The Challenge of Building an Online Course
In March 2015, I hired my first team member to help me write articles for SwimUniversity.com. I didn’t want to work through email, so I learned how to use Asana.
I created one project called “SwimU Blog” and created four article writing tasks. Then, I assigned those articles to my new team member and told him to upload the finished Google Doc to the task and assign it to me when he finished.
Now, I run my entire life from Asana. If it’s not in the “My Tasks” list, it doesn’t get done. Even if it’s a dentist appointment.
I get asked by friends about how I use Asana to manage my business. When I show them, they’re stunned. I’ve mastered this free online tool and now I’m creating an online course about it in just seven days.
The Online Course I’m Building and Selling in 7 Days
I know some people who will buy this video course because they told me they would. I’m calling it “Asana for Bloggers.”
I’m going with my gut. I want to sell this product my way; the way I’d want to buy something similar. Here’s how I want to sell it:
- It will be low priced. Between $20 and $50.
- It will be a series of roughly 12 video lessons.
- It will be entertaining. Something you’d love watching.
- It will be easy to buy. You click a button, you enter your credit card, and you get the video lessons.
- It will always be for sale.
The Online Course Creation Plan
I’m building the course that I wish existed when I started using Asana. Here is a list of steps outlining how I think the creation process will go:
1. Create a Course Outline and Organize My Current Asana Company
I’m going to create an Evernote notebook and each note will be a new lesson of the online course. Before I start filming the outline, I’ll need to clean up Asana. I’ll be using my actual Asana workflow in the video and I don’t want any loose ends that need explaining. This should be easy since it’s pretty clean already.
2. Film The Online Course
I want the course to feel loose and personal, not rigid and boring. I’m also filming some talking head features of myself. These will go at the beginning and end of the video.
3. Edit The Online Course in Adobe Premiere
I’ll use Screenflow to create any zoom animations needed. Screenflow has a pretty easy editing platform and motion blur. I think it looks slick. I’ve done it before, you can see the animation in action here.
Once I have the screen recordings edited, I’ll move the files to Adobe Premiere. This is where I’ll put all the sections together with the talking head videos. Then, I’ll create the complete course as one MP4 file.
I’ll also use Adobe After Effects to make animations for the beginning, end, and sections. I will also create “lower third” animations to help explain details as the video moves along.
4. Upload And Sell The Online Course Using Gumroad
I will need to create a new Gumroad account. I’ll create a new product and upload the completed video along with a PDF guidebook. This will be just a better-designed version of the original outline.
Gumroad will allow people to stream or download the video. They can watch it from anywhere and use it as a reference. I thought about using course software, but I didn’t want anyone to login anywhere to see this course.
5. Create a Course Sales Page
Once the product is ready for sale, I’ll make a custom sales page. My idea for the landing page will be simple. Just a title, a sales video, some text, and a buy button.
I’ll hand code the sales page myself using Coda for Mac.
6. Promote The Course on Social Media and Email
I’m going to send an email to all my friends who have ever asked me about Asana. I know about five people who will buy, so I’m happy about that.
Also, I created a little satire piece called “I want your email address” that went viral. I earned over 1,600 email addresses from that bit.
Everyone on that email list will get updates about this challenge. They’ll know when it goes up for sale a week from now. I hope a few people from that list might buy, too. I’ll also send a few tweets and Facebook posts about it.
Nothing crazy. Nothing pushy.
Day 01: Outline the “Asana For Bloggers” Online Course in Evernote
I’ve created a single note in Evernote under my “Asana For Bloggers” notebook. It outlines everything I want in the course. I also asked on a few Facebook groups, “what are some of the things you struggle with when managing your blog?” Here’s my outline so far…
I also created a logo for the course when I created the image for this challenge. This is what I’ll use in the course and in all the promotional material:
Getting Some Early Feedback on The Course Outline
After posting the question to Facebook about blog management struggles, I got some suggestions:
- Keeping track of which posts are upcoming.
- Which free lead magnets should be shown on those new posts.
- Keeping track of all the little things that come along with posting a video or blog post. sharing the video to Facebook etc.
- Keeping track of income and expenses for your blog.
This is one of the reasons I still love Facebook. I can post good questions to big groups and get instant feedback and ideas. To address some of these struggles, I’ll include a few bonus videos. I’ll walk you through how I manage both SwimUniversity.com and RoastyCoffee.com. This will be a mix of using Asana and WordPress. A lot of this will be in the main video, but would be nice to have a separate behind-the-scenes of those blogs. I enjoy just watching someone’s process, like I just did here.
Day 02: Filming The Screencasts
I wanted to get excited about filming. I knew if I did something creative it would set me off in a good direction. So instead of filming first thing in the morning, I wrote a short theme song for the course.
Once I finished that, I jumped right into filming. I’m using Screenflow to record everything I’m doing on my screen. I have two monitors. One monitor is my Apple iMac 27″ screen – I used that to hold all my notes and outlines in Evernote. My other monitor is a 21″ Acer where I did all the recordings because it’s the perfect size for HD: 1920×1080. I also primarily use the smaller monitor out of habit.
I didn’t get to finish all the recordings I wanted to today. I still have one left to do, which I’ll finish tomorrow. Tomorrow, I’m filming the talking head footage and creating animations in Adobe After Effects. Tomorrow will be a challenge.
I’m hosting a meetup in Denver at 4:30pm, so it will be a short work day. I won’t be able to get any editing done, just more filming. But I think I’ll be able to knock out all the editing on day 4. Right now, I’m storing all the recorded raw screencasts in a folder on my Google drive. I will edit these all later and export to Adobe Premiere to add the finishing touches.
Day 03: More Filming and Animations
I have a short amount of time today to get some stuff done before I leave for Denver at 4pm. I created a much shorter version of the theme song to use at the beginning of all the videos. I used Reason 6 to make the track.
I exported the raw audio file from Reason and imported it to Logic Pro X. I increased the volume, added some equalization, and compression.
Now that I have the track finished, I had a little time to kill before I could start recording more videos.
I was waiting for my girlfriend, Steph, to head to Yoga so I didn’t bother her with my recording. We work in the same home office. So I worked on creating the logo animation for the beginning of each video using the track. It’s simple, but here’s what I came up with using Adobe After Effects.
Filming The “Talking Heads”
I wanted to create a live intro and outro video. And I wanted to introduce each screencast. So I filmed myself talking in my office. I made a little test video to make sure everything came out good.
To create these videos, here’s a list of all the equipment I used (Amazon affiliate links) and some photos of my makeshift office studio.
- Canon 7D DSLR (body only) with a Canon 24mm Pancake Lens
- 2 Softboxes for lighting (comes in a kit)
- Audio Technica Condenser Shotgun Mic with shock mount and windscreen
- Cheap Samson Boom Mic Stand and Mic Cable
- Tascam DR-40 portable recorder
- And I bought a cheap tri-pod for the camera at Best Buy
My camera was about 3 feet away from my desk, but I was close to the camera. The pancake lens allows me to do this and still get a blurry background in a small room. I record on a 128 gig SD card, and when I’m finished, plug the card right into my iMac to transfer the files.
I hook up the shotgun mic to the Tascam audio recorder and get a separate audio track. That also has a SD card, but only 32 gigs because the files are smaller. I plug that card in my iMac and get the audio files out.
Then in Adobe Premiere, I’ll match up the audio file with the video file and it sounds and looks great! I use this same setup for the Money Lab videos. Here are some photos of the setup and equipment I used to make these videos:
A Little Technical Snag
When I got home from my Denver meetup, I decided to do a little bit of editing. I started with the first screencast, “The Anatomy of Asana.” It all went smooth until I exported it from ScreenFlow. I got an error. I tried again and again. I kept getting an error. I had an old copy of ScreenFlow that wasn’t working, so I thought it was time for an upgrade. Maybe that would solve the problem. And it did.
I paid $99 for the most recent version of the software on the Apple app store. This is my first real expense of this challenge. Let’s hope I can make that money back. Once I got it working, and exported successfully, it looks really good. I’m excited about how this is going to turn out as long as no other problems arise.
Day 04: Editing and Uploading Only
Today I have one goal: finish editing and exporting all the videos in the course. I got two done yesterday: the intro and The Anatomy of Asana. Here’s a list of all the videos I have to finish today:
- Introduction to Asana for Bloggers (Finished)
- The Anatomy of Asana (Finished)
- Creating an Editorial Calendar
- Managing Comments and Emails
- Creating a Blog Marketing Project
- Personal and Team Management Tips
- Keeping Track of Your Blog Growth and Revenue
- Using the Asana Email Hack
- Additional Resources
- BONUS: Behind The Scenes of SwimUniversity.com
- BONUS: Behind The Scenes of RoastyCoffee.com
- BONUS: Managing Blog Advertising and Sponsorships
I have all the screencasts and talking head videos filmed. What will take up most of my time today is zooming. I’m going through each screencast and adding zoom animations when needed. This requires me to actually watch the videos and make the animations when needed. Some of the videos are over 30 minutes long, but some are only five minutes. I’m hoping this will only take me 4-5 hours. Then I have to export those videos and import them into Adobe Premiere. I’ll pair it up with the music, intro animation, and intro talking head. Then, I’ll add some lower thirds tips if needed and export the final video.
Exporting from Adobe Premiere and Uploading to Gumroad
I’ve finished all of the zooming I needed to do in Screenflow. It took me about 3 hours to complete. Now I’m editing the final videos in Premiere and exporting them.
As soon as I’m done exporting, I’m uploading them to a new Gumroad account I started for Money Lab. [UPDATE: I’m no longer using Gumroad to sell this course. You can now go to https://www.moneylab.co/asana/. That’s where I’ll be hosting the Asana for Bloggers course.] Uploading is taking a very long time. We’re testing the 16 gig limit in Gumroad.
Day 05: Building The Sales Page and Making The Sales Video
All the videos have been exported from Adobe Premiere as MP4s. All the videos have also been uploaded to Gumroad as of this morning. It’s just a few steps away from being ready to sell. I just have to work on finishing the product description. I’m going to build the sales page first. During that process, I’ll finalize my sales copy and use that in the Gumroad description.
Last night I also worked on a script for the sales video today. I didn’t mention it yesterday because I did it so late at night. This morning before I got up, I laid in bed and memorized the script in the Evernote app on my iPhone. Here’s the script I came up with:
But before I started recording the video, I worked on designing the sales page using Coda. I didn’t have a huge plan going into the design. I knew I wanted it to be similar branding to Asana itself, but also follow my own logo I created.
Designing the Sales Page First
I’ve coded about three different sales pages this year for my sites and some friends. So I had a lot of the code blocks I wanted to use already finished. I just needed to add some different colors. I also had some new plans with this landing page. You can see the landing page here.
The first thing I do is write sales copy. That usually informs the flow of the design. I wrote most of the copy last night, and there wasn’t much. Since a lot of the subscribers on my list found out about this site through my email satire page, I wanted to stick with that theme. I wanted the copy to be funny and meta. The first joke I make is about the price:
The next part of the landing page is the course outline. As a consumer, I want to know EVERYTHING I’m getting. I didn’t make any jokes here. I thought it was time to be serious. I don’t want people thinking that this whole course is a joke. It’s not.
Next, I needed some testimonials. I knew my buddy Jason Moore loved my Asana demonstration a few months ago over Skype. I emailed him and he wrote up a nice one. Then, I realized I could ask my buddy Jason Zook (from the first challenge) for another testimonial.
Now I have two Jasons! This makes me laugh out loud to myself. I asked two others Jasons I knew if I could use their name and face in exchange for a link. They were just happy to be a part of the joke. And BOOM! Four Jason testimonials. One is real, the others are made up (like most testimonials):
Filming The Shitty Sales Video
I had memorized my script from the morning. I took a shower. I put on my blue anchor shirt. I set up the camera and microphone and hit record. I spent 20 minutes trying to nail the entire script all in one day. I did it! Twice. When I pulled it up on Adobe Premiere and watched it back, I laughed out loud. I thought it was genius. Probably the funniest thing I ever made. Nothing makes me laugh more that absurd comedy intended to fuck with the audience. I jumped on Slack and sent it to Jason Zook. I thought he would call me a genius, too! I was excited for his response.
He didn’t like it. He didn’t think it was funny. I was crushed. I took his advice and shared it with someone I trust to give me some more solid comedy feedback: Chase Reeves. After I sent him the video file, he called me on the phone to tell me it wasn’t funny. I admit defeat. It was too weird. It would have turned off a lot of people from actually buying the course, which is my main goal. I decided not to use the video, but here it is anyway:
I decided to re-shoot the video and play it straight. I had the script in my head so it was easy to ad-lib through a new video. I think it came out much better. I kept a few of the jokes from the original video but made it less weird. I did this same process when I created my email satire page. It was a scathing piece that needed a different tone to make an impact. I’m glad I took a second look at it and re-worked it. I feel the same way about this video. And here’s how the new one turned out:
I created a custom YouTube thumbnail and stuck it on the sales page. I cleaned up some copy late into the evening and it was finished; design-wise. I sent it over to Jason Zook and asked him to look over it. I love Jason’s writing and trust any advice he gives me on copy. I’m still waiting on his response. In the meantime, I created a video update for the challenge and included a little walkthrough. I was asked on YouTube and Twitter by Phil how I created the lower thirds in the course and sales video. So I made this for Phil:
Day 07: Launch Day!
It’s been seven days. I completed the whole course on Friday (Day 05) and took off yesterday to host a housewarming party. I’m hungover. Today is launch day. And it’s Sunday. People have told me that they’ve read Sundays are bad days for launches. I say, “so what?!”
I’m not trying to just do the opposite of what other marketers do – this was just poor planning on my part. But now my hand has been forced. I have to try my best to make Sunday a great day to tell some people about my product and hopefully convince them to buy. So here’s my plan:
1. Send An Email To My List of 1,666 subscribers
Here’s what I’m going to send…
2. Post on Social Media
There are some people I know personally who want to buy this course. So I will share it with them on Facebook. The FinCon Facebook group asked me to share it when it’s live. I’ll also be posting about it on Twitter. Those are the only two social networks I’m active on. I don’t really expect too much from this, but maybe I’ll be wrong.
3. Just Be Ready
I’ll be at the computer all day ready to respond to any promotional ideas that pop into my head (or that someone offers). At this point, I don’t really have much of a marketing plan, so I’ll be doing most of it on the fly. I’ll also be updating this post in real-time as I promote to let you know what the results are of all these strategies. Here we go!
11:25 am: Posted to Product Hunt
Jason Zook invited me to post on ProductHunt.com. I have never been there before and I’m not sure what it is, but I posted the course there. You can see it here: https://www.producthunt.com/tech/asana-for-bloggers
11:46 am: Added More Buy Buttons To Sales Page and Asana FAQ
I just got an email from a new customer who bought the course. She suggested that I add more Buy buttons to the site. In her words, “The only button I saw was at the very top so when I finished reading your sales page (which left me entertained and informed!), I had to scroll all the way up to purchase.”
Great idea and it’s been done! I also had someone else email me and suggest that I explain a little more about what Asana is. So I created a FAQ question to explain and link to Asana. 12:45 pm: Improving the Sales Page and More Promotion Ideas I asked for some help on Facebook and some people reached out to offer advice. It was suggested to me by my buddy Jeff Goins to improve the sales copy. I included more benefits. Here are some of the changes I made:
He also suggested running a free webinar tonight. Looks like that’s now part of the plan. Let’s see how things go. Next, I’m going to work on putting together a Facebook ad. Also, I officially sold four courses and made $100. This challenge has now broken even 🙂
1:18 pm: Creating a $100 Facebook Video Ad
With the help of some friends on the FinCon Facebook group, I put together a video ad promoting the course. I’m only spending $100 and see what it gets me. I used Audience Insights from Facebook to target people who like Asana (software) and are interested in blogging in the United States. Here’s what it looks like:
1:30 pm: Promoted it in LinkedIn
2:45 pm: I Wrote and Promoted a Post on Medium – This Post
I imported this post on Medium.com. I changed the text so it read in the past tense. And I included a direct link to Gumroad. I just posted it on Facebook and Twitter.
7:18 pm: Answering Emails and Thinking…
For the last few hours I’ve been responding to comments on Facebook, Twitter, and email. I also had a snack and went out to get Pho (there you go, Barron 🙂 ). So far I’ve sold 14 courses for $350. Not bad for a Sunday with no marketing strategy.
I’ve had a lot of help from people on Facebook and through email. They’ve shared ideas on how I can make the sales page better. And helped me improve the copy on my Facebook ads. I’m extremely grateful. I’m still looking for more ways to promote in the last few hours of the day. Tomorrow, I will do a full recap of the entire challenge. Looking forward to it.
7:48 pm: A Quick Facebook Ads Tip on Twitter
Claire Pelletreau reached out on Twitter with a little advice:
make sure you check the Placement breakdown in the reports; audience network tends to get low quality clicks.
— Claire Pelletreau (@clairepells) May 16, 2016
I went into my Facebook ads and sure enough, I had Audience Network checked off. Hopefully, this will improve the quality of click to my site now. Here’s a snapshot of my current Facebook Ads manager screen.
Right now I have one campaign and three ad sets within that campaign. Each ad set is designed to target different groups of users:
- Facebook users who like Asana (software) and are interested in Blogging between the ages of 24 and 44.
- Facebook users who like Asana (software) and ProBlogger Blog between the ages of 24 and 44.
- Facebook users who visited my sales page (retargeting).
I’m spending $105 for the day, but I will drop this down tomorrow. The one thing I’m not sure about is the conversion rate. I don’t know how to accurately measure that using Gumroad, since I don’t have a “Thank You” page to track.
8:29 pm: Figuring Out Facebook
I decided to look into how I set up my Facebook ads. I thought there might be a way to track conversions through Gumroad. I followed this post by Claire: http://clairepells.com/conversion-tracking-sales/. I should be all set up now. I also made one mistake. I wanted to target people who like Asana AND interested in blogging. You have to choose Narrow Audience when setting up your Facebook ad. I completely missed this and updated my ads. The targeting is much tighter now. We’ll see how this works out.
8:38 pm: Going to Watch “Game of Thrones” Now
I’m going to watch “Game of Thrones” now. I’m taking the rest of the night off 🙂
The Final Recap
I’m thrilled with the outcome of this challenge. It was fun the entire time. I felt confident in my abilities to create an online video course and it turned out better than I imagined. I got to flex a few of my creative muscles, like songwriting, script writing, and design.
This challenge was easy to me. I’ve been using Asana for a while and I know how effective it is. I validated the course before I began. Friends of mine told me I should make it. I knew before building it that it would sell. It was also easy because I feel comfortable making videos. I’m glad I picked something I’m good at unlike my digital guides I sell at Swim University. In hindsight, they should have been videos. I’m happy that I now have a product for sale on MoneyLab. And I’m happy it only took seven days.
How Much Money Did I Make?
Let’s break down the expenses:
- Screenflow for Mac $99.99
- Facebook Ads for Launch Day: $79.50
I also used other paid programs like Logic Pro X ($199.99) and Reaso
n 6 ($399) to create the music. Adobe Premiere and After Effects ($50/month) to edit the videos. And Evernote ($45/year) to write the scripts and outlines. I pay for my domain ($10/year from GoDaddy) and hosting ($29/year from WP Engine). But these programs exist without making this course. As of this morning I’ve grossed $500. Gumroad will take its cut and leave me with $451.60. If we subtract expenses, I made $272.11.
What Did I Learn From This Challenge?
It doesn’t matter how much money you make. What matters is that you sold more than one. That means there’s demand for it. $272.11 may not seem like a lot of money, because it isn’t. I had upfront costs to create and launch the product. But now the product is for sale all the time. I plan on promoting it as I continue to promote Money Lab. Without it, I would make $0. I didn’t have a monetary goal, and that was refreshing. My only goal was to get it fucking done! And I did it in five days. That opens up the door for me to create more high-quality products in a short amount of time.
I learned something valuable making Money Lab and this weird-ass sales video: editing. I’m a video editor. I have been for a long time. I know how valuable it is to remove fluff in film. But it has taken me years to understand that in writing. I’m not a writer. I’ve failed every English class I had in high school – except creative writing. I usually just barf words out on a page, ignore typos, and hit publish. I never give my writing a second look. When I set out to create Money Lab, I made a rule to myself: Cut the fluff. When I write sales copy, emails, or these challenges, I edit. I write in a program called Hemingway. It forces me to remove $10 words, adverbs, and other grammar mistakes. I usually end up writing at a 4th grade level – which turns out to be a good thing.
I want to own everything I make. I asked people for promotion ideas. A few told me I should publish the course on sites like Udemy or SkillShare. I refused. I know I would reach a bigger audience, but the sales would be out of my control. I like to be in control. I’m not shitting on those sites, I just rather sell it on my own terms and have a close connection with my customers. Last month I read the Jim Henson biography (which is the best biography I ever read). It got me thinking about how important it is to own your work. Henson owned his creations and his projects. He made money hand over fist. This allowed him to tackle more audacious projects, like The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. I’m glad I choose to sell it on Gumroad through my own site. It’s exciting to know that I can make money all on my own.
I want to thank all my friends who’ve seen my Asana setup and told me I should make this course. Friends like Thomas Frank, Jason Moore, Ethan Waldman, and Travis Sherry. I want to thank the FinCon community for helping me come up with some good ideas to include in the course. They also helped me set up Facebook ads.
Thanks to Stephanie Halligan, my amazing and talented girlfriend for all the emotion support. She’s the best person I know in the whole world and she’s launching a product tomorrow. I’m excited for her. We were both building products and it was fun to work together in our new, bright office 🙂 I also want to thank Jason Zook and Chase Reeves for helping me realize that I’m not as funny as I think I am. They talked me through the most difficult part of this challenge of making the sales video. I went too far and they pulled me back from the edge. Thank you! Phew, that was a close one.
Finally, thanks to everyone who bought the course! You made this challenge complete and it’s a success because of you. Thank you for helping me prove it’s possible to make money in this world by making something useful and entertaining.
Asana For Bloggers: Manage Your Editorial Calendar With Asana [COURSE] Price: Learn how to use Asana to manage your blog with this 3-hour video course. It only costs $25 – roughly the same price as a Limp Bizkit CD in 1999.
This project is marked: pass
This project was easy, fast, and profitable. It worked because I used all my strengths and had a built in audience ready to buy. It continues to sell via word-of-mouth and zero marketing efforts.
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