For the last few months, I've been working pretty much nonstop on my premier online course, Illustrator Essentials. This course has been over a year in the making, and all that “making” has been filled with more ups and downs than I can count.
Throughout this massive rollercoaster of an endeavor, each victory and hiccup has seemed life-altering. But as the close of my first launch of the course grows near, I'm finding it much easier to look back and recognize the lessons that matter most from this journey.
1. Share as you build.
I'm a huge fan of sharing the journey and believe it helps to build engagement and suspense within your brand when you're transparent about what goes down along the way. Not to mention, it helps others knowing that there's a real human behind this brand that dreams and struggles just like they do.
I've been pulling back the curtain throughout the course building and launching process, and what I've been greeted by has exceeded my wildest hopes. I'm talking friends and people I don't even know telling me they can't wait to see the finished product, cheering me on during the stressful times, congratulating me on all my hard work, and reminding me that I've more than earned the right to slow down and bask in what I've built.
Takeaway: People love the process and watching your story unfold, so let them in. They're ready and waiting to cheer you on and that's WAY better than launching a perfect product to crickets.
2. Who's doing this well?
Whenever you're doing something for the first time in your brand or even your everyday life, it's tempting to think you have to start from scratch. The reality, however, is there are many others who have walked this path before you, and you'd be downright silly not to look to them for guidance. This is especially true for selling things online.
This doesn't mean I'm copying anyone else's course or launch strategy—far from it. Instead, I'm looking to those I admire in this space and identifying specific practices that really resonate with me.
For instance, Jeff Sheldon from Ugmonk is stellar at selling his products just by being a transparent, kind guy who's excited about what he does. Paul Jarvis hooked me for his Chimp Essentials course by having an amazingly authentic writing voice and giving a free preview of actual lessons from his course before you even sign up. Finally Melyssa Griffin writes the best email subject lines that pique your interest while hinting at what awaits.
Takeaway: Find folks you admire who are doing things well and identify the strategies that resonate with you to share and sell what you do.
3. Don't cut corners where it counts.
After investing in a pricey course platform subscription, I was hesitant to pour any more money into something that was already taking my time away from booking new client projects. I was also super cranky about Adobe switching to a subscription model and was steadfast in my unwillingness to upgrade to Creative Cloud.
But eventually I realized how silly I was being. If I was going to invest the time and money in creating an online course, didn't I want it to be great? Teaching a software-focused course on an outdated version of the software was a ridiculous idea, and not investing in a nice microphone was just as bad. Either of these would make the course obsolete before it even got off the ground.
So I bit the bullet, I invested in a new microphone and upgraded to Creative Cloud. I learned all the new tools it has to offer too, and you know what? They're amazing and will save me lots of time in my design work. And now I get to share those with others through the course too.
Takeaway: Invest in the things that matter for creating the simplest, high quality version of what you're building. Don't cut corners where it counts. Quality comes first always.
4. Stop complicating things.
Initially I had aspirations of launching this course under a separate new brand, so I told myself I needed to create this new company first, and brand it, and build traction with it, and a bunch of other nonsensical to-do's centered on me making a bunch more work for myself. I also had all these wish list items for what I wanted to do with the course, like pay for professional copywriting and donate 10% of the profits to charity.
All of these ideas were driven by great intentions, but finally my wise friends Alicja and Rogie reigned me in by reminding me that I already had a strong brand platform right in front of me to launch the course from, and that what mattered now was launching my MVP (minimum viable product)—aka the simplest high quality course I could make.
Takeaway: It's silly to reinvent the wheel when you've got a car right next to you. Find ways to simplify, not add additional layers of complication.
Don't cut corners where it counts. Quality comes first always.
5. Rein in your to-do's.
There came a time about a month ago when I realized if I didn't choose a launch date for the course, I may never get it done. Then after announcing July 10th, I realized just how much work I had on my plate personally and professionally and that some things had to go.
This meant late nights and working on the weekends. This meant backing out of events that would distract me. This meant saying no to opportunities and fun things that I really wanted to do but knew I didn't have time for. As a recovering people pleaser, this was really tough for me. I hate disappointing people, but I knew what a finite amount of time I had and that I had to put myself and the essential to-do's first.
Takeaway: Sometimes it takes an urgent situation to finally get your priorities in line and help you realize that you can't say “yes” to everything.
6. Set up the finish line.
After weeks of slaving away at the course content, I was beginning to feel like I'd never get to the finish line. Do you know what finally got me through? Planning the actual launch! I came up with a very community-centered launch involving giveaways, casual creative chats, and bringing exposure to small businesses I believe in. All these things helped to reignite my spark and propel me forward to make the launch a reality.
Takeaway: When you're feeling stuck in the messy middle, sometimes the best thing is to start planning the party at the finish line and how amazing it will feel to be done.
Throughout the building and launching process, there were tons of hurdles in the form of things I'd never done before. It was tempting to let the fear of the unknown overwhelm me and send me into a paralysis from not knowing where to start. But I knew that wouldn't help me get any closer to my goals.
So instead I made a list—a really really long list of everything I had to do in the order I had to do it. I separated it by weeks and told myself that the later things I would figure out... well, later. I wouldn't allow myself to think about them until the time came, keeping me focused on the tasks at hand and helping me get there one baby step at a time.
Takeaway: It's pointless to worry about things that are out of your control right now. Figure out your priorities first, then tackle those most pressing tasks one at a time.
8. Try on some shoes.
Throughout this process, it's tempting to do things the way you see others doing them to get results—like hard-selling the heck out of their subscribers and pressuring them into buying. That's the kind of situation that tricked me into buying my course subscription too soon, and I know how gross it felt.
So instead I kept asking myself, how would I want to be “sold to?” The answer is not through intrusive ads or sleazy sales tactics. It's by being a real person who's genuinely excited about what she has to share, knowing how great it is and how much it will help people.
Takeaway: Remember to ask yourself, “How would I like to be sold to?” Go with your gut. If certain things make you feel gross when others do them, don't do that to your audience. Put yourself in their shoes.
9. Swallow your doubts & go for it.
As I mentioned already, planning the collaborative launch celebration was by far once of my favorite parts of this whole process. However, when it came to emailing all these amazing folks and brands, imposter syndrome almost got the best of me. All those “but who am I to do this?” and “why should they even care?” thoughts started ganging up on me, until I finally said enough with that.
Once I pushed my doubts aside and just went for it, I was pleasantly surprised by the amazing reception I got. Everyone I emailed was totally supportive and excited to be involved! Now imagine how glad I was that I didn't let fear get the best of me.
Takeaway: Everyone has doubts, but those that do the things worth remembering are the ones that push past them and go for it anyway.
10. Automate everything.
Being a one-woman-show, it's impossible to be everywhere at once doing all the things. That's why I've relied heavily on automation as my saving grace during this launch. Without services like Buffer, Later, MailChimp, and scheduling through dribbble, there's no way I could push out as much curated and consistent content as I have been. Nor would I want to try—talk about driving yourself nuts!
Takeaway: Scheduling and automation are key to seeming like you're everywhere at once without losing your sanity.