Disclaimer: I usually review other people’s courses in this space, but this post contains a link to my own course on Udemy.
Updated Feb 27, 2017
I don’t exactly remember what caused me to decide that I wanted to launch my own course. Perhaps the thought has always been there in the back of my mind, while working on reviewing courses for Coursemania. In that time, I’ve taken dozens (and dozens) of courses, written about many of them here, and have NOT written about many of them as well. (As a rule, I don’t generally write about courses I felt were not worth the time to check out.)
Somewhere along that path, I came to the decision that I could create a course too. In my 20+ years of being in the technology field professionally, I have learned a lot, and it’s having that strong background that gives me confidence that I could teach something. But what would I teach?
The Thunderbolt Moments
As I got more involved in the Udemy community, and interacted with hundreds of instructors all along the various parts of the road to online teaching, from just beginning to some who have more than a dozen courses under their belt, I got inspired to act.
And just as that happened, the topic I wanted to teach hit me like a thunderbolt – well, if thunderbolts hit you twice in a short period of time.
The first thunderbolt hit when I was talking with a friend, who mentioned that he wanted to take a certification test to become an enterprise architect. I wasn’t even aware there were such certifications (although I was employed as an enterprise architect for many years!), and so I read about that. Yes! I wanted to be a certified enterprise architect too. Perfect timing on that.
And almost immediately, Udemy published a post listing the topics that were searched for on their platform that did not have good courses. And wouldn’t you know it, that enterprise architect certification was on that list. Within a day or two, I had settled on a topic. I would become a certified enterprise architect, AND teach about it.
In doing some competitive research, I discovered that there were not that many courses about the subject anywhere online. The Open Group (the standards body that controls the enterprise architecture standard known as TOGAF, and whose certification test I wanted to take), seems to have monopoly control over the information. They sell the training materials, and almost everyone who takes this test relies on those. For instance, they claim 35,000 certified architect, but 80,000+ books sold! I’ve got nothing against that, but this market is unlike other certification programs for which there is a robust, highly-competitive space. Cisco and Microsoft, for instance, have certification programs, and there are dozens of training vendors competing to teach those subjects.
The training I did find was expensive. The official study guide costs $40. But an in-person class costs $2,000+ for two days. There is online training as well, that appears to cost at least $800. I didn’t find any decent training that costs a reasonable amount of money. There were free resources (mostly free sample questions), and the $40 study guide, and then a huge jump to the $800 online course.
Add to this, that many of the customers of this training would be enterprises, companies willing to spend money on things to make their employee’s lives easier.
Houston, We Have Lift-Off
So I was absolutely convinced I could make a training product that was a lot better than the self-study option, without requiring two days of intensive in-class training. And over the course of 30 days, I studied the material, took and passed the exam myself, and created a base set of study materials I could market and sell as a course. And so “Become an Enterprise Architect with TOGAF 9.1 Certification!” was born. It launched Oct 30, 2014.
Right away, I was happy with the launch. With no launch plan made in advance (Jeff Walker would die), I immediately made some sales on the Udemy marketplace. Actual cash was placed into my virtual pocket. So there was a market for what I was selling. Now, I needed to get to work marketing.
The Theory of Social Proof
I followed a long tradition in the Udemy instructor community; I gave away a number of free passes to my course to other instructors. I did this as a “thank you” to those that came before me, those that interacted with me and who I learned from over those few short months of being in their midst. There’s no easy way to control who gets a coupon to your course – you can’t easily give them one by one to certain individuals so you just put the code on Facebook and watch as it gets taken up. My free code disappeared in a few hours, as they always do. Most of the codes ended up on Black Hat forums and coupon sites, and not to the intended audience. Udemy has an analytics tool to track coupon usage.
A lot of instructors want to get as many students as possible as an initial goal. So some try to get 1,000, 2,000, or even 3,000 people to sign up for their course. The reason for this is that they are often in a competitive fight with other courses, and they need “popularity” to be a factor in the purchase decision. Dan Ariely made this point in his course on Irrational Behavior, if two restaurants are side-by-side, people will tend to prefer the restaurant that appears crowded OVER the restaurant that is empty. In the “birds of a feather” mindset, a busy restaurant must be better than an empty one, because we expect a crowd of people to know more than ourselves in those types of situations. People call this “social proof” – popular things are the least risky buying choice when you lack other information to decide. (This is why an empty restaurant will place their first few customers of the night in spots that people outside can easily see, so passers-by will get the feeling that “other people are eating there so it must be good”.)
So some instructors, who have SEO courses, or WordPress courses, or Social Media courses, need to give away thousands of spots to their course in order to appear better than the other courses in the same category.
Since there is only one other instructor on Udemy selling a course about TOGAF, and I am the only one selling a course about this exact exam, I think of myself as the only restaurant in town. I don’t need to give away “free appetizers” to attract customers. I offer a good meal at a good price, and if you’re hungry, you will eat here.
So I gave away a few spots, sold a few spots, and within 24 hours had a good base of “social proof” from where I can start marketing in earnest.
So, the first thing I did, after launching the course, and getting a few students, was… add more content to my course. Yes, I was not ready to market just yet. I wanted to make sure that the students I did have were absolutely satisfied with what I was providing, so I went over it one more time to find any holes in the material that needed filling.
I added a couple of more new lectures, I re-recorded a lecture to add more information, and I started creating supplemental materials that students can download as bonus materials. I am still creating more bonus materials.
Some people fear video courses being “stolen”. Downloaded, posted for free on Youtube or pirate sites. There is talk in black hat forums of a private community of hackers who share courses between themselves. I do not fear this to a great extent. Why? This product is not like the latest Avengers movie – it’s not an entertainment product that someone who would steal would enjoy using. My client avatar is actually well-paid employees at big enterprises, and their bosses. You make $120K per year, and are going to steal my $150 course? Not likely. Perhaps the only people who would steal it and get any value out of it are people for which $150 is a lot of money – like those outside of North America. Well, I’m not worrying about that.
The other thing to note is that I am providing more than just videos. I have PDF downloads, audio downloads, and a forum where students and I can interact. It costs only
$49 ($150 now) to have access to someone who’s taken and passed the test, and who’s worked as an enterprise architect for 10 years? It’s a complete package. And I’m adding more videos and even re-recording some! So if someone was to take it, it would be out of date within a couple of months.
Shortly after launching, I was contacted by Udemy. They wanted to include my course in an email blast they are sending out to their mailing list the very next day. It’s in the “new and noteworthy” section. That’s cool. So Udemy is willing to do marketing for me (although at a discounted price from what I am asking). At this stage, I am focusing on getting students who want to take the materials and pass their certification test. That’s my goal! A few dollars are nice, but I want to help as many people as I can first.
This is still going on, but needless to say I am very happy with how it’s gone. It really is just validation of the course topic being something people want. I now have over 350 people I can help get certified – and 2 of those students have already told me they passed the test!
Step Two, Getting the Word Out
I am just beginning my marketing activities. I’ve posted discount coupons to Twitter. I created a Youtube video that contains a sample of the course content, also with discount coupons for signing up. And I’m planning on running a small number of paid ads as a test.
Paid ads, I feel, are not a substitute for a good product. You can’t take a piece of junk, put $10,000 a month marketing campaign behind it, and live a nice comfortable life. So I want to start with a small marketing campaign and test the market. I’m going to A/B test headlines, images and copy. I’m going to A/B test certain offers. I’m going to try different ad platforms and see what works best. I’m going to record every result, and measure the ROI.
If I find a platform that allows me to put $1 in, and get more than $1 out, it’s worth it to increase the time and money invested there. It’s worth it to optimize the campaign and try to make even more. And always, it’s worth improving my course so that the value offered to students is as high as it can be.
Step Three, To Infinity and Beyond
I have a lot of big plans for this. I have more content to create, more value to add. I have more courses to create after this. I have about 50 things on my to-do list coming out of this course creation process that will keep me busy for a while. I hope you’ll stay with me on this journey.
Wrapping up this long post, it’s been an interesting ride so far. In the space of a month, I’ve gone from having no content written and no video recorded to a live course on Udemy with hundreds of students. I’ve gone from bystander to teacher, and am actively trying to help people meet their personal goal of becoming TOGAF certified.
Of course, after all this talking, I want to also offer you a chance to see what I made. Have a look at the landing page, preview the lessons, and follow me on my journey of being an instructor. The coupon code CMNEWCOUPON will get you this course for $15, which a good discount off of full price.
As always, feel free to contact me on this site, by the Contact Me form above, or by Twitter @coursemania and ask questions, ask for help, or let me know what I should be doing. If I can help you launch your own course, or pass the TOGAF test, let me know!
All the best,