How Stephanie Zhong Earned $17,000 in Two Weeks From Her First Online Launch

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  • Who: Stephanie Zhong
  • Website: stephaniezhong.com
  • Course Topic: Marketing
  • Interesting Stats: Earns around $5,000-8k each month

Who are you and what course have you created?

I’m a brand strategist, storytelling coach, and creator of the Own Your Message program. I help women, BIPOC entrepreneurs and leaders turn their zone of genius into a brand story that grows their impact naturally.

I’ve created content marketing magic for non-profits (including Planned Parenthood and Teach For America), start-ups (including Untapped Inc. and Work for Humanity), and civic organizations (like the City of Los Angeles).

Over 20 years of helping organizations build brand stories, I met many visionaries who knew they were meant to play on a bigger stage but avoided the spotlight. I am called to take my experience as a former journalist, public radio producer, writing teacher, and marketing director to help entrepreneurs and thought leaders unlock their stories to create a unique lane that’s all their own. So they could shine unapologetically in their industries and make the greater impact they dream of.

What market does your online course serve?

The Own Your Message course is designed for mission-driven empowering entrepreneurs, coaches, and thought leaders who are uncomfortable promoting themselves and dream of impact on a greater scale. They struggle to clarify their brand stories as hidden gems, Jackie-of-all-Trades, or as trailblazers who are doing something that’s hard to describe and instantly “get.”

They’re seeking a way to market their services in a way that’s authentic and attracts their ideal clients without feeling salesy. The course shows them how to create a new marketing mindset message that feels aligned to who they are while giving their audience genuine goosebumps.

Stephanie Zhong's siteWhat’s the biggest benefit of taking your course?

The biggest benefit of the course for students is finally crystallizing the different dimensions of who they are into a cohesive narrative that eliminates competition and shows the world your unique value of you. Students tell me how powerful it is to finally clarify and express the best of who they are in their businesses.

Students have used their brand narrative to attract more ideal clients, doubling their income, and defining their own intellectual property into a signature talk, book, or program.

How did you get into the market?

My organization’s clients gave me the idea. Even though they hired me to create custom content for them, I would naturally share tricks of the trade with them for telling stronger stories. They suggested I offer workshops to empower them to become their own best marketers.

Why did you decide to create an online course in the first place?

Many founders of small- to mid-sized businesses I wanted to help couldn’t afford to hire me for custom work. Creating a coaching program was a fantastic win-win to help small and mighty organizations and startups tap my expertise and support building their tribes on a more flexible budget.

Did you have any moments of doubt before you created/launched it?

I wanted to quit at least 12 times before I launched the pilot program! For 3 years, I had nothing more than an outline on a Google doc. So I took $3k out of my retirement savings and invested in help to get it done. It was the investment in myself I needed to light a fire under me to make it no matter what.

I built the program in 6 weeks, and then came time to sell it. As someone who hates selling and putting myself in the spotlight, this seemed impossible. What if no one signs up for the course? Or what if they do sign up, then decide it’s awful and demand their money back?

My mentor gave me a roadmap to marketing and selling and I committed to following through one baby step at a time. When I thought of quitting, I’d remember what Seth Godin has said about “embracing the dip.” While I still go through butterflies each time I’ve launched my course, it’s gotten easier, and the results my clients get are so transformational, it inspires me to keep going.

What’s your online course like?

Own Your Message students get access to an 8-module online course with a downloadable workbook to help them build their brand message and story step-by-step. Through videos and PowerPoint, I’m there every step of the way. There’s also a library of resources and examples to give them inspiration for their own work.

Students can get real-time support and feedback in a private student community or join me on Tuesdays for LIVE Q&A Office Hour to get 1:1 laser coaching from me.  There’s also a Help Desk within the course portal.

For students who more accountability and personal support, I offer a small group version of the online course. This is a 12-week incubator that meets each week for live teaching, lifetime access to the video training, and a 1:1 session with me at the end of the program to make their Brand North Star real-world ready.

Stephanie Zhong's site

How long did it take you to create your course?

It took six weeks to create my course thanks to Danielle Leslie’s Course From Scratch program. I had spent 3 years trying to develop it on my own and realized I needed accountability, and a proven framework to get it done. Her method worked well for someone like me who needs help with follow-through and can get caught up in perfectionism.

In a nutshell, the process was to build out a clear curricular outline of what concept, action, and result, students would learn and take each week. Then, open enrollment and build the class as you go without fancy tech.

I taught the first-course using only zoom and Google docs. Having paying students was the accountability I needed to make sure the program was done. Once I had validated the program delivered results, I then turned it into an online course. I’m so grateful to Danielle for this method – I don’t know if I would’ve developed a course otherwise!

Tell us a little about the process of launching your course and getting your first sale(s).

By accident, I was the first sale! While testing the shopping cart feature, I paid full price when I meant to give myself a 100% discount. You know what? I LOVED that it turned out that way. If you believe in the quality of your course, its biggest fan should be ourselves, right? I saved the receipt to capture the milestone moment.

The first time I launched the course I was on pins and needles. I built an email list from scratch, messaging people in my network to see if they’d like to join. It was uncomfortable putting myself out there, but to my surprise, 99% of people said yes! I wrote a series of emails and social media posts and posted them, announcing the program from a place of service.

I enlisted a friend to be my accountability buddy to help me brave past the fear and hit send. - Stephanie Zhong Click To Tweet

I’d set a goal of 5 students in my small group, and one week before the course started, I only had one enrolled student. It was disheartening and I thought about quitting again and giving the student her money back.

But I remembered that the most well-known course creators like Marie Forleo, Danielle Leslie, and Selena Soo started out with only five or fewer people in their first programs. I decided that whoever enrolled, my goal was to give them the best learning experience I could and help them succeed. And that my sales calls would be service calls, with no pressure to close.

The day before the course started, five people signed up at the last minute. Embracing the dip, as Seth Godin says, is so worth it.

Do you have a lead magnet?

I’ve launched my program four times, and use a free workshop as the lead magnet for selling the course. My favorite way to connect with students is live, and I made sure the workshop offered real value whether students enroll or not.

I promoted the workshop through my email list and social media, getting about 50-60 registrants per workshop. About 50% join live, 25% stay to the end, 5% watch the replay, and 3% sign up or schedule a sales call from the workshop. The stats are pretty good compared to industry standards.

I’m in the process of turning the recorded workshop into an evergreen lead magnet instead, which will include a 60-minute video class and a free PDF worksheet. For me, the launch model was energetically very demanding for me, and not in alignment with my values. It’s important to me to meet people where they are and make the course available when they’re ready.

What’s the traffic strategy that works best for you?

I coach my students to use their natural strengths. For me, it’s speaking: podcast appearances, speaking at conferences or offering workshops to other groups. I’ve also found LinkedIn and Facebook posts very effective and appreciates alumni sharing and recommending me to their networks.

Stephanie Zhong's site

What online course platform are you using?

I began on Teachable and migrated to Kartra.

Do you like it?

The student experience is pretty intuitive on both Teachable and Kartra. Creator tools are generally easy to use as well (Teachable was slightly easier).

Are there any features you wish it had?

I migrated to Kartra to centralize course delivery, email marketing, and sales page creation. This was something Teachable didn’t have.

I wish Kartra had an autosave function, and the ability to offer student certificates.

What made you decide to use your chosen platform over others?

It was more efficient and cost-effective to use an all-in-one solution like Kartra for more seamless production for me and my team. Juggling between Teachable, Lead Pages, and Mailchimp was more expensive and clunky.

What other tools do you use to run your online course business?

I use Asana for project management, Zoom for hosting office hours, Loom for recording video tutorials, Calendly for booking private coaching sessions and sales calls, and Canva for creating course and marketing graphics and presentations.

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 a full list on my Resources page on my website, but the top 3 would be:

  • Course From Scratch program
  • War of Art by Steven Pressfield
  • Profit First for Minority Enterprises by Susanne Mariga

Do you have any big mistakes you’ve made along the way that you’d be willing to share?

One of my biggest mistakes was deciding to switch to a new webinar software two weeks before our first launch funnel. My funnel consultant recommended it because it had lots of shiny features that Zoom didn’t have.

It turned into a tech nightmare. We couldn’t get it to integrate properly with our email funnel. The “add to calendar” feature saved the workshop as one hour (when it was 2 hours). But the biggest mistake was thinking I could learn a new webinar interface one day before the workshop because there wasn’t enough time for proper training and QA testing.

The first workshop was a comedy of errors where I couldn’t see my deck and got kicked out two minutes before the end. I switched back to zoom for the rest of the launch.

Lessons learned: double your planning time when implementing new technology. And trust your gut even if it’s different from what the experts tell you.

Please share some idea of revenue.

In the pilot cohort, I earned $3000 in revenue (6 students x $500 each). For the second pilot, I made $4,788 (4 students x $1197 each). During the first online launch, I earned $17,000 in two weeks. The program earns around $5,000-8k each month.

Stephanie Zhong's site

Please tell us a little about what the money you’ve earned from your course has done for you.

Having this course become a primary revenue stream for my business has given me a lot of freedom and flexibility to work on my own terms like taking days off in the middle of the week and spending more time with my family. It’s also creating a foundation to teach so many more students I wouldn’t be able to reach in person. I took 8 weeks off for the winter break which I was never able to do when I worked in organizations.

In addition to revenue are there any numbers you would like to share?

How I built an email list of 150 people in 7 days…

I put together a short message for my network: “Hi {name}, I’m starting a newsletter sharing all the things I’ve learned about how to use storytelling to grow your business. Want to get it when I start?”

I texted friends from my phone and messaged additional friends on Facebook and LinkedIn. Everyone from my landscape architect to former colleagues I hadn’t seen in 10 years. It was a contrary action for me (I dodge the spotlight and am more comfortable giving than asking). Virtually everyone said yes (only one no, and they were very positive and encouraging).

I don’t bother trying to grow vanity metrics. My metric is a transformational change for my students.

What I am proud of is that 100% of students agree that the Own Your Message program:

  • “Gave me frameworks and practices that will help me grow my business and influence in my industry.”
  • “Have more clarity and confidence to talk about what I do and what I uniquely offer.”
  • “Recommend to a friend”

What has creating your course done for you personally?

This is going to sound grandiose, but creating Own Your Message fulfills a life purpose for me. It comes from my own struggles to claim my own lane as someone who didn’t fit the mold. To create a course and business where I get to marry together my passion for storytelling, with a desire to help others see themselves and make a bigger difference by owning their difference, is my soul’s purpose.

I feel more confident in my skin, and get so much joy watching other visionary people do the same.

Do you have a story of a transformation from any of your clients?

One client is a very successful fundraiser for a nonprofit. She had a secret dream of becoming a writer and had never told anyone. She took Own Your Message with the intention of strengthening her fundraising skills with storytelling. The inner process of developing her authentic brand mined up her writing passion, and she was able to brand herself as a writer – and complete a draft of her first novel six months later.

Another client was an executive coach and a standup comedian. She wanted to merge these two into a cohesive brand but didn’t know-how. Own Your Message helped her create a message that led to two corporate speaking gigs using comedy.

One client left corporate America to start her own web design business because she wanted freedom. In her first year, she found herself undercharging, and taking on social media contracts to pay the bills. She thought about quitting. Then she took Own Your Message, developed a brand story that enabled her to charge more for her services, say no to social media jobs she didn’t want, and double her annual income doing what she loved.

What advice do you have for people just starting out?

Keep it simple and don’t focus on fancy tech or design.

Announce you’re offering a pilot program, enroll some students and create the course as you go. You’ll surely get it done if students have paid for your time. - Stephanie Zhong Click To Tweet

Once you’ve run the course and validated the concept, it will be much faster and easier to put it online.

And…embrace the dip.

Learn more about Stephanie Zhong of stephaniezhong.com:

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Lisa Parmley

Lisa Parmley is the founder of CourseMethod.com. After gaining a Master's degree in Biology, she worked in research for about 7 years.

Lisa decided to start her own training company in 2001, helping people pass a professional exam. In that time, she created online courses as well as books, DVD's, CD's, and testing software. That course has earned multiple 7-figures throughout the years.

She created SEO and authority site building training around 2007 which went on to earn well into the 6-figure mark.

She has 21+ years of experience in the trenches doing both creating and selling online courses. Download her 7-figure Online Course Success Blueprint here.

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