Entry 1: Toward $16,000 / day in course sales. Not a SMART Goal.
I’ve had a personal goal for a while now (more than a year): To have more control over the distribution, price and marketing of my online courses.
2018 came and went, and I hadn’t really done much of anything toward that goal.
At the beginning of 2019, I decided that I’d really get going.
Now it’s Saturday, January 19th, 2019, and I’ve still done nothing toward my relatively unambitious goal.
So today I decided that I’d commit to a daily log of the work I’m doing toward my goal (more on goal specifics in a moment).
This daily log is primarily a motivational element for myself, but I also think it will have very practical benefits for those following it.
For myself, I know I’ll be more likely to put the necessary daily work in if I’m committed to logging my progress and sharing it with others (especially if there’s a crowd of people following and gaining from this journey).
For you, the benefit is that you’ll learn a whole lot about creating content to be sold online, the specific tools I’m using and the work I’m putting in, the ad campaigns I’m running and the sales I’m generating as a result.
The tools and strategies I’ll be sharing can be used to promote and sell your own online courses, but they can be applied to a host of other online businesses as well.
In other words, I’m committing to radical transparency with this particular journey.
I’ve done a lot of writing and speaking over the past four years, but I haven’t done anything with this level of transparency. And fair enough — I run a digital advertising agency, and because most of what I do is manage the online marketing budgets of other companies, there’s only so much transparency I can manage before breaching the implicit confidentiality inherent in every one of my client relationships.
But this is a side project of my own, and I can decide exactly how transparent I want to be with it.
Thinking about this earlier today, I realized I have three serious concerns with this sort of transparency:
- If I fail miserably (or otherwise), it’ll be embarrassing. After all, my clients pay my company to be good at online marketing / advertising. What will it say about me (and what will my clients think about me) if I fail?
- If I succeed, I’ll have detailed a specific blueprint for competitors to do the same thing as I did. Other people can create a similar course and siphon course sales from my efforts.
- I’m just incredibly uncomfortable with sharing any sort of private financial information. To be transparent with this process, I’ll need to share exact revenue and expenses.
Here were my internal rebuttals to all three concerns:
- A fear of failure, however rational, is usually a pathetic excuse for not trying something great. Most of our successes over the past four years have been a direct result of overcoming a lot of rational fears of likely failure. I also realize that if I fail at selling online courses, the failure won’t be an indictment on my entire skillset. Maybe it will be, but I don’t think so.
- This is also pretty dumb. I’m confident in the quality of my courses, and I’m confident in the size of the overall market. Also, this is really, really, really hard to do, and most people (just statistically), aren’t going to do it. Some of you will (!!awesome!!), but it’s highly unlikely that anyone who does will be a direct competitor of mine responsible for fewer of my own sales. If I don’t get the sales, it’s my fault — not yours. So, bring it on.
- I’m uncomfortable with this, sure, but there are two good reasons to tolerate the discomfort. First, I’m grasping for ways to get myself in gear. I haven’t done anything toward this goal for the last 18 months. I think this transparent log will help me get there, and if it does, it will be well worth the discomfort. Secondly, it will be enormously valuable to those following it, specifically because of the transparency. That’s another reason to tolerate (or just get over) my discomfort.
Breaking Down The Goal
Most of you know that I sell online courses that teach subjects like Google Ads, Remarketing, Facebook Messenger Bots and Landing Page Design.
For the past 2.5 years, I’ve been selling and hosting my courses on Udemy, the world’s leading online course marketplace.
I’m about to list a few complaints about Udemy, so it’s extremely important to begin with a fuller picture of what I think about Udemy.
I have an unbelievably and impossible-to-overstate sense of appreciation and gratitude toward Udemy. Udemy has had an enormous impact on my life and my business. Without Udemy, and the incredible people that work there, AdVenture Media would not have grown to where it has today.
Without Udemy, my courses and content would have probably never have seen the light of day.
Before discovering Udemy, I tried selling my first (and most popular) course on my own, and … you guessed it, failed miserably. This was a few years ago, and some important things have changed (more on that later).
Udemy helped me find an audience — a big audience — and like I said, I’m incredibly grateful for that. No complaint about their current system could ever take anything away from that.
Udemy is 90% awesome, and if you have a course that you want to sell, a strongly suggest you give Udemy a serious go.
OK, moving on.
So, here’s some transparency to get us going. Over the past couple years, Udemy has sold 117,159 copies of my courses (as of today).
When I first started selling on Udemy, I was able to successfully price my course between $200 and $400 (each). My commission was usually 50%, unless the course was sold through an affiliate, in which case my commission was 25% of the sale price.
Those were the good days.
Over the past two years, Udemy has changed its pricing model quite a bit. Now, instructors can price a course at a maximum of $199. But even then, virtually no courses are sold for $199.
My average profit per course sale is about $6.50 now.
Udemy runs promotions throughout the year, pricing all the courses in their marketplace between $9 and $15. From my experience, the average price of a course sold now is $10.
Udemy customers have been trained to only purchase courses for $10. And, fair enough. This is business and Udemy has every right in the world to maximize their profit with whatever price structure they see fit. I hope they have increased their revenue with this new system, and if they have, all the power to them.
But, that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I liked earning $200-$400 per sale a lot more than I do earning $3-$5 per sale. I think that’s understandable.
Here are some other issues I have with Udemy:
I can’t communicate with my students on my terms. I don’t get any email addresses, and I’m limited to a handful of email blasts sent through Udemy on a monthly basis.
These email blasts have incredibly low engagement rates, probably because students get a lot of them (if they’re enrolled in multiple courses). I completely understand why Udemy limits instructors’ access to students. It’s a complex issue and I don’t personally have a good solution to the problem.
I’m very limited in what I can even say in my limited communication with students. Udemy has strict policies around what sort of communication is allowed.
For example, you’re allowed to promote your other courses to students twice a month, but you can’t link to your website in a promotional announcement. You can link to your website in an educational announcement (you get 4 per month), but the webpage you link to can’t have a form on it.
I have a private Facebook Group for my students. It’s a place where students interact with each other and get help from each other with their online marketing campaigns. It’s a seriously awesome thing — and more importantly, it’s a value add for Udemy. If students who pay $9 for a course also get access to a private Facebook group (of which I’m an active member), it will reinforce the value of their Udemy purchase.
But my account is currently at a “Strike 1” status because I’m including a link to the Facebook Group in the welcome message a student receives when signing up for one of my courses.
This strike means that all of my communication with my students have been completely suspended for an entire month. No promotional announcements, no educational announcements … nothing.
Now, to be (slightly) fair, Udemy warned me about this before striking my account, and I didn’t respond in a timely way. So I take the blame for the strike, but again, it doesn’t mean I have to like it.
This strike (and communication suspension) really frustrated me this past Friday. I was hosting a livestream in my Facebook Group with Virginia Nussey from Mobile Monkey, and I wanted to promote the livestream to my students though an educational announcement email blast. But, alas, Strike 1 for me.
It’s important to me to be able to share access to my Facebook Group with new students. Udemy sees the promotion of my Facebook Group as a personal promotion, and not something that’s related to the course. I fully and respectfully disagree, but I don’t own Udemy and they have every right to see it however they want to see it.
And again, at $5 per course sale (for a course that’s 25 hours of high quality video content), I think I’m severely underperforming the potential revenue that I can generate from the content we’ve worked incredibly hard to produce.
My goal was (is) to sell my courses on a platform that I fully control, for a higher ticket price, and in a way that allows me to market to my students and interact with them on my own terms.
But why go through all the trouble?
- If I can generate more revenue from course sales, I can use that money to grow my business (and invest in other interesting businesses).
- If I have more control over the communication with my students, I’ll be able convert more of them into clients.
- By charging more for the course, I’ll be able to invest more money and resources into actually helping students at an individual level. Right now, I can’t really afford to spend an hour doing a free account audit for a student from whom I’ve earned $5. But if I charge more, I can potentially hire someone to be dedicated to student success, or even do more one-on-one work with students myself.
I like specific goals, so my goal, more specifically, is to get to 40 sales a day at an average price of $400 / sale (hence the 16k in daily revenue in the title of this post). And it needs to be profitable! Meaning, I need to spend less than $16,000 in advertising / marketing to generate those sales.
Most of us are familiar with the concept of trying to set SMART goals for ourselves and our team.
- Specific: 40 sales a day at an average price of $400. And do it profitably.
- Measurable: Yes, it is, and I’ll be sharing everything with you as we go along.
- Achievable: ehhh … highly, highly unlikely. I tend to set SMRT goals, because I’m plagued by a very bad case if idiotic optimism. I tend to think I’ll do much better than I’ll actually do when I get into something. It’s hurt and helped me in different areas of my life, but mostly I think it’s been a good thing. I think there’s a less than 1% chance I’ll be able to profitably sell 40 courses in a day for $400.
- Relevant: This is highly relevant to my career. My courses have been the #1 source of leads for our advertising agency.
- Time-Bound: My goal is to get to 40 sales in a day by April 30th 2019
But, before continuing, we need to state some serious advantages Udemy offers (and potential catastrophes leaving Udemy can cause).
- Udemy has like, literally all the students. Udemy says they had over 26 million enrollments in 2016. Wow! That’s a ton of students. And that was two years ago. Udemy sends my courses 99.9% of my students … so where (and for how much) am I going to find students?
- There’s no chance in the world I can reach a fraction of a percent of the audience Udemy reaches (the Udemy library hosts over 100,000 different courses). Even if I find students to buy my courses at a higher price, will the huge decrease in enrollment volume be worth it? Remember, the most important part of selling courses is that it exposes potential clients to AdVenture Media, my digital advertising agency. Many students have become paying clients. And I mean real clients. Forbes Magazine became a client of ours after first being exposed to my Google Ads course. Employees at AirBNB, CitiBank, PayPal and Tesla have also taken my course.
I’m not willing to risk losing the enormous positive benefits that Udemy is providing me. So I think that I’ll keep my courses on Udemy, and create longer versions of the existing courses to sell for a higher ticket price off Udemy.
I may create a longer version of each course, include additional bonuses (like whitepapers, cheat sheets, ebooks etc.), personal consulting time, or a combination of the above. I don’t really know yet … these are just nascent ideas.
But I think I can add enough value to justify a price of $400 — $999 while keeping the original courses on Udemy.
I may even be able to up-sell some of the Udemy students into the more expensive version of my course (if Udemy lifts the Strike on my account).
Because I’ll be running my own marketing campaigns, a student who enrolls in the new, more expensive course (let’s call it course 2.0) may not know that a shorter, cheaper one exists on Udemy. Sure, they are likely to find out, but I’ll deal with that problem when we get there.
Now that I’ve admitted to my goal, and my heretofore failure to do anything about it, it’s worth to organize the knowns and unknowns.
Here’s what I know:
- I have four courses that are selling well now for $10. (For those of you who don’t have content created yet, I agree that my journey is beginning a few miles ahead of yours, but I suggest paying attention to this leg of the race nonetheless ... you’ll be here soon enough).
- My courses are received very well (a 4.7 / 5 star average across 30,744 student reviews).
- More than 5 students have recently emailed me saying that they’ve paid $900+ for online courses in the past and those courses (in their opinion) weren’t nearly as good or as useful or as thorough as my courses.
- So far this month (January 2019) I’ve had 5,138 course sales. It’s January 19th, so I’ve been averaging 270 sales a day. That’s a lot more than my goal of 40, but I’m going to be charging more, and most importantly, Udemy is getting me all those students from their massive reach and scale of their current user base and marketing campaigns.
- I’ll be very happy if I can make this happen. It will be good for me and good for my company (and good for my students).
Here’s what I don’t know:
- I have no idea if I’ll be able to sell my courses for more than what they’re selling for now.
- If I can, I don’t know what the right price point is.
- I don’t know if I’ll ultimately be able to better convert those students into clients.
- Even if I can sell my courses for ~$400, I don’t know if the reviews will be as enthusiastic as they are now (the course will be same but the perceived value may go way down with a price increase).
- I don’t know how I’m going to find students (I have some ideas).
- I don’t know if I’ll need to offer a free webinar or ebook before trying to sell the course (I probably will, but we’ll see as time goes on).
Thoughts on the things I don’t know …
My brother in law is a chess master and undeniable genius. He thinks he has some sort of back-asswards way of using the 80/20 principle to determine what 20% of my current students would have paid (or would pay) for my course.
I’m pretty sure he’s just utterly wrong about this, but it’s also entirely possible that I’m not intelligent enough to understand his formula (he’s definitely wrong).
Either way, we argued about it for a really, really long time over a family dinner last night, and my wife said that if I bring this argument up again it will be in divorce court (she didn’t actually say that — for the sake of transparency — but I’m pretty sure she was thinking it).
There’s probably some half decent ways to actually figure out what my course might sell for. Ideally, I’d hire a market research firm to crunch some real numbers, but I aint got no time for that.
Here’s a few things that’ll help anecdotally:
- There are lots of other courses that do sell for $500 — $1,000. I don’t know how successful those instructors are, but I know for sure that they get some sales. Not being the first to try this is definitely a big factor.
- Many of my students have outright told me they’d have paid “a lot” more for my course. I don’t know what “a lot” more means, and it can also mean something different to each person that said it. But it does mean something more than $10.
- I have a very engaged following in my Facebook Group, so I’m going to take a poll. I’ll ask them what they think they would have paid for my course. However, this is imperfect for two glaring reasons. One, self-reporting on these sorts of things is notoriously inaccurate. Secondly, I’m asking them after they’ve enrolled and completed most of the course. That they’d say they’d have been willing to pay more now doesn’t mean they’d have been willing to pay more before enrolling in the course and seeing what it was all about.
- I’m also going to take a poll asking what my students think the right price would be. I won’t necessarily go with what the poll results show, but it will help give me guidance. I will share the poll results in a future update.
- I’m going to do more research into the marketplace of online courses being sold by individual instructors.
- Most importantly, I’m going to test different price / sale combinations as I go along … and of course, everything will be shared and recorded here.
The issues with reviews is too nebulous to even be worth obsessing about at this point. There’s no way to know, and it doesn’t really matter. It’s another unknown that can be dealt with down the line.
As far as marketing goes, this is what I do for a living. I’ve had a lot of failed campaigns (both personally and for clients), but I’ve had a lot more successes than failures. I’m reasonably confident that I can design and optimize successful online advertising campaigns for my online courses.
Here are some channels that I’ll probably explore:
- Google Ads
- Facebook Messenger Bots
- Influencer Marketing (Instagram / YouTube / Facebook)
- Facebook Ads
- YouTube Ads
I have run literally hundreds of advertising campaigns on the above channels (save for influencer marketing — that’s relatively new for me), so I’m in a good place as far as that goes.
Again, I’ll be sharing everything I do along with all the data from the campaigns. I will be transparent with what I spend, what revenue is generated, and what mistakes I make along the way.
I’ll be posting as many screenshots as possible — it just makes it easier for both of us.
A last word about transparency …
Transparency isn’t a new value of mine. We aim to be fully transparent as possible with each of our clients. But I haven’t had the opportunity to be transparent in a public-facing way — especially in a context that’s actually useful to fellow marketers (I can be transparent with how much weight I’ve gained, but who the hell cares?).
When I started out in this business 4+ years ago, I found a serious lack of fully transparent information on the internet. I was looking for something I could copy, and then make better. I was looking for actual data from others’ experiences … but I couldn’t find it.
Most of the blogs I was reading (and videos I was watching), seemed designed for the benefit of the author and not for the benefit of his / her readership.
Now, like I’ve said, the entire idea of this daily log was borne from a desire to motivate myself to work on this project consistently. But at the same time, I’m committed to being fully transparent every step of the way.
I’m confident this will be an invaluable resource, whether I succeed or fail. I’m going to be transparent about all the campaigns I’m running, what I’m bidding, how I’m finding influencers, how much I’m paying them, conversion rates and more.
This is the sort of content I was looking for years ago.
My biggest challenge …
I’m fully equipped with the skills and knowledge needed to achieve my goal (or at least make a dent in my goal). I also already have the majority of the content. I know my content can sell, because over 117,000 people have paid for it already.
My biggest challenge is finding the energy to make time for this project. Most of my day is spent managing my agency, AdVenture Media. Thankfully, we have a lot of clients, a lot of interesting projects in the pipeline, and a lot of work that needs to be done every day.
It’s incredibly rewarding, but it’s also incredibly draining.
When I was working on creating my courses, it was literally round the clock hours. Between planning the content, designing the slides, working on the curriculum, filming, editing and postproduction, and all the other day to day responsibilities at the company, I was sleeping very little.
It’s become increasingly hard for me to find that sort of energy. I don’t think it’s laziness as much as it is complacency.
I’m proud of my accomplishments. But it’s easy, and very dangerous, to let a sense of complacency settle in. That’s the end of real progress as far as I’m concerned.
I still work hard (by my standards, at least), but when I’d usually find myself working on my business (either early morning or late at night), I’m now finding myself more and more with a couch and a Netflix.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but again, just because there’s nothing wrong with it doesn’t mean I have to like it.
Even practically, it will be hard to find the time. My #1 business responsibly is to my clients and to my team. That won’t change (and it never has). I seriously enjoy working on client accounts, and working with my team at AdVenture Media — and I spend most of my day doing that.
But, I think I can find the time (and the energy) without sacrificing any time of quality of work from my involvement with my clients and my team.
I’m excited about this daily log. I think it will create some order in all the chaos, and I sure hope I’ll have the resolve to see this project through. I’m open to both failing or succeeding at my goal of 40 course sales in a day … but I’m not OK with failing to document each step of the way.
If you’ve made it this far … thanks.
I haven’t started my work for today, so I guess I’ll go do that now. If I don’t, tomorrow’s update will be an embarrassment.
Until tomorrow then …. and as always, keep on truckin’.
Entry #2 can be found here.