S: Welcome to Episode 104. In today’s episode, we have an incredible guest who’s online courses boast completion rates greater than 70%. He motivates his community to complete his courses through micro commitments and macro commitments. He’s going to share his strategies and secrets for doing this in this episode, also how he productizes his services and how he teaches his community to do the same, his documenting of his various processes, how he builds continuity programs, polling, all that great stuff is going to be in today’s episode. I’m very excited to welcome Troy Dean to Marketing Speak. Troy is the co-founder of Video User Manuals and WP Elevation, an online program and community designed specifically for WordPress consultants, teaching improved workflow, business practices, and client communication. He’s been building WordPress websites for over 10 years and has spoken at wordcamps around the world. The reasons he gets out of bed everyday is because he loves helping WordPress consultants build successful businesses. Welcome to the show, Troy.
T: Thanks for having me. Pleasure to be here.
S: You’re an impressive guy and I have to say that I’ve had a look at what you’ve built with WP Elevation. I signed up for some of your offers there to get a sense for your online training and so forth. It’s impressive stuff. You’re really empowering WordPress freelancers to build a legit business. I actually had the author of The E-Myth on one of the episodes, Michael E. Gerber. He talks about the importance of systems and building something that can sell even if you’re not interested in selling. Because if you haven’t built it as a standalone enterprise, you basically have a job, you’re self employed. You turn people who are self employed into businesses and I think that’s really important.
T: Thanks for the kind words, man. I was actually at one of Michael’s events in San Diego last year.
S: So you did the Dreaming Room?
T: The Dreaming Room, yeah. I think it’s one of those things that freelancers don’t think they need, systems or processes or standard operating procedures. I think if nothing else, the reason I started documenting my process was so that I didn’t have to remember what to do next time a client said x, y, z or a client was dragging their feet with delivering content. What’s the best way to approach that? I was just about trying to put best practices into place in my own business so that I didn’t have to spend so much time thinking about my process on every project. I really had no intention of selling my agency but it ended up running a lot smoother and I ended up being able to bring on contractors and freelancers and outsource parts of the work, whether it was development or project management or even account management because I had some processes that I could follow.
S: That’s so important. I actually started an agency myself back in 1995. I was building websites, first on my own and then I hired a team of people starting as contractors and then I brought on employees and so forth. Four years into it, I tried to sell my business, but I couldn’t because I was inextricably linked to the business. Nobody wanted to buy the business without me. I was moving to New Zealand from the US and I was just trying to divest myself from the business but nobody would buy it. I ended up keeping the business. It was a US based business but I was running it from New Zealand. Thankfully, it worked out. I was able to really focus on SEO and build a team in New Zealand that serves our US clients. And then, I was looking to sell the business a second time around. I had built systems. I had built technology, a whole platform that made it more than just Stephan Spencer Incorporated. It was actually a software as a service type business and not just an agency. Agency is just dollars for hours. You’re trading time for money. I added a technology platform that was scalable. How do you introduce scale into a business that is normally trading time for money?
T: One of the key things that we talk about a lot is productizing your services. Let me give you the obvious sample when it comes to web designers or web developers. You build a website, you hand it over to a client. Three months or six months later, the client comes back to you and says, “Something’s broken because I’ve updated a plugin.” Or “I’ve done something in the backend and I’m not exactly sure what happened.” Their expectation is that you just got to go and fix it because it’s not working as expected. That can be a costly exercise for you as a freelancer and you’ve got to remember how you built the site, remember which theme you used and which plugins you used. You got to go update everything and you did backups. More often than not, two days later, you’re still working on trying to fix this poor lady’s site and you’re not getting paid because their expectation is that it should just work. One of the first things I did when I started out, I realized I came from a bit of a different background where we sold maintenance plans on large enterprise hardware. I thought why don’t we have maintenance plans for websites because a website needs maintaining? It’s repetitive work. You got to back it up. You got to do a security update. You’ve got to make sure all the plugins and softwares are up to date and then there are some other things you got to optimize, the database and get rid of all your spam comments. There are some other things that are quite repetitive tasks. Because they’re repetitive tasks, you can document the process and you can train someone else to do it. We built a part of our business and back then, we called them Website Care Plans, which now is quite a very common term. This was back in 2009. We built Website Care Plans where someone could subscribe to a monthly plan and then one of our team would take care of their website for them. Now, in interest of complete transparency, I never touched those care plans. We had an account manage and a project manager in house that would do most of the care plan work because there wasn’t a lot of dev involved. It was just logging into WordPress. We used a tool back then called ManageWP, which allowed us to manage all of our WordPress websites from one dashboard so that was a very efficient process and the client was essentially paying for peace of mind. That part of the business ran without me and was very profitable. That’s just one example of how you can take an existing service where you would try to hunt for money and turn it into a product.
S: On a similar vein, I had the SEO services consulting that I was able to productize by creating a proxy server based platform. It was a reverse proxy and we’re able to make changes through this middleware layer and then we were able to charge on a cost per click basis, for the SEO traffic. That was a very lucrative platform for us. We were able to earn sometimes up to seven figures a year in click revenue from certain clients. If they had a big enough foot print and revenue stream in their website was pretty broken from an SEO standpoint, we could go in and make a lot of money. I’m big into productizing services. I think that’s really the future. Let’s talk about you’re in the middle of a launch right now. Launches are big business. I think Jeff Walker just finished a launch. He’s doing his product Launch Formula every year and making a big pile of money each time. What’s your launch and how do you scale that up from when you started to where you are now?
T: Let’s just take a step back. You’re right. Launches are very sexy and a lot of people get blinded by the light. It’s like a moth to a flame, to coin a phrase. Everyone gets bedazzled by the possibility of a launch. But here’s the thing I’ve learned about launches over the years. When I say launches, I’m talking specifically about an online course. That’s what most people are sort of interested in launching these days and the idea of having passive income without having to sit in front of clients and do time for many clients work is very appealing to a lot of people. But here’s the thing I’ve learned about launching online courses over the years. I’ve been doing this for about eight years now in some shape or form. You should only introduce technology when you’ve got something that’s already working. There’s a great case study of a girl named Meghan Telpner who used to teach cooking classes in her loft in Canada. She got to the point where she was teaching six nights a week. She couldn’t fit any more people in her loft. She was basically tapped out and she couldn’t help any more people or make any more revenue because she was at capacity. Then, she took her cooking class and turned it into an online course because she wanted to use the internet to leverage what she was already doing and reach more people, have a greater impact, and create more revenue. That’s a great example of when you should do it because you’ve already proven that you’ve got a product that people want. In our case, I was running an agency. We had a little WordPress plugin. People were subscribing to the WordPress plugin. A lot of people were downloading our free ebooks that we were giving away and the free ebook that we still giveaway today is called A Better WordPress for Clients. It’s focused on helping WordPress developers and freelancers make the WordPress dashboard a lot more user friendly for clients so that when you hand over a website to a client, the client doesn’t sit there scratching their head saying, “Holy hell, what’s all this stuff on the dashboard and what do I need to know?” We gave away this ebook which showed them how to clean up the dashboard. We gave them a free plugin as well, which basically does it for them. That’s the top of our funnel. That lead to our paid WordPress plugin, which is a video tutorial plugin, which puts a bunch of video tutorials in your client’s WordPress dashboard. It teaches them how to use WordPress so you don’t have to keep training them how to use it. You can just get on with building the next site. That business was doing pretty well. the problem was I had a lot of people emailing me saying, “Hey, what do you do in this case when a client wants this and how do you write a proposal for this? How do you hire a good project manager? How do you manage cash flow? How do you get content from your clients?” I was answering these questions over and over again on email until I got to the point where I was at a WordPress conference, I’ve been at quite a few of these WordPress conferences and the same conversation was coming up over and over again. There’s not enough business training, there’s not enough systems training around how to run a business as a WordPress freelancer. And so out of sheer frustration, I’ve decided to validate the idea that people that we knew, that were on our email list, and at that stage, we had a list of about 8,500. The hypothesis was that they would pay us for business coaching. It was definitely something that I was at the stage. I was studying online marketing and digital product creation with Brendon Burchard, Frank Kern, Jeff Walker, and Ryan Darson. I was basically consuming whatever content I could’ve at this whole new world that was opening up for me. And so, I validated the idea. We read The Lean Startup. We read Running Lean by Ash Maurya. We’ve had some coaching from Ash and he basically prompted us to validate the idea before we built anything. We ran a webinar and we sold tickets to that webinar. It did really well. We did, I think, $11,500 in 48 hours, which proved we had 84 people buy a ticket to that webinar, which proved that people that we can reach will pay us for business coaching, so idea validated, big green tick. What do we do then? We ask them what they wanted next. They told us, we had conversations with them, we surveyed them, they told us, I can go into more detail around that if you like, but they told us point blank we want you to build a membership website and we want you to teach us how to run our agencies and our freelance businesses. That’s what we did. Here we are four and a half years later, we’re about to launch our seventh intake for students. The way that we scaled it is instead of me coaching you one on one over the phone as to how to run your WordPress business, I’ve basically taken that information out of my head, made videos, made instructional videos, put together a whole bunch of templates that people download and we have that up in a course website and people enrol. They go through the program. They drop into the membership continuity program. They’re part of a community. They get the help and the support they need. It’s a beautiful thing. Now, during launch mode, what we basically do now is we optimize the user experience to try and maximize our results during the launch. But once people are in the program, most of the heavy lifting is done. We’re not trading time for money anymore. We’re now actually delivering o ur product to our students via the technology available to us on the web.
S: Sounds awesome. Your launches are different from the traditional launches of Jeff Walker and so forth because this really is more like a school or a university or something.
T: It’s funny you mentioned that because the Jeff Walker playbook, The Product Launch Formula Playbook is what we used to warm up the marketplace before we open the cart. We just used slightly different languaging. A part of that is a cultural thing, I think. Part of it is because we’re in Australia, opencart doesn’t really mean anything in Australia. Having said that, the bulk of our audience are in the US, bulk of our customers are in the US but part of it is a cultural thing that Australians have a fairly sophisticated bullshit radar. We have to be fairly authentic in the way that we market. I’m not saying that what Jeff Walker teaches isn’t authentic but we’ve adapted, and I’ve been for a product launch formula and I’ve completely drunk the kool-aid and it’s a fantastic model and it works. I’m here hand on heart, I’m a video testimonial of Jeff so I’m a big fan. But we had to adapt that for our market. A couple of reasons, one, our audience are very savvy. They are primarily digital marketers so they know this stuff inside out. They’ll call it when they see it. If you’re not doing a great job, they’ll leave lots of comments on your Facebook ads and on your blog posts and they’ll tell you that you’re not doing a great job and they’re pretty brutal about it. We’ve had to really up our game. But we’ve also had to tweak some of the languaging. We do treat it as an online college or an online university and it’s a course. It’s not just a membership website with protected content. You log in, there’s a community in there. There are mentors and coaches that hold your hand every step of the way and get you through the six week course and get you to unlock your badges and get you to unlock your certificate and print your certificate out and share a photo of you and your certificate on our Facebook group. We’ve been really deliberate about building great community, not just having protected content that we sell access to. Part of that was because I was so disappointed every time I buy a course online. I’d log in and I’d feel like I was the only person that had bought that course and I didn’t have any classmates. And then the Facebook group thing started to spring out and everyone was selling protected content with the Facebook group and course completion rates were just so low. I’m off on a rant here but I knew that the more students we would get through our course, to actually complete the course, the more they would tell their friends about it and it would actually help us bring our cost per acquisition down and would be good for our reputation. Our course completion rates at the moment are about 70% of students enrolled in our course actually complete it and get their certificate, which is unheard of when it comes to online courses and that’s because we know that when someone enrols in our course, that’s when our job starts. That’s not when we go sit on the beach and drink cocktails.
S: That is an amazing percentage. That’s probably record setting. This is for a six-week course or is it a year-long program?
T: It’s a six-week course and then after the six weeks, you drop into a membership program so you’re a part of the community. Basically, you buy the course upfront. It’s $15. You buy the course up front. At this stage, you get 12 months access to the community membership as well that will change in the future, that will come down to probably six or three months. And then after that initial 12 month period, your membership renews automatically at $97 a month, which is optional. We have about a 50% retention rate. If we have 200 people join the course in October, then next October, about 100 of those will choose to stay in the program and continue to pay us $97 a month to be a part of the community because of the relationships that they’ve built in the community and the new content that we continue to deliver. We produce new trainings every month. We have challenges in the Facebook group. We produce new webinars and coaching course every month. We have five coaches and half a dozen mentors in the community, adding value, helping people, and coaching people. It’s not a sit and forget thing. It’s an ongoing mastermind group.
S: That is so, so cool. I think that your completion rate has gone up. It was I think 61%.
T: That’s right.
S: You continue to break your own records, like Michael Phelps or whatever. Just competing against himself.
T: Yeah, that’s right. It’s something we hang our head on. Also, I guess it comes down to your intention. My intention is to actually change people’s lives, not just put up some protective content and make some passive income. When I fly to the States and I speak at a conference and after the conference, I want to say this humbly, people are wanting to come and meet me and thank me for the impact that I and my team have had on their lives and the fact that they’ve quit their job and they’re working from home with their wife full time and they’re spending more time with their family and they’re going on road trips and they’re working from their laptop and they’re location independent, I’ve had people in tears hugging me at conferences because of the impact that our program has had on their life. That is worth more than any amount of money you could put in my bank account. That doesn’t happen if you just put up some protective content and say, “Hey, thanks for the $2,000. Here’s the course and good luck. If you run into anything, ask my VA a question in the Facebook group and they might be able to help you.” That’s just not the game that we’re playing.
S: But that’s the game everybody else is playing.
T: That’s okay. I’m happy for everyone else to be playing that game. I’ve never played the game that everyone else is playing so I’m happy for everyone else to be playing that game and maybe that’s working for them, maybe I’m the fool that’s working too hard for the money and everyone else is just sipping tea on the beach. Maybe I’m missing out.
S: No, I think you’re onto something. Let’s actually talk about micro commitments versus macro commitments. I think that’s a crucial part of your success.
T: Yeah, definitely. Just to put a book end on the Jeff Walker thing, we were a membership website first. Let me just come back to micro commitments in a second. We were a membership website first for a couple of years and then we actually shut down. We closed the doors to new members and we re-launched as a six-week course and we followed the Jeff Walker formula and it completely transformed our business. It doubled our customer base literally overnight. The reason it works is because you get to basically teach your face off and add massive value to your marketplace in the prelaunch content before you open the doors. So even if people don’t buy, I know people in our program now that are like, “I’ve been through your launch three times. The timing just wasn’t right. But now, I’m so glad I’m in your program. But I’ve learned so much watching those three videos. It’s ridiculous.” The Product Launch Formula model absolutely works. We’ve just kind of taken it to another level by having it basically tack onto a membership program and not just be an online course. There are lots to learn from that and it is a fabulous model. One of the hardest things at the moment online is actually getting attention. If people are engaged with your content in any way, shape, or form—I was listening to a podcast this morning, I was listening to Amy Porterfield’s podcast this morning. She was talking about how one of her students had some great results because they were personally answering questions during the launch and overcoming objections and answering questions on the Facebook communities and answering questions on the support tickets. They were doing it themselves. They weren’t farming it out to their VA or their team. It blew me away because I was like that’s just called customer service. Good on them. I’m glad they did that. I’m glad they rolled their sleeves up and did the work and I’m glad they’ve got the results. But it doesn’t sound outstanding to me. That just sounds like a given. That’s kind of what you need to do as a minimum standard if you’re online and you’re selling a product. You need to answer your customer’s questions and have a relationship with them, that’ll go a long way to building trust. Back to micro commitments, if people are engaging in your content, they’re clicking on your link, they’re watching your videos, they’re leaving comments, they are making a micro commitment that they’re interested in what it is that you’re saying. They’re interested in taking this conversation further. If you just ignore them, then you’re doing yourself a huge disservice and you’re going to leave a bad taste in their mouth. We’ve optimized not only our pre launch model but we’ve actually optimized our product for micro commitment. I’ll give you one example. I think this goes towards our completion rates. One example is when you first log into our course, our program, the very first thing you see is a wizard, an onboarding wizard. The onboarding wizard asks you a series of questions. Your name, social media profiles, confirm your email address. Have we got these details right? Is this your avatar that we pulled in from Gravatar? If not, here’s a little instructional video on how to change your Gravatar so that you’re happy with your profile picture. What’s your skillset? We’ll give you a series of checkboxes that you can tick to self identify and say, “Hey, I’m good at copywriting. I’m good at SEO. I’m not very good at front end dev or I’m not a great programmer.” And then we set you up in the system with that information and then we match you with an accountability partner based on your geographic location, where you’re at in your business and your skillset that we think might complement. Straight away, we’re not saying, “Hey, here’s a bunch of protected content. Go help yourself.” We’re actually having a conversation. We’re asking you to stay engaged and it’s a two way thing. If someone fills in their profile, then they’re more likely to start the first lesson. If they complete the first lesson, we have little in app pop ups that congratulate them and little memes that happen and little funny animated GIFS that congratulate them. When they complete each module, a little badge unlocks and then there’s a leaderboard that shows how you’re going against your classmates. Then at the end of the course, when you’ve completed all six modules and finish the exam, we unlock your certificate and whoever is on top of the leaderboard at the end of the six weeks wins a complimentary coaching course with myself. And so we’re asking you to constantly make little commitments every single day to yourself and to re-affirm that you’ve made an investment in your business, not to get to week five and abandon ship and abort mission and then it just becomes another one of those courses that you never completed.
S: Yeah. The macro commitments, where do those fit in?
T: One of the things that we have is a course called the WP Elevation Blueprint. One of the things we have in the program is a blueprint accountability checklist. We make it very clear right from the start that your job is to finish the course. Obviously, you can’t implement all the homework up front because as I said in my students, this is a two year process. If you really want to get your business right, it’s going to take you two years to transform your business, primarily because it’s going to take you two years to transform your own mindset. That can’t be done overnight. Your business is an extension of your own mindset so it’s a two year play. Your job is to get through the six weeks, complete all the quizzes, get your certificate, and then work with your accountability partner over the next 12 to 18 months and tick off that checklist that we’ve got in the back end of the website, which is our accountability checklist. Because if you put a tick, we actually have a series of checkboxes. Once you’ve implemented the homework from module one, lesson one, then you go tick it off and you get a nice big green tick and a progress bar so you can see how you’re going. I can tell you there’s no student in our program that has ticked off every single checklist because if they have, then they probably would become a coach or a mentor or we’ll hire them because their business is running so well. That’s the big macro commitment. That’s the big carrot that we dangle, is hey, it’s a two year play to get this stuff ticked off. Once you’ve got this checklist filled in, your business is going to be in really good shape. It’ll be running without you. It’ll be profitable and as I said, there are very few people that actually get there because it’s hard work. Doing what we do is tough, man. It’s much easier to go get a job.
S: Although if you’re wired like I am, you couldn’t possibly work for somebody else.
T: No. Exactly.
S: What are you using to run all this technology as far as the learning management system, awarding, the badges, the certificates, are you using LearnDash or are you using something else?
T: It’s all built on WordPress. That’s the base of our technology stack. We use LearnDash as our learning management system. Our good friend Justin Ferriman at Michigan does an amazing job on that product. It integrates with a solution out of Chicago by a bunch of guys at a company called BuddyBoss. They’ve got a product called Social Learner for LearnDash. A couple of moving parts here. BuddyPress is basically a social networking plugin for WordPress. It kind of turns WordPress into a miniature version of Facebook. You can friend people, it’s got a wall. You can set up little groups. You can message people. Buddy Boss have built this solution, which is essentially a theme and a series of plugins that they call a solution when it hangs together. What it does is it integrates LearnDash with BuddyPress. What that means from a student’s point of view is when your colleague Paul unlocks the positioning badge because he’s completed module two, then you see that come up on the wall when you log in to the member’s website, it’ll say, “Hey, Paul has unlocked the positioning badge.” There’s a little bit of competition there. You can say, “Well, I want to unlock my positioning badge because I don’t want to feel left out.” It kind of attempts to emulate the social experience from the Facebook group in the member’s website. We used LearnDash for the LMS. We used Social Learner for LearnDash as the actual solution that holds it all together. BuddyPress for the social aspect within the member’s website. We used BadgeOS, which is a great WordPress plugin that allows you to issue digital badges which are compatible with Credly, which is a digital badge sharing platform. BadgeOS is played and written by my good friends at WebDevStudios. That’s a free plugin. It’s got a couple of paid add ons. They’re the main sort of components for the member’s website. And then we use Infusionsoft as our CRM and shopping cart. And we use Memberium to hold it all together. Memberium is basically an API connector, although Micah would probably kill me for simplifying it. But it’s basically an API connector that synchronizes Infusionsoft and WordPress. We use Intercom as well for customer support and in-app messaging. Let me give you an example of what happens. You login. You finish your first lesson, what happens is a tag is then applied in LearnDash so LearnDash says, “Oh, look, Stephan has finished module one, lesson one. Excellent.” Talk to Memberium and says, “Memberium, go push this tag into Infusionsoft.” Infusionsoft gets the tag and then Infusionsoft sends you an email and says, “Hey Stephan, congratulations on finishing module one, lesson one. You’re a hero. Now, it’s time to move onto lesson two. Remember, module two will be released in a few days. Make sure you get through the homework in time,” blah, blah, blah. That tag is also then pushed into Intercom so when you log back to the member’s website, a little pop up appears that says, “Hey Stephan, congratulations on completing module one. We see you’ve unlocked your incoming badge. You’re now a master lead generator. Move on to module two.” There are all these different touch points. We want to make sure that we capture you when you’re in the member’s website. We want to make sure that we capture you on email. We also push SMSs out to you using our Twilio account and using Infusionsoft and PlusThis, which is another extension for Infusionsoft. We make sure that you get on the coaching calls, we make sure that if you don’t read your emails, you’re still going to see it in the Facebook group, you’re still going to get an SMS, you can opt out of SMSs and just get the emails. I infamously said at a conference once, we want to make sure we touch our customers where they want to be touched. That was a very unfortunate way of saying that we use whatever mode of communication you prefer. We’re experimenting with Facebook Messenger moving forward because we know that the engagement and open and click rates on Facebook Messenger fly higher than anything on the planet because it’s ubiquitous, it’s there, it’s familiar and the constant notifications are there. We do whatever we can to keep you engaged in the program. I think that answered the question.
S: That’s a very complete answer. I’m curious with Messenger. Are you using a messenger bot like ManyChat?
T: Yeah. We are experimenting at the moment with ManyChat and we will be rolling out ManyChat in the future for Facebook Ads and also experimenting with using Facebook Messenger to keep our members engaged as well. One of the other things that we’ve actually had built that we haven’t used yet because it’s kind of on the someday maybe list, but one of the things that we do want to roll out is a desktop app. We have a lot of documentation in our program that gets updated. For example, we have a proposal template and then we have proposal templates for SEO and for digital marketing and for social media. We had someone recently say, “Hey, has anyone got a proposal template for a complete marketing funnel?” One of our coaches put one together and we shared it in our Facebook group. It’s in our resources page but what I want to do is I want to be able to push that straight through to a desktop app, kind of like a Google Drive or a Dropbox app that sits in your toolbar and a little notification pops up that says, “Hey, WP Elevation have just added a new proposal template to the system for marketing funnels. Click here to sync it to your hard drive or click here to download it.” While you’re working away, you’re getting little notifications letting you know every few days that more resources are being added to the blueprint and that there’s more value and more content and more things being updated. Again, just a way of continually trying to add value to our customers and let them know that this is a great program to be a part of and that they’ll continue to benefit if they stay in the program.
S: Wow. That is amazing and it just makes me think of having tentacles and the different ways into their business. So many tentacles. Even a desktop app, that’s impressive. I haven’t heard of very many marketers that are using desktop apps like that.
T: The reason that occurred to me is because I went looking for a resource once in our member’s website and I’m like, “Ugh! This is a disaster. Why can’t I just go to my Google Drive icon at the top and just click on the template that I want to open up?” I had a minimum viable product built on Upwork for $700. All it really is it just syncs with an Amazon S3 Bucket and it’s a one way push so whatever we put into that particular Amazon S3 Bucket just gets pushed in a little desktop icon with a little notification. We’re experimenting with that at the moment and we’ll definitely build that out at some point.
S: Wow. So cool. I got to ask this. Why do you create a community inside of your membership site using BuddyPress and Social Learner when there’s Facebook groups and it sounds like you’re also using Facebook groups? Aren’t you doubling up on this, reinventing the wheel?
T: It’s a good question. First of all, believe it or not, there are some people that don’t use Facebook. Just to be clear, with BuddyPress, we don’t use all of the functionality. We’ve actually turned some of the functionality off. We used to have a forum in our member’s website as well as the Facebook group. We shut down the forum because no one was using it. We left all the content there for archival purposes and people can still search and go and have a look at what was happening three years ago but you can’t post in our forum anymore. We’ve turned it off for new posting. We’ve also turned off the ability to make friends with people in the member’s website and send them direct messages because that’s what Facebook is for. The reason that we use BuddyPress in the backend is really for the wall and for the leader board and for the social competition so that you can see what your classmates are up to. You can see where they’re up to in the course and which badges they’re unlocking and you’d be amazed when people log into the member’s website, the first thing they see and here’s just another little micro tweak if you like a little optimization. Out of the box, BuddyPress, BuddyBoss Social Learner for LearnDash, when you install the Facebook style wall, out of the box, the question at the top of the wall is what’s your status update or something like that. I logged in and I went, “Huh? No one’s going to fill that in. I’m not going to fill that in. Who’s going to fill that in?” We’ve changed it to what do you want to achieve today? Instantly, the interaction in the member’s website on that wall is just off the charts. People are like, “Well, I want to get this done today and I want to get my first $5,000 proposal approved and I want to hire a team member and I want to complete this course and do this lesson.” Straightaway, there’s a little bit of motivation and inspiration and competition in there. That’s just one little example of how we constantly look at the customer experience to tweak it. The other thing is that we realize that the value in our program is not just a Facebook group so we’re constantly wanting to drive people back into the member’s website because that’s where all the resources are. The way the two hang together is what we’re rolling out now is we’ll be rolling out either a 21-day or a 30-day challenge. It’ll probably be a 21-day challenge. We’ll do that once a month. We’ll run the challenge in the Facebook group so we’ll let everyone know, “Hey, we’re running a challenge. All the conversation will happen on the Facebook group but guess what? The training videos that support this challenge will all be in the member’s website so we want you to go and log into the member’s website. We want you to do the training in the member’s website because that’s where you unlock your badges. That’s where you get your certificates. That’s where we can track, using Intercom, who’s engaged. That’s where we can segment, using Intercom, who’s engaged and what kind of content. And that’s where we can really get an idea of okay, what should we be doing moving forward based on the most engaging type of content? We use Grytics, which is an analytics tool for Facebook group but you just can’t get the same kind of analytical data out of a Facebook group as you can in a membership website built on WordPress. We look at the way people use the member’s website and say, “Alright, this is the type of content that we should be producing moving forward.” We’re highly aware of the fact that the Facebook group is there and it should be good as people use it everyday, multiple times a day. That’s where the conversations are but the actual training and the IP and the documentation and all the process charts that we deliver are in the member’s website.
S: Okay. Wow. That sounds like a really sophisticated system and you must have been tweaking this for years. You said this is your seventh intake, so you’ve been into it for seven years?
T: No. We do three intakes a year and that will change next year. I think that we’ll probably go up to four intakes next year. We started WP Elevation in June 2013 and as I said, it was just a membership website to begin with. It was evergreen. You can join whenever you wanted to. And then we turned it into a six-week course in September 2015. This will be our seventh intake since September 2015 in its current format.
S: Got it. Let’s talk a bit about this 21 day challenge. I’m very intrigued by this. I just launched a five-day challenge in the summer. I’m working on making it evergreen now so you can sign up and just start the next Monday. I’m filling that with people from Facebook using Facebook Ads and I’m also doing some other promotions, email campaigns and so forth. I do that before they become members. My sales strategy is delivering them some results in advance like Frank Kern likes to say and then they will hopefully sign up for my membership site as well as my courses and so forth. The next step after taking the five day challenge is to attend my webinar, the following week. How does your 21-day challenge fill along that sort of paradigm? Is it drastically different from that or is it pretty similar or just a different time period? How does that work?
T: The five-day challenges are a great idea for lead gen and for positioning and warming up your audience and getting them engaged in your content and getting them to see who is an authority, keeping them accountable, giving them some structure and then they’re like, “This is really good. If this guy is giving this away for free, imagine how cool the paid stuff is going to be.” What we’re looking at is a 21-day challenge, which is for our existing members and as our existing members who have completed the blueprint course and are now looking to achieve the next milestone in their business. One example is one of our coaches, Simon, recently started a challenge in the Facebook group, which was a newsletter challenge. He’s like, and we know that we get leads and we get jobs just from putting out a weekly newsletter to educate our marketplace but it’s one of those things that is on the someday, maybe list and people don’t get around to it. It’s almost like, “You know what, I’ve been meaning to do this for a long time. I’m going to just do it publicly in the Facebook group and I’m going to challenge you guys to join in. Here’s my process. Here’s how I’m going to do it. Here’s how I’m going to train my team. This is what I’m expecting and I’m just going to share everything in the Facebook group.” That was really the start of the challenges in the Facebook group. So now, we’re looking at rolling out a 21-day challenge each month and we think it’s good to give everyone a week off. At least, one week off a month. We run a 21-day challenge each month and it’ll be around a particular topic. We poll the Facebook group. They tell us what they want to be challenged on and it’s not learning, it’s not instruction, it’s actually accountability and implementation so we’ll put some training videos in the member’s website. We’ll say, “Your challenge this month might be to run your first training webinar because we know training webinars are a great way for you to teach, position yourself as authority, and pick up leads.” For those of you who have never run a webinar before, the 21-day challenge this month is you’re actually going to run your very first webinar. Let’s start from the start. All the training videos that you need to follow this process are in the member’s website but let’s actually post your results in the Facebook group and keep everyone accountable. It’s a different beast because it’s training and implementation and accountability for our existing members and it’s a retention strategy as well. It’s part of continuing to add value to our members so that they know this is why I’m paying my $97 a month, because these people are actually helping me move the needle.
S: Are you also incentivizing these people for doing different actions throughout the 21 days?
T: That’s a good question, actually. It’s a nut that we’re trying to crack at the moment. We have a leader board in our website, in the member’s website. The leader board has been a little bit of a beast up until now because during the six weeks of the actual blueprint course, it’s very easy. You get points for taking actions in the member’s website, completing lessons, completing modules, answering quizzes. You also get points for being active in the Facebook group and helping out in answering questions. Some of it is subjective and some of it is our team just logging in and saying, “Hey, I think this person deserves another 5,000 points because they’ve been really helpful.” The leader board moving forward will be based on not your activity but it will be based on how much you’ve elevated, which is a term that we use, how much you’ve elevated during that month. For example, you could’ve been in our program for three years but you’re not doing anything right. You’re just stagnant. You’re just a bit of a pedestrian and you’re just watching from the sidelines. Well, you’re not going to score any points this month because you’re not actually engaged. Whereas if you’ve really got motivated and you’ve completed the challenge in the Facebook group and you’ve ticked off something in the accountability checklist in the member’s website and you’ve been super helpful, then you will get some points that month and so the leader board is going to change. It’s kind of like the most improved player. That leader board will show, “Hey, he’s Dan, he’s on top of the leaderboard this month not because he has the most points but because he’s earned the most points this month. He’s been the fastest moving elevated this month and that’s why he’s on top of the leader board. It’s not just based on sheer volume of points.
S: That makes a lot of sense and that reminds me of Taki Moore’s Black belt Program. Do you know Taki?
T: Yeah, I do.
S: He’s based in Australia too. I was in his Black Belt Program for a while. I didn’t actually earn any belts for a while because I was doing what you were just describing, sitting along the sidelines and not doing all the work. I was learning stuff, absorbing and not really progressing things and then I started making a bunch of progress and I started getting belts. I think you’re onto something there. A belt, I could just order off Amazon, but I really felt like I had accomplished something when I got a belt. I’ve never taken martial arts so I don’t know what quite that’s like to receive a real belt but it’s an important distinction because you want to engage people and make them feel like they’re accomplishing something meaningful and not just going through motions and doing busy work.
T: We try and gamify it as much as we can. I think people expect that kind of experience these days. I blame Uber and eBay really for this. eBay started out by allowing you to give your buyer and your seller a review and a star rating and that was just a way of keeping the marketplace honest. And then Uber came out with this amazing app where you can literally walk out your house and dial up a black car and watch it drive around the back street and then turn up in front of your house and that whole gamification experience we’ve tried to build into our products so that people can actually see the progress they’re making through the program and they get rewarded every now and then. I don’t know if you’ve ever used Asana as a project management tool but these days, you tick something off in Asana, there are rainbows and unicorns that fly across the screen to congratulate you and there’s little characters that pop up on Trello Board style cards and they’re gamifying the whole experience and that’s just to keep us engaged. It’s sad that we have to do that to keep people motivated and engaged but we try and make it as fun as possible.
S: Yeah. It’s like junk food. Give them Twinkies or something. I actually switched from Trello to Asana on multiple people’s recommendations. Were you using Trello before?
T: I’ve used them all. I have a love-hate relationship with all of them. I think the idea is just to pick one and to stick with it. I like Asana. I use the Asana boards now and I’m using custom fields a bit with Asana so we’re a paid Asana customer. Custom fields are good. Their board style, Kanban board style outlay layout in Asana is good. Again, it’s not perfect. There are things I’d change about it but it is what it is. I think it’s a really good product, Asana. None of them are perfect. I do like Trello but our whole business is based around Asana these days.
S: Yeah, I like the Kanban style boards and that was something I really wanted to keep in Asana when we switched to it from Trello. We invested and we’re a paying customer with Asana so that we could get all those features, the custom tag and all that that you’re describing. It’s so critical getting the right systems in place. It really hampers your growth if you don’t have the right tools.
T: We went down a major rabbit hole earlier this year with trying to automate our systems and we went too far and we ended up breathing data entry robots in our business and we took the creativity away from people. We’ve simplified our processes now. We’ve pulled a lot of the automation out and we are just going back to managing tasks in Asana, having a documentation in Google Docs and our instant communication in Slack. But even trying to get communication tasks, specific communication out of Slack and getting that into Asana is tricky. Slack is a bit of a distraction. I like Slack but it’s a bit of a hindrance. It’s a bit of a distraction. It’s like constantly there and constantly annoying you, even with the notifications turned off. I think it’s FOMO. You want to make sure you’re not missing out any conversations so we’re just still trying to refine that process, trying to simplify the tools we use and just try to make sure the systems are robust but that you don’t systemize out all of creativity from your human resources.
S: It’s very true. I’m curious, are you using checklists to build processes, systemizing people’s behaviours because you’re taking automation out in some cases and then people tend to get fast and loose if there aren’t real processes in place and checklists.
T: The checklists are in Asana and the documentation is in Google Docs. For example, our podcast, if you’re producing an episode of our podcast, there are some final checks that you need to do before you hit publish. In Asana, it would be have you done the final SEO check? And you tick that off. If you’re not sure, then you would click a link that would take you to Google Docs that actually walks you through how to do that final SEO checklist before you tick it off.
S: Okay. So you’re not using anything like Way We Do or Process Street to manage a checklist?
T: It’s funny you mentioned that. We were using Process Street. I’m not Familiar with Way We Do and we went down a deep, deep rabbit hole with Process Street and Zapier and Asana. Someone would complete a task, they would tick it off in Process Street. It would trigger all kind of zaps and then it would create new checklists in Process Street and it got to the point where we were relying too much on the technology and people were accountable. And so, if something didn’t happen, people would say, “Oh well, the system broke and Zapier didn’t work.” Or “Process Street didn’t trigger.” Or “Something didn’t happen.” I took some time off to have a baby. My wife and I, our first baby. When I came back to the business, people were pretty stressed out and everyone was pointing at the technology going, “This isn’t working. This isn’t working.” It seemed like now that there are 12 people in the business, it seemed like it was taking us longer to produce an episode of a podcast than when it was just me and my assistant and we were doing it all ourselves. I said, “Hang on, why is this so complicated?” I stripped all the automation out and just went back to basics. We’re still not there yet. It’s still not 100% perfect but I’m weary that when you’re a team of 12, I really wanted to go down the hole BPM, Business Process Mapping with live objects and having people filling forms and having that populate other bits of software and I thought, if we were a team of 50 and we had coaches all over the world who needed to create their own coaching call and we needed to pull that data dynamically into Zoom to create the call and then populate a series of emails and Infusionsoft then send out to our members. If we had to do that all automatically for a bunch of coaches around the world on a franchise system for example, then it would make sense. But there are four coaches that run coaching calls and we’re a team of 12 and it just felt like it was a little bit of overkill for what we were trying to do. Again, it kind of took the human accountability out of it that people would just blame the technology if something went wrong. And things were going wrong, things were getting missed. Zaps were breaking and Process Street, I just didn’t feel like it’s quite where it needs to be yet. They’re iterating and they continue to build out that product but we just stripped everything back and I wanted to minimize the number of tools I need to log in to on a daily basis so we just went back to Asana and Google Docs. But I’m happy to be schooled, Stephan, if you’ve got some ideas.
S: Well, you might want to check out Way We Do. They are based in Australia so they’re good to use.
T: I would definitely look them up.
S: They’re a competitor to Process Street and they think they’re better so get them to tell you why.
T: Cool. I will do it. Thanks for the tip.
S: Yeah. Back to the 21-day challenge for a minute. You said that you’re using polling as a way to get your members to tell you a bit about where they want to go and what are their biggest issues that they want to solve through challenges. What sort of software or system are you using for polling?
T: We just use a poll in the Facebook group. We just literally poll them in the Facebook group and say, “Hey, we’re going to run a 21-day challenge next month. What do you want to be challenged on? Here are some options or you can feel free to add your own ideas.” That’s where we poll our members. It’s pretty straightforward. We can also give them in app messages in the member’s website using Intercom. When we poll our database, which we do as part of our Jeff Walker Product Launch Formula style launch, part of our pre pre-launch content is a survey. We use SurveyMonkey and we have that plugged into Infusionsoft and Slack by Zapier. What we do is we send an email to our list saying, “Hey, we’re about to put the finishing touches on the latest version of our course. What are the absolute two things that it has to cover for it to be the absolute best course possible on this topic? Go, fill in the survey here.” They fill in the survey. They just answer two questions. And at the end of this survey, we say, “Hey, we’re about to open. Are you interested in getting in on the early bird list?” And if they fill that in with their name and email, they get pushed into Infusionsoft and tagged so that we have got them there for early bird emails. They also get pushed into Facebook as a custom audience for our Facebook Ads people so that we can retarget them because we know they’re warm leads. Their survey responses gets pushed into Slack so that the whole team in the business can see what people are saying about what they want to learn from our product so everyone is really aware of what our customer’s pain points are.
S: Wow. You have such an amazing, sophisticated system. Are you using ASK Method for formulating your questions?
T: Not yet but once we get through this launch, one of the things in our to do list is to roll out Buckets.io, which is Ryan’s new survey software around the ASK Method. We have tried it a little bit in the past. I just don’t think we’ve got the conversation right. I just don’t think we’ve actually quite nailed the message. Were doing a little bit of work with our branding agency at the moment on the messaging and what would our core message is and we think what our core message is is that our value proposition is that we help WordPress freelancers grow up into WordPress consultants and in fact, the consultant is the most valuable person in the whole web design ecosystem. They’re the kind of person that sits between the custom and the technology. We’re still refining that message and once we’ve refined that message a bit, then I think we’ll have a bit more confidence to roll out the ASK Method according to Mr. Levesque. Because I think if you get it wrong, you can end up looking a bit stupid and I think we may have done that a little bit in the past.
S: I don’t think you look stupid. Just a guess. I don’t have all the information but yeah, I can imagine that. It occurs to me that your system and all the sophistication you’ve built into this is potentially clone-able and repurpose-able to other kinds of verticals. Let’s say instead of WordPress developers and consultants, it was SEO consultants.
T: Yup. It’s funny you mentioned that. If only there were more hours in the day, Stephan. The reality is 95% of what we teach has got nothing to do with WordPress. The reason that our business is called WP Elevation and the reason that we teach WordPress freelancers to grow up to be WordPress consultants, I mean that with all respect, is that because that’s our background. That’s where we come from. It’s a niche and it’s really easy for us to find WordPress consultants. We know where they are. We know the blogs they visit. We know the Facebook groups they hang out in. I understand them. I understand their pain points. I understand their languaging because I am one of them. I know which conferences they attend. I know which podcast they go on. I know where to put my sponsorship dollars. It’s very easy to find them. We could license what we’ve done and call it GDElevation and sell it to graphic designers or call it SEO and sell it to SEO agencies. The problem is that with this kind of business, you need to be seen as an authority. If I could plug into someone who is in authority in the SEO world, then we could literally take what we’ve got in our business and we could license it and we could structure some kind of deal. The problem is you’ve got to find someone who is prepared to put their flag in the sand. And this is a mindset thing. I can tell you 100%, this is why the business that we have has worked, is because in 2013, in the beginning of 2013, I went to my business partner and I said I was mentored at the time by a guy named Ed Dale, who is an Australian internet marketer, who is mentoring me at the time. He said to me, “It’s really simple. If you want to succeed, you’ve got to become the top 20 influencer. If you become a top 20 influencer, everything takes care of itself, everything else happens, the money comes, the success comes, everything else happens.” I went to my business partner and I said, “I have no idea how we’re going to monetize this but I’m going to spend the next two years of my life becoming the most helpful person on the planet to help WordPress consultants grow their business. I don’t know how to make money out of it but we’ll figure that out later.” But that’s what I’m going to do because I’ve been trying for years up until then to make money online and to do this internet marketing thing. I’d failed dismally because my intention was all wrong. I tried affiliate marketing. I’ve tried to be a social guru. I’ve tried Warrior Zoo, JV Forum stuff and it all failed because my intention was wrong. As soon as I fixed my intention and said, “I don’t care if we don’t make money out of this right now. I just want to become super helpful.” And so I put on the bottom of my email signature, “Call me if you want some help. Seriously, call me and here’s my phone number.” I would get people call me. Paul from Idaho would call me and say, “Hey dude, I’m working out of my second bedroom and I’m trying to grow this business as a WordPress freelancer and I need some help.” I’d be helping him. He’d be like, “Why are you helping me? I don’t understand why you’re doing this for free.” I’m like, “Because I want you to send a tweet after this call and tell people how helpful I was.” That’s how I grew my authority. That’s how I grew my positioning. This is not the kind of business that you can pick up and plug in and hit play and go sit on the beach. You got to be prepared to get scrappy and become the most helpful person on the planet to help SEO agencies really grow. If I can’t find people like that to partner with, then it’s not going to work.
S: Wow. That’s very inspiring for one thing and it really aligns well with my philosophy of intentionality. In fact, listeners, there’s a great episode on my other podcast, on The Optimized Geek, all about intentionality. It’s with Ephraim Olschewski. This guy charges $100,000 a year to work with him for an hour a week as a coach, personally. If you want your company to work with him, it’s seven figures a year. I think it’s worth it. He’s amazing. Intention is everything and if you don’t have a more powerful intention, you’re just not going to get the outcome. Just elevate your intention if you want to elevate your business. Love it.
S: How would folks work with you if they wanted to elevate their business and they’re in a space that is close enough that they would get value from working with your program doing the WP Elevation intake and being part of the community, or can people work with you in a coaching arrangement?
T: Sure. The best way if you’re in the WordPress consulting space and you’re building websites for clients using WordPress, wpelevation.com is the place to go there. If you want to just reach out and say hi to me, troydean.com.au because I’m in Australia. troydean.com.au is the place to reach out there or on Twitter @troydean. You can also follow me on Facebook and LinkedIn @troydean is how to get in touch with me and yeah, I love hearing from people so I’m fairly responsive when the sheer volume doesn’t overwhelm me.
S: As it does for everybody, I think.
T: That’s right. It does sometimes.
S: Cool. Thank you so much, Troy. This was awesome. I love geeking out like this. All the different resources that we talked about, everything from Buckets.io to ManageWP to Way We Do and SurveyMonkey and all of that is going to go onto the show notes over at marketingspeak.com. Just have a powerful intention.
S: We’ll catch you on the next episode of Marketing Speak.