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9 Lessons From an Accidental Course Launch

Before I started working at Firepole Marketing, I was an ABM student.

And like a good little student, I paid attention to just about everything Danny put out – including Course Builders Laboratory. I was very interested in taking the course, but it just wasn’t in the cards for me at the time.

However, Danny gave out some amazing free content within the launch, and I gobbled it up. I was particularly interested in the part about “you can launch a pilot, even if you don’t have a huge list.”

As a former fitness instructor, my blog was about helping women feel more comfortable in their own skin.

I was busy guest posting and trying to get my name out there when an opportunity came up to travel back to the city where I taught fitness classes. Thinking I could draw new eyeballs to my blog, I asked the owner of the franchise if I could talk to her group at a “mom’s night out” event.

Happily, she agreed.

I was busy planning out what I wanted to teach them when I had a light bulb moment.

“Why not make an offer? I have been hearing about launching a pilot from the CBL materials. This could be the perfect opportunity!”

The Giant Leap

I spent the next few days equal parts excited and terrified. Excited to finally put myself to the test and see if anyone actually wanted to hear what I had to say. Terrified because I did NOT want to put myself out there, in the position of getting rejected – especially by friends and former clients.

But I moved forward anyway.

I gave the speech, made my offer, a few people signed up, and I started my pilot.

With my pilot class wrapped up, I have a lot more clarity on some things I did right and some things I did wrong.

Here are a few lessons I learned along the way.

Lesson 1: How to Overcome the Terror of Asking for the Sale

So how did I eventually find the nerve to get out there and ask people for the sale? Eventually it came down to getting really connected with my message as something bigger than myself.

Did I believe my message could help these women? Definitely, yes. So really…

I was standing in my own way of helping others.Click To Tweet

And when it came time to deliver my “pitch,” I was honest. I admitted how terrified I was to launch this course and ask for money for it. I shared with them that the one thing that was bigger than my fear was my belief that this stuff works and can really make a difference in people’s lives.

I don’t know that admitting your fear would work for everyone. But it was a great relief to me to be able to tell the truth and not pretend to be a pro.

Lesson 2: Figure Out Your Minimum Viable Outcome

When I created this class, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to talk about. But I had only a fuzzy idea what I could tell my students to expect to get out of this course.

When I made my offer, I talked a lot about what I would teach. But I did not mention any the benefits or outcomes they could expect.

Danny talks about having a minimum viable outcome when creating a pilot. That sounds great, but what exactly does that mean?

He gave an analogy once that really nailed it home. He said, “Imagine you are getting on a plane ride to somewhere that is about an hour away.

As you sit down, you strike up a conversation with the person next to you. It turns out she is your perfect customer. And you like her, so you want to help her as much as you can in the hour that you have together on the plane.

After you both get off the plane and go your separate ways, how will she be better for having sat next to you? What is different about her life or perspective now? This is the minimum viable outcome.”

Lesson 3: KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid)

My pilot course lasted six weeks. We met once a week for about an hour on a Zoom call. My students had homework each week that I expected to be turned it.

Weeks 2-4 covered the same topic. But otherwise, we talked about something different each week. Each individual lesson was focused and concise, but the course as a whole was all over the place. Basically, my instruction was a mile wide and an inch deep.

Also, I made detailed outlines for each class. I knew exactly what I wanted to say. This left little room for questions or a pivot if necessary.

Danny recommends a one page outline for the entire course. While my detailed outlines helped me feel more prepared, it probably was too much.

If I had the chance to do it over again, I would choose one specific problem and teach them how to solve it.

A good analogy is this: it’s as if I was trying to teach a course in biology when I should have been teaching how to dissect a frog.

Lesson 4: No Market Research = Quicker Launch But No Insights

I had a pretty good idea that I was talking to my target market since I was speaking to a group of ladies who had once been my fitness clients.

However, I asked them NO questions about what they struggle with, or what kind of instruction would be most helpful. Therefore, my pilot was more about what I wanted to teach, rather than about what they wanted to learn.

On the one hand, just diving in and launching the pilot was good.

I validated a very important assumption: that people will pay me for what I know. And I did not get bogged down by making 40 phone calls to individual people.

On the other hand, it could have gone badly. I had only a vague explanation of what my course was about. I did not speak to my prospects in their own problem language. Therefore, I probably left a lot of potential clients thinking, “huh?”

I have a little better understanding of their problem language now, but it is still a very small sample size.

Lesson 5: Speaking Events Can Substitute for a List (At Least for Filling Your Pilot)

I spoke to a small group of about 12 ladies. 2 people signed up that night. I had another client I worked with informally who I invited to join.

So I was up to 3 people. Not great, but a conversion rate of more than 20% if you consider that I had only talked to 13 people.

Using a speaking event let me talk to a larger group of people at one time.

Though I have a small list, this was a nice way to “dip my toe in the water” to see if anyone was interested. From that regard, it was a good way to build confidence because I had a warm audience.

However, speaking to such a small group definitely limited my ability to fill my class.

Lesson 6: Follow Up On the “NO’s”

The disadvantage of speaking to a group was that it made it very difficult to ask someone why they chose not to sign up.

At the end of my talk, I handed out an outline of what we discussed. Attached to the outline was a piece of paper asking participants to write down their email address if they were interested in the course.

There was an alternate spot where they could write down their email address if they liked what they heard but they were not quite ready to sign up just yet.

Only two people signed up for the course that first night. About 7 other people gave me their emails saying they were interested but not ready to sign up.

I emailed those extra 7 ladies with more information and a deadline to sign up. But I never asked anyone WHY they did not sign up. So I had no information to go on if I needed to pivot.

As the start date drew nearer, I had only 3 people in the course. So I asked some friends to join for free.

By the day of class, I had 3 paying clients and 5 pro bono participants. However, at the last minute, 3 people had mentioned the class to friends and others wanted to sign up.

Eventually I had 5 paying members and 5 non-paying members.

Lesson 7: Asking Friends to Participate (Paid or Free) Can Backfire

When I made my offer, I was speaking to people who I considered to be friends. On the one hand, that made me even more motivated to give them great content.

On the other hand, when people did sign up, I realized that I did not know if they signed up because of their relationship with me or because they really truly felt like what I had to offer would help them.

Eventually, two of the friends who joined for free dropped out along the way. It just wasn’t something they were willing to commit to.

And I understood that was a possibility when I asked people to join for free. They had nothing vested in the course so there was no repercussion for dropping out.

Perhaps this is a cautionary tale against offering our services for free.

Lesson 8: JUST START!

As day one of my pilot approached I had 3 paying clients. The temptation to cancel the whole thing was very strong.

“This is way too much work. Who am I kidding anyway? I really don’t want to do this.” And on and on.

However, after the first class, I knew I had something. I knew I had delivered value to my clients, and I was fired up.

And it was quite a feeling to send the invoice for the class and to actually have someone pay it. It was quite motivating to realize “I DO have something valuable to say! Valuable enough that people will pay for it!”

I experienced firsthand that power of momentum. If you can just muster the courage to start, one step will lead to the next one.

Close your eyes and leap, then momentum will see you through to the finish when you can look back and evaluate your own lessons learned.

By the way, I did not have a merchant account. I discovered that you can send an invoice to anyone through Paypal as long as you have their email address. That was a big hurdle that previously had been keeping me stuck.

Lesson 9: Ask for Feedback

At the end of our last class, I asked my students to give me some feedback. I sent them a survey with several questions.

My questions ranged from, “What should I call this course?” to “How much would you be willing to pay for something like this?” and “What was the most valuable thing you got from this course?”

Since I wasn’t sure what my minimum viable outcome was going in, I made sure to ask what results they felt they got as an outcome from the course.

Was It Worth It?

Even though I made many, many mistakes on my way to launch, it was still well worth the effort and the experience. I validated that people will pay me to teach them.

I built up my own confidence that I actually can charge for my services. And I learned a whole lot of ways to make it better next time.

If you are stuck, and not sure if you’re doing it right, my advice is it is better to just start and expect to learn from your mistakes than to never start and make the biggest mistake of all: denying the world of your gifts.

Where are you stuck? Ever accidentally launched something? What lessons do you have to share? Let us know in the comments below!

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