#56 – Chris Badgett on Using WordPress for Online Courses

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#56 – Chris Badgett on Using WordPress for Online Courses
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Transcript

[00:00:00] Nathan Wrigley: Welcome to the Jukebox Podcast from WP Tavern. My name is Nathan Wrigley.

Jukebox is a podcast which is dedicated to all things WordPress. The people, the events, the plugins, the blocks, the themes, and in this case, how to use WordPress as an education platform.

If you’d like to subscribe to the podcast, you can do that by searching for WP Tavern in your podcast player of choice, or by going to wptavern.com/feed/podcast, and you can copy that URL into most podcast players.

If you have a topic that you’d like us to feature on the podcast, I’m very keen to hear from, and hopefully get you or your idea featured on the show. Head over to wptavern.com/contact/jukebox and use the form there.

So on the podcast today we have Chris Badgett. Chris is behind LifterLMS, which is a learning management system built as a WordPress plugin. He’s been in the WordPress space since 2008, and has moved his agency away from general website building to concentrate upon e-learning membership sites, course creation and marketing automation.

He’s on the podcast today to talk about how WordPress and e-learning are a good fit. Although there’s a flourishing SaaS side to e-learning, Chris is convinced that WordPress allows you to make your LMS site exactly what you want. You won’t be facing the limitations imposed upon you by the platform. And can, if you have the time and skills, modify almost anything to suit your brand and niche.

We begin by talking through how well a WordPress based LMS site can scale. Should your course be a runaway success, you want to be aware of how you’re going to have to manage the resources that your site will need. There’s a lot of dynamic content being displayed to your users, and this will affect the tech stack that you’ll need to deploy.

We then get into a broad conversation about how online courses have taken off in the last few years. Even before global lockdowns, individuals and businesses were adopting online courses in innovative ways, to educate their customers, staff, and the wider public. Chris’s data points to the fact that this growth seems set to continue.

There’s a real understanding now that in many niches, the course curriculum needs to be adapted and amended continually. This is extremely easy to do with an LMS. You create new content, click publish, and notify your users that the new material is there.

We also discuss the reality of actually making a course. Like writing a book, the idea of creating a course is easy to conceive, but hard to execute. There’s the content, the branding, the marketing, the updates, and much more. Chris has some advice to help you get over the bumps in the road if you’ve decided that you want to dip your feet into online course creation.

It’s an interesting podcast and digs into yet another area where WordPress can help people thrive online.

If you’re interested in finding out more, you can find all of the links in the show notes by heading over to wptavern.com/podcast, where you’ll find all the other episodes as well.

And so without further delay, I bring you Chris Badgett.

I am joined on the podcast today by Chris Badgett. Hello Chris.

[00:04:16] Chris Badgett: Hey, Nathan. Great to be here.

[00:04:17] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, thank you for joining me. Chris and I have been in touch with one another over many years, but it was very nice in the WordCamp US, which was recently something that I attended to find Chris there. Very nice to meet you in person.

[00:04:29] Chris Badgett: That was great.

[00:04:30] Nathan Wrigley: Chris is on the podcast today. He’s going to be talking to us about e-learning or LMSs, all of the different ways that you can do that with a WordPress website. But if you don’t know Chris, you’re about to find out why he’s an expert in this and why he’s got the chops to be talking about it.

Chris, would you just spend a moment or two orientating our listeners, giving them an idea of, a, your relationship with WordPress. We’re on a WordPress podcast after all, but also why you are somebody who is an expert in e-learning.

[00:05:00] Chris Badgett: Absolutely. So I’ve been at WordPress since 2008. Around that time I started blogging. I was actually living in Alaska. I used to run sled dogs up there, and I started on the side building WordPress sites for myself and then later for clients, and I kind of accidentally started an agency. And fast forward the timeline a little bit, I started blogging about some courses that I was creating because I was trying to create some more passive income for my family, my newborn kids and everything.

I started blogging about how I did that with WordPress, and this is back in 2000 and 11 or so. Over time I built an agency to about 17 people. People started responding to all my, my blogs on building an LMS website, creating online courses with WordPress. A lot of my blogs, nothing ever happened, but I clearly struck a nerve and the market was interested in this information.

Our agency started focusing on that. Those are the kind of clients we attracted. And ultimately the clients wanted this perfect e-learning membership site, course creation, marketing automation tool that didn’t exist. So we built that in 2013 and that was the origin of Lifter LMS. Which is one of the leading learning management systems for WordPress. So I’ve been a course creator. I’ve been an agency guy, and I’ve been in this niche for about a decade here.

[00:06:25] Nathan Wrigley: Nice. When you initially launched, it sounds like it was held together by sticky tape. You were literally making it up as you went along. This is the first iteration where you were designing it. How did that go? Were you just cobbling together a bunch of disparate plugins and figuring it all out piece by piece?

[00:06:42] Chris Badgett: I would say one of my talents as an entrepreneur is team building, and I’ve had some really talented developers with me from the agency side. And because I was so close to our ideal customer, as a product guy, working from first principles. We took one of our developers, his name was Mark, off of client work, and gave him a spec to build. He built the first version of Lifter LMS in about 60 days from scratch.

No cobbling together anything. And then we launched it to the world, for a closed beta period. Opened it for a week. We got 42 customers in that week. We said if we didn’t get a hundred that we would shut it down and go back to agency work, but I’m kind of stubborn. So we, uh, we kept going and continued to develop Lifter LMS. I’m very much as an entrepreneur where the customers kind of pull the product out of you.

I’m not trying to push product on the market. So I’m a really good listener. I’m a big community guy. I’m also decent at filtering and focusing and weaving my own vision in with what the market wants. So that’s how Lifter started.

[00:07:47] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah. That’s really interesting. The WordPress space is obviously full of websites, different things you can do with it, e-commerce, LMSs, you name it. The truth is as well that there’s a really thriving SaaS side to LMSs. So I’m just curious if you could give us, being that we’re on a WordPress podcast, if you could give us a bunch of different reasons why WordPress is a really great fit for an LMS. I mean, obviously we’re not trying to disparage the SaaS products out there. There’s going to be a whole bunch of reasons, I’m sure, why WordPress might be top of your list.

[00:08:22] Chris Badgett: Yeah. And, and this, I’ll go back to the voice of the customer here. You know, there’s some great platforms out there, SaaS solutions like Kajabi, Teachable, Thinkific, Podia, there’s many others. In the early days, a lot of people were putting stuff on course and marketplaces like Udemy. Udemy as an example started enforcing pricing controls where you can only charge up to $50 for your course.

That upset a lot of people. The SaaS solutions tend to look pretty cookie cutter. So people that really want to build like a unique brand and design get the longing to go to WordPress where they have unlimited brand and design flexibility. And then it’s really just a functionality thing.

One of my customers who switched from one of the SaaS solutions, described it this way. He said that the SaaS that he was in, they were trying to conform him to it, like as a course creator and entrepreneur. But over here in WordPress he’s in the driver’s seat of what his vision is for his online learning platform.

He’s not being put in a box. So that’s kind of the simple way to say it. Brand flexibility and just this whole ownership and control aspect. Because when you build a site like this, you’re not just building a brochure, you’re literally building a business asset. So to have more control over that is something that’s really important to a lot of people.

[00:09:37] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, I guess the same could be true in just about every sphere of WordPress, where there’s commercial rivals that are SaaS products. The customizability. The fact that you can make it your own and do whatever you like with it, given the time and development. Yeah, that’s the perfect answer really, isn’t it?

Does WordPress scale well with LMSs? And what I mean by that is if we took a inexpensive hosting package and we dropped WordPress into that, and then we install one of the LMSs. It’s doing a lot of work. There’s a whole bunch of different things going on, and we can get into that a little bit later. Needless to say, there’s lots and lots of things happening. Are there constraints around the hosting and the tech stack that you need behind WordPress? Or does it actually function pretty well even on modest resources?

[00:10:25] Chris Badgett: Well, not all plugins are created equal. Something like a WooCommerce, or one of the WordPress LMS plugins are, quote, heavier. They require a lot more resources. We have a lot of dynamic content, We have a lot of user interactions. So as platforms themselves, like a platform plugin, they require a lot of resources.

That being said, performance is something we focused on and, I think the industry in general has to pay attention to because as your customers become more and more successful and get more and more users, the last thing you want to have happen is for your tool to start malfunctioning or cause the site to slow down or whatever.

The reality is, yeah, you can start with the cheap, low end of the market hosting and you’re completely fine. When you start getting above like a thousand users, you need to start looking at bigger plans. We actually have a list on our website of the six options that we recommend. But, we have customers that have 50,000. There’s one person on there, because we have some telemetry data tracking that people opt into, where we collect just non-identifiable information just to see what people are doing.

I’ve seen people with 800,000 users in just massive sites. At the end of the day, we work to create a performant plugin and we continually focus on performance. We actually work with hosting companies to improve performance together, which is awesome. There’s some great hosts out there that take a keen interest in that. Because they themselves as hosts are looking to attract high quality customers, which LMS websites can be, when they’re successful.

When you do get into large concurrent users or you’re doing something really at scale, you are going to be spending a lot more on hosting. That’s just part of the game. But if you design your business model correctly for your school or your academy, or your membership site, whatever you call it. If you’re hosting bill jumps up from $30 a month to a hundred dollars a month, you’re fine. It’s just the real estate tax for your online business. And if it, even if it jumps up higher than that, you’re having a ton of people move through your platform and it’s, it’s just a cost of doing business.

[00:12:35] Nathan Wrigley: Let’s just move sort of sideways, away from the tech and possibly away from WordPress just for a moment, and talk about the kind of people who may be interested in this. I’m imagining just like everybody, there’s a whole bunch of people who, if you like, they have the New Year’s resolution. want to do a course. I want to launch a course. I’ve got this area of expertise and I want the world to know about it. The world will be a better place after I’ve launched my course.

And I imagine there’s quite a high attrition rate, where people have that and then they’re confronted with the reality of what’s actually involved. And the course doesn’t get launched. So just give us some broad outlines of the concerns and considerations you would put in front of people just to say, Okay, if you really are serious about this, bear these things in mind, because I imagine there’s quite a lot.

[00:13:25] Chris Badgett: Yeah. I kind of think of us as having two markets. One is the WordPress professional who builds sites for clients and stuff like that. And the other is what I call the expert industry. And there’s other niches within e-learning besides the expert, which we also have, but, for that person who wants to take their knowledge, skills, and life experience and turn that into a product through an online course. I think this is not a new story, it’s an old story. I don’t know if you, Nathan, or anybody out there listening has ever had a vision of writing a book one day.

[00:13:56] Nathan Wrigley: Oh yeah.

[00:13:56] Chris Badgett: I have. It’s that same story. I haven’t written a book. I don’t know if you wrote your book Nathan?

[00:14:01] Nathan Wrigley: Failed.

[00:14:02] Chris Badgett: It’s the same thing, and I would argue, it’s almost a little harder for courses and stuff than a book, because a book is typing and words. With courses, you got to figure out the website. You start working with video and audio and instructional design and curriculum. All the stuff, it’s a lot. Really if I look across the patterns of the people that make it, there’s several things to mention here. One of ‘them, which I can go into more detail later, but just to drop it now, is you have to have a baseline of competency across five areas, either within yourself or your team, for it to even work at all.

And so this is the fundamental thing. I call it the five hats problem. So you have to wear five hats. One is you actually have to have expertise. Two is you have to be an entrepreneur, which includes starting a business, marketing, all that stuff. You have to be a teacher. The ability to not just know something, but help somebody else learn it. You have to be a community builder, before the sale and then after the sale. And then you have to be a driver of technology and be able to use hardware and software and stuff.

So just know what you’re getting into. So that’s one. Number two. The people that really make it, take consistent forward action even though it’s imperfect. What stops a lot of people in this industry is imposter syndrome, and the people that make it literally ship the course, even if it’s not perfect, even if the videos aren’t perfect, even if they’re unsure of their self worth or whatever, they ship it. and then they make it better over time.

And then the third thing that’s really important, I’ll stop at three points because these are kind of the three biggest that I’m giving you here, is that a lot of people get really focused on the concept of making money online or building an online business or working from home. And these are all good things and I’m all for all those things. But they’re very self focussed. The people that really make it out there, kind of have a service mindset that drives their business. They focus on a particular niche, and they make it about impact and serving others.

And through all that, they make a lot of money and they build the online business and they work from wherever in the world. But when you flip that script, from a priority standpoint to be like, you know what, I’m going to focus on this person and help this person be successful. Quick example. One of our customers, Angela Brown, I watched her go from like zero to like 200,000 person YouTube channel teaching house cleaners how to start and grow their businesses. And she’s hugely successful now.

She’s really famous in that niche. And, basically she just was targeting people that were just starting out trying to run a cleaning company with cleaning supplies in the trunk of their car, and helping them become professionals. And through all that, she’s made a bunch of money and everything, but she’s given everything to her industry and she’s really focused on helping her core customer.

[00:16:57] Nathan Wrigley: That’s a really fascinating story actually. I’m really taken by that. I do like the, the story of the underdog. That’s brilliant. So let’s go back to your five hats, of which I think you mentioned the first three. There’s a lot in there, isn’t there? There really is a lot in there. You mentioned expertise, entrepreneurship. The fact that you’ve got to be a teacher, an educator. Got to build a community. And then you’ve got to be somebody who’s presumably on some level, you described it as a driver of tech, but basically a geek.

Would you say that if you don’t satisfy all of those things, you are kind of asking for trouble? I mean, let’s say for example that I’m not particularly good at tech. Presumably there are some of these things which you can farm out? You could hire somebody to do the tech for you and so on. But the other ones really do feel like, that’s got to be a part of your core being, your soul if you like.

[00:17:44] Chris Badgett: It really depends on the person. I kind of think of it as like a personality type matrix. And by the way, I mentioned one of our major customer set is people who build these kind of sites for clients. So a lot of people are not trying to do this all themselves. They partner with a WordPress professional to be the tech person to actually build the site.

So that’s a common one that, an expert, especially a really established expert who’s not in a technical field, maybe it’s a yoga instructor or some kind of cooking thing or parenting thing. We see a lot of people just partnering with a WordPress professional, I’ll say that.

When it comes to the entrepreneurship piece, I call our ideal customer an education entrepreneur. They’re both driven by teaching some subject matter, but also being an entrepreneur, which literally is somebody who creates value out of nothing and gets it out into the world by their sheer will.

It’s one thing to be a teacher. It’s one thing to be an entrepreneur. Not all entrepreneurs want to be teachers. Not all teachers want to be entrepreneurs. But when you have both together, that’s kind of the core that you can’t really outsource. You can hire in pieces of the entrepreneurship, I see people hire marketers to help with content, or ads, or taxes and things like that. But at its core, for someone to be successful in this endeavor, there’s that overlapping of the teacher entrepreneur in one. It’s kind of a common thread.

[00:19:10] Nathan Wrigley: Okay, so let’s imagine that I want to do a course. I’ve got this area of expertise. Let’s imagine that I’m a, I don’t know, fabulous guitarist or something like that. And I want to spread the word, and teach people how to play the guitar successfully and enjoy it.

Talk to me about the process that you would advise somebody like me to go through. In order to get this thing off the ground, because the first thing I’m going to do is not shoot myself a video of me playing the guitar. That may be quite high on the list, but I’m imagining there’s a whole bucket load of other things that need to be done, in terms of market research, and branding, and coming up with the structure of the course and so on.

So, just run us through a typical, different in every case I’m sure, but a typical way of mapping out the journey from just the idea, just saying you’re going to do it, to finally having all of the bits and pieces so that you are ready to do it.

[00:20:05] Chris Badgett: You know, I’ve seen so much failure or just slow progress on this question here that I’ve created a system to help people figure this all out. I call it the five day course plan challenge, it’s on our website. But basically what happens on those five days. My whole point is give me an hour, for five days in a row and then you’re going to be ready to actually approach this.

So on day one we get into a lot of the inner game stuff like your purpose and your vision. Getting some of the mindset stuff straight. Day two, we get into designing your ideal customer avatar. So for you, who are we teaching? Are we teaching other guitar teachers? Are we teaching kids? Are we teaching a specialized style of guitar. Nicheing and doing the avatar work is super important. Then there’s the actual, this is the fundamental thing that the entrepreneur does, which is, the core of what entrepreneurs do is they create an offer, right?

An iPhone is an offer. A Tesla car is a offer. A WordCamp as an example, there’s like a promise there. And what a lot of course creators and coaches and things like that do, is they get really focused on their mechanism, which for your example, is a guitar playing. Okay, that’s a mechanism. But what is the offer? I have a whole thing where I teach about how to develop this, but basically what it boils down to is, I help X person achieve X result through my mechanism. Offer construction is the key, and if you don’t nail that, everything else will be inefficient or potentially fail.

Once you have your offer on the next day, I give people, because a lot of experts have no training in how to be a teacher or a coach. So I have some training in instructional design after a decade in this space of like how to think about chunking down your skills and your, what you want to teach, and the result your avatar wants, into an actual framework that has a high likelihood of actually working. So I help people become instructional designers.

And then the last step, that sometimes people overlook, is it’s not just about content. You want to design some kind of success system. So if you look at like a popular online course that you can buy, that you hear ads for all the time called Masterclass. This is like $15 a month and you can learn comedy from Steve Martin, and all this stuff from all these famous people, but it’s only $15 a month. The reason why those courses from the best in the world are so cheap is because they lack any kind of support or connection with the creator.

So when you design a success system, and I have a whole system of how to think about that and map it to your personality style and preferences, but it could include things like group coaching, email access, office hours, phone support, live events in person. When you combine that success element, and not think of your product as not just organized content, that’s when you really create a winning course. So my advice to you, Nathan the guitar teacher, is to go through that pre-work of those five steps I just laid out.

[00:23:16] Nathan Wrigley: I should probably learn to play the guitar first.

[00:23:19] Chris Badgett: That too. Hey, expertise is one of the five hats. So if you don’t have it. You know, sometimes people see a business opportunity. Maybe I’ll teach people how to trade crypto or whatever. But they see the opportunity, but they lack the expertise. But that’s still possible, by the way. One of my first courses was in organic gardening and permaculture.

And I had all the hats except for the expert. My wife was skilled at this, but, I actually went out into the world and found some of the best people in the world. I flew to Costa Rica and traveled to a bunch of places, and I was filming these people doing permaculture design workshops in the jungle or in different places.

And so I went and I got an expert, right? And I was taking an industry that was predominantly offline. I was trying to get it online because I could see how many people on YouTube were looking for this information and everything. So, you don’t have to have the expertise, is what I’m saying. Nathan, you can go find you a guitar player, you guys partner, and you can make it happen.

[00:24:18] Nathan Wrigley: You were talking earlier about writing a book, and how so many people have this thought and it never happens. I’m sure that there’s quite a few people who get halfway through a book and then it never gets across the finish line. They’ve written the first 25,000 words and it’s all going great, and then for some reason the atrophy sets in and the word processor never comes out again and it just tails off and gets forgotten about. I’m sure the same is true of courses, you know, people they decide that they’re going to set up some kind of LMS.

They’ve thought through carefully all of the bits and pieces, but at some point the project gets derailed. And I’m wondering if, as somebody in this space whose job it is, not only to sell an LMS, but obviously to coach people around how to do that. Are there communities of like-minded LMS-ers, if you like, who can help you through this bit?

In other words, if you, if you hit a roadblock, if you find yourself getting distracted and you never get it across the finish line. Are there mechanisms in place, communities, online or otherwise of people who can help you, support you, try to get you through the bit that you’re stuck on?.

[00:25:26] Chris Badgett: Yeah, a hundred percent. I have a podcast called LMSCast, and we’re about 400 episodes deep. And part of the reason I created that podcast is I wanted to interview people, not just about the tech and WordPress, but around all these other challenges that people face around the five hats, and things like instructional design and marketing and community building and all this.

So, that’s a resource, but there’s also a lot of great Facebook groups, as an example out there. The whole course creator, entrepreneur thing is definitely a niche. Coaching. Some people kind of use different words around the space. You’ll hear course creator, I’m a coach, I have a membership site, I have a paid community.

You can do all those things and kind of mix and match whichever variables you want in your online learning platform. But there’s definitely communities and content around these types of people. And you can find the ones that resonate with you. What we find here in WordPress, or just in software in general, is that sometimes people buy the tool before they’re ready, right?

It’s one of the reasons why I’ve made that five day challenge course for people to be more ready for the tool, and not just the tool, but for the business. And there’s a lot of people out there who teach around course creation. You just have to be careful though, because there is a lot of over promise snake oil stuff about how easy it is and, you know, follow these easy steps and all this stuff.

It’s a big commitment. If you’re going to create a course, it’s not easy, I’m just being honest with you. Just like writing a book is not easy. And starting a business, especially if you don’t already have an online platform or website and e-commerce system and everything. It’s going to take a little bit of time.

There’s a lot of people on this journey. The online industry is booming. People becoming entrepreneurs and wanting to be entrepreneurs and want to work remotely and digitally and be digital nomads and all this stuff, it’s all booming. It is an emerging trend, and you can find others on the same path.

[00:27:22] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, it strikes me that it could be quite a lonely journey being a course creator, because if you’re doing it by yourself, you may struggle to make those connections, so it’s nice to hear that there are different communities and groups out there which will help you through that. Yeah, that’s great.

In terms of LMSs and all of that, the technology behind it all. I don’t know how to phrase this question because it brings up Covid, but during the last few years Covid happened. And I’m guessing, I have no data to back this up, it just is a thought in my head, that online courses became more of a thing.

More people creating them. More people consuming them. And whilst nobody wants to celebrate Covid, it might be interesting to get into that conversation about whether or not that was in fact the case. Did people swell to LMSs and were there more courses being put out and consumed? And also, what’s the trend since the world has gone a little bit more back to normal? Since we’ve been able to go back to in-person events? Has it declined or has it kept its growth?

[00:28:28] Chris Badgett: There was a huge boom that I could say from our company, in terms of new users, new customers due to Covid. And also just to talk about a little more, there’s some different flavors to it. Yes, there’s some people that want a side income or a full-time income from home now, that wanted to become course creators or coaches and they needed an LMS. But we also saw a big influx of trainers, people that would go places and train people at a company, or they would deliver some kind of event thing from the stage, and now they want to package it inside of a LMS in a course format. They literally had to, to keep their businesses going.

So there was a lot of, there was a lot of both those aspiring entrepreneurs, but also just trainers and events and regular schools. A big, small, traditional alternative, whatever, that we’re trying to figure this all out. Yeah, it caused a huge boom in the industry, and I guess it’s been, I don’t know, has it been almost three years now? Something like that. The initial parabolic rise, if you will, has slowed, but the industry continues to grow, from what I can see.

So, that caused a big spike, but we’re seeing the industry just continue to grow. And also new, if you look broadly across the online learning SaaS space and the online community SaaS platforms, and the Zoom alternatives and everything, like the whole industry is just continuing to expand.

[00:30:00] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, I think there’s something which I can identify in my life at least anyway. Before the last five years, shall we say, I was probably far less willing to enroll in courses just because, I hadn’t really done it before. It was still a new thing. Much more likely now, personally, to do that because I now see this as a really legitimate thing. People now have the expertise to do it. There’s platforms like yours which enable them to do it. And it, it is no longer the thing held together by sticky tape. It can be a really professional enterprise, even just a one person enterprise can do it really professionally, given the arrangement of tools that are out there now.

And now people can download all sorts of clever software, which will enable the video editing process to be slightly more painless, if you know what I mean. And you can download software which enables you to do the marketing side of things and all of this kind of stuff. What I’m basically trying to say is, I feel that it’s become part of the landscape now. Online courses is now a thing, and it feels like it’s a thing that’s here for good.

[00:31:02] Chris Badgett: It is, and I’ll just throw a few more trends kind of on top that are happening. One is the transition from just in case, to just in time education. So what I mean by that is, you know, if we go to college and we get a degree, we learn a lot of stuff just in case we might need it or whatever.

And I’m a fan of college. I’m not bashing college, but just in time education, as our world has become more complex and dynamic, and the rapid changing of things for example, um, if you need to learn how to use a new software tool or, you know, you go to YouTube the tech training at universities and community colleges has a hard time keeping up with just independent, online learning platforms for fast changing and emerging technologies, just as an example. So, just in time education.

The other trend that’s happening is called micro learning, and that’s where it gets really important to chunk down your content so that it’s as effective and efficient as possible, without wasting time. So, back in the earlier days of the online course industry, it was all about, I’m speaking to the expert, entrepreneur kind of subject matter expert courses. It was all about how much stuff you could cram in the membership site. Like, okay, we got 200 hours of videos, 500 PDFs, all these bonuses. The trend we have now is people don’t have time for that. So, it’s got to be good. It’s it’s got to work.

People will be forgiving on production quality to a degree, like video, audio, whatever PDFs you’re doing, if you’re doing that. But the best stuff is like, super targeted, super efficient, very clear offer. There’s just so much opportunity out there in the world. Anytime I see a friction point in anything, that could be a course. And if you’re going to, if you as an entrepreneur, are going to jump on that friction point, make it as frictionless as possible for the person to achieve the result.

[00:33:02] Nathan Wrigley: I really hadn’t thought about the just in time piece, and that makes so much sense. Especially when you think about the landscape of the industry that we are in, technology, specifically WordPress. Things are changing all the time. And something that you may have wished to learn last year might now be completely obsolete.

There really is no rival than the internet for that. Online based learning can be updated now, this second, and I will immediately receive the fruits of all of those changes. Yeah, that’s really remarkable. I hadn’t really made the connection there.

[00:33:35] Chris Badgett: And just a quick marketing insight on that too, is if you’re going to do it, this is why doing the avatar work and stuff is so important, because once you get into this, it’s going to be a long road, and it’s not always going to be easy. But my best advice is if once you decide who you’re going to help, and who that avatar is, and what you’re going to teach, I would build the course business and a YouTube channel in parallel, because, just in time education, a lot of it happens on YouTube, where people go.

I of course want to see people helping people for free on YouTube, from my perspective, across all these tens of thousands of course creators is, YouTube is a really strong marketing channel to get people, you on their radar and then them into your marketing funnel.

[00:34:20] Nathan Wrigley: This leads me to another thought, and it wasn’t necessarily where I wanted to go, but I’m going to ask this anyway. If I was a course creator and something seismic happened that meant that my course needed to be amended, adapted, maybe something extra needs to be added. What do we do with that?

Because it feels almost like a course is a package, it’s a parcel. It’s finished. I’m handing it over, I’ve put it in the LMS, and there it is. That’s the thing. But presumably there has to be modifications made. Let’s say for example something in WordPress suddenly, let’s say there’s a virus which goes around and we need to disseminate the news about that quickly. Just a silly example.

I would need to put that into the course somewhere. What would the advice be about amendments? Do you normally ask people to substitute one video for another in place, or do you say, Look, add extra content? How does that amending on the fly, nature of online learning go?

[00:35:15] Chris Badgett: Well, there’s lots of options. It rolls back to the business model. So you can sell a course that has lifetime access, and then in that case you just update the content or add the additional resource. But if you’re selling a course that has a monthly recurring cost to it, and this is where the success systems come into play too.

The easiest way to add recurring revenue to a course, the lowest friction way for you to do it, is to once a month do a one hour ask me anything office hours, right. Now you have recurring value. It’s time boxed to just that hour. And you can help people in ways that they decide to stay and you continually get recurring revenue.

So if we have a model like that, you need another reason to stay on the subscription is to get the updated content when it comes out. And then a third option, there’s more, but I’m trying to give you the basics, is, there’s this concept of cohort based courses. So we’re doing this one in the spring, this one in the summer. They’re kind of separate and they just go with that time period. It is all just thinking through the time, the finances, the business model, what you’re willing to commit to as well in terms of updating content. Like one of our great customers, Sean Heskith from WP101, one of the largest, I think it might be the largest WordPress education site on the internet. He’s constantly updating his course content when new versions of WordPress come out and stuff. And he is super professional with it. So he is constantly polishing the asset, if you will.

And then I’ll just throw one more concept out there. Which is that there’s these two personality types. One, I call the serial course creator. They] just, they create a membership site and they create a course in November, then they launch a new course in December, and a new course in January, and they just keep adding new courses. The old stuff never really gets updated.

We have a guy who teaches people how to tie animal balloons. And he makes six figures with his courses. He’s got, they’re like child entertainer and magician type people is his avatar. It’s called Balloon Artist College. It’s awesome. But he’s got like 200 courses on there or something like that at this point. But then there’s the other entrepreneur, kind of like Sean with his WordPress 101 course, that they’re just continually just updating the course, right?

One of the old school, like internet marketer guys that I followed back in the day, his name’s Jeff Walker. He has a course called Product Launch Formula that I think I first saw in 2007, 2008. He still launches it twice a year or once a year. Same course. He just keeps polishing it every year. But every time he launches it, I believe it’s a new product. So different ways to tackle that.

[00:38:03] Nathan Wrigley: It occurs to me that so far we’ve spoken as if the target audience of the course is individuals. So, you’re trying to sell out there into the market. You’ve put a website together and you’re trying to encourage people, individuals to sign up. But, I’m wondering if there’s different audiences out there for your courses, or should I say different ways of implementing them?

So, for example, you might go after an entire business and offer a hundred seats at your course, or maybe you would just be implementing it as something to train your employees. There doesn’t have to be an audience of people who are willing to pay. An LMS might just be the perfect way of training your employees. So essentially, I’m just opening up the conversation to alternative uses of LMSs rather than, okay, I have a course, I’m going to sell it to a bunch of individuals, one at a time.

[00:38:53] Chris Badgett: Yeah. At Lifter LMS we have a groups feature where you can do exactly what you described. Where you offer the training into a school or a business and a certain number of seats. And the leader at that place can keep tabs on the analytics and reporting for their students that they invite into the platform.

That’s absolutely possible. I highly recommend that too. If you can figure that out in your business model, because it can create a serious amount of revenue when you can do deals at scale like that. Doing it for internal training, we do that at Lifter LMS as an example. We have a site that’s protected from the outside world, where we have all our customer success, marketing, sales, product, operational, like processes and stuff documented.

We use our own tool to train our people, as new people come in and so on. I’ve seen people get really creative with it, and I’m thinking of a guy who uses it for tutors. The tutor licenses the course, but then the uses that content with their students up on a screen in the classroom and stuff.

So there’s all kinds of ways to do it. I saw one guy run like a pay per view sporting event through Lifter LMS. You know, people get really creative. WordPress, what you can put inside the membership site, it’s up to you. A course creates structured content. Some people will use it like a course to just hold, like a webinar vault, like a library kind of thing. So there’s lots of different ways to use it.

[00:40:20] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, and it goes back to what you said right at the beginning about WordPress. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why a WordPress solution is so desirable, is that you really can take it in whichever way you like.

I have just a couple of final questions, if that’s all right. It occurs to me that the listenership to this podcast, not everybody is going to be shouting, I want to make a course. But they may be saying, I have a web design business, and it occurs to me that, well maybe maybe selling courses could become a part of my revenue. Is there a niche out there? Is it a successful niche? Does it even exist of web designers implementing LMSs?

[00:41:02] Chris Badgett: Absolutely. yeah, I mean, literally half of our customers, the people that buy the tool are freelancers and agencies, right? So it’s a split market. And then you have the DIY, do it yourself expert, or maybe that expert just buys the tool and then they hire somebody. So, a lot of people in this space are working with a WordPress professional to make it happen.

We’ve known that for a very long time. So we created this experts program where we, it’s not like a paid thing, we’re not trying to monetize it. We just constantly get asked for like, hey, do you know anybody that can help me build this site? Or, who do you recommend? So we built a list of people that have experience with Lifter.

It kind of happened to me as an example. Early on, I had this agency, people just needed all this stuff for their, their online learning business. It’s a great niche to focus on. They’re great customers. They often have recurring needs. The site build is complex, from a standpoint that it’s, it’s just not static pages and it’s incredibly valuable, which helps with your pricing as an agency owner.

And these people often need ongoing work or they want to have like a tech person aside the business, in case they ever need anything, or they have a new idea they want to implement, stuff like that. So it’s a great, it’s a great niche if you’re looking to diversify into it. And I’ll also say that a lot of times, I’ve seen a lot of people who are WordPress professionals, and they implement for a client, and then once they see how it all works, possibly see their client make a bunch of money or whatever, then they’re like, you know what, I’m going to, I’m going to launch a course.

So, uh, there’s a lot of that, that goes on when you really fall in. When you fall in love with the niche, it’s hard not to start releasing some courses yourself. And as a WordPress professional, one of the things I know from my agency days is that sometimes it’s a little frustrating or slow to train a client on how to use the website. So as part of your handoff, if you create like a course that they can then stop, rewind, play seven times to get it or whatever, and then make that as part of your handoff package. That can actually add a lot of value and save a lot of time on your end just to kind of use that course in that way.

Another counterintuitive way we use courses at Lifter is for marketing. We have several free courses, but particularly this one that teaches, quick start course, that teaches you how to use the 5% of the tool that gives you 80% of the value.

So with that one course, it lets people that are curious about the product, in about 40 minutes, see how it works, see what it does, to see if it’s a fit for their requirements. While simultaneously acting as an onboarding, at your own pace, at your own time resource. So super effective in that way. So using courses for marketing and customer success is also another counterintuitive way to, to do them.

[00:43:58] Nathan Wrigley: It strikes me that the more that you do this, the less impediments there would be. So, it may be that you launch your guitar course and it’s not a runaway success, but there are takeaways there. You know, you’ve learned how to use an LMS. You’ve learned how to do some video editing. You’ve made some mistakes in your email campaigns, and all of those things, and the next time around there’s probably going to be a little bit less friction. So, I guess one of the messages that you would have for people is, if it doesn’t work first time, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

[00:44:29] Chris Badgett: Yeah, just like anything. Learning is what makes us human, right? So when we double down on like a business model or a tool or a business, failure is just feedback. That’s why that trait we see in our successful community members, whether they’re a WordPress professional or more of a subject matter expert, is that consistent, imperfect action moving forward with an open mind That’s the through line through the people that find the best success.

[00:44:56] Nathan Wrigley: If people want to reach out to you, Chris, if they’ve been inspired by what you’ve said and they want to just get a little bit more advice, personal advice, maybe one to one or something, are you available? And if so, where’s the best place to find you, or best places?

[00:45:10] Chris Badgett: I am available. I’m a big community guy. Community building’s always been important to me. You can easily find me on Twitter @ChrisBadgett. And then also in our Facebook group. It’s another great place to reach out. So if you just do a search for Lifter LMS, courses, WordPress, you’ll find our Facebook group, and that’s a great place to connect as well.

[00:45:30] Nathan Wrigley: Chris Badgett, thanks for joining me on the podcast today. I really appreciate it.

[00:45:34] Chris Badgett: Thanks for having me, Nathan.

On the podcast today we have Chris Badgett.

Chris is behind LifterLMS, which is a learning management system built as a WordPress plugin. He’s been in the WordPress space since 2008, and has moved his agency away from general website building to concentrating upon e-learning membership sites, course creation and marketing automation.

He’s on the podcast today to talk about how WordPress and e-learning are a good fit. Although there’s a flourishing SaaS side to e-learning, Chris is convinced that WordPress allows you to make your LMS site exactly what you want. You won’t be facing the limitations imposed upon you by the platform, and can, if you have the time and skills, modify almost anything to suit your brand and niche.

We begin by talking through how well a WordPress based LMS site can scale. Should your course be a runaway success, you want to be aware of how you’re going to have to manage the resources that your site will need. There’s a lot of dynamic content being displayed to your users, and this will affect the tech stack that you’ll need to deploy.

We then get into a broad conversation about how online courses have taken off in the last few years. Even before global lockdowns, individuals and businesses were adopting online courses in innovative ways to educate their customers, staff, and the wider public. Chris’ data points to the fact that this growth seems set to continue. There’s a real understanding now that in many niches, the course curriculum needs to be adapted and amended continually. This is extremely easy to do with an LMS. You create new content, click publish and notify your users that the new material is there.

We also discuss the reality of actually making a course. Like the writing of a book, the idea of creating a course is easy to conceive, but hard to execute. There’s the content, the branding, the marketing, the updates and much more. Chris has some advice to help you get over the bumps in the road if you’ve decided that you want to dip your feet into online course creation.

It’s an interesting podcast and digs into yet another area where WordPress can help people thrive online.

Useful links.

LifterLMS website

LifterLMS Facebook Group


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