In Episode 72, we continue our series, Starting and Growing Your Online Course. In today’s show we are looking at the benefits of adding courses to your online store with Chris Badgett, instructor and creator of LifterLMS plugin for WordPress.
Online course are a perfect opportunity for online sellers not only to educate their customers, but to grow better relationships. And depending on what you sell, whether it’s a physical or virtual product, there are solid strategies to increase your sales and customer base through education and online courses.
We chatted about:
- How shop owners can make sure they have the resources to start their online courses
- If you should put your courses in your online store or on a separate site
- The challenges store owners face when starting online courses and how to overcome them
- An example of an existing site that has been incredibly successful with online courses
- How a store owner my be surprised that there is an audience for their online course, no matter the product or service
The other shows in this series:
You can also download a pdf of the full transcript here: WordPress eCommerce Show Episode 72 May 1 2017
Hey, everyone, Bob Dunn here, known as BobWP on the web. Thanks for tuning in to the third show of our series, “What You Need to Know About Starting and Growing Your Online Course”.
In the past two shows, we’ve talked about the space of online courses, we’ve talked about how to start your online course, and today we venture into how to bring your course into your online store, which is another whole way of using online courses, and who better than somebody that has actually done this, experienced it, and worked with online stores: Chris Badgett creator of the WordPress plugin LifterLMS. Welcome to the show, Chris.
Chris Badgett: Thanks for having me, Bob. It’s great to be here.
Meet Chris Badgett, instructor, creator of the LifterLMS plugin
Bob: So, Chris, before we get into the nitty gritty here, tell us a little bit about yourself and your plugin, and maybe just a short story of why you actually created that plugin.
Chris: Awesome. Well, I’m an online course creator myself. I started in the organic gardening niche, in the permaculture niche within organic gardening. I started creating courses and traveling around the world with my wife. It was a project where we would film these permaculture workshops, even in remote places like in the jungles of Costa Rica, and then I would bring these courses online for these very low-tech niches, and it was a win-win for everybody.
That’s how I got started with it. On the side I was running a WordPress agency and building sites, so it was only natural for me to explore WordPress LMS online course and membership site solutions. Over time, I merged my agency with another company. We were deciding what type of product we wanted to roll out and focus the next decade of our lives on, and we figured out that would be in the online course learning management system space. So we surveyed the industry, we saw where the problems were. We wanted to jump in and solve some very specific problems within the learning management system and membership site and e-Commerce niches.
So that’s the genesis of where LifterLMS came from and I’ve been fortunate to have A great business partner and team to build and grow the product with.
Bob: Excellent. I’m really excited to dive into LifterLMS even more and I plan on doing a post on our blog about it, but what I really want to know today, beyond the tech part, is how to actually utilize an online course with your online store.
How do I know if I have enough resources to start an online course?
To start off, if anyone has explored starting an online course, they know it takes some time to put it together. If a shop owner comes to you and says, “Hey, Chris, how the heck do I have resources for that?”, What is your typical response to that question?
Chris: Well if they’re an e-Commerce store, they’re actually in a pretty good position, because they’ve already gone through the process of building this online platform. They’ve already got the-Commerce engine in place, which is part of the reason why from day one with LifterLMS, even though it has its own e-Commerce engine, from the very beginning we made it integrate seamlessly with WooCommerce and WooSubscriptions so that people who had existing stores could easily add courses or memberships to their product suite.
If you’ve already got an online e-Commerce marketplace, you’re already way ahead of a lot of people. You’ve got the platform. You need to just create the content and package it, which isn’t easy and it does take some time, but it all starts with coming up with a curriculum, learning objective, what the promise is. I often recommend writing the sales page for the course or the membership before creating it, because it helps clarify your thinking and helps you develop the lesson structure that you’re going to be putting there, and then once you get that big picture figured out, it’s all about creating the lesson videos or text or worksheets and downloads, and really just the multimedia content that facilities the learning objective.
Should online store owners integrate their courses into their existing site or create a separate site?
Bob: You mentioned that already having their site in place is a great advantage. Now when they’re starting to think about this, some people will wonder, “Should I integrate it into my existing site or should I create a separate site?” and I wonder, specifically with store owners, do they feel like the online courses might distract people from buying their products, or are we looking at the course as a perfect opportunity for sales funnel? Any thoughts on that?
Chris: This is one of the most common questions I get, and one of the other ways I hear it phrased is, “Should I just add the course to my existing website whether there’s an e-Commerce store or not, or should I put it on a subdomain or its own URL?” The answer? It depends. If the course or the school or the training program is really a separate business in and of itself, then it makes sense to put it out with its own brand identity, its own domain name. But if you just want to add it to your existing product suite, under the roof of your existing brand, and you also envision people, let’s say, buying books, buying T-shirts, buying other products and training courses all in the same shopping cart, then it absolutely makes sense just to include it on your existing WooCommerce or existing store.
Also, when I’m advising new course creators, inevitably the question comes up about sales funnel design. I like to lay out a very simple version because it can be overwhelming. It’s a lot of work, but in terms of your topic, I recommend having at least five free blog posts that have some kind of opt-in, that give you some kind of email followup. So you have a free course on your website, and then you have paid courses on your website, and then, if you want to get fancy, you can create groups of courses and bundle in other content through memberships and that sort of thing. But in terms of sales funnel, the simplest way I like to explain it is have a free course and then have a paid course, and then you’re using courses for lead generation and as products in and of themselves.
Bob: That’s interesting because I’m thinking about what you just said and, okay, they have a product and they may want to teach them something about how to use it, the basics or something, a course, and then how they could actually create a course on other creative uses of that product or how to use that product in ways you may have never thought of, and that really falls into that free and then make the paid one even better as far as your goal. That’s excellent and makes a lot of sense with online stores.
Chris: Absolutely, yeah. I think that there’s just such a big opportunity, no matter what kind of product you have, whether it’s a software product or a physical product or some kind of experiential product like a vacation or something like that, to have a free course on how to get the most out of it and help people understand exactly what it is. It’s an invaluable resource in terms of just marketing and lead generation, and then, yeah, you can always add paid courses that make sense later, but user onboarding, no matter what the product is, is where there’s just a huge opportunity in online education.
What challenges have you encountered working with online store owners bringing courses to their digital store?
Bob: Yeah, exactly. Now considering these first two questions I’ve asked you, generally are there any other top challenges that you’ve experienced with store owners going through this decision making and the actual process when it comes to bringing online courses to their online store?
Chris: Yeah, I would say, just tying in to what we’ve just been talking about, making sure we’re clear on the strategy from the beginning, like are we trying to reduce churn or help with user onboarding or are we trying to introduce new revenue, just getting real clear on the strategy before starting a project is really important.
And I would also say the other thing that people run into a lot is they try to squeeze too much into a course. So for example, no matter what the product is, whether it’s digital or physical, if you were going to do a course on it, you really have to fight the urge to try to jam too much into one course. So if you’re going to do something, you should always do a beginner version that’s really lightweight, easy, don’t forget what it’s like to be new at something, kind of the 101, and then have the advanced version, and in most cases, that beginner’s market is a lot bigger. But the mistake that I see people make a lot and which also prevents them from launching, is they try to create this encyclopedic, throw everything under the sun inside the course, and it can be a little overwhelming to the user, especially the beginner. So getting clear on the course starting point and the course finishing point is really important and making sure to address beginners as beginners is key.
Bob: Perfect, and it’s not that, “Hey, I just wanna throw up a course because everybody else is doing it.”
The three types of online courses
Chris: Yeah, absolutely. I recommend there’s really three types of courses out there. One is called the resource course, which is just like a library of knowledge that’s important to understand a topic. Those are the most dangerous in terms of trying to jam too much in, then there’s the learn-a- process course, and then the third kind is called the behavior change course. Learn-a-process would be like how to build your first WooCommerce store in a weekend and behavior change one would be something like how to go from couch potato to running your first marathon, and then a resource course would be like here’s some best practices for learning the ins and outs of WooCommerce. So they’re three very different types of courses, and I’d encourage people to just get really clear on objectives of what kind of course you are making.
Bob: Now we’ve been talking a bit about the challenges getting started and I think there’s really nothing better than examples to see how somebody that is selling online has incorporated courses. So I have two questions for you, and they’re both on successful online courses at online stores, but a little bit different.
Can you share a success story of an online business that has launched online courses?
First, can you just share an online store that has done this, is doing an awesome job, and tell us why it turned out so great?
Chris: Sure. One of the examples I like to share is called Elegant Marketplaces. If you’re a technologist in the WordPress community, you’ve probably heard of Elegant Themes in Divi. Elegant Marketplaces is an e-Commerce store where they sell all these different kinds of add-ons and things that go with the Divi community. If you’re building WordPress sites with Divi, there’s a whole ecosystem of products, and Elegant Marketplaces has centralized that community and provided a platform.
So it’s this big e-Commerce store with tons of sales. I think as of this recording, I think they have somewhere around 20,000 people in their Facebook group Recently they’ve launched training around building sites with Divi, and it’s just another way to serve their market and their community. They’ve got this very active e-Commerce ecosystem, and they’re actually doing the harder thing in that they’re creating a two-sided marketplace where there are vendors and buyers. They’re not the only vendor, and they’re doing a lot of affiliate stuff and things like that, but then they’ve also doubled down on serving the community by creating their own training courses to create additional revenue, as well as additional value inside that community.
Are there any cases where you couldn’t predict success, but the online business did amazingly well?
Bob: That’s a great example, because that was a natural fit for them. It’s like, “Hey, we’re selling you this, so why don’t we teach you some stuff as well?” Now, on the second question, is there one that you have been involved with, or maybe you just discovered yourself, that it was like, okay with the products they sell, can online courses really work with this? But then you came to find out that it’s done amazingly well. Any examples there?
Chris: Yeah. I’ve got several examples to go over there, and help guide me just to make sure I’m touching on your question, but for those out there listening, there’s a company Yoast, they have SEO plugins and they do SEO services, and they started selling a SEO course with their SEO platform, and it just serves the ecosystem, and the community they didn’t just want the tools or the services or the audit or whatever, they also wanted the do-it-yourself option to learn the best practices.
That’s one example, I’ve got some more, but help clarify for me what you’re trying to pull out there.
Bob: Okay. Let me give you an extreme example.
Bob: Let’s say it’s a funeral store and they’re selling caskets, and this is really probably not a very good example, but you’ll kind of see where I’m going with it. Now they would sit there and think, “What can I teach about caskets? What kind of courses can I teach?” And again I’m using a bizarre example, but something that, when they actually looked at their product, they thought it doesn’t really make sense to have an online course and I don’t really see being able to go in that direction, and not using such an extreme example, is there somebody you’ve seen or dealt with that they came to you and said, “Hey, I just don’t think anybody would take an online course based around the products I sell.” Does that make sense?
Shift your thinking from ‘can I sell this?’ to ‘how do I add courses that serve my customer?’
Chris: It does, and just to go into the casket, funeral home example, I just want to say I think the major shift in thinking is not asking how can I add courses to my product mix or support my product, it’s more a question of how do I add courses to serve my customer? Always turn it back to the customer and the end user.
So to give you some more specific examples that I’d noticed an unusually high demand for, just from my experience with LifterLMS and people contacting me about courses, there’s tons of examples from the real estate industry where they’re predominantly selling real estate. I mean they have the-Commerce component, but it’s not the traditional store. But what they use courses for is to serve their target customer. So they create things for lead generation like a first-time home buyer’s guide course, or how to sell your house for maximum value course. All these things just further educate the consumer, position the business owner as an expert, and a lot of times those are free courses where you’re just adding value. So the money is actually made using free courses just for lead generation in terms of positioning and just adding value.
Another example I’ve seen, there is a curriculum called Study Skills, and they sell packaged books and textbooks and things that help tutors improve how students are doing in elementary school just with some various methods in studying and information retention, and they added online courses just to basically scale their market: reach more people, digitize it, and so on.
So there’s a lot of different ways to do it.
Won’t offering free courses take business away from me?
Bob: It seems like thinking back on that question, really, you can do that selling just about any product or service because it’s educating them about your product or something that indirectly or directly affects your product, especially for do-it-yourselfers. It would be interesting to think about how, especially with services, maybe more than products, how you may be reluctant to create these do-it-yourself courses, and I’m going to just throw out a plumber as an example.
Bob: The plumber might be thinking, okay, I’m giving people information, it might be taking away business from me, but if those courses can be around the simple things they can do so they don’t have to call the plumber, then that is added value.
Chris: Absolutely, yeah. It’s a really good point because no matter what the service is, there’s always going to be people out there who may not qualify or be a good fit for the paid service, but you could absolutely serve them with a do-it-yourself training so that it will be less expensive than them buying your service, but you’re capturing a bigger slice of the market in creating an offering for that do-it-yourselfer.
Bob: Yeah, and you’re leaving them with, “Wow, I learned this,” and then maybe when they do need your service, they’re thinking, “Hey, you know, I remember how much this person helped me.” So yeah, good stuff.
Chris: Absolutely, and just one more note. You might have this high-end custom consulting service, then you have a productized service with limited options that’s more structured and process-driven, and then you can have a do-it-yourself course. In that way, you capture the premium end of the market, all the way down to the low budget do-it-yourself end of the market, while scaling your time appropriately.
Where can we find Chris Badgett on the web?
Bob: Yeah, excellent. I think a lot of this gives us some good food for thought, especially for anyone selling anything, whether it’s services, products, whatever. And giving them some ideas on what approach they may take if they’re thinking of online courses, it may get them thinking about moving forward. Thank you for all this great information. Now, tell us where people can find you on the web. Obviously, you have your site for your plugin, but also where they can find you on social.
Chris: Yeah, on the web you can find LifterLMS at lifterlms.com. I also have a podcast for online course creators called LMSCast. You can find that at LMSCast.com. We get into all kinds of issues that surround the course creator or education entrepreneur. The best place to find me on social is on Twitter, that’s @ChrisBadgett. Then we have a Facebook group for online course entrepreneurs and membership site owners and also LifterLMS VIP users, so you can find that by searching for LifterLMS VIP. Those are all the places to find me on the web.
Bob: I will get those links into the transcript as well. So again, thank you, Chris, for sharing your insights with us. I think this has been a great show. I appreciate you taking the time.
Chris: Awesome. Great to connect with you, Bob, and thanks for having me on your show.