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Chiara Bruzzano has always been fascinated by language. 

Born and raised near Milan, Italy, Bruzzano worked as a translator for an online database following her bachelor’s degree. Seeking more human connection, she decided to transition her career into teaching language instead. She got her master’s degree — and later her PhD — and worked across Italy, Spain, and the UK as a language teacher.

But along her academic journey, she realized that there isn’t a clear path to teach in Italy; according to Bruzzano, it can take over a decade to get a tenured teaching position at an Italian school.

“The way you become an English language teacher in Italy is very complicated,” she says. “Essentially, you need to pass a national exam called the ‘concorso.’ To pass the exam, you need a lot of knowledge about language teaching methodology, yet there are little to no reliable materials in which to study.”

When she heard her colleagues complaining about this lack of teaching material, she went onto some Facebook groups and noticed even more people experiencing the same issue.

“I realized that I had the knowledge that would fill this gap, because it’s literally what I’ve been doing for ten years.”

In 2020, she decided to start her own online course business, LanguagEd, to provide English language teachers in Italy with high-quality, research-based professional development. Fast forward to now, and she has eight courses with a total of 14,000 enrolled students. Here’s how she did it.

Jump ahead:

She launched a business to fill the gap

Upon realizing that she was an ideal candidate to fill the knowledge gap, Bruzzano developed her courses to meet two outcomes: help teachers develop skills for classroom practice and pass the exam. “All of the courses relate closely to the experience of not only teachers, but language learners,” she says.

In the two years she’s been in business, she’s helped hundreds of teachers pass the exam. “Obviously, the credit goes to them, not me,” she shares, humbly. “But knowing that I’m helping to make a difference is the most rewarding feeling ever. And that builds confidence.”

On top of her exam preparation courses, she and her team – which includes Annalisa Perone, graphic designer, animator, and illustrator, Sylvia Provenzano, course reviewer and teacher trainer, and André Hedlund and Rachel Tsateri,  teacher trainers — offer personal consultations, a bilingual blog, a YouTube channel, and a weekly, research-backed newsletter. According to Bruzzano, these tools have all helped to grow her audience on what she calls ‘a personal basis.’

She built an audience on a ‘personal basis’

Building an audience took some time; with so many teachers already having spent hundreds of dollars on exam preparation materials — only to eventually fail the exam — she had to prove to teachers that her courses could legitimately help them pass. Creating personal connections with colleagues and those in Facebook groups helped her to build relationships and develop a sense of trust between herself and others. “I started having conversations with people preparing for the exam, and that set the tone for how we’ve managed our audience because we want to show that we care,” she says. 

Upon creating a business Facebook page in 2020, which now has over 2,300 people following it, she set up a WordPress website in 2021.

Next, she began building an email list to share a weekly, research-backed newsletter that goes out every Sunday morning. Her newsletter includes a mix of helpful resources to help subscribers prepare for the exam, as well as the latest research on language teaching. The email list grew through the offering of two freebies on her website: the first, which is a table summarizing the topics of the exam with possible subtopics, and the second, which is a sample essay for the exam. Now, she has over 6,000 subscribers. 

She leveraged her most popular YouTube video

Through everything Bruzzano does in her Thinkific course business, she applies the notion of ‘quality over quantity.’

When she and her team started a YouTube channel, she made sure to create one, winning video that would drive traffic to her site. “I made a video that summarized the main language teaching methods and their history from the last three centuries, since that was part of what the teachers had to study for their exam,” she says.

This video blew up; in two years, it has had over 50,000 views and drives the most traffic to her channel. While she has other videos on her channel, this one does the heavy-lifting.“I make videos every so often now,” she says, “but only when I have something to say or if I want to answer an interesting question.”

She makes sure to also use her channel as a means to share resources and high-quality content for her students. “I’ve done occasional Q&A videos that have been really useful,” she continues. “I’ve also used the channel to put together playlists of interesting videos covering different areas of the curriculum that students have to study for the exam.”

She created a bilingual blog

But perhaps the most important driver of traffic to her business is her bilingual blog. “I invested a lot of time into my blog because I thought it would be a long-term investment worth pursuing,” she says.”

She created the blog in both English and Italian, since she knew her audience would be searching Google in both languages. As she wrote each post, she made sure to use specific keywords that would improve her SEO. “That was really helpful,” she says. “Some of the blog posts ranked really well on Google. We’ve had 45,000 blog viewers in the first seven months of this year alone.”

For creators looking to increase sales of their course, she recommends giving their audience as much value as possible by applying the ‘quality over quantity’ mindset.

“Grow your audience organically if you can, which is what I did,” she explains. “It took longer, but it builds better relationships.”

She used an accessible pricing model

When it came to pricing her courses, she wanted to price them in an accessible way; her courses range from 29 to 79 euros, which includes one year access that can be renewed at a discounted rate. “I didn’t want them to be super expensive for teachers,” she says. “I’ve been a teacher and I know that it’s not the most well-paying job.”

As it turns out, Bruzzano says that this price range is sustainable for most teachers. But she also offers free versions; each course has a free introduction, as well as one to two units that are also free. If the student decides to purchase the course, they get access to all of the modules at once, rather than a drip content release.

She decided not to use Thinkific’s drip schedule feature since her students require the ability to study the material at their convenience.

“A lot of my students are people with families or full-time jobs,” she explains. “They have to be able to study whenever they like.”

She diversified her course content

According to Bruzzano, each lesson includes a summary, core content, and ‘expansion’ tasks, which are activities that expand on each topic. “That way, students can decide how much they want to do based on how much time they have.”

She diversifies her content delivery to appeal to different learners. Her content includes a mix of video, text, PowerPoint presentations, and audio. “I learned that people expect videos,” she says. “I had to manage my students’ expectations because I don’t think some topics are best suited for video.”

She also has discussion pages on her Thinkific site, however she doesn’t have a separate community for her students; as a new mother of a two-month old baby, she had to get real with her time and prioritize it accordingly. “I’ve only had LanguagEd for two years,” she says. “And I’ve already gone and created eight courses. I’ve focused all of my energy on course creation and management; I wouldn’t have had time to keep up with a community.”

She created – and revised – her curriculums

She built her courses’ curriculums by basing them off of the exam’s topics. She then broke down each broad topic into teaching material, and based all of her content off the latest available research. “I write and create the courses and then I have Sylvia – another language teacher and an examiner – review the courses,” she says. “She also keeps in touch with teachers in Facebook groups.”

Since the exam has changed three times in the two years that LanguagEd has been operating, she’s had to make sure that she continually changes and evolves the content.

“I can amend my courses on Thinkific using the Basic Plan. So even after my courses have been bought, I’m able to update and customize them based on these changes.”

She showed her students that she cares

No matter what an online course creator is teaching, Bruzzano advises that, like her, creators continue to review their courses. “Go the extra mile to show that you care,” she says.

Even after students have completed her courses, her team keeps in touch with them. “They get sent a certificate and we send them their congratulations,” she explains.

“We keep in touch because we want to find out if they’ve passed their exam and, again, to show that we care.”

In fact, this extra care is what Bruzzano feels has been the key to her business’ success.

“I think it’s really important to convey that you care about your students, and that goes hand-in-hand with knowing yourself. For me, being the main content creator showed that I cared about the way that I created my courses. Plus, the fact that I would personally answer questions and send my students useful content helped people trust me.”

This sense of trust has resulted in powerful word-of-mouth marketing. “We accompany students in the journey of choosing which courses are better for them,” she continues. “That can take a bit of back and forth, but once you do that, it helps students get the right course for their specific needs, which also means not trying to sell them something that they don’t need. It may sound old fashioned, but it’s what works for us.”

Reflecting on her course creation journey

When Bruzzano looks back on her course creation journey, she says she wished that she believed in her business more – from the very beginning. 

She also wished she avoided spreading herself too thin with other engagements. “I work for three universities, I have a column in a well-known blog, I do teacher training, and I speak at conferences and engagements. When I became pregnant, I was very close to burning out,” she shares.

When comparing online versus in-person teaching, she says that she misses the human connection that face-to-face connection offers. However, she’s recreated that human connection in other ways, such as in her personal consultations and engaging with her students – both during and after her course.

Advice for online course creators

For the online course creator who’s trying to scale their business, Bruzzano has some advice.  “Make sure that you’re the best person to deliver that content,” she says. “I know this sounds a bit cliché, but you have to know what you’re teaching inside and out, otherwise you’ll get found out at some point.”

She also advises that people enroll in a few courses and learn about teaching. 

“Learning and teaching are two vastly different things. You may be an expert in your field, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to convey your knowledge. Invest in learning instructional design.”

If you’re inspired by Bruzzano’s story about building a thriving online course business, sign up for Thinkific today. 

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