Watch me build an online business

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Over the next four weeks I’ll be sharing an in-depth look at the process I’m going through to create a new business.

This is Part One of a series of four blog posts I’ll be sharing that document and share my experience building a new business. Over the next four weeks I’ll send updates about this project to my email list first(and will also keep them documented here).

The Backstory

To start this story, we need to backtrack a few months…

In April I found myself staring at my laptop with nothing to do. Now, to say that is actually a bit silly because I had just finished writing my book and there was an incredible amount of stuff to do. However, that stuff wasn’t super actionable and until the book was printed, I had some free time on my hands.

With the confirmation that Treehouse was going to be the front cover sponsor of my book, my proverbial wheels got turning. I’d thought about creating a Skillshare course and I’d previously been approached about creating a marketing course on Udemy. All of these thoughts about micro-learning got me to ask myself this question:

If I was going to create an online course, what would the subject matter be? What skill could I effortlessly teach that people would get a lot of value from?

I decided to do some quick brainstorming. I grabbed my trusty Moleskine notebook and wrote down some ideas for courses I could teach. Those ideas ranged from marketing, creative thinking, email marketing, social media (only for a second though), and various other ideas. But none of them really excited me, nor did I think I could teach skills that were wildly unique to existing courses in those genres.

Jason Surfrapp Moleskine

Then, I decided to do what I did when I was sitting down to write my book: Consume content.

While I was gearing up to write my book I read a book a week (sometimes two). I wanted to get inspired by other author’s writing tones, writing styles, and find thought-provoking content to potentially share. So, I applied this successful tactic to try to figure out my online course content. I started seeking out advertised courses in my Facebook News Feed. I started clicking links from friends who were promoting their online courses via Twitter. And the majority of that content came in the form of webinars.

I probably watched 20 webinars from people around the world, teaching and trying to sell their unique skills. If you’ve never watched a webinar, it’s the perfect tool to teach people something from an online course and then sell the course to that audience at the end of the webinar (I’ll get to this a bit later).

From watching all these webinars a few things became clear and one became not-so-clear:

  • People generally sucked at doing webinars (lack of enthusiasm, pace, timing, etc).
  • People’s webinars were horribly designed.
  • People most often shared great content that was actually informative and helpful.
  • There was a sales pitch in every single webinar I watched (only two of them didn’t sell courses, instead they sold books or consulting).
  • I still wasn’t clear on what my course (and webinar) would be about.

Next up I emailed a handful of people in my trust circle asking for their advice. I told them I wanted to create an online course but I was uncertain what the topic would be about. I sent a very simple email to eight people.

Of the eight that responded, only one really hit home with me and it said this:

“Jason, you’re the master at getting people to sponsor your projects. You didn’t go to school for that, so what can you teach people from your experience over the years? I think that’s your topic!”

have done a great job of getting tons of different projects sponsored over the years. I could absolutely build a course around how I go about doing that (especially with the recent case study of getting 204 sponsors for my book). I will be able to teach people the system I’ve developed for landing sponsorships for my projects.

We’ve completed the backstory! That’s how the idea for my course came to be. I realize that was a lot of background on coming to that idea, but I wanted to share it as it’s important as we move forward in the chronicling of this new business I’m building and sharing with you.

*IMPORTANT NOTE: The online course is not the new business*

Discovering the Problem

This brings us to the part of this story where I discovered a problem while looking to build my first online course.

I started researching course building platforms. I found about six of them. They all varied in how they were set up, how they were priced, but one thing was evidently clear: None of them felt simple and easy to setup. I’m not a professional online course builder, but I understood I would make walkthrough videos and have written transcripts. I just wanted a well-designed platform to be able to plug that content into and then be able to share my course with the world.

The more research I did on the platforms, the more frustrating things became. Instead of offering me a simple framework to input course lessons and the content in them, it seemed like a lot of these course building businesses were trying to tell me how my course should be structured and built. It was overly complicated, and frankly, most of them were too expensive for someone like me who was just getting started with their first course.

So I decided to take matters into my own hands and attempt to build an online course that did exactly what I wanted.

Prototyping and Building Phase

Dusting off my graphic design degree and putting years of experience having websites built for my various projects, I decided to just try to design the exact platform I wanted to use for my course and then ask developers what they would charge to build it for me.

I opened up Photoshop, found a few color schemes I liked on dribbble, and gave myself four hours to create a course design. The resulting design was simple, clean, and would be fully responsive (meaning: it will look good on web, mobile, tablet, etc).

Online Course Design - Jason Surfrapp

The design you see is exactly what I came up and what I wanted for my course. After completing the design, I also thought it could work for other people’s courses (already thinking ahead).

I emailed the design to three different developers. In the emails to those developers I asked them how long it would take to build my design into a functioning course, what backend platform they would use to make adding content easy for me, and how much it would cost.

After some back and forth I picked a developer. The course would be built on WordPress and would be completed in three weeks for $1,800. Knowing that I was going to try to sell my online course for around $500, that meant I only needed to sell a couple courses to be profitable. Sounded like a good deal to me!

Three weeks and a bunch of emails back-and-forth later I had a fully functioning course. I could input my video embed code. I could input and stylize my lesson transcripts. Everything was built behind a paywall and login system.

Since I was very familiar with WordPress, I didn’t mind the somewhat clunky way the developer had me add courses and course content. I also didn’t mind the way we set up payment pages, but I knew it wasn’t super optimal for me to be digging into the Theme Editor and actual PHP code (I’ve broken many a website before).

To be continued next Monday…

Next week I’ll share how I used my trust circle (again) to give me critical feedback and discover a business opportunity. You’ll also get to meet the co-founder of the new business!

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