You’ve started your dream business. You’ve already worked hard to get the word out, and it’s starting to pay off: actual people are buying your products or services. You’re officially ‘in business.’ Better still, you might be able to give up the day-job soon and go all in. Except getting to the point where you earn ‘enough’ to pay your bills feels like a long way off. It’s called a side hustle because hustling is what it is.
Isn’t there another way?
What a start-up solopreneur needs to make their business sustainable is passive income.
In this article, we’ll explore what a passive income could look like and how you can make it work for your business.
Ethics: A Small, Yet Important, Disclaimer
There is a lot of talk in solopreneur circles about passive income being the ‘holy grail,’ enabling the digital entrepreneur to spend a couple of hours a day working from their hammock on the beach, and the rest doing whatever they want to do from wherever they want to do it. Countless blogs sell the alluring idea of earning money while you sleep.
Deciding to develop a passive income stream could definitely lead to this lifestyle, but we do not intend to sell you the idea that a passive income stream will bring you riches. Instead, we want to share how it can get you started and support your other income, giving you some flexibility in your choices of how to run your business.
What is Passive Income?
Passive income is the type of income that is generated when you’re not actively involved (hence it being associated with earning whilst you sleep). It is income earned without any direct contact with a customer.
There are many types of passive income path that you might choose to follow. These could include membership sites, royalties from books, investing in property, and many others. In this article, we are focusing on the digital educational program.
Digital educational programs are one of the simplest types of passive income to create (you already have the knowledge needed to create it) and they are in demand by your ideal customers (because they want the answers that your educational program will give them). And unlike many other forms of passive income, they are relatively cost-free too—well, it takes quite a bit upfront to invest in property!
The true beauty of the digital educational program though? It can lead to attracting the kind of customers you want for your business.
Why Create Digital Educational Programs?
First, let’s look at the benefits of creating an online digital educational program for your ideal customers and clients.
- You can create it in your own time. We know that when you’re starting a business, time is at a premium. You’re hustling in the pockets of time in between your main job and your personal commitments. The beauty of developing an educational program is that no one can see the work that is going into it, until it is ready and launched. You can breathe a little easier, diligently doing a little at a time, until voila you are ready to share.
- It’s what you already know—so it’s easy for you to create.
- Positions you as an expert and gives you credibility.
- Addresses customer pain points – and so you know it will sell because it is needed by your ideal customer. Pro-tip – make sure it does address the main thing your ideal customer needs help fixing, and not what you think that thing is.
- Attracts your ideal customers – so, even if you are starting out with no existing audience, when you launch you’re launching to an actual audience. (We’ll cover more on this later in this article).
- Once it’s created, it’s there forever. You could be earning money from the hours you put in creating this course still in 10 years’ time. It’s a true investment in your business.
- Content can be developed at little to no cost. The development costs can be as low as nothing.
- Enables you to test ideas. Through the process for launch, you’ll learn whether your idea will, or will not, have a market —which now you know without the risk of big investment.
- You’ll build fans – your students will get to know you quite intimately through spending time with the ‘virtual’ you who is teaching them. These people will, therefore, move quickly along the know, like, trust continuum to become your biggest fans.
How To Create A Digital Educational Program
So, how do you go about creating this passive income stream? The first thing to emphasize is that the creation stage is far from passive. There is still a lot of hustling (work) to do. Nothing worthwhile ever comes easy. Yet, once you get the wheels moving, and you systemize how to keep those wheels moving, then passive income can be your reality.
1. Decide on Your Topic
What do you know that your customers will also want to know? Perhaps you’re a web developer and you recognize that most of your ideal customers struggle to know what to ask people in your position. You could create a program that helps them articulate and define what they want. Perhaps, you’re a sales coach and most of your ideal customers find selling ‘icky’. Create a program that helps them overcome their aversion to selling and gives them an easy-to-access way to sell. Or, you’re a counselor and most of your ideal customers are struggling with anxiety. Create a program that helps them alleviate anxiety themselves.
I know what you’re thinking—if you answer these core ‘how to’s’ for your ideal customer, won’t you be making yourself redundant? Will they still buy your premium services?
Don’t be afraid of this. You’re giving part of the answer, not the whole answer. Yours will be the answer to your customers’ first main pain point. They will still need someone to actually create their website, support them with more complex sales questions, or address the causes of their anxiety. And because they now know you are an expert in your field because you have helped them with their issue, and they now trust you, they are more likely to buy your premium services.
The key here is to address the first main pain point that your customers need to be addressed. This must be what they think they need, not what you think they need. For example, if you’re starting a business around minimalism, you might think your ideal customers need help with how to let go of attachment to things. But actually what they want help with first is where to start in decluttering their house. It is in doing this they will understand they need help with letting go of attachment to things and will come to you for that when you offer it as a next step.
The best way to find out the main pain point is to ask them. If you already have a ‘tribe’ who follow you, send them a questionnaire, or ask a question in your community group. If you don’t already have followers, go and hang out in online or real-life places where your ideal customers hang out.
Listen. Engage. Ask.
2. Create the Course Content
Your first decision is what kind of course are you going to create? For example, is it going to be delivered via video learning, an audio podcast, or in written form? For example, a series of emails which contain each lesson could work. Any and all of these approaches can work—it’s up to you based upon your audience, your topic, and your personal preference. The steps here are applicable to all approaches.
When designing the content, address up-front why you are the right teacher for this content. Position yourself as a guru or expert. Don’t list your CV, but instead explain how you used to have the problem facing your audience and what you’ve learned along the way. You want to help them so they don’t fall into the same traps you did. Explain how you became the expert you are today.
It is not advisable to just dive in and start talking into a microphone, or writing your content. Like any quality piece of work, it’s the work that goes into it that can’t be seen that produces the quality. Structure the content carefully. Take your learners on a journey from the start, through the middle, to the end. Keep them engaged on that journey rather than overwhelm them. Sequence the learning so that it intuitively makes sense: there is no use introducing the idea of trigonometry if you haven’t yet covered multiple equations, for example.
Start by listing all the components of the course—the modules of learning that will comprise the full program. Then, identify all the elements that would fall into each module. If you feel that one area is too thin, do some research, fill in the blanks. Add more detail. And more. You’re developing a quality program that is going to get people raving about the value you’re giving—or it’s not worth your effort.
The 4MAT learning approach can be a really helpful tool when designing any educational program. It’s based on the idea that people favor one of four different styles of learning. These are:
- Reflectors –people who favor this learning style like to ask, why should I learn this?
- Deciders – people who favor this learning style like to ask, what should I learn?
- Doers – people who favor this learning style like to ask, how should I learn?
- Thinkers – people who favor this learning style like to ask, what if I did it like this?
Of course, your learners may have a combination of styles, and you want to appeal to all types of learning preferences. However, by following the 4MAT approach with the introduction of every new concept you will appeal to all the learning styles.
The 4MAT is structured as follows:
- Why? – Give meaning to the learning.
- What? – Make the learning tangible with real examples.
- How? – Detail and show the skills that will be learned.
- If? – Provide relevant adaptations of the learning.
Let’s go into that in a bit more detail.
Your learners will want to know the benefits of learning this thing. Yes, they’ve already bought this program from you, so you know they want it, but do they understand why you’re telling them this specific thing in this module, or might they want to skip forward? You want to hold their attention—or they won’t absorb what you are teaching, and won’t value what you have taught. You can choose to impart your ‘why’ through explicitly explaining the benefits (“by watching this lesson at the end of the lesson you will be able to do x, y, and z, meaning that you now feel a, b, and c.”) Or, you might want to use metaphor or stories to demonstrate the why in a more engaging way.
This is where you make the learning real and provide examples of what you will be showing how to do. For example, if you are going to teach people how to knit, you might show examples of hats or scarves that will be the output of their efforts. If you are teaching rapport building, you might bring up an example of when you can notice rapport in a coffee-shop setting, and when you know it’s not there at all.
This is critical. Rather than just talk at the camera, you need to show how to do the thing you are talking about. This is where often things start to make sense, you’re bringing concepts into tangibility. As you’re doing your thing, explain what it is you’re doing.
Break it down into parts. Centering clay on your pottery wheel is not just about how you position your body over the wheel, and how you move your hands; it’s also about how you wedged the clay before you started, and how much water you’re using. Think about all the things that because you’re the expert you think are ‘obvious’. They aren’t obvious to the complete beginner. Get back into beginners’ mind.
This stage in the learning journey is often overlooked—and yet it’s the step that enables your learners to get really excited about how they could apply what they are learning in other areas of their lives. For example, the learning in this blog could be applied to how you might structure the writing of your business group, or launching your membership site, or simply preparing for that job interview you have next week.
Now you’re ready to sit back and write your script. If you’re filming, I wouldn’t recommend reading from your script when you record your program: that can make the delivery seem very stilted and dry—and won’t help your audience connect with you. But it can be really helpful to write it out first for you to practice your delivery and get comfortable with what you’re saying.
3. Filming and Hosting the Content
So now you know what you want to teach, and you’ve got the whole ‘curriculum’ planned out. Now, you need to sit down (or stand up) and film it. (If you aren’t filming, skip to the section on hosting).
Some things to consider:
- Do you want to be ‘on camera’, or will you use slides with a voice-over? (Note, if you use a product like Zoom, you can be both at the same time)
- Will you use your laptop, your phone, or a professional camera as your video camera? Will you need a tripod?
- What location will you use? Think about what it says about you and your brand. If your brand is more formal, you might want to set-up the room in a particular way. If you are teaching dressmaking, you might want to be in your workshop, so you can visually show what you’re doing. If you’ve got a bookcase behind you, what is on it?
- Is your microphone up to the job? It is always good to test your mic. Is your voice coming out clear? Is it picking up background noise?
- What lighting do you need? (If any—usually switching on a desk lamp will provide enough lighting)
Often the perfectionist solopreneur will fall into the trap of purchasing new equipment, but that might not be necessary. The camera and microphone on your mobile phone are probably adequate for your needs. If in doubt, do a test run and see.
And when you have filmed your content, there are some further considerations. Where will you host the content? YouTube, with a private link? Vimeo? Direct to Facebook, where you’ll share with your private group? On your own website via a membership plugin? A learning site, like Thinkific or Kajabi? Or a learning academy, like Udemy?
All of those options have their pros and cons and it is worth investigating what is right for your business, your learners, and what you are teaching. Some are free or nearly free, others are free at first with costs as you grow. Think about ownership of your content and the learning experience.
Finally, remember that not everyone learns the same way, and some people have access issues. It’s a good idea to subtitle your videos and provide a written transcript. Some learners also prefer audio to video so they can take you on their commute more easily.
4. Launch the Course
Earlier we said that developing an online course can be a great way to attract new customers and followers (list-building)—and that can be done through the launch stage.
First, craft your sales message and your sales page. Ask yourself how you’re going to create the no-brainer offer that will make your ideal audience clamber to sign-up.
Pre-launch content is a great way to create excitement about your course, and start to build your list. By sharing snippets of learning, you’re giving people a taste of what will be included in the course, and you’re leaving them wanting more. They will be so eager they’ll give you their email address so you can contact them with the next thing. Create an email nurture sequence, thanking and welcoming them, and then providing value-add content in an automated series of emails which will develop into the ‘ask’. If you want to know more about the pre-launch, Jeff Walker’s Product Launch Formula is a good place to go next.
Some strategies for launching courses are actually courses within courses. For example, a book-writing coach and publisher might offer a free course on how to write a book proposal that publishers will look at, and at the end of that course, upsell to a paid book-writing boot camp.
Another strategy for launching courses starts with a free webinar that offers valuable learning for free and has a call to action to purchase additional learning opportunities. If you want to follow an expert in doing this, Amy Porterfield is the queen of this strategy.
What all these strategies have in common is that they are creating reasons for the ideal customer to want to know more, and are only asking for the sale when value has already been given. It makes sense then for the customer to buy because they have already got so much value for free, they trust you, and they know that if they’re purchasing from you they are going to get so much value in return.
All the above might seem that you need to record and host your content before you start to sell it and even before you start to deliver it. Actually, this is not the case.
One of the maxims of product development is that you should never develop anything that you haven’t already sold. If you don’t know for sure that people will buy it, don’t make it. Even if that simply means that your best friend has assured you that this is something they will buy (and so make them).
Another way of creating the content is to record it live. You can then use these recordings, and include the questions and answers in the virtual classroom, as your evergreen program. This will stop perfectionism creeping into your recordings, and showcase you as an authentic human interacting with your students. It’s not for everyone, but it’s an option.
5. Make It Evergreen—the Passive Income Stream
Evergreen is the ideal passive income stream. This is when you continue selling the fruits of your efforts for months and years to come.
There are two ways (at least) into this.
- You could plan to re-launch the program at intervals and provide an element of live content. For example, you might sell the course with live question and answer sessions that students in that season’s cohort could dial into. Or the live element might be just that you’ll be in a dedicated Facebook group answering questions on each of the weekly topics.
- You could just keep the course ticking away in the background of your business as an evergreen nurture sequence. That might look something like some always-scheduled social posts that offer something of value for free in return for a customer’s email address. And then you email them with something more of value. And again. Until you make them an offer to buy your course.
Depending on the investment, you might go straight to offer. Or, you might invite them to a webinar, which would be a pre-recorded one you did earlier, with the offer at the end. With careful crafting, and probably lots of testing and tweaking, this can become a systemized asset in your business.
The thing to remember though is, always give your learners somewhere to go to next. Will that be the next online course? Or, working one-to-one with you? An event?
If you’ve done your job, they are now primed to be your loyal customers and fans. Don’t abandon them when they’re still wanting more.
Live the Dream
So what’s next for you? If you decide to create an online course, it’ll be a lot of effort, that’s certain. You’ll maybe get it done in amongst the small pockets of time in your day job and your life. But then you can sit back, rest, and watch it grow. It might start as a trickle, but with some care and attention, that trickle could become a tsunami. It’s the dream, but it happens to some, so why not you?
Have you already created a digital educational program? Tell us what it was on, and how you found it. Would you add anything to what we’ve suggested above? Comment below.