Last month we launched our very first ProBlogger course. After a whirlwind few weeks (months, actually ), I thought I’d take the opportunity to share a bit of what happened behind the scenes while creating the Ultimate Guide to Start a Blog course.
Why have we only started offering courses this year?
To say it’s been a long time coming is a bit of an understatement. We’re constantly asked why we don’t offer courses, as it seems like the most obvious thing we should be doing. Our focus has always been on offering great value that’s easily accessible, whether it’s our free blog posts, podcasts or world class (yet very reasonably priced) events.
All of which takes up a huge chunk of time and dedication from our small team.
We’ve been thinking about courses for a while now, and our goal is to create a blogging course unlike any other. Something that goes beyond the that goes beyond the prescriptive “this is how I did it” approach that doesn’t necessarily work for everyone.
And so we created the Ultimate Guide to Start a Blog course, and made it available for free.
But this is just the beginning. We have many more courses in the pipeline, and together they’ll help you piece together the best approach to blogging for you.
What is the first course about?
Our first course starts at the beginning – how to start a blog. Actually, it starts even earlier in the process, as one of the first things the course asks is whether you should even start a blog.
That’s one of the reasons our first course is totally free. We don’t want you buying a course on how to blog if you find out blogging just isn’t for you. We also don’t advocate investing too much in getting your blog set up.
But we strongly suggest having a solid base (your own domain and a self-hosted site) so it’s easier to progress if you decide to stick with it.
So, the first course provides a lot of guidance about:
- why you should or shouldn’t blog
- what to blog about and call your blog
- the basic steps to getting your first blog up and running and posting your first post.
All up there are seven steps. And while it’s basic it’s also quite comprehensive – at least for a free course.
This was our beta launch, which we ran in the lead up to our self-proclaimed International Start a Blog Day on February 7th – a day to celebrate starting a new blog in a new year.
How did we create the course?
We get a lot of people asking us how we created the course site. So here’s the breakdown in case you’re looking for a possible way to launch your own.
The content for the course is a mix of repurposed content from our blog, podcast and events, along with new content created specifically for the course. So we spent a lot of time editing existing audio, creating accompanying slides and converting them to videos, as well as creating new worksheets and other downloadable resources.
At first we were a bit worried about repurposing existing content. But when we realised how much work it is to a) find it in the first place, and b) organise it into a comprehensive easy-to-follow course, we were glad to have these resources to draw on and add the extra value of convenience and structure for our readers.
We have a separate WordPress installation for our courses site, which sits on a different server to our main blog and podcast site installations. Here’s what our ‘stack’ looks like.
LMS (Learning Management Software)
Learndash – we like how this solution is both comprehensive and easy to use.
Social Learner – incorporating Buddypress elements for community features (we don’t use all of them), this theme provides a good looking layout for the modules and lessons. We also used Thrive Architect (which works nicely with Social Learner) to build some of the extra content elements into our pages.
WPFusion – this is an elegant plugin that lets us easily control access to content based on tags specified in Drip for our course members.
We use Campaigns in Drip to automatically onboard course members after they’ve either filled out one of our Thrive Leads opt-ins or registered directly through the site.
While our setup has the option for a forum, groups and comments (we turned comments on for some of the modules), we elected to run a Private Facebook Group for the first intake of students. Partly to test one against the other, but mainly so we could get students’ feedback on the course as they progressed through. It also served as a customer service channel.
We won’t be maintaining an ongoing group for the course throughout the year (course members can join our main Facebook group at problogger.com/group). But we will run one in conjunction with International Start a Blog Day each year.
Building awareness, and the call to action to sign up for our Ultimate Guide to Starting a Blog course, was done primarily through the ProBlogger podcast, along with a sales page and a couple of articles on the blog.
Over the Christmas and New Year period, we changed how we did the ProBlogger podcast to generate interest in starting a blog and the course we were launching. Instead of a weekly podcast, we released a series of 12 shorter podcasts (one each weekday). And is each episode we shared a different blogger’s story about how they started their blog and how far they’ve come. These stories were told by ProBlogger podcast listeners who submitted their stories as audio files. This series of podcasts has one of the highest levels of engagement of any I’ve released. In each podcast there are calls to action to sign up for the course via the sales page on the blog.
The sales page for the Ultimate Guide to Starting a Blog course had an easy-to-communicate URL (problogger.com/startablog/), and a snappy design created using Thrive Architect. We linked to it in our “Start a Blog” section of the blog, as well as in a couple of articles we wrote about a starting a blog in the New Year.
Knowing that most of our audience had already started a blog, we asked people to share the information about our new course. We asked our existing readers to share it with those they knew who may be interested in starting a blog. We also asked the people who signed up for the course to share it with their friends.
Trying to launch anything early in the year can be tricky, especially when everyone in the southern hemisphere is typically on summer holidays. Like many course creators, we were still creating content and making the site look and work the way we wanted right up to the deadline.
We had team members holidaying in different time zones with bad wi-fi issues and sick kids. Some last minute re-recording of tutorials had Laney chasing away noisy dogs and throwing sticks into trees to scare away squawking birds. (We have some pretty obnoxious birds in Australia.)
It wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. But we kind of made our launch date (I’m sure we made it in a timezone somewhere in the world). And the actual launch happened without too many hiccups other than some people having activation issues because they clicked the link more than once.
The main takeaway? Don’t expect everything to go smoothly, keep your cool, and prepare to work hard when it counts.
We were blown away by the response. We knew there would be some, but given our readers have mostly started blogs already, it was hard to know just how many students we might get.
Sometimes you just have to trust your gut and go for it.
By the time it went live, almost 5,000 people had signed up for the course. Of these, roughly half went on to enrol in the course once it was launched, and half of those started the course (a little more than 1,000 students).
In the time between launching the course (January 10) and International Start a Blog Day (February 7), more than 1,000 new subscribers had signed up for the course. By the time February 7 came around, more than 2,000 students had started the Ultimate Guide to Starting a Blog course. More than 100 new blogs were launched in time for International Start a Blog Day, with many more launched since. You can check them out here.
And there were other positive outcomes too.
We ended up with more than 1,000 members in the beta Facebook Group, which gave us very useful environment for getting direct feedback from students as they were trying out the course. We learned a lot about:
- the people who were signing up for the course
- what their issues and pain points were
- what they did and didn’t like about the course
- how we could help them going forward by improving the course (and in other ways).
International Start a Blog Day was also a very rewarding experience for me and the ProBlogger team. We got to really see and celebrate the course outcomes for the many students who launched new blogs as a result. We loved compiling the honor roll of new blogs – exploring their sites, reading people’s stories, and seeing how they put their learning into practice.
And we now have a very comprehensive opt-in that helps us identify people we can help on their blogging journey. Best of all, they’ve shown they have the drive to take action, which makes it even easier for us to help them succeed.
In March we’ll be launching our first paid course – 31 Days to Build a Better Blog – the successor to the ever popular book of the same name. The course version includes:
- more detailed course materials with video tutorial presentations
- printable worksheets, resources, and further reading
- recommendations and tools to help set the right foundations for accelerated growth.
For more information, and to sign up as one the first students to sign up for the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog course, visit courses.problogger.com/courses/31-days-to-build-a-better-blog/.
We’re also reviewing the feedback we’ve received from the beta Start a Blog course group to help tweak and improve that course for future students.
Have you launched a course recently? How did it go for you?