Courses are the ultimate way to connect your business with others. By using them as a vehicle for content, you can extend what your company does beyond teaching and selling – like generating leads or providing gated resources! Sandra Scaiano is here to explain how to make deeper connections with customers through courses.
Rich: With over 20 years in PR and marketing for the world’s most recognizable brands, my guest today helps entrepreneurs and small business owners build their business through course and membership development, content creation, and a mix of digital strategies.
She is the host of The Long Game Podcast where she talks business building, digital strategy, and mindset, all in her unique, relatable style. And she’s the creator of the P.E.A.K. Framework for Course Building Success, which we’ll dive into today. A four-step foundational framework for course and membership site development.
Today we’re going to be creating courses that drive leads and revenue and business with Sandra Scaiano. Sandra, welcome to the podcast.
Sandra: I’m so glad to be here. Thank you.
Rich: There’s always a million different directions you can go when you become a consultant or a digital marketer. What led you to course creation?
Sandra: I started out as a web designer and that was the natural jumping off point where my clients started having courses and memberships. So I have been in this course in membership arena for almost 12 years now. So I’ve seen the industry grow. I’ve tried different tools and software along the way. I like to say that I have a front row seat to the back end of a lot of course businesses.
Rich: So I’m really excited about today’s conversation because honestly, in my agency and even with Agents of Change, I’ve been thinking about launching a course on and off for almost as long as you’ve been creating courses and been in this world. But I guess one of the questions that I have, and maybe with some of the audience is thinking like, oh yeah, I know that digital marketers and social media gurus they create courses, but I have a completely different business. Why should I be considering creating a course for my business? When you hear that, what’s your immediate response?
Sandra: Courses enhance and communicate what we do in our businesses. You have to start thinking of the course as a vehicle and that it’s a container for your content. Traditionally we think of courses as teaching tools, which, they totally are. But there are opportunities to use the course software to extend what you’re doing. So not only can you do teaching and selling as a revenue stream, but you can also house your gated content there. You can use it for lead gen. So there’s a number of other ways to use it. And it really gives you a deeper connection with people rather than just saying, hey, here’s my opt in, get a PDF. Nothing wrong with that, but when you are giving them a video of you teaching something, you’re connecting with them on a deeper level. So it allows you to take your content and expand on it in a different way.
Rich: It sounds like it can also be some sort of on-ramp, or some sort of try before you buy, or maybe buying a small version of what you offer compared to asking somebody to give you a whole lot of money right up front.
Sandra: Oh, totally. I have a number of clients who we do a mini course of one of their lessons. So we repurpose one of the lessons from their larger course, and that’s their opt-in. And when you’re doing that, you need to think about it in terms of does this make sense? Is this going to live on its own without the rest of the content around it? And you also have to provide value. And I do also want to say, when you’re using courses as a lead generation mechanism, it’s got to provide value, not just be a sales pitch for the next thing as well.
Rich: Right. So even if you’re giving it away for free, there’s got to be value there. Otherwise the person’s going to be like, is this all I’m getting and go elsewhere.
Sandra: Yeah. And nobody likes to feel duped. Like, I signed up for this, it’s all fluff, and it’s a sales pitch, right?
Rich: Especially because it’s not like you’re getting a free toaster. There’s an investment as a consumer.
Sandra: Yes. You’re asking for people’s time.
Rich: Exactly. Exactly. Now obviously there are businesses where this makes absolute sense. I facetiously said like social media guru, but coaches, business consultants, all that makes sense. What are some of the strangest clients you’ve had when it comes to course creation where people are like, there’s no way you could create a course for that type of business?
Sandra: Anyone who has an expertise, I’m working with someone right now who is a plant expert, right? We tend to think of it as these business building areas, finance, things like that. But the creatives, the arts, all of that is a huge area.
I also am working with a real estate agent who is taking her process, and this is in the gated content realm, and creating backend videos for it. She’s also able to tell more about the area that they are buying. She’s in a very specific type of region. It’s things you wouldn’t think about, and it doesn’t take the high touch away. They’re still having calls with their client and all of that, but they’re able to say to their client, oh, at 11 o’clock at night, when their client has time to do something, they can watch a video on the process. They can have their resources, their referrals listed out in there and people can know that next step.
So I think it’s thinking in those ways and having that real estate agent with her proprietary process and what they’re doing, that’s a different way to use courses in your business.
Rich: Absolutely. And I’m just thinking about your example with the person who was doing the plantings. During Covid I got into gardening, specifically because I was watching Masterclass, and so all of a sudden I got into it. So I could totally see how that would be either another revenue stream or another way to prove that you are the right landscaping company, or whatever it is, to work with a local company or residential person. So that makes a lot of sense.
When it comes to developing these courses, why don’t you walk us through your PEAK framework. And then I’m sure we’re going to have some questions about it. And like any good marketer, P.E.A.K. is an acronym. So why don’t you take us through each stage of that and I’ll ask questions along the way.
Sandra: P E A K. Okay. So ‘P’ it all starts with the product. That is your product, and you’ve got to come with your product thought out. And there’s even nuances to things. People talk about repurposing. Oh, I have a webinar that I did. If you’re going to repurpose that into a course, you want to think about editing that. So you’re not saying, “Hi, where are you here from?” And we have 10 minutes of, “Oklahoma. Great. You’re in the house.” Just those type of details when you’re creating a course. Having your product be thought out. And you can also think about how you want to present that product. Is it video? Is it audio? Are you providing transcripts as well? So we do a lot in the ‘P’ version to get people set up.
‘E’ is entry. And this is really where you start also thinking about your customer journey once they’re in your product. Entry is the onboarding process that you create and when you are thinking about all the items that your students, your members, are going to need to know. You are able to plan them out, think about them ahead of time, get them instilled, and it makes the student – number one – feel more confident. They’re able to come in, access what they need, and start engaging with your product and your content right away.
And number two, when you have a thought-out entry process, the majority of my clients are solopreneurs or small businesses with a small team, you are getting less customer service inquiries because you’ve thought out all the needs for them, and they’re able to just come in and take action right away and access everything. ‘E’ is a really important part of that process.
‘A’ is automation. I’m big on the tech piece. Lean into your tech and think about, again, you want that customer journey of your course mapped out. What are the steps? What do you want to have happen each step of the way? So if you think that, oh, after module three or lesson three, I want to send an email because that’s where people get stuck. And you can build that into your course in an automation so that every time somebody gets through that they get an email that says, “Hey, I know this is really tough work. Keep going.” It’s great. Or, ask your questions in the Facebook group type of thing so you can really connect and be in touch by using your automations. Plus, you can think of what happens at the end, or are they subscribed to an email reminder sequence. Hey, we’ve got calls every Tuesday at 12 noon, type of thing. So really leaning into the tech piece and having automation set up for your course.
And then ‘K’ is keep in touch. And keep in touch is about that communication piece. You’re always relationship building. So whether they’re just signing on for an opt-in, you want to have that welcome sequence. Whether they need reminders, what happens at the end. That is always one of the questions that I challenge my clients with. Everyone wants to know what’s next, and you need to have an answer. So what’s next could be, hey they’ve reached the end of the course, they’re getting an email that’s telling them here’s another opportunity. Here’s the way to continue with me.
So all of that works together to build a foundation. And this is not about marketing, this is about the foundation of the course experience. And I always tell my clients that we’ve heard courses are experiences, but they are experiences not only for the student and the user, but they’re also experiences for the business owner themselves.
The better you set your foundation up, it is going to work a little hands free and smoother for you. It’s going to make that process enjoyable. And that’s a tenant of my business. We need to have joy in what we’re doing. So the better foundation you set up, the better experience you and your students are going to have.
Rich: I can feel that joy coming through, no doubt about that. So a lot of people might be wondering like, “Oh, I just thought I would repurpose a webinar and I’d be done with my course. This feels like more work.” So I know the answer is on some level it depends. But what should we expect in terms of time to develop an effective course for our business?
Sandra: So if you’re repurposing something, yes, I’m going to a advise you to take that extra step. But it’s really editing on the front end, or pulling in from the sales pitch on the back end. So you’re really just trimming for the most part. You can get away with trimming versus having to chop the whole thing up.
But those are just thoughts to have when it comes to this new venue you’re putting it in. It’s not a webinar anymore, it’s a course. And so you want your new people coming in to have that experience, whether they’ve paid or they’ve opted in. You want to get right to the meat of things for them.
If you are taking your expertise, now here’s the thing, you are able to create courses in a number of different ways. So you can create a signature course with your expertise. That’s like an overview of what you know, what your process is, whatever that is. But you’re also able to go deep into smaller courses that are just on one topic.
So the first step is really to think about, what do I want to teach? What do I want to talk about? Am I doing this overview course?
And I will say one of my favorite methods that I build for my clients are a course to membership model. Which is, have your course six weeks, eight weeks, and then have a membership site on the backend where they can continue the learning. There’s a community there. Everybody already has a common language from the course that they’ve taken, so you can really build on that as well. But once you decide I’m doing a signature course, I’m going to go deep on a couple of topics, it’s really just mapping out how are you going to break this down. And you already know that information, so it’s really just writing that outline. And then the process becomes scripting it, videoing it, editing it, building it out, and the platform. It can take some time depending on how large it is of a course.
And you want to think of things too, like branding along the way. All of these course platforms have the ability for thumbnails and colors and all of those things, so you do want to give your course a personality. Even if it’s gated content that you’re just using for your clients. You want to give attention to those details.
Rich: You’ve mentioned video and editing a number of times, is video the only way to go? It certainly feels like the most popular way these days. Is that what you recommend, or are there times when maybe another approach might be better?
Sandra: Yeah, I’m big on podcasts and I’m a podcast listener and podcast host, so I love adding an audio feed in there. Most of the software allow for you to do a private podcast feed, and there’s also other software that you can use. So that is one of my favorite things to do is have the video or just have it be a private podcast feed where it’s audio, and then you’re actually listening to it in your podcast platform.
So like an Apple iTunes type of situation rather than in the software itself or in the course platform. So I love adding that piece to it because I’m able to take a lot of content in while I’m walking my dog every day. So for me, if someone has that, I’m downloading it right away and I’m able to engage.
There’s a number of alternatives, and I also think that people need to think about – and this is in the product piece – like accessibility. Who is your audience? There are different types of learners. So the visual, the audio, and having complete transcripts. You can have transcripts that are PDFs and people love to read them, and highlight them, print them out type of thing, and absorb your content that way. So you do want to make it accessible, and there are a number of ways to do that.
Rich: You’ve mentioned platforms a few times, and I know that there’s a lot of competing platforms out there. Do you have one or two that you generally put your clients on because you just found them to be the best fits?
Sandra: Yeah. I am a Kajabi expert and that is my platform of choice. As a web designer and over these years, I have tried a number of different platforms from WordPress plugins, and MemberPress, and Learn Dash, and all of those. My clients want ease. That’s what I really love about Kajabi, is that it is an all-in-one and it’s easy. So people who this is their first foray into a course, you can get this set up – or I can set it up for them – and then they’re able to take over and manage the systems that have been created.
And I will have to say that over this time a number of other platforms have caught up in terms of adding automations. In the past they did not have built-in automation, so you were piecing things together with Zapier, which that totally works too, but it takes a more technical person to want to do that. And my clients want to teach. They want to talk about plants. They do not want to be doing the other portion of things. I am a fan of Kajabi in terms of that because it makes it really easy. It’s got email built in, so your automations of send an email just work.
Rich: All right. You’ve talked a lot about maybe having a group chat or having a membership group afterwards. And then even like we’re going live on Tuesday afternoon, I’m wondering is there a right mix? Some people I’m sure want to just set it and forget it, other people maybe want to build that community. So do you have any recommendations about how to make those decisions? And does every good course need your live interaction?
Sandra: Definitely not. You can do a video, put it up there, and have people purchase that. And that works very well. I think again, everything’s an individual choice in terms of what that content is and what the needs and connection are.
I also have clients who do evergreen courses all year, and then twice a year we do a launch with a special six weeks, once a week meeting with the course creator. So that adds another element to it, a little excitement, a little more direction. And so it really depends what your overall strategy and plan is.
I have one client now who we go the intimate strategy, which is what I call it. Where she wants to only have 20 people, 30 people at a time. We launched three times a year with that. And that is doable for her because for her it’s important to know everyone in her course, know their business, to be able to guide them in the teaching that she does. Some other people like 200 people in and it just really is what do you have time for? What other offers do you have in your business as well?
So with this client who does the intimate strategy, she’s a service provider so she has her own clients still. And taking on these smaller groups a couple times a year works for her. Some people who, if courses are your only offer, you’re going to max it out and go bigger in terms of audience and maybe what you’re going to be doing. So I take everything with what’s your business, what are your resources, what’s your end goal as well.
Rich: You mentioned something, I’m glad you brought it up. The idea of evergreen courses, which are always available, anybody can join at any time, versus something that has more of a launch. And we’ve seen both of these. Is there something that would lead you to recommend that one type of business goes evergreen, another type of business goes launch? And it sounds like you’ve even found a hybrid model as well, so I’m curious to hear your thoughts on that.
Sandra: Yeah. And again, that goes back to what is your goal, what else do you have to do?
I think with the course to membership model, we always do live launch and contact with the owner or with the course creator, because that’s also what helps people convert into the membership. In something like that, you want to build people, you want to get to know people and develop that relationship in there.
If you’re just doing an evergreen course, you have to look at also what is your topic? Hey, I just need to know a tutorial on how to do this X, Y, and Z. Okay, I’m going to buy that, watch it, I’m good to go. I’m on your mailing list now, right? But if people need more guidance, if there’s a coaching element that comes in, you’ve got to really think like the live launch method and having that contact with your audience, like that needs to be built in and incorporated throughout.
Rich: All right. This is probably almost an entire other episode on the podcast, but I am curious about beyond just whether it’s launch based or whether it’s evergreen based, there’s a lot of courses out there and there’s a lot of distractions out there. What are some of the ways that we can get our ideal customers to find out, become interested, and ultimately decide to move forward with one of our courses, whether it’s paid or free?
Sandra: Okay, so first I do just want to say that Covid was such a great thing for the course industry, because it really helped move the needle of the general population understanding that we can go digital and we can really immerse ourselves in this. Everybody knows what Zoom is now. I had clients who I used to have to say, here’s how to download Zoom and get a Zoom account. Everybody has a Zoom account.
Rich: Sometimes I still do, but yes.
Sandra: All right, the majority of people have a Zoom account now. So that has done a lot for this industry and moving people into leaning on digital for learning and experiences and all of that. So that being said, and it really is about relationship building.
You’ve got to go out and build relationships, whether that is through your social media, through content. I’m a big proponent of building through content, whether it’s a podcast or blog post content, and then doing that proper SEO piece to have that outreach. So you’ve got to do something to outreach.
And I have to mention that in-person networking is huge, too. I have built my business on in-person networking. And it starts out that way, people get to know you, they come back, right? You want to also have that email. Email newsletter and consistency set up with that. Because then when you are meeting people, they get on your list, they hear from you weekly or however frequent you’re writing. That is all part of the sequence. And there is no just one thing.
And I have some clients right now who have 200,000 people on their TikTok. But we have to figure out now great, they love those plant videos, but how are we getting them to buy the course now? And so it’s really thinking about your calls to action and letting people know. That’s the other thing. You have to let people know that you have this course or that you have these offers for them. And once is not enough. You have to say it all the time.
Rich: As we wrap up, I’m just wondering, you’ve been doing this for some time, you’ve worked with a lot of clients, you see what’s out there. What are some of the biggest mistakes businesses are still making when it comes to creating and implementing courses?
Sandra: Okay, so one of my number ones is, I call them ‘course platform hoppers’. Pick your platform. Stay with it. Go deep. Everyone is crowdsourcing. What should I do? Where should I be? What platform? Yes, there are a number of them. Do your research. Figure out what’s important to you. Sometimes it’s aesthetics, sometimes it’s the automations. And then stay with that platform, learn it, and go deep. That’s number one.
And number two is, find a reputable person in the industry to work with if you need that help setting up, because it’s so hard to piece everything together from various YouTube videos. The part that YouTube doesn’t always tell you are the strategy pieces and why you want to do this and why it makes sense in your customer journey to set something up this way. So having people who know whatever software you’re working with, that is a real investment in what you’re doing.
Rich: Awesome. Sandra, this has been great. I’m sure a lot of people are excited now about maybe looking into or launching their own courses. If people want to learn more about you and your business, how can they get in touch with you?
Rich: Awesome. Sandra, it was great seeing you again. Thanks so much for swinging by.
Sandra: Thank you for having me.
Sandra Scaiano takes a holistic approach when working with her clients, providing far-reaching value whether that’s through brand strategy, content creation, social media, or more. Reach out to book a free consult call, or check out her podcast for valuable discussions with industry thought leaders.
Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 25+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing.