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Failing My Way to Launch: From Stressful Corporate Job to Building a Successful Online Course

All of us have expertise to share – the question is, how do we share it effectively?  You’ve likely thought about launching your very own course. Or maybe you’ve seen others create courses and wonder how they got their inspiration to take action.

But there is something holding you back…

The truth is, you’re not alone.

Back in 2013, I felt extremely frustrated in my corporate job. I knew that there was an alternative to the traditional career path; I just didn’t know how to get there.

I felt scared and alone as I told friends that I was leaving my (admittedly strenuous but lucrative) corporate job to try to establish a different lifestyle – one that didn’t involve negative stress and a daily commute.

Most importantly, I was looking for something that I could create that would immediately add value for others.

How to Add Value to Others

Like many formerly corporate workers, I turned to starting my own business.

This might sound surprising to some, but my original intention was not to create an online course on using LinkedIn to help people generate more sales opportunities and connections.

When I joined the Audience Business Masterclass, I wanted to learn how to improve the online presence for the traditional design business I’d just started.

As I got deeper into the course content, I realized that there were a lot of things I had initially overlooked: finding the right target to address, my value proposition, and determining what people were interested in learning about.

At the same time, I was using LinkedIn to engage potential prospects for my traditional business.

As I honed my writing skills, I explored podcasts and blogs like The Rise to the Top, Smart Passive Income, and (of course) Firepole Marketing, which gave me opportunities to talk to people I never would have met if I were still in my corporate job.

During this time, I reconnected with someone who was teaching blue-chip clients how to use platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook in their businesses, and began to realize that maybe I needed a business partner. I knew that I couldn’t do it all on my own.

Something Was Still Missing

Around the same time, I had a realization: I had my telescope turned the wrong way around!

I was looking at what the Audience Business Masterclass could do for me and my business. Flipping it around allowed me to start to understand how I could help others by using some of the lessons that my partner and I had learned about using LinkedIn.

One night, during a conversation in which my potential partner and I were lamenting the deficits of yet another traditional networking event, we sparked the idea to use our decades of LinkedIn experience to address some of these networking challenges. And what better way to do so than with an online course?

But before we started building the course, we needed to address something essential for course creation: we needed to dig deep to find out just what our target market needed.

Finding Out What People Really Need

We started out very broad and then refined our idea over time based on feedback from people across a wide range of industries.

We knew that our course would need to address our market’s root problems and frustrations. This turned out to be difficult, because they initially weren’t able to articulate exactly what they needed.

Sure, they told us they wanted more leads, but that’s pretty much what everyone wants.

To mitigate the lack of clarity, we scheduled 1:1 discussions about their business challenges. From these conversations, we were then able to determine the deep underlying pain points that needed to be solved.

We discovered that our initial thoughts had really missed the mark!

The actual challenge our market was facing was the constricted amount of time they had to spend on customer research, and the changing nature of how their clients researched information during the sales process.

We realized that our clients wanted to increase their inbound connections and opportunities without spending tons of time on social networks. But they didn’t have time to become LinkedIn experts – they had businesses to run!

So the course material had to be targeted and holistic, using the most relevant features of the LinkedIn platform to get the maximum results.

Our solution was to take key elements of what we were teaching elite clients and use those elements to build a course that would deliver the results our market wanted, without them having to spend an inordinate amount of time learning the LinkedIn platform or mastering sneaky sales tactics.

After assessing some benchmarking and research on what other products were available on the market, we came to the conclusion that we wanted to offer something different.

We wanted our course to offer a repeatable process for using LinkedIn and have some built-in accountability so businesses could make it a core part of their activities.

We also didn’t want the course to be about us. While we’ve both been on LinkedIn since about 2003, we wanted to focus on quickly and effectively transferring our knowledge and experience to our clients, so they could go out and quickly apply it to their businesses.

Writing, Testing, Feedback. Repeat.

At this point in the process, we realized that we still needed to validate the core content with key people to get feedback that we were on the right track.

Here’s the process we used to validate the course impact with our potential users:

  1. Assembled the core materials based on key areas of frustration from our 1:1 conversations.
  2. Asked for early feedback to determine what we needed to change.
  3. Refined the content into a shareable PDF.
  4. Asked for test users to pay a highly reduced price for the content in exchange for feedback, to test the value proposition of the material.
  5. Used the feedback to refine how we would present the material in the course framework (for example: introducing more video and bonuses).
  6. Did a soft launch to a small group of potential clients to test our launch funnel and webinar process.
  7. Continued to refine based on feedback.

It’s All About the Technology… (No, It’s Not!)

It was definitely tempting to address all of the technical aspects before we even had the course content in place. But even with my background in technology, I felt overwhelmed by all the tech aspects of setting up an online course.

As I have talked to more and more people about building courses, I have come to see that this is one of the most common reasons people don’t actually make it to launch day.

Terms like “email auto-responder”, “templates,” “plug-ins,” “launch sequences” and “drip content” are complicated to understand. The technology is far simpler than it was even 18 months ago, but it is still a stumbling block.

I soon realized that there were people in my network with course building experience whom I could ask for assistance.

Based on their recommendations, I decided to implement OptimizePress 2.0 as the platform for our course.  But, there are many other platforms available that offer the same functionality.

The point is, it’s not the technology that makes the course relevant for your users; it’s the combination of ease-of-use and relevant content that fits your market. Those are the things that will help you build a successful course.

Is It The End? Or, Is It The Beginning?

Now that LinkedOn Autopilot is launched, I realize that it’s not the end of the journey. We will continue to refine the product and make it better based on the feedback our clients send us.

Looking back, I realize that what really helped me take action was discovering something important: it’s not about getting it perfect the first time out of the gate.

There were some failures that were necessary for us to improve our product. In fact, it took us months of building, and tweaking based on user feedback, to get it to where it is now. And, we know that we still aren’t finished.

I’ve learned that wanting the course to be perfect kept me on the sidelines for far too long.

I needed to get a deeper understanding of what my potential clients were struggling with so I could identify what I could do to help them become more successful.

This was a humbling experience: realizing that my initial ideas were not really hitting the mark! I had to understand that it wasn’t really about me, but about helping my clients get ahead.

Finally, there were a number of people who really kept me on track as I went through this process.  I have a great network of supportive people that showed me that I didn’t need to do everything myself.

At this point, I feel like the experience of building an online course is just the first step on a longer journey. I don’t know if I’ll build another course anytime soon. But I know I won’t be on this journey alone.

What’s holding you back from creating your online course? Let Jeffrey know in the comments below.

About Jeffrey Veffer

Jeffrey Veffer is the developer of LinkedOnAutopilot and offers clients business-world perspective and innovation expertise with an emphasis on social platforms so you can achieve your goals. Jeffrey's shares the lessons he learned working with Discovery Channel, Bell and AIR MILES.

21 comments

  1. Excellent post. I actually purchased a similar online course last month around the linkedin niche, there seems to be a huge demand for this.

    How are you marketing your course?

  2. Hi Jeffrey – thanks for sharing your experience with us. I have two things holding me back: one is that I do not have a list of subscribers to survey about what they need and want. The other thing – the biggest one – is Fear. I am one who wants everything to be *perfect* right out of the gate, and even though I know that’s not possible. It has kept me from making any big moves for a few months now! Fortunately, I am persistent, and I am determined to work through it. Thanks for the article!

    1. Hi Laura-
      I hear you! In fact, I didn’t have a list of subscribers either – I just did it by asking people 1:1 about their needs and frustrations. Yes its scary, but its like a muscle – the more you do it the better you get.
      Now, I know that analogy may not help getting up to do the first conversation, but what helped me is starting out with folks who I already had a relationship with, who were ‘friendlies.’ Then I could move on to others who I perhaps knew less well, then further after that.
      Glad to hear you are working through the ‘fear.’ What I try to do is think of myself successful one year in the future and look back at now and think of what I had to do to get to that place. It often shows that what I thought was scary in the ‘now’ was just a step to get to where I want to go.

  3. It does help — because it’s not either/or. And it’s not some big pronouncement, “I used to do this, but now I do that.” It’s “what can I do where I have a unique skill or knowledge that really helps people and they I can get paid for?” I think we were all conditioned to pick some job description that answered the question, “what do you want to BE when you grow up?” and I get all hung up on what I’m BEing instead of what I can do that is of value.

    So what does that “make” me? Who cares? Thanks.

  4. Hi Jeffrey,
    Do you still do you design business, and if not, how did you address walking away from it to do online courses? Do you still consider yourself a designer? Do you think at all about your identity, or is it all about helping people now? I struggle with what it “means” if I’m not doing what I’ve done all my professional life (copywriting). Yes, I can teach people to write copy (in fact I have a course on that) but I have other expertise as well that could help people. But I get hung up on the idea of walking away and feel like I “should” be doing something related to what I’ve always done, and guilty when I think about changing. Any thoughts?

    1. Hey Lisa:
      Yup, still doing both! I have a hard time putting myself in one ‘box’ (maybe that’s why I’ve done a whole bunch of stuff over my career!)
      I honestly also struggle with walking away from what I was trained in. But I try to look at it differently – instead of thinking about it as trying to maximize the value of what I ‘should’ be doing, I think of the best way I can help those folks who need what I can offer.
      And I haven’t found the exact balance yet, but for me, I don’t know if it will be only one thing. It might be that I have a few things I can do that will make it work
      I don’t know if that helps but love to hear your thoughts!

  5. Hi Jeffery
    I enjoyed reading your article. I too have left the corporate world and embarked on a journey of reinvention to be a writer, coach and speaker. I am just about to finish my first ebook. If that goes well then I wanted to develop an online course. After reading your article I am now thinking – ” do I really know what my audience wants?” So its off to do some 1:1 interviews to find out! So thank you for sharing.

    I also find technology aspect overwhelming however I guess its one step at a time! I also believe that sometimes its worth paying someone who knows more than you do to do the work for you ! This means I can concentrate on doing what I am good at.

    1. Hi Kathryn:
      I’m glad you are going ‘direct’ to your audience to ask them what they want!
      As far as the technology goes, I have a tech background so I could understand what I needed to do, but it still took me a while to get everything sorted out and connected to the right services. So I hear you on that!

      Best of luck!

      Jeffrey

  6. I am interested to hear more about how you made this change. Did you go as far as having the design business up and running? Did you sell that business? Currently I am a beginner and learning in ABM. I have many interests, most of them not marketable. I chose one that is to learn how to get started, but eventually may want to sell it and move to something else. So my question is—when a business is up and running, showing consistent growth and profit along with providing more value, what best to do to “pivot” at that point? Sell the biz, or get someone to manage it to free me up to pursue another unrelated one?

    1. Hey Don-
      Interesting question: I guess it would have to be if you really felt passionate about helping people in your first business and were making a difference. At least that’s one of the criteria I use to determine if I am still aligned with a business.
      In my case I am still doing the design business as it allows me to help clients in a different way than the LinkedOn Autopilot course. Hope that helps.

      Jeffrey

  7. How to stand out from all the other material out there that is quite similar is hard.
    I haven’t figured out yet how to use ‘my voice’ and perspective to make a difference
    through a course. I’m starting instead with eBooks (using my articles) and a podcast series.

    1. Hi Virginia-
      Starting with eBooks is great- it helps you get comfortable with an offering and you can get great feedback from your readers! The podcast will also help you hone your voice and the best part is once you have a good list of subscribers you can go to them directly to ask what sorts of things *they* want to see covered in a course. Best of luck!
      Jeffre

  8. Great article, Jeffrey! I’m in both the ABM course right now for building my fiction audience, and the Course Builder’s Laboratory to improve the courses I teach on self-publishing and create a pilot and then launch of a better version. My biggest hindrance right now is the time it takes to learn how to do all the web site and email stuff. I understand the concepts and I see how it works, but in addition to everything else involved in building an audience, it’s the time it takes to learn new things that is stressing me out, not the actual doing of it.

    For instance, I can’t start my survey to hear what people want help with until I have a place for people to sign up for the email list, which is the brand new web site. I quickly found a great free responsive theme to use, but getting it all set up with my information is taking a lot of time because I have to find *where* this or that piece gets changed, etc. If I could bend time so that a day was a week, I’d be much more relaxed about getting it all done correctly and in the right order. Where is Doctor Who when I need him?! LOL!

    1. I have seen people skip technology by creating a Private FB Group…you can create your own laboratory to interact with people and get feedback…I have seen quite a few Teacher’s doing this…and then launch paid training’s from a free FB Group…Colin Theriot has created “The Cult of Copy”…feel free to peek in and see how he is creating a Community there…Another is Daegan Smith…I think you can just perform a search for him on FB and his Group will come up…

      1. Thanks for the FB groups to look at, Matthew! I’ve got one started for a class I just finished teaching. I like learning new technology, but moving from teaching my class via Yahoo Groups to doing it more professionally has added a LOT of new tech all at once! Yikes! LOL! I just have to press through it and try not to think of myself at “getting behind” in the work I was otherwise planning on doing right now. 🙂 I’ll go check out those two Facebook groups now.

    2. Hi Kitty-
      I agree the tech side is complicated, but the benefit is that with some automation, it works 24/7 and can be a great asset in helping to refine your offering as you say. Glad you liked it!
      Jeffrey

  9. What’s holding me back ? How to make my course/workshops different from the rest ?

    I am freelance wedding videographer here in Singapore. For the past 6 months, I have been reading a lot and following marketing company like Firepolemarketing to learn more.

    I would like to create another stream of income by offering classes or conducting paid workshops.

    Would people want to pay me to teach ? Would people want to listen to me ? Just some questions I have in me.

    Thank you for writing your experience. You have showed me there is a way to do this.

    1. Hi Nazrin:
      I think you are on to something in your line of thinking. Just remember that just because something is second nature to you doesn’t mean it’s easy for others! Talking to your market can really help uncover what they want to hear from you. Hope that helps!

      Jeffrey

      1. Hi Jeffrey,

        Thank you for replying.

        I read your post so many times last night and this morning. I am trying to deconstruct your sharing and trying to implement with what I have in mind.

        “Talking to your market can really help uncover what they want to hear from you.”

        I will use this as my guidance.

        Thank you.

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