If you have been blogging for six months and haven’t made any money, this post will show you how to finally make money blogging.
If you are considering launching an online business, this post will make sure you don’t wait six months to make money.
If you have an idea, this post will show you how to make it matter (and make it profitable).
Everyone says, “Just help people and the money will follow.”
First, you need a structure that captures value.
Then you can focus on helping people.
Each is “necessary but not sufficient”.
We were helping people with StartupBros for nearly two years with nearly zero compensation.
In the last couple months we brought in more than a quarter-million dollars.
We went from charging nothing for a set of ideas, to charging $497, to now charging $997.
How did this happen?
And how can you apply it to your own ideas?
Let’s take a look…
“Take a simple idea and take it seriously.” – Charlie Munger
The set of ideas I’m talking about is Will’s epic blog post: How You Can Make Big Money Importing From China–The Rise and Fall of My Empire….
It’s had millions of views and over 1400 comments. It’s used in forums and online communities around the world as the place to start if you want to start building an importing business.
It was valuable, but no money was coming in. What happened?
There was no quantum leap in the quality of information. No new breakthrough in technology.
The real improvement was in making the ideas more applicable.
We infused the ideas with power by building a structure and community around them. We’ll call this process institutionalization.
This matters for those who want to make money and/or change the world.
Let’s look at each.
1. Make More Money
It’s hard to make money blogging or writing a book. You need something else. Take a look:
The Bible vs James Patterson
James Patterson is one of the most widely read authors living. More people read his books to completion than the Bible probably.
The $96.96 billion difference is that the ideas of the Bible have been thoroughly institutionalized.
“Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism have all succeeded in relating larger ideas about the salvation of mankind to such subordinate material activities as managing weekend retreats, radio stations, restaurants, museums, lecture halls and clothing lines.” – Alain de Botton
The potential profit and power of an idea are found in their integration with everyday life.
If copies of the Bible were just passed out to be studied by people in their free time Christianity wouldn’t have gotten far.
It’s the rituals, communities, traditions, and live stories that ensured the ideas would matter for millennia.
Jesus didn’t pass out pamphlets. He told stories and made demonstrations.
The Billionaires’ Buddy
Peter Diamandis is a multi-multi-millionaire and friends with some of the world’s best-known billionaires. He hangs out with Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Ray Kurzweil, and Richard Branson. He started an asteroid-mining company with a few of them. Tim Ferriss had him on his podcast recently and Tim talked about how lazy Peter made him feel.
Anyway, Peter released a new book recently. It’s supposed to be groundbreaking but it really isn’t. It’s about how new technologies allow change to happen rapidly at massive levels. We all know this.
I bring this up because the interesting thing is that he released the book not to release the book but to introduce everyone to his coaching program, Abundance 360. He doesn’t make money blogging, he barely makes any money on his book, he makes money creating educational platforms that provide structures for his written ideas.
Peter appreciates the power of books, sure, but he knows that any real change that comes out of his ideas are going to come through an institution. He’s created a massive structure to ensure that the ideas from Bold are actually used by creating a thoroughly structured program and vibrant community around them.
- Star Wars is more than movies because it was institutionalized. Most of its profits have come of from activities that have little to do with the screen.
- Disney isn’t the empire it is today just because of it’s wonderful characters. It’s the process of bringing those characters off the screen and into our lives that makes it “magical”. The theme parks where we can go to live pieces of our favorite fantasy worlds, the stuffed animals, lunch boxes, and everything else that enter our everyday lives.
- Paul Graham reinvented the VC industry because he created a structure (an institution) around a series of popular essays and talks he gave. Y-Combinator is the manifestation of this. (Interestingly, Graham maintains that his essays will matter more in the long run.)
- Tony Robbins wrote a couple books decades ago then spent twenty years finding more powerful ways to deliver that information. He created structures that forced people to change. I would guess that 1% or less of his revenue comes from book sales. Books matter, freeing their ideas matters more.
“The task of a man is not to see what is dimly in the distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.” – Thomas Carlyle
Examples of simple, existing ideas being amplified:
- The Internet existed for many years before Marc Andreesen made it widely usable (and profitable for entrepreneurs) with Mosaic and then Netscape. It was always interesting, but it needed to be usable to be powerful.
- Microsoft unveiled the first tablet a full decade before the iPad, it just wasn’t easy enough to use. The same is true for MP3 players and smart phones. They each existed before Apple monopolized the markets. They made them easily useful.
- Warren Buffett follows investing rules that are mostly understandable. He has just been able to apply them within Berkshire Hathaway in ways that others couldn’t.
- Every sports player knows that mental toughness matters. John Wooden has been able to help his players actually get it.
- We all know that many of our anxieties are irrational. It may take a psychotherapist to help us make that knowledge applicable.
In our case, Will wrote an excellent post on creating an importing business. Millions of people read it. A few started businesses.
For most people it wasn’t actually useful though. They’d read it and forgot it. It was just too much to consider.
We read too much every day to put it all into action. Too many conflicting listicles. Too many potentially profitable ideas.
When the information was translated into a coaching program–our now-infamous Importing Empire Jumpstart Group–it became much more powerful.
When a structure, improved delivery mechanism, motivation, community, and just-in-time information were added the ideas became exponentially more useful for those interested in starting their importing businesses.
It also became exponentially more profitable.
The blog post on it’s own made just about zero dollars. The coaching program brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars just in the last couple months.
There is money in leveraging great ideas.
2. Change the World
This section is for those who shun profitability in favor of changing the world. I argue that those serious thinkers who are sincere about changing the world have a moral obligation to institutionalize good ideas.
The British philosopher Alain de Botton makes this argument in Religion for Atheists:
“In his Republic, Plato conveyed a touching understanding (born from experience) of the limits of the lone intellectual, when he remarked that the world would not be set right until philosophers became kings, or philosopher kings. In other words, writing books can’t be enough if one wishes to change things. Thinkers must learn to master the power of institutions for their ideas to have any chance of achieving a pervasive influence on the world.”
We tend to overvalue the novel and undervalue the obvious solutions staring us in the face. Many times we just need to invest in a preexisting good idea, not find a new one.
The major problems of humanity aren’t novel:
- We want to feel like we’re a part of something.
- We want to believe in a better future.
- We want to make more money.
- We want to feel that this all means something.
- We want to have fun.
- We want to feel confident.
- We want to eat better food more conveniently.
- We want be entertained.
- We want Amazon same-day delivery!
A blog post about creating an importing business can be useful for some, entertaining for most. For a few, it was the only thing they needed to start their business.
When we created a coaching program out of it, though, we met a whole host of needs that a blog post couldn’t:
- A sense of community. They feel less lonely on their entrepreneurial journey. The power of this cannot be overstated. We’ll explore this more in-depth in the next section.
- The right info at the right time. The biggest challenge with reading books and blog posts is that the exact piece of information you need is never there. When you have smart humans to talk to you don’t need to guess at where to look.
- Motivation. MIT, Yale, Stanford and others put all their courses online for free. Virtually zero people take advantage of this. Why? Because they don’t have the professor motivating them. We are there to support our clients through doubts and get them excited about their future.
- New information. The program evolves to meet the needs of the clients. Some very popular books go through editions to stay up-to-date. Some information changes too fast to capture in any way but live.
Spreading an idea widely matters, sure. Depth may matter more.
A Buzzfeed article that reaches 1million people matters less than a coaching program that fundamentally changes the lives of 100 people.
This is hard to appreciate when everyone tells you to measure things by the amount of views or “Likes” something gets. The problem is that these don’t measure the actual impact something has. A funny gif is good for a laugh, but it won’t make any kind of shift in your life.
If you truly care about an idea, you have a responsibility to make it spread in the most powerful way possible.
Let’s look at how we turned a blog post into an institution, creating huge profits and impact.
How To: Identify, Create, and Deliver Your Online Course (OR: Make Your Idea Matter)
Time for the nitty-gritty.
There are a lot of ways to institutionalize an idea. We’ll focus here on only one: creating an online training program based on a set of ideas.
Following is an overview of everything you need to know to create a coaching program or course around your idea. Here is an overview:
- Identifying a worthy idea
- Fundamental decisions about your program
- What you need to provide
- The technical delivery mechanism for the program
1. Identifying A Potential Course
What course should you create?
For us, this was obvious. Will’s importing post had 1200+ comments that was driving a huge percentage of our traffic. Our inbox was flooded with people asking about importing—some offering to pay for help. Importing was the way to go.
Many times the answer is less obvious.
Here are some ways to get ideas:
- What do people ask you for advice about? This may be by email, social media, or in comments. Maybe it’s in person. If you can’t figure this out, try asking your best friend. Many times people close to us have more of an appreciation for these things than we do.
- What are other people in your niche selling? If someone else is doing a course on something successfully then there’s a market for it. (This is not to say that just because nobody is teaching a course there isn’t a market for it.)
- What blog post on your site has the best engagement? If it has a “how-to” element then this subject is a strong contender.
- Ask people what they want to know more about. If you already have a platform, ask your audience.
- Poke around in forums, Quora, reddit, and other online places where people look for advice. What are the common questions people ask?
There are a few filters that you need to run every idea through:
- Is it obvious who this information is for? If not, you may need to focus the idea.
- Can you promise a specific outcome for the course? The more specific the outcome the easier it is for people to envision what their life will be like after completing the program. This boosts sales and allows you to charge a premium for your product (the more specific the more you can charge, generally).
- Can you provide step-by-step instructions to complete the course? We all want to work with a program that works. It doesn’t have to be completely rigid but you should be able to break the program down pretty thoroughly. This makes it much more likely that (1) people will be interested in the program and that (2) people will complete the program.
- Have you used the information in the program? You should be able to show the results of you applying the steps to your own life. If you can’t do this, then using someone else’s results can work as well. For us, Will can talk about how he built a sizable importing business when he was in his early teens using the information in the program. There was more important information to be had, though, so we brought in specialized experts to fill in knowledge gaps. You don’t need to know it all!
If your idea is getting a lot of engagement and you can answer “yes” to the above four questions, then you’re on to something.
2. Fundamental Decisions About Your Business
Once you know what you’re going to teach your course in, a ton of new questions pop up. They can be overwhelming and feel like difficult decisions.
With the right frame these decisions become simple to make.
Static course vs live coaching program? (And our hybrid alternative.)
A static course is a collection of video files and PDFs that you can create one time and then deliver immediately to anyone who purchases it.
The benefits of a static course:
- Create once and then you can sell it forever.
- There is exactly zero extra work per new sale.
- You can sell this whenever you want, no need to stick to a schedule.
- It’s often more difficult charge premium prices.
- It’s more difficult to get feedback to know if it’s working.
- You aren’t able to create as strong of a connection to your clients.
- If you get popular people will pirate your stuff.
A live coaching program is delivered to a group of people live. You meet regularly with a group of people online to deliver new content and provide personal help as they need it. The benefits & drawbacks are essentially the reverse of a static course.
The benefits of a live coaching program:
- You can easily charge a lot more money.
- You can adapt the course in real time to make sure it’s meeting the needs of your clients.
- You create a powerful connection with your clients.
- It’s easier to build a community around the product that you will then be able to sell to others.
- Your coaching can’t be pirated.
- It takes a lot more time. You need to be there to help in real time.
- Every sale adds a level of new work.
- You have to launch on certain dates.
- You need to re-deliver the course every time.
Most people recommend the static course because it’s much more straightforward and you don’t have to give people ownership of your time.
We stumbled into a hybrid option with the importing coaching program. The thinking was: Well, we’ll start with a live course and then create a static course once we know exactly what people want.
After a while, we ended up in this “dynamic-static” program where we were doing live coaching while building up a library of static resources. Below is what our program looks like now. Think about which elements might be useful for your own program:
- Each Tuesday we hold a live presentation with an expert and record it. These recordings are broken up into chapters and uploaded to a member’s area where clients can reference them whenever they need to.
- We have a library of links, PDFs, templates, and other static resources that clients always have available.
- We have a vibrant client-only Facebook group where importers can discuss details of their businesses, the challenges they’re facing, and their successes.
- Forums for a more structured place for the community to interact. These community features have become some of the most useful bits of this program. It takes a lot of tender loving care to get them going, but completely worth it.
- A secret email address where clients can reach us and quickly get detailed responses.
- Significant discounts to the most important services that our group uses.
You can see here that we are able to take advantage of the benefits of the both the live and static programs.
If this is your first time at this and you have the time to do a live coaching program I would go with that. You will be able to charge more money and thus not need to get as many sales.
You’ll also be able to refine the structure of the program. This will help you create an effective static product later on if that’s what you want to do.
Always charge more than you think you should.
With your first course, you won’t think you’re worth much money. We all take for granted the knowledge we have. You need to charge an uncomfortably large amount.
If you charge $97 when you should have charged $497 and you’re teaching a live course, you’re going to hate yourself and your clients halfway through.
We originally priced our program at $497 and thought it was way too much.
As soon as we started making sales people were blown away by how cheap it was. So we doubled the price to $997, it might go up again.
People are happy to pay for things that work.
If you don’t have information that works, don’t sell anything. If you do have information that works, sell it for what it’s worth. You can use your competitors to help make this decision.
Charging more also makes it much more exciting to make a sale. Two $497 sales in a day is something to be excited about, two $97 sales not so much. This helps keep your momentum going.
You’ll notice every price I mentioned ended in a “7”, it converts better than other numbers for some reason. I would follow that rule.
Also, accept payment plans if you can. Our $997 program has 3- and 6-month payment plans that help a lot of people get in that wouldn’t otherwise.
Minimum Amount of People
What would make it worth creating the course?
$1,000? $5,000? $10,000?
The number you pick really doesn’t matter, it’s just good to have a bar to aim for. A bar that, once hit, makes you happy to deliver the course.
For example, I was going to launch an e-book writing program a while ago. If I could get $10,000 in signups (that would be twenty at $497) by individually emailing those who expressed interest then I’d be happy to do it. I wasn’t able to hit that mark so I decided not to deliver the course.
To do this you’ll need to establish a launch date in the future so people don’t expect immediate access to the program.
Who Will Deliver the Course?
Can you do it or do you need to bring in outside experts?
Most people teach the entire course themselves.
Both can work well.
Experts can fill in your knowledge gaps while boosting the value of your course (making it easier to charge more money).
Should You Worry About Competition?
Yes and no, but mostly no.
If there are 100 other courses out there teaching exactly what you want to be teaching, that means it’s a healthy market.
Use your competition to help you find a gap in the market.
Are all the programs too complex? Make a simplified one.
Are they too basic? Make a more in-depth one.
Are they bland? Add more personality.
Are the unprofessional? Maybe you’re the one who can bring some class.
A lot of times the only differentiator you need is you. What is your story using this information? Once you can tell a compelling story about your experience you rarely need much more to make a sale.
Remember, at $497 a pop, ten sales amounts to $4970. You can make great money without making a ton of sales.
3. What Your Program Needs to Provide
Remember that you are creating a structure to make a set of ideas matter more.
That’s all your course needs to provide: a structure to make a particular set of ideas extremely actionable.
You can break this into two essential elements:
- Step-by-step Roadmap
Everything you do within the course will serve one of these two requirements.
In order for your program to be effective it should always be obvious to your participants what the next step is and the how to implement that step.
People need to know where they are in a process in order to gauge progress and make sure they’re heading in the right direction.
Let’s look at how this plays out in our importing course.
Anyone can read Will’s posts on importing and get the information they need to start an importing business. It’s even broken into a fairly thorough roadmap for the most part.
When people join the program, though, there are thorough instructions on the exact problem they are on. They know exactly what needs to be done and how to do it before moving to the next step.
The live part of the program strengthens this, they can ask if they are ready to move onto the next step and we can tell them.
They can focus on the step in front of them because they know it’s part of a larger system.
Of course, many things (like entrepreneurship) can’t be broken into an exact roadmap. That would be too simple. The job of the roadmap is getting them going in the right direction in a way that will allow them to find out everything they need on the way.
Maybe the biggest downfall of books and blog posts is they’re overall inability to inspire us to put they’re information into action.
This ability to inspire action is becoming a more and more valuable skill. When all the information in the world is available to everyone, it’s the people who use it most effectively who win.
“The professor is then a good motivator first and foremost. Let’s hire good motivators. Let’s teach our professors how to motivate. Let’s judge them on that basis. Let’s treat professors more like athletics coaches, personal therapists, and preachers, because that is what they will evolve to be.” – Tyler Cowen, Average is Over
Doesn’t it feel like everyone is a life coach now? Everyone’s purpose in life is to inspire you.
These people, for the most part, are frightened, unemployed, and not worth listening to. However, more serious “motivators” are only becoming more important in our economy. Tyler Cowen explains in Average is Over (this is a little long):
When a person is not doing what he or she is supposed to be doing, someone has to deliver that message in just the right way. Show up on time! Don’t shop online at your desk! Sell more of our products! Listen more closely to our customers! It is a complicated communication because you are both making the person feel bad about what they have been doing and getting them willing to achieve better results. Expert coaching or motivating will be a competitive growth sector for jobs.
And just as conscientiousness will become a more important quality in labor markets, so will teaching and instilling conscientiousness become more important in the economy as a whole, a theme outlined by Daniel Akst in his brilliant yet neglected 2011 book We Have Met the Enemy: Self-Control in an Age of Excess. A lot of new jobs will be coming in the area of motivation. These jobs will require some very serious skills, but again they won’t primarily be skills of a high tech nature or skills that are taught very well by our current colleges and universities. And again, these high expertise coaching jobs won’t be shipped overseas.
High-skilled performers, including business executives, will have some kind of coach. There will be too much value at stake to let high performers operate without a steady stream of external advice, even if that advice has to be applied rather subtly. Top doctors will have a coach, just as today’s top tennis players (and some of the mediocre ones) all have coaches. Today the coach of a CEO is very often the spouse, the personal assistant, or even a subordinate, or sometimes a member of the board of directors. Coaching is already remarkably important in our economy, and the high productivity of top earners will cause it to become essential.
What’s the point?
Being able to motivate people to use your information is essential.
If you’ve got a solid step-by-step roadmap down then you can often point to that and re-invigorate their belief in the process. Remind them of their goals.
This type of motivation is easier if you go with a live coaching program. You can hear people’s concern and remind them that many others have faced and triumphed over that very obstacle.
You can’t be providing one-on-one coaching sessions for everyone in your group, though. So you’ve got to build motivation into the structure.
Here are several ways you can build motivation into your program:
- Communities. This is the best way possible to keep large amounts of people motivated. You need to foster a positive community where people share their successes. In our group, people post “sample selfies” when they receive a sample order–the first large hurdle to creating an importing business. They will also post pictures of the first sizable paycheck they get from selling products. It’s no all positive, however, people need to be able to share their concerns as well. People will post in our Facebook group something like, “I’m feeling disheartened, I’ve been doing research for hours and nothing is working.” These are answered by successful importers who have gone through the group and know how tough it is at the beginning–it’s a group that will applaud you when you win and support you when you’re down. To implement this at first you may just want to create a private Facebook group. You can also use member only forums.
- Testimonials. We often collect stories from people doing well using our program. This is a HUGE help to motivate people because it’s proof that the roadmap you’ve given them does in fact lead where you say it does. Keep track of those doing well with your information and save their stories
- When people progress, cheer them on publicly. This boosts their motivation and everyone around them.
- Create a kind of achievement system to help participants appreciate how far they’ve progressed. It’s very easy to only see what you haven’t yet achieved and this can be demotivating, it’s up to you to remind them to look at what they’ve done.
- Reminders of the finish line. Many of our clients’ favorite live sessions are when someone comes on who has done exactly what they want to. In many cases it’s more important to have them show that it is possible than actually provide any new information. It’s hard for us to believe in a level of success we’ve never had before, so we default to thinking it’s not for us. Of course this is bollox, we just need to be reminded that it’s possible.
There are all sorts of ways to boost people’s motivation.
This isn’t optional. If you have the best information in the world but can’t convince anyone to use it, you’re screwed.
If you have sub-part information but get people to put it into action, you win.
And, let’s not forget: your customers win.
4. The Tech: How to Deliver Your Course
I am not going to go deep into this. There are new options popping up every day, most of them aren’t very good.
We’ll look at an overview of the tech we use to deliver our importing training program:
(Keep in mind this is nowhere near an exhaustive list. If you have any specific questions feel free to ask in the comments.)
- We use GoToWebinar host our live sessions. There are a ton of newer options with cool features out but none are as reliable. Reliability matters a lot, and GoToWebinar does everything we need, we’re sticking with it.
- After recording the videos from GoToWebinar, we upload them to Wistia, a video-hosting service. This is expensive; you may want to go with Vimeo
- Once these videos are uploaded, we need to embed them in our member’s site so that everyone can access them. This area was built with OptimizePress. It’s where our members can log in and view past recordings. Here are a couple screenshots from our OptimizePress Members’ area:
- Amazon S3 to host many of our recourses like PDFs, Excel spreadsheets, etc.
- We used Facebook exclusively for our private community at first. Recently, we’ve added forums using InvisionPower Board.
- We use Help Scout so that our growing team can make sure that we answer all of our client’s emails quickly while keeping track of other team member’s interactions with a client.
This is deceivingly simple. Here are some of the important services that we use to get manage clients and get ready for the program:
- LeadPages helps us easily create landing pages to collect email addresses. (This is one of our essential tools, you can see a demo here.) You’ve probably seen this page:
- Office Autopilot(Ontraport) allows us to manage the various email addresses we collect, manage our clients and potential clients, send out emails to large groups of people, create payment pages, and all sorts of other stuff.
- Visual Website Optimizer allows us to test our pages to make sure they are converting at the highest rates possible. This tool alone has the potential to multiply the value of a single landing page.
- PayPal and PayLeap process payments so that people can actually join our programs.
- WordPress enables about 23% of the Internet and StartupBros is a proud member of that 23%.
- Facebook Ads have been the best advertisement outlet for us by far. This may change, but for now it’s treating us well.
Again, this list is not meant to provide a comprehensive list of tools you need in order to deliver an online course. My aim is to provide you an overview of some of the essential tools that you may want to use when launching your own course.
If you’re interested in learning more about how specifically to implement these tools, let me know, I’m happy to talk about this quite a bit more.
TL;DR: Bringing It All Together
College graduates today are expected to change their careers three times by the time they’re 38.
Going back to get another degree each time isn’t an option. They need faster, cheaper, and more effective education. If you have an idea of how to solve this, you’re in luck.
This is one of an infinite set of possibilities.
There are a slew of other problems and skills that universities don’t even attempt to help us with. Just a few:
- Internet marketing
- Creating sales funnels
- Public speaking
- Raising capital
- … on and on
If you can create a solution to any human problem, you’ve located an opportunity.
You can write a book or blog post, but this is leaving a lot on the table. If you stop at writing about something then your work will be worth much less money to you and much less to society.
In order for an idea to change the world and create true wealth it must be institutionalized.
This means embodying it, creating a structure around it, and making it actionable.
You can do this in many ways. Different ideas require different structures. I have provided one possibility: that of creating an online training program around your idea.
This model has been popular with charlatans and “internet marketers” for years but is now reaching the mainstream and is demanding to be taken seriously.
Coaching and consulting are massive growth industries in a world where the efforts of certain individuals are becoming more leveraged than ever before. Creating an online training program is the most effective way to take advantage of this trend.
You are already capable of creating a course. You just need to realize it. Use the indicators I suggested to looks for ideas you may be able use for your own training program.
If this idea meets the requirements we discussed then begin to move forward.
You don’t need a degree or a certification. You only need to deliver valuable information in a valuable way.
Don’t let the impostor syndrome hold you back. If people ask your advice on a certain subject it’s safe to say that you know something about that subject. You’ll never know everything–nobody does–but you know enough to help people make better decisions than they’d be able to otherwise.
Traditional jobs aren’t coming back. The economy is doing well, but this only matters for people who know how to do well in this economy. Great teachers, coaches, and consultants are doing great.
Stop getting frustrated because your ideas lay dormant. Give them the power they deserve.
What Do You Need? (I Need You!)
I am going to be discussing this much more but I need to know from you what specifically you need to know more about.
What is unclear? Where are you getting stuck? What are your fears about this?