Welcome to the Summit Evergreen Authority Interview Series!
This recurring interview series invites experienced product and course creators into Summit Evergreen to share their advice and hard-won experience with you, along with tips and tricks to identify, launch, and grow your course! We’re always looking for advice and resources to make your courses better and help your students succeed.
For this episode, we invited these authorities to answer a question that we see experienced, intermediate, and beginning course creators run into:
Oftentimes, people who want to launch their first product or course get stuck because they feel they don’t have any special knowledge that they can teach. What did you do to get started?
Let’s take a look at what these authorities had to say!
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Ah, there’s that word “feel” again. That’s always a sign that it’s time to do something instead of sitting around feeling something. I’m not going to tell you how I got started because it was 18 years ago, and it was natural to me. Instead, I’m gonna tell you what works for my students:
Help an individual. Then help another. And another. Do it for free, at first. Forget what your feelings are telling you — this will prove to you how much you have to offer.
Brennan Dunn is an agency owner turned bootstrapper and product creator. His best selling course, Double Your Freelancing Rate is trusted by over 5,000 freelancers.
I looked at questions people were asking me, and responded to them in a public setting (at first, in an ebook).
The expert problem keeps many would-be creators from creating stuff that can genuinely help people. I think a lot of us assume we need to be absolute experts (whatever that might mean), but really you just need to know more than the person you’re selling to. Look at what clients, bosses, peers, or others have asked you in the past about. If you’ve been asked questions, it’s because the asker presumes you hold some degree of expertise.
Sean is an entrepreneur and designer in Chicago who writes about web design and front end development. His book, Sketching With CSS teaches you how to use the CSS Flexbox Module to get exactly the layout you want.
Well, first of all you do need some sort of expertise or skill, but the bar is not set at being the very best in your field. You just have to be better than the people you are teaching. Just be sure to pick the right students. 🙂
For example, in my book Sketching with CSS I teach web designers how to code. I’m a developer. I’m not the best developer in the entire world, but I’m clearly more skilled than my students who don’t really code at all.
Ruben is the founder of Bidsketch, proposal software and proposal templates.
I started by doing enough research (literally hours) to ensure there was enough demand for a product. The next thing was to create small tests to see if my assumptions were right. For example, my research told me there were keywords I could probably get search traffic for, so I wrote a couple of posts to see if that was true (and it was). Next, was putting up a landing page to see if people were interested enough to give their email address. I kept iterating like this while making progress towards building a product in the process.
Getting frequent feedback from the right audience can save a lot of time in the long run.
You should follow Ruben on Twitter.
I can’t remember who I got it from, but one thought that was very helpful to me went something along the lines of “if you can charge people to do something for them as a contractor, you know enough about it to charge people to teach them how to do it themselves.”
One thing to remember is that we were all beginners once, and a lot of things that seem obvious to you now that you’ve gone through the learning process aren’t obvious to people who are just starting out.
You don’t have to be a certified master in something to be able to say “this book will cut your research time down from 20 hours to 2,” and the price tag you put on it should be a pretty easy sell (so long as that person values A) their time and B) learning the thing you’re offering).
You should follow Samuel on Twitter.
Ben Nesvig is a marketer, writer, and the author of the book First World Problems: 101 Reasons Why The Terrorists Hate Us.
Everyone starts at zero. It’s very easy to forget that you didn’t always know what you currently know. This happens since people like to hang around people like themselves. Getting out of your bubble and talking to people with less experience can be eye opening and give you confidence.
Creating a product requires confidence. The act of creation is either saying that something doesn’t exist, but people want it or it’s saying that you can make something better than what is currently on the market.
While I knew from an early age that I could make someone laugh, I was never a writer. The turning point came when I was in college. I applied for an opening to write a satirical publication for the school. I was rejected, but applied the next year with better writing samples and got the gig. That was the first time I got paid to write something, but also the first time that I received positive feedback from people I didn’t know.
I eventually parlayed that confidence into writing a book after a handful of blog posts that I wrote on the topic received positive feedback. Additional confidence came from reading popular books that I didn’t think were very funny. The feeling that I could create something better was unexpectedly motivating. If I had only read books that I loved, it might have been demoralizing.
You should follow Ben on Twitter.
Rob Cubbon is an Amazon bestselling author, online teacher, graphic designer and all-round good guy who wants freedom for you and success for your business.
Everyone has knowledge they can share that other people will find useful. I am not the worlds best web designer and millions of people know WordPress better than me and yet I’ve made thousands of dollars from WordPress courses. Why? Because people like my approach. I give the “expert’s viewpoint” which would be to use words that nobody understands and attempt to explain complicated PHP code.
We are all on a journey. We can help the people who are a little bit behind us on the same path.
You can read Rob’s writing on his website, sign up for his course on how to build a list of customers, and follow Rob on Twitter.
Just is the host of the Product People podcast and is passionate about building products that delight customers.
There’s a few different ways to do this.
First: start with what you do professionally. What are you currently getting paid to do? If someone is willing to hire you to do something, guaranteed you could teach something to someone who is more junior than you.
Second: (and this one is hard to self-diagnose) What are things that you’re proficient at now, that seem easy, but were hard to learn in the first place? People forget how hard it was at the beginning for them to learn a new skill. They forget about all the things they didn’t know when they started. If you can remember those hurdles you had to cross initially, those can be great subjects to focus on.
You can read Justin’s email newsletter where he writes about building software and digital products.
Nathan Powell is the founder of Nusii, proposal software for creative professionals.
From the beginning of my design career I blogged. I wrote about my experiences, and shared them with others. I never imagined that my writing could generate any kind of interest, but I did it anyway. It turned out that other, less experienced designers found it valuable to hear about my day to day battles. As a consequence they shared their stories with me too.
Those first few years of blogging helped me see that I had more to contribute than I thought. And all of those early experiences went on to form the basis of “The Designer’s Guide to Freelancing”. This in turn helped establish some level of expertise when it came time to launch Nusii.
Regardless of which product path you take: SaaS, ebooks, education, or productised services, chances are you will need to write…and more than you think.
Before beginning this entrepreneurial journey I was ignorant to just how much time I would spend writing. From blog posts, to website copy, interviews, customer emails, lifecycle emails, podcasts, bios, you name it, you’ll probably need it. I’d encourage you to write more, no matter what form it takes.
Josh is the founder of baremetrics, stripe analytics and metrics.
The problem I see more often than not is people want to research things in to the ground. They get involved in startup communities, they go to meetups, they try to teach themselves simply by talking to people and reading articles…but it doesn’t work that way.
Did you learn to ride a bike by reading a Medium article? Did Reddit teach you how to swim? No and no. You have to get on the bike. You have to jump in the water.
That’s how I got started. I taught myself how to code by making things. I picked up design by taking on design projects. I learned how to run businesses by…wait for it…running businesses!
Stop researching and start doing.
Paul Jarvis is a best selling author who creates simple, meaningful things — like best-selling books, courses, and websites for creative people. His online class, The Creative Class, helps freelancers master the details of being a one-person business.
I think everyone’s got something they can teach. There’s a balance between having a firm grasp on your area of expertise and thinking you’ve always got to know more before you create a teaching product.
No one ever feels “ready” to launch anything, and if you do, you’ve waited too long. For me, I got started by building an audience first with free content (a newsletter), and then, over the course of two years, built up readership and consistent value to the point that when I launch something for that audience, they’re already paying attention.
You can read Paul’s writing on his website or sign up for his weekly articles about freelancing, creativity, and life’s ponderings.
Faked it, really. I had run only a handful of A/B tests before launching Draft Revise. But I knew I could do it in practice.
One way you can get over your initial hesitations is to let a small amount of people in on launch – 2 to 4 slots should do. And make sure you do a test run with other clients, for a discount or for free, before you launch. That’ll show you any “gotcha” moments that you don’t want to run into with paying clients.
This is a common misconception. Everyone has some kind of expertise/knowledge that others have yet to learn. The way I like to think of it is to picture folks who are doing (or want to do) the same job that I’m currently doing, but they’re just a couple years behind me in their career. Maybe they’re just getting started, or just getting to that next level. You’re teaching to them.
Remember, everything you teach will seem fairly obvious to you and your immediate peers. And there will certainly be folks who are ahead of you and won’t need your product. But there will always be plenty of folks who are still behind where you’re at. It’s your job to bring them up to speed 🙂
Can you help people? That’s all that really matters.
I don’t have any tricks for changing your mindset… for me, the turning point came when I realized that I had composed and recorded 60 songs in the previous year. I thought to myself, “If I can be that productive with something I don’t really know anything about… what can I do in a field that I’ve been studying for nearly 20 years, practicing professionally for 10, and have developed a great deal of expertise?” That gave me the confidence to dive head-first in to RubySteps, even with all the uncertainty around launching a new business online.
Don’t worry about getting stuck. If you do something new, you will get stuck. Figure out a way to get moving, even if it takes you two steps back. You learn by doing stuff and analyzing the feedback, not by waiting for things to happen.
Jane Portman is an independent UI designer and consultant from Russia. She helps software businesses make more money with strategic design.
Are you getting paid for doing your job? Then you already have something up your sleeve that most people don’t. Think of reusable bits of knowledge that you apply most often. Or try to recall situations when people asked you for advice.
For my first product, a book called Mastering App Presentation, I had tons of experience as a creative director teaching other designers to present their work. A real no-brainer! But it was a good lesson: the subject needs to be marketable, too.
The following productized consulting service targeted a more obvious pain (lack of design direction). While the new course, Client Onboard, teaches designers to work with clients, which is also an evergreen problem.
Virginia is an Online Dating Consultant in Seattle, Washington where she’s working on an online course on online dating.
I think there are all sorts of arcane knowledge areas that people would love to learn.
I was just chatting with a conference organizer the other day, and he said the most popular talk ever featured was about how to buy a new car. It wasn’t some earth-shattering environmental initiative or some new strategy to fundamentally disrupt an entire industry; it was a guy who enjoys negotiation solving a problem for an audience that doesn’t know how to negotiate effectively.
I got my own start in business because I became good at online dating, so after meeting my husband I helped my friends meet their husbands and it just spread naturally after that. Think about the sorts of things that people compliment you on—are you great at picking out clothing combinations, or rearranging furniture to breathe new life into a room? Do you help people create organized file systems so their computer desktops aren’t cluttered? Do you help friends rename their wireless routers and come up with clever but easy to remember passwords? There are lots of things you can do and teach that aren’t in “expected” areas.
Christoph lives in Munich, Germany and is bootstrapping his own SaaS application as a part-time entrepreneur.
My main problem was not creating a product – I have always used code to solve problems – but marketing it. And boy was I afraid of marketing (and still sometimes am). To overcome that fear of marketing was to start with something easy: I wrote blog posts and shared them on Twitter. When one article was really good I shared it on Hacker News, Inbound and similar websites.
When that began to feel natural, I started doing drip email campaigns and copywriting. Eventually I did cold emails and Skype interviews. I yet have to master cold calling – the most frightening marketing method of them all.
You have to push yourself out of your comfort zone – constantly and step by step. There just isn’t an easy way around that – and no replacement for the hussle.
Ned is the CEO of Elto, a curated marketplace of developers and marketers helping small business grow online.
I think no matter what stage you’re at in life and business you’re always going to feel like you’re not ready, or that you’re behind the pack or that other people are smarter than you.
I think you have to take a bit of a leap of faith and believe that even if you don’t know everything you have the ability to work it out.
You will surprise yourself and people around you when you realise you do actually have a lot of inherent knowledge, even if it’s just knowing the right way to research the area you’re going into.
This is definitely something I struggle with because I have so many projects and interests, it’s hard to consider myself the ultimate authority on any one of them. What I’ve had to remind myself of is the concept of “expert enough” — the idea that if you know more than the average person seeking information on this topic, and probably more than 90% of those people, you’re more than qualified to speak to it and teach it.
For me, my first book on Amazon was on how to hire and work with virtual assistants. Am I the world’s foremost expert on the subject? Absolutely not. But it was something I had a good amount of experience with and could speak intelligently on it to others who wanted to learn about it.
Karol is an entrepreneur and product creator who specializes in writing and strategizing email autoresponder sequences.
Maybe that’s true. Maybe they don’t have special knowledge and they shouldn’t be creating the product they want to create. Instead, they should create the product other people want and either obtain the knowledge or partner with someone who has it.
As for me, I’ve done it both ways. I’ve launched products I was personally knowledgable about. But I’ve also launched products where I had to partner with people who had the knowledge.
I gave a talk at a local networking group called Fishburners. This did 2 things: firstly it gave me a deadline to write some stuff down. Secondly, it “road tested” the content in front of a bunch of smart people, many of whom were very knowledgeable about AdWords. Since they didn’t laugh me off the stage, I felt more confident calling myself an “expert” and putting some authority into my writing.
You’ll be surprised how little you need to know, in order to know more than 99% of the population about a given topic. As Marge Simpson once said, “I could teach the piano. I just have to stay one lesson ahead of the kid”.
Jonathan Stark is a mobile software consultant who helps big brands thrive in the post-PC era.
When you are passionate about a topic, odds are good that you know more about it than 99% of the population. The problem is that it never feels that way. When you’ve gone deep into a subject area, everything about it starts to seem obvious to you. This creates the illusion that the things you know are obvious to everyone. They’re not.
Glenn Stovall is the creator of the Freelance Pricing Handbook and provides metrics-driven business and software design.
I would try the absolute smallest way to gauge interest in an idea, and if there was interest or it seemed like there was a problem to solve. All it takes to test an idea is a tweet. If people respond, write a blog post. If the blog post gets some traction, then expand on it into something bigger.
For me, I felt confident that I had something new to say just based on my opinions of existing content that was available. For example, there were two books on poker tells out that were decent, but both of them, to me, felt very stale and superficial. I felt confident that I could contribute something better, or that would at least hold its own against the competition.
So it wasn’t so much that I thought I was a genius at the subject matter, but I felt that I had interesting and new observations to make. And it also wasn’t that I believed I was the only person to have this knowledge, but I had never seen a book with that information in it.
For anyone with a lot of experience on a subject, I believe there are people who want to hear your observations. And it’s sometimes a lot easier than you think to put out original and practical content.
Neville is a Kopywriter who teaches people how to write like you speak and sell like hell.
HA! I felt the exact same way! Then I realized people kept asking me over-and-over-and-over-and-over about a drop-shipping business I owned at the time. That’s when I realized maybe this is a something people actually wanna know about.
Kurt Elster is the founder of Ethercycle and one-half of the Unofficial Shopify Podcast. His productized service, Website Rescues helps eCommerce store owners turn their Shopify stores into a revenue generating machine for their business.
Go back and look at the proposals you’ve sent clients, and emails you’ve answered. What pain are you consistently solving for people? What question are you answering? I guarantee multiple ideas for courses and services live in everyone’s archived email, they just aren’t looking.
You read Kurt’s writing on his website, sign up for Kurt’s course on making your website better on his website, or follow Kurt on Twitter.
Thanks for reading! Does someone stand out from these responses? Do you see a common thread in what these product creators did (or didn’t) do to start teaching? Leave your thoughts in the comments!
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