In the world of online business, ‘passive income’ is often held up as the holy grail of business. But creating an online program that sells is not easy, nor is it ‘easy money’. As online entrepreneur and creator of the successful online School of the Modern Mystic Belinda Davidson shares with us, there’s many elements to an e-course that sells, and keeps on selling.
Make money while you sleep: we’ve all heard that promise.
Ever since the world of online millionaires and location-free entrepreneurs began to shake up the business world, we’ve had the passive income carrot dangled in front of us. Create something once, put it out into the world, and then let the money roll in.
Now, while most of us are (hopefully) able to see this fairytale for what it is these days, there is still great appeal about on online e-course. Done right, and it can indeed be your ticket to a steady income for your business. Doing it right, however, is the key. According to those who have gone on to create e-courses that keep on selling, passive is far from the truth.
Belinda Davidson is a leader in the world of online programs. She first set up her online school for ‘Modern Mystics’ in July 2013 – and four years later, more than 1500 women (and quite a few men!) have completed the first level of her school. Hundreds of gone on to levels 2 and beyond. And the amazing thing is – she’s never changed the content.
“I came to the online world knowing exactly what I wanted to teach, but having to learn so much about how to do it in this space. I’d been coaching and mentoring my clients for 15 years, so I knew the content inside out, but building an online school was all new.”
And here’s the inspiring thing about Belinda’s business success: she’s hardly ever followed the ‘rules’. She resisted Facebook for a long time, and has only just embraced instagram (albeit, in her own way). Which is what makes her approach to an online business so refreshing: it’s a reminder that you don’t have to do what everyone else is doing. As she outlines below, it’s more about honing your skills as a coach and expert, and backing yourself.
Let’s get real for a moment: the biggest appeal of running an online course is the scalability of it. One-on-one coaching work can bring in a great income once you’ve got a succession of clients lined up, but there’s always a cap to what you’re capable of. Unless you manifest more hours in your day, you’re not going to grow your business.
That’s where an online course can be so powerful.
Belinda Davidson had been coaching one-on-one as a mentor, healer and medical intuitive for more than a decade when she first contemplated creating an online school. In fact, it was returning from months of live events and workshops with an 18 month old in tow that led her online.
“In 2010, I decided to tour Africa, Namibia, and different cities in Europe to bring the teachings of chakras, white light and mindfulness to people. It was an enormous trip, as I had my little girl with me, and it was my first introduction to what it means to be a creative. Everyone else got paid except me. I remember sitting at the airport in Hong Kong as I was flying home after four months, and realising that I’d actually lost money on that trip. It was a huge realisation. When I returned to Australia, I knew I wanted to do something bilingual, because I’m English- and German-speaking, and I wanted to do it from the comfort of my own home.”
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Like many world-class leaders in the online coaching world, she was led to Marie Forleo’s B-School program, through Laura Roeder’s (now the founder of social media scheduling giant Edgar) Creating Fame program.
“Creating Fame and B-School opened up a whole world to me, and I knew that I wanted to do an online course. I was really in the second wave of people setting up this type of business. The first was the names we all now know: Kris Carr and Danielle LaPorte, and then there was a second wave and I came in then.”
Having coached and mentored hundreds of clients in her work, Belinda was clear on what it was she wanted to teach, she just needed the technical understanding of how to bring it all together.
“It was huge. I mean, not huge like writing a book, which I’ve just spent two years doing and which doesn’t seem to end! But at the time, creating the content for the School of the Modern Mystic was big. There was a lot of recording, a lot of videos, a lot of content and a website to set up and design.”
When it comes to knowing what to put in your course though, Belinda is clear: know what you are doing before you start. The content you are sharing needs to be tried and tested and backed by your client experience. Otherwise, it’s too soon to jump into the e-course world.
“This is key—you have to know what you’re doing before you do it. The biggest mistake entrepreneurs make is they think that they’ll just create a course, and that people will purchase it. The reason my school’s been successful, and continues to be successful without having to change the content is because I had years and years of medical intuitive sessions, life coaching, and mentoring behind me. I knew what people wanted before I did it. Which is why I always say to people, ‘Don’t stop coaching until you’re really booked up.’”
On this point, Belinda is crystal clear.
Whilst it may be tempting to think you can cut all the one-on-one client time, online programs go up and down in popularity. Plus, the actual conversion rates can be pretty grim: most in the know say a 1-3% conversion rate of your mailing list is reasonable. Meaning, you may need to hang onto those clients for a little longer.
“I don’t recommend people do what I did. I was coaching for 18 years before I finished up with my last session, and I was booked up for eighteen months before I finished. For me, it was about making sure that I had enough money, and that I knew the course was working properly before I transitioned from coaching into making money through online programs.”
The first intake for SoMM was in July 2013, but it wasn’t until the end of 2015 when Belinda finished her last one-on-one client.
“I had enough leverage, I had enough cash flow, and I had enough interest to really take that step into only offering online courses. But like I keep saying, I don’t recommend this to other people. Especially nowadays. So many people are saying to me that they’re absolutely struggling online at the moment—it’s just not what it used to be.”
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It’s important to point out the changes in the online world since that first and second wave of online entrepreneurs really showed the world what you can do with a laptop and a great idea. Across the board, for many online entrepreneurs and coaches, business has become harder. This is reflected in the amount of newsletter sign-ups, social media followers, and of course, sales.
“The rate of sign-ups is slower, sales have dropped. Of course, I can’t speak for everyone, but I can speak for myself and many people I’ve spoken to, and it has slowed down. The market’s more competitive. This has meant some adjustments to my own business, but in truth, it hasn’t affected me too much—mostly because I’ve been able to even it out through my live events, which are very popular. But it has affected my digital sales, and it has affected the self-esteem and morale of many people I know and love. This is why I’m talking about it. I don’t want you to feel bad if this has happened to you too.”
And whilst the dream of a big selling online course is not over, it is important to diversify and keep your income-generating options open.
“For the love of God, don’t be a starving artist! Be open to going back to your old job, if that’s what you need to look after you, your beautiful family, and your life. Try out new things, be open to different ways of serving your audience and your soul purpose. It’s all about having an open mind and being flexible. Don’t pretend you’re healthy, prosperous, and hunky-dory if you’re not. I see too many people bragging about their six-figure incomes or glamorous lives, when nothing could be further from the truth.”
In the end, Belinda says it’s about following your passion and purpose in working in your business in the first place. As someone who has guided thousands to discover what their soul’s purpose is, she is adamant that success comes from looking inwards—never out.
“Don’t jump on what everyone else is doing to make money. Find your own way. Truthfully, it breaks my heart when people compare themselves to others who are playing the, “I’m pretending to be wealthy and have a perfect life” entrepreneurial game, and they don’t. Be inventive. But most importantly, don’t let your external success define you. Life is a series of ebbs and flows. There will be times when we are externally more favourable in the eyes of the world, and times that we aren’t. Learn to be immune to these, rise up, soar towards the heavens. Nobody can define you if you don’t let them.”
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So how do you run your own race, stick to your passion, and share your vision with the world then?
Do what you love, says Belinda.
“I don’t have a clear strategy. I don’t even think I’ve ever used the term ‘marketing strategy’, and I don’t consciously think about my brand. I just do what I love. So, what I produce, the way my website looks, and the way my images look, I just love it. It appeals to my visual artist.”
Beyond that, it’s all about serving.
My strategy, actually, if you want to call it that, is to serve. My marketing strategy is, ‘How can I help you improve your life?’ That’s the lens I’m always looking at things through. And then I balance it out with, ‘What am I willing to do?’ I’m always looking at it through those two lenses: what do they need, and what am I willing to do, and that’s where my soul purpose comes alive.”
“Just look after people. That’s what I’ve always done from the very beginning. I’ve tried to offer the best customer service and I’ve kept my ear to the ground, trying as much as I can to look after my students. I can definitely improve that, and will be doing more moving forward. But it’s always very important to me to treat people like human beings, and being focused. For me, it’s always been long-term, because beauty fads, and trends fade, but I will be here ‘til the end. I think so much of it, too, is about being humble, and showing up, and serving in whatever way.”
It’s hard to know your voice and your message when you are constantly surrounded by others’ brands, which is why Belinda says the most important first step in knowing your marketing strategy is to tune out from the world. When our heads are filled with other’s feeds, it’s impossible to know what our own take on something is. But the reason e-courses like Belinda’s have sold thousands of times over is because it came from within her—and the hundreds of clients she had worked with. Which is why, Belinda says the very best thing we can do to build a similarly successful business is to learn to connect inwards, and take a long-term view of it all.
“If someone is wanting to find their brand, their voice, who they are, it’s important to understand that they don’t have to go externally to find it. Actually, I recommend getting off social media as much as possible, and not subscribing to a ton of email addresses. You need to go within yourself. In the silence of that, the mindfulness of being with your own energy, the beauty and uniqueness of who you are will arise. My message is always: to change your life, you have to go within, and you have to shut out the external noise. That’s imperative.”
And don’t give up.
“You have to be in it for the long term. You have to think long-term, and create long-term. You have to work on your branding and stick with it. There’s nothing worse than fickle marketing. Changing your website every two minutes, changing who you are every two minutes. You have to be dedicated, and ready to work hard. Being an entrepreneur means you have to be willing to take risks, and you have to be willing to work really hard. That’s just the bottom line.”
“Professionals don’t copycat. Professionals go into themselves, and they stay in their lane, and they collaborate with other people. Non-professionals, they don’t have a connection to their own self, so they’re just riding the next wave of whatever to try to make money. You have to find what you do and stick with it—I’ll be talking about chakras, white light, mindfulness, and shadow work, until my last dying breath!”
Service, consistency, and long-term commitment: that’s how you turn an idea into a empire.