended up jettisoning our plans, I think this actually drives home the importance of having plans and contingencies up front. The fact is that, if we hadn’t gotten so much nailed down in advance, we would have had our hands full just keeping up with the launch, and wouldn’t have been able to deal with any of the craziness that arose along the way.
So, bottom line: if you’re planning a launch, then start planning early… and then be ready to ride it by the seat of your pants if you have to!
Megan Dougherty (Education Lead) on Creating the Course Itself
Content is one of those things that you can (and should!) work on well in advance of a launch (as long as you have piloted it thoroughly!) because building out the content for a major course is a huge undertaking, with lots of moving parts.
We started working on the content back in September, and the funny thing about creating good, educational materials is that, as you start to create them, there are a few things that tend to happen:
- You start to dream bigger than your boots.
- You start to question whether or not you can really teach what you’re teaching.
- You get really excited, then a little concerned, then really scared that you’re not going to be able to live up to the launch and the copy!
- You become really invested in what you’re creating.
Let’s look at these one at a time.
Dreaming (too!) Big
When you have solid, well piloted content and MONTHS to get everything ready for a group of students, nothing seems impossible! You’ll have time to create every demonstration, every supplemental handout, and every cool bonus and extra credit activity.
You think you do. But you don’t.
It is critical to prioritize what people will actually need, and what will help them the most. You can always add more resources later – get the product out the door!
Second Guessing Yourself
Your first draft of a curriculum is rarely your last, and as you’re about half way through you’re going to step back for a minute, look at all the work you’ve done and ask yourself “Do I have ANY idea what I’m talking about?”
Don’t worry. You do. You’re just really “in” it right now. And when you start to think you no longer understand what it is you’re trying to explain, you’ve got to reach out and get a second opinion.
Sometimes, you are making too many assumptions, or taking a wrong angle – and getting feedback from team members, friends, or even pilot testers is critical.
Living Up to Expectations
When your team grows, and you start to have people working on different parts of a big project – like a new training course – it becomes a lot harder for the right hand to really know and understand what the left hand is doing.
And when you don’t watch out for that, and you don’t communicate early and often about how what is being sold is in line with what is being created, you end up having to make changes later than you want to in order to make sure you’re delivering what you’re promising.
Remember how we tell you to write the copy first, then build your product or course to those specificiations? This is why. And it’s probably the kindest thing you can do for yourself and your students.
This isn’t an issue when you’re going it alone, or with a small team – but tuck it away in your back pocket for when your business is a lot bigger.
Being Married to Your Ideas
As a content creator, what you think matters. It really does. You have a lot of choices to make about what to present when, and how – and it’s your job to make those decisions.
But you don’t get the final word.
And your boss, if you have one, doesn’t have the final word.
Only your students do.
You can think something is clear as day, logically ordered and exactly what will get your students from point A to point B.
But what if your students don’t “get” what you’re saying, and get confused, get frustrated and give up?
That’s on you.
When you’re building educational content you MUST listen to what your audience is saying. Even if you’ve piloted a dozen times before, even if everyone you know personally thinks it’s perfect. Your students are the people it needs to work for. When they tell you something is off, you change it – even if it’s difficult, or contrary to what you think the best way is.
Be ready to pivot and change up until – and then after – you open the doors.
Did We Make These Mistakes?
You might have noticed that I used the word “you” a lot here – but didn’t use the word “we.” So maybe you’re wondering: did we do all or any of these things?
Absolutely. Every one.
Did we make it out the other end, and create some killer content that is going to bring great value to a lot of people?
Yep – we did that too.
Danny Iny (Owner) on Writing Email, Landing Page, and Sales Page Copy
By far, our biggest takeaway from this launch was that copy is like milk: it needs to be fresh. 😉
For me in particular, this was a hard lesson. I’m the kind of guy that likes things to be written and prepared way in advance, so that it can be scheduled and tested before the launch ever happens, and we can focus on other things in the moment.
The problem is that, if you write your copy well in advance, it isn’t going to match the questions and concerns that are arising in real-time, in discussions and interactions with your audience.
Which is exactly what we experienced. We had a *ton* of copy (between the sales letter, all of the email copy, all of the landing pages, and the swipe copy we gave our partners, there was well over 200 pages of material), and we ended up having to toss a lot of it out at the last minute and rewrite it from scratch, based on the questions that were coming up in during the launch.
It’s basically the same lesson that we learned with planning, though – because if we didn’t have all this prepared, there’s no way we would have been able to get everything done in time.
So, again, the lesson is to start preparing everything well in advance, and then make sure there’s time to pivot on the fly.
Bhoomi Pathak (Operations and Finance Lead) on Setting Up the Back End Systems
In many ways, this was the biggest, most complicated launch we have ever done. We created 25 web pages, each with their own design, copy and functionality, which went live at different times.
We were working with 6 different back-end technologies (Hubspot, Ontraport, ZenDesk, Zopim, Ultracart, Wistia, Visual Website Optimizer) that had to work together to provide a seamless experience to our subscribers and students.
From an email communication perspective, we tried a bunch of new things that we had never done before and had to learn how to do them on the fly. AND, we made some pretty dramatic changes half-way through the launch
Here’s what went well.
We tracked everything we could so we could get an early heads up of how our launch was doing. We tracked how well our our opt-in and landing pages were converting and what was confusing about our messaging (i.e., what questions people were asking). We tracked how effective our webinars were, where our sales numbers were at, and which offer was converting better. Tracking these statistics made it really easy to see how our launch was doing, and make changes where needed.
Split-testing (the art of testing two different versions of a web page or email) is something we have always been keen on. But for this launch, we made it a big priority. For each of the content opt-in pages, we tested at least 4 versions. Since our launch window was relatively short, we decided to test different designs/page copy, rather than just changing the headline or the button colors.
Once we started getting traffic to the different pages, we kept a very close eye on the tests to see which pages were winning. For us, pages with shorter copy and aspirational backgrounds performed the best. We think it’s because people arrived on the landing page after reading an email about what they were signing up for. Our best converting landing pages converted between 60% – 65% of visitors.
In previous launches, our team was a lot smaller, and usually only one or two people knew how to perform a given launch-related task. For this launch, we cross-trained team members so when we needed to change messaging and approach, we were able to do it quickly.
Launch Set Up
In his section on planning, Danny talked about the importance of having a lot of plans in place before the launch started. The same is true when it comes to back-end systems, landing pages, and emails. Having the majority of the launch set up completed at the beginning of the launch made it easier for us to change direction quickly.
Now let’s take a look at what didn’t go so well.
Danny and I were in India without internet access for almost 3 weeks right before the December holidays. This fell in the middle of launch preparations, which meant that we had to wait until the last minute to approve certain landing page designs and copy.
Importance of Project Management
The way we set up the different pieces of the launch (sales pages, email copy, partner information, etc.) was confusing. We used Google Drive to house the different design and copy collaterals and a Google spreadsheet to outline the launch process, like we usually do. However, with our entire team of 14 people involved in the launch and the complexity of the launch meant that we needed something more robust. We are now looking into project management systems.
Lines of Communication
People on the team knew what they were supposed to do, but they didn’t have enough visibility on the launch structure and how all the different pieces fit together. Thankfully, we’re using Slack for internal chat, and that covered a lot of last-minute questions. But, we could have done a better job communicating how all the different pieces fit together.
Lisa Baker (Outreach Coordinator) on Managing Joint Venture Partners
The Course Builder’s Laboratory launch was the biggest launch Firepole has ever done.
And since I only joined the Firepole team in September – just after the last ABM launch – this was also the FIRST launch I’ve ever done.
So what I learned wasn’t just about our biggest launch – it was about launches, period. And specifically, about launching a product with joint venture partners.
Like me, you’ve probably seen a lot of these launches from the outside. Suddenly all the bloggers you subscribe to are all talking about the same product. Maybe they’re even sending you the exact same email. If you subscribe to a lot of people who happen to be partnering on the same launch, the whole thing feels very Freddy Krueger — suddenly this product is everywhere!
But making that happen from the inside is a pretty complicated process.
Here’s what I learned from my first glimpse into the inside.
It’s All About Good Technology . . .
If you’re running a big launch, you need good technology. There’s a LOT to track in a launch of this size, from how much and when each partner plans to promote your product to how many referrals each partner sent your way. If you’re managing a lot of people (and this launch had nearly 100 partners!), you need a GREAT system so you can let the numbers take care of themselves (as much as possible) while you focus on people and relationships. We had okay systems during this launch, but it’s definitely something we plan to improve the next time around.
. . . And Great Customer Service
Managing joint venture partners is a lot like customer service. You need to explain all the details — sometimes several times, just in case. You need to answer a lot of questions. You need to keep everybody happy. I think we did well at this, but I definitely didn’t anticipate how big a task it would be. During the busiest part of the launch, just answering questions from partners was a full-time job! Part of that was because it was a big launch, and there were a lot of moving piece for both us and our partners.
But it was also partly because sometimes, we made things more complicated than they needed to be. For example, we had lots of different landing pages for this launch that our partners were linking to. We had pages for free content, pages for webinars, pages for questions, and pages for sales. That meant that the links our partners were sending out were always changing, depending on the stage of the launch, and that was confusing.
Next time, I’m hoping we can make it simpler, with just one or two links that we redirect during different launch stages.
Partnerships bring a lot of unexpected bonuses. Of course there are plenty of obvious benefits for you to bring on partners: they can share your message with more people than you can on your own. But I didn’t expect, for example, for Milana Leshinsky to offer free tickets to her JV Live Experience event for all of our students, just because.
Launches Are Unpredictable
You can’t always predict how much interest a partner’s audience will have in your product. Danny mentioned the importance of being able to change and pivot in the middle of a launch, and that’s true with partner management, too.
For example: one of our partners sent ONE email to his list and still ended up in the top 10 of partner sales. (Just for comparison, many partners sent 5-10 emails during the launch!) Now, this particular partner does have a lot of people on his list, and his email was pretty epic, but still — we were all surprised at how much interest his audience had in the Course Builder’s Laboratory.
Similarly, another partner in the top 10 had a relatively small list. (He told me, jokingly, “This doesn’t make any sense; I have like 12 people on my list!”) When you’re choosing partners, audience overlap is just as important as list size, but even that can’t always be predicted.
Every Partner Matters
The most important thing I learned from this launch is this: every partner matters. Just because someone’s audience isn’t especially interested in this offer doesn’t mean they won’t be in the next offer.
Relationships are important.
Don’t value people for how much they sell. Value them for their willingness to partner with you, for their belief in you, for the long-term ways you can partner and create together.
Lesley Taylor (Student Advisor) on Onboarding New Students
Launch: It’s THE BIG DAY when we say “Yeah! You can press the buy button now.”
Student Support at Firepole is well known for it’s hands-on effective attention to student success. But what happens during a launch? How is such a full on project managed?
It turns out that the answer is the same one I gave to my mother-in-law many years ago when we had seven small children launching into the world. With just a touch of awe and wonder she had asked, “How do you manage to do this?”
I remember replying, “Get up early, go to bed late and work very hard in between.”
Today, with hindsight and having now reflected on the role of Student Support in Firepole’s biggest launch to date, I am going to add something else – remember to DANCE.
Inside Student Support
Knowing that student support is a big priority at Firepole, we entered the launch keen to make things work very well for our students. This launch, like our other launches, has unsurprisingly been about dedication to task, a ‘just do it’ attitude, and an arena where plain good fun is valued and where some failure is expected and accepted as part of the growing process.
Individually, team members own a problem quickly and solve it. Together, we divide every task into pieces and each take a piece and succeed. Or, we grab big project areas, one each to suit our strongest talents and succeed. We flex. We slog. We iterate. We regroup. And we can truly live and truly laugh under great pressures, those of our own making (because of things we might have done better sooner) and those that unexpectedly drop into our laps and surprise us. Those types of pressures that come in the form of “here’s a curve ball – now what will you do?” And again from our team comes, “We can…”
We have smoothly (and sometimes not so smoothly) moved from creating the course and the collaterals (worksheets, quizzes, slides and the like) to typing answers to online live chat from people who are sitting on our sales page with every kind of question, to making phone calls to every new student to answer any questions and to reassure. Every day was very full and very full on. We got up early, we went to bed late and we worked very hard in between.
What We Learned – Remember to DANCE
So with all that, what did I learn about student support in this launch? Well, we probably could have improved our communication within the team, had certain things ready sooner, and had better systems and processes in place for the way we worked. In sum, we could have made things easier for ourselves.
But those suggested alterations touch neither our success nor the heart of what I learned. Instead, mostly those things are just part of what happens when a team gets very very busy.
When Felicity asked me to unpack what I thought our Student Support team learned from our biggest launch ever, my first response was to reflect with these words, ‘How do you dance a launch?’ And in those words I found my answer – I learned we must DANCE.
This is the heart of the matter, the non-optional core of our support team: DANCE.
As a team we must continue to embrace, express and sustain these qualities: dedication, agility, no blaming, creativity and energy.
That’s what I learned from the last few weeks. The Student Support team played an effective role in Firepole’s biggest launch ever because we knew how to DANCE.
Now that we’ve shared what went well, and what didn’t, with this launch, we want to hear from you.
What have you learned from doing your own launches? What have you learned from watching other launches? Let us know in the comments below.