Live Course Or Training
Live training is the fastest way to deliver your message. There are three sub-types of delivering live trainings:
• Online: All students online, and the content is delivered via video conference/webinar.
• In person: Everyone is at the same location, and the content is delivered via projector and whiteboard.
• In person with online broadcasting: Same as in-person training with the addition of an online audience, which is typically limited to listen-only, i.e., no interactions or questions allowed from the online audience.
I love live trainings. They require less preparation, because you will be there to handle most of the concerns and questions in the moment. I used live in-person trainings as a prequel to my books and online courses. Here are some other benefits of doing live trainings:
• You will immediately know if your ideas are good.
• You’ll know if the pricing was right.
• You’ll find out what is missing in your slides, manuals and examples, and what is causing confusion.
• You’ll know the frequently asked questions so you can include those topics in the material.
• You’ll get almost the undivided attention of your students, which is harder to get with a book or an online course.
• You’ll network with people.
• You’ll establish yourself as a trainer and public speaker.
• You’ll get a chance to use this training to contact other speakers and companies to invite them as guests to sponsor your event.
• You’ll make money almost right away.
• You’ll prepare for making a scalable product such as an online course.
Of course, your training doesn’t have to be in-person only. It’s more scalable, meaning you can reach more people and sell more tickets if you broadcast your training online via Google on Air, GotoWebinar, or a similar service. However, if this the first time you’re organizing such an event, I recommend that you focus only on in-person training. This will save you the hassle of finding cameras, setting up the broadcast, and manning the online chat (all while teaching the class).
If you feel confident that you have the capacity to do both online and in-person at the same time, then more power to you. I see this model being used more and more often. Typically the online version is priced lower than the in-person one.
To get started with your first live training, you need to have these things figured out:
• Topic and title: A niche and area of your training. Come up with something catchy by using proven headlines1.
• Description: A short 3-5 sentence description of your training.
• Curriculum: A detailed list of topics you plan to cover (word them as benefits to your students, not as features).
• Prerequisites: A list of skills/knowledge that students must have prior to taking your class.
• Requirements: A list of items students need to have, install, or bring, such as a laptop with Git and NPM.
• Location: An address and directions to the training site.
• Price: The price of the events. You can research similar courses offered by General Assembly and price lower or higher depending on the discrepancy between your curriculum and theirs.
• Discounts: Your discount strategy. Are you going to offer early bird discounts? What about group discounts?
• Date: The big day. Set the date of the event. Weekends or weeknights work best, because students won’t need to take a day off from work.
• Slides: Slides that you’ll use to cover the topics; they don’t have to be detailed.
• Manuals (optional): A manual that students can use to follow your slides or brush up at home. I recommend creating ∼50-page manual in a PDF or paperback format. The more details this manual has the better. You can also create it in a workbook format with spaces left to fill in the answers to questions, take notes, and do exercises.
• Examples (optional): Examples or case studies. For technical training, the more examples you have, the more things students can take with them and apply to their projects later, which means the value of your training increases. Case studies serve as a great motivator for business courses.
• Exercises (optional): Hands-on exercises that students can perform using the knowledge from the class. For technical training, don’t just talk, let people do some hands-on exercises.
• Snacks and lunch (optional): Will power depletes with time. Food is a way to keep our brain working. Students will appreciate the convenience if you provide them with snacks, water, coffee, and a lunch; the latter will give them time to share the learned skills that reinforce your teaching.
Okay, so you got all (or most) of the items figured out. If not, no worries. You can change pretty much anything later (maybe anything except the price).
Pricing right is an art, not a science. In addition, price changes are tricky. If you lower the price after making a few sales at a higher price, you risk making people who paid the higher price mad. Therefore, if you are not sure about the price in the beginning, start with a lower price and increase it as warranted. In other words, start lower and experiment. If you start high and then lower the price, you might need to refund the early tickets or offer them some bonuses.
At some point, you should be able to find the right price that will be high enough yet allow you to sell all the tickets. Pricing is more of an art than a science. Experiment with your audience and marketing message (sales copy).
I priced my Node Program event at a premium. The ticket cost was $997 for a two-day event. (We had a follow-up session a week later, so it actually was more than two days.) I did so because I wanted to keep the event private. I limited the number of students that could register for a single event to 10.
My reasoning: By keeping at a small size, I could spend more time with each student to deliver the best value. I’ve seen that my delivery suffers if the class goes beyond 15-20 people, and I’m in the classroom by myself.
I’m not saying this is the best approach. It worked for me, but might not work for others. The format of the training was the workshop format. In workshops, students perform a lot of hands-on exercises, which is usually accompanied by some troubles with their setups, systems, code, computers, etc. Therefore, you need to be able to help them or have additional staff.
Now if you think like a business—and your training should be treated like a business venture—you can invite an assistant or offer a discounted ticket for a teaching assistant (TA) role. In this case, you can safely increase the number of students in your class without compromising the effectiveness.
To summarize, the class size depends on these factors:
• Type of training: Hands-on workshops tend to require more assistance than lectures.
• How good your materials are: If your instructions (manual, slides, and talk) are clear and concise, then your students will need less assistance. This tends to improve with each training you do (if you update your materials, of course).
• How good the application process was: Did you filter out complete beginners if your class was aimed at professionals?
• How good the description and prerequisites were: If you sent your students materials to complete before the class, did they read them and do everything you said?
To circle back to the pricing, I’ve seen prices on the higher end for technical classes compared to non-technical classes.
Here are some examples (rounded):
• Sales 101 by GA (General Assembly): $40 for two hours
• Hacks for Getting Hired by GA: $35 for two hours
• Intro to Python by GA: $200 for three hours
• Speed-reading class: $300 for half a day
• Basics of handgun safety: $150 for a day
• Intro to Node by GA: $1,000 for two days
• Hypnosis training: $1,500 for one week (full-time)
• Yoga teacher training: $3,000 for one month (full-time)
• Web dev immersive by GA: $11,500 for three months (full-time)
• Hack Reactor: $17,000 for three months (full-time)
Clearly, the more value students perceive from the training, the higher the price tag can be. Competition is another factor. For in-person trainings, location contributes to the demand (some topics won’t be interesting to a lot of people in certain small areas).
Refund or No Refund
Should you have a refund policy or not? They both have their pros and cons.
Refunds make it easier for people to buy in, especially if it’s not expensive and they don’t know you yet (no trust has been established). In other words, refunds make impulsive purchasing easier. I offer 100% refund for my books and online courses.
Do you always want to offer refunds? Probably not. I didn’t want impulse buyers at my Node Program live events. I wanted only committed people.
Also, studies show that when buyers don’t have a refund option (a way out), then they are more satisfied with their purchases. I noticed this in my own behavior. When I buy something and they offer refunds, I always have this thought in the back of my mind: Should I return and get something else that might be even better? When I don’t have refund options, I am a happier camper.
Saying all that, in my policy and description, I stated that tickets are non-refundable, but internally, I decided that I’d offer refunds anyway to someone really unhappy with the training. I’ll let it be an exception to the policy. I just don’t advertise this fact broadly for the other attendees, to avoid reducing their satisfaction.
In either case, make a price and refund decision, and know why you made it. Experiment with these decisions for the next event.
Getting the Space
We’ve covered a lot of different topics so far. I hope they’ve been useful. But before we proceed, let me tell you why I started doing live events.
In 2014, I left my full-time job to focus on spreading and evangelizing Node.js. I was working on Practical Node.js2 and Pro Express.js3, but I wanted to get to know my readers and people eager to learn Node. js directly face-to-face, because I wasn’t getting as much feedback as I wanted from my blog and Amazon.com reviews. Long story short, I picked a name and domain Node Program.com4 and wrote a description and curriculum for a two-day training.
To get the space, I contacted Hack Reactor5 and they offered me a free conference room in exchange for me putting their logo on the event page (as a partner, i.e., cross promotion).
Later, I contacted MakerSquare6 and Wix Lounge7, and they were open to hosting my event as well. So before you rent some space at a coworking space or a hotel, I suggest you contact these types of companies to get the space for free:
• Business incubators/accelerators, e.g. 500 Startups
• Small startups, e.g. Storify
• Coding schools, e.g. Hack Reactor
• Continuing education schools, e.g. General Assembly8
• Big companies that want to promote tech, e.g. Capital One 360 Cafe9 and Wix Lounge
If everything else fails, you can find a coworking space and book their conference room for a few hundred dollars, which will be paid with a few sold tickets if you price the topic right.
I recommend giving yourself at least one month lead time before the event, because you’ll need to prepare your slides, market the event, print handouts/manuals, and do other things. I give myself two months’ lead time. This way I can experiment with ticket prices and different marketing tactics.
So let’s say you have the date, location, and curriculum. You don’t need all the slides, manuals, and examples just yet. You can finish them later. You need the event sales page. The easiest way, and the one I used, is to sign up for Eventbrite. You can create your event page in 30 minutes, and they process your payments as well. You can link your PayPal (my choice) or your bank account and start collecting the dough.
Eventbrite.com offers many settings for the events. Don’t worry about all the settings such as affiliates, discounts, and recurring dates, if you are not sure about them.
The most important thing is to paste your description and other training related info and create a ticket. You’ll get the URL that you can share with your email list, on social media, and use in ads.
The best way to promote your live training is to notify your existing customers. These are the people who already paid for some of your products even if it was just $1. How much they paid doesn’t matter as long as they paid something.
The logic behind this is that the freeloaders don’t count as much, because when money exchanges hands, it creates a special relationship between you and other people. So nurture your existing customers, because marketing to them is the easiest way to sell this type of event (i.e., upsell).
The second best thing to existing customers, in terms of selling, is your followers/audience. Those are the people who gave you their emails in exchange for some great content that you’ve been sending them. It can also be a Like on Facebook or a Follow on Twitter. If you don’t have the list yet, now is the best time for you to start creating it. You can write great content, offer giveaways, and use lead magnets (some bonus content like a course or an ebook).
When you blast email to your list, make sure to highlight the benefits students will get instead of just the topics. For example, don’t write first that they’ll learn Git. (Git is a tool developers use to save their code and share it with other team members.) Instead, write that “you’ll become a better team member by contributing to team’s projects via Git”. Or, “you’ll be confident in pushing code and most likely become a go-to expert on your team if anyone has a merge issue with Git”.
Eventually, you can create a separate landing page (e.g., NodeProgram. com) and use that instead of the Eventbrite page (eventbrite.com/ nodeprogram). The benefits of a separate landing page are many:
• You have the control over layout and theme and can experiment with it to improve conversion.
• You build your own brand.
• You can have an opt-in form.
• You can offer other downloads or purchases.
However, having a landing page is not required. If creating a new website sounds too time consuming, skip it for now. (The first version of Node Program took me a few hours to put together—I can justify the time spent.) You can direct all the traffic to the Eventbrite page because a lot of people are familiar with the service, have accounts there, and trust it. For these reasons, I wouldn’t use PayPal or Gumroad as an event sales page.
Sharing on social media is easy. Just don’t forget to become a valuable member of a group first, before pitching any of your events or products. Follow the Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook13 principle; that is, make three valuable contributions before asking for something. Last, but not least, you should run Facebook and Twitter ads (and maybe on some other platform something after 2015). The general rule is, if your products are $1-50, send traffic to the sales page. If they are $50-500, then create a webinar. Don’t sell from the page. If your product tiers/products are $500+, your best bet is to call each prospect. You can offer the sales call as a consultation and make the prospects call you. This way, they feel in control and are more likely to buy.
The numbers might vary, but you get the idea. The closer your price is to $1,000, the more effort you need to convert cold leads (people who are not your existing customers).
The most important issue is to have an opportunity to follow up with people, because with the higher price point, most of them won’t make a decision right away. Sadly, this is true even if this is something prospects need and want.
Therefore, direct your ad traffic to the opt-in page with a lead magnet, not just the sales page.
My personal experience with Node Program ads supports this. I got dismal results when I was promoting my live training. The ads were driving traffic to the sales page. I got almost 0 sales. But I got good results with ads when I was promoting a Sublime Text giveaway/sweepstake. (By the way, that giveaway brought over 42,000 subscribers to my blog.) I used the KingSumo WordPress plugin to create the landing page in under 30 minutes (see Figure 1-1). Famous author and blogger Tim Ferriss recently used the same plugin for his giveaway14.
One more note about marketing—you can partner with a newsletter or some local organization that has an existing list in your niche. The easiest way to incentivize a partner is to use an affiliate link from Eventbrite. I partnered with Startup Monthly and got good results. They blasted the link to their members who reside in the Bay Area.
After you sell a few tickets to your events, you can focus on slides and other material, because now you have the confidence that people need your event.
If you haven’t sold anything—well, this is a good thing, because you probably didn’t invest a lot of time and effort into the preparation. Right? I am a huge fan of the Lean Startup approach15.
You can switch to a new topic! Experiment with other techniques… or abandon this particular topic altogether.
A few tips about the event itself:
• Print manuals: Not everyone is a listener; some people learn better by reading or writing; and most people prefer tangible things to than digital ones. (I’m not one of them. If you ask me, I’d pick a soft copy.)
• Have materials on USB sticks: Same argument as above, plus there might not be not be a fast enough Internet connection at the classroom to download big files.
• Offer certificates for completion: Some people like the sense of achievement.
• Email a few days before the event to remind everyone: Not all may remember or have it in their calendars.
• Offer your cell phone number and/or get their cell phone numbers: Someone typically will have a problem finding the classroom.
During the event, make sure you go over the expected material. You must underpromise and overdeliver, not the other way around. This might sound obvious, but I think it’s worth repeating because it’s the key to success.
After the Event
For this reason, after you run your event, send students some bonus that you didn’t mention. This can be a follow-up session (online or in-person) or some material like cheat sheets or notes.
We cannot teach people anything; we can only help them discover it within themselves. — galileo galilei
In addition, ask for anonymous feedback, so you can improve the delivery and materials. While you’re at it, ask for testimonials. Don’t be shy. You can use testimonials on your sales page.
Get some rest and review your materials. Probably, you’ve discovered that your slides, handouts, manual, examples, and exercises need some polishing. Iteration must be the main focus of the first few training sessions.
After all improvements are complete, and when you become somewhat confident in your delivery, you can broadcast your training online and/or record it to make an online course. That’s exactly what I did with my first online course, Node Program (see Figure 1-2).
In-person training is a great way to get started on the path to earning extra income, establishing your expertise in a certain area, and making your content better and better.
The downside of the live in-person training is that you can only invite so many people. It’s good if you live in a big metropolitan area such as the Bay Area, New York, or Chicago, because most people won’t consider flying for the training. I had a few exceptions with the Node Program. People flew from Florida, Australia, and Washington D.C., but those were exceptions. If you want to expand your reach, you have to broadcast the training online.
With the location barrier to attend eliminated, the only excuse for students who won’t attend your live online training is that they are busy during that time. You might guess where this leads us. That’s right, recorded videos are covered next. Another benefit of recorded videos and online courses (which are typically recorded videos but they don’t have to be) is that more advanced students can fast forward through the lectures while less prepared students can play them over and over.