Today I’m going to show you the exact process we use to help our clients build, launch, and grow their digital course and membership businesses. We’ll follow DB, one of our clients, as we helped her create 4 workshops and 2 courses generating over $54,645 in less than 6 months!
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From struggling solopreneur to successful virtual CEO
DB is a popular podcaster in the family and parenting niche. She has published a book, been featured in several publications, and appeared on the Today Show.
DB had seen consistent growth in her podcast, email list, and social media channels but struggled to monetize her expertise. She had one digital course which was fairly successful but bogged down trying to do everything herself in her business like content creation, course creation, marketing, social media, and supporting her communities.
DB tried going the virtual assistant route as many do, but found she was still lacking an experienced integrator/online business manager to delegate to and was in need of an increasing number of different skills (tech, editing, ads management, support) that no single VA has to help her take her business to the next level.
Taking decisive action
DB joined our Expert Business – Accelerate program to gain access to a virtual COO, shared team, and done-for-you services to help her scale her digital course business. Accelerate is an 8-week program that helps you plan, build, and launch a digital course but without you having to learn, implement, or struggle with tech, funnels, ads, etc.
Seeing success with the Accelerate program, DB then joined our Expert Business – Operate program which provides continued, ongoing partnership and support. The Operate program includes the same virtual COO, shared team, and done-for-you services to keep supporting and growing your business.
Both programs are designed to provide rapid results and continuous improvement…
Within the first 6 months, we helped DB create and launch 4 workshops and 2 courses which combined generated $54,645.50 and a run rate toward her first 6-figure year from online course sales!
Her course sales came from 1,041 unique customers and several different sales funnels ranging from basic landing pages to advanced evergreen webinars. Each was backed by email marketing automation and segmentation.
With the Expert Business Agency building and managing the technical platform and doing all of the back end work, DB was able to create more content, more paid products, and support a much larger number of customers…
All while working fewer total hours, spending more of her time in the areas she enjoyed, and never having to worry about technology or getting stuck…
In the next section we’ll cover exactly how we did this for DB, and how we can do it for you!
The Expert Business System
The purpose of the Expert Business System is to provide a step-by-step plan for how to build, scale, and automate an online business around your expertise. When potential clients book a free strategy session with us, we use the Expert Business System to guide the discussion. There are three key elements:
- What to build
- How to build it
- How to get it built FOR you
For DB, like we do with all potential clients, we start out discussing their goals and objectives. For some, they are starting from scratch and a vague notion of wanting to build and online business. For DB, she already had a good sized audience and some key elements in place. Regardless of the starting point, we use the same 9-step roadmap to ensure everyone takes a proven path to success, what we call the Expert Business Roadmap.
The Expert Business Roadmap (“What to build”)
The key to success in online business comes down to doing the right things, in the right order, as fast as possible and quickly learning from any mistakes you make.
After reverse-engineering all the successful online entrepreneurs mentioned above, we created a 9-step roadmap that we use with all of our clients.
Our roadmap puts you on a path to generate revenue as soon as possible while building the key elements required for long-term success.
Notice a couple key differences between this proven roadmap and what most people think:
- Names, logos, business cards, coffee mugs don’t matter…
- You don’t need to build a website first (we don’t recommend that until step 4!)
- You don’t need to publish content and wait for years to actually start selling and generating revenue
The Expert Business Model (“How to build it”)
How you build your expert business is more important than what you build. An average strategy, executed well will outperform a perfect strategy poorly executed.
The primary challenge that your business model needs to solve is ensuring YOU are able to spend 100% of your time in your “zone of genius”, the areas where you are already an expert. That means creating content, serving your customers, attracting new customers. It is NOT learning about blogging, messing around with WordPress, trying to learn Facebook ads.
There is a business model that allows you to have that 100% focus. We call it the Expert Business Model. We discovered this during our research and work with successful online entrepreneurs. The top difference between the successful online entrepreneurs and those who aren’t is having a second in command you can delegate entire functions to (like tech, marketing, etc.)
The best description of this concept comes from the book Rocket Fuel:
“Visionaries have groundbreaking ideas. Integrators make those ideas a reality. This explosive combination is the key to getting everything you want out of your business. It worked for Disney. It worked for McDonald’s. It worked for Ford. It can work for you.”– Rocket Fuel, Gino Wickman
Your Virtual COO
The first key element of the Expert Business Model is what we call a “Virtual COO” (i.e. the Integrator) which is your (the Visionary’s) second in command.
The reason this is SOOOOO important is that it’s the key to freeing up your time. Having a highly qualified second in command is what enables you to delegate and stop worrying about entire aspects of your online business. It does NOT mean you aren’t involved, it simply means you and your COO set a vision/direction and the COO ensures it gets executed.
Sounds good, but what does that really look like?
Most agencies and service providers will force you to create a “ticket” for anything you want them to do. Then they reserve up to 72 hours or more to work on it and in the meantime they don’t do anything else for you. Each ticket then has a long form that you have to fill out to get them to do anything. Its more efficient for them, but not the best for you because you may not know exactly what you need or the best path to take.
In our Accelerate program, every client gets a private Slack channel dedicated to them and their virtual team. You have unlimited access to your virtual COO and you are NOT forced into a ticketing system. Here’s what that looks like:
Notice that this experience is as if you had a full time COO working for you. A second in command to delegate to and say “make it happen”. Working with them throughout the day as needed.
Your Virtual Team
While your virtual COO will be able to do a lot, the same logic applies to them as it does to you: they should be focused on THEIR zone of genius which is managing, systemizing, and improving your online business.
You and your virtual COO need a virtual team comprised of the various skills and expertises that your online business needs like tech, design, copywriting, etc.
Struggling solopreneurs typically make two mistakes:
- They first try to learn and do everything themselves (bootstrapping), paying thousands of dollars for courses instead of hiring help
- When they realize #1 is not the right path, they try to find a “virtual assistant” that knows everything and will do it all for $8/hr (HINT: they don’t exist)
What ALL successful online entrepreneurs do is leverage a team.
With our Accelerate program, we offer instant access to the shared team of experts that your business needs. You don’t have to search, find, interview, and manage them, your virtual COO does that for you.
For DB, the team has varied from just a virtual COO and technical resource in the beginning to adding audio/video editors, Facebook ad managers, and project managers.
Systems and Tools
The final element of the Expert Business Model is systems and tools. The sooner that EVERY aspect of your online business is built, documented, repeatable, and predictable, the quicker you can scale your results.
This is by far the biggest difference we see between the successful online businesses and the struggling ones. Proven systems, processes, and procedures are mandatory for success. Most underestimate that amount of time and experience this takes, avoiding it for years even.
Within our Accelerate program, our clients leverage our proven systems, processes, and procedures so they don’t have to start from scratch.
Making it real: Expert Business – Accelerate
When DB joined our Solo to Virtual CEO program, we immediately assigned her a virtual COO, in this case ME!
For as long as I can until we outgrow my time, I serve as our client’s virtual COO, or second in command. That immediately lets our clients like DB start delegating entire functions like tech, marketing, ads management to us. This way, you as the client don’t have to manage a team of 10+ freelancers, flaky VAs, etc. It’s on us to assemble and manage a shared team for you.
For DB we knew we’d need tech, content editing, and funnel building support right away. Later we would need ad management, community management, and other skills. We modify the shared team as needed.
With the virtual COO and shared team in place, our done-for-you services begin to get delivered. But before we set off and take action, a solid plan needs to be created.
It doesn’t matter whether its a house, boat, car, plane, or business, you need a solid blueprint before you start building anything…
Your Expert Business Blueprint (Week 1)
Before you start building anything, you need to create a blueprint for your Expert Business. If you don’t you’ll wind up with a business that looks like the infamous Winchester House with stairs and doors to nowhere:
Your Expert Business Blueprint needs to define four key elements:
Mission: Your mission is the overall impact you want to have with your expert business. As an example, my mission is to help 1,000 skilled professionals build 7-figure businesses that have a positive impact on their customers and deliver them financial freedom.
Your mission statement should follow a format like:
I help ___________ achieve __________ without _______ so they can ________.
Market: Your market is the audience that you want to serve and attract as customers. This is critically important, especially in the beginning. You need to find a sub-market or niche that your skills or expertise are uniquely suited for. This takes the form of a Market, sub-market within, and niche within the sub-market.
Outcomes: Now that you have your mission and your market, you need to determine what outcomes or solutions you can provide to your market. Can you help them improve their health, wealth, relationships, or some other area? With the expertise you’ve chosen to focus on, think about the most desirable outcome you can provide through teaching, coaching, consulting, etc.
Business: The final element of your blueprint is the business model and product “value ladder” that you will build. There are many different types of expert businesses including freelancing, consulting, coaching, online courses, masterminds, information products, etc. Many include two or more of those categories. Nearly all successful online businesses build a value ladder, a set of products/services ranging from free to very high priced solutions. At this early planning stage, you should be thinking about an entry level, flagship, and high-ticket products/services.
Look at the business model from our Course & Membership Revenue Calculator. The key numbers are the cost of each product, the target sales for each product, and the total revenue for the year. Note that in the early years, only a few hundred customers are required to break into 6-figures:
Also note that over time if you successfully manage your business, you increase prices and customers over time, resulting in significant business growth.
Bonus Material: Model your own price and customer estimates with our Course & Membership Revenue / Value Ladder Calculator (valued at $250)
For DB, when we worked with her to define her expert business blueprint, we came up with the following for year one:
Mission: Help women live well by developing a healthy relationship with themselves, their family, and their home
Market: DB’s market is married women with one or more children under the age of 12
Outcomes: For her target market, as Ph.D. in child development and clinical social worker, DB helps women simplify their homes, work through child development issues, and create a healthy and happy home.
Business: DB’s initial value ladder will include free content, monthly paid workshops, and flagship courses. Workshops will be priced in the $20 – $50 dollar range with a goal of 250 sales per month. Flagship courses will be launched twice a year at $150 with a target of 250 sales per launch.
Using the Course & Membership Revenue Calculator, you can see that this blueprint designs a business that in year one is planned to generate $135,000 in revenue.
DB’s business is right on track to hit that number this year, even in the middle of a pandemic.
With your blueprint in place, the next step is to start productizing your expertise and defining in more detail each element of your initial value ladder.
Note that these are extremely low price points. For most of our clients, we recommend starting with the highest price offer their market can support and then move down into the middle and lower priced products. The potential revenue can be much higher and arrive much faster.
Productize Your Expertise (Week 2)
While the revenue goals are exciting, this step is one of the most important: productizing your expertise.
In this step, you need to define what each of your value ladder elements are and create a specification for them. The specification is like a blueprint for each product: what it is, what it provides, features, benefits, etc. If it’s an online course then the specification would include the course objectives, target audience, outline of modules/lessons/topics. Any materials like workbooks or quizzes associated with it, marketing materials required, and so on.
For DB, this entailed defining the rough outline of what a monthly workshop would look like and what a flagship course would look like. Here’s what those look like:
Monthly Workshop: Priced at $20, each workshop is one hour of content on a single topic plus a 30 minute Q&A session. The workshop would be delivered live and be recorded. A workshop typically includes a small PDF workbook or resource.
Flagship Course: Priced between $99 – $250, a flagship course will include 4 – 8 hours of recorded video content, a PDF workbook per topic, and will include multiple group coaching calls.
Next, we move into a detailed specification for each, starting with the target market, the course promise/outcome, and supporting details. An outline of each lesson, topic, video, resource, etc.
IMPORTANT: Do NOT start building any of this yet. These specifications are your starting point for testing your product plans. You don’t yet have data proving that these will resonate with your target market. You need to validate these product ideas before investing the time and money building them.
Instead of spending time and money creating these right now, it’s critical that you start pre-selling these products to validate fit and demand. To do so, the next step is to create high converting sales funnels.
Fire Up Your Funnels (Week 3)
The absolute best way to test your product ideas is to start selling them, BEFORE they are built! Surveying people, asking if they sound like a good idea, asking “how much would you pay for X” are NOT effective in testing your ideas. The true test is whether someone takes out their credit card and buys the product.
“Is it ethical to sell something before it’s built?” YES, if you properly disclose that fact, it’s not only ethical but beneficial. You can invite the buyer to shape the product or program. Here’s what this looks like “Buy now to become a founding member of XYZ online course. Your input will be used to shape the final content of the courses which will launch in 4 weeks”
This is the step where the Accelerate program really starts to ramp up. Where everyone else starts to bog down on questions of “which funnel software should I use”, “how do I collect emails”, “how do I process credit cards”, our Accelerate clients never even have to worry about that, let alone buy a $2,000 course and take months trying to learn how to do all these steps.
Instead, a state of the art technical platform is implemented for you using best of breed components that you own and control.
As that is being setup, we work with you to identify which type of sales funnels match your planned products. Those could be lead magnet funnels, appointment booking funnels, webinar funnels, etc.
The reason for building these first is they let you start selling as early as week three of the Accelerate program with the potential to generate revenue and the goal of collecting data about how well your offers are resonating so that they can be modified or optimized.
For DB, we worked with her to setup and connect to Stripe and Paypal for collecting payment, implemented initial sales funnels for her first monthly workshop, migrating her existing email list and automations into our preferred platform, and testing everything end to end.
There are a HUGE number of small tasks required to get professional, high converting sales funnels created. Whether its design, copywriting, automation, installing tracking pixels, etc. there are many steps that people miss that are very important.
Implemented properly, sales funnels will quick start generating either revenue, feedback, or both!
At this point, it’s time to start building your headquarters online: you business’s web site.
Power Up Your Web Presence (Week 4)
Websites… In the long run, they are critical to your success. In the short run, they can be a huge time and money sink. We see people spending months and years trying to perfect a website when they have zero traffic or audience. That’s like spending money to place a billboard in the middle of the desert…
As with funnels, in the Expert Business – Accelerate program, we build a professional, high-converting website to be your headquarters online. The key at this stage is building only what you need at this stage and NOT getting bogged down trying to build a complex site, design, and branding. Think minimum viable product.
Here’s why: You actually don’t want people spending lots of time on your website at this point. You want them seeing your content and as quickly as possible joining your email list and getting into your sales funnels.
The reason the website IS important is that it links together all of your assets from content, to funnels, to your courses and memberships as they get built.
In DB’s case, she had an existing website that was in decent shape but that needed significant back end upgrades in order to be able to host funnels, courses, etc. In this case, instead of building from scratch, we migrated her site onto our advanced hosting and then overhauled much of the back end to enable all the advanced features required.
Similar to funnels, there are hundreds of setup tasks required for a website capable of supporting a digital course and membership business. Almost none of those tasks should be performed by you as they are not CEO-level tasks.
For DB, since joining Accelerate and continuing into our Operate program, she has never had to do anything related to her website other than create her blog and podcast posts. Whether it’s configuration, page updates, security, performance improvements, etc. ALL of those are handled by our shared team.
Turn On Your Social Channels (Week 5)
As part of your Expert Business Blueprint, the primary and supporting social media channels that are recommended for your audience are captured. When we get to this step, it’s all about creating and configuring those social channels with professionally designed brand assets, post templates, and links to your sales funnels.
How many social channels to turn on depends on your specific situation. If you are a solopreneur and trying to do it all yourself, then focusing on a single social channel until you master it makes sense but is very limiting since you will be competing with larger players who are omnipresent across all channels with content teams supporting them.
If you become a client of ours or hire your own help, then you can turn on multiple social media channels and increase your odds of success.
DB was already well established on Instagram and Facebook Groups so in this case we didn’t have to do as much as usual there.
For clients not already established, we do almost all of the required design and setup other than providing the raw content.
Start Your Content Engine (Week 6)
At this point, all of the required infrastructure is setup for your expert business. You should be seeing initial data from your sales funnels and potentially even early sales. It is now time to start creating valuable content to fuel your website, email marketing, and social channels and to begin building your email list and subscribers.
The reason we call this a content engine is that you need a robust and efficient process for generating a LARGE amount of content to fuel your marketing efforts and to build your audience. The content all needs to be aligned to attracting new people into your audience, moving them into your customer journey, and ascending them up your value ladder of products.
The key is creating a large amount of highly relvent content without spending a large amount of time.
The reason we call this step the “Content Engine” is because we strongly agree with the Gary Vaynerchuk approach for organic traffic which is to create large amounts of valuable content across all of the social media channels.
First, you need to put out at least one piece of valuable, long-form content every week. For our clients, we strongly urge them to focus on video content. The reason is that video content tends to be the most engaging and most promoted on social media AND video can be turned into dozens of different formats, highlights, and posts.
The difference is, solopreneurs don’t have a 20-person content team and 24×7 videographer like Gary V does…
But you can get part of the way there by doing extreme content re-purposing.
Imagine if your weekly 20 – 30 minute video was able to be turned into 50 different assets? Imagine that in return for two hours of planning and recording, you could get back:
- A video for your YouTube channel
- A video for your Facebook page/group
- An IGTV video
- A LinkedIn video
- A podcast episode from the audio
- A blog post from the transcript
- 3 – 5 short video highlight segments
- 3 – 5 short audio highlight segments
- 3 – 5 quote images for social media posts
- 10 – 20 text posts (Tweets, status updates, etc.)
Yes if you try to do that by yourself it will take a lot of time. But if you have a team working for you, all of the above can be outsourced.
The key is getting maximum exposure and ROI for the investment you make in creating content.
For DB we are just beginning to get into this model her podcast and Instagram channels were already generating good traffic to her funnels.
As we do start the content engine for her, it consists of taking podcast episodes and transcripts and turning them into numerous quote, highlight, and audiogram assets to maximize the ROI on the episode each week.
As the CEO/visionary, all DB needs to do is create the raw content, and then we do all of the editing, post creation, scheduling, and tracking across multiple social networks and hundreds of content assets.
We include one month of the content engine inside the Accelerate 8-week program, and then the Operate program includes the content engine on a month to month basis.
This alone saves an enormous amount of time for you and multiplies all of your content efforts.
Green Light Your Traffic (Week 7)
There are two primary methods to drive traffic to your content, funnels, and offers: organic (search) and paid (ads). Organic is a bit of a misnomer as it implies “free” which is incorrect. Creating content, optimizing for SEO, etc. all take time which equals money or opportunity cost.
Relying exclusively on organic traffic in the beginning is a recipe for very slow growth, if any, of your online business. Yes you will hear stories of a few unicorns able to be successful “without spending a penny on ads”. While a few of those are legitimate, many are folks with huge followings from other endeavors that brought those audiences over to their new business.
In this step, green lighting your traffic means amplifying your content with BOTH organic AND paid ad strategies. These could be Facebook, YouTube, or other ad platforms depending on your specific business.
This is yet another area where solopreneurs make the huge mistake of buying numerous courses to try to learn Facebook or YouTube ads, then burn all of their ad budget with little to show for it.
Today the ad networks are very competitive. Specialized skills and experience are required for success, especially on the relatively small advertising budgets that solopreneurs have.
Within our Accelerate program, we make sure that all content created is optimized for search (SEO), aligned to your content strategy, and supporting your monthly business goals. As an example, if the month’s goal is list building, then all of the content leads toward adding people to your list. If the month’s goal is a webinar and course launch, then all of the content leads to webinar registrations.
Similarly, as part of our Expert Business – Operate program, we also include professionally managed Facebook or Youtube ad campaigns to drive paid traffic to your content and sales funnels.
For DB, we have managed Facebook ad campaigns to drive traffic to some of her popular content posts as well as some of her course offerings during launch periods.
Engage Your Autopilot (Week 8)
At this point, your online business is fully up and running! Your plan is in place, your sales funnels are live, your website is live, you are creating weekly content, your content engine is turning that into dozens of assets, and your paid traffic campaigns are ensuring your content is being seen.
Within our agency, we invest a large amount of time and money into automation. Long before we hire or bring on additional staff to power the done-for-you services we provide our clients, we first see how much we can automate.
You may ask, “what are some examples of automation?”
What if every time you completed a video, you copied it into a folder and social media posts, transcripts, conversion into a podcast, and more were all automatically created for you?
How about automated email follow up sequences for people who viewed your sales funnels but did not buy?
Automation is the ultimate “force multiplier”!
But automation does take a good but of expertise to implement well and is something we focus a lot of energy on. As we do automate more and more, it allows us to deliver more and more services to our clients without raising prices.
For DB we use a combination of automation and outsourcing to work as efficiently as possible. DB rarely has to be involved with any of those steps as it’s the responsibility of our virtual COO and shared team to fully execute her content and marketing functions.
Team Build To Win (Week 8+)
While we would love to have our clients stay with us forever, and while we do have an extremely high retention rate, our dream for you is that your business grows to be so successful that you require a full time team dedicated entirely to your business. If you are at that point, it means we’ve helped you grow to at least 7-figures per year in revenue!
If and when our clients get there, we help them find, hire, and train their own dedicated team. We provide them all of the tools, processes, and automation of our that they’ve come to rely on to use with their own team.
I’ll keep this short as this is already an epic post! The goal of the Solo to Virtual CEO program is to get a course or membership business built and launched for you within 6 months.
But since we operate a no B.S. zone here, we make it clear that no one is going to see 6- or 7-figures of revenue as soon as they launch. EVERY successful online entrepreneur will tell you it takes consistent effort over at least 6 months and more commonly 12 – 18 to hit those milestones.
With DB we helped her crack 6-figures of revenue within the first 12 months of working with her. Again that is on a base of very low priced products. For other clients this can be accelerated with higher priced offers.
What the Operate program does is provide our tech, content, and marketing services on an ongoing month to month basis. This means clients continue to partner with the virtual COO and shared team they had during the Accelerate program. We then move into a model of continuous improvement.
Each month we work with the client to set a goal for the month whether its list building, building a new program, running a launch of an existing program, etc. While supporting the monthly goal, we also continue the content engine work, and support the entire tech stack that’s been implemented.
For DB, this has entailed helping to build a launch a new workshop roughly every other month, build and launch a second flagship course, and turn the existing flagship course into an evergreen program, on track to generate $1,000 – $2,000 of revenue every week, with zero additional work from DB.
The Expert Business Agency (“How to get it built for you”)
If you’ve made it this far, you now have the exact path for creating your own expert business! The 9 steps of the Expert Business Blueprint, and the three elements of the Expert Business Model are what the successful, 6, 7, and 8-figure online entrepreneurs use to build their businesses.
Which type of virtual team would accelerated your business the most?