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How to Market an Online Course and Get New Clients

February 17, 2021

Full Q+A Transcript Below:

Isaac Rudansky: Good afternoon, everybody.

We're here for another exciting question and answer session live from Woodmere, New York, in the dead of winter. I'm here with Patrick Gilbert, as usual, author of Join or Die: Digital Advertising in the Age of Automation, available on Amazon and hardcover paperback, Kindle, soon-to-be audio book. It's a digital advertising masterclass.

I have met people who have read this book five times cover to cover, and every time, new and richer information and strategies are revealed to the reader. So it's the gift that keeps on giving. Check it out on Amazon, Join or Die: Digital Advertising in the Age of Automation by our Executive Director, Patrick Gilbert.

We do this session once a week to answer any questions that might be in the group, or that the group might have. It could be about entrepreneurship, about digital advertising, about your campaigns or anything else that might be on your mind.

So if you have any questions, add them to the comment thread of this video. We will see them. But maybe we'll start off with a couple of questions that were asked in the group last week that we didn't get a chance to answer. So Danielle, if you want to kick us off with a question or two, go right ahead.

Danielle Immerman: How should I set up a Google Ads campaign or correspondence targeting engineers?

Patrick Gilbert: Okay, this is interesting. So I don't really know what... like, is it an online course? There's a few questions that I would have here just to be able to give a better answer. But the fact that you're specifically targeting a niche audience makes this interesting, to begin with.

It is not easy to target specific B2B audiences, but there are ways to do it. The first thing to look at is any sort of bottom-funnel type of keywords that you can go after. So is there a specific terminology that only your audience would be using and in the market for?

So your course, first off, is this course something that people are actively seeking? That brings you into a bunch of options, to begin with. If this is something that people are already looking for, then it's pretty simple. Just call it what it is. I don't know enough about engineering, so I'll just make it as if it's out of us.

But if you're selling a PPC course, bid on those keywords, if there's a lot of people that are going on Google and searching for that. So that's pretty simple by itself. Figure out what terminology, what bottom-funnel traffic already exists?

Maybe even from a middle-of-the-funnel perspective, is there a desire for people in the engineering space to educate themselves and develop more skills? And what are those people looking for? So somebody in marketing might be looking for how to gain better skills in marketing. Great, here's a course about PPC management on that can teach you a lot about this topic.

So look for those sorts of keyword traffic first. But my guess is that this is something that's probably more... you need more outbound marketing. You need to tell people about what this is, and then do the sales process of convincing them why it's worth their time. That's more challenging; that's much more audience-driven.

There was a beta feature that I don't know if it's accessible to everyone yet, but there is a Google beta feature called detailed demographics that does allow you to target people by the specific B2B audience. So you can pull in whether they work in healthcare, or whether they work in manufacturing. I'm not sure if engineering is one of them, off the top of my head, but that's a great place to look.

You can do company size, so you can target small companies or large companies. This is an incredible feature. Every single time we bring on a new client that sells some sort of end product, one of the first things that we're doing is getting access to this beta feature to be able to allow us to target these audiences.

As far as getting access to betas, you have to be a premier Google partner or work with a premier partner agency to gain access to those features. If you don't, try to find someone that does. We happen to be one of them that does that, so that's a tip there. If not, that'll be publicly accessible at some point, but it's the detailed demographic audience feature in Google.

The last thing I'll say on this is, think about creative ways to prequalify your audiences. So in the comments here, there were some suggestions about display targeting or YouTube targeting. That's great. Think of it that as a low-cost way to qualify your audience.

We have a client that was in a similar situation years ago, where they sold a very specific B2B type of product, and he wanted us to make boring ads for that. Every time we created a good ad with compelling copy and imagery, he hated it because that wasn't what he wanted to do. He didn't want people to click on his ad and go to his website because they thought it was interesting. He wanted to be very descript and boring about what it actually was knowing that the only people that would click on the ad were actually really interested in his target market.

So think about turning everything on its head when it comes to audience validation. If you have an ad that says "The best online training course for electrical engineering" and that's it, the only people that have been clicking on that ad are absolutely your target customers. You're probably not going to convince them to buy in that first setting, but you now have them in your funnel. You can remarket to them. You can do a million other things with that.

So think about this idea of audience validation. You can leverage LinkedIn targeting, which is a great place to do audience validation. You're going to find a lot of people that are engineers there, bring them to the site, and then think about what happens. Don't try to close the deal on that first setting. Think about building a funnel, getting the right people to your site, and then marketing them beyond that.

Isaac, you happen to sell a course to people in a specific niche. Do you have any tips that go beyond what I just mentioned?

Isaac Rudansky: I think that what, what you outlined is a good strategy. I would just continue to focus on not only relying on digital advertising to sell your course for you. You have to really be sort of like a subject. You have to develop your subject matter expertise and the perception of your subject matter expertise.

That means taking clips out and putting them on YouTube. It means potentially running paid ads to your free YouTube videos. You have to take a step back and not give more predictive power to any of these ad channels than really exists within them because there's no magic bullet. You have to put yourself in the customers' shoes.

If you just saw an ad for a paid course, would you click it even if it was in your niche? Or are you more likely to get exposed to some of the free content, get a sense of what this instructor is about, and then want to buy something from them? So advertising is not going to allow you to skip steps in your typical customer journey.

So think about that and develop a pipeline of content that leads up to a person being willing to open their wallet and buy something from you. There's advertising at all different stages of the journey, but there might be a good case to run paid advertising to free content, and tracking through like how many people are coming from the YouTube videos, and then buying your course, or coming through a blog post and buying your course. Or you publish an e-book and the e-book sells your course. So don't lose sight of the customer journey as you think about...

Patrick Gilbert: What do you think worked for you in the early days of your Udemy course before...? At some point, it rose the ranks and became a best-selling course. But something happened that Gladwell would refer to as the tipping point that got you there. Was it the free content?

Isaac Rudansky: I actually shot that entire first course before I even heard of Udemy. I thought that I was going to sell the course on my own. I spent like hundreds, really without exaggeration, hundreds of hours setting up this WordPress LMS system. I think I've even blocked the memory out because it's so traumatic.

I started running ads directly to the course and I sold very few. Certainly, not profitably. I made some sales, but still very few. And I realized, look, I can either try to control everything and try to sell at my own price point, or I need to leverage outside help. And Udemy, in one way, was that outside help.

So Udemy is a course platform where they have strength in numbers. They have a lot of people who already trust Udemy as a place to buy courses. Now, they're going to take 50% of my profit. They're also going to control the price. They're going to do a lot of things that I don't like, but they're going to do one thing very well. They're going to get me people to see my course.

So, when I first put it on Udemy, there was two months where we did sell a handful, but very few. I was always pulling out two, three-minute clips and posting them to YouTube, and sending the YouTube traffic to the course. We already had a good amount of YouTube subscribers to our channel from prior YouTube tutorial videos that we had placed. So I was able to leverage that.

That certainly helped. That helped in a major way because Udemy then saw that there was traffic being sent from external sources that wasn't Udemy to the course, which in their algorithms, promoted my course ranking in their search results.

So the tipping point came from a confluence of factors. One, it was a longer, more thorough, more updated course than the next best Google Ads course on Udemy, of which there were probably 100, by the way. So you shouldn't be discouraged if there's 1,000 other people selling what you sell. Just make it a little bit better, or a lot better, but at least a little bit better.

So the confluence of factors was that we sent enough traffic through our own effort, whether paid or otherwise, into a platform that I didn't even control because you just know that this is how you get the job done. You need help; you need support systems.

As far as a tipping point, I think like two or three months after we first launched on Udemy, with pretty abysmal results, then, in a four-week time period, we sold 15,000 or 20,000 copies of the course, really quickly. And that was just Udemy seeing our effort. I'm not saying seeing like human seeing, part of it was I had an account rep and whatever, but a lot of it was just the algorithms and the ranking factors.

Patrick Gilbert: So part of what you're getting at here, I think is a willingness to play the long game and sacrifice short term profitability.

Isaac Rudansky: 100%

Patrick Gilbert: That's what I'm currently experiencing with the book sales. I went through a publisher, and I have the ability to sell the book, Join or Die, now available on Amazon. I have the ability to sell the book on my own. And as you tried doing originally with the course, which do you remember the price? It was about $1,000 that you originally priced the course at, right?

Isaac Rudansky: No, in the very beginning, it was $799, $699, something like that. But yeah, a lot more than $10.

Patrick Gilbert: $10, of which you're splitting the majority of that with and making basically $1 on sale. But the same idea, not that a book is ever going to cost that much, but I could go and make a good amount of profit on every single book sold. But I would rather play the long game by sharing that revenue with Amazon.

And I don't control anything on Amazon. I don't even know how many books I'm selling. People are keeping asking me like, "Oh, how are the sales going?" And I don't really know because there's very little insight into this. I don't even have control over the price.

They dropped the price over the last month or so, which I believe is the first part of that tipping point that you're describing. Something has happened in the algorithm on Amazon, where they're saying, "People actually seem to buy this book. Let me play around with the price a little bit."

So what I'm making out of it is very small, but I'm okay with that because, ultimately, similar to what happened with the course, I hope that it can reach more people. What Udemy does well and what Amazon does well is bring a lot of people, a lot of high potential eyeballs. So if you commit to playing the long game, you have a greater likelihood of reaching mass appeal. You have the network effects of people talking about it. You can get the benefits of looking at all the people in this Facebook group that would have never been brought here if not the Udemy course; that would have never existed if we just hosted the course on

Isaac Rudansky: 100%.

Patrick Gilbert: Awesome. So we've definitely covered that one. Good luck with the course. That's awesome. Very exciting stuff. Share a link to it; I'd be curious to check it out. Danielle, any other questions we have there?

Danielle Immerman: We are going to keep with the theme and I think having a course and content fits into this: how to get new clients.

Isaac Rudansky: We can't tell our secret. We can't give away our secrets. I don't know. Does anyone else know how to get new clients?

Patrick Gilbert: Yeah, I'd be curious.

Isaac Rudansky: We'll open it up to the forum. We don't want to spoil the fun. Maybe someone else could answer how to get new clients and we'll be listening. How to get new clients: well, there's the rain dance, where you draw a circle and you say, "I'm not leaving the circle until it rains or I get a new client." There's the play in traffic idea. But in all seriousness...

Patrick Gilbert: You're searching for the simplest way to describe one of the most complicated things that we deal with every day. This question is very hard to answer because it embodies literally everything that we've been thinking about over the last eight to 10 years. So trying to summarize it in a short couple of sentences is not the easiest thing to do. Isaac, what would you say?

Isaac Rudansky: I'm just trying to break it down into the largest constituent parts. I feel like we've really put ourselves into one of the two high-level categories. Do you go out and find clients and convince them to work with you? Or do you structure yourselves in a way where clients come to you and ask you to work with them?

And we're certainly in the latter. That's a very clear distinction that I can make. I'm going to get up, it's going to be more difficult to make further distinctions because things become blended together in many different ways, but at least on that end... and they're not as they're not exclusionary or mutually exclusive. You can do both, but those are two different ways to think about it.

Are you going to go and find clients? And there's nothing wrong with that. So that is an investment in going to marketing conferences, you're networking with people, you're reaching out, you're making a list of all the different places that you might be able to speak or podcasts that you could be on.

And you know what? That's actually already somehow a hybrid of both. On one hand, it's content, on the other hand, it's more like active networking to try to find new clients. There are more straightforward ideas like having a call center and there are small agencies or even large agencies that do that; that email, and cold-call, and an offer to work for free or offered to work on a results-oriented basis. That's certainly a way to get some clients.

I'm a firm believer, if you're starting out, work for free, work for your family, work for your friends. Ask them for a review. Get some client testimonials; it's not that hard. There's enough people who are willing to let you work for them for free in exchange for a case study, or the right to share some data and some screenshots and develop your reputation by virtue of the work you've done.

And it's okay if that work has been done for friends and family, your colleagues or friends of friends, or friends of family, or family of friends. Just sort of tap into your network and get some case studies, get some testimonials, put them on your website, have your Google+ profile, a Yelp profile, whatever it may be. You could advertise your services.

But to me, the long way of thinking about getting new clients is not focusing on getting new clients. It's focusing on doing really good work for the clients that you have. And that's always been our attitude. Like in the early days, we'd had clients paying us $89 a month.

I remember going on long walks, and then laying down on the couch at two o'clock in the morning just racking my brain, like, how do I solve this analytics and Google integration that's not so simple? It's like three different domains because these idiots can't get their act together, but they're relying on me.  It'll be like 2:00 am; the client is paying me $89. But it didn't really matter to me because I felt like I wanted to do good work, which then increases your own education and increases your own expertise.

The work you do builds your entire persona for how you present yourself to larger opportunities and better clients down the road. The work you do that you'll be able to talk about, that you'll be able to write about, will speak for itself.

And listen, we're not a very high growth agency. We haven't grown 400%, 500% every year. We've grown every year, but we've never prioritized growth. It's not been our mindset. We've always been a little bit more of an organic agency, enjoying the work, doing good work. We put a real focus on new client acquisition as far as when a client comes in, but we never really put so much focus on will the clients find us? How will they find us? We put a focus on doing good work.

So content was one of the ways our clients have found us — our courses, our articles, podcasts, e-books, Patrick's book, like clients will pick that stuff up. It goes back to the same answer as the first question. If you're trying to sell a course, there are multiple stages there, too. The course itself might be a stage in generating a client. It's like, look, for 10 bucks, the client is going to sort of see what you're made of. For 20 bucks, the client is going to read a book.

You don't need to talk about how much work and effort and time went into the book. It speaks for itself. It sends the message itself. And to me, there's not really any viable shortcuts to that. Yeah, you could set up a website and run a Google Ads campaign. I don't think it's going to work that well to bring in the type of clients that you want. And even then, you're not the only one trying to do that. There's a lot of competition and there's a lot of competent people out there.

But if you could produce good work, the types of case studies that you are able to write, the types of reviews you're able to get will speak to the quality of your character, and the quality of your thinking. That will go a long way. And I know that that's very disjointed because this is a very difficult question to answer. But, Patrick, maybe you have additional context.

Patrick Gilbert: I think it's the same idea of playing the long game. You have to build a portfolio of previous work in case studies. And in doing so, that does two things. It gives you the ability to sell yourself better, but it also forces you to get good at the work. So to Isaac's point, find work that you can do for free or charge less than your competitors do, and be okay with that, for the time being.

Prove yourself; be very transparent about where you're holding in this process. I was watching War Dogs yesterday. It's one of the trending movies on Netflix right now.

It's an incredible movie. And their idea is that it's Jonah Hill, and I forget the other guy's name. They're there. They're trying to bid on government contracts, but they found a specific niche of government contracts that they're going to go after. It's these crumbs, as they call it, and they're trying to get their foot in the door.

And there's like a whole mentality that comes with that of, okay, we're going to find a specific type of client that we're going to go after. Then another thing that ties in is at one point in the movie, they win a very large bid because they were the cheapest bid. And now it cuts to the scene where they find out that they undercut their close competitor by like $53 million.

And Jonah Hill is in the hallway, bashing his head into the wall because he's like, "I just left $53 million on the table." But the real lesson there is like, "No, you didn't. The only reason you were in the conversation was because you were $53 million cheaper."

Isaac Rudansky: Right.

Patrick Gilbert: Now bring that down. That $89 a month thing, you were doing that at the same rate that another agency would have charged much more for, but you were willing to play the long game and to use that as a learning experience to build case studies, to build your portfolio that eventually paid dividends in the long run.

That's not like a how to get new clients type of tip, that's more of how to approach the mentality and the attitude that will allow you to eventually, get new clients in the long run. That's my advice.

Isaac Rudansky: Yeah, I totally agree with that.

Patrick Gilbert: Awesome. I think we have to wrap up, but I think this is good. If there's any additional questions, please leave them in the comments and we'll either get to them in the Facebook group or in next week's session.

Isaac Rudansky: Don't forget to get your copy of Join or Die: Digital Advertising in the Age of Automation. And we look forward to seeing you all again next week.

Patrick Gilbert: Thank you.

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