Episode 242 | Posted on

The Path to Profitable Online Courses with Billy Bross

If you’re considering a foray into the world of online courses, you’re not alone. This is a really exciting niche that has grown dramatically in the last five years. I’d say it’s even gone mainstream, thanks in large part to Masterclass.com. And if you’re looking for a guide to help you navigate the world of course creation & marketing, you’re in luck, because today’s guest, Billy Bross happens to be an online course expert who has done this for himself and for a number of clients.

Billy is an MBA turned online marketing consultant. He coaches his clients to build truly scalable business models for their online courses. In this episode, we discuss finding the pricing sweet spot, increasing course consumption, recorded versus live trainings, office hours, Facebook groups, launches, ideal course length, and much more. So, if you’re curious to learn the secret sauce to profitable online courses, you’re in the right place! Let’s get started!

In this Episode

  • [00:29] – Stephan introduces Billy Bross, an MBA turned online marketing consultant. He specializes in working with online courses and helping his clients enroll more students and grow their revenue.
  • [04:41] – Billy shares why he feels more fulfilled when he helps other people than just focusing on his own business and making money.
  • [09:13] – Billy shares little mistakes to avoid when creating your online business profile, which has a significant impact in the long run.
  • [14:52] – Billy demonstrates the changes in their online course business model and how it is more interactive and less self-paced.
  • [23:02] – What’s the difference between selling a high-ticket vs. selling a low-ticket for online courses, webinars, consulting, etc.?
  • [30:44] – Billy explains his ideal approach in handling a group coaching program.
  • [38:05] – Billy shares some of his preferred tools that his clients use for online courses.
  • [44:41] – Billy explains how practical their market research approach is by getting prospects on the phone to get all their answers.
  • [50:58] – Billy’s inspiring advice about achieving success and getting accomplishments in life.
  • [54:26] – Visit Billy Bross’ website billybross.com to join his email newsletter and check out his courses for the online business world.

Jump to Links and Resources


Billy, it’s great to have you on the show.

Hey, Stephan. Thanks so much for having me. Excited to be here.

Of course, we’re going to talk about online courses and trainings. Why that specialty? Why not webinars, or Facebook ads, or some other niche to focus on? Why online courses?

Great question. I really just love working with teachers. I consider myself a teacher. I love learning, I’ve been a lifelong learner. I love talking about what I learned and distilling it down to its essentials. Making it simpler to understand, and then teaching that to other people in the same niche. I got into this by teaching beer brewing classes online, of all things. That’s how I got into the online course world. 

I started teaching and selling beer brewing classes back around 2010. I started working with other course creators. Like I said, I’m a lifelong learner. I’m super curious. I love all different topics. When I started working with them, it was a good way for me to flex my marketing muscle but also learn about what they were up to. I often joke that my reason for working with these clients is so I can get free access to all their courses.

Do you actually consume a lot of online courses?

I do. Not as much recently because I’ve just been so busy, but I always have at least one that I’m working on.

What are you watching or listening to now?

I’m going through a Facebook ads training right now. I’m actually just doing the standard Facebook. Everyone overlooks the standard Facebook training but there’s actually some really good stuff in there. You don’t always need to buy the big guru course. Some of this stuff is available for free.

There’s so many basics that are just sitting there waiting for you to implement. It’s not complicated, it’s not expensive. For example, setting up a retargeting audience in your Facebook ads so that you can start advertising to folks who have been to your website. It’s just so simple. You don’t even need to spend money on Facebook. You could just start collecting that information by dropping the Facebook pixel on your webpage. Start collecting that data and use it later. People don’t do it, it’s just pretty surprising.

Design the business that you want, not one that you think you need to have. Click To Tweet

You got it. Low-hanging fruit, it’s out there.

Speaking of implementing some basics and stuff, there’s this “I love to teach.” I also hear people sometimes use this expression, which I hate. “People who can’t do, teach.” What do you tell those people like, “Okay, well, why aren’t you making millions of dollars with whatever? Why are you teaching other people to do it instead? You could make all that money yourself.”

Totally. When I was doing the beer brewing course, the funny thing was I got into it more so for the venture than I really did for the niche. To back up a little bit, I was in the nine-to-five world. I got my MBA, and I was working for an engineering consulting company in the energy industry. I was doing financial modeling for big solar and wind projects. I have that business background. I just knew I wanted to get out of the nine-to-five world, so on nights and weekends, I would write for this beer blog. 

When I went full-time doing that, the thing I missed from the nine-to-five world was working with really smart and interesting people and collaborating on things. I was alone. I started hanging out in these online forums for online marketers and going to conferences. I just really got more joy out of helping other people and more fulfillment than just focusing on my own thing. 

I was working with businesses that were much larger than mine when I was running the beer brewing site, no online courses; which is funny because even though they were more successful than me—bringing in more revenue—there were still areas I could point out. I could say, “Hey, you can do this, this, and this, and really increase your leads. You can boost conversions. You should try this webinar. You should try this launch.” They’re like, “Oh, my God,” because they didn’t have the business background. Most of the people I work with are more so niche experts. That’s my answer. I think it’s different for everyone but for me, that was the right fit. 

Eventually, my focus was split between the two. I was kind of getting over the beer niche. To be honest, it’s not the healthiest website to run either. I was approaching 30 and I was like, “Yeah, I know. First world problems, right?” I can’t complain about the research I was doing, all the beers I was drinking but it did add up. I was just ready to move on to something else. I eventually sold that website and went full-time as a marketing consultant–working with clients and also partner with other businesses to now, other online courses and education companies.

Alright, so you take a piece in the upside.

You got it.

For me, I teach and consult because I love helping others, and working on my own stuff just seems like a hard slog. If I had to maintain dozens of websites of my own, it would not be fun. I don’t light up doing that. If it’s my stuff, it’s just hard work and draining. Whereas if it’s other people’s stuff, it’s kind of maybe how grandparents see their grandkids like oh, it’s so easy and I just hand them back when it gets hard. I’m not a grandparent yet, I don’t know what that’s like but I do know what it’s like to work on other people’s businesses, and it does bring me energy. 

I recently found out, maybe like seven years ago, that I am an external. This is a terminology from Donny Epstein. I interviewed him by the way on my other podcast, on Get Yourself Optimized. Listeners, definitely check out that episode. It’s fascinating. This guy is a wizard. He is an energy healer. He’s one of Tony Robbins‘ best friends. He’s just incredible. He’s an alien. This idea of being external or internal is how you’re wired internally, energetically. If you are an external, then stuff that you work on that’s outside of you comes with ease and grace. It brings you energy. Whereas stuff that is internal is harder, it breaks down, it’s straining. I know I’m an external and I just go with that. 

If I wanted to, for example, help myself out by working on my diet, or my exercise, or whatever, I would need to think about future Stephan, as somebody else outside of me so that the way I’m wired externally. I don’t say, “Oh, it’s just me. I’m going to skip meals or I’m going to skip the gym or whatever.” “What am I doing to future Stephan? That’s not good, I can’t do that to future Stephan, that’s not fair.” Sometimes it’s just a mind game, you got to play with yourself. For me, I just love helping others out and working on their stuff. Does that resonate for you?

There’s so much to do and learn nowadays, especially now that online courses have become popular and accessible.

Absolutely. I like that. I hadn’t heard those terms before, internal and external. I agree. I didn’t know about this, but I am like you, a total external. I’ve always been a consultant, that’s what I’m good at. That’s what I did in my previous career, that’s what I do now. When I get stuck in that trap, because it’s tough, especially when you’re an external to give yourself advice. I do a similar thing to what you do with future Stephan. I think, “Okay, if I were giving myself advice, if I were my own consulting client, what would I say?” It’s probably different than what my gut reaction was because it’s tough to work on the internal.

Your beer brewing course was the starting point for getting into this whole online course world. What have been some of the big mistakes that you made, that you’ve told all of your clients don’t make these same mistakes. Don’t go down these paths because those don’t work. I already tried that, and it doesn’t work.

I got so many of those. A big one is just all those little things, those little tweaks to your website–nudging a banner ad and a sidebar, a few pixels to the left or the right, or getting a logo just perfect, or the colors. Graphic design is a big rabbit hole that people go down. It’s really at the end of the day, it’s not a big needle mover. It doesn’t really do a whole lot for the business. It can, of course, but usually there’s a lot of other stuff that people should be focusing on before getting around to graphic design. That’s one of them. 

Another huge one is growing the email list. I’m a huge proponent of email marketing. Luckily, I caught onto that and really picked it up. The first few years, I kind of knew about it, but it’s still kind of an afterthought. I should have been more aggressive with growing my email list because now that I’ve seen behind the scenes of so many online education companies and courses, looking at what really drives sales. It really is the email list.

There’s a famous expression from Frank Kern, “The money’s in the list.”

The money’s in the list. Absolutely. Even these days, all these years later after launch. What’s it been? Forty years now since email was invented? Yeah, it’s still my favorite channel.

People rave about the open rates on Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp, and all these things. The problem with that is people are clicking to “read the thing” just so that they can make the bolding go away; not get the badge that says one unread Facebook message, right?


That’s not a real open or read. That’s a fake read.

Yeah, “reading the message.”

I’m a big proponent of email. Still, I send out a weekly email. It’s called my Thursday Three, and I put a lot of attention on it.  I’m very disciplined about it. Every single week, it goes out. I’ve been doing this for a year or two. It’s been the best producing email newsletter in terms of feedback and engagement out of all the different newsletters I’ve tried in the years. What makes it special is this idea that I have a feature, something that intrigues me, something that concerns me, and something that surprises me. 

Every week, these are really cool things that I feature in the newsletter. It’s loosely inspired on Tim Ferriss‘ 5-Bullet Friday. I like my format the best or better out of the two. Like I said, it gets a lot of positive feedback, but I know you sent out an email every day. Are you worried about email fatigue with these recipients? What’s been your experience with this?

Now that’s the counterintuitive thing. Honestly, I have a friend, he’s also in online marketing and we always joke that if you want to make more money, just email more. Really the people who are emailing the most tend to be the people who are doing the best. It’s the best list hygiene you can do. I got this saying to people I work with, “Don’t be the groundhog who pops out every few months.” and says, “Hey, I got something to sell.” That’s not cool. 

That’s what gets people to unsubscribe but when you are frequent, when you’re consistent like that, you become what I call—it’s Dan Kennedy term, marketing guru—’the welcomed guest’. You want to be the welcomed guest in the inbox. When you do that, when you show up consistently, that creates familiarity, which creates trust. 

It's not about that first sale, it's about the second sale because that's where the real profit comes from. Click To Tweet

Ever since I started doing that, because I was doing it more infrequently, it was a really smart move going to. I don’t do it every day, I take off on the weekends because I try not to work on weekends. Five days a week, but my response rates are up. The only people who are subscribed really want to be subscribed. It’s just been a really big game-changer for me.

That’s cool. You mentioned Dan Kennedy, is he somebody that you’ve learned a lot from? Has he been a mentor to you or just read some of his stuff or what?

Mentor at a distance. I did get to interact with him one time. I went to one of his live events in Cleveland a few years back. He actually read one of my questions, I submitted ahead of time. He gave me a whole bunch of grief about it because it was a stupid question. I forget what exactly it was.

That sounds like Dan.

Oh, yeah, I was honored. I was like, “Oh my god. I just got lambasted by Dan Kennedy. I can die happy now. This is great.”

I had him on my show, that was a fantastic episode. Listeners definitely check out the Dan Kennedy episode if you haven’t listened to it already.

Yes, I will be doing just that. Amazing. He’s certainly one of the people I follow the most. I just like his approach. He says, “I’m not an internet marketer. I do marketing and I use the internet as well as other channels, other mediums.” That’s how I look at myself too. I do online marketing, but I’m a marketer first who uses the online platform.

Are you doing launches? Is it evergreen? Anytime somebody wants to buy a course from you or join one of your programs, they can do that? What’s your philosophy on that?

It’s changed a lot. It really ties into the online education, online course business model. The way things are going now, it’s becoming less self-paced and more interactive. This is the next evolution of the information marketing industry, which you’ve been in for a long time, and I’ve been in for about 10 years now. It used to be you sign up for an online course. It’s all self-paced. No interaction from the teacher, not a whole lot of support. 

Now, what we’re seeing is there’s a lot of cases where self-paced still makes sense; but it also makes a lot of sense to add in maybe a weekly call or maybe a Facebook group. What a lot of my clients and the courses I’m working with are doing now are doing live teaching, where it is the launch model. While we’re taking people through as a cohort, we’re adding in those calls and the support, even teaching the lessons on the fly. Sometimes they’re pre-recorded, there might be some additional content each week. 

I really like that model. These course creators like that, too. It really is best for the course creator and the student; because when you do a launch and you have that urgency of the doors closing, enrollment ending, it does drive a whole bunch of signups, a whole bunch of revenue. 

We typically see half the signups come on the final day. What we say is, “Well, the reason we’re doing this is so we can take people through and turn our attention to getting wins for our students,” which is 100% true. It’s what they do. It tends to be more so the launch model these days because it is more going towards what… In this sense, at least what traditional education looks like where you take a class through. It’s the same classroom to end, but there are certainly awesome cases where Evergreen makes sense, especially with lower-priced products.

I, last year, heard Stu McLaren at Traffic and Conversion Summit say how big of a proponent he is of the closed membership site model and courses. He has this tribe program, which you may be familiar with.


I signed up for that last year and had one of my staff go through it. Good stuff, good content, but then we didn’t get the ROI out of it, so we didn’t sign up to do it again. The idea is that if you have this open model, there’s no urgency to sign up now. If it’s like, “Well, I’m going to think about it.” Someday becomes never. Definitely having some urgency and/or scarcity in there to drive decision making is super important.

Improve customer retention by stirring things up. Offer upgrades, promos, one-on-ones, etc.

Absolutely. The membership sites are tricky. There’s a little bit of a nuance there. We’re not normally doing membership sites. The problem with membership sites is that they’re tough to sell at least on the front end. Because you look at the sales pages for membership sites. The main promise and main value add seems to be the fact that it’s an all you can eat. You get all of this, all my courses in there, and get all this for this one monthly price. The problem with that these days is that people are overwhelmed by information. They don’t normally want the whole enchilada. It’s a tougher thing to sell than I’ve found on the front end. 

What we’re finding is working better selling an outcome. It’s easier to sell that through a course, where you start at point A and you wind up at point Z. Once they get those wins, and they get to know people through the Facebook group and the calls, which I’ve been talking about, then they’re more likely to want a membership model. Where they can go deeper and keep that community going. There’s obviously exceptions, but that’s what I’ve found tends to work best. Of course, on the front end, the membership on the back end.

Got you. What length of course is kind of in the sweet spot from what you found? There are some courses that are 90 minutes long, then there are other courses that are 14 hours long. What’s the right equation these days?

I look at it more in terms of how many weeks it is, especially because we’re doing this drip model. It tends to be more in the four to eight-week range.

Each week, you’d call them like a module? Or what’s your terminology for that?

Exactly. We’d say something like, “Module one is dropping next week. Module two is coming the week after that.” The content length varies. It might be just a 20-minute lesson, it might be a 90-minute lesson. Going back to the point I made earlier, it’s not so much about the amount of stuff in the box. If you can get them to the same result in an hour versus 10 hours, they’re going to choose an hour. It’s being results-focused, and just giving the minimum effective dose for them to be successful.

Got you. What would be an example of an outcome that you might sell as part of an online course?

Good question. I have this one client. It’s so funny, all the niches out there. He’s from India, he lives in Germany. He’s getting his master’s degree, he’s helping people in India do essentially what he’s doing, go to school in Germany, and go to university there because there’s a lot of jobs there for people from India. That would be the outcome. Getting them in, so when they enroll in university in Germany. 

Another really cool niche is a woman who teaches yoga, but she teaches other teachers; but not just how to teach any old yoga class, how to teach a kids’ yoga class. This is a really up and coming thing these days, kids’ yoga. The outcome for them is how to start your own kids’ yoga business.

Cool, got you. One thing I learned by interviewing Trivinia Barber… Actually first, I learned it from attending her talk at the 90 Day Year live, which is Todd Herman‘s event. Trivinia was there. One of the most important things I learned at that entire event—which was several days, I think it was three days long—was what Trivinia said, is that you want to delegate to your VA or whoever your staff is the outcome, not the task. I had been delegating way too many tasks and not nearly enough outcomes. Then if a ball gets dropped or something slips through the cracks, it’s because they didn’t see the bigger picture and they weren’t focused on the outcome. Made total sense to me. I’m like, “Wow, this is going to change the game for me.” It’s been very impactful. 

This idea of selling an outcome to the prospect—who’s either going to sign up for your course or your consulting or what have you—is equally as powerful, I think.

Absolutely. For my own example, when I was teaching beer brewing, I had a course that was on how to design your own signature recipes. What I learned was people didn’t so much do what most people on the outside would think they would want to do, which is brew a great-tasting beer. Yeah, that’s important to them. That’s still not as outcome-focused as what I actually went with. Taste is subjective. They might think it’s great, I’ve heard a lot of beers that were great tasting, but they were sour beers that everyone hates. It’s good for me, not good for anyone else. 

They really want us to brew something they can call their own, just to hand the glass to their friend. No matter what they think when the friend says, “Hey, where did you get that recipe?” Instead of saying, “Oh, I got it from this Billy on the internet.” They say, “I created it.” The promise there was to create your first signature recipe you can truly call your own.

I like that, that’s great. That would tie into their ego and draw them in, because in some small way, it’s kind of like leaving their legacy.

Absolutely. When I studied copywriting, I hired a great copywriting coach. That was one of the big things that he taught me. Most dires come down to status or love. If you can tie into that, you’re going to do pretty well.

For sure. Now what’s different about selling high ticket versus selling low ticket courses, or paid webinars, or consulting, or ebooks, or anything, like just high ticket versus low ticket. What are your thoughts on this?

This is something I’m very passionate about. There’s a lot of considerations with that. I tend to push my clients more towards high tickets. I tell them “Premium prices, premium experiences.” Going back to what I was saying earlier, most of the people I work with are not hardcore, direct response marketers, internet marketers, affiliate marketers, anything like that. They’re like me. They’re niche experts, teachers. When you play the low-priced ball game, you need a lot of volume to make that work, you need a lot more transactions. That makes it a lot more complicated because now you’re talking funnels. You’re talking pay traffic, you’re talking split testing and all that. 

A lot of them will follow advice, not knowing that that’s what it takes to sell low priced products. Seeing other people being successful, not knowing that they’re very experienced direct response marketers with a whole team of people helping them out. They just don’t really have the capability to do something like that. Also, it’s a different model. When you have premium prices, you need fewer transactions, you can have a simpler business. You tend to get people who are more serious about it, more committed students that are then willing to go deeper.

A bad reputation can sink any business faster than anything else. Click To Tweet

My online courses are high ticket. My most expensive course is a $5,000 course, It’s all about how to do your own SEO audit. As an example, I had somebody buy that course, but they wanted to get the money they invested as a credit towards consulting if they end up working with me. I’m like, “Sure, that’s fine. Happy to do that.” They were able to get comfort in my expertise and the value that I convey. Just consume some of the online course, I don’t even think he finished it. Then he said, “I just want to hire you and have you do the SEO audit for me and other things that you can do to help grow my business.” I ended up working with him for over two years. Made quite a bit more money than the five grand.

I’d bet.

Yeah. You can have a hybrid model like that, where to their advantage, to try you out through an online course. It can be a high ticket, and then once they’re convinced of the value, they could up the ante, and go with a full done-for-you sort of consulting model.

Yeah, exactly. It can be a great lead-gen into consulting or done-for-you. Totally true.

Do you have any clients that are doing anything like that?

Let me think, not quite at that price point. $5,000 you said it was?


Yeah, a little bit lower than that, but yeah, absolutely. If it’s not done-for-you, they have masterminds that they run, high-end coaching. That’s what a lot of people don’t realize. That’s the big thing I teach them is that it’s not about that first sale, it’s about the second sale. You always want to be thinking about that, because that’s where the real profit comes from. It’s down the road.

What would you recommend is a better second sale? Is it a mastermind? Is it the coaching? Is it consulting?

It depends on you and what you want to do. That’s a big consideration as well and what your skillset is. I always say, “Design the business that you want, not that you think you need to have.” If you hate the idea of getting together with people in a room and doing a mastermind kind of a format with hot seats and all that, then maybe mastermind’s not right for you. If you’d rather just sit down, not interact with anyone, sort of put your head down, and do the work, then maybe the done-for-you option on the back end is best. That’s how I look at that.

For example, event planning is foreign. It’s just another language for many people. They’re like, “Oh, I got to deal with catering, negotiating with the hotel, and dealing with last-minute bookings. The room is too small, or too big, and trying to get last-minute changes. Oh, my goodness. I just don’t want to deal with that stuff.” That’s what happens in a mastermind because you’re not going to meet on Zoom. You’re going to meet in the real world at a hotel probably. It’s a different ballgame. 

I have been wanting to do masterminds for a while and I still haven’t launched my mastermind yet. Part of it is there’s just a whole bunch of things I don’t want to do related to the mastermind. I do have an event planning person now that I’ve engaged, a contractor who will help me with that part of it; but there’s still a lot of other pieces that are really foreign to me. I’m not an expert on filling that room.

It’s a lot harder for me. Again, I’m external, not internal. Filling a room for my event, with my people, is a hard slog. I haven’t done it yet. I’ve been wanting to. I’ve been saying I’ve been wanting to do this for three years now but I still haven’t launched my mastermind.

I know exactly what you mean. I think there’s too many people teaching these business models out there. Not that they’re not being honest, but I wish that they would tell people more what they’re getting into. Like, “Hey, you want to start an online business? Okay, this is what your average day is going to be like. You’re either going to be talking to people a lot, or you’re going to be creating content or whatever.” I try to do that as much as possible because if you’re not into what you’re doing… This is why most people do this. I left the nine-to-five world to do this. I said, I wasn’t that happy with what I was doing, because I was suddenly all alone. Then I started to work with other people, which is what I enjoyed from the other job. I think the first step is probably to figure out what you like, and what you want, and then go from there.

You can, for that second sale, drive people to a mastermind. You could offer a done-for-you consulting type option. You could offer coaching or a done-with-you solution. That could be in the form of group coaching or private one-to-one. I’ve opted to offer one-to-one with my business. I offer SEO coaching and just business coaching one-to-one. I’ve considered launching a group coaching program. Again, hasn’t happened yet, but it’s something I’m entertaining doing. Do you offer or have you offered coaching in the past or currently? If so, is it a group model or a one-to-one model?

I do group coaching. I started doing it about a year and a half ago. I’ve had a couple of different programs. There’s some one-on-one but the bulk of it is group. I really enjoy it. Like I said, I love teaching. It’s more in that realm than it is strict one-on-one consulting. I find that the community aspect is a big value-add to the people in the group. They really love the group aspect of it.

They can learn from each other, not just from you.

YouTube alone has a wide variety of video content that can teach anything from coding to knitting. There’s a lot of options for certified classes as well.

Absolutely. Don’t undervalue that. You, the product creator or the coaching program leader. There is value in being that linchpin who brings everyone together and holds them together.

Same thing with a mastermind too, of course, at a higher level on a higher price point. I’m curious, what’s the sweet spot or the best practice for having a group size for group coaching? Is it really small? Is it kind of medium-sized? 10, 12 people, or half-dozen people? What works the best?

I say start small and make sure you can deliver a good product with a small group. It’s really caught on a lot recently, group coaching programs are hot. For good reason, they’re great. They’re a great way to deliver value in a scaled format. I know there are a lot of horror stories out there about someone launching a group program, and biting off more than they can chew, and the clients not getting good results. 

Take an iterative approach to it. I think most people have a gut feel of how much they can handle. You start to know when you get to the point where you’re like, “It’s tough, right?” People who want to come in are like, “Oh, wow, this is a lot of money,” but you know that it’s really starting to stretch you. You want to be careful with that because a bad reputation can sink you faster than anything else. It’s not worth the little bit extra revenue that you get. Start with a few, maybe it’s three, maybe it’s five. If this is something that you’ve taught a whole bunch, and you’ve done a lot of coaching and consulting before, maybe you go to 10. 

Look, there are group coaching programs out there that have dozens or hundreds of people, but what the head coach or the business owner has done is then essentially scaled it. They bring in coaches, they take their IP—their intellectual property—and their coaches are now teaching to their intellectual property. That’s still tricky in itself because a lot of people want to join programs for the guru. If they’re not active enough, people start to grumble.

Do you have clients who are taking this approach of licensing their IP? Having other coaches use their materials and train with it?

My crew doesn’t so much do group coaching. They’re more strictly online course creators. Well, I’ll give you an example. Someone that we both know, Tiago Forte.

He’s been on my show.

That’s right.

He’s been a guest on Get Yourself Optimized. Great episode, by the way.

We went to his workshop together in downtown LA.

We did.

I’m actually going to see him tonight. He’s actually teaching another workshop tonight in LA.

Tell him I said hi.

I will. This is more of the trend to the online course world. In the coaching world, it’s more so like a scalable group coaching Program. In the course world, it’s more building an online academy or an online school. A month or so ago, he launched Forte Academy. For those who don’t know him, Tiago is a productivity expert. They call him the next David Allen. David Allen’s the founder of Getting Things Done. 

Tiago’s flagship course is Building a Second Brain. It’s about how to use productivity tools like Evernote and Notion to store information and to free up your first brain for what it’s good at, which is solving problems and being creative. It’s a great foundation for a lot of different topics. 

What he did was he launched an academy. He’s now bringing on other instructors, that’s how he’s scaling. Right now, the additional course, the first instructor he brought on is a guy named David Perell, who teaches a writing course called Write of Passage, a great name. That’s what he’s doing. That’s their method of scaling by sticking with the same general avatar and then just branching out into different disciplines.

Cool. What if you have courses already and you just don’t have enough sales or interests. Any real action there? You created these courses and nobody’s buying.

Yeah. That does happen, unfortunately. I like doing launches, I like events, I like to kickstart things, I like to freshen things up. If that were me, and I had a course that really wasn’t selling, first, I would ask, “Okay, is this something that’s still relevant?” A lot of courses are tied to things that are timely, trends that are maybe not so trending anymore. Someone with a background in copywriting, I like to start with research. I probably start by talking to people, getting on the phone with them, sending out a survey to them, then seeing if there’s some new angle, some new spin I could put on it. I don’t want to say spin. That has a negative connotation, but fresh packaging, put it that way. Then do some kind of a promotion around that, promoting version two or the next iteration of that course, or whatever it is, but essentially some kind of a reboot.

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Have you worked with clients who have had this problem? This is the way that you’ve solved it?

Absolutely. Where we do this a lot is with Udemy clients, people coming from Udemy to their own platform. They’ve been selling the same thing over there for two years for $9.99.

Not $1,000, but $10.

Oh yeah, largely because Udemy discounts it so much but we can’t sell the same thing on both platforms. I helped them increase the value of it, sort of retool and reposition it. I did this with one guy who teaches machine learning. He was selling it for $9.99 on Udemy. He was able to sell it for $2,000 on his own platform with just some fairly minor changes to the structure of it.

Wow, that’s impressive.

Yeah, he was happy.

If I were listening to this, thinking “I want to learn machine learning,” I’d be going to Udemy, and try to figure out which course that is, so that I could buy it for $10.

You won’t get the human interaction though.

All right, got you.

I should point out, that’s a good way to retool that as well as to do this format that I’m talking about where you launch it with this live component to it. That’s a good way for you to justify the price increase and also get a whole bunch of new people.

Got you. Let’s talk about tools. There are a lot of tools that I use in my business for the courses, for the membership side. They’ve been things like Memberium and LearnDash. I played around with Thinkific but didn’t end up going with that platform. I went with Memberium and LearnDash as a combination platform. I have all this different webinar technology like EasyWebinar, I have tools like PlusThis. I’m using Infusionsoft, and Carta, and all these different tools. They all add up all, even just Wistia. You have enough videos in there and that ends up being a multi-thousand-dollar expense per year, pretty crazy. What are your favorite tools that you steer your clients towards and why?

As few as possible. I’m kind of a contradiction in that I do cutting edge stuff with online courses but I’m very Dan Kennedy as well. I’m very old school.

Oh, you have a fax machine?

I don’t have a fax machine. Shoot that one, I guess.

He has a fax machine, right?

It’s the only way to reach him. When I went to that live event, I had to sign up for an eFax service just to pay him for the live event, so I could fax them.

I had to fax his assistant who then faxed him to coordinate the podcast interview. That was fun. Of course, I didn’t have a fax machine. I had to sign up for PamFax or whatever. I ended up using it.

I think I’m still paying for it. I got to cancel that. I try to use as few as possible, I’m not super techie. I’d rather rely on messaging and things like that over technology. What do I steer them towards? There are two sides to it. There’s the marketing side and the fulfillment side of things. I have some people who will come to me and say, “Billy, you do so much with Teachable.” I do because I’ve been involved with Teachable for a while. “You’re the expert on selling courses on teachable.” I’m like, “Well, not really because there’s nothing really different about selling courses on Teachable versus Thinkific or LearnDash or those other ones.” Because that’s the marketing side of things, sales and marketing. 

I tell him that and say “Well, the first thing is you need to make sales because otherwise, it doesn’t matter what you’re using to deliver your courses. No one’s going to get into your member’s area.” 

In terms of the LMS, those are all great. I would say what I’ve seen is that it really comes down to personal preference. You will find people who love Teachable. You’ll find people who hate Teachable and love Thinkific. I say start with one of those big three, Teachable, Thinkific. There’s a bunch of other ones too, Podia is another one. WordPress plus LearnDash is a great combination, that’s actually what I use.

I use WordPress and LearnDash, but I also use Memberium on top of it. That combination of the three has worked really well for me. There are other competing plugins besides LearnDash for WordPress such as… Oh gosh, I forget what some of these were called, but I was doing the research back in the day.


I did look at WishList Member, but there was one that had the word learn in it. LearnPress, I think, was what it was called. There are a bunch of these out there, Learning Management Systems (LMS) like Content Management System (CMS). You just threw that acronym in there. I was thinking I better define that for folks who don’t know what an LMS is. So, there you go.

LMS for your CMS.

Exactly. You’re kind of platform-agnostic, but it’s really about what your preferences are more important, even what your target audiences’ preferences are. If they’re more into the kind of the Thinkific way of learning or Teachable, I don’t know how different they are. Figuring out what your customer avatar wants is pretty important.

Absolutely. You said what you use, I’ll say what I use. I use Ontraport. They call it PilotPress, that’s the plugin that they use for their membership technology. I really like Ontraport. I was a certified consultant with them. It’s so great all-in-one solution. For some reason, not many people know about it, but it’s Infusionsoft’s big competitor.

They used to be called Office Autopilot and then they rebranded as Ontraport.

They did. I remember those days, OAP.

I almost signed up with them instead of Infusionsoft; but their customer service or pre-sales sucked. If I can’t get the love now, I’m sure as heck not going to get the love once I’m locked in. I went with Infusionsoft instead.

Makes sense.

Anyway, what are some of the things that we didn’t talk about regarding online courses that we really should have?

Going back to just the Evergreen conversation, I think there’s a big motivator to automate everything. I really like what they talked about in Silicon Valley. It’s part of the lean startup culture, if you’re familiar with that. The phrase, “Do things that don’t scale.” I think it’s really important to do that and don’t try to automate too quickly. I’m a big proponent of customer interviews. Again, I come from a copywriting background. I see a lot of online course creators trying to build funnels, but their messaging is just really off. 

A lot of people, especially people who are more… Well, I work with teachers. They start these online courses or online schools, they’re like, “Okay, well, what do I model this after?” Model after what I know, which is traditional universities. I’m teaching photography. When it comes out with a Photography 101 course, Photography 102, course, whatever. That’s not the way you want to do things. You could get away with that a while ago when you were the only online course teaching Photography 101. That’s an area where you really want to do your market research and figure out what their core desires are. Kind of gets back into the idea of focusing on the outcome. Talk to your customers, see what they really want, then create your courses around that. 

I like this phrase, I forget who said it originally, I’m sure you’ve heard it. “Sell them what they want and give them what they need.” That’s really tough for teachers to do. It’s how you’re going to be able to make sales and how you’re going to get your content in the hands of the people who need it. Selling the photography course that they really want—how to take beautiful landscape photos, whatever it is—and then embed your Photography 101 training, the basics, which teachers all want to teach into that.

For example, if I want to teach about mindset and how powerful that can be because I’ve had huge mindset shifts that have propelled me and my business forward. Tell people about what I’ve learned from Tony Robbins, and from Byron Katie, and some of these other self-help gurus. That’s fine, but what I need is to double my revenue for this year. Well, hello, the mindset stuff will actually double your revenue. It’s a lot easier than trying to get all that revenue increase just from SEO or from your online marketing. Like you say, sell them what they want and then give them what they need as part of the package. That ends up being part of my coaching a lot of times is mindset shifts. Some of those self-help personal development distinctions get thrown in there for free.

Yes, because that’s notoriously a tough thing to sell. People are like what you said. I want to increase my business. I want to grow revenue. I want to free up my time. I don’t want to learn mindset. I’ve experienced the same thing, we’ve talked about this. That is the thing that makes the big difference, but it is a tough thing to lead with. Selling what they want and getting what they need. It works.

How do you do this market research? How do you identify the core desires? What kind of process do you take your client through?

Ideally, they would get on the phone with their prospects, which a lot of people cringe at the thought of, there is no substitute for that. I heard someone say that one phone conversation is worth 200 survey responses, I would have to agree with that. The reason why, is because you can dig. You can ask follow-up questions. You can ask, “Well, why is that? That’s interesting. Why is that important to you? Well, what have you tried before, why didn’t that work?” You can’t do that in a survey because you have to really tailor that to what they tell you.

Can you give me an example of that?

The beer example was a great one, creating your own recipes. That was an interesting one because I was my market. I didn’t come up with that just by being my market and I just had this epiphany. It was through talking to my subscribers. I literally emailed the entire list and said, “Hey, this is what I’m looking to do. I want to create some more content for you guys. Want to find out what you need.” You know you’re doing it right when you hear the same thing over and over again. That’s what happened. I was on these calls, I started hearing the same thing over and over again.

Signature recipe?

Yeah, I would dig. I would say, “Well, why is that?” They always use this phrase, “Well, I just want something I can call my own.” I kept hearing that, call my own. I want to call it my own. Then the name of the course became Call it Your Own. Now that was named the recipe course. That’s an example of that.

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Cool, very good. What does the market research document look like? Is it a spreadsheet, or Word document, a mind map?

Although I’m not a techie, I do have a new tool I’m really excited about which is very rare. It’s Notion. Have you used Notion yet?

No, I heard about it.

Notion is great. It’s a fantastic workspace. It feels like you’re coding, but you don’t have to write any code. I really like it because it’s very flexible. Let me tell you about how I do my research. What I do is I fire up a Notion document, this is the new tool that I use. Outside of talking to people, what I do is I look for other examples. I’ll go to Amazon. I’ll type in keywords and look up books. Look at other online courses, let’s go back to Amazon. 

When I’m on that book page, the main thing is I’m looking for promises, promises that that book author is making to the reader. You lose 10 pounds, you’ll lose 10 pounds in 30 days, promises like that in the health niche. Looking for claims, looking for their methodology. I’m looking for the way that they describe that they get the result for their customer; because in very competitive niches, it’s not so much about the promise itself. It’s about the way that you achieve the promise. Your signature method for doing that. 

I’m copying and pasting all this stuff. I put these sections in the Notion documents. I have a section with a heading that says Promises. I have a section with a heading that says Claims, Signature System, Fears. That’s a big one, pains and gains. I’ll look not just what the publisher or the author wrote, but I’ll look in the customer reviews as well, which is often where I get the very best copy. I’ll look in those Amazon headlines and scan those first. If I see a really delicious looking headline in there, I’ll dive into that review, and start to pull out some other key phrases from that reviewer and pop those into the Notion document. I have a whole bunch of copy in there: Phrases, Promises, Claims, Pains and Gains. I’ll just kind of look at that, let it sort of marinate and then use that to write my own copy.

Nice, that’s awesome. It kind of reminds me a little bit of this exercise that I learned from Taki Moore. He calls it the Four Forces. I don’t recall where he learned it from, but I’m sure he got it from somewhere else. The way he teaches it, you’ve got these four quadrants. One is for fears, one is for frustrations, another for wants, then finally for aspirations. The ones that are on the right-hand side of the sheet, the wants, and the aspirations, are the things that you’re moving towards or the customer avatars moving towards. The things on the left-hand side of the sheet are things moving away from, the frustrations and the fears. The top half of the sheet is for the immediate, then the bottom half of the sheet is for the imagined or future. You go through and you identify at least a handful of fears, frustrations, wants, and aspirations. You fill up the quadrants with examples that then you can incorporate into the copy that you’re writing. 

From an SEO perspective, you also want to use this to help you identify keywords, problems they want to solve, the solutions they’re looking for, the motivators, and the different prerequisite sorts of issues they’re dealing with. For example, if you’re targeting a new parent, you might want to get them earlier than all your competitors. You might go after keyword like baby names because expectant parents are searching for that, and droves as soon as they find out the sex of their babies. You might preempt all your competition by going after a keyword like that. Doing the four forces exercise can help you identify those sorts of opportunities that are earlier on in the buyer journey. Have you heard about this Four Forces exercise?

I have. I actually went to one of Taki’s live events. Taki’s the man. He’s got some of the best frameworks out there, like what you’re talking about.

He’s awesome. He draws these out with big markers on booking paper. He loves that, like the old school and then he takes a picture of it. He sends it to his team to make it look all fancy.

Yeah, I remember at the end of that conference, there’s just a pile of paper sitting behind them.

He’s cool. I’ve done his yearlong program, Black Belt. It’s really good.

Oh, cool. I’ve heard good things.

If you could impart one last piece of advice that you have not imparted yet, and you want to leave folks with something really powerful, impactful, life-changing, what would you tell them?

It might be a little anticlimactic, but it really is powerful. It’s this whole idea of just being consistent. A very successful mentor told me a while back that making a lot of money is really boring. Have you ever heard someone say that?

No, I haven’t. That’s funny.

I’ve heard a few people say that now. Everyone’s looking for the magic button, everyone’s looking for this shiny object, but most of success is showing up. It’s the old adage. You especially see this with email marketing, which like I said, I’m a big fan of. I survey people and I say, “What’s your biggest struggle with email marketing?” They say, “I’m struggling to be consistent.” When I hear that, alarm bells are going off like, “Holy crap, put everything else on hold. You’re not consistent?” It’s the most important thing. Why are you working on your mini chatbot when you’re not consistent with your email marketing? 

I’m reading James Clear’s Atomic Habits. He really emphasizes that point of just showing up every day and doing the little things. That’s what I’ll leave your listeners with. Just show up every day, track your progress, don’t just track your revenue. Track that you show up, track that you send an email every day. That will be one of the biggest game-changers for you.

Speaking of Atomic Habits, James Clear learned a lot of what he teaches in that book from BJ Fogg. He does give some credit to BJ. Just as kind of a quick mention in the book, but BJ has a brand-new book out called Tiny Habits. Highly recommend, listeners, check out that book. Listen to my interview with BJ on this podcast because there’s some really good stuff in there. 

Just learning, for example, that there is an emotion that up until BJ had not been named. He names it shine, which refers to this feeling of success and accomplishment. That’s a feeling, that’s an emotion. If your app, or your tool, or your online course does not reinforce the user, the student with more and more shine, they’re just going to fall off. They’re going to not complete the course. They’re not going to do your program. They’re going to stop using your app.

Exactly. Now if I can say one more thing on that topic because I love it. I’m a snowboarder and I also ride a longboard as well. I’m trying to learn how to ride a switch, where I have my left foot forward instead of my right foot forward because I’m naturally goofy foot. I’ve been practicing that. I was just practicing it earlier in this parking lot. When I put my left foot forward, it’s ugly. It is not pretty, I’ve fallen a few times. Now I’ve gotten to the point where just earlier today, I was able to take just three or four pumps on my foot pushing with my left foot forward routing switch. I felt such a sense of accomplishment. Even though I was wobbling, and my form was terrible, I looked ridiculous, it didn’t matter, I sensed a forward progress. Now I know the term for it, I had the shine earlier, didn’t I?

Yes, you did. Awesome.

There we go.

Very, very cool. Look for opportunities to create more shine in others and in yourself. Yeah, good stuff. Well, thank you, Billy. Where can folks go to sign up for your newsletter, to work with you, to take your courses and become a client, all that sort of good stuff?

It’s all on my website, billybross.com. You can sign up for the newsletter there. I do email a lot but it’s good stuff, or so I hear.

Sure, I made a sign-up. Thank you, listeners. Now take this and implement. That’s where the rubber meets the road, that’s where you get the ROI. We’ll catch you on the next episode of Marketing Speak. I’m your host Stephan Spencer signing off.


Important Links

Your Checklist of Actions to Take

☑ Cultivate a curious mindset and find something productive to do. There’s so much to do and learn nowadays, especially with online courses that have become popular and accessible.
☑ Take advantage of free online courses. YouTube alone has a wide variety of video content that can teach anything from coding to knitting. There’s a lot of options for certified classes as well. 
☑ Aim to help by teaching and creating my own online course as well. Find a niche that I love and let that become an avenue to expose my creativity and build a community.
☑ Determine what I should invest in for an online course. Spending too much on a website and expensive membership tools/plugins may not be the best strategy. Instead, start small and figure out what works along the way.
☑ Nurture and grow my email list. My leads are the best type of prospects. When someone gives out their email address, they become a contact for life (unless they unsubscribe, of course).
☑ Be consistent with publishing quality content, so my subscribers/students get the best value from their purchase. 
☑ Sell an outcome and not the product. Convince my prospects with solutions and a better way of living. If they can imagine their lives improving with what I’m offering, they will buy what I offer.  
☑ Improve my customer retention by stirring things up in my courses. Offer upgrades, promos, one-on-ones for my clients to feel valued. 
☑ Create a conversation. Get to know my students/customers by asking them for feedback. This way, I have a better understanding of what to offer or provide next.
☑ Check out Billy Bross’ website to learn more about his teachings and services.

About Billy Bross

Billy Bross is an MBA turned online marketing consultant. He specializes in working with online courses and has worked in 40 over different niches, helping his clients enroll more students and grow their revenue.


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