On January 22 I came up with a big idea – a business growth course for wellbeing professionals that would be ‘pay what you like’. Two days later I made the crazy decision to announce to our Facebook page of 1300+ people that it would be launched February 1st, just eight days later. As promised, this is the story of my experiment.

Idea first, marketing second, creation third

I came up with the idea on January 22 of writing a 30-day course revolving around key questions to grow your business and quickly wrote the questions. On January 23, I refined and reordered the questions and wrote the sales page. I also got in touch with a few colleagues and wellbeing friends telling them what I was doing.

January 24 was F-day: announcing on Facebook that this new course would be launched February 1st created a deadline to motivate me to get going. A little tight, yes, but not impossible as I had a lot of the information already prepared, in different formats.

The next day I published the sales page on my site and noticed a spike in our website traffic. I made sure that the page URL was short so that it was easy to remember and would be more attractive to produce on images. I also received the first phone call from a stranger wanting to sign up – good news! I added ‘Registration opens Feb 1st. Please join us’ to the bottom of the page.

Thank God for the Australia Day long weekend! I told my partner I needed to concentrate on writing this course and left him to look after the children, cook, clean and Get Stuff Done (much like he normally does). I was still reworking the questions and reordering them until February 28th when I finished the course and started editing it, which continued for three days (editing normally takes me far longer than writing, particularly if it’s a long piece). I released a paragraph from the course on February 29th on Facebook and another two on the 31st to inspire, tease and build anticipation.

Uploading the 30 questions one at a time into our Reach email tool took about two hours, including the time to format and link to additional information. It would have been quicker but I stupidly added email one to be sent one day after signing up, email two after two days, etc, rather than email one, immediately after signing up and email two, one day after signing up, etc. (You can see me uploading a question, blissfully ignorant of my timing mistake, here).

Registration opened February 1 – I got up early to add the PayPal ‘Donate’ button to the sales page, sent a pre-written email to my list announcing the course, and promoted it heavily on Facebook and Twitter. I also told my colleagues and wellbeing friends that the course was now open so they could direct people to the sign-up page. The first person signed up, then the next, and the next, and the next. Exciting.

PayPal shuts me down

On February 3rd, despite it being clear in their terms of use that a business did not need to be a registered non-profit to use the ‘donation’ button, PayPal shut me down. Naturally, they didn’t shut down the facility to collect the money, just my ability to access it.

Once I realised that nobody could tell any different, my anxiety levels went back to normal and I sent PayPal the information they required. Three days later, I could access my PayPal account again.

The short window of opportunity

Registration was only open for six days. Throughout this period, I promoted it heavily on Facebook, Twitter, and emailed my list twice – once when the course opened and then I sent the February email newsletter on February 5th reminding everyone that the course closed the following day.

I experimented with Instagram (you can’t post active links on Instagram), Google Plus and LinkedIn, and also encouraged my supporters to promote the course to their networks.

The short window of opportunity meant people had to make a decision as soon as possible or miss out. This also helped encourage more people to sign up, though several people got in touch after February 6 wanting to take the course.

Pay-what-you-like pricing experiment

I decided to make the pricing ‘pay what you like’ for several reasons – I wanted to make it accessible to as many people as possible. I know that lots of people consider using Yoga Reach but our lack of accessible products makes this difficult. This pricing model allowed me to demonstrate our value to as many people as possible. As it was an e-course, location wasn’t an issue. All that was needed was an email address and a credit card or PayPal account to pay.

I also wanted to encourage as many people as possible to take the course so that I could have more feedback to analyse, so this pricing model aided that.

What people paid

Seventy eight people signed up for the course. The recommended guide price was $30 but people could pay as much or as little as they pleased, so long as it was at least a dollar (PayPal doesn’t allow for less). I was impressed that 33 out of 78 paid the guide price of $30 – 42 per cent of course participants. Six people paid $1. Only one person paid more than $30 – $50 from a client who I’ve worked closely with before.

I made a net $1539.27 after PayPal fees were deducted.

Feedback on course content

Almost to a person, feedback told me that it was too much information, too much implementation, too quickly. Although the course was not theoretical, it was very action-oriented. One question per day, for 30 days, guiding people to write, think, change, experiment and analyse, was often overwhelming.

Feedback on pricing

It’s tricky to ask for feedback from course participants on pricing. I know that if I were in that position, I wouldn’t want to indicate that the price should be higher lest I make it more expensive for the people following me.

With the help of my market research guru, I posed the question in the survey, “If you were selling this course, how much would you charge for it?” Responses varied substantially, with the median amount of $204.

Pricing and value

Setting a price indicates value. I was very disappointed to see the average open rate was 61 per cent. Some of this could be attributed to participants feeling overwhelmed by the course but if that were the case, then the earlier emails would have a higher open rate which wasn’t the case. The open rate stayed more-or-less consistent at 61 per cent throughout the course.

Investing your money in something is a big motivator to use it. For the same reason that I advise my yoga studio coaching clients to consider moving from a casual, drop-in class model to a course model so that students are more committed and motivated to practice regularly, putting a significant investment into a course means you have ‘skin in the game’.

With the best of intentions, a teacher or coach cannot force students or clients to act. Motivation must come from the participants.

I really liked the pay-what-you-like pricing model and intend to use it again in the ‘first release’ of new e-courses that I’m currently working on. In future, I will be offering the pay-what-you-like price to a smaller group of people who’ve shown their interest in the subject and commit to filling out the survey or giving me in depth feedback.

I had a response rate of 24 per cent on the survey, which is far higher than is typical, but not so great considering that the survey is essential to the whole process. I followed up with a few people I knew over the telephone, questioning them about their experience with the course and their particular learning style.

What next?

I’ll be relaunched a new, improved ’30 Days’ which will be called ’30 Steps’ and, you guessed it, expanded into several months, with more support, interaction and feedback throughout. I am aiming to open this late May for just one week, and the course will commence June 1st. (Yes, this date will motivate me to get on and do what is needed to be done to make the course better and bolder than before).

Lessons learned

  1. You know more than you think you do.
    We all know more and have more prepared material, than we give ourselves credit for. All your workshops, notes, articles, blog posts and in depth email responses are all fodder for you to consider ‘re-purposing’ into an e-course.
  2. Deadlines make things happen.
    You think my self-imposed deadline scared me? Of course it did! But the potential public humiliation of not living up to my February 1st deadline motivated me to get over my procrastination and self-doubt and get on with it.
  3. Experiments make good business sense.
    In the 30 Day course, we looked at ‘minimum viable products’, introducing a business idea with minimum risk, to learn, seek feedback, analyse, change and tweak and relaunch. All smart businesses experiment with products. As entrepreneurs, we must learn to ‘fail fast’ rather than fail expensively.
  4. Make it easy for people to become your clients.
    I wanted to create a product that was accessible to all people and gave people a low- or no-risk option to purchase. This course was somewhat successful in achieving this. Although 75 per cent of survey participants said the course was ‘very practical and actionable’, it wasn’t an easy process to go through. The term ‘business growth’ may have put some people off if they have unconventional plans for their business, although the course made clear that growth is however you define it.
  5. PayPal has a monopoly.
    Bring on some competition.
  6. Price indicates value.
    We cannot get away from this. When I invest $2000 in an e-course I am far more motivated to do it, and consider it more valuable, than if I invest $200, $20 or $0. At the end of the day, I want clients to be motivated to learn and change. If that means raising the price accordingly, so be it.