Austin Iuliano knows social media. As an entrepreneur and social media marketing consultant, he’s spent the last few years helping other businesses and entrepreneurs utilize social media and content marketing effectively.
Lucky for us, he decided to share his knowledge with the world by building online courses! His courses (check them out here) teach entrepreneurs how to build a brand on social media. Some of his most popular courses include Social Media Mastery, Snapchat Mastery, and Branding Blueprint.
We were inspired by Austin’s online course success and reached out for an interview to get an insider’s look at what he’s been doing to ensure his courses are a hit.
Read the case study below or watch our video interview with Austin Iuliano here
From brand agency to online course business
When Austin had the idea to build online courses, he was running an agency with his partner that helped small businesses develop a brand strategy. Like many in the Thinkific community, Austin discovered online courses while looking for better ways to deliver his expertise to the volume of people asking.
There weren’t enough hours in the day for Austin to meet individually with each potential customer for a branding crash course. He realized he could expand his consulting business by offering some of the branding resources online. “It was the first time we really opened our eyes to, ‘hey we can leverage our time–instead of doing this one-on-one, we can do it en mass and basically create a passive revenue stream,’” Austin explained.
Austin also discovered that online courses helped his agency offer a cost effective solution for those who couldn’t pay his full consulting fee. The less expensive online course option became a great way to capture business he wouldn’t normally keep. “If a client couldn’t afford to pay us [for consulting] well we had a solution… they could go through [the online course] which is a great down sell.” Good thinking Austin, we love that idea!
Choosing a course format to fit his material
When Austin began his branding agency for small business consulting, he created an eBook ‘workshop’ called The Branding Blueprint. The 9-10 eBooks were full of questions for his clients to fill out that helped them craft a brand story and strategy. Austin quickly realized the eBooks held a lot of value and that he should start selling them online. “Our clients would go through [the worksheets] with paper and pencil right in front of us…but then we [thought] ‘hey we can sell this on its own, because this is where the value is’.”
As his online courses evolved and more technology became available, Austin experimented with different course formats. His courses today consist of several different types of media, but he explained that in order to have the most success, it’s important to pick a format that works with your material.
“It really depends on what is the best way to deliver the information”, Austin told us. He then gave us the example of an unusual but effective way he and his partner decided to film one of his Snapchat courses. “One of the biggest challenges with Snapchat is learning the interface”, Austin explained. “I could show you through a screenshare what I’m doing, but you don’t necessarily get to see all the little minutiae. So I had my partner sit over my shoulder [filming] and I held my phone and I showed exactly where I was touching, swiping…and you could see my perspective. People absolutely loved it.”
Austin also gave some great advice for future course creators about the format of their video courses. He suggested that the best way to create video lessons was to break down the full lesson into different video sections and label them. In this way, students can view exactly what they’re looking for instead of waiting through a long video just for one piece of information. “When I had to watch a video for 30 minutes to finally get to that little tiny section I needed…you’re wasting my time”, says Austin. “Organization is extremely helpful.”
Using Thinkific to host his online courses
Austin has been selling online courses for a long time, starting before Thinkific was even around! We were very interested, especially from an online course veteran, about why he ultimately chose Thinkific.
Austin told us he tried out a few other platforms first before settling with Thinkific. His main issues with other platforms were that he wasn’t a designer or coder, and didn’t have time to be on a platform that required previous technical knowledge. He also said it was really important for his business to create different websites within his main course site that were individually branded.
Lastly, he found that some platforms held his money for 2 weeks to a month before releasing his funds, which frustrated him. “For marketers, immediate payouts are really important to us because of cash flow. If we’re putting money into Facebook advertising and making sales, we don’t want to wait two weeks to be able to re-infuse that money for a launch that we’re doing and push and make more sales” Austin explained. “So [Thinkific’s] quick turnaround on payout was great for us.”
Marketing strategies for his online courses
Since Austin is an expert social media marketer, we were excited to ask him about some of the marketing strategies he uses for his courses. Here are a few of the tips he shared for other course creators to help them market their courses successfully:
1. Find the channels that play to your strengths and focus your efforts there
“If you’re an online course creator, you are a marketer and an entrepreneur, but there are many different ways to market your online course. It really just plays into what your strengths are”, says Austin. “If you’re really great at blogging, and your course is on blogging, you better crush it at blogging and drive tons of traffic through content marketing. So if that is your area of expertise, don’t worry about social media. Put all your time and energy into [your strengths] and then just kill it in that department.”If you’re an online course creator, you are a marketer and an entrepreneur. @AustinIuliano Click To Tweet
2. Use social media and ‘virtual coffees’ to build relationships
When it comes to social media marketing, Austin told us he has one rule: depth over width. “Focus on building relationships with the people, and that will get you everything you need. You will find the partners who can help promote you, you will make the sales, you will contact the influencers who will then join you in your endeavor.”
How does Austin build relationships? He recommended sparking conversations with people on a daily basis and connecting through what he calls ‘virtual coffees’. He warned users not to get to salesy right off the bat, as people are often expecting to be sold to right away. Instead, Austin suggest asking good questions to help understand how you can add value to the other person.
“You can just go: ‘What’s your business? How can I help you? Who can I give a referral to? How can I bring value to you?’…and that changes the dynamic of the conversation”, Austin said. After communicating through social media back and forth (Austin recommended reaching out to 5-20 people per day) the next step is to reach out and say, “‘Hey, we’ve been talking for awhile, I’d love to learn more about you…let’s jump on a quick Skype call for networking. A ‘virtual coffee’. I’m just looking to learn more about you’”.
Challenges of creating online courses
Even though Austin is a social media marketing expert, he still speaks of marketing as one of the biggest challenges of being an online course creator. “Learning how to effectively market…all the different pieces of the puzzle in the online course creation world is crazy”, he said. “You can’t just create your course on Thinkific and then you’re done. You have to find all the ways to get it out there, and also nurture those relationships.”
He also spoke to us about the challenge of figuring out what ‘opt-in offer’ converts the best for his specific audience, as testing different ways to capture those initial emails can take lots of trial and error. A final challenge he talked about was building out an email series that worked well when converting users into paying customers. In order to have a high email open rate, Austin said, it’s necessary to “take the time and try different emails and see what works and what doesn’t work”.
Advice for first time course creators
As we wrapped up our conversation with Austin, we asked him to share a few words of advice with other course creators. Here are some of his tips he shared with us:
1. Don’t freak out
Austin offered some great advice to calm any nerves of first time course creators: “Don’t freak out. You will figure it out at time. Take one thing…and make the very best piece of content you possibly can. Make it ten times better than anybody else. Make it so that other people start talking about it…as soon as people start talking about it, they’re going to start doing some of the marketing for you.”
2. Utilize distribution networks
Once you’ve made the greatest content you can, and you’ve tested it against your audience, Austin recommended finding influencers in the distribution networks you’re targeting and create a partnership or joint venture with them. Using his Snapchat Mastery course as an example, Austin said “I found podcasters, I found people with distribution networks and I said… ‘I will give you access to the best A-Z Snapchat course. If you don’t find value in it, no worries. But if you watch it and you love it, then I would love to come on your show and talk to you and your audience about how to use Snapchat’…I’ll even [make them] an affiliate so we both make money”, Austin told us. “I’m trying to make it a no-brainer.”
3. You are probably going to fail at first, and that’s ok
If at first you don’t succeed, know that that is ok. “You are probably going to fail on your first one and that’s okay”, Austin told us. “So many of us are afraid of failing…if you create a course and you don’t put a ton of time and energy into it and think ‘let me just get something out there’ and it fails, that’s ok then you just make it better. You will eventually make something that wins.”
We totally agree Austin! It’s okay to not make a winner right away. The beauty of online courses (and using Thinkific) is that you can monitor your audience’s interaction with your courses and make adjustments as necessary. Do market research, figure out who you need to target, and start testing.
4. Get out there and start making a course
Austin’s final words of advice for those considering creating an online course was: just do it! “Just get out there and start making your first online course. Even if you’re not sure of what exactly to make, ask your audience. If you don’t have an audience, pick a subject you love and start talking about it and teaching…you can start by creating blog articles or a YouTube series to test the market…and when you finally have that audience ask them, ‘what is it you want to know?’…you will learn how to create your course pretty easily.”
Thanks for sharing your insights with us Austin!How @AustinIuliano Scaled his Consulting Business with Online Courses Click To Tweet
Tyler Basu is the Content Manager at Thinkific. When he’s not creating content to help people create and sell online courses, you can find him writing articles and interviewing lifestyle entrepreneurs for Lifestyle Business Magazine and other online publications.