- Who: Jacques Wong
- Website: pnclearning.com
- Course Topic: Insurance licensing exams
- Interesting Stats: Mid 6-figures in 2 years
Who are you and what digital training company have you created?
My name is Jacques Wong – I am an insurance leader at ReFrame Insurance and educator at PNC Learning. To become an insurance professional in many jurisdictions, you need to pass certain licensing exams administered by regulators. Once licensed, you are required to take a certain number of continuing education (CE) credits each year to maintain your license.
When we were taking the licensing exams, we noticed how expensive, wordy, and full of jargon the traditional study materials were. The textbook was literally a binder hundred of pages thick. It was also a challenge to balance work, studies, and family responsibilities.
The mission of PNC Learning is to make a career in the insurance industry accessible to everyone. To do this, we provide our students with simplified study materials available online 24/7. They are also available in a variety of formats and languages. We hire the best instructors in the business. We also provide students with ongoing support as they move through the materials.
Although we got our start in the insurance industry, we are rapidly expanding into training for other regulated industries such as finance, real estate, and health and fitness. We are also looking at expanding into other jurisdictions outside of Canada such as the United States and Australia.
What market does your digital training serve?
Our primary market is current and aspiring insurance professionals. Many of these people are looking for a career change. Often, they want to get into an industry that is well known for being stable while having relatively high compensation levels (salaries, commissions, etc.) and near unlimited growth potential for motivated individuals.
Because we offer training in a variety of languages like Chinese, we have built out a great niche in these communities as well.
What’s the biggest benefit of taking your online courses?
This is an area we focus on a lot – as a result, we also have a lot of data on this from the thousands of students we have surveyed to improve our products.The biggest benefit of taking our online courses is user-friendliness. We do not use jargon, we cut out the fluff, and we focus on explaining the core concepts in simple language. - Jacques Wong Click To Tweet
Being an online course, students also have the flexibility to study anytime They can get access to help from a qualified instructor at nearly any time of day as well.
Cost is also a big factor – being online and highly automated, we are able to deliver the courses at a much better price point than traditional education providers in the space.
How did you get into the market?
The idea came about serendipitously. When taking these exams myself, I happened to score very highly and won a few awards for my academic performance. As a result, my colleagues and people in my network heard about it and asked me to help them prepare for their exams and share my study material.
From there, the idea snowballed organically. I started running short on time so I moved the material online and gradually built out full courses for all Canadian jurisdictions.
Why did you decide to create a digital training company?
The main reason is that I saw a need in the marketplace for this type of product. The incumbents in the industry were overcharging without bringing additional innovation.
The second reason was simply that I was running out of time teaching these in-person and wanted to scale my business beyond my local area and what my time would allow. Now, we reach thousands of students all across Canada and the world.
Did you have any moments of doubt before you launched your training company?
I absolutely struggled and had doubts when I first launched. Whenever someone would have negative feedback about the material or had a poor result on the exam, I took it very personally at the start. I never lashed out at my customers obviously but it had a negative effect on my mood.
If so what made you turn it around and do it anyway?
Although negative feedback hurts to hear, the negative feedback was in the minority compared to the people who were ecstatic that they passed their exams and were on their way to a new career path.I also realized that negative feedback is very powerful and built out a robust feedback mechanism to purposely gather negative feedback in order to improve the product. - Jacques Wong Click To Tweet
While you can’t be all things to all people, you should listen to your customers and use that feedback to improve your product.
What are your online courses like?
The online courses use a variety of formats to deliver the information in an attempt to cater to as many learner types as possible. Each course comes with a textbook that we encourage students to download and print out. Each chapter comes with PowerPoint-style lecture slides (similar to what you would see in a college classroom). These videos are at most 15 minutes long to optimize for digestibility. At the end of each chapter, there are quizzes. We also have Midterm and Final exams.
Throughout the course, we also introduce sections where students are encouraged to interact with their instructors and ask questions. If we see a question get asked many times, we look to adjust that section to make it more clear.
How long does it take you or your team to create a new course?
We do the vast majority of our course development in-house. We do work with subject matter experts from time to time. Because we have spent a lot of time gathering feedback and iterating on the course materials, we have developed template overtime for the way we build and structure the courses. This template dictates where we add check in’s, midterm exams, how long each segment is, etc.
We also like to release courses early on in their development to begin gathering feedback as early as possible.Often times we release a text-only version first to gather feedback, form an advisory council around improvements/feedback, and generate pre-sales leading up to the official launch. Jacques Wong Click To Tweet
Tell us a little about the process of launching your first course and getting your first enrollment(s).
The first version of the course was just simply the materials I created while studying digitized and uploaded to Thinkific. Then I posted several ads on Craigslist and waited. I generated my first-course sale in May 2017 and things just picked up from there.
Any revenue I got, I reinvested into marketing eventually upgrading my web presence and running paid ad campaigns.
Do you have a lead magnet?
We offer free resources on our websites such as exam guides and licensing guides for each jurisdiction we work in. We also have a free trial for each course.
These resources are a great way for us to showcase our authority and knowledge in the industry. They also allow us to establish some trust online which is hard to do – especially with digital education products.
They’re also a great way for us to collect contact information and reengage them with an email nurture campaign. Nearly 100% of our customers enter our sales funnel through a free trial or a lead magnet.
What's the traffic strategy that works best for you?
Although we are working on organic search, paid ads are still our best traffic source. After seeing some initial revenue from free sources like word of mouth and Craigslist, we reinvested the money into paid ads.
We ran them in-house for a while before hiring an agency which really scaled our efforts and optimized our results.
What online course platform are you using?
Thinkific and I love it.
Are there any features you wish it had?
A more robust web page builder and better integrations (ie. with Hubspot)
What made you decide to use your chosen platform over others?
I initially chose Thinkific because they offered a free tier with limited features. They charged 10% of course sales. The features included in the free tier are more limited now but are still good.
Starting without any fixed monthly costs allowed me to start slowly, gather feedback, and slowly iterate on the product without fear of going negative.
What other tools do you use to run your digital training business?
I also use Zapier to automate business processes. Mixpanel to monitor student progress and gather useful data for course improvements. Active Campaign for email marketing. Tawk.to as our free live chat provider, and probably a few more I’m forgetting right now.
What books or training programs have you found useful on your journey to a successful business owner that others might find valuable too?
In the beginning, I read a lot of books about copywriting to help me write the landing pages. I also read “Personal MBA” as a way to get a quick business education (I have a background in Computer Science).
As I got ramped up and started feeling stuck, I read Blitzscaling. This got me on a path to really scaling the business and expanding into new verticals and industries.
Do you have any big mistakes you’ve made along the way that you’d be willing to share?
I was very lucky and conservative throughout this whole journey so no major mistakes to report (fingers crossed).
Please share some idea of revenue for your digital training company.
We are in the mid-6 figure range in terms of annual revenue but with the launch of new verticals over the next few quarters, we’ll comfortably hit 7 figures in revenue over the next 12 months.
Please tell us a little about what the money you've earned from running your digital training company has done for you.
As what is basically a one-man show with a few contractors helping me with different things, this has been really good for me financially. I haven’t quit my job as an insurance advisor yet as I’m self-employed there but I’ve been able to generate a 6-figure income off of this business.
This has allowed me to put a down payment on a modest condo downtown. I also take vacations pretty much whenever I want (on credit card points of course).
What has creating your digital training business done for you personally?
It’s given me the freedom to do what I want when I want without being tied down to a physical job or reporting to anyone but myself. For me, autonomy is the biggest personal win in my digital training business.
Having a nice predictable safety net of income has also allowed me to take larger risks with other business ventures and investments.
What advice do you have for people just starting out? What do you wish you knew before you started?
Just start.Don’t be afraid to push out an unfinished product so long as you’re upfront about it with your customers. - Jacques Wong Click To Tweet
Put out a product and use the feedback – both good and bad – to fuel the development of your product. You don’t need to toil for months in secret before putting out the “perfect product” because there is no such thing.
The best way to build something people want is to simply ask them. That means literally surveying them or observing how they use your product, the questions people have, etc.