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- Who: Ilya Cheremnikh
- Website: cultureyard.net
- Course Topic: Learn Chinese
- Interesting Stats: $10,000 from a one-day promo
Who are you and what course have you created?
I am an Israeli sinologist living in China together with my American partner Eden Lunde – together we have created live online courses for Chinese learning taught by native Chinese speakers. You can see our course offerings here.
What market does your online course serve?
Our courses serve anyone who is interested in learning the Chinese language or even those who have learned the Chinese language before and want to improve, including heritage speakers.
We have created a gradual course program that can take a learner from zero knowledge of the language to fluency following 9 progressive courses.
Our current students come from all over the world including the U.S, the U.K, Germany, India, Japan, ex-pats living in China, and over 20 more countries and regions.
What’s the biggest benefit of taking your course?
There are a few benefits of studying Mandarin with Culture Yard – first of all, our courses are conducted live online with native-speaking teachers from Beijing. Thus, students are exposed to the way that Mandarin Chinese is actually spoken in real life and students can reach fluency in the language from the comfort of their home.
In addition, our live group classes have students from all over the world, so students in the groups are exposed to different cultures and backgrounds and can learn from each other and build friendships.
How did you get into the market?
My partner Eden and I have both studied Mandarin Chinese as our majors and combined have more than 20 years of experience living in China. We have realized that the way Chinese is traditionally taught, using rote memorization and other outdated techniques is not suitable for today’s world and for non-native speakers.
What we do instead is make classes interactive, combine language and culture and use simple and clear explanations of the Chinese language.
Why did you decide to create an online course in the first place?
Before Covid hit China, we were running a physical Mandarin language school in Beijing, catered to the local ex-pat community.
As Covid hit and everything went into lockdown, we had to close the school and decided to use our expertise and build a completely new online program that will allow anyone in the world to learn Mandarin Chinese.
Did you have any moments of doubt before you created/launched it?
Yes of course!Even though we are quite experienced with offline education, moving it all online was quite scary at first. - Ilya Cheremnikh Click To Tweet
We needed to learn how to do design effective and engaging online courses but more importantly to learn a lot about online marketing.
When you just start developing your online marketing channels and you see all these beautifully done Instagram and Youtube channel’s out there – the first thought is always – can I do something as good or better?
But we learned a lot on the way just by doing and being consistent on our social media channels.
If so what made you turn it around and do it anyway?
I think we were very excited about the challenge and we pretty much just got started without thinking about it too much. I feel if you overthink things, you can always find a reason why not to start. So my advice here would be – just start and learn on the way.
What’s your online course like?
Our courses are currently mostly live, online via Zoom, using PPTs that we have developed. We also give our students PDF exercise books, we use Memrise for extra practice and are now working on completely pre-recorded courses that will be hosted on Thinkific and that will include a lot of quizzes and other types of fun interactive exercises.
How long did it take you to create your course?
So what we did is quite unusual –we first developed an outline of a few short courses, made the PPTs of the first few classes of each course, and developed the rest of the PPTs as the courses progressed.
This allowed us to learn what works and what doesn’t work and adjust the course as it was developing.
Also, our first courses we launched completely for free!
The trick was is that each short course was one month long and by the time the courses were finished, we developed enough of a following to get us going forward and have people pay us.
So the whole process from start to finish was only a few months.
Tell us a little about the process of launching your course and getting your first sale(s).
Our first sales came from our existing network. We started by offering a full month of free open group classes on different levels to our network. Since everybody was on lockdown at the time, we got a lot of traction from people joining our open classes and many of those later converted to be paid students.
Do you have a lead magnet?
Yes, we do. For the last two years, we run a weekly free class that is usually the first class of one of our courses or a class on a popular topic related to the Chinese language or culture– introduction to the history of Chinese language, introduction to the Chinese pronunciation, etc.
We advertise those through our Facebook and Wechat groups (Chinese social media networks similar to WhatsApp).
It works very well overall though some weeks we get fewer conversions and some weeks more. But overall, this strategy has worked very well for us.
What’s the traffic strategy that works best for you?
At the moment we get many leads through our Instagram channel. We started the account from 0 less than 2 years ago and grew it completely organically to 2000 active and loyal followers.
We use a bunch of different techniques for our Instagram account – we post useful common Chinese phrases, introduce Chinese Characters and radicals, give tips on learning Chinese and run a weekly quiz on our Story.
The main thing to keep in mind with growing an Instagram account organically is consistency – we have been posting three times a week + once on our stories for over a year until we started getting meaningful leads.
What online course platform are you using?
We use Zoom for a live course, Acuity for class scheduling, and Thinkific for pre-recorded courses.
Thinkific is the most popular online course platform used by successful course creators interviewed on coursemethod.com. It’s a complete solution for creating your sales pages, uploading all your course content, taking payments, and more.
- Price Range: Free to $499/month
- Most Popular Plan: Pro Plan at $99/month
- Annual Discount: Yes, take 20% off!
- Free Trial: Try out Thinkific’s core features for free.
Do you like it?
Yes, Thinkific is great and I love the fact that if you only have one course at first, you can use the free version of Thinkific but as you grow and develop additional courses, only then do you start paying. It makes taking the risk a bit easier.
What made you decide to use your chosen platform over others?
We did a lot of research about various platforms and Thinkific was great for our needs. It has an extensive free version, it is SEO optimized, and it has payment integration. Lastly, it allows uploading different types of content – video, quizzes, PDFs, etc.
Plus, with the paid version you can white label it and integrate it on your own website.
What other tools do you use to run your online course business?
We use a variety of tools. We use Acuity for live class scheduling and payment, we use Typeform for collecting leads and we created courses on Memrise for extra practice for our students.
What books or training programs have you found useful on your journey to a successful business owner that others might find valuable too?
I have learned a lot from the YouTube series by Neil Patel regarding SEO strategies to grow organic traffic to our website.
Do you have any big mistakes you’ve made along the way that you’d be willing to share?
Yes, I wish started sooner. We were thinking of developing online courses already for many years. We only waited until Covid to get it going. I feel that as you start, you will learn along the way.
The same goes with launching social media accounts and working on our website SEO. We knew it was important. Only now through a lot of trial and error, we have really got an effective strategy going.
I don’t regret anything. But if I had to give one piece of advice here it would be – just get started and don’t give up! You will learn a lot on the way. Even if the course doesn’t succeed you will earn valuable skills that you can later implement in new projects.
Please share some idea of revenue.
Our monthly revenue for our live courses is around 15-20 thousand USD and it is constantly growing. I am looking forward to officially launching our self-study courses soon.
Please tell us a little about what the money you’ve earned from your course has done for you.
Thanks to starting our online business, I and my partner have moved from Beijing to a beautiful location in the south of China, called Dali in Yunnan province. Now, not only did we cut our living expenses by more than half and save much more, but we are also living next to a lake and a mountain range and enjoy much more outdoors life, something we couldn’t do in the big city.
In addition to revenue are there any numbers you would like to share?
We sold about 50 private live course packages on Singles Day (China’s equivalent of Black Friday). Each one costs around $200 USD. It was our most successful promo to date.
What has creating your course done for you personally?
As a person who loves learning, I feel I have learned so much! Running online courses teaches you about building a website, working with a camera, editing, copywriting, social media marketing, SEO, and much much more. I feel that this knowledge I can later use for many other projects if I ever wanted to.
Do you have a story of a transformation from any of your clients?
We have a couple of students studying with us that have recently moved to China. They didn’t know any Chinese at all. Now they can get around on their own, shop, order in restaurants, take taxis and make basic conversations on their own. That always makes me very proud to see people going from nothing to being independent in Chinese.
What advice do you have for people just starting out?
My biggest advice would be to just start!
My second biggest advice would be – talk to your customers and your potential customers, understand what their pain points are and what would solve that for them.Lastly – get on social media quickly, and be consistent about it. You might feel like you have nothing to say at first but that is usually just impostor syndrome, just post! - Ilya Cheremnikh Click To Tweet
Learn more about Ilya Cheremnikh of cultureyard.net:
- Website: cultureyard.net