What I've learnt from launching an e-learning business

2015-06-08 18:32

Over the years, I have launched 3 products that I’ve been personally invested in, all while consulting to ensure steady income through the business. I’ve also helped several other companies launch their products. Sadly, I can’t say that each launch was successful, but I did learn what not to do in the process.

From each launch, I’ve gotten a better understanding of how things should be done, and I can certainly say that I’m getting a lot closer to a formula that works using the Webgrowth Training programme as the case study. Here are 10 things I’ve learnt and am busy implementing (mostly successfully) in our e-Learning business:

1. Don’t wait for a perfect product

If we had waited for a perfect product, 2 years later we would still be in planning phase without a workable solution. We’ve tried to adopt the “Rework” mentality of getting to launch as soon as possible and then getting feedback from our clients (our students). Active users will give you honest feedback that you would not have thought of during planning. To ensure our students continue to stay loyal to our product, we promise swift communication and resolution of bugs. I’d rather have a 75% finished product go live than no product at all. Getting your paying clients to understand your vision and roadmap is crucial. You need their buy-in and long-term commitment.

2. Automation is great but it doesn’t solve everything

Wherever possible we’ve tried to automate communication between ourselves and the student. Over the years I’ve always turned to Hubspot for inspiration. In my opinion, they are the best at automating CRM. However, they are too expensive for a bootstrapping startup, so we decided a much cheaper option with less frills. It does the job. We start the CRM journey as the lead comes in from the website together with a post-sale communication strategy when the student falls behind in their studies. However, even with the automation – the response time is at it’s best when we make contact with a personal (targeted) email or phone call. Our highest value in automation came from setting up a drip email campaign once the email lead comes in. We send the student on a journey to educate them as to what our training offers and it’s benefits. To date, we’ve found that the highest conversions come after the 8th email. This is obviously together with phone calls in between emails. The mix of sales automation plus personal communication is the winner. There’s no substitution for the lazy salesman.

Resource: agilecrm.com and zendesk.com

3. Use dedicated landing pages

Having landing pages without any distractions has been a great cost saver for us. Coupled with an A/B split testing campaign to test various designs, ensures that our conversion rates on each lead improve over time. The idea of a landing page is to completely remove any distraction i.e. the top navigation and/or pages that set the visitor on another journey. We always try give the visitor enough understanding of our product, together with the product benefits. There is a definite industry trend towards dedicated landing pages. We are in continuous test mode to find the winning formula.

Resource: unbounce.com

4. At some point you will need to spend money on advertising

Even though we’ve started ranking organically for certain training related keywords, we’ve had to use Facebook Ads and Google Adwords to broaden the target audience to capture new leads. One thing that I can say that I would not have said 1 year ago, I’ve become a huge fan of Facebook Ads! In terms of controlling your target audience, Facebook nails it and continues to improve on this. We’ve used Facebook Ads to complement our content strategy and to target specific audiences, from students, to bloggers, to industry professionals; we’ve been able to customise each ad to ensure relatively low CPA (cost per acquisition).

Resource: google.com/adwords and adespresso.com

5. Put high value on a re-engagement strategy

Even though the person who enquired about the course may not be ready to commit to a paid course at that point in time, by having a monthly emailer of our top 10 articles gives us an opportunity to re-engage with that person. We’ve since stopped the top 10 (monthly) emailer and have created a weekly digest of our favourite articles for the previous week. A monthly emailer is just not frequent enough to ensure a memorable re-engagement strategy. Using a tool like Mailchimp we can also start building up a profile of our subscribers i.e. their open rates, what type of articles they are clicking on etc etc.

Resource: mailchimp.com and zapier.com

6. Don’t just think your WEBSITE VISITORS understand your product

Over time we got too close to our product, so a web page that we would create will make total sense to us after reading it 100 times but someone reading it for the first time with no context will most likely not grasp the benefits straight away. To date, we’ve spent the most of our time and energy revising copy than any other marketing collateral and we are still not happy. This is an area we humbly say needs the most improvement on the Webgrowth website.

Resource: blog.bufferapp.com/51-articles-about-writing

7. Don’t just think your CLIENTS understand your product

Even though they have signed up and paid for your product, they will need a lot of hand-holding in the beginning to get them onboard with the process. In the first few months we underestimated the work behind building up a knowledge base of questions and answers to ensure students don’t get lost or overwhelmed by the training material and assessments.

8. Blogging will drive organic search (SEO) traffic

I’m now even more convinced that if you want more business from your website, you need to start blogging. The very nature of blogging challenges your thinking about the business, who your target audience is and how they interact with your website. A good blogging strategy will provide content for so many channels i.e. email newsletters, Facebook, Twitter, repurposed for external websites, opportunities for press releases. In the beginning stages of launching we tried to commit to one piece of “good news” from within the company. This ensured that we always challenged internal thinking to ensure we have something good to say to the public, it also provided the start of what is now Webgrowth helping 20 GROW Academy (a local digital training NGO) students through the Fundamentals course.

9. You can’t do it alone

Strip away the facade and we are still a startup. Naturally, with being a startup we are on a bootstrapper’s budget – so we’ve had to call in a few friends in the industry to give a helping hand. This came in the form of design and copywriting. Without the skills of these folk, we would not have been able to get this far. I have no doubt we would’ve stumbled along before shutting the training academy down if were not for our friends. We created individual agreements, some got commission from the sales and some got free access to our training material. Whatever your product is and if you have a small budget, try and utilise the skills that are nearest to you with the least amount of initial investment and commitment.

10. Never be satisfied with your product

And finally, always strive for continuous improvement in how you work, in your product, in your branding, everything that your business represents. There is always room for improvement. It’s important to speak about these improvements within your internal team and to your target audience. If you don’t have that online authority yet, product updates that are visible to the website visitor immediately conveys a message of trustworthiness and will possibly even create a FOMO reaction, which will result in an inquiry.

In wrapping up, one cannot forget about the overarching strategy. Thanks to a few people I’ve worked with in the past, they’ve helped me to realise the true meaning of the word. 4 years ago, if you had asked me if I understood what “strategy” meant I would’ve ignorantly answered you “yes”. The truth is that I had no idea 4 years ago. It took me 3 years on one project to understand how strategy affects business.

The key element to a strong strategy is that it should hold your campaign, your messaging and your product altogether. If you don’t have a good product and marketing strategy, you will waste a lot of time and energy going back and forth making hasty decisions. I no longer sleep one day on an idea and action it the next day, I now sleep on it for 30 days and process all angles to the decision i.e how does it affect the customer? how does it affect the product? how will the decision affect the product 2 years from now? will the decision add long term value? In a nutshell, challenge every thought and idea. Never be afraid of canning an idea, even if you’ve spent 29 days working on it. Be objective.

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