00:00Andrew: Don't rush into creating an online course, cuz especially like a cohort-based course where there's a live component to it. It's—that's a lot of pressure and a—and a lot... actually it's more, more than the pressure. It's a lot of work to make it successful.
00:22Akta: Andrew Barry has helped creators like Ali Abdaal create their online courses.
Hey everyone. I'm Akta. And in today's episode of Creators on Air, I spoke to Andrew about all things online courses, from when to launch one, how much to charge and what makes a good online course.
00:36Andrew: So I've kind of been in the B2B, you know, consulting world, specifically for learning for about 15 years. Um, so very kind of spent a lot of time, a lot of experience working, um, and seeing what works with, from a—from a learning perspective and a teaching perspective.
Um, and so I think at the end of 2020, I think, is when I started tweeting about some of those things. Um, and, and sort of aiming it at, uh, helping people create courses.
Um, I was also—I'm a course nerd myself. I just take like online courses all the time and spend way too much money on them. Um, and, and so—and I had the opportunity to kind of work with some really great course creators doing that. Ali Abdaal was one of the first ones, um, I helped him with his, uh, very first cohort, um, with their like peer mentoring part of it.
It was a great, great experience. And, um, and from there just started working with a lot of course creators. Uh, and then ran that course that I mentioned, um, that was at the beginning. It was almost exactly a year ago. It was April, 2021.
01:46Akta: And is creating online courses, something that you think all creators should be doing?
01:53Andrew: Um, I wanna say yes, but so—it's not something you should rush into. Uh, okay. It's definitely, it's definitely something, um, I recommend everyone does because teaching something is the best way to learn it. Right. So it—and that's—I mean, I've—that's been proven in my life over and over again. And I think anybody who has that—and it could be teaching your, your parents, how to, you know, how to use the internet, right?
Like any little things like that, like you—you—you have to understand it a lot, a lot better when you have to teach it to someone. Try explaining something to a five year old, right. It's that like thatwhole Fineman technique.
So—so it's—it's one of the best ways to learn. Uh, but the—the bad part is that don't rush into creating an online course, cuz especially like a cohort-based course where there's a live component to it. It's—that's a lot of pressure and a—and a lot, actually it's more, more than the pressure. It's a lot of work to make it successful.
Um, it—it requires building an audience and, you know, getting pretty good at sales and copywriting and marketing. There's a lot of—lot of aspect aspects to it. So what I always recommend to people is, is rather teach in public, right. Like people say, like learn in public and it's—that's actually kind of the same thing is teach people what you're learning or the thing that you're good at. But also like use it as a way to keep learning about that thing.
Um, and so I'm doing this now on the learning culture stuff. We—I write a newsletter once a week and it's just—it it's like my forcing function to go and research something I'm interested in that's relevant to, uh, that space. And then I write about it and share it with people.
And so I'm expanding my knowledge and I'm also attracting like-minded people who are interested in it. And I think the biggest lesson that I've learned going back to like the course that I ran for course creators and now—now this sort of more B2B focus stuff is that you've gotta give it time. Like just that process is so worth it of just clarifying your thinking, um, finding like-minded people kind of building a community around it. It's so, so valuable. And—and—and just give it time, you know, the, the course will come.
04:02Akta: Definitely. And for creators who are growing the audience and have quite a reasonable audience size, at what point do you think they should feel ready to start an online course? Is it down to numbers or what, what is—what—what's relevant here?
04:17Andrew: Yeah, that's a great question. Um, so there's no—no set number. Um, I think the best way to do that, it—it's—it's obviously easier for someone who has a decent size audience already. Um, and—and can…
The—the first thing I recommend they can do, and this is so much easier when you have the big audience is to test the demand for the thing that you want to teach. And the best way to do that is to ask people, but e—even more, you can ask them or invite them to a workshop on thatthing, right.
That—that's like—that's the easiest thing. Cause then it also forces you to kind of some kind of value in, you know, 60 minutes or whatever, um, which is tough to do. So, like, it—really, you have to like, get very clear on what—what value you're gonna deliver to people.
And that's—that's often what I recommend starting with is put together a workshop and say, “Hey, I'm gonna teach you how to do this thing.” And we could talk about like how to frame that as well. Cause that's also also important. But the—but—but just like that process, you'll see by how many people show up to it, how engaged people are and then the best part is you'll see—you'll get all the questions people have. And that's what your course will be about.
I—I like—I almost guarantee people that what they think their course is when they first design that workshop is not at all what it's actually gonna be, because people will have certain questions that you didn't even know. Cause you have this like beginners, mind—you don't have beginner's mindset when you're like a bit more experienced. And so you won't even know like what, what are the things people struggle with?
And so, I—it's happened to me all the time where the course just takes shape because of those questions.
05:50Akta: That's a really good point about the beginner's mindset. And so when somebody decides that they do want to start a course or even a workshop. How do they go about planning that, like what sort of structure should they be considering?
06:00Andrew: Mm. So I always say it starts with thinking about what the transformation is gonna be.
So what, what can you promise people will be able to do differently by the end of it? And the more specific you can get on that, the better. Um, and it's also—and I suppose the other thing is it's—it needs to be specific, but also it needs to be a benefit to the person that—that you're teaching, the group of people you're teaching. Not, you know, “I will teach you how to use X, Y, Z.” It—it's, “I will, you know”—so it's not like “I will teach you how to use Notion.” It'll—it'll be like, “I teach you how to... I will teach you how to, you know, effectively manage your task list.” And then it happens to be using notion. Right?
But like the thing that people are most interested in is how to be more productive, how to, you know, find more time in their day to spend time with their family. Like, those are the things people are signing up for. And so that's the transformation.
And then the—the—the other thing is the vehicle for transformation. So then it's like, “Okay, we have a system in Notion. I'm gonna teach you the system or whatever that that case may be.” So it's thinking about your—your transformation and then your vehicle for transformation is a great starting point.
Once people—So now you've got your North Star, right? That's like the, the transformation. Um, you wanna then sort of map the journey of like step by step, how it's gonna happen. And here's where, like, those questions that we talked about are, are super helpful, right. That beginner's mindset that you can get from your audience. Like what do people struggle with? So is it like using the Notion example again? Is it like figuring out Notion like understanding databases? Or, or is that—Okay, that's already assumed, then we can move on to more advanced stuff. Like sort of knowing where people start from is key. In fact, that's actually like a learning principle of prior knowledge is one of the most important inputs into designing a learning program.
So know where people are starting from and then map out that journey. And so you've got like point A where they're coming in from. And point B is that transformation. And you've gotta like try and fill in as much detail and the gaps between without falling to the trap of sort of expert curse. Like, you know, jump into conclusions or—or making assumptions that are not explicit and that kind of thing.
08:10Akta: And it's really interesting that you're talking about expert curse because I'm sure lots ofpeople who haven't done a course before will have to deal with imposter syndrome when starting one. Is that something that you see online creators dealing with when they do start courses and how do you kind of encourage them to overcome it?
08:27Andrew: Yeah. I mean, I—I dealt with that with—with my program with 150 people. Ali Abdaal dealt with that, and I think still does, you know, with his program and he has, you know, millions of people following him.
And, um, it it's no matter how big your audience, no matter how much, um, expertise you have in the thing, it—there's—I think there's always imposter syndrome. And I think the roots of that is—isknowing… and this is like the good part is that knowing that you don't know everything right. Accepting that you don't know everything.
And that's actually a good thing. That's actually, that's what a lifelong learner is. That's why you're gonna keep learning. Cuz you don't know. You—you accept, you don't know everything.
But it also comes with that downside of like, “Oh, someone's gonna ask me a question and I'm not gonna have the answer,” you know, or “I'm gonna get caught out and they're gonna have a different way.” And um, so that's like the flip side of the coin.
Um, so to answer your second question, how do you deal with that is just, I honestly, I think, it's just accepting that, um, and dealing with it in a—in sort of a authentic, vulnerable, humble way to the point like... I'll get super specific.
Like if those questions come up, cuz they probably will. Just say, “You know what? I don't have a great answer for you right now. I need to go do a bit more research on it.” And then do that and go back to that person with like this kick-ass, like unbelievably well-researched answer. And they will—they will, you know, be—they'll be your fan for life, right? Cuz you went to that effort and you really made something clear for them.
09:54Akta: I love that answer. That's a great answer. And, um, when you are dealing with courses, obviously you've mentioned already that there's things like cohort-based courses. You've got things like video classes, workshops, there's different kind of models almost for courses. So how should creators go about deciding what sort of course they're going to deliver to their audience?
10:13Andrew: So I think the—I think the best way often is what I recommend to most people is to start with a live type of com—uh, program, right? Something that you can get people together and you can, um, you can learn from them while they're learning from you. Because it—so you're getting those, you know, that feedback and those, um, the—the questions that they have, and it's the best way to shape your course.
I think, I think people too often jump into like creating a self-paced type of thing, like record a bunch of videos, put that out there. And, like, it can work and they've—I've had some really great ones that are like that. But I'm pretty sure most of those people started maybe not with a formal course, but just by having conversations with people and teaching them live one on—on one even, right. And kind of going through that process, uh. And then seeing what resonates, what questions people have. And it just—it makes that end product so much better.
So that was the order I did it in. It was the—the self-paced course that I put out after my live thing was—was definitely so much better. Cause it—it was like half of it was the experiences that I'd had in that—in that live program.
11:20 Akta: Yeah. And getting all that user feedback.
11:20 Andrew: Exactly. Exactly. Which—which you get in the moment, you know, like that it's not even, like, you know, the survey at the end or anything like that. It's—it's like in the interactions during those live sessions, um, where you're just like, “Oh, you know what, that's—that's what people are asking about,” or that's what's resonating. Um, that's what your course should be about,
11:41 Akta: But we've also seen creators, like Ali Abdaal create Skillshare courses alongside his own courses. Do you think there's a place for doing things like that alongside your own courses?
11:51 Andrew: Yeah, a hundred percent. A hundred percent. And I think in Ali's case, like, his Skillshare stuff was, um, at least initially I think was sort of on the, you know, studying, like study techniques and that kind of thing, which he had been teaching live in Cambridge for—for years before that.
12:10 Akta: That’s right.
Andrew: Like, he, that—that he'd—Yeah. Right?
Like, so like that it's all still there. Like he—he knew what worked and what didn't work and he was able to then package that knowledge there. And I'm sure that's true for then a lot of his, um, his—his, you know, more recent stuff as well. It's kind of accumulates an experience that—that gets packaged up there.
Um, yeah, I'm just trying to think, like if it—I—I don't wanna dissuade people from putting out, um, self-paced courses cuz some people know their stuff so well, and, you know, have been working or like consulting with people, coaching people and, you know, have—have that. So that, that experience all counts.
Right. And that can absolutely be packaged and put into a product. And yes, it's great to have a product out there working for you. You know, I get the Slack notification every now and then it pops up in the middle of the night and you wake up and you made a sale. Right. And so like that you definitely that that's appealing. And—and—and there is—there is some something to say about packaging a wisdom like that.
13:08 Akta: And speaking of Ali Abdaal, since that's how we both met, um, you helped him with—
13:12 Andrew: Yeah.Akta: —his course Part-time YouTuber Academy, and I'm interested how exactly you did help him with that course.
13:18 Andrew: Yeah. So, uh, he—so… It was funny.Like, I think I—someone tweeted, um, “When he was gonna do his first one?” Um, and I responded so like, “Oh, I'm signing up for it. I'm super excited for this.” And he responded like 10 minutes later saying, um, you know, he—he's like I'm—I don't think I dunno if he said it in the tweet, but he's—he was like, “I'd love to pick your brain and, and see if you can help,” cuz I had, you know, I'd been writing about this stuff for a bit now.
And um, so first of all, I was blown away cause I didn't know, he had even followed me on—on Twitter. Um, and so we jumped on a call and we were just chatting and—and I was just sharing ideas around how he can scale basically by using and—and—and then the other part was this idea that I was writing about then called “destination and journey groups.”
So having, you know, he sets the destination and those sort of big live sessions that he does is the destination group. So that's like—he's like got, you know, the—“These are the 11 things steps you need to follow.” You know, I don't think it's 11 in his case, but like, you know, you know what I mean? He maps out the whole journey and he can take you through it over those course of those live sessions.
But everyone who goes through your course, they're just struggling. They're just trying to figure out how to get to step two, you know, from step one. Or like, or, you know, wherever from four to five or from five, you know, like where people are on that spectrum. And it's impossible for him in his position to help every single one of those people at that scale, right. It’s like absolutely impossible.So he, and—and I think this was freaking him out at the time. He was like, “I don't know what I'm getting myself into here. Like, there's gonna be so many people. And like, you can't help everyone in a—in one, you know, live session that 300 people are in.”
And so we started—um, and so I was sharing the way to do that is through journey groups. So you—you—you have smaller groups of peers that are kind of come together around similarities, like they're at some similar stage or a similar audience size or whatever the case is. And you have a peer mentor that's leading them. And that person is also only one or two steps ahead. Not, you know, Ali Abdaal level.
Like they're one or two steps ahead because it's so much easier to learn from someone who's just been through what you're going through right now, right?
Um, and so, yeah, so basically, you know, I pitched that idea to him and he was like, “Okay, can you help me do this?” You know, like, and he—he, you know, he let me go into the course for free and like, you know, so we—and that relationship expanded a bit. And I helped him kind of get the group of mentors together. We had an amazing, you know. He—he found all the people that he knew from his network, just an amazing group of—of mentors.
Um, and I just helped him kind of set up the—the structure for it. Like what does a good mentor session look like? That kind of thing. And then they just ran with it and have taken that to a whole new level, like every single code.
16:03 Akta: Definitely. And I—I did PTYA with you. And one of the things that I loved most about it was that community aspect, which came about from being in peer groups with people that were similar to me. Um, how else do you think courses can create that community aspect? Because that's what I find a lot of people enjoy about doing cohort-based courses is that community aspect.
16:23 Andrew: Mm. Yeah. So in my world of—of corporate, uh, like sort of B2B training, there's this thing—there's this idea of communities of practice and communities of interest.
And so we we've been talking about our communities of practice, where you're coming together. You're like working on, you know, maybe it's—maybe it's like your production of your—of your setup at home, right? This, the—the studio quality.
And so people like the—you know, getting together on that and making changes. Maybe it's like scripting, you know, coming up with a good hook. Like, so that's the specific parts of the practice for—for making YouTube videos.
Um, then communities of interest was I think something they also do well is just having, like, what are the things you're interested in. Like, uh, productivity, you know, like all the people that are interested to, to making videos about productivity, like books, uh, you know, sports, like whatever the thing is. So having the way for people to, to go and, and sort of pair up or not even pair up. Like group together around those interests is huge.
So that, that was like a small thing, but it makes a huge difference, cuz it just, again, just creates that feeling of community and connection amongst people. And it's probably different to the, the peer group you're in. Right? So like now you're meeting more people. Um, so that's, that's huge.And the other thing I'll say is we talked about this a lot when I was working together with his team was how do you increase the surface area of connections for each individual? And the best way to do that is through one-on-one interactions, right? Or like one to a small, many of, of people.
Um, and so then you can start to look at the whole, the whole cohort, the program of like four or five weeks and say, “Well, how do we take, how do we make sure each individual gets exposure to as many different people as possible?” And so then you've got things like the feedback, you know, so, uh, where people post feedback and now you've, you know, new people are coming in and, and reading your stuff and giving feedback on it.
And so there's connections there. You have breakout rooms in the live sessions. So now you're at a room with four or four or five people and you know, another new set of connections. Um, I think there was like matching.
You could like sign up—accountability partners was another one, um, that, that they definitely ran with. Um, so you just like, you stack up a bunch of these and you say how many, you know, early and often get that surface area of connections for people and yeah, the rest kind of takes care of itself.
18:42 Akta: There are a lot of those things that I actually really enjoyed about PTYA.Um, the other question I wanted to ask you is about pricing because I feel like, especially when you're starting out, how do you know how to price your course?
18:55 Andrew: It's, it's so difficult. Um, so there, I ca—I, I, I sort of came up with this idea of like, picture, like a barbell, um, yeah, barbell, um, where you've got like, you've got like the sort of low end of course prices, which is more your, your, um, self-paced stuff, which is like in the hundreds of dollars.
And then you've got the, the fi—the high end, which is your cohort-based courses, which is like the $3,000. Um, and then there's the, the middle part is kind of what I call the messy middle.So I feel like that's a, I, I found like a helpful framework for people to think of trying to be. It's about legibility. Like, are you one of those, are you a self-paced course that has, you know, that's like a hundred to $200 or $300 or are you a few thousand dollars course? There it's almost like there's that's a gray area.
If you charging like eight or $900, that's that's like a, it's a little bit in the middle. Like what, you know, so, so that's one part of it, right? People kind of expect a certain, um, level of, I wanna say service or experience rather at, at those price points. So already that helps. Right? So like where do you wanna play in that?
And I often, I think that ultimate goal when you're thinking of building a business around this is having one at both ends, you know, so Ali's a great example, a lot of Skillshare type stuff you can go and then you've got the, the, you know, the flagship. My own was the same, you know, and yeah. So like I've got, and having those both clear.
So it's like on the website, right? So that if someone. Just there's. I have like a $10,000 thing and a $300 thing. Right. It's very, very far apart, very clear, like what the difference is. One is access to me on a regular basis. One has none.
Um, and yeah, so, and then that's actually another key point is pricing in how much access they get to you. So that's where the, the premium is. So you've got, you've got like content is like the bottom of the pyramid.
Um, Uh, I forget what the order, the next two is, but it's accountability. So like, are you getting people accountability mechanisms to, so that's like partnering them up. Um, you know, with Ali's thing, it's like five videos and use a place to go post them, get feedback, that kind of thing.So like accountability streak. So. Self-paced course might not have that. Right. It might just have the content. So then you can layer on the accountability thing.
Then the network. So that's all the community stuff we talked about. And then of course, as you know, like the, the friendships and connections you've made through that are valuable in another themselves, right? So that adds value to the program.
And then the very top of that pyramid is his accessibility. So how much time do you get with you? And, um, you know, Ali's Ali had like an executive program, um, where you could pay more and then you had like a weekly call with just him. And it was like 10 other people, you know, on that call.
So, so that's another way to think of it. So you can like stack, you know, to, to that higher price point. Um, Yeah, the risk gets into like a lot of specifics, um, around like, do you do like even numbers, odd numbers, but I, I think that's like a good starting point, like sort of pick where like where you are in that spectrum. Think about that stack that I said, and that can kind of get you from the low price point to the high price point, and then try to have both.
22:13 Akta: And regardless of where creators are on using that stack, are there any features across any type of course that you think make a good course?
22:20 Andrew: Yeah. Um, so obviously good, good quality content, but I don't necessarily mean, well produced, like that is not necessarily important.
I've had a lot of great courses, uh, that are just a Loom videos, you know, like screen screen recording. So like the content, the quality of the content and, and the insights and the knowledge that you're sharing is, is more important than the production value. Production value is nice to layer on later. Right. Once you, you wanna like level things up. Um, so that's super key.
Also with content, less is more. People don't want, “Oh, you're gonna get 90 hours of videos with this program.” Like no one wants 90 hours of videos. I want one hour of video that tells me everything I need to know. Right. I want, yeah. Not even, you know, so like, yeah.
So that's super key. Less is more like, can you get it like, you know, inside dents.
Um, Yeah, I think like you said, you know, the network and the community piece is, is key. So if you can have that, you know, we, my self-paced course has that a bit. Like we do socials once a month and we do, um, we do, uh, pairings, you know, so people can sign up for match, get matched with someone else.
And so. It sort of like, it relies a bit more on them taking the initiative to do it. So it's not, cuz it's not a, you know, a cohort-based course. Um, but it, it works. And so some people who really, you know, get involved can do that. So I think that's a key part. Um, You know, the o—other thing is sort of related to accountability is just make it actionable.
Like, what are the, at the end of the day, you're not teaching knowledge, you know, like transferring knowledge into people's heads. You're trying to transform them to be able to do something differently. So if you can make it as practical as possible that they get like proof of work, you know, that, that shows them that they've done something, you know, that they, that they are making progress, you know.
So that's huge, making it very actionable. Um, and, and then just, I guess the last point related to that, and it's, it ties into community is, is get, give ways for people to give feedback, um, and to share their work and get feedback. Right. Cause that that's huge. And I think all the best courses do that and make it a big part of it is that you, you, you, you, it gets you outta your echo chamber of what you think it looks like, and you're getting real feedback with what, whatever it is, a piece of writing a video, some, anything, um, that's an accelerator for, for people's learning.
24:52 Akta: Definitely. And Ali Abdaal actually offers sponsorships, and those people are meant to help with the feedback as much as possible. So I think that's definitely something that's helped them to grow is getting that feedback.
25:01 Andrew: Yeah, massive.
25:02 Akta: What are some of the common mistakes that you see creators make when they are starting online courses?
25:09 Andrew: Yeah. Um, rushing into it is definitely one. Um, and sort of putting a lot of work into pro—producing great content that you haven't like battle-tested, you know, with people that you you've gotten that feedback of what works and what resonates and what questions people have. Um, so that's a huge one.
Um, Not putting enough time into the community is, is a big one. And I, I learned this sort of through a hard one experience, really with my, with my courses, like realizing with how much work was in building community and how much time you had to spend. Being part of a community, almost like modeling the behavior you wanted to see.
Right. You really have to, you have to do that yourself. Like, no one's going to, you can't just expect it to happen and people are gonna, oh, we're gonna invite them all to this thing, give them a Slack channel. And then they're all gonna just start chatting to each other, you know, it doesn't doesn't work like that. So, um, yeah, that, that, that was a big one as well. Like being, um, being modeling that behavior.
And then I guess like related to all of that is, is get a team. When you, when you're really going to get into this, start to build a team, um, around you. Even just getting an assistant to begin with, right? Because there are so many moving parts to, to running a course, you know, from the back end, like connecting everything and integrating the, the technology that you're using to, you know, making sure that people have. Uh, writing all the communications and getting those out and, um, make scheduling things on the calendar, you know, like there's just, I could go on and on so many moving parts. So just having someone there to support you takes a huge, huge burden off you so that you can focus on teaching.
Cuz that's ultimately the hardest part of this, right? Like, and, and so all these other things, you have to have rights, and you can get a course, um, like a community manager. That's always a great idea as well. If you're at that level. But the more you can sort of build that team around you, the more you can focus on, on teaching.
27:16 Akta: Amazing. That's great advice. I'm going to finish off with a fire round, so I'm just gonna fire some quick questions at you, and you just have to answer with the first thing that comes to mind. Is that okay?
27:26 Andrew: Cool. Sounds good.
27:27 Akta: So what's your favorite thing about being a creator?
27:29 Andrew: The freedom to do what I want.
27:34 Akta: And what's your favorite productivity tool?
27:36 Andrew: Ooh, so many I'm like, uh, obsessed with these. Uh, probably have to say, I probably have to say Notion.
27:45 Akta: Yeah, mine too. Um, what's one thing that gives you the most inspiration for your work?
27:49 Andrew: Oh. Seeing the light bulb go off in people when they get something and they, they carry that forward into whatever they're doing.
27:58 Akta: Oh, that's a good answer. I like that. And what's one thing that helps with your creator-work-life balance?
28:03 Andrew: Oh, that's a good one. Um, I'd say being organized in terms of capturing ideas, that's been huge, like having a place to put stuff and get, get organized with that. So that when I do need to sit down and write will make a video, I've got all of that there, ready to go. And I'm just more like assembling, um, rather than starting from scratch.
28:26 Akta: And what's one piece of advice that you'd give to other creators?
28:29 Andrew: I'd say, be yourself. Be true to who you are. Every single person has an online course in them. You have the ability to teach something that you've learned to someone else.And no matter how small you might think it, it is to you, that's only relative to you. Right? And there are people out there who. who'd love to learn that stuff. So, um, you know, be true to yourself, find what's pa—what you're passionate about and. Make sure you're teaching that to others. Cause if everyone teaches everyone else in this world like we're in for a much better place.
29:05 Akta: That's really beautiful. I love that. Thank you so much, Andrew. This has been so insightful, and I'm sure it's gonna be so helpful for other creators who want to start online courses.
29:14 Andrew: Oh, thanks for having me, Akta.
29:18 Akta: Andrew Barry has given me so much inspiration when it comes to online courses, especially this idea of using feedback from your audience to be able to shape that course.
If you think you've got an online course in you and you want some help, you can find Andrew Barry on Twitter and on his website.
Thanks so much for listening in to our conversation, and join us on Twitter @GetPassionfroot if you are a creator who wants to move your business forward. Stay passionate, and I'll see you in the next one.