- Who: Yoav Helfman
- Website: tryvirtually.com and creatorschool.io
- Course Topic: Training for freelancers and podcasters
- Interesting Stats: First live training had 7 instructors with 200 students
Who are you and what course have you created?
We partner with content creators and host a variety of different programs:
We have a platform for creating online courses and mastermind groups as well.
What market does your online course serve?
Our online courses service independent internet entrepreneurs of many forms. We have experts in the whole gauntlet of new-age careers: social media managers, sales funnels experts, podcasters, YouTubers, etc. We believe the future of work is freelance and independent ownership, so we are hoping to empower people to take the next step in their lives and reduce the risk of going at it alone. Just because you have an independent business doesn’t mean you have to build it alone.
What’s the biggest benefit of taking your course?
The benefits of taking our course are numerous. Students get:
- Live access to instructors to ask questions about how to apply skills and lessons to their business.
- Community, where they are part of a cohort of students taking the program and get facilitated discussion sections to help each other out and ask each other questions. They get access to this community for life.
- The goal of our course is to help take their business to the next level. Whether that means securing the first big client for a freelance copywriter or to getting your first sponsor as a podcaster.
If a student is looking to grow their business, we believe their best course of action is exposure to the experts that can guide them and connect with other business owners at the same stage in their development.
How did you get into the market?
Our biggest inspiration was Lambda School. It is a programming boot camp that charges people nothing unless they are secured a well-paying job after the program. We were amazed by their willingness to only charge people after they have proven to them that they delivered results. We offer a similar option to Lambda School for students who prefer not to pay upfront.
Why did you decide to create an online course in the first place?
We believe the future of work is in independent business ownership and freelance. From setting your own hours to working on your schedule, to visiting the doctor when you need without asking permission, to choosing who to work with and what to work on, the benefits are endless.Our dream is to help people who are dissatisfied in their jobs (like me and my co-founder once were) and help them build the career of their dreams while working for themselves. - Yoav Helfman Click To Tweet
People have been working in jobs too long that leave them drained and unfulfilled at the end of the day. Creatorschool.io is looking to usher people into the next era of work.
Did you have any moments of doubt before you created/launched it?
We believe doubt is inherent to all ethical entrepreneurs. Asking oneself: “What makes me the person to do this? Why should I be trusted to solve this problem?” is essential. You shouldn’t expect customers to trust you if you don’t trust yourself.
With that said, we are not proponents of self-doubt.If you are insecure about your course just put a (limited) pilot version of it out for free, then get some feedback. - Yoav Helfman Click To Tweet
If people are happy with their experience then you should definitely charge, know your worth!
We put out some free courses and small programs before launching our first full paid program. That was our validation.
What's your online course like?
Our online programs are live small group sessions. Students get weekly sessions with instructors where they have a chance to voice their uncertainties and ask questions directly to the people teaching them.
We believe this is essential as students need to ask questions and engage with the content to learn. Just getting lectured at isn’t effective.
Additionally, we facilitate discussion sections with students, so they have a chance to engage with and support each other. This creates peer accountability and makes the process of taking an online course less lonely. Finally, we have some take homework for students to complete between sessions. Instructors can give useful feedback to students this way as well.
How long did it take you to create your course?
Our courses and programs are always evolving. From initial conception to our first-weekend program was about 6 months. Between our first weekend program to our first full program, it was another 5-6 months of recruiting instructors and refining the curriculum.
We didn’t know which direction we wanted to take when we first started. The long development times of our programs have been a function of the time we have spent interviewing potential students about what content they are most interested in and what makes for the most engaging online course experience for them.
We leveraged every source we had: LinkedIn, Reddit, Facebook groups, Instagram, cold reach-outs, people in our network to try and get in touch with as many people who were:
- Interested in the freelance/independent space but weren’t in it,
- Were well established in the independent/freelance space, and
- Were new to the independent/freelance space but were struggling to grow.
Based on our deep engagement with these 3 groups, we were able to refine our curriculum and gain confidence in our offerings.
Tell us a little about the process of launching your course and getting your first sale(s).
Ah, the hard part. Getting traffic to our programs was certainly a challenge at the start. We follow Paul Graham’s advice to “do things that don’t scale”. We created and compiled as many free useful resources as we could and put it out on LinkedIn, Reddit, Medium and Facebook groups.
From there we were able to interact with potential students and connect with them over private messages on whichever platform we were using. We were able to get them on the phone, grab their email or get them on a video chat. After building trust and providing value for them along this journey we were able to convert some people to students after introducing them to our course.
There are no short-cuts to getting your first users, it is essential to work smart AND work hard to put yourself out there, provide value, build trust, and only then ask people to check out your course.
We also put out landing pages with free useful content to capture emails, then send them through an email campaign, providing useful and relevant content along the way with the ultimate ask being to check out our course. We found this less effective than the process of connection facilitated by social platforms.
While getting the first set of customers is always a challenge, enjoying all the word of mouth and buzz that they bring when you really knock it out of the park with your course makes it totally worth it.
Do you have a lead magnet?
We found that content marketing was more effective for us than a lead magnet, so we put most of our focus there. We host free crash courses, virtual summits, and put out a lot of useful guides and resources on social and content platforms. That’s what we use for the top of the funnel.
What's the traffic strategy that works best for you?
Content marketing has been our bread and butter. If you provide a ton of value, people will flock to your posts. Once people flock to your posts, you can interact with them and build connections.
If you build connections with people, you can introduce them to your course. From there, if you've done a good job of building trust by providing value, you will get a consistent flow of students.
What online course platform are you using?
We use our platform, vrtlly.me/build Admittedly we are big fans ☺
Are there any features you wish it had?
We are hoping to get relationships with sponsors to improve our network offerings for people hosting courses and for students completing them.
What made you decide to use your chosen platform over others?
We made it ourselves. We wanted to integrate live instruction, student discussion forum, payment processing, automated lesson recordings, mastermind groups and announcements (updates for students) all in one.
What books or training programs have you found useful on your journey to a successful business owner that others might find valuable too?
We learned the most from interacting with course creators and reading the content they put out. Pat Flynn from “The Smart Passive Income” blog and Seth Godin’s books for marketing were influential for us.
Frankly, we learn from our instructors and students more than any online program or book. This experience is why we have live interaction with instructors and students as pillars of our curriculum.
Do you have any big mistakes you’ve made along the way that you’d be willing to share?
Countless mistakes. Our biggest mistake at the start was not constantly thinking from the perspective of the student. We have an endless list of courses no one signed up for, email forms left unfilled, unmet goals and squashed expectations.
Please share some idea of revenue.
We are using a slightly unusual model, the income share agreement (ISA). This eschews upfront payment in favor of taking a % of student income that we help build in our program.
We have students for our first couple of programs on an ISA basis and are expecting 3.5-5k per student depending on their success in their first year. We are highly selective when picking our students to ensure that we have a batch of individuals who are fully committed to their business.
Please tell us a little about what the money you've earned from your course has done for you.
Frankly, neither I nor my business partner went into online education for the money. We were both software engineers at major tech companies making fine salaries, before pivoting to online education. While money is nice, the feeling of actually enjoying our work is priceless.
With that said, quitting our corporate jobs to start our own business has been a major lifestyle boost. I love setting my own hours, working on what I want with whomever I can convince to join us, and prioritizing my wellness every day. Working in online education has proven much more difficult than a cushy corporate job, but I’ve never considered going back.
Are there any statistics or numbers you would like to share?
Our very first live training had 7 different total instructors with a total enrollment of 200 students. We were very proud of those numbers at the start.
What has creating your course done for you personally?
The reason we do it is simply to support ourselves while changing people’s lives. Are we curing cancer, fixing the political climate or fixing the actual climate? Nope.
But what we are doing is taking people who haven’t had the fortune of experiencing what real job satisfaction is like and propelling them to take ownership of their career and gain their autonomy back. That mission is one that keeps us constantly energized and excited.
What advice do you have for people just starting out?
- Learn about your students like it’s your obsession. Without a deep understanding of their problems and needs, it will be impossible to know which curriculum will help them the most.
- Build your audience while building your course in parallel. Spending a long time on courses no one attends is not a great use of time.
- As Paul Graham says, do things that don’t scale. Getting your first customers and students is a major challenge. You need to put yourself out there, prove that you know your stuff and can help them before expecting anyone to waltz into your program.