EPISODE 144: HOW TO CREATE AN ONLINE COURSE FROM START TO FINISH WITH NATALIE SISSON
Natalie Sisson is a New Zealand entrepreneur, bestselling author, speaker, host of the ‘Untapped’ podcast and triathlete.
In 2009, she left her corporate job and started a blog called The Suitcase Entrepreneur, which became a six-figure education business that she runs from anywhere in the world.
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"I'm a firm believer that the energy you put in, is the energy that you will get out. So if you go into a course nervous, feeling like an imposter, feeling like you don't actually have the skills, who the heck is going to buy from me etc... you pretty much will have a launch that compared to your energy levels, that's the result you're going to get."
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Topics Discussed In This Episode:
- Why she decided to pivot to focusing on her personal brand instead of The Suitcase Entrepreneur
- Her course launch process and what ‘pre-selling’ with an intent is
- What she learned from her first course launch
- Common mindset blocks that stop people from launching a course and what to do
Resources Discussed In This Episode:
On her entrepreneurial story
I was in the corporate world building my way up, taking on great jobs. And every time I got to a certain level on those jobs, I got a little bit bored and then I'd quit. I'd go traveling, and I traveled for as long as I could, I'd run out of money and I'd come back and I'd do that again.
Then I started actually working overseas. So I did my overseas experience and stayed on in London and worked there, and it was when I was in London in this pretty high paying high position, high profile job, which should have been amazing. I was head of proposition developmental, all very fancy and I was just really stuck.
I was so stuck in the bureaucracy and the politics of the organization and the very job that they brought me in to do. I remember just waking up one morning, feeling pretty tired and it happened for like two weeks in a row. And I was like, I'm so done with commuting.
Even though I'm being paid well, I'm done with the hustle and grind. And I'm going to pick up on my ticket to Canada because I was actually playing ultimate Frisbee world championships. So I was like, well, I might as well just go on a one way ticket, quit everything and make my way there and start a business when I'm there.
And luckily it was such an awesome networking town and it is a very entrepreneurial city, especially in the tech sector. So I went to as many networking events and met my business partner at one of those events where we basically started a tech company.
And then they said the rest is history because one of the things that I was doing in that tech company was really being responsible for marketing a startup with zero budget, trying to find customers and using social media really effectively to do that.
I was just throwing myself into the immersive entrepreneurship experience. And that is literally, if I look back, how I built my entire business, because I got known around town as somebody who was using social media to build a business, which back then most people were like using it to poke people or things that weren't super useful.
And so I finally decided that the tech company was awesome, but I wanted to still do my own thing. I started with literally a blog and social media skills, and obviously my background in marketing and started building a community. I had nothing to offer, like no email list, no product right through until six months later. I was like, you need to offer something, and it's kind of gone from there to monetizing into an online course, building more courses, more digital products.
What Natalie did to differentiate her blog, The Suitcase Entrepreneur, when she started.
When I came into blogging, which was 2009, I felt like I missed the boat. I felt that people have been blogging for 5 to 10 years before me and I was late to the game. But I think what I did is I just fully went in and I decided to focus on what the heck was I interested in and what was I struggling with and what other people were struggling with.
I just really wrote from the heart. I was super transparent and I wrote a lot, like it was quite cathartic for me. But I turned up and I created content. People needed content that they resonated with and that was valuable to them, and I did all of that for the love of it.
And I think back then, a lot of people weren't doing that. They were doing half-hearted, they weren't listening to their audience, they weren't surveying their audience. I think what I'd done from the get go was - Where are you at? What do you need? What's your number one struggle? And then I would essentially create content to that.
Before I knew it, I had so many blog posts and so much experience and research under my belt that I was able to turn it into digital products and start marketing those.
The second thing is I've always genuinely cared about people. I'm curious about them, I see potential in them. So I just used and leverage those strengths and that curiosity and that desire for learning and put it into my blog, and also did a pretty damn good job of just talking it up and talking to people whenever I was at networking events and starting to get little bits of media.
So I really wasn't full hustle mode, I wasn't paying myself at that time. But I just focused on building community in the first six months. There are so many websites, so many coaches, so many people doing similar stuff. And to me that was comes back to is what's your unique point of difference, unfair advantage, because there are tons of online business coaches out there.
There are tons of people with digital marketing skills. There are lots of bloggers. There's millions of bloggers. But if you can take your unique personality, the things that you do well, the things that you enjoy doing and the things that people are going to pay you for and combine that with the stuff that's meaningful to you, that's your sweet spot all the time, finding the sweet spot and then playing to this.
On whether she had to deal with people copying her work.
I have had very little of that. I have had a few people who is selling my book for free, I realized the other day. And I've definitely had a few copycats, like I'll go to a website and I'll be like, oh, that looks quite similar.
If somebody is trying to copy you and ripping stuff off, they gonna get found out and called out. It'll come back and bite you in the butt. So I've never been super worried about that because I'm just like, they're not gonna have the same skill set. They're not gonna have the same experience and they're not going to probably be at the same level as I am by the time they've copied me.
I do think that it will just come and bite them in the butt, so I haven't worried too much. I think you've got to expect to when you're in the world of creating content and you're online and you're blogging and you're putting out a ton of stuff, people are gonna resonate with it. See it, admire it.
On how long it took Natalie to reach 6 figures.
It took me two and a half years, almost three. It felt like the first year, I've made about 20K and it just feels like - what? I swear I worked hundreds of hours, which I didn't, but I worked so hard.
And then the next year, I got pretty close and then third year was actually the year that I went off and went on a cycle trip down Africa. So I was kind of offline for two months. But the time that you stopped doing all the hustle, hustle, hustle, and you focus on the strategic things that are actually getting results.
When you run the business and you just focus it on those and you do those really well, it's amazing how sometimes you can just say those are the things that are actually bringing me the profit. Your role is to focus on doing more of that.
It kind of grew from there. And even as I transitioned into my Natalie Sisson brand in the last three years, that feels like I've been rebuilding from scratch again. Even though I still have an audience, I've done a lot of like stripping things out and probably because I'm no longer than digital nomad lady, although I still have that business insight.
I think it felt like a real rebuilding for me, going back to some of those things that made me successful back then, which I think you can miss when you've been in business for like 10 plus years. Sometimes you stop doing the things that you're actually really good at because you either get bored or you think you're past that, and then you come back and you recreate this kind of love affair with them. So I've been really diving back into all the things that I used to love doing and finding a new way to get excited about.
On why she rebranded her business to a personal brand under her name, instead of The Suitcase Entrepreneur.
I came back to New Zealand in late 2016 to be with my family, and I was actually pretty tired after six and a half years of living out of a suitcase full time and being on the road full time. I did it in a bit of a manic way, like I didn't stay in places for very long. I was all over the world time and I was just like, man, I'm really miss New Zealand.
I then went from being a single female entrepreneur on the road to having this awesome guy, getting a puppy, buying a lifestyle property, which is like a rural property with land and a house, and I was going on a business sabbatical. I wouldn't advise that much change once.
I was ready to step into what is the next evolution of Natalie. I'm not going to lie, it was really freaking hard and it was so much identity wrapped up in the suitcase. People would call me that, oh, you're the suitcase entrepreneur.
I'm not even Natalie sometimes, and so it was really hard to step away. And when I did, I felt pretty lost and it was like this whole re-invention and rediscovery process of the skills and experience and know-how that business can be applied in any other business. You just need to detach yourself from who that person was and step into this new era of growth.
And it was interesting because a lot of my community were living vicariously through me when I was the suitcase entrepreneur. But when I grounded myself a little more and was able to speak to a larger audience of people who were not necessarily grounded, but wanting to build a business and freedom and the lifestyle, but not necessarily needing to be traveling, it actually opened up a wider audience. It's really interesting.
It was a lot of steps of letting go and rediscovering, and doing a lot of reflection and deep work, and also looking back over the history and taking from it what I wanted to keep and also looking at what I wanted to let go.
On the biggest challenge she's faced building a 6-figure online business.
The biggest challenge is me. Usually you are the bottleneck in your business. So whenever you want to grow, you kind of need to get out of the freaking way.
I think I took too long to hire and get help and I genuinely need help. I think most entrepreneurs do, but mine particularly was getting to know myself that I can do all the things in my business, but I don't need to be doing all the things.
So my genius zone is when I'm coaching people and creating courses and content and educating and inspiring. Those are pretty much the things I need to be doing 24/7. But the other thing is, even though I can do them, the WordPress, the SEO, the finances and legal, I don't need to be covering all those things.
So I think that was the biggest hurdle for me - hiring people that I trust and also letting them do the things they need to do and not micromanage, which isn't my favorite thing to do. I love having team members, I love it when it all goes well with great systems and some flow, but these people, you mentor them and then they eventually will leave. And I think you just have to be really honest about creating a business of systems so that people can come in and take over and you're not constantly in this place of losing people, losing that IP or that knowledge.
So it's a total work in progress, but it's been game changing for me when I get a good team together, particularly around launching. Right now I'm in that rebuilding stage and it's definitely a lot of work and investment into people, but I know the longterm gain is going to be amazing.
I know you've had guests talking about this. Multiple revenue streams are really important, not putting all your eggs in one basket, but the ability to be able to switch and change and be able to see opportunities and be able to actually pounce on them when you can.
So for me, surprisingly, more people were looking for coaching, structure, accountability than ever. And I created my 10K club in the midst of Covid.
I literally had this idea that I want to help women came up and contribute at least 1% of their profits to charities that they care about. And I just put out this big vision, I put it together and all these women jumped on it. It's my most sort of, I guess, highest level offering yet. It's super affordable, but it's also a bit of a leap for people. And it was just amazing to me.
Plus I was launching my course during that time and I was putting out a book, a crowd funding campaign. I frankly don't know how it happened in the space of those sort of three months. But for me, I saw business pickup and for a lot of my clients as well.
On finding opportunities when others are not seeing opportunities, and changing any business or marketing strategy that she used to do back then.
I used to do a lot of blogging. I do less blogging these days and I have my podcast because I love it as a medium. I just love, love, love it.
I also want to start blogging again or bringing video trainings. So I think the way in which I disseminate content has changed, but I'm still a content creator and deliver.
I think I've just been fun, specific and strategic about the platform. So I think I used to throw a lot of spaghetti at the wall and try everything.
These days I kind of know it's about three things for me: it's around the right content, taking care of your clients and the connections that you have. So building those relationships, being on other people's podcasts, that's a work in progress. But I would say those are the main things that I've changed.
Launch hacks and her launch process.
Not all launches have been successful. I think the best ones have been absolute failures and they're the ones that I've always learned from.
But for example, with the first thing that I ever launched, probably wasn't the best thing in the world. I had run the social media bootcamp as a three day in person workshops or a two day in person workshop. So I had all the PowerPoint slides, and I was like, oh, I could sell to someone online.
So I actually took 40 hours over the space of a month to write record and do this whole course up, which I would never recommend any more these days. I put my blood, sweat and tears into that course, and then I launched it in my community.
I had an email list and I remember doing all the emails and I did a webinar and I got a hundred people registered. I was thrilled with 30 people showed up live. I was like, oh my God.
So I had 30 people on the call. I was sick as a dog on the day. I don't know why since I never get sick, and I barely had a voice.
I struggled through and I made one sale, $97. That was actually my first online sale where I suddenly felt, oh my, what I do matters and people are prepared to pay for me to package this knowledge, but I did it all the wrong way. Like the webinar that was great, et cetera, but I would never create a course fully before launching it these days.
The process that I have is I do a lot of asking and I do a lot of listening and I do a lot of observing what are people consistently struggling with. What they always having issues with and is that in my skillset and experience to be able to teach, even it's just one portion of it?
And then I go about actually doing some research on what exists out there. But more importantly, what would I put in this course? So I do do that, the ideal client avatar.
Then I think about what would they need to get them past that hurdle? How can I simplify it and not put too much into it? Because that's always my challenge. I want to give, give, give. So how do I simplify it down so that they actually get a result or transformation from this course?
And then I pre-market it. So I will put it out there across content, podcasts, videos, emails, probably into a webinar because I still think that awesome.
Don't always do a webinar, but I will do all those things and likely Facebook ads to those pieces of content or to that webinar. Then I will pre-sell that course and say, this is the thing that's coming. You can get it now and just setting a date is brilliant way for you to create the content for that course.
And also what the presale does, which I'm sure you know about which I love, is it validates that this course is even worth it. And if it's not, you can offer something else.
I always say to my clients as we're going through my course, if you get there and there's crickets, then you've probably missed the messaging. You haven't really found the main point and you probably haven't marketed this feeling to those people.
Potentially, you haven't done any of those or you don't have enough, but you can still make use of that and go to them and say, I'm offering one to one coaching, or I'm going to do this as a small group program, or we're just going to do it as a 90 minute workshop where I'm going to cover off on these things.
There's always a way to kind of twist a launch and recover from it and still turn it into a lesson to learn from and to go forward with.
So that in a nutshell, that's kind of how I approach it these days. Obviously you need to be strategic and disciplined and hustle and put yourself out there. But for me, it's all about knowing so much about my ideal avatar, and then you put it out there and see if anybody wants it.
If she likes launching and how often she does a launch.
I have backed off a little bit because I do love the whole art of the big launch, and I've done some big launches. The biggest one I ever did, I think was close to $200,000 and it still blows my mind, but that was a ton of work.
I set myself up in San Diego, I locked myself in a house with a couple of entrepreneurial friends and we were all building online businesses, and I just went and find my joint venture affiliate partners, tons of advertising, huge amount of copy.
It was super stressful but it also paid for my entire year and more. These days, I prefer smaller cohorts, more intimate groups of people. I really love the group coaching setting and I'm just more smart about it.
So my launch accelerator, I first launched it at the end of last year and I've run it six times since. The last one was a lot bigger, and now I'm at a point where I'm like, this is a great course, it gets great results.
So now I can fine tune the marketing process and be smarter about it and probably just run it live two to three times a year.
I think I love so many elements of launching, but I think you have to pace yourself. It's great to have part of your business that has the online live launch and then parts of your business with evergreen launches or products, because you will burn yourself out if that's all you're ever relying on, and I don't think that's sustainable.
The biggest mindset gremlins that stop entrepreneurs from creating courses.
So I'm a firm believer that the energy you put in is the energy that you will get out.
So if you go into a course nervous, feeling like an impostor, feeling like you don't actually have the skills, who the heck is going to buy from me, et cetera - and I know those are all the feelings I've had them all before - but if you're constantly feeding that to your brain every single day during the launch, you pretty much will have commit to your energy levels. That's the result you're going to get.
So I'm a real firm believer that even if you don't have all the answers and you've never done it before, just believe this is going to serve people, this is going to help them immensely, and this launch is going to be the best possible thing I've ever done. Not I'm going to make all these millions, but I am going to turn up and I'm going to give it my all, and it is going to big one. That's going to be awesome.
Even if I get one person on this, I'm going to can help that person so much. It really does make a difference.
I've seen it myself. When I have that belief that this is the coolest and that's going to work and it's going to help people, it's amazing how things start to flow.
Even in the midst of all the chaos, when you drop the ball on something or an email don't go out, and these people who just from the get go view it as a failure. I can't say any more about it, but you'll know where your focus goes, your energy flows.
So you've got to have that belief from the outset that this is going to be awesome, and then you've got to take the actions to make sure that that happens.
The second part I think is for most people is: who am I to teach this? There's so many other people out there talking about this topic, or I'm not expert enough.
And one of those things, I think, is just complete lies because there so many people out there teaching what they know, who are not experts, who are doing incredibly well with course launches and who have built an entire business on it.
What they do is they understand the need of the person. They create a great curriculum in a course and they focus on the results that they want to get the person.
Then they continue to refine and they continue to become a better teacher and they continue to turn up and just improve and be what I like to call a leading learner. So somebody who is a couple of steps ahead of the person behind them, who already has some knowledge that they can teach to that person and bring them up to speed.
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