Grow Your Business

How we turned a failed product business into a $34,000/month service business

I remember our first attempt at monetization clearly.

It was May 2016, seven months after we had started our content marketing business Grow and Convert. I called my business partner Devesh because I was having a nervous breakdown.

I was having an episode of imposter syndrome and didn’t know if we were going to be able to pull off our first product launch. I voiced to Devesh:

“What if this doesn’t work?”
“What if no one wants our product?”
“What if it all fails?”

This first product, a phone course, was an attempt at validating something larger: our vision of building a high-end online content marketing course.

Why the focus on building an online course? We thought an online course would be the best way to fill this market gap, because we were convinced — at the time — that a service business would be too hard to execute and too time consuming, and a software business would take too long to reach meaningful revenues.

We saw others making six figures or more in a few launches with “online courses,” so we thought that could easily be us. But boy were we wrong. And we weren’t just wrong once. We failed building three different training products over our first year and a half in business.

Now, however, we book $34,000 a month in monthly recurring revenue with a service business. We don’t quite have the “easy” lifestyle business that the online course world often boasts: we have something better. A business and a product that actually solves a real problem.

But it only happened after we stopped building products that we thought the market wanted (like that phone course) and instead listened to what our audience was telling us — they wanted us to provide a service.

This is the story about how Devesh and I went from dreaming about a business, to actually having one.

Illustration by Tara Jacoby.

Illustration by Tara Jacoby.

The path to $34k/month

Four months before that call, I quit my full-time job as Director of Growth at a VC-backed startup in San Francisco and moved to Bali. At the time, my then side-project Grow and Convert was nothing more than a content marketing blog that had grown a mini-following thanks to the in-depth case studies we wrote on how we grew businesses with content marketing.

By “mini-following,” I mean our blog had only 4,300 unique monthly visitors when I decided to make the leap.

January traffic stats

Our traffic when I decided to work on Grow and Convert full time.

I started the blog with my partner Devesh Khanal in November 2015. Back then I was writing and promoting Grow and Convert blog posts on the nights and weekends when I wasn’t at my full-time job. Devesh was running a successful conversion rate optimization (CRO) agency called GrowthRock and somehow I convinced him to start a new business with me — even though we had only met once in person, and it was through an argument at a marketing dinner.

The argument? Whether content marketing could drive leads for his agency. He was writing content consistently but not getting any leads and he was convinced that he would never get in front of high-level executives and bring in those $3,000 – $7,000 monthly deals.

I remember telling him, “Content marketing definitely works to attract executives and bring in large deals. I know because I just left a company where I did just that.”

After trying to convince him, I told him that I was also thinking about quitting my job to travel, and that I wanted to write a book on content marketing. Or something. I was burned out, in a job that I hated, and was ready to head out on my own.

He responded, “If you can really grow traffic and generate leads for companies, why don’t you prove it by starting a blog and doing it for yourself.”

I countered. “That’s a great idea. Why don’t you do it with me?”

I pitched him, “We have opposite skill sets. You know how to convert site traffic to paying customers and measure ROI, and I know content strategy and how to grow traffic. Between the both of us, we could write how to solve the content marketing challenge for other businesses.”

It took a little convincing as he expressed concern that he already had another business, and this would take time away from it. But nonetheless, he relented a couple weeks later and we started our site, Grow and Convert.

We launched in November 2015 with a live challenge. We publicly set a goal to grow our site to 40,000 monthly unique visitors in six months. We wanted to prove that we knew what we were doing.

But after a couple of months working on this project on the side, it became clear that if we were going to hit our goal of 40,000 monthly visitors, I needed to go all-in. So I decided to quit my job and move to Bali with only $10,000 in savings, and about five months of runway, to take a crack at turning this audience-first business into a real one. Grow and Convert was my full-time job now.

Monetization attempt #1: The phone course

Back to the beginning of the story. May 2016 (seven months after we started and three months after going full time), I was slowly running out of money.

Meanwhile, Devesh was also growing frustrated with having worked on Grow and Convert for seven months, with no money to show for it. It was taking away from time he could have spent on his main agency.

It was time to start monetizing.

We decided to pivot away from our goal of going after 40,000 monthly unique visitors. The goal was more of an ego thing and we both felt like we were close enough to the goal to have proven that we knew what we were doing.

It was really tough to write the post that told our fans we were no longer going to hit the goal we set publicly, but we decided to do it anyways and launch our first attempt at monetization at the same time.

Our first try at monetization was a phone course that consisted of bi-weekly calls over an eight-week period where we taught our content marketing system. The long-term vision at this point was to build an online course. Why? Because we were trying to build a lifestyle business. The idea of a course that you make once and sell over and over again sounded nice.

Remember: I had just come from working 10-12–hour long stressful days at a startup in San Francisco. I was looking for the easiest way to make a lot of money doing what I loved.

Here was the page we launched with:

Screen Shot 2017 08 17 at 9.13.44 PM

Our launch plan was a simple test-and-adjust system to “ensure” we didn’t fail.

First, we took the top 10% most engaged subscribers on our list and pitched them on the course at a price of $750.

Screen Shot 2017 09 14 at 2.01.44 PM

Screen Shot 2017 09 14 at 2.01.55 PM

Summary Report for Course Validation  3   MailChimp

The course contained four modules and pre-work that people had to complete. And after personally emailing our top 185 subscribers, we landed nine customers.

Woo hoo! Our first success: $6,750 in revenue.

Now that we validated we could make money with our site, we felt fairly confident that we had a business. Little did we know this confidence was a bit premature.

Over eight weeks, we worked with these companies to teach them our content marketing process. We enjoyed the experience, but slowly the “phone” in “phone course” began burning us out.

I was in Bali (GMT +8) and Devesh was in San Jose (GMT -8). But our customers were all over the world, so we coordinated phone calls across eight time zones. I was waking up at 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. in the morning to take calls, and we were exhausted.

The email we sent to each phone course customer.

The email we sent to each phone course customer.

But, the goal was never to scale this phone course. It was to get feedback.

So after the course was completed, we excitedly asked every customer what they thought.

Frustratingly, we had multiple customers tell us that they had just bought the course because they wanted to talk to us on the phone and $750 seemed like a great price for four phone calls. In other words, they felt the price “was a no-brainer.” Not because of the content of the course, but because of the custom advice we gave them on these private calls.

This was demoralizing. Obviously we couldn’t sell hundreds of these courses if they all involved four hour phone calls. We decided the validation of this course based on this initial phone course failed, and it was back to the drawing board.

Illustration by Tara Jacoby.

Illustration by Tara Jacoby.

Monetization attempt #2: The workshop

I returned to the U.S. in September 2016. We then embarked on our second monetization idea: a content marketing workshop.

The thinking behind it was: “Since people want our time, what better way to give it to them than at an in-person workshop?” We could spend a full day with them and teach them our content marketing process. They get even more time with us, which is what they seemed to want based on the feedback we got so far.

We were obviously going to charge more for the in-person workshop, so we enlisted the help of a design team in Croatia that I had worked with previously to design a professional landing page for it. Devesh and I wrote the copy for it (read it here if you’re curious) and made an announcement to our list.

Grow and Convert Live  A ROI Driven Content Marketing Workshop

We decided to launch the workshop in San Francisco because I had a lot of connections in the SF area and Devesh was living in San Jose.

We chose a date for the workshop, located an event space, and targeted 20 ticket sales for the workshop. The tickets were $1,500 a piece, and we projected $30,000 in revenue.

To launch it, we emailed our list about the workshop. I also used LinkedIn to find 100 content marketers in San Francisco and wrote cold emails to them. And we then tested Facebook ads targeted at content marketers and CMOs.

Screen Shot 2017 09 14 at 2.14.34 PM

Three weeks before the workshop, we only had three signups. Again, we were disappointed. But instead of canceling, we decided that we would change the format and do 1-on-1 consultations with the companies that had signed up. We felt like the value was higher to switch the model and we reached out to the three companies that had signed up to ask them if they’d be okay with a switch in format. They said “yes.”

With our new format, we came into the customer’s office for a private workshops for a full day and work with their marketing team on auditing and rebuilding their content strategy. All three workshops went well, and we got great feedback.

But after going through it three times, we thought $1,500 was really low for an in-person workshop, so we figured there was room to charge a lot more. If we charged several thousand and did a few every month, we’d have a nice little business.

The challenge: How do we get more of them?

We continued doing cold outreach to companies in San Francisco and ended up landing two more in SF. While talking to someone on my email list, I also ended up closing a workshop in LA.

Benji presenting to the MomentFeed team in LA. La Croix is essential for any content marketing strategy.

Benji presenting to the MomentFeed team in LA. La Croix is essential for any content marketing strategy.

However, we were slowly noticing an issue… not a ton of people were biting on this format. We weren’t sure that there was enough demand.

The most we were able to charge for a workshop was $3,000, so to make this a viable business model, we needed to be doing three to four of these workshops each week, and at the time, we were doing between one and two each month.

Back to the drawing board.

Monetization attempt #3: The online course

Let’s recap:

  • We tried the phone course and people gave us feedback that they signed up because they wanted personal time with us.
  • We tried the workshop because people wanted our personal time, but there wasn’t enough demand and it didn’t scale well.

Our end goal was still to create an online course because it was scalable and we thought there was more demand for it, so we decided to just start building one.

We had validated our course material in two separate formats, and our customers were giving us nothing but positive feedback. We even had clients throwing around terms like “I’d give you an NPS score of 10/10.”

We were confident that we were onto something, but we just hadn’t found the right way to package our training into a product. This time, we didn’t need to validate our offering before launching, because we had already proven that we could sell training productized services to our list in the form of a phone course and a workshop.

The plan was to base our online course around our proven content marketing process and launch it to our list that was now 5,000 people.

By now, it was January 2017. I was splitting time between living with my mom in San Diego and Devesh’s house in Northern California while we worked on building the online course.

I remember it was towards the end of February and I was in Devesh’s office editing video when I just watched one of the videos and thought to myself, “This is horrible.” We kept rambling in the video and it just wasn’t good.

At this point we were on the last legs of finishing the course. We had already filmed five modules when we decided to scrap the whole thing and start over.

I called Devesh into the room to watch one of the videos and told him that there was no way we could put the course out in the current state. After watching it, he agreed… and nearly lost it.

After putting two months of work into something, we were both incredibly frustrated and about to give up on the whole idea. We decided, after much reflection, that the best way to move forward was to create slides of every module and refilm it. This way, the material would be more structured and easier to follow than our rambling videos.

We already had all of the material outlined at this point and it wasn’t that much more work to create slides of the material and refilm it. We also knew what we had gotten wrong the first time, and we estimated it would take about a month to complete.

When I wasn’t in San Jose working on the course, we were working on the launch materials for the course, the sales page, the emails, etc. We were talking to people like Bryan Harris and Brian Dean to get launch pointers.

After we completed the final round of filming and editing, we were super happy with the result. It felt like we had created the best content marketing course, by far, on the market, and it was going to be a huge success.

Screenshots CFC Module3 0 20 in video

Our goal was pretty conservative: 40 sales. With our 5,000-person list, that was less than 1% conversion rate. I remember planning my next moves: moving out of my mom’s house, buying a car, and resettling back in San Diego — I thought this was going to be a home run.

On the Monday of launch week, I got the opportunity to do a fireside chat at Google teaching people how I had grown the ThinkApps blog to 35,000 unique monthly visitors in six months. At the end of the presentation, I pitched the course to my 150-person audience. The talk went great, I had tons of people come up to me and ask me questions, and saying they were interested in the product.

I remember going back to my friend’s house in San Francisco, logging onto the computer and thinking we’d have a ton of sales. But when I logged into the backend of the sales page … we only had one.

ONE.

Devesh was stressing but I was still really confident in our course sales, as everyone we had talked to said a majority of sales came at the end of your launch week.

By Friday (the last day), we had booked only $9,000 in revenue. $31,000 short of our goal.

We were crushed.

We couldn’t figure out why it had failed so badly and both of us were about to throw in the towel.

It had been 16 months of working at making this a legitimate business and we were both running out of patience, and I was running out of cash.

I remember calling Devesh, and him saying that he couldn’t afford to work on this anymore. He was sacrificing revenue for his core business, he had already lost customers and he needed to fill the pipeline. He hadn’t been focusing on sales for the last six months because he was so focused on Grow and Convert.

Illustration by Tara Jacoby.

Illustration by Tara Jacoby.

He told me, “You can just buy me out for my stake in the company… I don’t think I can work on this anymore.” But I tried to convince him that we were still onto something. Even though I didn’t know what that was at the time.

In a year, we grew our site to 100,000 readers, we built an audience of 5,000 email subscribers, and we were featured in Entrepreneur, Problogger, and The Huffington Post. There was no way we could’ve accomplished that if people didn’t truly love what we had started.

I told Devesh not to give up yet, we would figure it out. I told him to take some time and not to worry about Grow and Convert. “Just focus on GrowthRock,” I said. “I’ll continue publishing and running the site.”

About a week later, Devesh called me. “Benji, I have kind of a crazy idea.”

Monetization attempt #4: The service business

“What if we offered a content marketing service?” he said.

“Are you crazy?” I responded. “You already have an agency that you’re stressed out about, you’re telling me you want to do another one?”

It was also antithetical to the very reason we started the business in the first place. We wanted that passive income. To make six figures on a launch.

When the course launch had failed, we tried to figure out what went wrong. We talked to customers who purchased the course, people who had clicked through to the sales page and didn’t purchase, and people who had taken our original phone course.

Everyone had a common sentiment: “Your sales page didn’t feel like it was for me.”

We couldn’t figure out what they had meant by that, but upon deeper conversations with a customer of ours, who had taken our phone course and seen our new sales page, he dissected exactly where we went wrong.

“Your sales page felt like it was for a business, not me,” the customer said.

He pointed out that the messaging spoke to the value a business would get from our course: “Get higher ROI from your content marketing” instead of the value a marketer would get from the course: “Become a top 1% content marketer.”

customers from content course

That’s when we had our big aha moment.

Remember when I said we didn’t do research because we “knew” our customers from our workshop and phone course?

Big mistake.

The audience that wanted to purchase our course was freelancers, marketers inside of companies, and people that wanted to start their own site and build an audience for a side business, like we had.

The target market for the workshop, though, was CMOs and VPs of marketing at fast growth venture-backed startups who hired us to improve their bottom line when it came to their content marketing channel. Those were different audiences.

The individuals on our list wanted a course just like we had created — that’s what many of them told us in our follow up conversations, but we positioned the entire product as helping the company, not the individual. We made the classic mistake of building the right product and positioning it to the wrong audience.

After having that realization, I remembered responding to emails from launch week and handling our chat on our sales page, and noticing a trend in the questions I received from businesses.

contentmarketingservice

Actual email responses about our course launch. Notice the subject line.

Actual email responses about our course launch. Notice the subject line.

“This course looks great, but do you have a service?” That was the common theme from the managers and founders inside businesses. Unlike individuals who were looking to buy a course to improve their skill set and career, the founders, startup CEOs, and manager-level folks just wanted to pay to have us solve this problem, they didn’t want courses or training.

It was right under our nose the entire time.

This was something that people had been asking for from the beginning of G&C. We just ignored it because both of us, from the beginning, were dead set on not starting another agency. We wanted to build a product company, not a service company.

But now having found this trend, Devesh came to me asking me if we should give one last shot at Grow and Convert with an agency.

“Hear me out,” he said. “What if we just create a simple landing page describing a content marketing service and see if people will buy it? The price would have to be high enough so that it would be worth it, but if people paid that, it would solve both of our problems. You would have income, and I could start focusing more time on Grow and Convert.”

So that’s what we did.

We sold our first two deals at $6k each with a landing page that we created in Google Docs.

We sold our first two deals at $6k each with a landing page that we created in Google Docs.

We created a simple landing page sharing the details of our new $6,000 service (now $7,000), and a month after our course launch, we launched the new service to our list. We wrote a post to accompany the announcement, sharing the details of our failed course launch and introducing our new service.

Within two weeks, we closed our first two clients and we now had a six-figure ($12K Monthly Recurring Revenue or “MRR”) service business — something that we had never intended at the beginning. In fact, we tried to actively avoid it. During the next month and a half, we managed to generate 29 leads for our service and ended up closing our first three clients.

This is what a product/market fit feels like.

Four months after launching our service, we now have a team of five writers, two account managers and $34,000 in monthly revenue. Our focus is now on continuing to scale this business.

The big lesson for us: we were trying to force a product on the market because we were selfish and we wanted to be a product company. The market kept telling us that it’s not what they wanted but we never listened.

People had been telling us that they had wanted us to offer services all along, but we never gave in until we almost lost the business. Had we only listened to what the market was telling us earlier, it wouldn’t have taken us 1.5 years total and four pivots to figure out how to turn our skills into a stable, profitable business.

Pivoting to a service business model was the best decision we ever made. Our reservations about a service business stemmed from us thinking it would be a ton of work, we’d be location dependent and that we’d never be able to remove ourselves from the day-to-day operations.

However, because we knew what we wanted from our business, we built our agency so that those reservations never became issue.

We started hiring employees in month one, so the business wasn’t reliant on us. We used our online course to help train our employees and now both of our account managers I’d argue are as good, if not better than Devesh and I, at content marketing.

We also decided that our agency would be fully remote. Many agency owners told us that it wouldn’t be possible, but Devesh and I run the business from different cities, and our employees are located across the U.S., and one is even living in Medellin, Colombia.

Now we have a lot of what we wanted from a product business, but in a service business model. We have a growing business, the lifestyle we wanted, and endless amounts of opportunity.

Better late than never.

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There Are 31 Comments

Join The Conversation

Hi Benji, what a great read. Appreciate the honesty. I totally understand what it feels like to invest in creating something for an audience and wonder why they don’t follow through, when the reality is they simply want you to do it.

Cheers
Ed

Glad you enjoyed it. Yeah, we’re big on transparency. I feel as though a lot of businesses sugarcoat how hard it actually was to achieve results. Starting a business isn’t easy.

Yeah, that was a big learning for us though. I’ve had a lot of friends share similar stories of courses flopping or there not being enough demand for their product – I’ve given similar advice now, test out a service… you can command way higher prices for a service than you can for a product.

Also, it depends who you sell to. Individuals want to learn how to do it themselves because most don’t have the money to spend on someone to do it for them. Businesses would rather just pay for quality and to have it done well. It’s something to think about as you think about how to monetize.

Hi Benji, awesome post. I am just curious on how you are going to scale this. I know your content will be kept on generating leads but what you are going to do differently with new leads which you are not doing with existing leads or it’ll be a rinse and repeat cycle as you are doing at the moment.

Hi Jaideep, I’m a little confused by your question. We’ve noticed a correlation between everytime we post and generating new leads. Typically when we post a new case study we get between 1-5 leads – so we need to keep publishing new content to scale our volume on the leads side.

Our biggest challenge right now has nothing to do with lead volume, but more making sure we have our operations in place to be able to deliver on more clients. We’ve been hiring ahead of our growth to make sure we have enough people to handle clients, so the biggest thing we’ll be doing is continuing to hire new people.

Heck yeah Benji. Love the way you told the story and glad you guys pulled through. One of the big takeaways I get from this is to listen to your customers, but with much more depth than you’d ever expect. It’s one thing to listen and say you get it, but another to listen, test, see if you heard/understood them correctly, question your assumptions, keep testing, keep digging deeper. Thanks for sharing. The details helped me understand the underlying principles behind customer feedback better.

Hey Rob, glad you enjoyed it.

Yeah, that’s a good distinction. We always listened to our customers – we had a ton of feedback loops set up on our site to capture feedback from our fans, we’d constantly have phone calls with our target buyer and we’d meet directly with companies. However, when they asked us for services, we were just against the idea. At the time, we didn’t think it was possible for us to execute on and it wasn’t what we wanted.

That being said, when we realized how many people had asked us for a service and everything else that we had tried failed, we came around to the idea.

Hi Benji!
I could feel your pains and almost the despairing situation of your partner.

Methinks, right from onset your instinct nagged you about going the way of a service format but you were dodging it because of the extra work that this would require.

Quoting you…
“Our reservations about a service business stemmed from us thinking it would be a ton of work, we’d be location dependent and that we’d never be able to remove ourselves from the day-to-day operations.”

For instance, the mindset of many aspiring online business owners is the no-staff thinking.
The one-sided desire is that you (as the promoter of the idea) with all the tools of technology could bring in all the money with ease and possibly scale it, while you are somewhere else having your cappuccino on a remote island.
This would work for some online businesses.
But not for all. And we should be guided by that.

Now, going by your very transparent and courageous article, some businesses even while online, would still have to bring in some features from the classical brick and mortar model.
I mean going about all the gamut of recruitment of staffs and their Managment.
Providing other resources to handle growth.
From what I can see, your business may not be lean after-all.
.As somebody has rightly pointed out earlier, if you desire to scale which I am sure your would want, the next phase in this project would include HOW TO MANAGE THE WORFORCE even if they are remote and taking care of other things.

Of course, you may choose to do a bit of de-marketing and charge a much higher price if the demand overwhelms you and you your team….over time.
And again, there is always a limit to the number of team members you can bring in and manage.
It all depends…
Best of luck.
M.O.

Thanks for the comment. Yes, we did feel like the service business would be a lot of work and we were also afraid of getting into a situation where it would require us to do all the work for clients.

There’s a big difference between people who freelance (get clients and do the work themselves) and run a business (get clients and have employees who help on the execution side). We definitely wanted the latter.

Hiring ahead of our growth helped prepare us for the fast growth and it’s something we’re always thinking about – how can we bring in the best people and hire ahead of needing someone?

We’ve figured out how to consistently drive in these high value leads – our challenge now lies in operations and making sure we can keep the same quality bar across all of our clients as we grow.

Hi Benji,
I was your following your initial case study on the G&C blog for the first couple of months. I really loved those updates and now it’s interesting to read what was going on behind the scenes at that time.

One question. You say: “This is what a product/market fit feels like.”

What made it feel like you figured it out. Your expectations vs reality? The number of leads? Number of leads you were able to close? Response from your audience?

Reason I ask is that I’ve been experimenting with different offerings and products as well but haven’t had the “this is it” feeling. I know when it doesn’t work, but most efforts land somewhere in between: people buy, but not a lot.

Thanks!
Dennis

Great question. There are all different survey mechanisms to see if you’ve achieved product/market fit, however, we don’t have enough customers to get statistically valid results to measure.

In short, the answer is that we don’t have a problem generating leads or getting customers. Our biggest challenge at the moment is making sure we have sound operations and that we can deliver our process across all of our clients. We’ve been having to delay start dates with new clients so that we don’t grow too quickly and sacrifice quality for anyone.

The number of leads generated is definitely a great indicator. In our first 1.5 months after launching the service, we generated 29 qualified leads – qualified meaning that they saw the price on our website, wrote about the challenges they were having in content marketing, and decided to reach out to inquire about services. That was more demand for a product that we’ve ever had before. So that was the first indicator.

We’re also at a 20% close rate from lead to customer. While some might think that our price is high, many of our customers think it’s worth it because we solve a tough challenge for them. The alternative to hiring us is to hire in house, and companies have a lot of challenges building a content marketing operation from the ground up – there’s a lot of things that a company would have to get right to get ROI… research, the strategy, the writing, the promotion, and the conversion (oh, and hiring). We tried to design our service around our customers’ needs – it helped that I had held multiple content marketing roles inside of companies, had tried to hire agencies previously, and I knew what the gaps in the industry were.

The response has been overwhelmingly positive since we launched – it’s the first time we’ve felt like we created something a majority of our audience wants.

I spent a loooooong time living the “build a course” dream. It took leaving my business behind to work for someone else for a while to come back to it saying “this is a service-based business” confidently and without shame. The online business world holds productized businesses on a pedestal as the only way to love your life and scale a business. You’ve proved that’s not true.

FWIW, I was petitioning the company I worked for to come to your live workshop last fall. I regret not pushing harder for it so I would have had the 1×1 opportunity to work with you two.

Hey Val,

Appreciate the comment and completely agree with your statement: “The online business world holds productized businesses on a pedestal as the only way to love your life and scale a business.”

That was part of the reason I wanted to write this story.

I see so many people pushing the course business dream and I see a lot of problems with that story:
1. Most people that teach courses aren’t qualified to do so (they have no real experience in what they’re teaching). The “anyone can teach a course” narrative is a lie and one that I don’t agree with at all.
2. It’s just as hard as starting any other business – you still need to build an audience, create a better product than anyone else, and make sure you’re creating the right product for the right audience.
3. You can scale a business whether it’s a product or a service as long as you plan for it, hire the best people and create processes that anyone can implement. To this point, I think one of the best things we did in our business was create multiple versions of training and courses. It forced us to think about how we would make our strategy a process and teach the execution of our strategy to others. We use the same process we’ve been teaching on our site for the last 2 years to execute on clients and all of our employees take our online course as their onboarding.

Appreciate you pushing for the workshop. The workshop format was one of my favorite things we did – I really enjoyed going into companies and working in-depth with their teams. Hopefully we’ll have the opportunity to work together at some point in the future.

Another thing – I love that you are using your course to train your employees. Even though it may have flopped as a product, it’s still a valuable asset within the company. Very cool (and insightful).

Thanks – yeah the product just flopped in the way that we sold it, not from a product perspective. When we set out to create it, we intended to make the best product on the market. We still think it’s the most valuable content marketing training out there.

We’re thinking about repositioning it and releasing it again so that others can take the course.

But for now, it’s really helpful to teach employees our strategy and thought process around what we need to do for clients.

Abigail Ahoude

Thank you so much for sharing your journey in such detail and honesty. This is the kind of content that needs to be shared right now, and it’s such a breath of fresh air to actually see the small community of comments here from people who get it. I’m personally much more interested by marketers who are finding success by keeping their customer at the heart of everything they do .

Hey Abigail,

Thanks so much for the feedback! It’s part of our values and culture at Grow and Convert. When we started, we vowed to ourselves to always be completely open and transparent about everything that’s going on. So, much of what we share on our site and elsewhere goes into a lot of detail and shares both the negative and positive aspects of what we do.

Part of the reason we got started in the first place was because I got frustrated reading all of the success stories out there telling people how easy entrepreneurship (and marketing) is. Most people skip the details and hardships along the way to try to portray this notion that success comes easy… it doesn’t. We all struggle, we all fail, and to get to the goal that you set for yourself, it’s never a clear path.

But yes, I’m glad you took away the learning to be obsessed about your customers.

Swadeep Pillarisetti

Dear Benji,

First off truly appreciate you sharing your story in such a transparent manner. A rare quality indeed these days. I am in process of converting or rather adding online videos for my services business – online tutoring for high schoolers in the US. So a quick qs – what stops you folks from building out your online video courses now that you folks have the traction and monetary means to do so. Refine the positioning and pitch the right product to the “right audience” and you are Gold. No?

Regards,
Swadeep

Hi Swadeep,

Great question. And it’s an easy one to answer: time and priorities.

I think our agency has much more growth potential than a course ever would. I used to think the course business would be bigger, but now I think the opposite. Part of it has to do with the revenue model: recurring revenue from a service vs. one time payment from a course. The other has to do with the fact that we’ve differentiated our value proposition and service so much that I feel like the market is wide open for us to take it over.

And, we also feel like we’re solving a bigger challenge, that’s more rewarding with our agency.

Focusing on too many things at one time will kill any startup. There’s a lot of opportunity to go after but maintaining focus on one thing at a time is important. Right now for us that focus is improving our processes and operations to make sure we can deliver the same high-quality service for anyone that wants to work with us. Hiring, processes, etc.

Plus, we’re really enjoying the agency. It’s been fun getting to work with clients in all different industries, learn their businesses, and be forced to overcome new obstacles and challenges.

That being said, we do want to reposition and release our course again at some point in the future. We’re just not sure when that will happen. I feel like once our operations are sound in our business and we can free up our time, we’ll likely launch our course again.

What a great article. I have a service business I’ve been ignoring as I try to find a good idea for an online course. I work doing lead generation for small businesses and the fact is they don’t want to do it themselves. This was very timely. All the best with G&C!

Hi Jade,

Thanks for the feedback, glad you enjoyed it.

Yes, this was a big learning for us. Courses are great for people who want to be like you, and learn from your success. Services are great for companies that would rather have you do the work for them over training them how to do it for themselves.

Glad it was a timely read and learning. My biggest advice on the service side is to treat your freelance operation as a business if you want the course lifestyle. What I mean by that is: your job should be to land new clients, create the brand, and create the strategy, and you should hire people to help you execute. If you’re doing everything, it’s going to be hard to remove yourself and also to grow because you’re limited by your own time, experience, etc.

Hey Andrea,

A few reasons:
1. Our entire list thought our course was a huge success. We kept getting congratulations on the launch and everyone kept saying how they thought it was so valuable, so we didn’t want to launch the same course again a month later and everyone wonder why we had changed it. That was, until we wrote this post a month after: https://growandconvert.com/marketing/course-launch-agency/
2. We had just sent more sales emails to our list in a week than we had in the entire existence of our site, so we also didn’t want to turn off our fans that had been following us for a long time. We wanted to give our list a break from selling and go back to adding value.
3. We felt like the agency would solve the real problem that companies faced – both the strategy AND execution. The course only solved the strategy portion. Again, we felt like the course was more for individuals and we really wanted to fill the gap in content marketing for businesses.

Now, we have our hands full with the agency, so once our time frees up after we build out our operations, we will probably go back to our course and reposition it and relaunch it.

We’ll probably still make more money from our agency than we would from a launch or from the course overall, but it would be nice to have a service that helps one audience and a course that helps the individuals who want to learn our process for themselves.

Hi Benji. I noticed this sentence and I was curious:

“The most we were able to charge for a workshop was $3,000”

and I didn’t see an explanation of why you considered this an upper limit. Can you share your thinking about why this was the most you were able to charge?

Hi Jaed,

It’s not to say it’s the most we could charge, but it’s the most companies were willing to pay in the way we were getting in touch with them. Much of the workshops came from cold outreach or semi-warm connections. We weren’t getting inbound leads for them off of our site.

We didn’t have a ton of demand for them. For us to successfully have done this model, I think we would’ve needed a team to help us sell them. The cost of acquisition was high and the time for us to close was too long for us to pursue.

Hi Benji! Great case study – thanks for sharing.

I’m pretty much in the same place that you were in thinking service based business will need me to exchange time for money and wouldn’t be as scalable as product based.

While having employees helps tackle this, I’d love to know what your profit margins are if you don’t mind sharing.

At the end of the day, profit is the actual cash in our pockets :)

Hey Sai,

That’s not something we feel comfortable sharing publicly and it fluctuates on a monthly basis as we’ve been adding more employees. I’ll say that it’s higher than 20% and lower than 70%.

I was expecting a totally different outcome for the final pivot. I thought it would be: connecting the businesses who want the service to the individuals who are learning how to provide the service. The businesses need the service, and the individuals are qualified to provide the service (and who knows, maybe they need the clients).

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