Bright & Early Podcast
Email Marketing & Course Design with Janelle Allen
Brian: Hey everyone and welcome to bright and early the podcast for people building early-stage startups.
I'm your host Brian Rhea.
I talk to entrepreneurs, product people, designers, and marketing pros to learn what works, what doesn't, and why; giving you at least one thing to apply to your business first thing tomorrow.
my guest today is Janelle Allen Janelle is an expert in learning design and she's the founder of Zen courses where she helps business owners create profitable online courses that change lives she's the host of a great podcast I'm a big fan of level up your course where she's interviewed some amazing guests like Paul Jarvis Val Geisler and Nathan Barry Jenelle welcome thanks for having me Brian happy to be here oh it's it's my pleasure I cannot wait to talk to you about everything that you're up to and share all of that with our with our listeners but first though I want to talk to you about DJing you you DJ I do yeah I've always been really into music and it's funny because I've come full circle when I was a kid I used to make I'm dating myself but I used to make mixtapes and in CDs for my friends this is something I love to do and when I got to Chicago I stumbled upon a DJ school that was pretty new but scratch DJ Academy is there still in New York and Cali but the Chicago branch has closed down and so yeah it's a full circle moment that's great that's great so for my own benefit win so when you're when you're DJing what is it what's your setup like what is what's DJing like in the modern age with laptops and that's a great question because you know as you can imagine with with new technology it's changing rapidly so I DJ on turntables you know I can DJ on what we call see DJ's or just like kind of consoles for people who don't know it's it's controllers so this is what we call them but I prefer turntables it's classic old-school but you know it's changing they just released this device called phase which replaces needles so you can put it on your record and it syncs with your computer and your mixer and you can DJ without having a needle which is completely changing things and everybody's really excited so it's so how often do you get a chance to to DJ at a party or Club or what's often as I like you know I took a little bit of a break last year because I was doing a lot of weddings and burnt myself out and realized I didn't like doing weddings so I am actually just getting back into it I just released a mix and getting into doing some party so I'm hoping to do it a couple of times a month you know we'll see where it goes cool I still what cut up so III heard you mention on another interview that your current me if I've got this wrong but that you're your dad was in the Air Force yeah yeah I'm curious how did growing up in a military family affect the way that you operate your business today oh that's a great question no one's ever asked me that you know I don't I don't know I've never thought about it in terms of how I operate my business but what I can tell you is so I was born overseas I was born in Germany the first quarter of my life almost was that overseas and not only overseas but back then if you're if your parent was in the military you're pretty much were moving every three years so I as a young child got used to uncertainty adapting to new environments making new friends and I think that that is what primed me for entrepreneurship you know just being able to jump into something that's unfamiliar not be afraid my brother I have a little brother who's 7 years younger than me and he was born in England but then we moved back to the States and so all he really knows is living in the States he didn't have that experience and there's a stark difference between between us as far as trying new things you know having to be in new cultures constantly and seeing things that are unfamiliar it really shaped me as a person which I think connects to my my work as an entrepreneur so the reason I wanted to ask you that was because you know there's this quote that amateurs have goals and professionals have a process and I think you know the stereotype of you know the military and and that sort of life is that it's just very very you know process oriented and can ya you know really teaches you like this is how you do a thing and this is how you are excellent at it and so Janelle your specialty is in learning design and helping you know business owners entrepreneurs and founders create create fantastic courses but I gotta tell you you probably should do a course on email marketing because your your email marketing is killer you've you obviously have a great process in place that's why I wanted to ask just curious if if you felt that that that had come from your family family background you know I think first of all thank you I think so I define myself as a writer when I was in college I writing creative writing was my major and you know I've struggled with I never pursued creative writing after college not seriously I did some things here and there and so you know when people compliment me it's really heartening back to that's who I am I'm a writer you know even before alert it being a learning designer DJ whatever I can't think unless I write it down and so I think that that's just I just enjoy writing and that's really what I attributed to hmm so what is your what's your editing and revision process like then it's if you're writing up a new email or or something what's what's that like for you yeah so you know even before editing and revision what I've learned to do is to to just do my research and know who I'm writing to to start and then once I've so what I typically do is I you know I figure out what the goal is what the call to action is going to be with my emails I try to have a hook and so I outline you know very loosely because I hate outlining I've always been that way as I write okay but I've learned that I have to have some type of framework so that I can so that can anchor myself and and once it's written you know I don't know I'm kind of weird in that I write and edit at the same time I don't know if that's weird that's just how it works for me you know I'll write out everything and then I'll go back over it but I'm kind of writing and editing at the same time but yeah I use a great toll this has been something that's really changed and improved my writing process is a tool called Ulis Lee Ulysses and I'm normally not one to you know spouts out a bunch of tools but it completely eliminates distractions because it's just a markdown application and that has been so great for just getting the words out and being able to clearly and succinctly write without the scrap distractions I like that you mentioned you mentioned that you like for all of your emails to have a hook yeah what is do you use do you start with that do you discover it along the way and then focus the rest of the piece around that hook what's your recommendation yeah so I I had to so it's been a stroke I had to learn all of this and I should I should shout out a couple of people who really helped me to become a better writer for email marketing so Josh Earl he has a great just I think his site is Josh Earl calm he has a great series and course on the structure you know a way to structure your emails andre chaperon has some great stuff to share as well definitely check those two people out as far as having a hook you know what I usually know my hook because before I start writing any type of email campaign I know you know the purpose of it I know what it's gonna lead to what's the the big call to action or pitch at the end and so I know with each email where I want to leave readers have outlined what each email is going to cover and so kind of work backwards to say okay here's how I'm gonna end the prior email to leave that hook your your email segmenting is dead on point and so one of when I signed up for you know for a few of your things and you even have a course on this audience decoded and so listeners if you're if this stuff is starting to resonate with you then pay attention here but after I after I signed up for for your newsletter or one or one of your courses you sent me this email and I was like asking for the the call-to-action being a reader which of these three are you yeah one I don't have a profitable business yet audience building is my biggest challenge - I have a profitable business and an audience I need help turning my process into a course or three my business makes more than 200 K in sales we want to use instructional design to improve our course I'm willing to bet a considerable sum that every listener just nodded yes to one of those three what was what how did you come to - knowing that those were your three best segments how did you arrive at that and did you experiment with the did you experiment with the the wording or the phrasing oh my gosh I'm always experimenting with the phrasing I feel like every three to six months of going in there I just tweaked it yesterday as a matter of fact you know tell the good tale so I learned that you know just through doing things that don't scale so when I first started it's in courses I didn't know as much about email marketing but I knew enough and I can't recall where I learned it from but to have an email that said what's your biggest challenge that was I think the first or second email that would go out after people subscribed to my email list I highly recommend that everyone has that and through that I started to learn over time where people were sitting as far as segmentation and I remember I thought you know I believed back I don't know maybe three to five years ago everyone talked about having an avatar and so I interpreted that as you had one person one type of person who was your target audience and I learned that no you have segments within your audience it's not you know you're trying to write for one person it's actually segmentation and now you know you hear people talking about segmentation and personalization all the time but it wasn't always that way so I realized through the people who are hiring me the people who are emailing me that those were the three segments so it for me it's beginners who are typically they don't have a business yet they want to have a business that thinking about it they don't have an audience they don't have an email list they have a lot of resistance mental resistance to starting and the second segment are you know usually solo consultants and freelancers or developers programmers anyone who is typically running solo and exchanging time for money they have a service based business and they have a proven process that they want to turn into a course or this is actually the segment that's been the hardest for me to get the language right in that email the other challenge that they typically have is wanting to improve marketing and sales of an existing course the third segment are my CEOs and founders of small teams so they're not running solo they have you know six or mostly seven-figure businesses and their biggest constraint is time they simply they they know and value instructional design and they hire people and they're looking for expertise in how to apply these concepts that I share what seems clear to me is that the reason that that your emails are so good even though what you your primary offer is is learning design your emails are so good because you clearly understand how people how people learn how people receive a message and can be you know driven to act what's your what is your background in studying learning and an education yeah so I think it's a combination yeah I was just talking to - Joel hooks the founder of egghead and for me I got into this field because you know like I said I was a creative writing major in undergrad and when I finished college I didn't know what I wanted to do you know I was working just kind of working retail trying to figure it out I was teaching myself web design and coding and all of that stuff and I was literally staying up you know I would work my job and then get home late you know probably at 10:00 p.m. eat something and stay up until about 4:00 a.m. teaching myself web design and coding and at a certain point so so as background I had always no matter what I did I had always been asked to help train and it was something I was good at mhm and so something magical happened after you know in that break between undergraduate and grad school where I found out about instructional design and it just connected those two worlds of writing coding / creating things online and training and it was just like this big aha moment for me and that's how I got into it I just been naturally curious about creating things online I've been naturally curious about training and teaching and writing which are all components of what I do not hey friends this is a great time to pause and let you know that bright and early is brought to you by transistor dot FM transistor offers you professional podcast hosting and analytics they host this very podcast that you're listening to right now and my friends I got to tell you it could not be easier I can tell you from personal experience as you also probably know podcasting is becoming one of the best ways to develop a closer relationship with your audience and so if you're thinking about starting a podcast trust me look no further just visit transistor dot FM and if you decide to sign up let him know that Brian sent you so I know if I can speak from personal experience here that I so I my primary offering is in services but I've got a process I would love to make that you know make the transition from high touch services into something like digital product or or a course but I I feel and imagine a lot of listeners are nodding their heads right now like it sometimes just feels like I'm spinning my wheels yeah lots of speed and not a ton of distance covered in terms of making progress on turning my process into a course how can you how can you what what advice can you give people like me on how to get unstuck I love so that wording that you use how to get unstuck is something that comes across my inbox so many times so I love it so you know first of all if you have a process a proven process that you are selling you know it works you know it in and out you are prime for creating an online course so that is definitely just kind of an indicator that you should consider this as far as getting started what I recommend you know I used to teach people to create their signature course and which which just means creating kind of the full the full monty so to speak that that flagship course that has everything and what I found is that sometimes people you know you get busy you have a business to run you get stuck you may not be able to see that through so now what I advise people is to create what I call a Minimum Viable course or MVC which is just a live live component so essentially it can be a live workshop it could be you know one of one of my students in my group program she's doing a six-week six-week live version or basically a pilot of her course and that's what I advise people that's where I advise people to start and it doesn't have to be lengthy you know six weeks it could just be you know a one or two day workshop that you create and that is a starting point that is a product that you have for sale and you can learn from that you can learn where people are getting stuck and then you can build on that and later create that flagship signature course what's the what would be the curriculum or the content that we would want to keep in mind if that's that sounds like a great idea Janelle I'm gonna do a I want to do a six-week live a live course with some interactive components what sort of curriculum and materials should I be prepared to prepare for that yeah so the great the greatest way to start and prepare your curriculum is to start with your learners so I get this question all the time where do I start how do I know what to put in my course and what I teach people is to go to your audience and ask them so there's a couple of survey methods that you can use I like combining surveys and something that I call customer discovery interviews which is just having a conversation just like you and I are having now but asking specific questions of members in your target audience of their challenges solutions they've tried what results they're looking for around the topic you're thinking about prior to that before doing customer discovery interviews I recommend sending a survey out to your email list hint-hint have an email list and finding out what their biggest challenges are so the reason I say start there is because while you may have a proven process it's really you know it's really about your audience and what their challenges are and what they want to learn from you that sticks that is something that is a sticking point for a lot of people so you know I always tell people the shortest path is to ask get your audience engaged in the process ask them what their challenges are and then if you see some alignment with with what you wanted to teach your initial hypothesis then you have even more data to fill out that curriculum so essentially your audience will begin to help you define what should go into your course you're going to see the topic you're going to see the challenges that they're having and it's gonna start to fill itself out but most importantly you're going to see the goal or transformation or result however you want to think about it that they want to achieve and from there you work backwards and you ask yourself okay what does my learner need to know and do in order to achieve this goal and you make an outline and that's how you begin to flesh out your course curriculum so start with a start with a very simple survey where we're trying to just understand what are the main challenges that my audience faces yep try to schedule a couple of more in-depth customer discovery interviews use those in-depth insights the things that come from that - to start from the start from the end find out what's the progress that they want to make design that course launch it as an MVC and after that start to think about the flagship yeah you've got a bear absolutely absolutely well so what Janelle what if what if I feel like my current list is still still too small in order to send out that survey or or interview is there a is there a threshold that you recommend folks try to get to through one way or the other or is there no such thing as too small of a list to start this process you know that's a great question and my opinion has kind of changed over time what I tell people right now is I like to see people have a minimum of about 200 people on their email list okay and the reason I say that is because typical conversion rates are going to be any you know at a minimum are gonna be about 2% on average it's probably gonna be 2 to 5 percent so you want to give yourself enough people so that you can convert now there are ways to get higher conversion rates but you know for email based launches that's gonna be your average so a minimum of 200 people on your email list now if you're and this is something I get all the time well I don't have an email list or my email list is kind of small and that's okay you can still do research and maybe I'm getting ahead of myself but you can still do research and you can still find out and validate your course idea with a small audience and there are other ways you can do research on third party sites and forums and so on and so forth so you can absolutely use the same techniques and tactics to find out the information while you're growing your your audience and your email list that's great and 200 is a super achievable yeah number four for any business during that process how do you identify the most important pain points and let me let me dig into that for justice I had Jane Portman on this podcast and she was talking about differentiating between offering a vitamin or a painkiller and and vitamins are good they're important but people have to be reminded to take them and and what I hear you talking about is you know in getting to know your audience and in validating your your course you really understand what they're they're painful challenges are do you have any insights on on how to be sure that you're going after a pain and not something that just needs a vitamin yeah I think this is a great question I love that that description vitamin and painkiller so one of the things that I teach my students in my group program is you're when you do you know we go through a whole process of doing market research essentially when you hear you know you'll see that you'll put that question out there what's your biggest challenge or obstacle and what people are going to share our problems they're having you know they're going to and if it even if you're researching other sites and looking at what people are complaining about those are problems so you know for example a business problem may be that you don't have enough leads right that's a problem there's a distinction between a problem and a pain and this isn't something I new into until probably about 18 months ago I thought they were the same thing the pain is that is behind the problem what is that causing in your life what kind of pain is that causing in your business or your personal life I don't have enough leads so I'm not making enough money and I'm afraid that I won't be able to provide for my family that's the pain and that is super important because when you can identify the pain then you're able to identify the emotional aspect behind the problem which will typically motivate people to take action you have to tell me that you're gonna help me solve my pain I don't want to feel this anymore we don't like feeling pain so that's really you're looking for both that's really helpful and so through through this research getting a deep understanding of the customer pains then we can start to develop a course offering are there are there are other types of products that you've seen come out of this type of research in addition to a course yeah absolutely you can I mean there's I think the options are well I don't want to say they're endless but you can create ebooks you can create you know we've talked about creating an MVC or mini course you can create what else have I seen and some people do just just videos just like a kind of a one-off video or webinar that they sell there's there's a lot of different options as far as digital products I've seen people create membership sites for people who maybe you know for for solo entrepreneurs or founders it can be lonely and so there are people out there who have just communities paid communities so there's and that's that's the pain right the pain is I don't have anyone to connect with I have questions I you know about running my business I feel alone so there's there's many many options that you can create something I've started seeing people do I'm curious if you have any insight on this I don't think I recall seeing this on your site but something I've seen a lot of folks doing that are in the consulting space is offering you know one and two hour just consulting calls yeah for 4x rate you if you have you tried that yourself or if you heard is that does that feel like a viable yeah so that is that's definitely a viable offering I know a lot of people who started with coaching or consulting one-on-one calls and I did offer one-on-one calls with my audience up until last year and it's a great way to get started it's also and I tell people this all the time I can't emphasize it enough it is a great way to if you don't have an online business yet or if you know for some people they're freelancing or they're an employee and they want to start their own thing services especially one-on-one are a great way to get started and validate your course idea because it kind of if you don't have a proven process services are a way to develop that it's a way to find out what people constantly get stuck with the questions that they keep asking and just really get some insight into your target audience yeah it does seem like a almost a - birds of with one stone situation there where you are you know offer offering help and consulting obviously but also it's it's like one of those customer discovery interviews where you are having another chance to dig into somebody's challenges yeah and it's in paint it's easier to sell services than courses in my opinion you know if you're especially if you're trying to sell a self-paced course and you have to learn about sales funnels evergreen sales funnels in particular just all of the marketing ins and outs in my opinion it's easier to sell services than it is to to leverage marketing knowledge and learn everything that it takes to have a fully automated self-paced course if that's your goal when is it a bad idea to try to design and sell a course that's a great question I would say you know I think in all of my because I do I do offer consulting services as well and one particular client of mine I did you know advised him not to create a course and the issue the reason that I advised him to do that and he fully agreed was he didn't have his own process he was you know very much still figuring out what he wanted to say and he just quite know what his business differentiation was what was the process so essentially he wasn't clear on what he was teaching and how he was different from someone else in his market and that's that's one reason not to create a course you know my advice to him was to focus on getting his processes together and and his differentiation clear the other thing I would say and this may seem super obvious but I encounter it all the time is you know people who have they don't have an audience you know they haven't really done the work of building an audience and connecting and engaging with their audience before they create a course so those are two instances where I tell people hey take a step back you know do the things that don't scale do the hard thing and build your audience you know find out what they want find out what their challenges are all the stuff that we've been talking about and that very first step to build you know let's go Stephens just say that the 200 number that we threw out earlier is it fair to say some some free offering that's even a stripped down version of of you know even the six-week course that you might end up offering super stripped down guide but something free and valuable that you're offering on your site in exchange for an email address is one very practical place to start or is that a little bit dated or what are your thoughts there it's not dated at all I think that so this is a great question and before I answer that question I'll go back to the last one and say there are people who teach you how to create a course without an audience primarily using ads that's not my method but for anyone who's kind of shaking their head and saying well so and so so you you can absolutely try ads I am a big proponent of launching to your email list I think it's the the best way to get started and to get high value customers so I just wanted to put that out there so going back to your question about email and having which what you're describing is the lead magnet having a lead magnet is not dated at all I think that the transition we're seeing is typically in the past you would see lead magnets the ebooks or PDFs so on and so forth and I'm seeing more people kind of get away from that because I'm sure I'm sure a lot of people listening I know I do have a folder on there their desktop that has PDFs or looked at once and you never went back to so what is in my opinion the best lead magnet to have is an email course and it's a free email course so I highly recommend that as a place to start because it gives people something you know for opting in with you thanks Jenelle you've given us so much so much great advice and actionable advice too we've got a number of minutes here to wind down so third a couple of a couple of thoughts I want are a couple of questions I wanted to ask you before we wrap up the first and you can feel free to decline but would you like to talk about your experience in tech as a woman of color if so like here's the mic take it with us like what what do you wish more people understood about your experience you know I think that as a woman of color just as a person of color - you know the biggest challenge is for me the first thing has always been visibility and this kind of connects to one of your earlier questions about being a military child so I think that I have a different need so to speak when it comes to to seeing representation and visibility it's super important and that's why I'm all for you know diversifying the field all you know all fields so that people especially children and younger people coming up see faces see people who look like them because it does matter but when you grow up in the military you kinda are used to just figuring things out and jumping in and making it work so visibility has always been a challenge seeing people but also I think that one of the other challenges has been you know networks where we're hearing a lot of people it's not new but talking about diversity and now there's a little bit of a pushback for for diversity from certain circles and what I would say is my biggest challenge has always been you know making connections because a lot of times there are people who they're their entire network looks like them and so if you're a person of color especially a woman of color trying to connect then it can be hard to to bridge and it can be hard to find mentors and peers in your network and so a lot of times what happens is you end up with the same silos and segregation you know so if it's hard for you to connect with people across then you end up going back to your community which is great you need to have that but I would love to see more people reaching across and connecting with people who don't look like them thank you so much for sharing that Janelle sure so last thing you probably are intimately familiar working on startups can make you feel a bit nuts especially if you don't actively work on maintaining your your sanity your sense of calm peace of mind are there any practices that you've found helpful that that you would like to share and the way I've been other way I've been you know asking guests of this is this can be super practical like here's how you should do your to-do lists and this is the app you ought to use all the way up to meditation retreats and and breathing yeah I'm a geek for this stuff so you're probably gonna have to shut me up so there's a number of things that I do something that I just recently and actually a friend was just asking me about this something that I just recently went back to is meditation so I think just at a high level the key things for me are meditation daily meditation exercise at least three days a week and having an outlet or a hobby those are the things that keep me sane so for meditation for me I'm not as super stickler at you know strict meditation I don't do guided meditation I simply sit and close my eyes and focus on my breathing and I have a mantra that I say to help me focus my mind I really use that time to you know I can I can think about a million things so I use that time to to focus and train my mind and I find that it helps me throughout the day to avoid distractions whenever I have a bad meditation I usually have a very unproductive day would you mind sharing that mantra with us or is that a personal thing how did how did you come to it it's now I'm gonna be a little bit embarrassed so I heard Richard Gere say on television one day his mantra is I wish you happiness and that's my mantra and I just say that over and over I think about you know the people in my life friends and family myself the world and that's my mantra and whenever you know that's my mantra and also if I find myself being very distracted during my meditation one of the things that I was taught was to just say thinking you know when I kind of catch yourself you can almost at least I can I can feel my eyes moving in a certain direction when I'm just getting away from my meditation and I'll just say thinking and it pulls me back Center mmm-hmm well speaking of meditation and then you can go to Zen courses dot co2 learn everything you want about our guest my guest today has been Janelle Allen Janelle thank you so much for your time and everything that you shared this has been so fun thank you Brian [Music] all right a couple of closing thoughts from me here I appreciated listening to Janelle talk about her upbringing and how that the adaptability and the ability to respond to new circumstances new situations prepared her for entrepreneurship and I really I really like that is especially because shortly thereafter when I was asking her about you know just her a writing process or her email marketing process one of the things that she said was well that that's who I am I am a writer and those those couple of things combined along with her understanding of how people learn those things combined just gives you the sense that Janelle is doing exactly what she ought to be doing it reminds me of when Duvall rava Kahn talks about specific knowledge and he talks about he says that specific knowledge cannot be trained it's it's like it's the accumulation of all of your experiences and it makes it really hard to compete with you on that and so for Janelle like those overlaps of being you know being well suited well prepared for entrepreneurship through her lived experience along with this you know internal feeling of I am a writer and understanding how people think and how people learn and just having a natural having a gift toward that well yeah that's the sort of person who should you know work for themselves doing learning design where you primarily communicate that through really great email processes and really great email marketing and so I think I think one takeaway is this that is what it looks like when somebody finds their finds the overlap of all the you know it gets to the middle point of the Venn diagram basically I thought that was that that was pretty fascinating a link to novels famous tweet storm if you've not if you've not come across per chance it is phenomenal and I liked I liked when she was talking about beginning at the end like any any email she starts with she already knows how it's going to end and I think this is it's the sort of thing that that sounds obvious after you hear it but you know I'm willing to bet how how many of us have have you know thought oh I need to get I need to get an email out just to you know keep the list warm or I need to talk to my customers just to let them know we're here and it's not gonna be as effective if you unless you begin at the end what is what is the one thing that you want them to learn it's the one thing that you want to to hook them with where do you want where do you want them to get where are they trying to go and that's you know that the best way to come up with those the best way to know those is when she was talking about customer discovery interviews the shortest path is just to ask and this is already just such a common and recurring theme just a handful of episodes in here and you know the the number of people have talked with and from my own personal experience as well all of this becomes easier when you know who your customer is and you deeply understand their pains I loved it when when Janelle was you know focusing in on that that bit identify the pain not just the problem get yet into the pain the emotions behind it and that is how you will develop a better product build a better business create a better course that is going to change people's lives in the way that the new Janelle talks about it and you know in it overall so that a bunch of what much of what she did what what Janelle does do is is learning sign courses much of what we talked about was learning design and a lot of email marketing process I want to say even if wherever you're at in your business right now if designing a course is not on is not on the list I I think the principles that we talked about here are so completely applicable just across the board the underlying takeaway of her expertise is understanding how people learn and understanding where they want to go where are they at right now where do they want to go an onboarding flow is it's basically a you know a Minimum Viable course in your in your product and your help documentation is is learning got learning design within it and so if even even if as what I want to say even if creating a course is not an important piece of your business right now I really think that you should still go to Zen courses see a sign up for one of genell's if sent yeah sign up for her newsletter or the the audience decoded course and just observe the pacing the flow the this is this is somebody who just understands with a great deal specificity how people think and how to move them along and you should apply those principles to to whatever aspect of your of your product that you're that you're working on right now but as always please let me know I want to hear from you what your thoughts on this episode how can I make this podcast better for you I would love to hear from you you can find me on Twitter I am beer a br HEA as in beat remix headphones echo and audio and until next time I wish you happiness
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