It was December 19. One of these liminal points in time when most work projects for the year are done, but Christmas break isn’t here yet.
This is why we decided to dedicate the day to career planning. My friend and I were sitting on the sofa in a quiet café, stuck in this weird “together, but apart in the void of our own laptops” format that often comes with co-working.
And then she casually said, “Hey, you should think about launching your own marketing course.”
And this is how a wild journey started. One that took a few years to complete and now involves more than 100 ambitious learners.
Focusing the spotlight on myself doesn’t come easily, but I thought sharing this journey would give you some insights. First, I hope it’ll interest anyone considering launching their own course. Second, I hope it shows you where “Strategic Content & Messaging” came from and how it got here.
A start in teaching
Even before that faithful coffee conversation, I’ve been teaching and presenting for a while. It all came from the will to share. That awesome sensation that what you know can help someone else. And the joy of being useful.
I joined the team of a local digital academy, SoftUni Digital, early on. As one of the original trainers, I not only taught Content Marketing, but I shaped the course curriculum and requirements. Over the course of 6 years and some 7,000 students, I got to learn how to plan courses, check students’ understanding, and update accordingly.
It was a wild ride, but the scale of courses grew to more than I was willing to do. It was time for a change.
I stopped teaching in the academy in 2021, and… nothing happened for a while.
I’d always say, “oh, I’m too busy” or, “oh, that’s not as important now.”
But the truth is, I was afraid.
Could I really stand up with a course of my own? I didn’t doubt my knowledge – but I severely doubted if people would be interested to learn from me without a big organization standing behind me. Call it limiting beliefs, call it impostor syndrome, or whatever. But that’s the long and the short of it.
At one point, I got really annoyed with myself for just talking about starting a course and never doing it. I finally thought, “What’s the one thing I can do today to get this ball rolling?”
And I picked up the phone.
One small step, one giant leap
The biggest lesson I learned during this project is probably the power of small steps.
I didn’t have a course plan. I didn’t have any slides or learning materials.
But I had a phone and someone to call.
I reached out to a friend with a studio and set up a meeting to discuss the project. We talked about the broad plan, the visual style, and the services I’d need.
The same day, I sent over visual references and some style notes. The operation was a go. Now, I needed to plan.
Decisions, decisions, decisions
OK, so I’m obviously doing a course.
But what should the focus be? Do we need live sessions or not? And what about the price?
A lot goes into planning a course, and I sure as heck didn’t want to do it alone. So, I turned to my audience.
Sidenote: launching a course without having your own audience is just silly. Don’t do it.
I sent my newsletter subscribers a survey designed to answer three key questions:
- What do people think I could help them accomplish? What would be the Job to be Done I’m best positioned to solve?
- What features do they want in an online course, and how would they rank them by importance?
- What’s the ideal price point I should aim for?
The first question is pretty standard if you’re already familiar with Jobs to be Done research. The other two can be answered with two standard research tactics – MaxDiff analysis and the Van Westendorp pricing model. I’m no statistician, so feel free to read more about them in the links provided by Survey King – the tool I used to do the research.
I based my final plan on this audience research and some strategic considerations like my long-term positioning as an expert and the type of course I was trying to create.
Here’s an example: although many people wanted to learn about paid ads, that’s not my core area of expertise, and it goes against my “content and messaging expert” identity. It’s also a rapidly changing field, and I wanted to create an evergreen course. So, that wouldn’t have been a fit even if I wanted to talk about PPC.
The sound of deadlines
At that point, we had a plan for the broad structure, the recording and video mixing process. We ran some screen tests, designed course video assets like picture-in-picture frames, intros, and outros.
My partners wanted to know what the final course plan would look like so that we could set the production schedule.
And this was a major roadblock, because it simply wasn’t how I usually plan my talks. A lesson would be as short or long as it needs to be and I’d only know it when all the talks are planned and slides are made.
So I told the studio there won’t be a video-by-video plan. Instead, we set a broad framework and some deadlines:
- videos would be around 15 minutes each – this ensured people would be more inclined to jump in and watch a lesson or two in their lunch break, and it was still a comfortable length to explore a marketing concept in depth.
- the whole course would be about 20 hours – this was the most back-of-the-envelope calculation I’ve ever come up with. I frankly don’t remember how it came about anymore. But it was ridiculously correct. The final runtime of all lectures is 20 hours and 30 minutes.
- we’d book 10 days for recording – based on the planned runtime, we came up with another guesstimate – the number of recording days. We reserved 8 recording days in the studio’s calendar and planned for 2 more buffer days. We ended up not using the buffer, but the recording schedule was brutal, with 8 hours of recording every day.
Fixing the recording days was the second biggest “hack” in the course production process. We had very specific deadlines now.
I love deadlines. Not as in Douglas Adams’s famous, “I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by,” but in the realest of senses. Deadlines light a fire under my 🍑.
The next few weeks were a blur of course prep, slide design, course material development, and everything else.
(Wo)Men at work
The production process of the course is a bit of a blur. But let me try to unpack a bit of it.
The course content
I recognize that your course prep may look completely different. I know some trainers painstakingly write out their full lesson delivery, and others work best when presented with a live student cohort. Everyone’s different.
But here’s what I did:
- I wrote down an exhaustive list of topics related to the three core components: marketing strategy, content marketing, and brand messaging.
- I then ruthlessly self-edited, prioritizing the most important lessons.
- I finally combined and rearranged the lessons into a teaching plan across 5 modules. Sticky notes are a lifesaver here. They help you arrange the content, fill in any gaps, and get a visual understanding.
Once the initial plan was set, it was time to create the slides and prepare any additional learning materials. I literally worked on this from day one to the last recording day. We had a couple of occasions where we had to pause and do a new take because a slide animation went iffy or the deck didn’t contain the image that was supposed to be there.
Still, there weren’t any huge time sinks because of it, and we did everything on time.
I opted to record my course in a professional studio. I wouldn’t suggest that route unless you’re sure your course covers evergreen topics and will be relevant for a few years. It is expensive, both in terms of the monetary cost (especially compared to a Loom recording) and the planning and production time involved.
I went for it because I wanted to create a flagship product. I needed it to look every bit as serious and professional as I take training to be.
I had the pleasure of working with experts and the studio setup took into account the best shooting angles, editing requirements, etc. But we also aligned it with my teaching style and personality:
- I have more energy when presenting while standing up. So we got a high bar table, and I got to stand on my feet during the whole shooting. I now know my back hurts like a mo-fo if I stand for 8 hours straight. But it was worth it.
- While the furniture is obviously the studio’s, we added some small knick-knacks that made the place feel more me. In the background, you’ll see some of my favorite books and the curious creatures that dwell in my home office.
This was all a collaboration, and save for some minor input, I had full confidence in the video experts I worked with.
When planning the course, you need to be honest. What do you need to work on yourself, and where do you need support? The answer is based on two considerations:
- Where do you bring the most value – what elements, if not done personally by you, will compromise the quality of the end product?
- What are the known unknowns – the things you can’t do yourself?
My short answer was this: everything related to the content and learning materials I’d do myself; everything else I’d delegate.
Every animation in the slide decks, every illustrative image choice – that’s all me. But I’m not an expert in video production. And while I have my own sense of style, I suck at hair, make-up, and wardrobe choice. So, all of this I delegated.
I often err on the side of “doing it all myself.” But this time, I did it right. It made me feel more confident in the final product. It also ensured I’d free up mental availability to focus on what I had full control over: getting the course content ready.
Finally, we had the recordings done, and while the studio team was working on the editing, I focused on preparing the launch. You’d imagine that this would be the easiest bit for a marketer, right? Well…
Plan before the start
The one thing my production team highlighted at the start of this whole project was to document the process. This sound piece of advice is the reason why I have behind-the-scenes photos in the first place!
But planning the launch goes beyond all that.
Set the launch date
I wanted to launch the course in Q4 to get the most out of Black Friday’s educational spending and the year’s end. Often, teams find that they still have some leftover Learning and Development budget at the end of the year – well, they could spend it with me!
But you also need to be flexible. We started recording in October, so the launch schedule was tight. I finally pivoted and made a pre-launch announcement for Black Friday while the content went up in early December.
At the end of the day, launch dirty – it’s better to do it than make it perfect “later.”
Announce in ripples
You know how a stone acts when thrown in a lake. It creates a ripple. And then another. And then another. As the previous one expands, a new one starts.
It can be an excellent analogy for my course launch plan.
I started by announcing the course to the audience that had already shown interest in it – those who participated in my pricing and feature survey.
I then expanded by announcing the post to my newsletter subscribers. Then, to my social media followers.
I finally did a small remarketing ad campaign for people who’ve read my blog posts in recent months. I only did that last bit when the entire course was already available, and there were just a few days left in the launch discount campaign. The combination of urgency and the immediate gratification of paying and seeing the whole content live immediately was important for that relatively cold audience.
In retrospect, I could’ve made the pre-launch phase longer, sharing behind-the-scenes snaps and even a few raw clips from the lessons. But we simply didn’t have the time to do it. Launching was more important than having a perfect launch.
I’m fortunate to have some great partners and some incredible communities I call home. Once the public launch discounts were done, I created partner campaigns with valuable content and special promotions.
An example of that was a workshop we organized with Growth Mentor. In January, set up a session to discuss the skills marketers need in the new year. I made sure the talk would be value-packed with helpful advice. And I mentioned my course at the end.
People were already engaged enough to pay attention to the special offer without it sounding overly promotional.
365 days later
I’m writing this exactly one year after the official launch of the “Strategic Content & Messaging” course. As time went on, there were a few other lessons I learned:
- Treat it all as a test: regularly test messaging changes. Experiment with course promotions. Try different ways of presenting the course at the end of live talks. It’s both fun to do and a way to move forward.
- Talk to students: every now and again, I’d invite new course members to a quick intro chat. I use it to understand what pushed them to sign up and what they want to achieve. It’s my primary way of continuously learning about my target persona and improving my messaging. It’s also a source for new content ideas (I’m planning a new course in 2024 based solely on student feedback!)
- It’s a never-ending story: there is so much more that I can and want to do. If you’re creating your own course, leave some stuff in the backlog. You’ll have a chance to try it out later.
Here’s a quick overview of where I’m currently at:
- there are now 123 paid course members;
- 53 of them are part of the premium Group Training plan;
- we run monthly live sessions everyone has access to and Group Training members also get the recordings of these, together with access to regular Office Hours for individual discussions;
- I managed to recuperate the initial investment for the course creation (recording and editing, Teachable platform fees, and a small ad budget) by the end of January, 2.5 months after the course launch.
I didn’t know what creating and launching a course would be like. I definitely didn’t expect it all, and I wonder if I would’ve made the jump if I did. But I’m happy where I ended up. And I’m working on making this the soundest investment my course members will ever make!