When Mike Nelson graduated college and landed a corporate job, he knew he was meant for more. Not only did he aspire for a bigger annual salary than $32K, he craved more freedom and creativity than his 9-5 would allow.
In 2014, he stumbled across someone teaching people how to create online t-shirt businesses. Eager to learn how he could make a six-figure income and create the lifestyle that he knew was possible, he became curious. “This guy’s students were making $30-$40K a month,” says Nelson. “I decided to give it a try.”
Soon, he launched his own t-shirt business and made his entire yearly salary in a single month. That same month, he got fired from his corporate job, leaving him no choice but to launch himself into full-time entrepreneurship.
Four years later, he wasn’t able to maintain his business. Reluctantly, he sought another 9-5 job in 2018. But he was miserable. A few months into his return to corporate life, he reconnected with a friend from the t-shirt industry who was creating online courses. Immediately, this piqued his interest. He decided to create a Thinkific course to teach people how to drop out of their 9-5 job and start a t-shirt business — just like he had a few years prior.
Although Nelson was inspired by his new direction as a Thinkific course creator, he was worried; since his first t-shirt business had eventually failed, he wondered if people would take him seriously. However, with encouragement from his friend, he decided to pursue this path anyway. “My friend told me that people would still want to learn how I had success, because they want to get there, too,” he explains.
He figured that if he was encouraging others to leave their jobs, he needed to, too. So, he took a risk and left his stable employment for a life of creative freedom – yet again. “I knew I wanted to make more income. Creating a course was the best way to do it,” he says.
Despite his self-doubt, Nelson created 9to5Dropouts in 2019. What started out as a way to teach people how to launch a t-shirt business soon became a way to help anyone create another stream of income in whatever way inspired them. Since launching his inaugural course, the 4-Week T-Shirt Bootcamp, he’s released 13 more Thinkific products and specializes in teaching people how to turn an idea into a business. Not only does Nelson now make a seven-figure living doing what he loves, he has a team and lofty goals to grow his business even more. Here, he shares his journey of getting to where he is now in hopes of inspiring budding creators to drop out of their 9-5 and pursue more freedom, too.
His funnel: A free webinar
Before Nelson created his first course, he decided to create a free webinar training with the purpose of building an email list and creating awareness around his business.
He recorded a 75 minute-long video training to teach people exactly how to create a t-shirt business. “At the end of my training, people get an option to enroll in my course. They click a button in the webinar that leads them to an order page. There, they can purchase it and become a student,” he says.
He hosted his webinar training on ClickFunnels, which also hosts his order page. When someone buys his course, they’re then funneled into Thinkific. He also uses Zapier to connect his payment processor and funnel builder seamlessly to his site.
Nelson says he tried a few learning management systems, including Kajabi and Teachable, but liked Thinkific the most.
“Thinkific was the most simple platform I tried. I think the fact that I was able to create a whole bunch of different courses inside the platform was the most appealing. Also, it was affordable to get started with.”
Not being afraid of trial and error
Nelson learned to structure his curriculum through trial and error. He believes it isn’t necessary to reinvent the wheel; rather, creators can look to others who are a few steps ahead for inspiration and direction. “I bounced ideas off of people who were already in the course creation game,” he says. “They’ve been a tremendous help in giving me guidance.”
He applied this same trial and error lens to his content creation process. He says that one of the things he loves most about Thinkific is the insight into analytics; he’s able to see how many people have logged on, dropped off, and completed his course. This helps him to fine-tune his content and make continuous improvements. “In the first iteration of my course, I saw that there was a huge drop-off. I used that insight to improve my content. I’m always trying to make my course better so that my students can get the best results possible,” he says.
Looking at online course prices set by other creators also helped him to choose how he valued his offering. Once he gained credibility by getting his students’ results, he raised his prices accordingly.
Growing his audience through influencer marketing
One of the ways that Nelson built his audience was by using Instagram influencers to promote his free webinar training.
He says that in order to create influencer relationships, he comments on people’s posts. Once this connection has been established, influencers will often visit his page and start a conversation. Next, Nelson and the influencer will schedule a live conversation through Instagram stories. This process allows Nelson to get in front of the influencers’ audience, helping him to gain new followers.
Aside from connecting with influencers organically, he also pays them to run scheduled posts that advertise his business. “I get them to talk about my success in starting a t-shirt business,” he says. “Then, they’ll tell their followers to visit my profile to register for my free webinar.”
“I was a media buyer at my old job, so I already knew how to run paid ads,” he continues. “It was just a matter of applying my skill set to this new venture.”
Harnessing YouTube ads
On top of influencer marketing, his audience also finds him through his Facebook group, The 9to5 Dropouts, as well as through paid YouTube ads. These ads target people who are looking to start a t-shirt business, want to make money online, or have searched YouTube previously for videos on how to make passive income.
He says he runs two types of ads on YouTube. One is a ‘journey ad,’ which tells a story about going from working a 9-5 to becoming a full-time entrepreneur. At the end, this ad prompts people to click a button to do the free webinar training if they want to learn more. The other type of ad is one that’s geared specifically to people wanting to start their own t-shirt business.
He says he has two avatars of people who purchase his course: one that knows nothing about starting a t-shirt business, and one who’s already knowledgeable about starting a t-shirt business but needs some extra support. “My audience is made up of people who look like me — African-American — and who work 9-5 jobs,” he says. “They’re people who aren’t excited about going to work every day. They know that there’s something better out there. They want the freedom of being able to live life on their own terms, and they’re committed to putting in the work in order to do so.”
Hiring past students as community coaches
Once people purchase his course, they receive a welcome video and access to The 9to5Dropouts Facebook group, which has organically grown to over 25,000 people. “This is the most important part of the process,” says Nelson. “When people join, I want them to feel like they’re immediately receiving support.”
This support comes from coaches — past students who’ve gone through Nelson’s course and have built a successful business. “When someone in our Facebook community help others without being prompted, we reach out to them and ask them to play a bigger part in our community as a coach,” says Nelson.
These coaches are inspired to give back and help others become as successful. In exchange for their help, they get paid and receive one free 1:1 call with Nelson who helps them set goals and grow their business.
Their role involves moderating the Facebook group and answering students’ questions. Plus, they host live, weekly Q&A for any students who are stuck. “As the coaches help others, they also learn how they can improve their own business,” says Nelson. “The idea is that once students graduate the course, they come back to the community to stay engaged.”
Aside from his coaches, he has a team of five, including an assistant, a customer service representative, a project manager, and a group coach. With help in place, he hopes to spend more time doing one-on-one and group coaching in the future.
His goals to scale
Nelson says he has high hopes to continue to scale his business. Aside from teaching people how to drop out of their 9-5 jobs, he plans on teaching people how to create their own courses, too. “I’d like to help more people create courses that get them the results they want,” he says.
He’s also in the works of creating individual courses on the practical matters of business, such as starting their own LCC or opening a business bank account. Overall, he says that creating content for his courses and coaching his coaches reminds him how important it is to help budding entrepreneurs find success. “I have a 13 year old son who’s getting ready to start his first business,” he says. “This process has helped me remember what it was like to get started.”
For anyone starting out in their course creation journey, he advises that they stick with it and see it through — no matter what. “Building this customer base wasn’t easy but what I can say is that I’ve enjoyed every step of the way. Doing something that you’re passionate about is so much fun,” he explains.
Feeling inspired? Check out more Thinkific Creator Stories!