My Lessons Learned In The Online World

Today we are discussing strategies on how to get yourself off the client service hamster wheel of doom. I love using this term because it perfectly encapsulates the scenario where you’re so busy servicing clients that you’ve got no time to breathe alone focus on the future of your agency and when we are permanently stuck in client service mode we can’t see the wood for the trees, so it’s an important topic that most agency owners find themselves stuck in at some point and if you want to grow, then you need to find a way to stop it and step off!

Time Stamp

[02:00] 2012 - my first adventure into the online world - and rude awakening!

[02:39] The first course I created (and it was a complete flop!)

[03:17] My 2nd course on sales and marketing (which also flopped)

[03:55] The 2 key lessons I learned after 2 flops (get clear on my niche and validate first)

[04:33] The importance of pre-selling your course or ideas before you start developing it

[05:03] The first course that (accidentally) was successful

[05:54] There is no such thing as passive income!

[06:26] Why I created my first online Mastermind programme

[08:06] Online content opens up an audience that I couldn't reach before

[08:26] Using Jobs to Be Done interviews to really understand your target audience’s needs 

[09:08] The concepts behind The Self-Running Agency 

[09:42] How the Self-Running Agency has morphed into a membership programme

[10:46] The time and money I wasted learning my lessons

[11:00] Why I use Kartra for hosting my programmes

[11:35] The number 1 way I market and sell my online programmes

[11:35] Focus on going deep with one or 2 courses, don’t go wide with lots of courses!


“For anyone wanting to launch into the online world, go and talk to your audience and validate your idea first before you invest any time in developing your idea.” - Rob Da Costa
“There is no such thing as passive income - for every sale you make there is a ton of work needed behind the scenes.” - Rob Da Costa

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 Full Episode Transcription

I've recently had several clients discuss with me about taking what they teach and creating some kind of online mentorship or online programme. So, I thought in today's episode, we do something a little bit different, and that is for me to give you a very unscripted and very honest story about my adventures in the online world and share with you the good, the bad and the ugly of what's worked and the many things that haven't worked. So, that's what we're gonna talk about today and let's get on with the show.

I'm Rob Da Costa and this is The Agency Accelerator podcast as someone who has stood in your shoes, having started, grown and sold my agency and just how it feels in the ups and downs of agency life. So, this podcast aims to ease your journey just a little by sharing mine and my guest experiences and advice as you navigate your way to growing a profitable, sustainable and enjoyable business. 

Now, a bit of the behind-the-scenes for you before we kick off today's podcast, and that is that I usually sit down and, at the very least, create an outline structure for these podcast episodes, and often I will script them because certainly if I'm shooting a video, I find that much easier and quicker to do. But in all honesty for today, I have done neither of those. I was going to record a different episode of the podcast but decided to talk about this instead because it's very pertinent to me right now. And as I said in the intro, I've had a few clients recently discuss the idea of taking what they do with their clients and teaching them. This is especially true for people who are in the PPC and SEO world because sometimes their clients don't just want a consultant that's going to do the work for them, which, of course, is what most agencies do, but they actually might have an in house person, so they want to be. They want to hire more of a mentor who can pass that knowledge on, and that naturally needs people to say, “Well, can I document some of this.” 

Now, talking of which, that's what really led me to create my first programme, which I call The Agency Accelerator. And then, it morphed into the self-running agency, implementation group and more recently, the self-running agency membership, but I need to take quite a few steps back and go back quite a few years to about 2012 - when I first decided that I was going to venture into this online world with the promise of making my fortune by waking up every morning and finding loads of sales and loads of money in my account. And, of course, that golden ideal of not selling time for money but making more of a passive income sounds so compelling, doesn't it? And I'm sure some of you might have thought of that in the past. So, what I did is I thought, I know I'm going to create a programme about starting your own business because everybody wants to start their own business or when people are fed up in their job, they might decide that they want to go it alone like many of us like you and I did.

So, I went hell for leather, creating this course called Start Your Own Business and gain financial freedom, and I was convinced it would do really well. I shot loads of videos, which I think you can probably still buy this course, but I'm not going to tell you where, because it's not very good and the quality of the videos aren't very good. Anyway, I put it online and I launched it on my website and I launched it to crickets, and that was really frustrating. But not to be deterred. I thought, “Well, maybe people need something more specific, so I'm going to create another course, which is all about sales and marketing.”

So, again, I went hell for leather. I spent hours and hours and hours working out what the core structure would be shooting the videos, which I shot on one of those flip cameras. If you remember what they are, then you need to plug them into your computer to get the content off of there. And I launched those two crickets yet again, and I thought, “Rob, this is absolutely crazy. You're doing something wrong. These topics have to be really appealing to the outside world, after all, so many people want to create their own business, or so many people want advice on sales and marketing.”

So, what was I doing wrong? Well, okay, so it all sounds so obvious now in hindsight. But first of all, I wasn't being specific enough about who I was targeting. I was basically targeting anyone that wanted to start their own business or anyone who wanted to learn to do sales and marketing better.

So, that was my first mistake. I wasn't clear enough about my niche, but perhaps, more importantly, the second mistake I made and this is the really important learning here for anybody that ever thinks about launching a new product or launching an online product, it doesn't matter. It applies to all of that. If I didn't go and talk to my audience, I didn't go and validate my idea before I spent hours and hours and hours shooting the content. And a lot smarter online gurus than me will always tell you that you need to go and pre-sell your idea, your course, your programme, you're mentoring, whatever it is before you actually start producing it because it's only when people put their hand in their pocket and actually pay for something that you know. It has legs in its viable. If people just tell you that they think it's a good idea, that is a big gap between saying, “I think this is a good idea,” and paying for it. But if I'm honest, I still hadn't quite learned these lessons yet. The one lesson I did learn with my third course was that I need to be clear about who I'm targeting.

So, obviously, my background is running my own agency. So, it made a lot of sense to target the agency world and of course, that's where my private coaching was. So, I was having a conversation a lot with clients about getting team members to be better account managers. And s,o I decided to create a course called Client and Account Management, it's evolved over the years - It's now called Client and Account Management mastery. And I created this course, I put it on my website and I got a couple of sales.

I learned about using Webinars to sell and that helped, but this was the first time that I actually got some bites and made a few sales by chance, really more than by thorough planning and doing all the things that I know now. But anyway, I made some sales of their and I kept making a little bit of revenue, but I certainly learned that there's no such thing as passive income and that it's that old iceberg. You see the little bit above the top, which is where you're making the money, but underneath the water, there is a tonne of work that needs to be done around creating the content around, engaging with your audience around marketing your products so that people want to consistently buy. If I'm honest, over the years, I found it much easier to sell my private coaching than I have to sell my online content. And that probably says more about me and how I target things, but that's the truth. Then, I decided I was going to launch more of a hybrid programme. 

If we fast forward to probably 2017, 2018. And also, by the way, in the meantime, I had created a few more courses. In fact, I ended up with seven courses, which I'm not going to tell you about because most of them have been retired and I'm probably not that proud of them and very few of them made me very much money. But the client and account management one did because I feel like by chance, more than anything, I'd hit a nerve with what people needed in the agency world. Anyway, fast forward to probably 2018, and I decided to create my first online mastermind programme.

So, this is sort of a hybrid of online content, group coaching calls, one-on-one call, discussion forums and so on. And I think what led me to do this was the fact that I was having the same conversations over and over again with my private clients, and I thought to myself, “There has to be a way to expedite their learning so that we don't spend our time together digging into a specific topic in too much detail. But rather I could sign and post them to a lesson in my group coaching programme and they could go and learn that in their own time, and we could expedite our time together and make it more useful.”

So, that was the sort of key driver, and that led me to launch The Agency Accelerator. And obviously, I did that at the same time as this podcast because this podcast still exists. But that programme has morphed into a self-running agency, and that was moderately successful because I spent a tonne of time marketing. I did lots of live training, lots of webinars to get people into the programme, and it works really well and I started to get some fantastic testimonials from people who were part of it. And it gave me a way to engage with a portion of my audience that perhaps couldn't afford to buy the 1 to 1 private coaching from me.

And indeed, they wanted to be around more of a community of agency owners because we all know that it can be lonely at the top. So, I definitely hit a nerve with that. And then, if we move closer to the present day, I learned about doing my validation of my research properly, and I learned about jobs to be done interviews, which is stuff that I teach the self-running agency membership how to do because it's super important that you not only understand, the key challenge is that your audience has, but you also understand the language that they use, and you can replay that language in your marketing again.

It sounds very obvious when I say it out loud, but you know, I didn't do it before and you're probably not doing it. So, I went out. I spoke to about 15 to 20 agencies. I recorded all of the interviews, so I had their language. And then I started to try and kind of chunk this up, and that's what led me to come up with the concept of a self-running agency. Now the self-running agency isn't all about building an agency that can run itself, it's more about building an agency that is less dependent on you, the owner and all the steps that you need to take from where you are today, which is probably very entrenched in every aspect of your agency to a point where you are really focused on your superpowers. (i.e. the things that you can only do and you're able to delegate, automate and so on all of the other things to do with running your agency) 

So, that's what the self-running agency is about, and I launched that and that has been by far my most successful programme. We've probably had about 50 agencies in that programme and most recently it has morphed and it is morphing as we talk into a membership programme. So, this is where people join and pay a much lower monthly fee to be part of the programme, and they get drip Fred the content over time because I've read that we are all time poor yet there is an absolute success roadmap that every agency needs to work through and they need to work through it in a linear audience, linear order.

So, the new membership programme is dripping the content to people in that order and then they submit the work to me and they get feedback before they move on to the next stage. So, that's kind of how my programmes have morphed over the years. And, as I said, I wanted to share this story with you because a lot of people have been thinking about creating some kind of online content, online members, mentorship or a course, and I want to share with you that if you're going to do that, please don't make the mistakes that I made.

I cannot tell you how many hundreds and hundreds or thousands of hours I've spent producing online content. And how much money I've wasted in playing around with tech and investing in people that could supposedly help me with advertising, but they failed to do it, and I've tried all sorts of different ways to market. So, in the end, I deliver everything through my platform Kartra, and I'll put a link in the show notes to that. So, that not only hosts my membership and it hosted the videos, but I do all of my email marketing through that. And because it's one platform, it can be very interconnected, so you can do some clever things like tagging people, depending on how much of a video they've watched and so on.

Now, I'm not saying that's the only platform you should use at of all the best platform, but it is a simpler platform because it's all in one. I've also tried all sorts of different marketing activities, and I found that live webinars are by far the best way of really engaging with my audience and building that no like. And trust quickly, so I can get them to sell. And of course, when we are selling things online, we need to create some sense of urgency or scarcity because human beings are very good at pontificating and thinking.

Yeah, I'll do that in the future. And then, of course, the future never happened. So, we need to have a way of getting people across the line. So tell me, is this a topic that you're interested in? And do you like this format of me freeing free winging as I'm recording this podcast? If it is, then do drop me an email. My contact details are always in the show notes. I'd love to hear from you. I could talk about this topic till the cows come home. And like I said, it's not the typical topic I talk about on this podcast, but it is one where I'm sharing some honesty with you about how many failures I've had. And I honestly am sure I've spent more money than I've actually earned in the online world at the moment. Hopefully, that will change in the future. And by the way, I've consolidated all my content into two key programmes. I've retired everything else so the self-running agency membership, which is everything to do with running your agency and has this seven-step success roadmap and my email marketing programme called Build and Nurture convert everything else that I've been running. I have retired now, and I'm just focused on those two things. 

So, my advice to you is to do a few things and do them well. Don't think the answer is to have loads. Of course, is a bit like a niche in get as clear as you possibly can with your niche and focus on that. I don't think the answer is to be more generalist the same with your courses. So anyway, I hope that you found that short episode insightful, and I hope you found it interesting.

If nothing else, I'm not encouraging you necessarily to get on into the online world, but I am trying to share with you my story. And if you are thinking about stepping into the online, well, then learn from my lessons and make sure that you validate your idea. First of all, make sure you are super clear about who your audience is and what the benefit and the transformation those people will get by joining your course or your membership or your mentoring programme. Whatever it is, if you do those things, you're much more likely to either find out quickly that your idea is not a good idea or to be sure that it will be successful so that when you start investing loads of time in shooting videos and loads of money and setting up all the tech, then you know it's going to work.

Okay, so that's it. We found it useful. Please do consider leaving a review on apple podcasts because, as you know, that helps the algorithms show the podcast to more people, which means I can impact more people just like you. But other than that, have a great rest of your week and I will see you next Thursday on the next episode of The Agency Accelerator Podcast. 

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