As I was going through some numbers in my business recently, I realised that my darling online course, The Creative Doer, has crossed the 100K mark in revenue. It’s definitely no quick win story, I did the very first launch back in 2015, but it still kind of blew my mind. Wow, my little course – the very first one I created, has grown up!
It has gone through several different iterations. It was closed down for 2,5 years and then revamped and revived. A book grew from it as well as a global community of creative women.
I thought I’d break down the creation process and give you a peek behind the scenes of how it has developed from start until today, so that you can learn from my mistakes as well as from the things that worked!
Launch nr. 1
I got the idea in the spring of 2015. I sent a survey to my humble subscriber list to get a feel for what specifically they needed help with, and invited those interested to get on a pre-list for this new course I was building. Judging from the response, there seemed to be plenty of interest.
I brought tons of perfectionism and ambition into the creation process and overdid the whole thing royally. I chose a very expensive course platform with a forum, paid a very expensive coach to guide me through the process, had to bring in help to build the website and get the tech together. Did a professional promo video (watch below), created automated email series, and on and on.
This was my first ever online course but I built it as if I had a big team and a big budget, neither of which was true. The result turned out solid enough, but my approach made the whole project unsustainable.
Marketing & sales:
I opened registration September 15, sent an email to the 383 subscribers on my newsletter list, shared the promo video on Facebook, did one Instagram post to my then 50 followers. 🙂 Those were the only marketing channels.
The course was priced at $355, but I offered a whopping $100 off as early bird price and most of the sales came in at that rate.
Considering the size of my list at the time, I had a very successful first launch. 26 signed up, which equals a 14% conversion rate (average is about 2-3%).
The course consisted of 6 lessons to which students got lifetime access.
It was a self-paced course, meaning everyone moved through the lessons at their own pace, but I was available daily in the forum, spent hours and hours answering questions (many of those in-depth questions and answers later made its way into the book).
We also did monthly Q&A calls.
(This is actually a version of the promo video that we edited a month or so in, to add the first testimonials, but I can’t find the first
version so we’ll make do with this one.)
Launch nr. 2
I had decided to go for an evergreen model, where registration is always open instead of only during launch periods. Ideally, this is a calmer way of selling your course that spares you the feast and famine cycle of launching, but it requires consistent marketing work and it takes a decent ongoing influx of new people to your audience to maintain sales.
Some marketing efforts in between launches:
- I offered a free taste (an exercise from the course ) + discount, which was appreciated. But I didn’t have enough website traffic to see any significant sales from it. Still, I got some sign ups at the discounted price of $255.
- I began to get brilliant reviews and testimonials from participants and put them on the sales page, but I didn’t have a plan to make use of them beyond that.
- I did a “pay what you can” day on February 1, which resulted in about 62 new sign ups. Lots of fun but also conflicting feelings about discounting the course so heavily when what I actually needed was a sustainable income.
- I invited my newsletter subscribers to a free live Q&A call. It went well but I forgot to even mention they could sign up for the course 🙂 Wasn’t quite on top of my sales game yet, so to speak.
- Added a library of bonus resources to the course (although that barely counts as a marketing effort, since I didn’t speak about it).
Due to poor engagement, I decided to quit the monthly live calls in May and only offer them during live rounds. I also quit the forum and created a Facebook group instead to see if this would increase engagement, since many participants had expressed that wish. I lowered the regular price to $255 to reflect these changes.
Looking back, I shouldn’t have lowered the price. If anything, the course was underpriced from the start and the low price coupled with how much work I put into it contributed to the lack of sustainability.
(Take into account that the price is pre-fees, pre-taxes etc.)
Next, I planned for an autumn launch and decided to create a new lesson about creativity and money in time for that launch. If I were to give my 2016 self any advice, it would be to let the course that I’d already created work for me a few more launches before adding anything new. The hurry to do so probably came out of a fear of not giving enough.
Marketing & Sales
I opened registration on Sept 12, a year after the first launch, at the regular price of $255 and early bird price of $197. (Girl, that price seems to be dropping with each launch!)
I emailed a series of emails to my list, which had now grown to 718 subscribers, over the course of several weeks. I posted a dozen times to my Instagram account of approximately 500 followers (the stories feature didn’t exist back then).
I invited previous students to become affiliates – meaning they would help market the course in exchange for a comission if someone signed up on their recommendation. This involved LOTS of work to set up but turned out to have very little effect on sales. If affiliates are to be a successful part of a launch, they need to be ready and able to market your course consistently and strategically. I haven’t tried again and don’t know if I ever will.
I upped the free-taste game and offered the whole first lesson as freebie. A classic rookie mistake of giving away too much. People loved it but didn’t sign up for the course, because they got so much to ponder and work on from the free taste that they weren’t ready to sign up for more yet.
In the end I got 57 sign ups, almost all of them came from my subscriber list (which translates to roughly a 12% conversion rate). Still fantastic numbers.
It remained a self-paced course where everyone worked individually. The Facebook group was active but we did no live calls.
(The first six lessons the way they looked in 205-16. Some have gotten new names, but the core remains the same. Illustrations by the gifted Staffan Larsson.)
Again, I got loads of great feedback. So many women came through the course feeling changed forever, so many beautiful projects realised, so many dreams, so much empowerment. I could see I had a good thing going here and after this launch, I meant to keep up the marketing, mainly through doing regular live webinars.
BUT, during this time, I took on a new project, a start up, called Write Your Self, and that decision would come to have a big impact on how things evolved the following year.
Crash and burn
I kept the evergreen, self-study model, with registration open all the time. But my marketing plans was pushed to the side by the hard work of launching my new project Write Your Self + messy renovations at home + opening registration for a new retreat.
Marketing & sales
I barely made a mention of the course between December and March, when I did another pay what you can day on International Women’s Day. 92 signed up. Apparently there were still lots of interest, even though I did little to market it. But I didn’t have a lot of ongoing sales.
I got emails every now and then asking when I’d open registration again – this told me my comunication wasn’t clear. People still thought registration was only open during the big launches.
In April, things reached a breaking point. The short version is I’d worked too hard for too long, taking on too much, both in my work life and my personal life. Exhaustion hit, the kind where you become seriously ill.
I had to cancel everything, including The Creative Doer. I closed registration in June and in September, after giving all participants a chance to download the content, I closed the platform.
It stayed closed for a long while.
In the winter, I decided to turn the course content into a book. I slowly started writing and did so all through 2017. My plan was to keep it simple, just adapt the course content to the format of a book. But as I worked, I realised I needed to change a few things.
#metoo happened in the fall of 2017 and I was reminded of the deeper why behind my work. I was reminded of my deep commitment to feminism and my belief that women will lead the changes needed in this world. Creative women. I was reminded of how I wanted my work to be a conduit for that change.
Launch nr. 3
So the book grew and changed. It took me close to two years to finish it but in September 2019 it was finally released into the world. In December that year, I decided to bring The Creative Doer online course back from its two-year slumber.
From that decision, no more than two weeks passed until I opened registration. I created a new lesson and re-did the workbooks to fit the new content and direction of the book, but most of it was there already. Finally learning to work with what I’ve already created!
I put a lot of effort into finding the right platform for the community forum, because I was so over Facebook by then. I wanted to create a distraction-free environment for my students and ended up choosing Mighty Networks. The actual lesson content was put on a simple page on my website for the time being, while I looked into the right solution for it. Finally learning how to keep things simple! 🙂
Marketing & Sales
On December 13, I opened registration at the regular price of $497 – early bird $447. I also offered earlier participants from 2015-2017 to join again for a super discounted price of $97 and about 30 took me up on the offer.
I launched to my list of about 2000 subscribers with a humble series of 5 emails over a month, and to my Instagram account of about 3500 followers, where I’d learnt to make good use of testimonials as well as the stories feature by now. Overall, the launch was not planned in advance and I kept the communcation simple.
The one big thing I did was a free live workshop in January. I drew traffic to it through Facebook ads and over 300 people signed up for it, many completely new (to me) people attented. 62 new participants joined the course.
Conversion rates for this launch was down to just above average levels, 3%, but still good. As your audience grows, conversion rates will usually go down. Especially when you’re re-launching a product that many in your audience have already bought.
This time, the group started the course together and went through the lessons together at a pace of one lesson per week.
We also did bi-weekly live Q&A calls for the duration of those eight weeks.
The new forum worked beautifully and engagement was high. As usual, this does not mean that everyone is active, more like 30%.
(The look of the lessons after a quick 2019 rebranding.)
This low-key but successful launch – after the course had been gone for 2,5 years – made it clear to me where I should put my efforts going forward. I finally let go of Write Your Self and decided to give The Creative Doer a proper chance to grow.
Launch nr. 4 & 5
Once the launch was over, I closed registration. My plan was to do another launch in the fall of 2020 and then another one in January 2021.
But then I got ahead of myself and decided to create a full-scale evergreen sales funnel that would generate ongoing sales with very little involvment from me (in theory). This evergreen funnel turned out to be a HUGE project. Anyone surprised? 🙂
Once again, I was in a hurry to get the course into evergreen mode, when it would probably have served me better to just repeat a couple of live launches first, sticking to the simplicity I’d just begun to get a hang of.
The evergreen funnel would primarily target a new audience (people not already on my newsletter list) through FB ads. They’d click through the ads, sign up for a free pre-recorded workshop – similar to the one I’d offered during the launch in January – with a number of emails to follow up the workshop and a time limited discount.
I built and launched this evergreen funnel in April.
Meanwhile, the current group had continued access to the community forum and we kept doing live Q&A calls monthly. Again I got to watch beautiful friendships being formed, beautiful work birthed, how women are able and willing to support each other in the most amazing ways. Again the course as well as the community got the most wonderful reviews.
We really had something good going here and I knew I wanted to to keep building on it.
In April, Corona lock-down hit globally and for a brief time I offered women to join just the community for free – as a way to offer support through this challenging time. Previously, the only way to get access to the community was to join the course. And while it was lovely to welcome new women into the community, I quickly realised that I wanted to keep the community and the course inseparable. The lessons of The Creative Doer is the foundation of the work we do together and the way we relate to and talk about the work we do. It felt important to keep it that way.
The evergreen funnel kept on going, generating some sales but not as much as I’d liked to see – which is to be expected.
Evergreen systems have many moving parts and each needs to be tweaked and adjusted over a period of time until you get all the pieces right. But before I got around to making the adjustments, something else happened.
To make a very long story short, in July, I found the house of my dreams. The cost of it was just out of my reach and they would only accept offers for a few more days. I was awake through the night trying to figure out some way to make this work. And the only thing that seemed even remotely doable was to launch something I’d already created: The Creative Doer online course.
I paused the evergreen funnel and wrote a newsletter that night, telling the whole story, the reasons for this out-of-nowhere launch and invited people to join me for a live round of the course and also help me share about it if it felt right to them.
Marketing & sales
I opened registration on July 8, less than 18 hours after making the decision. The launch lasted 5 days all in all.
I managed to get a free workshop together (based on the one from the evergreen funnel), showed up live on Instagram daily and sent a lot more emails than felt comfortable to my list of 2100 subscribers – one every day and two on the last day. And by the end of that impromptu launch, 78 new participants had signed up. Full price $547, or $447 with workshop discount.
With zero preparations, my little course had generated 30k in 5 days.
This time the conversion rate was up slightly again, to 4%, and I ascribe that to the enthusiam my people felt about me trying to get the house I wanted and needed, and how that enthusiam translated into more shares and shout outs than usual.
This is when I realised I might actually be able to support myself on this one offering only. The demand was real and my commitment to the women who signed up and the work we did togheter was deepening by the day. I decided to focus solely on building this community for the coming year, and let go of all my other offers.
As in January, we went through the course content together, one lesson per week, but we upped the live Q&A calls to one per week. The students already in the community could join along as they wanted. And as we worked through this live round, I started adding new features to our community, such as weekly co-working sessions in the forum, where we’d show up for some focused working togheter.
I had previous plans to create a new offering – a series of workshops on how to build a creative business, but now I brought these workshops into the community instead. We call them Growth Lectures, we do them monthly, and they address all the things we need to learn to grow our work and our reach in the world.
We’re moving the course content from the separate website into the community, so that everything is found in the same place. In 2021, we’ll keep tweaking, improving and adding new features such as a yearly virtual retreat, where we’ll gather to learn more and get some serious work done together.
When you join, you get access to all of this, for as long as you want and need it.
My vision is for this course & community to offer you ALL the support you need to get clear on and start doing your heart’s work, and then to grow it and share it with the world.
Right now, we’re preparing for the 6th launch of The Creative Doer. Of course, the price needs to reflect this new, bigger offering that The Creative Doer has become – the new level of support we offer within it. It’s no longer “just” an online course. So after this next launch, the price will double. Yup. The price goes from $597 to $997. And honestly, it’s still a bargain! I know what this offering is worth now.
The evergreen funnel remains paused for the time being. I will focus on doing regular live workshop launches for a while, to get more data about what works and what doesn’t, in terms of workshop content, emails, sales copy etc. And then we’ll see. I’ll report back along the way!
What didn’t work:
Not keeping it simple at the start. My overly ambitious start cost me both money and peace of mind and made it unnecessarily stressful financially. Now I’m religious about taking it one step at a time and allowing an offering to grow and adjust with me and my audience, rather than trying to make it perfect from the start.
Overgiving. Giving hours and hours of individual support and coaching in the forum, in a $255 course. Always creating new things, more things to add. Partly because I enjoy creating new things, but mostly because I feared what I offered wasn’t enough and because I had mindset issues about charging anything at all for my work.
Being in too much of a hurry to automate things. New offerings needs to be tried and tested, adjusted and improved a few rounds, before they’re ready to be put on evergreen. This testing and adjusting is best done live. My hurry to step into evergreen mode straight away resulted in lots of work that then had to be undone and redone, because I didn’t have enough information to make the right decisions. Costly, both in terms of money and time.
Not marketing consistently. I didn’t put nearly as much effort into sharing and marketing the course as I did into creating new stufff. This came down to not having a plan, but also a persistent fear of being too salesy. I know now that when I start to feel like a parrot, reapeating my own message over and over, I’m beginning to get it right.
Underestimating the amount of new audience growth needed to keep selling the same offering over and over again. Evergreen offerings in particular require a consistent influx of new people to sell to. There are a lot of factors playing in but to some extent, it’s simply a number’s game.
Building relationships. The excellent conversion rates had to do with offering a product that my people wanted, for sure, but also with the fact that I had built trust and rapport with my audience before I ever attempted to sell anything. And just as important, I’ve tended to those relationships after the sales as well, offering great support and customer service etc.
A really solid product. The course itself works and has done so from the start. People have gotten result and when they do, they often share about it. The most important marketing channel for The Creative Doer has always been participants sharing about the course.
Marketing through stories. Sharing my own journey with The Creative Doer, sharing the process of creation, the ups and downs, my own creative work, my life as a creator, as a woman, as well as stories of my participants.
Re-purposing the lesson content as blog posts, guest articles, social media posts etc. I wrote the Creative Doer lessons once – or twice, really, since I re-wrote everything for the book – but it’s enough content in there for me to keep sharing it now, years later.
Doing live workshops. Never thought that would work for me as an introvert loner, but it does, I actually enjoy them immensely. Meeting up live (even if it’s on the screen) builds trust fast and I’m able to offer plenty of value in a short amount of time. This has proved to translate into sales.
Creating something that I believe in and stand by so wholeheartedly helps me immensely when I market and sell this course. I no longer hesitate to invite women to join, I want them to join so that we can help unleash their magic. Because I know we can do that.