My Story

How I Swapped My Career As A Web Builder To Build A Multiple Six-Figure Business Teaching Tech Online

Dave Foy

Well, hello there! I’m Dave Foy. 👋

I’m an online educator who helps digital freelancers step off the hours-for-money hamster wheel of client work, by teaching them how to leverage their time, skills, and expertise to create and sell profitable online courses.

As a former primary school teacher, I started out teaching 5-11 year-olds in the U.K., so I know a thing or two about breaking down tough-to-grasp concepts in ways that anyone can understand. 

Twenty years ago, I built my very first website. In 2003, I swapped teaching for web design and spent 15+ years hand-coding websites in-house, and latterly for a micro agency that I started with a friend. Despite quickly becoming the co-owner of a profitable and sought-after agency, I found myself feeling unfulfilled and searching for greater meaning.

In 2017, I threw my cards in the air again and returned to teaching—this time, online. 

Fast forward today, and I’ve gone from zero (read: no subscribers, no social followers of any kind, and no income) to a business with hundreds of happy students and over $250K a year in turnover. 

I’m now on a mission to help others step off the hours-for-money hamster wheel and create more freedom and meaning in their lives by packaging their knowledge and expertise and selling it to others.

This is the warts and all story of the mistakes I made and the challenges I overcame to create the success I have today—and how it, most definitely, did not happen overnight!

Throughout, I've pulled out all sorts of useful bits of advice and things I've learned along the way. I hope reading my story inspires you as you build your own tech-focused online course business.

Heck - if I can do it, anyone can. 😁

The Early Days

Looking back, I guess there were always signs that I was destined to be my own boss someday.

Born and bred in Preston, Lancashire in the UK, I was a happy-go-lucky yet stubborn kid who always marched to the beat of his own drum.

Dave age 3 holding a Meccano set wrapped in brown paper
Age 3. I'd won a Meccano set in a competition at Pontins—a classic British holiday camp. Those sandals... those shorts... those socks!

Every year, without fail, my school report would say something along the same lines:

“Dave refuses to follow the crowd. If he has an idea he likes, he’ll pursue it. It doesn’t matter whether anyone else is following or not.”

In hindsight, it surprises me that I had so much innate confidence in myself, given that I didn’t grow up in the happiest of homes.

There was lots of conflict, lots of shouting, and situations could blow up from out of nowhere at any time. Consequently, I spent many years feeling scared, uncertain, and not knowing where I stood.

From the time I was ten years old, I spent as much time as possible either out of the house, or hiding out in my room.

It was during this time I developed a real passion for music. My uncle had given me a massive stack of 7” singles at the age of 4—original Beatles, Rolling Stones, Elvis and more—and I spent hours and hours listening to them over and over again.

(Sadly, I also lobbed a few of them round the room as frisbees... but I don’t like to think about that.)

Once he realised I was really into my music, my uncle started taking me to the (tiny) local record shop every week to choose a new 7” single. I was only about five or six years old, so he’d pick me up and sit me on the high counter. I’d sing the tunes that I’d heard on the radio that week to the owner who did a pretty good job of “Guess That Song”.

As I got older, I learned to play the guitar, clarinet and then the saxophone. Again, mastering these instruments gave me the perfect excuse to hole myself up in my room, away from everything else that was going on at home.

Dave age 8 playing guitar
Me age 8, Christmas 1980. Soooo much brown.

In spite of the challenges at home, I did pretty well at school, despite hating that place a lot of the time too—the fear of the ever-present bullying rather marred the experience for me.

Dave's class: first year of senior school, 1983
First year of high school. Spot the Foy.

I was quite pleased to later hear they knocked the place down in the mid-90s.

Dave with his grandad
Me and my all-time hero: my Grandad (circa 1983)

Further education wasn’t something that anyone in my family had ever done before. I was the first in our family to go onto college instead of leaving school and getting a job at sixteen.

So when teachers started asking which universities I was planning on applying to, I shrugged off their questions as ridiculous, saying it wasn’t for the likes of me.

My brilliant History teacher in particular—Liz MacDonald—was like a dog with a bone. She wouldn’t let up the pressure, I mean, encouragement! And if I ever meet Liz again, I’ll thank her for her faith in me for how it changed my life’s direction...

So up to this point, I'd refused to even consider university as an option.

However...

One day I was on the top deck of the number 10 bus, late 1989, on the way home from Preston Town Centre.

A Preston number 10 bus
The actual number 10 bus from around that time. Shudder.

I remember it distinctly. It was a dark, grey autumn day, and it was pissing it down with rain, as it had been for about a week.

Sidenote: Preston is officially the wettest city in England

Suddenly, out of nowhere, I had the sudden realisation that going to university was my way out of Preston, my way out of the situation at home—everything.

I immediately rang the bell to stop the bus, ran across the road as fast as I could, and boarded another bus heading straight back towards college. It was the very final day of university applications, and if I didn’t move quickly, I would literally and figuratively get left behind.

Like a man possessed, I sprinted to the library where all the university prospectus brochures were kept.

I already knew Manchester was top of my list. At that point, in the late 1980s, the music scene there was really kicking off in a big way and there was nothing I wanted more than to be there for it. But, not wanting to put all my eggs in one basket, I figured I needed a safety choice.

I looked at the stack of dull, plain A5 booklets in front of me, feeling thoroughly uninspired.

As I flicked through the stacks, something caught my eye: a colourful, glossy, landscape-printed brochure, with a cover image of bright blue skies and a stunning suspension bridge arcing across a shimmering river.

The Humber Bridge
A photo I took of the Humber Bridge earlier this year. The water rarely looks blue like this.

I don’t know whether it was branding or the desire to be anywhere other than Preston in the pissing rain, but I made the decision then and there to apply to the wonderfully glamorous-sounding University of Hull.

For those not from the United Kingdom, you should know that Hull wasn’t exactly the most...errr… a salubrious of places.

On the north-east coast (thirty or so miles east of York), at the time, Hull was the kind of end-of-the-line coastal town that most teenagers in their right minds couldn’t wait to leave.

I guess you could say I learned two lessons from my experience of applying to university:

#1. If you intend to apply to a top-choice University like Manchester, you’d better have a convincing answer involving the course you intend to study if you’re invited for an interview. (Apparently, “Because The Hacienda is really kicking off” wasn’t an acceptable response...)

#2. Branding can be incredibly persuasive, and as I quickly found out after moving into my digs in Hull, you can, indeed, polish a turd.

Despite the fact that the skies were rarely blue and the crystal clear waters of the River Humber were, in fact, the colour of poop (there's a valid reason why)... Hull quickly became home.

And, despite insisting I would only ever be there for three years, Hull is still my home today.

In 1993, I graduated, by the skin of my teeth, with a BA Hons in Social Policy and Administration. I say by the skin of my teeth because I’d pretty much spent the entire three years of my degree playing in bands.

I’m positive I spent way more time surrounded by guitars, amps and sweaty bandmates in the back of a transit van, driving up and down the motorways of the UK than I had in lectures.

Dave singing in a band. Hair hasn't been cut, or seen a comb, for quite some time
1992, lead singer and guitarist in a band, age 19. I spent the same amount of time in university lectures as I did cutting my hair.

To this day, I still can barely recall what I actually studied (and my wife is forever telling people I studied History—she doesn’t know either!) but I did well enough to pursue my other passion: teaching.

Starting out as a teaching assistant supporting autistic children before gaining my PGCE and officially becoming a teacher, I spent ten years teaching 6-11 year olds all the subjects of the British National Curriculum.

And naturally, I got the job of head of IT.

I have some really, really happy memories from that chapter of my life. I had the opportunity to work alongside some amazing, inspiring educators and teach some incredible small humans, some of who still stop me in the street today to tell me I was their favourite teacher. Aww.

Dave standing with a class of children
My very first class. Aww.

But, as the political landscape in the U.K. began to shift and shape, so did my enthusiasm for the system. Teaching became less and less about pedagogy and more about ticking boxes, bureaucracy, dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s.

And sitting in a staffroom surrounded by teachers 20 years my senior, incessantly complaining and moaning, did nothing for my mood.

For me, the writing was on the wall. I knew I could never be truly happy teaching in a system that cared more about achieving government targets than it did about encouraging little kids to develop a life-long love of learning.

So with unquestioning encouragement and support from my partner, Vicky—I quit.

Dave standing with a class of children
One of my last classes, 2002. It was World Cup year, hence the kerrrazy clothing.

I can’t lie—when I jacked it all in, most people thought I’d lost the plot. Especially because our second child had literally just been born, we had very little in the way of savings to fall back on, and I had no other work experience, besides teaching.

But my philosophy has always been: life’s far too short to spend it doing something you don’t totally love.

Besides, I had a plan:

I was about to become (wait for it)... a web designer!

Making big leaps

I’m not suggesting there’s a blueprint for making “big leaps”. Mainly because I believe the decision making that surrounds big changes in life is usually highly nuanced and deeply personal.

That said, if you’re deeply unhappy in your current situation and you simply can’t see it getting any better, there are a few things I’d suggest you do:

  • Talk about it. Be open and honest about how you’re feeling with your significant other, and explain what you’d like to do next.
  • Do your best to explain the reasons behind how you’re feeling. Be prepared that your desired actions may threaten their sense of security and stability, and they may need time to process that fact.
  • Know yourself—and your partner—well enough to understand whether you should make a phased transition (for example, in this case I could have freelanced while still teaching) or rip the bandaid off in one go.

One Man Band

To say I had zero experience of building websites before deciding to quit my teaching job wasn’t wholly true. 

Always a bit of a geek, I’d been an early adopter of this new-fangled concept called the internet, messing about with email and newsgroups and Gopher before the World Wide Web was even a thing.

And as the only one among us with the inclination to figure it out along the way, the task of creating a website for our band, Lithium Joe, had naturally fallen to me...

Lithium Joe website home page
Yep—the home page was one single clickable image. Oh, the shame!
Lithium Joe website second home page!
Hello 1999. I've missed you.
Lithium Joe blog
Blogging back in 2000. "What's a blog?" 😂

By 2003—the year I threw everything up in the air and decided to reinvent myself as a web designer—I already had five years of self-taught hand-coding experience under my belt. That said, I’d never run a business before, I’d never had to attract clients before, and it was very much a case of sink or swim.

But swim I did!

I was already building my own websites, using the new method of Web Standards and CSS for layout, rather than the outdated ‘tables for layout’ method that most web designers were still using at the time.

Getting certified

However, I still I didn’t have much confidence in my abilities. My dad had recently died, leaving me a bit of money in his will. So I thought it best to invest £4000+ of that in doing a proper web design certification.

Cos obviously, clients were bound to want to see some certified evidence of my skills, right?

Wrong.

My investment in gaining a CIW qualification was one of the worst investments of my life.

We spent the first interminably long chunk of the course learning about networking. And I don't mean learning to whore myself out at local business breakfast meetings. I mean computer networking. Yep - CAT5 cables and all that.

Like... WTF?!

What really prompted me to quit though was when I failed a web page building assignment.

I’d built the page using CSS for layout and web standards (note: ALL websites are built like this now). The course teachers had literally no idea what it was.

And despite the page looking great, and my explanations of why their ‘table layout’ method was going to be obsolete any day soon… they failed me anyway.

They wouldn’t refund me the money I’d paid. But I'd learned a valuable lesson.

You don’t need a certificate or permission from anyone.

Certified qualifications and universities and the like are often waaaaay behind the curve of what real-life pros are cracking on with in the trenches.

Practical up-to-date online courses delivered by your peers actually doing the thing you want to learn? Yes, indeed.

Dusty old academics and certifications? Don’t waste your money.

The deep down niggle

I spent the next seven years building beautiful websites for clients, working for myself.

Here's my company's website back in 2007.

Note: content marketing even back then. 😉

The Definition Design website home page

For the most part, I loved it. I loved working with clients, bringing their visions to life, and seeing the difference that the sites we built made to the success of their businesses.

But deep down, there was always this niggle, a whisper if you like, that I could never completely ignore:

“What are you doing, Dave? You’re a teacher.”

Every eighteen months or so it’d rear up and I’d find myself back in schools as a volunteer or working a week here and there as a substitute teacher. And every single time, I’d be reminded of all the things that made me leave in the first place, be a little more horrified by how much worse the bureaucracy had become, and, with the itch scratched, I’d pat myself on the back and go right back to web building.

However, as the years kept ticking past and WordPress made building websites and more accessible to the mainstream, I started feeling disillusioned.

I’d been hand-coding HTML since 1998. And yet, I found myself with bags of experience and an overflowing portfolio, being passed over for jobs by upstarts who’d only been calling themselves web designers for six months.

This isn’t a new story by any stretch of the imagination, and if you’ve been around as long as I have, I’m sure you can relate. But with the barrier to entry becoming lower every year, thousands of new and inexperienced designers entering the market with no other option than to compete on price, the industry that I’d once knew was fast becoming a race to the bottom.

Marketing had always been something of a ball-ache for me. I mean, I was a web designer!

And though I understood the importance of building with the business’s end goals in mind, I didn’t really want to bother myself with optimisation and metrics. I just wanted to build beautiful, aesthetically pleasing websites.

Of course, looking back knowing what I know now, this just sounds plain ridiculous. But at the time, I really struggled to get my head around it.

Micro Agency

Luckily for me, salvation came in the form of my good mate, Gareth.

I first met Gareth when he was the director of a big local web agency, who hired me frequently as a subcontractor on their projects. We hit it off immediately.

Outside of work, Gareth and I regularly kept in touch to share ideas, discuss strategy, and chat for hours about the finer points of DJing and electronic music. I’d been into DJ-ing for a few years at this point, and Gareth was a dance-floor veteran.

Dave DJ-ing with headphones on
Sending the dance floor wild, circa 2002

Like me, Gareth was well into web building, though he came at it very much from a sales and marketing perspective. He’d jabber away to me for hours about lead magnets and sales funnels and this brand new form of advertising using Facebook.

We formed our own company and joined forces in 2010, and pretty soon after we started implementing these strategies, our business was going like gangbusters. And once we started implementing them in our clients’ businesses, we became known for building intelligent websites that got results.

The Woof website home page
Our company home page, 2012-ish. Why Woof? Who knows!

Essentialism

Business-wise, things were going well for Gareth and I. But on a personal level, I regularly found myself in a world of pain. We became busier and busier, and I was struggling to keep up.

Ultimately, I’ve always been a bit of a perfectionist who hates rushing or doing a half-arsed job. And because of that, I found myself resenting the work, which was starting to feel like a grind.

It all came to a head one morning during a chance meeting with my good mate, Jon Moss.

I’d gotten to the co-working space early, around 7.30am. Jon arrived and saw me, head in my hands, staring down at an enormous list of !URGENT! tasks that had to be accomplished that day.

He wandered over to find out what was up.

All my frustration came pouring out and Jon, bless him, sat there listening, while I got it all off my chest. When I’d finally finished whining, he opened his bag, pulled out a book, and handed it to me saying, “Read this.”

That book, Essentialism by Greg McKeown, had a huge, profound and lasting impact on me. Even before I’d finished reading it, I began to make significant changes in my life, changes that reverberate to this day.

Essentialism book cover

Essentialism was nothing short of a revelation to me. After a lifetime of believing that I needed to be doing more—being more—I began to realise that 99% of incoming “stuff” is simply noise.

I realised I couldn’t possibly do everything and shouldn’t even try. I’d been putting effort into a million different things and getting nowhere fast. Instead, Essentialism taught me I can only focus on a very small number of things most important to me.

I shifted my entire outlook to put all my limited energy, attention and focus into making huge progress in a very small number of important things instead.

You're a teacher

So when I began to hear that familiar “You’re a teacher” message again, somewhere around the middle of 2015, I knew something had to change.

In the past I’d been able to push the thought aside and carry on, 'mind over matter' style. But this time was different.

I was different.

By wrapping our head around the true value of the websites I was building for our clients, we’d gone from struggling to charge a few hundred quid for a website build to being able to charge 5 figures and enjoy regular recurring income.

I felt like I’d hit the jackpot, and I wanted all the other struggling web designers to learn what I’d learned, too.

While previously I’d thought teaching meant standing in front of a class of tiny humans, I was fast discovering that online courses were all the rage. There were people far less qualified than I was packaging up their knowledge, skills and experience into digital programs that people were willing to pay good money for.

And thanks to refreshing online educators like Mariah Coz, I was realising that selling a course to people I didn’t know on the internet wasn’t sleazy—it was service. It was helping people.

Finally, here were ideas I could really get on board with!

And so, in mid-2016 after many conversations with my partner, Vicky, I once again threw a career up in the air… this time, to become an online educator.

The front of the Ponti cafe, Newland Avenue, Hull
The cafe where I made the decision to quit client work and teach online. June 2016. Nice coffee.

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The Beginnings of Design Build Web

Starting a new business from scratch with nothing but my smarts and the tiny kernel of an idea felt exciting and wildly intimidating, all at the same time.

You might be forgiven for thinking I always knew that I would teach non-coder graphic designers how to build websites with WordPress and Elementor.

But the truth is, it took quite a while for that realisation to come.

From reading Pat Flynn’s book, Will It Fly?, and bingeing as many episodes of his podcast, Smart Passive Income, as I could, I knew choosing the right niche would be crucial.

After much online research, hitting people up with surveys and actually talking to real people in the industry, I’d identified two pain points that the vast majority of people in my target audience of web designers struggled with:

#1. Dealing with clients; and
#2. Translating visual designs into web pages.

If you’ve been in my world for any length of time you’ll already know that I decided against helping web designers deal with clients.

The reason for this was actually quite straightforward:

When it came down to it, I didn’t feel at all qualified to help others with these kind of problems.

Sure, I had years of business experience under my belt by that point. But I wouldn’t say I ever overcame my client relations challenges. Heck, I’d partnered up with someone else who liked that side of doing business so I could focus on the stuff I really enjoyed!

And so, through a process of research, feedback and careful consideration, I decided to go the route of creating courses for non-coder graphic designers.

Dave carrying a green backpack
But first, I took 2 months off travelling round Europe with my wife and daughter, July 2016. And yes, with just that tiny backpack. And no, wife and daughter were not in the backpack.

Three prerequisites for success

When brainstorming ideas for courses—and, indeed, services‚—it’s crucial that the idea is something that:

  1. Your audience wants.
  2. Your audience needs and will be willing to invest in.
  3. You are knowledgeable, capable and experienced enough to teach.

Any course idea that doesn’t fulfil these three prerequisites for success will likely amount to nothing but struggle.

The good news is, there are easy ways to figure these things out for sure.

Hello, Elementor

Throughout my career, I’d worked on web projects with a dozen or so extremely talented designers. Only, when it came to putting their work online, they struggled to get their work to appear on the computer screen as they envisioned it.

With the idea of teaching non-coders clear in my mind, I knew I needed to select the best and most appropriate tools to help them master.

As an old-school hand coder, I’d initially hated the idea of using drag-and-drop WordPress page builder plugins. But my mate and business partner, Gareth, had convinced me to give them a whirl.

Mainly, because it didn’t make good business sense for him to wait around for two weeks until I had a gap in my schedule to code a simple landing page that we could otherwise create and start testing in the space of an hour.

In recent years we’d pretty much run the gamut of drag-n-drop page builder tools between us: Divi, Visual Composer, Avada. Bleurgh.

But the one that impressed me was Elementor.

When I first discovered it in July 2016, it was completely brand new, more than a bit buggy and lacking many features that I considered must-haves.

But something about it impressed me, and I thought it had the potential to become the ideal tool for my intended target audience.

I showed Elementor to a bunch of designer friends and colleagues and asked for their feedback. Instantly, they loved it.

That was all the validation I needed.

With my platform selected, I began scouring Facebook groups with the hope of uncovering the kinds of challenges non-coders faced when using Elementor.

Imperfect action

By February 2017, I’d unveiled my new website, Design Build Web… to no-one.

Zero audience. Yet.

Screenshot of Dave's announcement of his new website in the Elementor Facebook group
Hello World! Posting about my new business in the Elementor Facebook group, Feb 2017.

Of course, I knew that growing an email list would be the key to success—I’d learnt as much from my business partner, Gareth, as well as from my growing list of virtual mentors, like Brian Dean from Backlinko and Mariah Coz.

That’s why, from day one—before I even knew where I was headed—I published a simple one-page website, with just one thing on it: a signup form...

The first Design Build Web home page. Basically just a sign-up form: 'Get free web design tips'.
The very first version of the Design Build Web website. An opt-in form before I had any content, or much of a clue.

Of course, I knew my first signup incentive was a bit pathetic ("tips!"). But I also knew it was crucial that I had a way of capturing the names and email addresses of people who were interested in what I was up to, so I had a way of building ongoing relationships with them.

So in the spirit of taking imperfect action and starting well before I was truly ready, I ran with it. And you know what? It did a job... even if it wasn't the best job.

“Always take massive imperfect action towards your goals because the time might never be 'just right'”—Derric Yuh Ndim

and...

“Winners take imperfect action while losers are still perfecting the plan.”—Tony Robbins

Of course, somewhere down the line I knew that my email list would become a valuable marketing asset—a list of people I could sell my future courses to. But, at this early stage all I genuinely wanted was a way of keeping in touch so I could let them know every time I released a new video tutorial.

Ah yes. Video....

Existential crisis meltdown

As an experienced teacher with no problem standing up and talking at the front of a class of unruly 10 year olds....

I found the process of creating video tutorials terrifying.

Of course, with eight months of research under my belt—I know, I know!—I had no shortage of questions to answer or topics to talk about.

But every single time I turned the camera on, I felt utterly crippled by fear, nerves and perfectionism.

“What will people think of me?”

“I’m going to get laughed at, aren’t I?”

And a near existential crisis meltdown:

“Do I really look and sound like that??! And if so… why haven’t my so-called friends TOLD me?!!”

But I knew I couldn’t give up that easily. So instead, I decided to test the waters with a blog post.

I know—risky, eh?

But seriously, at the time, it genuinely physically and emotionally felt like a life-or-death situation.

My very first blog post was an in-depth user review of GeneratePress which I rather nervously posted in their public Facebook group.

Screenshot of Dave's announcement of his review of GeneratePress in the GeneratePress Facebook group

And you know what? The feedback was phenomenal!

Knowing that there were people out there saying they enjoyed reading my content and looked forward to my next piece was all the encouragement I needed to get moving again.

Only this time, I’d be in front of the camera.

Gulp.

On April 4th, 2017, after an entire week of internal battles, actual tears and absolute frustration, I published my very first YouTube video:

Develop Websites FAST: How to Shave HOURS Off Each Project with the Starter Site Method.

Video cover for the Starter Site video

The audio quality was not great.

I had crappy equipment.

Zero lighting.

I spoke into a 15 year old knackered microphone I used to use when I played in a band.

I recorded and edited on a struggling four-year-old Macbook Air that was seriously due an upgrade.

The background was shockingly bad—I was sat in what looked like a pokey cupboard under the stairs.

And I was very obviously scared stiff.

Despite all that, the first episode was well received, and many people reached out privately to me how much they appreciated my straightforward, no-fluff teaching style.

Yikes.

Dave's first tiny, cramped, dark 'studio'
I made my first YouTube videos, ran my first few webinars, made my first course and my first $40k in this tiny room with this ultra-basic gear.

Following the advice of Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism, I knew my success as a content creator would be as much about the things I chose to say no to, as much as the things I decided to pursue.

From that point on, I made a promise to myself:

I would become known for producing high quality, insanely useful content that addressed specific challenges.

That meant no roundup videos of 50 of the best contact form plugins...

No indiscriminate affiliate promotions, and, most of all..

No posting for posting’s sake.

I’m proud to say, it’s a guiding principle that I’ve always stuck to.

To this day, you’ll find less than 30 videos on my Design Build Web YouTube channel (currently on hiatus as my attention is focused on this site now).

This might sound quite paltry until you realise that, combined, they’ve been watched over 1,053,900 times—an average of over 37,500 views per video (one video has had 240,000 views alone).

Say no to most things

Whatever your goals, it’s important to consider what you need to STOP doing so you can concentrate more time and energy on the important things that will get you closer to your goal.

I personally credit learning to say NO to most opportunities (to focus on only a very few) as the major key to finally making significant success happen.

Essentialism.

Sink or Swim?

If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably wondering how in the world I was financing this 180-degree career shift.

In a word? Barely.

By March 2017 I was yet to generate a single penny of revenue by teaching online.

Thankfully, my past-self had had the good sense not to burn my bridges with client work completely, a decision my March 2017 self was eternally grateful for.

I’d kept a single client on, a salt-of-the-earth top bloke named James Leckie, who I’d been working with since 2005.

James and I had built up a great relationship over the years. He paid his invoices on time (usually before I'd sent them) and he trusted me to do my thing and get the job done. Here’s IT Contracting, just one of James’s excellent websites.

Though it wasn’t a huge retainer—£1000 per month—it was a genuine lifesaver to have some regular cash coming in.

Thank you, James. 🙏

However, before long, things began to get tight. I mean, really tight.

Vicky and I had never been credit card people, but month after month we found ourselves charging basic living expenses to the cards and only making the minimum payments. Consequently, the balance was creeping up.

Out of desperation, we started selling stuff to help make ends meet, but it wasn’t really enough to tide us over.

From that point I knew I had to decide: was I going to sink or was I going to swim?

I’m personally a big believer in the ‘sink or swim’ model of taking big leaps in life.

It forces you to be creative and make things happen, because you’ve got to.

And I’m tremendously lucky that my wife believed 100% that I’d make a big success of this venture.

But putting my sensible hat on…

As you transition from employment to self-employment, or from one business model to another, it’s a good idea to look for ways to keep earning some regular and reliable income until you’re firmly on your feet.

Whether that means going part-time in your current role, or keeping on that one life-saver client... knowing that you have some if-all-else-fails cash to cover your basic needs each month will free you up to think creatively about your next step.

Thinking about creating and selling online courses?

Grab my Free Workbook

5 things to consider before you fire all your clients and start an online course business

Download it now >
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To Affiliate or Not to Affiliate?

Just as I’d made the decision never to post content for content’s sake, I’d also made a promise to myself that affiliate marketing would never become the basis for my business model.

It wasn’t that I had a problem with mentioning software or products in exchange for a small commission. But as a teacher first and foremost, it didn’t feel right to be encouraging my audience to invest in a particular tool one day, only to be promoting a completely different tool the next.

On top of that, I didn’t want to pour all my time and energy into helping build other people’s businesses for tiny percentages when I could be building my own. I don’t believe you should, either.

That said, there were products that I used and loved and heartily recommended anyway so I figured, why not register as an affiliate for them?

I began including referral links for the tools I recommended in the description boxes of my YouTube videos and pretty soon I started earning commission. It wasn’t much at first—$200 or so—but as my videos gained more views, my affiliate revenue began to grow too.

Graph of affiliate income in 2017 - from zero dollars to $3500 per month
My monthly affiliate income in the first few months

To this day, I’m an affiliate for only the tools that I personally use and love. Curious what’s on my current list? You can check it out here.

Affiliate income might have got me out of a tight corner, but it was making and selling courses that really moved the needle. And it was making and selling courses that was my main business goal.

Your email list is everything

Like I said earlier, the very first thing I did when I started was put an email sign-up form front and centre on my website.

From everything I’d already learned about building an online business, I knew I’d have to build an email list before I could begin actually selling courses.

Building an email list is completely crucial.

It’s not enough to rely on building a following on other people’s platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. Those platforms can (and do) change their rules at moment’s notice.

And, of course, they’re free, so who are course creators like me to argue?

But your email list? That’s yours and yours alone, and it’s the best place to start conversations, nurture relationships, provide value, and ultimately, promote your products and services.

I took every opportunity I could to build my email list, but the two tactics I leaned on most were content upgrades and webinars.

Content Upgrades

A content upgrade is an additional piece of ‘gated’, high-value content, designed to enhance the value of the free content your visitor is already enjoying—examples coming up.

Content upgrades come in a variety of ways, shapes and forms, but what they all have in common is that readers must opt in to access them.

The beauty of content upgrades is they convert really well (like, 40% or more) because they’re directly related to the content the visitor is already reading or watching.

For every single article or video I made, I created a corresponding content upgrade to encourage opt-in to my list. At a 40+% conversion rate, why wouldn't I?!

No free courses or long-winded ebooks—just small ‘bites’ that were easy to create and offered the reader additional value and a quick win.

Some Content Upgrade examples:

Note: I recently removed the opt-in boxes on the pages below cos the info has since become a little out of date. Enjoy the screenshots of the opt-in boxes instead.

Article reviewing GeneratePress: I gave away a bonus video and article with my preferred GeneratePress settings for maximum compatibility with Elementor.

Opt-in box for the GeneratePress settings content upgrade
Opt-in box for the GP settings content upgrade. This is a screenshot—clicking it will get you nowhere.

Video and article on developing your own starter site: I gave away a link to my own starter site that the reader could install themselves to get a head start.

Opt-in box for the Starter Site content upgrade
Opt-in box for the Starter Site content upgrade. Same deal with clicking it—like White Lines, don't do it.

Video showing how to create a high-converting landing page with Elementor: I gave away 3 importable pre-built Elementor landing page templates.

Opt-in box for the landing pages content upgrade
Opt-in box for the landing pages content upgrade. Enough with the clicking, k?

Video showing how to create a sitewide header with Elementor: I gave away a handy one-page PDF cheatsheet reminder of the step-by-step instructions from the video.

Opt-in box for the custom header content upgrade
Opt-in for the custom header content upgrade. Oh go on then, click it if you must.

Get the idea?

Webinars

Throughout my research, I’d also seen others marketers using live pitch-free webinars as a list-building tool.

At this point the thought of being on camera still terrified me (evidence: my 2nd ever YouTube videoc'mon Dave, just relax and enjoy it! Sheesh).

But having recently read Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle Is The Way, I knew it was something I had to do.

And you know what?

Hosting live free training turned out to be the best thing I ever did.

I was completely out of my comfort zone, but I loved having the opportunity to connect with members of my audience on a more personal level.

And it was great for list growth.

And to top it all off, there didn’t seem to be anyone else in the WordPress teaching space doing anything like it at the time.

I held my very first live webinar in April 2017:

Learn How You Can Build Profitable, Custom-Designed, Responsive WordPress Websites SUPER FAST... No Code Required.

Webinar registration page screenshot
My first webinar reg page, built in Elementor

I nervously promoted it to my very small email list only.

And what do you know?

184 people registered.

Even better, 74 of them actually showed up live, a whopping 40% show-up rate—a figure I’d still be pretty happy to achieve today!

Dave running his first live webinar, April 2017
First webinar, coming (nervously) live from a cupboard.

But despite the healthy show-up rate, my first webinar was far from perfect.

Tech stuff went wrong....

I should have rehearsed way more than I did....

And I’d bitten off waaaay more than I could chew (in hindsight, the title was quite a promise for 45 minutes).

But the feedback was AMAZING. And that made me feel amazing too. 💪


Encouraged, I hosted my second webinar in May 2017:

How To Easily Design Your ENTIRE Website With Elementor

Promo graphic for second webinar
Promo graphic for my second webinar, guest-starring hastily taken iPhone selfie

I created this webinar in response to a growing need I’d spotted where people wanted to use Elementor to design every part of their site (not something you could do at the time).

316 registered (whoop!). 129 of those attended live, again, giving me around a 40% show-up rate.

BOOM.

Dave running a webinar in his tiny office
Webinar #2: "Guys, tell me straight... do I look like I'm trapped in a cupboard?"


This spurred me on to host another one in August:

Level Up Your Elementor Skills: 10 Killer Tips & Tricks

Promo graphic for the webinar
Promo graphic for webinar #3.

If you’re keeping up you’ve probably already noticed that I was still biting off more than I could chew…

I could—and should—have stopped at FIVE tips and people still would’ve been happy.

However... this time 485 registered (going up!), and 173 attended live.

Dave running a webinar in his tiny office - doesn't look as much like a cupboard
Webinar #3: camera at a different angle in an attempt to not look like I'm trapped in a cupboard. Fooling precisely no-one.

It’s fair to say I’d been bitten by the teaching bug.

However, all the webinars I was hosting were still pitch-free.

And it was no wonder really.

I had nothing to pitch. And that was starting to become a huge problem...

Limiting Beliefs

While my original business idea might have been to build an email list and create and sell online courses... I quickly discovered that that was easier said than done.

And this was largely down to my own limiting beliefs.

Looking back it was bonkers really.

I had an email list that was growing by hundreds of subscribers every single month...

YouTube tutorials with tens of thousands of views...

And people literally begging me to take their money to teach them how to use Elementor.

And yet, for some reason, I was stuck in a state of inertia.

Obviously, in hindsight, I know exactly what I should’ve done...

I should’ve put together a rough, flexible idea of the course outline, ran a presale to take pre-orders and, if enough people bought, cracked on and made the course.

(Even better as a first step would have been to offer a short series of paid 1 hour webinars… perfect fast validation, AND some quick income, AND a chance to gather tons of questions to answer in an eventual full course. Hindsight is a wonderful thing….)

Instead, I was scared witless of putting out an offer of any kind.

I messed around for a while asking my list to be beta testers for a free Elementor course I had in mind… basically to avoid having to ask for money.

I was afraid of what people would think of me if I did, and resisting at all costs opening myself up to what I considered would be inevitable rejection.

The fear was real.

Screenshot of the top of the landing page for the free Elementor course
Ladies and gentlemen: fear and procrastination in action 👆

I’m embarrassed to admit that, at the time—somewhere around the middle of 2017—I had a bit of a meltdown when I privately admitted these fears to a new group of friends I’d recently made in the WordPress community.

Thank you Dave Toomey, Paul Lacey, Lee Jackson and others who listened, and empathised... and then kicked my arse and told me to get on with it anyway.

I’ll be forever grateful for their support and encouragement. It was a major moment in my journey, fixing my faulty mindset and getting me unstuck.

#legends

Despite all my fears, there was however a kernel of reasonableness to my procrastination and delays... because I’d realised something significant about my ideal customers.

Through my interactions with people in Facebook groups and in the comments of my own YouTube videos, it’d become all too apparent that many non-coders considered Elementor to be some kind of magic bullet.

Indeed, the majority of designers I encountered weren’t sure where it factored into the wider WordPress eco-system.

In fact... some didn’t even realise it was a WordPress page builder plugin in the first place! They thought Elementor was WordPress.

Face palm.

I knew that in order for anyone to realise the true potential of Elementor, they’d first need to understand how WordPress works first.

And so, I decided to take a gamble and create my very first course about what I knew people needed, not what they told me they wanted.

I figured it’d be easy to put together—two weeks work, tops.

The Presale Method

But, before I so much as opened a fresh Google doc to start creating module one, I decided to run a presale.

This was a tip I’d picked up during my months of research into making and selling online courses.

On paper, pre-launching was pretty straightforward: I needed to create a rough indication of the possible course outline, then email my list to ask them if they wanted to pre-order the proposed course.

Mentally though, it was a whole different ball game.

I had so many money limiting beliefs about what my knowledge was worth... whether people would be willing to pay me... along with my fair share of, “Who the hell am I to think I can do this?” thoughts.

In the end, I nervously shared my presale with a selected just 50 of my then 2500-strong email list.

Yep - I wrote a personal email to every single one of them.

Example 👇👇👇

Screenshot of an email to a subscriber asking them to check out the course outline

If you’re interested—here’s the bare-bones presale page I hastily hacked together. (wow I look even more nervous than I remember at the time).

The presale page for a new course at the time
The bare bones presale page I sent out to approx 50 hand-selected subscribers. I felt sick.

Around 20% of them bought WordPress Demystified—the very first version of No Stress WordPress with an eye-rollingly awful name—for $197. Not a bad conversion rate! And a much needed $2000 or so in revenue. Phew.

The human touch beats automation, every time.

“Relationships are supposed to be meaningful, not efficient.”—Dr. Anna Machin, University of Oxford.

When I looked back on the fact that I sent 50 individual emails, I cringed a bit inside.

That is, until I remembered that the followers receiving those emails appreciated being communicated to as individuals.

I still remember one of my favourite bloggers—Shawn Blanc—sending me a gift in the post, a little iPhone stand. It was a thank you for supporting the new membership he was offering, in his early days of blogging full time. And that was nearly 10 years ago.

You might be tempted to try and automate the bejesus out of every process from the start—especially if you’re technologically-minded. But I highly encourage you to send personalised messages to spark real relationships and engagement, especially when you’re just starting out.

The human touch and connection beats automation, every time.

Ideas to consider:

  • Ask questions in your email nurture sequence to get to know your followers better, then read and respond to every email that you receive.
  • If you use subscriber surveys, choose a few respondents and reach out personally with a follow-up message.
  • As you begin enrolling students into your first course, send individual video messages with Bonjoro (people love this! I often say Bonjoro is my secret weapon), or even snail mail postcards via Touchnote or Thortful.

Thinking about creating and selling online courses?

Grab my Free Workbook

5 things to consider before you fire all your clients and start an online course business

Download it now >
PDF cover - 5 Things To Consider Before You Start An Online Course Business

Hofstadter's Law

Of course, it took me way longer to make No Stress WordPress 1.0 than I originally planned. 

The two weeks that I’d originally set aside clearly weren’t even nearly enough (durrrr).

In my enthusiasm to try to teach my students every single possible thing I could, it quickly became apparent I’d been rather over-optimistic about what I could achieve.

I soon realised I’d have to split everything I wanted to teach into not one, not two, not three, but four courses (yikes):

The Perfect Starter Site, The 10-Minute CSS Crash Course, DNS & Domains Demystified, and then No Stress WordPress itself.

Despite taking waaay longer than originally planned, the experience of making the course was superb. My founding members were a helpful, loyal group of paying beta testers, who were beyond generous with their feedback.

They shaped the quality and direction of the course way beyond anything I’d have done on my own. Their feedback even changed how I approached designing course curriculums and instilled in me the importance of practical application.

To convey my gratitude, I promised them all complimentary lifetime access to No Stress WordPress and any courses that I made in future. It's a promise I continue to keep to this day.

Don't do it.

You may be tempted to give away access to your course-in-progress for free, to attract beta testers.

Don’t do it.

Always have beta testers pay for access—of course, at a lower price than the final finished version.

Beta testers who pay have made a financial investment, they have ‘skin in the game’. This means they’ll be much more likely to take the course, be motivated and engaged, and provide quality feedback.

Free beta testers who have made no investment rarely participate, hardly ever get results, and therefore don’t give you the kind of feedback or raving testimonials you need.

Nothing to Lose

By the end of November, 2017, I had about half of the content made (remember my 2 weeks estimate? lolz...) and Christmas was fast approaching.

We were down to our last few quid, and fast approaching financial crunch-time.

And so, with Black Friday right around the corner, I decided I had nothing to lose—I’d launch No Stress WordPress: this time, as an actual product, not as a pre-sale.

Side-note: a bit cheeky selling a course that was only half finished? Maybe. But a) times were desperate, b) I really needed to feel a sense of momentum, and c) I was ultra-clear on the sales page that half the modules were made, with the remainder to come soon. Nobody minded. I’ve had no hesitation in selling not-started or unfinished courses with the same strategy many times since. 

I wrote a sales page (yep, the actual sales page), a bunch of emails, and threw together a very hasty lead magnet opt-in page, to try to drum up some interest with my email list.

A plan? Hardly!

Screenshot of lead magnet landing page - a free video
Very hastily thrown together lead magnet landing page to drum up some interest in my forthcoming first course launch.

I programmed the order form, with the amazing ThriveCart, which I still use and love to this day...

Automated the student onboarding in my email marketing software (Drip, at the time, I use ConvertKit now)...

And tested everything about five billion times.

Naively, I’d anticipated this jobs list would take a day—max.

I laugh about this now.

For the next three days I worked my arse off, pulling 18-hour days (which I do not recommend) to meet my own self-imposed deadline.  

The amount of sleep I got in those few days was akin to the amount the parent of a particularly fractious new-born gets.

And the worst thing was, I had zero idea whether it’d be worth it or not!

Especially when my straight-talking Aussie mate, James Rose, read the sales page and, with characteristic deadpan delivery, commented:

“You’re a typical developer who doesn’t know how to sell the fucking benefits!”

Cue a hasty re-write of large parts of the copy.

(Seriously, thank you James—I have no doubt your honesty made a huge difference to the eventual sales).

No Stress WordPress sales page, version 1, November 2017
The first No Stress WordPress sales page.

Thankfully, I need not have worried.

Shortly after I sent the first email, the first sale came in (thank you Christian Nelson, my friend). And then another. And another. And another.

Screenshot from ThriveCart of first few sales
The first sales coming in.

I don’t mind telling you... I cried like a baby.

I’m sure exhaustion had a part to play. But mainly I was just so bloody relieved that I’d created something that people really did want and saw value in.

When the cart closed seven days later, I’d welcomed over 100 new students into the program at $197, and banked just short of $20,000.

Life-changing.

Copy is king

Selling courses is both an art and a science. There’s a skill to writing sales copy.

Unless you’re an experienced copywriter, or marketing to a very warm community of people who already know you, love you and will invest in anything you put your name to... you’ll have to get to grips with writing captivating copy. Fast.

As a conservative suggestion, I’d recommend setting a full week aside just for writing copy. Maybe two if you’re a less confident writer.

Like anything, it’s a skill you can learn, but you gotta practice... and also accept that no-one's first attempts are masterpieces.

Thinking about creating and selling online courses?

Grab my Free Workbook

5 things to consider before you fire all your clients and start an online course business

Download it now >
PDF cover - 5 Things To Consider Before You Start An Online Course Business

Impact and Income

As my students began to implement what they were learning in No Stress WordPress, the feedback and testimonials began pouring in.

I’ve got to say, that excited me way more than a $20,000 pay day ever could.

Various Facebook comment testimonials
Early course feedback in the No Stress WordPress Facebook group

I was over the moon to be helping people. Only, I wasn’t just helping people. In many cases, what I was teaching was helping people transform their circumstances.

I was beyond thrilled to be making an impact in the lives of others, and it spurred me on to think about how many more people I could help, and other challenges I could help others overcome.

By February 2018, No Stress WordPress was finally complete (hello again, original 2 weeks estimate...)

With my sales page updated with dozens of new testimonials, I decided to launch once more.

Only this time, I was against the clock.

Anyone who teaches the tech will tell you that creating a course that teaches material based on someone else’s platform is somewhat of a risky game.

And right after Elementor announced the imminent release of version 2.0, I was receiving a first-hand masterclass in why.

Overnight, with the new changes coming in 2.0, dozens of my lessons could become obsolete.

I either had to act fast or accept that 15 months of hard work had all been for nothing.

I acted fast.

Video being my thing, I hastily put together a free webinar called:

5 Tips To Build Better Elementor Sites Faster

(See? Not an entire website… not 10 tips… just 5 simple tips… I was learning!)

Promo image for the Feb 2018 NSWP launch webinar
Promo image for the Feb 2018 NSWP launch webinar

I promoted it to my email list, plus posted about it in a few Facebook groups, like Elementor’s official group and GeneratePress’s.

1003 people registered (well over double my previous webinar which was 485). 301 of those (30%) showed up live.

Graph showing registrations for Feb 2018 webinar - from zero to 1003 in 5 days
Registration for the Feb 2018 webinar


After delivering pure value teaching for over 40 minutes, I delivered my (rather nervous and under-confident) pitch for No Stress WordPress, promoting the course for $297 (a $100 increase on its first full launch).

7 days later, 135 new students had enrolled and I’d banked just shy of $40,000 (double the last launch).

The perils of teaching tech

Creating courses that teach others how to use third-party platforms can be risky. Especially so if your style of teaching is the “watch-over-my-shoulder” approach that I prefer and students value so much.

Before you begin to create any course content to teach tech, consider the following questions:

  • Are there any pending updates that would render what you’re about to create obsolete in the 12 months?
  • Is there an evergreen and/or strategic component to what you’re about to teach?
  • How will you feel if you find yourself in a position where you either have to re-record all the ‘how to’ content, or start over again from scratch?

These scenarios are something you need to consider and factor into your plans.

I wasn’t prepared for the worst

One thing to mention before we move on:

During this event my webinar provider at the time—Demio—had a massive outage. Just as the webinar was about to start, everything died.

All attendees got locked out or couldn’t get in in the first place, and even I couldn’t access my webinar control panel to run the event.

Yes,of course, I had a backup plan. What kind of idiot wouldn’t have a backup plan?!

Errrrrm… that’d be me, actually.

No, I had no backup plan whatsoever.

My wife was manning the webinar chat at the time and also my email. My inbox flooded almost immediately with messages from attendees—some understanding of the situation, others… umm, less so.

In blind panic, I recorded and sent a harried video message to everyone who’d registered. I looked like I was about to cry (I was), apologising for the breakdown and promising to reschedule the event the next day on another platform.

I scrambled to find a new webinar provider (Zoom) and ran the webinar again the very next day. Rather than being annoyed, the vast majority of people said how much respect they had for how I’d remained calm and good humoured about the whole thing.

Phew.  

(You’ll discover later that I learnt well from this tough lesson: once bitten, twice shy).

No Fear Funnels

After my second launch, and with the pending release of Elementor 2.0 on the horizon, I decided it would be a good idea to think of ways to teach more than just the ‘tech how-to’.

I’d had numerous conversations about selling online with one of my mentors, Chris Moore, a seasoned marketing consultant who’d given so much of his time to me over the previous few months, and who I’m now lucky enough to call a good friend.

(Thank you, Chris, for taking me under your wing, giving so generously of your time, and your constant support and encouragement. 🙏)

Sparked by one his insights, I’d spied a new opportunity:

‘Non-marketer’ web designers.

Just like I had been once upon a time as a freelancer, I noticed that many web designers were increasingly being priced out of the market because all they ever did was sell websites. And like these web designers, I’d firmly viewed myself as a ‘non-marketer’ too.

Since then, I’d had 7 years of experience partnering with Gareth in our small web marketing agency. I’d also taken my own business, Design Build Web, to 6 figures in revenue in under a year, without any sleazy marketing tactics whatsoever.

So I knew I had heaps to teach my students about turning pretty brochure web builds into lead and sales-generating machines.

In March 2018, inspired by my mentor Chris Moore’s encouragement to just “sell the damn thing!” (yep Chris—message now received), I ran a presale for course idea #2.

Course idea #2 quickly became known by the far better name No Fear Funnels (here's that presale sales page).

No webinar, no advertising. Just a series of emails to my existing email list and a few mentions in some Facebook groups.

Priced at $197, I pre-sold 178 slots, made $35K, and, most importantly, validated my idea—quickly, and with no skirting the issue this time.

Revenue screenshot from No Fear Funnels presale

Then, and only then, did I start fully planning the lessons and recording the content.

Don't make a course and then sell it

Many people believe you have to have your course finished, locked and loaded before you can launch.

That couldn’t be further from the truth.

I’ve mentioned the importance of running presales a few times now. For new courses, it’s crucial that you plan a rough curriculum outline and sell your audience on what you intend to teach before you record a single lesson.

People will tell you, “Dude, I’ll definitely buy your course!” till the cows come home. They mean well. Sadly, this is not validation. It means nothing.

Having your audience get their credit cards out to pay in advance for your course is the only way to prove beyond doubt that there’s a market for your idea. You won’t waste a single second of time in producing planning, scripting, recording and editing lessons that might never be bought.

Never make a course before you’ve pre-sold it first. Promise?

Getting Out of My Own Way

With the first couple of modules of No Fear Funnels already made, I was already starting to think about how I could play a bigger game.

Up until this point I’d been doing pretty much everything myself.

Yet thinking back to everything I’d learned from Greg McKeown in Essentialism, I knew the importance of not getting distracted and staying in my own lane.

Plus, I’d read over and over again how important it is long-term to focus as much as possible on the tasks only you can do, and delegate the rest.

I began by hiring out one of the biggest bottlenecks in my business –– copywriting.

I met my copywriter, Hattie Brazeley, in a very roundabout way. Actually while looking for a new accountant.

I'd Googled “accountant for online entrepreneurs”, trying to be a bit more specific after several bad experiences with accountants previously.

Up popped a website for an accountant named Amy.

I couldn’t believe the impact her web copy had on me. I instantly felt like I was in the right place and spent the next 10 minutes furiously nodding my head in recognition of all the problems I’d faced in my business with previous accountants.

Naturally, I booked a call.

And while Amy turned out to be not quite right for my accountancy needs, I asked her if she could please connect me with her brilliant copywriter.

By the point we met, it turned out Hattie had already worked on dozens of multiple six and seven-figure course launches for a variety of clients in the online education space.

And not only was she a terrific writer, she was also a great course launch strategist.

What are the chances?!!

We began our work together with a three-hour ‘ideal client’ messaging session.

I’d always thought I had a pretty good handle on the people I served. But by the time I left that Zoom call, I already felt able to speak to my customers on a whole new level.

Within just a few days, Hattie had completely overhauled the No Stress WordPress sales page and sent it to me for review. I was blown away and in love with every word on the page.

Once we locked the sales page, Hattie was helping me brainstorm my next lead magnet and scripting my next webinar.

Suddenly, I didn’t feel so alone in content creation and sales anymore. It was such a relief to have someone else to share the heavy lifting. Most importantly, Hattie’s input freed me up to concentrate on the part of online education that I loved the most—the teaching.

Suffice to say, our working relationship has gone from strength to strength. She’s been behind the scenes supporting me with every launch since May 2018 and continues to be my right-hand today. I couldn’t be without her.

Invest in copy—cash or time

If you come across work you admire online, get in touch with the website owner and ask who wrote their copy.

Be willing to invest good money in copy. It's that important.

Be wary of copywriters working on a per word or per hour basis—chances are they are new, inexperienced, juggling dozens of clients to make ends meet, and they won’t treat your copy as if it were their own.

Always ask for work examples and references—any professional writer will be glad to connect you with past clients and share their portfolio with you.

The upshot: investing in good copywriting—whether that's investing your own time or investing money in a pro—will pay itself back many many times over, I promise.

Turning Down Great Opportunities

Let’s briefly rewind back a year or so to April 2017, a month or so after I’d started teaching online.

Incoming: a message from Ben Pines.

If you don’t know Ben, he’s Head of Content at Elementor and was the company’s Chief Marketing Officer at the time.

This was a BIG deal. All my teaching was based on Elementor, and Ben was a highly visible spokesperson and evangelist for the company.

Facebook message from Ben: 'Hi Dave, do you have a second'

My first thought?

“Shit. What have I done wrong?”

I mean, why else would the then-CMO of Elementor want a word?

What followed next was a genuine shock:

The guys at Elementor were so impressed with the YouTube videos I’d published so far, that they wanted to hire me to make regular tutorial content for them.

Message from Ben Pines asking Dave to create video content regularly for Elementor

Of course, I was incredibly flattered. And I thought about the offer a lot over the next few days.

I mean, what an opportunity—the chance to become the ‘face’ of Elementor’s content and tutorials to their growing audience?

In the end, though, I decided I had to turn the opportunity down.

In the spirit of what I’d learnt from reading Essentialism, I knew that I made less progress against my goals whenever I spread myself too thin.

My ambition was to make and sell my own online course. So every potential opportunity—even a great one—had to be assessed against whether it brought me closer to that goal or not.

Luckily I later had the chance to make some content for Elementor’s YouTube channel anyway (here’s an example), which got me and my teaching in front of a whole new audience. And judging by the comments on that video, it continues to do that job to this day.

In saying “yes” to these sort of ad-hoc guest teacher opportunities, I became visible to a new audience and grew my authority, while continuing to focus on building my own business.

Similarly, I was delighted to be asked in 2018 to be a guest speaker at the annual Teachable Summit, a virtual event attended by thousands of course creators (and wannabe course creators). I jumped on the chance to speak, a tremendous opportunity to spread my reputation as a course creator.

While I enjoyed it a great deal, I turned down the kind offer to have me speak again at the following year’s summit.

Why?

By that point I’d gone ‘all in’ with Thinkific, and since Teachable was not—and still isn’t—my recommended course platform of choice, I felt it would be disingenuous to appear on a panel promoting their product.

Yes, I’d turned down the opportunity to appear in front of tens of thousands of new potential followers. But morally, it felt like the right thing to do.

(And yes, I still highly recommend Thinkific as my course platform of choice).

Say no to most things

In saying yes to one opportunity, you’re almost certainly saying no to another.

Be clear about your vision and goals and always ensure the partner promotions you agree to are aligned with where you’re headed.

“The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.”

— Warren Buffett

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By October 2018, No Fear Funnels was around 85% complete and it was time to launch again (remember, a course doesn’t have to be 100% complete to launch?).

Only this time, with more of a team around me that I’d gathered over the last few months, I wouldn’t be doing it alone anymore.

With Perry and Larry Yu from High Converting Ads heading up paid traffic, the brilliant John Fraskos from Style Kits looking after design, and Hattie designing the funnel and handling all the messaging and copy, I was freed up to focus on creating an in-depth prelaunch video series and the live masterclass I planned to deliver.

Having a team to help also allowed me to experiment with adding more complex elements to the launch mix.

This time, I released an in-depth 4-part video series on building landing pages with Elementor.

That series featured a range of opt-in incentives to generate more leads: a special 5th video putting all the pieces together, a conversion optimisation cheatsheet, and importable pre-built Elementor landing page templates.

I also heavily promoted a live masterclass—5 Reasons Why Your Landing Pages Aren't Generating Leads (And How To Fix Them)

Promo graphic for webinar - 5 Reasons Why Your Landing Pages Aren't Generating Leads (and how to fix them)

This time with Facebook ads thrown into the mix, as well as my usual email list promotion and live appearances on podcasts and in Facebook groups.

This webinar was much more interactive than previous events.

My friend Kyle Van Deusen (from OGAL Web Design and the brilliant The Admin Bar Facebook group) gamely agreed to let me pull one of his live landing pages to pieces, live in front of a global audience.

(I’m still sorry we crashed your website, Kyle.)

1152 people registered for the masterclass with nearly 45% showing up live thanks to plenty of buzz, and a top-notch email sequence to encourage them to do so.

Once I’d finished teaching, I pitched No Fear Funnels for $347—a $150 increase on the previous launch (see the sales page I used at the time).

Promo graphic for the No Fear Funnels October 2018 launch

When the cart closed 5 days later, I’d welcomed 129 new students to the course, and made almost $40,000 in revenue.

Bootcamp betas FTW

When pre-selling a course, it’s crucial that you create a detailed and realistic plan for fulfilling your big sales promise.

In the past, whenever I’ve come up with a new idea, I’ve always been so keen to validate it with a pre-sale, that I haven’t spent enough time considering how long it would take to produce.

My tendency for perfectionism means it always winds up taking me way longer than I envisage to plan, script, record and edit each module. And while the majority of my students are patient, I’ve had to grovel a couple of times to appease others because of the wait.

The solution? Running bootcamp betas. More on this later on.

2019

Save for another quick 48 hour launch of No Fear Funnels in March 2019, the first eight months of 2019 were devoted to three things:

  1. Coaching my existing students,
  2. Collaborating on a course with Troy Dean from WP Elevation,
  3. And finishing making No Fear Funnels.

Impressed by the quality of my YouTube videos that he tells me encouraged him and his team to up their video game, Troy had reached out to me for the first time in 2018, and had since always been there to offer valuable advice, help and support.

Though we’d become pretty friendly and I’d been a guest on the WP Elevation podcast the year before, the collaboration opportunity with Troy had come somewhat out of the blue.

And when he asked if I’d be up for co-creating High Ticket Sales Funnels, I was in two minds because I still had to finish making No Fear Funnels (which was taking me ages—I’ve learnt many lessons since from this experience).

But co-creating a course with a legend like Troy was too big an opportunity to pass up. So, when he came to the U.K. to speak at a conference I was also speaking at, we met up in London to film all the lessons and video-based marketing assets... as well as have a good old laugh and chinwag over a few pints in the pub.

Photo collage of making High Ticket Sales Funnels

It’s almost impossible to quantify what I learnt from spending time with someone as experienced in the online teaching space as Troy. In fact, what I learnt from him during the week together in early 2019 still impacts my business today.

Step Away From The Screens

3 days later, Troy and I were both heading off on a train to sunny Wellingborough in Northamptonshire where we were both speaking at Lee Jackson’s Agency Transformation Live event.

And what a transformational experience that was too (twice in the space of a week)!

Dave speaking on stage
Speaking at Agency Transformation Live 2019

I hadn’t attended many conferences like this before, let alone been a speaker at them.

Why?

Two reasons really.

One, I honestly used to think that taking up 2 days of my week to attend a conference was a waste of time, time that could be spent doing more productive things.

And two, I can’t lie: fear, insecurity and imposter syndrome played a big part too. Who am I to be mingling with all these expert and knowledgeable and probably all-round better human beings than me?

My talk seemed to go down really well, and it certainly made me realise I should do more public speaking in future.

But better still, the entire event made me realise the crucial importance of getting away from the screen and meeting people in real life.

Over 2 days I had the chance to spend time with all kinds of people I only knew from online communities up to now, as well as several of my students.

I learnt an enormous amount, strengthened relationships, established new partnerships, and got to know my students better. It felt like a life-changing experience and lesson.

Dave in a group photo with Paul Lacey, Pete Everitt, Lee Jackson, Mike Killen and Dave Toomey
Some of the best and most supportive friends I've made on this journey. Dave Toomey (next to me) is the guy who kicked my arse back in 2017 to sell a course.
Dave in a selfie with Troy Dean and Lee Jackson
Legends: Troy Dean and Lee Jackson. And me.
Dave in a selfie with Imogen Allen and Adrian Bold
Imogen and Adrian were among my very first students. Great to meet IRL.

Real humans

It’s sometimes easy to forget that your heroes, your peers, your audience, and your customers, are all real human beings. Human beings with the same hopes and dreams and fears as you.

And while I too spend most of my time communicating with people online, I cannot stress enough the value of taking opportunities to meet people in real life where you can, at conferences, events and meet-ups (except in pandemics, obvs).

The conferences I’ve been to and the real-life meet-ups I’ve had with my students have been some of the most valuable and impactful experiences I’ve ever had.

No Stress WordPress — The Remake

Dave in a group photo with a group of his students
A No Stress WordPress student meet-up—Deventer, Netherlands, 2019

About a month later, High Ticket Sales Funnels launched and was really well received by my audience and the WP Elevation community. Given it was a collaboration I won’t share specific stats relating to this launch, but suffice to say it was, and continues to be, a profitable joint venture.

As summer gave way to Autumn, we were gearing up to launch the freshly remade No Stress WordPress 2.0.

Taking my own pre-launch advice, I’d already tested the waters a few months previous, to see if there was still active interest in the course. To do this, we ran a short 48-hour low-key pre-sale to people who’d joined the waiting list.

The fact that that under-the-radar pre-sale resulted in nearly $32,000 of sales was all the encouragement I’d needed to remake the course and bring it bang up to date.

Although I originally planned to do something quite simple, I eventually bit the bullet and decided to go all out with the hope of hitting a milestone we’d privately been chasing for some time: a six-figure launch.

Unlike previous launches, this time I reached out to a bunch of friends and actively asked them to promote the course as affiliates, in exchange for a commission.

We created a simple affiliate info page with all the key information, dates, suggested swipe copy for emails and social posts as well.

Screenshot of top of affiliate partner pack page
Affiliate info page

And to make it as easy to support the launch as possible, I asked affiliates to concentrate only on publicising the free live masterclass where I’d officially open the cart. They’d still get commission on eventual sales, of course, thanks to the wonder of ThriveCart.

On top of that, we embedded another urgency driver into the launch—the chance to receive a full refund if you invested in No Stress WordPress during the live masterclass.

Hattie had used this tactic in launches with previous clients. As soon as she pointed out that it would give me the perfect opportunity to talk about No Stress WordPress right from the beginning of the free live class, I was sold. I mean... no awkward segue from teaching to selling? I'm in.

Things had stepped up a gear since previous launches. I had a team!

With Hattie producing the copy for landing pages, sales page, thank you pages, affiliate swipe, emails, social posts….

Liaising with Perry over the copy for Facebook ads…

Perry controlling the paid traffic…

Vicky handling customer support and incoming questions...

And my tech VA, Claire, concentrating on all the automation and integrations…

I could focus on producing a top-notch masterclass, and getting the word out.

That meant co-hosting partner livestreams, guesting on several podcasts that would drop during launch week, as well as making sure everyone in my community knew that I was about to open the cart… and for the first time, even making a fancy little Facebook ad video...!

Something else we decided to do a little differently during this launch was to run a private 24-hour pre-launch, exclusively for anyone signed up to the No Stress WordPress waitlist only.

Having listened to my team and my students saying the course was worth waaaaay more than I charge for it, I’d finally decided to increase the investment by $100, making the new price $497.

But, encouraged by Hattie, I decided to give the 647 people hanging out on the waitlist a 24-hour long opportunity to get in at the old price.

Truthfully, I felt a bit bad. By this point, I hadn’t opened enrolment in what seemed like forever. Many of the people on that list had been waiting patiently for over a year by that point, so it felt like the right thing to do.

Plus, it would create some buzz for the launch proper, because new people would already be talking about the fact they’d joined.

We sent a quick email on the Friday before the cart opened, announcing that No Stress WordPress 2.0 would be open for 24 hours at the old price the following Monday, ahead of the live masterclass the next day.

Not knowing how many people on the waitlist would even still be interested, I estimated we’d get around 15-20 sales.

As it turned out, 48 people jumped in... giving the launch a $20,000 head start! 🚀

Always have a backup

The next day, actual launch day, I experienced what was probably one of the worst technical shitshows of my entire life.

2352 people (gulp) were registered for my free live masterclass. And thanks to a heap of buzz and a few great nurture emails, over 1200 showed up live to hear me teach.

I’d gone live a few moments early to welcome people in, loosen up, and get a feel for the audience. Everything was going great. Smooth, in fact! Confidence was high.

But as more and more people poured into the masterclass... everything went badly wrong.

The sound started getting choppy. I froze on the screen, and all I could do was look at the chat box whizzing by with comments like “uh oh!” and "I think we’ve lost him!”

Oh fuck, I thought.

Thankfully, having learnt from a similar disaster back in February 2018 (remember?), this time we had a backup plan—a Zoom webinar already locked and loaded and ready to roll.

We quickly sent a email out with the alternative live link—yep, that email was already written and ready to send too.

Once bitten, etc...

Around 1000 of the 1200 original attendees followed me over to Zoom on the live call, and, despite having had my confidence knocked a bit, I delivered what I now look back on as my best live masterclass to date.

(The moral of this story? Yep—always have a backup.)

As I segued into my pitch for No Stress WordPress 2.0, sales started flying in with people hoping to be in with a chance of winning that full refund that I’d promised for one lucky winner on the opt-in page.

By the time the masterclass wrapped up an hour later, 44 people had already enrolled in No Stress WordPress 2.0.

And when the cart closed at 8am UK time the following Tuesday, we’d well and truly smashed our six-figure goal!

249 new students, generating $127,844 in revenue in 5 days.

Be bold

If you already have a few launches under your belt, it’s easy to default to the strategies that you usually use. However, in doing what you’ve always done, you’ll likely only get what you’ve always got.

Never be afraid to ask for help and try different strategies, especially if you’re looking to hit a stretch goal. I don’t believe there’s a “right” way to do anything, but you only know for sure what will work by being unafraid to experiment.

Taking Stock

The Christmas of 2019, I took an extended period of time off to be with my family. I ate a lot of meat and cheese, and regrouped.

Life was great... but having some time off allowed an idea that'd been niggling at me for ages to rise to the surface.

Here was where my head was at:

I love teaching tech online—pretty much every aspect of it.

I love the tech involved—who doesn't love nerding out over apps, cameras, gear, right? 🤓...

Designing curriculums, creating courses and supporting students...

The freedom this business model provides...

The income which allows me to confidently provide for my family....

But most of all (by a long long way) I love how teaching itself is such an enormously positive force.

I love how teachers have the privilege of making a deep and meaningful impact on other people's lives.

And I love how me helping others to achieve what they want helps them fulfil their true potential...

...which in return brings meaning and fulfilment to my own life, in spades.

As Zig Ziglar famously said:

"You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want."

This idea wouldn't let me go. But I wasn't sure what it really meant.

I had a few conversations with my eternally supportive partner, Vicky, about it.

Besides knowing me better than anyone, she’s also a coach, making her the perfect person to chat these things through with.

She pointed out what had been staring me in the face all along:

“It’s obvious. If you want to make a bigger impact, you need to teach people how to teach and do what you’ve done.”

To say a lightbulb went off at that moment would be an understatement.

In reality, that light bulb had been blinking on and off for a few years, but every time the idea of teaching people how to teach popped into my brain, I’d shut it down.

I mean—I already love what I do!

But something about this time was different. And in 2020, I was going to do something about it.

New beginnings

Whenever we begin new projects, it’s natural to ask ourselves whether we’ve come up with a new or novel enough idea.

There are thousands of people out there teaching others how to create and sell online courses—you can probably think of half a dozen people right now without even thinking.

I told myself this back in December 2019, and I’m telling you now:

The fact that other people are out there creating and selling courses on a similar topic proves that there’s a market for the problem I want to solve.

And we all bring a unique perspective!

For one, none of them are teaching introvert digital consultants and freelancers how to create and sell tech-focused courses specifically. #niche

But more importantly, I'm all too aware of the obstacles I encountered on the journey:

Mindset issues... fear... imposter syndrome... issues related to being an introvert... and a solid distaste for the brash in-your-face sales and marketing tactics that I previously thought was mandatory to be successful.

Urgh.

In fact, it was because of these reasons that I nearly gave up so many times.

And I 100% know that there are many others out there who will feel the same way and that I can help.

Audience research

I was lucky enough to be invited to speak on a topic of my choosing at Lee Jackson’s 2020 virtual event, Agency Transformation Live. Knowing that I intended to pivot my business, I centred my talk on how courses could benefit agency owners and their businesses.

This started a conversation. I asked—and received—lots of feedback. I arranged dozens of no-pitch calls with aspiring course creators on the topic. And I asked my email list to ask me anything about making and selling online courses, and then hosted a pitch-free webinar answering every question that was submitted.

All this provided a wealth of valuable info on what my target audience are struggling with and where I can potentially help.

Today

I feel beyond privileged to be earning a great living by doing the thing I love most in world—teaching.

When I look back at where I was three years ago, I can hardly believe the business and life I’ve carved out for myself.

I’m truly grateful to my community and students, many of whom have become incredible friends along the way.

If you’ve made it this far, by now you know that you and I aren’t all that different.

It really was just a few years ago that I was slogging through client projects I didn’t always believe in, and searching for greater meaning.

And I know that if I can experience this kind of fulfilment and success through teaching tech online, there’s no reason why YOU can’t too.

Thanks for reading.

Thinking about creating and selling online courses?

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5 things to consider before you fire all your clients and start an online course business

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