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How Aaron Emmel Launched an Online Training Course for Pharmacy Technicians to Early Success Through Social Media
- Who: Aaron Emmel
- Website: pharmacytechscholar.com
- Course Topic: Pharmacy tech preparation
- Interesting Stats: $3,000 in weekly revenue soon after launching
Who are you and what course have you created?
I am a medical affairs professional, licensed pharmacist, and former health systems administrator. I have created an online training course for pharmacy technicians/aspiring pharmacy technicians. This course prepares individuals to become certified pharmacy technicians and is recognized by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) as fulfilling the curriculum requirements necessary to qualify students to sit for their board certification exam.
What market does your online course serve?
There are two primary market segments:
- Existing pharmacy technicians who are looking for ways to prepare for the PTCB board exam
- Individuals who are interested in becoming a pharmacy technician
These markets are distinguished because there are distinct problems to be solved for each market. The first market is primarily concerned about passing their board exam, and my course offers a very clear solution to this problem.
The secondary market has varying problems that may be well or ill-defined that I may be able to offer a solution to. Some individuals have a good understanding of what is required to become a pharmacy technician and they may already be searching for some type of certificate or degree program or even a PTCB-recognized training program. Others are still in the discovery phase of not knowing where to look or begin to launch a pharmacy technician career.
What’s the biggest benefit of taking your course?
For that first market segment I mentioned, the benefit is that my course will provide a structured curriculum to prepare them to pass the exam. This is done through lectures, slide decks, virtual flashcards, and assessments that mimic the actual board exam.
The bigger benefit, however, is for those in the second market segment. Many states now require board certification and/or completion of an accredited training program as part of the application to become a registered/licensed pharmacy technician.
You can only sit for the board certification exam if you have 500 hours of experience working as a pharmacy technician, or if you complete a PTCB-recognized training program. The cost of most accredited training programs, which are typically in the form of a vocational school or limited college certificate/diploma program, ranges well into 4 figures.
My course can offer the depth of the curriculum needed to meet the knowledge requirements of a certified pharmacy technician and allow individuals to meet the PTCB certification requirement by passing the exam for a fraction of the cost.
How did you get into the market?
I knew about the upcoming changes to the PTCB certification process (2020 was the first year they required 500 hours of experience or completion of a training program). Given a large number of entrants into the pharmacy technician field annually, I knew this process change would create a large market, and that being an early entrant would have its advantages.
Why did you decide to create an online course in the first place?
I’ve been reading books and listening to podcasts about side hustles for a while and have been interested in launching an online course as a way to be both productive and use up some of my entrepreneurial energy!
Originally, I was going to develop an online jazz trombone course (a hobby of mine and quite the niche), but I realized the pharmacy technician course opportunity was much more promising.
Did you have any moments of doubt before you created/launched it?
Absolutely! I had the idea in late 2019 and started putting the course material together slowly. I continually questioned whether there was enough return to make it a worthwhile investment of my time. This was especially true once I found out there were already online competitors. I had done a search before I first started and didn’t find any, but I obviously didn’t search hard enough. When I realized there was already a course in this space I was pretty deflated, thinking that the opportunity was gone. Had I not even started at that point I probably wouldn’t have proceeded.
If so what made you turn it around and do it anyway?
I realized that I had a unique value proposition in my skill set as an educator. One of my strengths is that I am really good at engaging people. I thought that if I leveraged that, and took a genuine interest in helping people with this course, I could be successful. With this mindset, I finally got the energy I needed to complete the course build-out and bring it to life.
What’s your online course like?
The course is structured around the content outline that the PTCB requires for recognized training programs. I break this outline down into chapters.
Each chapter of the course includes a video, a slide deck, virtual flashcards, and an exam. The videos are done using PowerPoint. I also host live virtual classes via Google Meet where I address student questions and deeper dives into some of the material.
Once a student completes all of the chapters, they are eligible for a final assessment that they must pass to receive the certificate for the course (which they can then provide to the PTCB to apply for the certification exam). The final assessment is structured to mimic the real certification exam in terms of content, number of questions, and timing.
How long did it take you to create your course?
Much longer than I anticipated! I used the PTCB knowledge reference to build the curriculum. I used appropriate literature sources to build out the slides for each chapter. With the PowerPoint recording feature, I turned each slide deck into a video lecture. I used google slides to create interactive flashcards.
At the same time, I was creating the actual learning content, I learned about building a WordPress site and including all of the functionality that would be needed to run a self-hosted online course.
Tell us a little about the process of launching your course and getting your first sale(s).
Cue mistake number one! One morning in early June I finally had the website up and everything appeared to work as intended, so I “launched.” Literally, that was it. My launch consisted of making a Facebook page and posting an announcement about the launch, and navigating to the pharmacy technician Reddit board and announcing as well.
The announcement about the launch asked for up to 5 volunteers to test the course for me. They would have free access so long as they were willing to provide me with feedback about the course and help me troubleshoot any issues they encountered.
In retrospect, I should have planned the launch much earlier and drummed up interest along the way. If I would’ve had an email list of 100 people on day one, I could’ve launched much stronger. On the flip side, it did allow me some time to make sure the course was working well. That way all of the minor typos and issues with the content were ironed out.
I received my first sale about 2 weeks after the “launch”. I didn’t receive another for an additional week.
Do you have a lead magnet?
Not a true one at the moment. I do have a few “resources” on the site that are free and helpful, but I haven’t structured a good funnel around this yet. This is high on my near-term to-do list! I have some ideas around creating some nice study resources. These will progressively lead people into an email list/social media engagement funnel.
I am hosting my first webinar in a couple of weeks. The webinar registration enters leads into my email list. I use the webinar as a lead magnet for the paid course.
What’s the traffic strategy that works best for you?I am building up traffic by networking on Reddit, Facebook groups, and slowly building out content to rank organically in google. - Aaron Emmel Click To Tweet
I’m playing around with paid ads as well, but at the current price point for my course ($249), the customer acquisition cost for search and Facebook ads is pretty prohibitive. Due to the price of my competitor, I don’t have much wriggle room there. I will need to stay focused on generating content and building an organic search presence.
What online course platform are you using?
I am using LearnDash as my course platform. I wanted something that would work well with my self-hosted WordPress site and be compatible with the theme I used to build the site (Divi by ElegantThemes). It probably would have been better to plan ahead for the integration but I was excited to play around with the site architecture well before I was ready to actually assemble the course itself.
Do you like it?
For the most part, yes. It is quite simple to use and looks decent enough. I like that I’m able to brand it somewhat with my color theme.
There are some important limitations that I’m working through. However, I’m finding that there are numerous add-ons that are helpful.
One big issue was the need to add a layer of authenticity to the certificate generated by the course. That way users couldn’t photoshop/falsify the certificate and provide that to the PTCB during their application.
Thankfully, there is a third-party plugin that allowed me to add functionality to the course certificate. It assigned an ID that could be verified in a search tool on my site. It validates the details of the user who completed the course.
Are there any features you wish it had?
I do wish it were a little more customizable in appearance. On one hand, it probably saved me from me in terms of unnecessary time customizing the interface. But it is important to me that the course is visually appealing. I want all aspects of the course to stand out as high quality.
What made you decide to use your chosen platform over others?
A combination of convenience and cost. The pricing of LearnDash is very reasonable and offers just enough functionality to meet my needs.
What other tools do you use to run your online course business?
- Stripe and Paypal to handle transactions. LearnDash has those integration functionalities built in its core application.
- MailChimp for my email list, with several email opt-in forms on the site. I use a combination of Google Tag Manager, Google Analytics, and Google Data Studio to analyze web site data and refine my site flow and marketing approach.
- WaveApps for accounting. It is a great free tool that integrates with financial institutions and third-party applications for very simple bookkeeping.
What books or training programs have you found useful on your journey to a successful business owner that others might find valuable too?
- The Lean Startup by Eric Ries
- $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau
- My Masters in Health Administration set a great foundation for understanding business principals
Do you have any big mistakes you’ve made along the way that you’d be willing to share?
- Not testing the idea (as you can learn about in the Lean Startup or in Tim Ferris’s The 4-hour Workweek)
- Not generating a customer list well ahead of launch
- Launching the course without doing enough proofreading and testing
- Big kudos to my early students for providing me with the feedback needed to tidy this up!
- I had a resource on the site about state regulations that had incorrect information about one state. When I realized the mistake I found I already had a customer in my course in that state. I immediately issued a refund and informed the customer, still allowing continued access to the course. Regardless, I felt terrible over the miscommunication, so this was a lesson on the need to have greater due diligence when putting content up.
Please share some idea of revenue.
I’ve seen an increase in revenue every week over the previous 6 weeks. Over the previous two weeks, I’ve averaged $3,000 in weekly revenue.
Please tell us a little about what the money you’ve earned from your course has done for you.
For now, I’m not going to touch it! I offer a full money-back guarantee if my students complete my course and subsequently fail the exam within 180 days of signing up my course. So I need to be careful with my accounting to ensure those funds are available if needed.
I anticipate a high pass rate because I have gone to great lengths to ensure the curriculum is solid and the learning experience is good. But I need to wait for a while to see what the actual data is to understand how liquid my income is for that 180 day post-transaction period.
Secondly, I do plan on reinvesting in the course. There are a lot of external risks to consider. I want this to be an enduring platform that provides a cost-effective but thorough method for aspiring pharmacy technicians to get their careers off the ground. One of the biggest risks is the possibility that more states require fully accredited training programs.
I’m already trying to strategize on how to position my course to be eligible for accreditation while keeping the cost low. This will be tricky but I have some ideas. It would really reduce the risk that this program phases out over time.
I am fortunate to make a good living with an extremely flexible job, so I plan on maintaining employment in addition to this endeavor. When I do finally start to draw some funds from this business, I’ll probably use it for a combination of investing and the launch of a charitable organization (something that I have been dreaming up for a while).
In addition to revenue are there any numbers you would like to share?
I have a total of 36 students enrolled in the course in the 8 weeks that it has been live. There is a 7 day no questions money-back guarantee if the users don’t like the course. I’ve not had a single refund request!
I get the word out about the course mainly through networking on social media. That and getting word of mouth from my students that are enjoying the course.I’ve been extremely attentive to the needs of the students and encourage their critical feedback. I think this has gone a long way towards creating a referral culture and will be vital to the long-term success of the platform. -… Click To Tweet
What has creating your course done for you personally?
It’s reconnected me to the world of pharmacy and given me a sense of fulfillment in helping people. I’ve been getting great feedback from the students and it feels good! One month into launch, when I only had two paying customers, I wasn’t sure if this was going to fly or not. I hosted my first virtual class with only two attendees. But the engagement I had with those two students was great, and I knew that this effort was going to be worthwhile for me even if it didn’t make a lot of money.
Do you have a story of a transformation from any of your clients?
Well, it’s still early so I don’t have much to add here. Feedback, in general, has been good. I think the students appreciate that I am responsive to their questions and feedback about the course.
One student has completed the course and passed the exam so at least we have one full success! I’m happy for him and hopeful that will be the normal outcome for our students. Also, during that first virtual class, I was able to not only discuss the content but give a lot of input on the career of pharmacy. The students were grateful to have that time to tap into my expertise. That made me feel valued as well.
What advice do you have for people just starting out?No matter what course you are building, the most important thing is to focus on bringing value to your customers. - Aaron Emmel Click To Tweet
I think there is a lot of attractiveness to the thought that building an online course can be a short-term investment to achieve a long-term passive income stream. Personally, I don’t feel that is a wise strategy for being truly successful. If you genuinely care about the students and put consistent effort into improving the course and being responsive to feedback, long term success will come.
You also have to evaluate the external risks to the “evergreen” potential for your course. Invest efforts in mitigating those risks. These may include the entrance of competitors, changes in policies that affect the value or legitimacy of your course, or the risk that the material becomes dated and irrelevant. This requires careful planning on day one and dedication to carrying out your strategy over the long-term.