Business Thoughts: Behind the Scenes: How I Created My First Online Course in 2 Months
It took 2 months of me working daily
The efforts of 12+ people
And over 5-figures of my own money
…but the Newbie FastTrack’s done!
This was by far one of the hardest projects I’ve ever done.
Try running an affiliate marketing team, running AFFcelerator, keeping up with the branding, and creating an online course.
I wanna show you the process on how I created my first online course. I know most of you may never create a product or a course one day, but that’s not what this post is about.
It’s a walkthrough of my thinking process and how I made certain decisions. Everything I do in life is strategic and every decision comes from conscious effort.
By reading this you’ll walk away with a more strategic approach to any projects you do in the future.
The Idea of a Newbie Course
When I think of 2015 two words come to mind: travel and workshops. I traveled the world conducting my ultra successful AFFcelerator workshops.
Have you ever spoken before?
Then you know how exhausting it can be.
Imagine flying across the world, and then speaking for 3 days in a row. It took a mental and physical toll on me, and I got burned out.
However, I still had a passion for my goal which was to help teach affiliate marketing. But I wanted to try a different medium.
I’ve had non-stop emails over the years asking for “super newbie” material. How do you start if you are 100% brand new and have no idea what affiliate marketing is?
The only thing that came close was NickyCakes guide written way back in 2007. It’s been almost 9 years since and no one’s really stepped up to fill that void.
I viewed this as a nice challenge. Let me create a go to resource for people trying to learn affiliate marketing.
At first we wanted to keep it simple.
We were going to grab a bunch of old blog posts, and compile it into an eBook. Or maybe even an email course.
One of my staff spent a few weeks on it and I wasn’t too satisfied with the results.
Some of the information was outdated, my “voice” was all over the place, and ultimately I couldn’t put my name behind it.
The more I thought about it the more I wanted to do something special for the industry. How about I take it to the next level and create an online course?
I wanted to create a course because
- The idea of creating a course is fun. I wanna challenge myself. I’ve taken so many online courses before that I wanted to challenge myself and see what I can do.
- This could serve as great branding and marketing for my paid courses in the future.There are quite a few people now selling affiliate marketing training. And their pitch is all the same – “Look at how rich I am“That’s not really my style. Guys that are too flashy in this industry always end up going self-destruction.I prefer to market by educating you, giving you value, and building a relationship with you. It’s much harder and take longer, but it’s more congruent with who I am.
I sat down with my team and we had to shift our gears.
The Psychology of Creation
There’s a lot of psychology that goes into creating a company or a product. Most people don’t realize that mindset is 90% of the game.
The tools and the tactics don’t matter if you end up being to scared to ship the product right?
The main one I faced is perfectionism. I’m pretty sure you’ve faced this before.
You probably have a slight procrastination problem, but I bet it’s not because you’re lazy. Nope.
It’s because you want everything to be perfect! So here’s how it affected me.
People are always judging your work. If no one knows who you are…that’s great. No one notices if you fail. You have complete freedom to fail over and over again.
But when you have a name, reputation, and a brand, then all eyes are on you. People watch and some even wish to see you fail.
That’s the tough part about having a strong reputation. You’re worried about shipping an item that’s not quality. You worry about criticism and what others say.
So what happens? You procrastinate, or you just don’t ship.
How did I overcome this?
I told myself “This is version 1.0”
It’s not going to be perfect – it’s going to be good enough.
Over time there will be a version 2.0, and a version 3.0 and I’ll keep improving.
I’m my own toughest critic, and I have a big vision for what this can become.
I want you to do an exercise. Go to YouTube and check out your favorite channel.
Now I want you to go back and watch all their oldest videos. Compare their oldest videos and to their newest ones.
Notice how horrible the initial videos were!
No lighting, bad film quality, no , and the person’s probably not as sharp on camera.
You don’t get any credit for ideas in your head. You get points for what you ship, what you deliver.
I really wanna share this because everyone thinks that I’m 100% confident about everything I do.
Far from it.
The higher you climb in life, the more scared you are of falling.
That’s why some successful people chill once they made it. They’re scared of losing it all and they don’t bother trying anymore. “I can’t fail if I don’t try”
Setting a Deadline
I’ve been dabbling with the idea of a newbie guide for years. I start working on it and then it dies off for whatever reason.
I knew to do something different this time. I put pressure on myself by setting a deadline.
I emailed my list and announced the project.
Now it was public.
Social pressure is such a strong form of pressure. I had hundreds of people emailing me back about how excited they were.
How could I let you down?
It’s a neat little trick. If you wanna complete a big project or quit a habit, announce it on your Facebook.
Now you have social pressure to complete it.
One thing I didn’t anticipate was that there was some negative comments. Some guys think by creating this I’m going to “flood” the market with newbies, and make things more competitive for everyone.
And some people just didn’t like the thought that I’m making it easier for this generation of newbies.
I guess that’s the difference between having an abundance and scarcity mentality.
How Much to Charge for the Course
We considered different pricing models.
This was going to cost us a lot – time, actual costs, and opportunity costs.
We brainstorm different business models :
1. Charge money. $300 – $500 sounds about right for an introduction course of this level.
2. Make it a Freemium model. Give away the first few modules away for free, then charge to upgrade to better content. It’s like a lot of iPhone apps these days.
3. Get the course sponsored by different companies.
4. Give it away for free and pay for it myself.
Part of me wanted to charge money.
Not necessarily to profit, but because people don’t value “free.” They think if it’s “free” then it’s not any good.
If they paid for the course then now they have an incentive to complete it.
The other option is sponsorship, which I think is a great idea. I’ve done so many parties and events before where companies paid for everything, and they got a bunch of eyeballs for their brand.
(I’ll share opportunities to sponsor at the end of the post if you’re interested).
However, It wasn’t the right time to ask for sponsors.
1. It takes time to come up with the media deck and pitch proposals
2. I didn’t have any solid numbers or data. No one’s ever done a project like this before. I can’t ask for 5-figures+ if I can’t show them what they’re getting.
3. I wanted to give tremendous value to the sponsors.
A lot of sponsorship is shallow. Give me $5k and I’ll let you put your banner on the site. That’s low level, lazy, and doesn’t create value.
What if we can work together with a service. They can create a module / screencast on how to use the service, offer VIP support, and give discounts.
I really wanted to do this but that timing wasn’t right.
So we went with #4. To give it away for free and cover the costs myself.
What motivated me is.
1. Not everyone can afford a course. A few hundred bucks is not a lot of money to most of us. But I see my analytics. I have a huge fanbase in India, Indonesia, etc. A lot of my readers probably can’t afford much for a course so I wanna help them out.
2. I want people to think “If his free material is this good, his paid material must be killer.” Simple concept right?
That’s the plan.
Create a world class product and give it away for free.
If some people never end up buying anything from me then I’m 100% ok with that. This blog and my company has never been just about the money.
But I think a few of you see the value I can offer, and will be interested in working with me.
The most important step in developing a product is to do research. You need to figure out if people are interested in it, and if people are willing to pay for it.
What happens if you spend 3 months working on a product, only to find out there’s no demand for it?
One week’s worth of work can save you 3 months+.
But, I didn’t do too much product research for this course. I didn’t need to.
1. I’ve already validated people would pay for my content due to the success of AFFcelerator
2. People have been asking for a newbie course for years
However, let’s say this was me a few years ago.
The process I would’ve taken would be to
1. Send a survey out to your list to find out what their biggest challenges were. Do some focus groups
2. Put together a product proposal.
3. Offer a pre-sale to a select number of people. Yep. Sell the product before it’s even available.
If you go around asking people if they’d be interested in a course, most will say yes.
But yes doesn’t mean you make any money.
You can end up with 100+ people saying they’d be interested. You build the product out. And no one opens up their wallet.
What you can do is ask if they’re interested, and then do a “pre-sale.” You don’t have a “yes” unless they’re willing to pay you.
And what if no one buys?
Then that’s the best thing ever. It means you didn’t waste resources building out a product that no one wants.
Always validate your product before you build it. Find the customers first, then build a quality product that they want.
How do I create a product?
Usually, I’d read a bunch of articles or buy some courses (to learn how to build a course lol)
But I didn’t have the time. And I didn’t want to fall into the cycle of “I need more information before I can start.”
I decided to jump off the cliff and build a parachute on the way down.
There were two podcasts I listened to that helped a lot from Pat Flynn.
I got a bunch of ideas from these guys.
Next is I logged into a bunch of courses I’ve bought before.
I looked at the design, how the course was delivered, and an overall structure.
I didn’t look at any affiliate marketing courses for inspiration – it’s because I didn’t want to be influenced by them.
I have the chance of creating something unique to me, and I didn’t wanna do more of what’s already out there.
You have to be careful of being an “information addict.” Learning is useless without application.
Sometimes it’s just better to launch and see what happens
Naming the Course
I’ve always believed in having a good name for a product.
A good name is part of branding.
What makes a good name?
1. It’s easy to remember
2. The .com is available
3. People should have a rough idea of what the product is based off the name
4. Be somewhat unique. You know how many courses there are with the name “academy” or “blueprint” in it? It causes confusion.
It reminds me of Mixed Martial Arts Fighters. Why do so many have the nickname “Pitbull?”
Some names I love
Me and the team brainstormed a few names.
I wanted “newbie” in the name to let you know who it’s for.
I also wanted a word to signify it was a shortcut to learn affiliate marketing.
I brainstormed names two ways.
I used a thesaurus to find different words for “short cut.”
And I made an excel spreadsheet to see what buzzwords were popular with guys who created courses (Popular ones included formula, blueprint, academy, immersion, instant)
We brainstorm a bunch of names including
To decide on a name we did a poll using Wufoo.com and uploaded it to my Facebook fanpage asking people to vote.
The Newbie FastTrack won by a wide marign(70% of 300 people voted for it)
Ironically the name I loved the most (Newbie Boost) got the least number of votes. That’s why you always have to test!
I like the name.
When you see it you know two things.
It’s designed for newbies, and it sounds like a program to get them started quickly.
There’s no other “FastTrack” course in affiliate marketing. When you hear FastTrack then you know it’s my newbie course.
I hope this is useful because I don’t think enough companies pay attention to the names. It’s an important part of branding.
Developing the Content
This was tough.
I pretty much had to write 17 blog posts in a matter of a few weeks. We did use some content from blog posts here and there, but maybe 90% of the text was new.
I had to decide what were the most relevant sections for beginners.
I had to explain what affiliate marketing was. A section on setting up hosting is more valuable than a section on scaling a campaign.
There was a section I’m proud of called the Expert Round up. I reached out to 10+ people who are recognized as experts in affiliate marketing including Lorenzo Green, Benjamin Yong, Malan Darras, etc.
I read a book about accelerated learning. One of the concepts they taught is people learn deeper if they’re able to see the perspectives of multiple people. I figured having them share some advice can give you guys value. Thanks again guys for your contribution.
I noticed from checking out other courses that it’s popular these days to “drip” the content week by week. If you unleash all the information in one day ,then the student’s going to have information overload. We made it into a 4 week course.
What I’m most disappointed about is that I didn’t put in as much visuals as I wanted to. Videos, screencasts, infographics, etc. The work of “creating” the course took far more time than I projected.
An Emphasis on Good Design
I placed a heavy emphasis on having a good design throughout the process
Why the emphasis on design?
1. It’s a theme of my life. I’m paying more attention to fashion, and prefer to buy products with better design. Good design makes me feel happier.
2. First impressions matter. This will be some people’s first introduction to the Charles Ngo & AFFcelerator brand. I want people to see that I represent quality.
3. Increased the value of the course. Just because it’s a “free” course doesn’t mean it’s “free” quality. I hoped by having a nicer design that you’d be more invested in it.
We went to 99designs to create our logo
It’s a contest marketplace for logo design (and much more).
You set a prize (We went with the recommended $300). You make a design brief of what you want, and designers from all over the world submit their designs. After 3 days, you award someone the prize. I’ve used it to design the CharlesNgo.com, AFFcelerator,
With 99designs you get what you put in.
Want a create logo? You have to put in work to describe what you want. You have to give feedback to the designers and ask for revisions.
I love 99designs.com and always recommend them for design work. There’s so much power in crowdsourcing.
We worked with our long-time designer to create the backend.
I didn’t want it to be too fancy.
The content is the goal. We wanted simple, minimalist design, and a big focus on Typography. But I wanted it to be polished enough to everyone can see “Damn Ngo went the extra mile with this”
The application form.
The Team Involved
Here’s a list of the different people involved.
Some are AFFcelerator employees, but the majority of the people were high-quality contractors and firms.
- Content Creator – Writes the content
- Project Manager – Coordinates everyone. Keeps everyone on track with milestones and deadlines.
- Funnel Specialist – I use Confusionsoft so I needed some help with this. Also important to have an expert because it was a membership site (A lot of moving parts)
- Programmer – Programming the backend
- Designer – Logos, marketing material, backend design
- Special Projects – Random stuff. Mainly dealing with relationships.
- Video Editor – Edit the VSL and video lessons.
- Copywriter – For writing salesletters, VSL’s, and emails. I did this myself.
- Content Editor – Someone to edit the grammar and typos
- Customer Service – I had no idea there were so many emails. You need someone to handle emails and technical support. I also didn’t anticipate the number of comments and questions there would be during the course.
This was an exercise in project management and coordination.
I wanted to give a special shout out to Delfi-net. They provided a lot of help with strategy, funnels, the tech setup, and programming.
Yes this product’s free.
But you still have to sell free.
Like I said, people do not value “free” at all.
Remember to ask yourself, what’s the real goal?
My goal wasn’t simply to get people to sign up so I can get their email addresses. A simple email lead magnet can accomplish that, and only take a few hours to setup. My goal was to have people sign up, and engage in the course.
Why’s marketing so important?
Imagine spending 3 months on a product and when you launch, no one uses it – You pretty much wasted 3 months of your life. Too many people focus 100% on creating the product, and hope “word of mouth” will help spread the word. I prefer to be more in control of my own destiny and taking charge.
Getting the Community Involved
I built up a lot of hype by getting the affiliate marketing community involved.
Here are some ways
- Making the announcement as soon as I started working on it.
- Showing people the “behind the scenes” of me working on it. I did this by inviting people to follow me on SnapChat. (My username is: Charles_Ngo)
- I surveyed a segment to see what they want
- I involved you by asking for help on choosing the logo, the name of the program, etc.
- I asked everyone to refer their friends and anyone they knew who could benefit from it
Creating a Video SalesLetter
I started writing a mini-salesletter to promote the course.
But then I thought it could be fun to create a mini-video sales letter. I’ve been doing a lot of video this past year and it felt like a natural transition.
At first it was just me speaking in front of the camera for 5 minutes. I hated it because I bored myself to sleep.
I went on Clickbank to see some top VSL’s.
Creating a VSL is easier than I thought.
1. Create slides in KeyNote
2. They have a special function called record
3. Record the video.
I created a quick video intro. I added some music. I put everything together in iMovie.
The whole process took around 2 hours.
For future marketing, I can
1. Host a webinar
2. Reach out to various people to promote it (like affiliate networks)
3. Spend money on Facebook ads
Launching the Newbie FastTrack
I wanted this to be a closed course.
This means I do a launch, and then close sign ups after a certain date.
Why do this? It makes it easier for me to manage.
After this project is over I’m moving on to work on other things. I don’t want to be busy with projects, and still have to deal with constant emails about the Newbie FastTrack.
Next time we’ll open it up then we’ll have the right # of staff that can handle it.
Another reason is simply because of urgency. More people will apply if there’s urgency.
The Application Process
There was an application process to get in.
We wanted to limit the number of people who could sign up. I guess I view this as kind of a big beta test. An application could weed out who was really serious about it. and who just wanted to check it out onc
We had more sign ups than I anticipated and it wasn’t reasonable to go through each application one by one.
We automated the approval process. If people chose this answer, then they’d automatically get turned down (Example: They have less than 2 hours a week to dedicate to this).
We also asked some questions to help acquire data. There were questions like what people’s experience levels were, and what sections they’re most looking most forward to. This data can be used to improved the course.
We had a big problem with the passwords when we launched.
We auto-generated passwords for everyone.
On the day we launched the program, 95% of people received an email with a blank password.
Here’s what happened.
We use a membership program called Memberium that generates a password. It then passes the password to my email service (Infusionsoft) using http post.
We did several rounds of testing and everything was fine.
So what happened?
We generated several thousand passwords at once.
The server we were using (TrafficPlanet) throttled it for security reasons. Imagine my face when I was receiving several hundred emails about this within 30 minutes.
TrafficPlanet wasn’t helpful. It was a Monday but they didn’t have any high-level technicals available. That was disappointing.
The only solution was to move migrate the entire setup and go to WPEngine.com. That took several days to migrate.
The key lesson?
The tech team mentioned that WPEngine was 100% guaranteed to work because they’ve done the setup many times before.
I wanted to stick with TrafficPlanet because that’s what my blog and all my sites were already hosted on. The Tech Team looked at the requirements and everything looked ok.
But in hindsight we should’ve gone with a system that has been proven to work. There is so much issues with software and compatibility.
You don’t want to take unnecessary risks when there’s so much on the line. Imagine if this was a paid product.
It was a headache for me. I was on vacation in Bangkok, and there wasn’t anything I could do.
It was hilarious when I had a few emails complaining that I was using some “advanced guru” strategy to build the demand even higher.
You serious? That’d be the worst strategy ever, and you have to deal with thousands of newbies emailing you.
Whenever trouble happens you gotta communicate.
I didn’t wanna do a “spin” on it and say the demand was so high that the servers crashed.
I preferred to be upfront about it. We had technical issues that we didn’t expect and our doing our best to solve it. It’s weird how “honesty” is the last resort for most marketers.
It a nice exercise in crisis management. And I rather learn the lesson now, than later when there’s much more on the line.
The Cost of the Newbie FastTrack
Every project has a budget and we went maybe 5x over what I initially budgeted.
That’s the tough part – you have to make the decisions on how to allocate your resources. What’s worth spending on, and what’s worth being cheap on.
A reason why costs blew up is I wanted to invest in making a platform “future proof.”
There are cheaper course platforms out there, but they’re not exactly what I’d want to use if I had paid students one day.
I spent a lot on contractors to help with developing this. I’ve learned the hard way that “cheap” contractors can be more expensive.
Here’s a lesson for you:
Lets assume a good programmer is $100 an hour. He can complete one of your projects for $300. You assign to him and it’s done within a few hours.
The alternative is you get a cheaper programmer for $25 an hour. You could end up paying for low-quality work, that you end up hiring else to re-do it anyways. What about the time and emotional costs?
I’m not saying that all “cheap” contractors are horrible – but these days I’m willing to pay a premium for contractors who come with a stellar reputation.
I had to look at places where I could save costs. One of them was on videos.
The plan was to go to a studio and rent it out for a day.
We explored different options and they all quoted me roughly $2,500+. I couldn’t justify that much money for a free product.
We shot at my condo using a nice camera I already own (Sony RX100 Mark 4, and a Rodes SmartLavalier)
I also did some value exchange for help. A contactor spent an entire day doing work for us. Instead of getting paid he wanted to to see if I was open to doing a 30-minute consultation.
If you’re short on cash then bartering can be a great way to save money. I don’t personally barter too much these days because I view my time to be more valuable than money.
My advice is to start as cheap as possible.
People are most interested in you and your content. You can spend more when the money’s coming in.
You don’t need to use Wistia when you can use YouTube instead. You don’t need InfusionSoft when Aweber is fine.
I made a conscious decision to spend more because I wanted to “future proof” my setup, and to establish my brand positioning.
Ideas for Future Versions
My biggest problem with the FastTrack is that I didn’t spend as much time on the content as I wanted to. 30% of my time was spent on content, and 70% of the time was spent on the initial setup of a course.
I kept running into tasks I couldn’t forecast. (Charles you need to write 25+ emails. We need to create a salesletter. Holy crap we gotta fix these technical issues!)
I’m dedicated to making this the “go to” source for a newbie in affiliate marketing. When your cousin wants to learn affiliate marketing, I want your answer to be “Just go to Ngo’s Newbie FastTrack and he’ll teach you everything you need to know.”
Here are some quick ideas I have for future versions. Even if you’re in the course now, the next version’s going to be completely different and worth going through again.
The good news is the infrastructure’s in place, and I can focus purely on content for the next round.
This should be easy to do based on the feedback.
I wanna add in more visuals.
Screencasts, videos, custom infographics. More detailed information on whatever was confusing. Additional modules I wasn’t able to cover.
I could turn this into a mini video game.
Imagine that you have to complete the landing page module. At the end you have to answer the quiz, and it can unlock a free landing page.
It makes the experience more fun and engaging.
There’s a tremendous opportunity here for any networks, traffic sources, tools, services to sponsor future versions of the Newbie FastTrack
I’m not talking about low-level shit like sticking your banner on top of the website.
I wanna brainstorm on how can we create value?
I wanna explore deeper relationships such as
- Offering discounts to students
- Webinars / Screencasts that provide training or insider info
- VIP support / Approvals
I’ve been in the industry for a long time.
Everyone has a big budget for advertising but they blow it on shallow activities.
It doesn’t make sense to me when companies blow $25k+ to throw a party for 400 affiliates. (Don’t stop inviting me though). It doesn’t add to the bottom line.
I have an opportunity here where
- You get your company exposed to thousands of affiliates.
- The students get extra bonuses and training.
- And I get funds I can use to re-invest to improving the course.
It’s a winning situation for everyone.
If you’re interested then contact me at Charles@CharlesNgo.com. *Please note that I am selective about who I choose to work with. (Aka no low-level companies).
It feels great to be done with the Newbie FastTrack.
I hope you saw the amount of work and heart that went into this project.
I built an amazing product, and it’s going to transform the lives of many affiliates for years to come.
And ultimately the goal is to grow the industry.
So many people have been interested in affiliate marketing, but they’ve quit because they didn’t know how to start.
I hope I”m able to “rescue” a few of these people. And that’s more value created for everyone involved.
That means more people signing up for services, more revenue generated at affiliate networks, more money spent at traffic sources, more people going to affiliate conferences, etc.
More competition? Sure. But I’ve always come from a place of abundance. There’s more than enough traffic to go around.I wanna push you to
- Give Value
- Think Bigger
- Think Long Term
- Get Out Your Comfort Zone.
The more you give in life, the more the world rewards you.
I look forward to helping you for years to come.