- Who: Mashon Thomas
- Website: liveworktravel.com
- Course Topic: Freelancing
- Interesting Stats: Sold 23 copies immediately w/no list
Who are you and what course have you created?
A former middle school teacher turned full-time freelancer, I created The Escape Hatch: Everything you need to leave your office for good (and live the remote work dream) to help others who are thinking about getting into freelancing do things the right way, from the beginning. I run liveworktravel.com.
What market does your online course serve?
The Escape Hatch is for anyone who wishes they could be location independent, whether it’s to work from home or to travel the world fulltime (like me). I teach people how to accomplish this through freelancing, which I believe is the fastest, most reliable way to make a remote living.
Anyone who is thinking about getting into freelancing or even someone who has dabbled a little bit and now wants to become a full-time freelancer can use The Escape Hatch. The idea behind the course was to take someone from a complete newbie to a professional freelancer earning a stable income from long-term clients.
Our students come from a variety of backgrounds. Some have already worked at fully-remote companies, while others are used to the cubicle life and itching to get out of the office and work from anywhere. Many have thought about becoming freelancers for a while, but just need that little push to get started. Even if they have no special skills, no experience, and are transitioning completely away from their old job, this course shows them how.
What’s the biggest benefit of taking your course?
I designed the course to be as practical as possible. Rather than just talking about theory, it’s filled with scripts and templates that you can just copy and paste.
For example, let’s say you’ve been following along with the course and now a client wants to work with you — awesome! But, this is your first time freelancing … how do you respond?
Do you need a contract? How much do you charge? When do you collect payment? What if you make a mistake and your client realizes that you’re totally new to this??
All of this can be incredibly overwhelming, and many would-be freelancers decide they can’t handle it. But with The Escape Hatch, problems like these become a simple matter of copy & paste — just follow along in the course, grab the script or template you need, and clients will be amazed by how professional you are!
Everything you can think of is covered, from what skills you’ll need, how to find high-quality clients, what to say on the phone to sell them, and how to manage the many intricacies of working with clients like what to say in a pitch, how to raise rates, and even tough topics like how to handle taxes (which most courses shy away from).
How did you get into the market?
After spending 7 years in education, I really wanted to get into remote work to fulfill my dream of traveling the world. I found what I thought was the answer when I got hired at a fully remote company … But a mere 10 months later, I was laid off — along with about 30% of the company. That made me realize, in stark reality, that a traditional 9-5 job wasn’t anywhere near as stable as I’d previously thought.
With the rug pulled out from under me, I figured I had nothing to lose so I made the leap into freelancing. It was tough for me at first, but I realize now that a lot of the barriers that I faced (and that many other freelancers face) are easily solvable if you have someone experienced showing you the ropes.Now that I’ve already done all the hard work of creating and refining all of this material, it can be used as an insane head start for anyone getting started today, hopefully taking months and years off their journey. -Mashon Thomas Click To Tweet
Why did you decide to create an online course in the first place?
Over the years I found myself giving out tons of freelancing advice to others. I went from being $30,000 in debt and making only $20/hr to having significant savings for the first time in my life, filling up my retirement accounts, and of course, traveling the world in style. People could clearly see the difference in my life just from social media and would ask me questions all the time.
Many people who knew me before, and during my switch to freelancing, wanted to know how I’d not just made it work, but become really successful in a field where many people struggle. Others, who heard my story after, had the same questions.
I found myself telling people about pitching clients, how to set up contracts, how to get repeat work, what mistakes to avoid making with clients, that sort of thing.I was giving the same advice, offering to send people the same templates and scripts, so it made more sense to package my knowledge up into a course. -Mashon Thomas Click To Tweet
That way, I could reach more people than if I was having a lot of these one-off conversations.
Did you have any moments of doubt before you created/launched it?
Oh, I definitely had moments of doubt. I knew the material but packaging it all up in a way that people will understand it — without me there to talk through everything is a whole different story. While creating the material, I found that speaking is very different from writing and while I could sit and talk to someone for several hours over coffee, giving them advice, it was much harder to organize the same material in a course format.
I also had moments of impostor syndrome which I think everyone does. I’d struggle to write a particular section and think, “Who do I think I am to be telling people how to do this?!” And sometimes I’d have to step away and come back to it later, after reminding myself, “Ummmm, you DID this! In real life! So you definitely have the experience and you can certainly help someone by sharing it!”
If so what made you turn it around and do it anyway?
There were a few things that kept me going. First, the feeling that I was wasting the knowledge by letting it just sit in my head. Sure, the knowledge had helped me create a successful career and business, but it was hard-earned and for all that I went through to gain the knowledge, it seemed like it should be used to help even more people.
Second, I knew that creating a course was the best way to reach the most people. I love having coffee with people, chatting with them in person, and offering up the best tips I can to help them be successful. The same with having Zoom calls or answering questions sent to me via email. Still, there’s only so much time in a day, and packaging up my knowledge in a course lets me reach so many people who want the knowledge!
What's your online course like?
The course is text with accompanying copy and paste templates and scripts. This course was designed to be as actionable as possible, so I wanted all of the content to be in an easily accessible format that could be skimmed and searched which isn’t possible with video.
I’m already brainstorming ideas for ways to add additional features to future courses, so I may add some video and audio in the future if it doesn’t conflict with the accessibility. My current students have been invaluable in asking questions, offering feedback, and giving suggestions for where they need more help and all students get lifetime access to the course.
How long did it take you to create your course?
Developing the material took the entirety of my own freelance career, but actually putting everything together took about 4 months of focused effort to create the course. Surprisingly, when I looked back at my time tracking after work (I use Toggl), a large chunk of time was spent organizing, revising, and editing the content. Turns out I did know the material inside out, but it was time-consuming to organize it into a course.
Tell us a little about the process of launching your course and getting your first sale(s).
Launching the course was such a relief! It felt so good to have a final version and to get that live. Instead of telling people, I was “working on my course,” it was great to be able to finally say, “I’ve just launched my course!” By the time my course went live, I’d been freelancing for 2.5 years, sold all my things in the United States, and embarked on a location independent life. I’d been traveling South America, learning Spanish, and basically living the remote life I’d always dreamed of.
I had a small following on Instagram, and over the years, some of those people had reached out wondering what I did for a living and how I managed to live this “dream lifestyle.” I’d helped some of them wherever I could with tips and advice. I felt it only made sense to reach out to that audience and let them know I “finally” had a full-length course. The course would guide them down my entire process from not feeling like I had any skills when it came to freelancing, getting long-term high-quality clients, and 4X’ing my income at my old job.
This created interest directly in my own audience. I also worked with some affiliate partners. Over the years, I’d also met many others in the travel space, some of who had their own audiences. There were interested in learning to freelance as a way to live the digital nomad lifestyle. I reached out to some of them who were a good fit and we teamed up on creating helpful content for their audiences and also promoted the course.
Do you have a lead magnet?
I do have a lead magnet. It’s an email script that newbies can use to pitch their services to clients. I used this when starting out. It helped me earn over $200,000 of freelancing work. I may decide it’s too good to give away for free and take it down later, but I thought it was the most authentic to what my audience needs — nitty-gritty scripts, templates, etc. that will help them get up and running very quickly with freelancing.
What's the traffic strategy that works best for you?
Affiliate partnerships were the initial strategy, and for my situation, a no-brainer. While I’d become very successful at freelancing, I wasn’t an influencer so I didn’t have a large audience.It made sense to find other people with existing audiences who were interested in what I had to offer and put my material in front of them. -Mashon Thomas Click To Tweet
It’s worked out well. Many of the travel bloggers I knew were looking for content that was supplemental to just “travel” and freelancing and working remotely are two topics that are very juicy for people who want to spend more time traveling the world.
What online course platform are you using?
I use Gumroad which works best for my type of product. The checkout flow is super simple and customers can just download all the materials without needing to deal with logging in every time.
I like it! Its sheer simplicity is appealing. It’s a great way to get up and running quickly and they have great customer support.
Are there any features you wish it had?
No. It has everything you need in order to start out, especially with a product that’s built around scripts and templates rather than having everything be a separate video.
What made you decide to use your chosen platform over others?
In a word: simplicity. There are a lot of deterrents to creating an online course from organizing ideas, to actually creating the time to sit down and make the course, to revising, editing, adding in templates and scripts, and more. So the last thing I wanted to get hung up on was trying to figure out the best platform to use. It’s always possible to change later, so in order to get my material out there, I chose the simplest to use one.
What other tools do you use to run your online course business?
My website is created in WordPress, as I’ve used it for years, both personally and for clients. I use Optin Monster and ConvertKit for the lead magnet I send out as well as emailing my list. I use Trello for project management and free or low-cost tools like Canva to create graphics when needed.
What books or training programs have you found useful on your journey to a successful business owner that others might find valuable too?
Mastery by George Leonard has had a big influence on me as it deals with the topic of everything we do being a journey and what is at first painful, eventually becomes pleasurable with more and more practice.
That was key in creating this course. While I am passionate about the topic of being a successful freelancer, a lot of time and effort went into this course, and it was, especially in the beginning, very challenging and difficult. This book helps me remember that this process is a work in progress and throughout my continued freelancing journey, I’ll constantly be looking for more ways to add value to current and future students.
I’m also a huge fan of How I Built This with Guy Raz podcast. Anytime I’m feeling the entrepreneurial struggle I’ll put on an episode and get inspired by the stories of others who worked hard to build something big!
Do you have any big mistakes you’ve made along the way that you’d be willing to share?
One thing I wish I’d done more of and sooner was to focus on building my audience while creating the course. While this didn’t work out, I would caution others to not let this deter them from building a course.
I knew my freelancing stuff, and I knew it would help others. After the initial launch of the course, I had to focus more on affiliate relationships with others who already had audiences. This worked well because I love networking and providing value, but if I had to do it all over again, I’d have built my audience sooner as well. Nothing like having a lot of options!
Please share some idea of revenue.
The first launch did 23 sales (with some paying for the extra coaching that came with access to me as a part of the course). That was with practically zero existing audience, all I did was a soft launch to my Instagram followers. This showed me that people were interested.
For the first launch, I wanted to keep the price accessible at $97 especially because of the hard times everyone is experiencing right now.
Please tell us a little about what the money you've earned from your course has done for you.
Financially, the money earned has been a blessing because it allows me to continue living the dream life I started years ago!
It also helps me feel even more stable because I have diversified income (something that I go into more in the course). While I still work with clients, I don’t have to be afraid of losing one because I can support myself with this business also. This was especially important when the global pandemic (COVID-19) began and my main client, a travel company, was hit hard. I felt incredibly grateful to not just be able to weather this storm but to also be able to reach out and help others going through difficult times.
What has creating your course done for you personally?
Creating this course has gotten me a lot more recognition and credibility from others in the “location independent” realm or those thinking of getting into freelancing. It shouldn’t always be about the money, but the number of 0’s after the dollar sign are nice tidy numbers. Before, people treated me like, “Oh you’re a freelancer, that’s nice,” but after they’ve gone to my site and read my story or seen the script I give away as a lead magnet (that has landed me over $200,000 in client work) it changes their perception of a freelancer.
For me, that’s really important, not that people take me more seriously because of the number of 0s, but that people realize there is “another way” to freelance. Many people have heard of the poor exhausted freelancer running around, always chasing clients, barely scraping by, tired and overworked, and they think that’s freelancing. But there is a much easier way, and I take my students through that in a step by step fashion in my course.
It means the world to see others succeeding by following what I’ve laid out. I know they, in turn, go on to give others tips and tricks and advice, and together we’re creating a new generation of successful freelancers.
Do you have a story of a transformation from any of your clients?
One of my earliest students named Jack really stands out. He was hungry, just like I was a few years ago. I recognized my old self in him. Wanting a change, wanting more freedom, wanting to strike out and take control of my life and career but just not knowing where to start.
He was one of the first to go through an early version of the course. As a part of that group, he had text access to me. At that time I wasn’t fully comfortable with that early version of the course. I wanted to polish and finesse it more, to make it “perfect.” But as the texts started rolling in from Jack, I realized I was holding people back by not getting my advice out in front of them and as fast as possible.
Going through Jack’s journey with him, seeing him land his first client, and confidently send over a contract (from one of the templates in the course) was an incredibly proud (and yet humbling) experience.
What advice do you have for people just starting out?
It’s all about the little steps (another concept from the book, Mastery.) Your first version of the course won’t be perfect! But do it anyway.
I think that too many people get caught up in the “OMG, this is going to take soooooooo long and soooooo much work!” aspect of course creation. And I won’t lie, it’s a big undertaking. But just like anything else in life, it breaks down into little steps.
Take the first step, write the first outline, edit it, rewrite it, get feedback, get it organized. Then just keep chipping away to get content created for each section of the outline. As a creator, you will likely never feel like your course is perfect. But there is valuable content in it. By getting it out there into the world you are helping people.
They can’t afford to wait until you feel like your course is perfect. Add as much value as you can into it and get it out there! Your students will then help you shape and refine it further.