My First eCourse: 5 Big Lessons Learned!

June 14, 2020
Susan Fessenden

Don’t make the same mistakes twice! Or at least that’s what they say… ProfitLogics would need to be drastically different from my previous consulting venture.  Solo-businesses based on hourly billing are simply not scalable – there are only a certain number of hours to bill and a limit to the number of businesses you can help!

Creating a program that could help any business grow regardless of size, stage, or industry was my 1st goal when I developed the Grows Profit 5 Business Questions.

My 2nd goal was to use eCourses to make the program financially accessible to all small businesses!

I’ve taken enough eCourses to know what I don’t like, and I wanted mine to be what all those other courses weren’t.

  • Conversational (Authentically ‘Suz” – Silly comments and all!
  • Attention-keeping (Instead of slide after slide with voice-over!)
  • Well-rounded (Informative, yet practical application examples!)

As a member of many small business groups, I often contribute advice and best practices to help small businesses get out of the weeds whenever possible with quick and free help and found some common threads of concern:

  • Erroneously using W-9 contractors instead of employees
  • Hiring employees and deciding on payroll solutions for the first time
  • Wondering if it was feasible for them to start hiring
  • Becoming an employer too soon = catastrophic cash-flow shortfalls

I decided that my first Hiring? Payroll? Compliance? Ohhh Crap! All the Basics eCourse was a lot to cover and very technical. People devote their entire careers to being Certified Payroll & HR Professionals and take lots of coursework to obtain their expertise. How on earth would I boil my knowledge down to a “here are the basics” eCourse to arm small businesses with the bare essentials?

It started like many projects do… with an outline in PowerPoint. I came up with 7 Modules that I wanted to cover and then all I would need to do was record a zillion clips and smoosh it all together into an LMS platform. Right?

OMG. No!

It was so much work and these are the biggest lessons from the mistakes I made that cost me time and my sanity:

1. Hire some help at the beginning

I stalled for months before I even got started due to the simple fact that I couldn’t visualize the final product. I was stuck in a swirl over eCourse style, format, where to start, how to market it, and what to do first.

After a couple of months of procrastination, I finally hired a talented Creative Professional to help me formulate and execute the plan.  I wish I had hired her much sooner!

2. Start with smaller subject matter

I wish I had started with something more simple. Teaching someone all the basics of compliance and hiring is not a simple task. Partway through, it became clear that I needed to break the big 7-Module course into 2 separate courses.

I realized that the first Module “Is your business ready for hiring?” needed to stand alone as its own mini-course people could take quickly and very inexpensively to serve as a good ‘gut check’ about the readiness of their business to embark on becoming an employer.

This means that my project basically doubled… 2 different products that would work if taken separately or together. We managed to finish the mini-eCourse and get it up on my site, but we couldn’t stop to market it because we had another whole 6-Module course to tackle!

I should’ve planned to do the small mini-eCourse, to begin with… and focused on that instead of the huge breadth of information I had to mentally organize for the larger course content. The sheer size of the main course was daunting and subject matter numbness and review exhaustion set in.

When I would review clips and slides, I was so tired of it all that I didn’t catch issues until much later in the process, which made it much more difficult to fix later.

3. Fully research and think through the LMS platform

A major mistake I made early on was selecting an LMS platform that wasn’t right. I had decided to go with Thinkific for ease of use and price, not realizing how complicated this decision was going to make things. Thinkific is fantastic for businesses that need one platform to handle their whole business - It’s amazing for that.

The problem was that I already had my own website and eCommerce solution, so I didn’t need those features.

At first, I didn’t see a problem. I figured I could always change my tools later as my business grew and for now that using something out of the box would be fine. We carried on and completed the mini-eCourse on Hiring Readiness in Thinkific. Sweet! A major milestone completed!

People wanting my course would start from my site, but instead of adding it to their cart, the product listing would instead take them over to Thinkific to check out, pay, create an account, and take the course.

Wait… Ohhhh, Yuck.

What if they also want to buy other items? They would have to check out through my site for some stuff, and through Thinkific for courses.  We made a fix in Thinkific by adding my Hourly Advisory Services. Phew! Wait… Some people will get my course and advisory services on Thinkific, and some will get my advisory services and eWorkbooks on my site?

Yuck. Yuuuck!

And then I thought about the crazy correspondence process with my email service for the eCourse sales vs other sales coming from 2 different platforms and yah… and it got messy and complicated.

Yuck. Yuckity Yuck!

And then, I thought about my planned Affiliate Marketing Program. If I have sales going through Thinkific as well my ecommerce site, then how will I easily manage the Affiliate commissions?

It would be a total and complete Cluster-Yuck!

I had a huge decision to make. Do I change my platform after I already told people the course on Hiring Readiness was ready? Can I live with this mess for a year and switch later?  What would I use for my platform? My website professional said his team could build my courses directly into my site, but custom web development sounded costly, time-consuming, and problematic from a long-term servicing perspective.

The next idea was to use an existing LMS that embeds into your site so the customer has one, seamless experience. That was LearnDash and that is what I decided to use. The decision to switch platforms midway through this project was heartbreaking as it added a substantial amount of time to our full eCourse release, but ultimately it was the right decision!

Ensuring that my customers have a consistent, seamless experience on my site was the most important factor. The second-largest factor was the ability to efficiently manage my future Affiliate Marketing Program.   It is also important to note that if you go with a LearnDash type of Wordpress plug-in LMS solution that you will need to bolt-on your own video hosting solution with proper security and settings – we went with a Vimeo Plus subscription.

4. Don’t buy annual software subscriptions

It must be the recovering accountant in me…

OMG, the number of times that I’ve opted for the ‘Annual Subscriptions’ to save $20.

So stupid!

I’ve learned the hard way that when starting with something new, always just purchase the monthly subscriptions until you have fully tried out and decided long term that it is the best solution for your project! My frugal sensibilities got the best of me and I was shortsighted about sunk costs if that product didn’t work for me!

5. Create an organized plan for each stage

Since this was the first project of this type for myself and my Creative Director, we didn’t know what we didn’t know. Our final product isn’t perfect but we are proud and excited to be done so we can begin the next one with a better process!

Consider how you will submit completed work to each other, how revisions and corrections will be done and communicated, and how to limit the number of revisions. We should have had a full and complete review of each Module before moving forward. I should have reviewed my video clips more thoroughly before sending them to her. I should have proofread and reworded each slide before giving to her.  Revision after revision after revision was tedious and exhausting, but we sure learned our lesson!

I hope this article has been helpful to you on your eCourse journey! Let me know if you have any specific questions about the process! And if you are considering hiring employees or have gaps in your compliance knowledge or hiring best practices go check out my two new eCourses: Hiring Readiness Mini-eCourse and Hiring for the First Time.

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Susan Fessenden
As a person who grew up in a struggling family business and later put myself through college, I see business ownership as the ultimate socio-economic equalizer. Anyone can start a business, and if run properly, it can elevate everyone involved. This leads to stability, a higher standard of living, stimulating local economies, and contributing to stronger communities. I have put my 25 years of hands-on business management, turn-around, and growth experience into one toolbox that can help every business regardless of size, stage, or industry… The 5 Missing Pieces™ Framework. At my core, I am a scrappy dreamer, a fierce ally, and a creative problem solver.

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