The Focus Course

The Focus Course
Launch Week Case Study

Behind the Scenes of a $117,000 Product Launch

At first, I wanted to title this series, “How I Accidentally Built a $333,000 Business”

Because that’s how it felt to me — like an accident.

As you’ll soon discover, my hope was to earn $10,000 from the Focus Course.

I was taken by surprise when it brought in over 10 times that amount in just the first week alone. And then went on to make another few hundred thousand dollars over the following 12 months.

But, as I’ve thought about it, I’ve come to the realization that I did not “accidentally” launch a successful course.

An athlete who is training for her first marathon, who trains every day for a year, does not “accidentally” finish her first race.

A writer who commits to write his first book, who sits down at the keyboard to write every day, does not “accidentally” finish the rough draft.

Neither did I “accidentally” build a $333,000 course.

Sure, everything was new to me: the business model, the marketing sequences, the pricing, even the revenue numbers, etc. And I honestly did not expect for the course to earn as much revenue as it did.

But, to say it was an accident would discount all the work I put into marketing and list building, the years I’ve spent writing for my websites and building an audience, and the hours and hours I put into researching and crafting the contents of the course.

Just because it was a new experience doesn’t mean it was an accident. And neither does it mean it’s not repeatable.

All the work I did leading up to the course launch, and the work I did during and after the launch was very intentional. The financial success of the course is merely an outcome of the value the product actually provides.

You, dear reader, may be in a similar situation. You have the diligence, the drive, and the hunger. You are showing up every day. Yet you feel like things are still up to chance and luck. You feel like an imposter who is unsure of what you are doing, and you’re not sure how to make progress.

For this article, and the few more that will follow, I am going to be as transparent as I can. I’ll be sharing actual sales numbers, the reasoning behind those numbers, and my main takeaways.

I know that the story of how I built and launched my course can be helpful to you.

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Real quick, before we dive in…

This article is the first in a 4-part series.

If you want to be notified when the next in this case study, just mash down on the button below and enter your email.

And as a bonus, I’ve put together a free worksheet I’ll send you that can help with finding your creative focus (which, as I’ll explain in the email, is actually quite important for anyone and everyone looking to build an audience and launch a product).

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How It All Began…

First, I validated the course content through a Podcast Mini-Series.

At first, The Focus Course was actually going to be a book called The Power of a Focused Life.

Here’s a mockup I made in Photoshop that I was going to use for the book’s landing page:

pofl group hero

I wrote the whole first draft of the book in the fall of 2014. And, as I wrote each chapter I also shared the contents on my members-only podcast, Shawn Today.

Over the period of a few months I published dozens of episodes along this topic, and the feedback I received from my membership community was very positive.

Thus, I knew there was interest in the topic. And, as such, I knew it would be worth my time to take that content and turn it into a finished product.

For me, I found that doing the rough draft of the content as podcast episodes was a great way to get the initial content created while simultaneously validating the worth of the content.

If you’ve got a course or product you’re in the works to create, make sure you have a way to validate your idea. Validating our ideas is so annoying because it seems like just one more hurdle standing in between the moment of inspiration and the finished product of glory. But don’t skip it.

The Research Phase

After the podcast mini-series was over, and I had the first draft of the book (17,000 words), I began doing research to discover what themes and ideas I was missing out on…

Many books

I bought a ton of used books from Amazon.

I bought and read over 50 of the most influential and popular books that have been written about productivity and creativity during the past century. And for most of them, I found myself highlighting stuff and feeling motivated, but not actually applying change to my life.

So, here I was, reading these incredible books, finding so many great ideas, tweeting about them, and then putting them back on the shelf and going on about my life.

I wasn’t taking the wisdom from the books and using it to apply change in my own life.

And it struck me: I knew that if I wanted to help people (and help myself), I needed to do more than just write a book…

I needed a way to apply the wisdom from those books into my daily action and behavior.

That was the turning point for me.

That’s when the Focus Course turned from a book into an online course that could be guided and action-centric.

Here’s a video explaining “why” I created the Focus Course…

Step 1: Start Building a Focused Audience

I began my newsletter 5 months before launching the course.

As soon as I was set on building and launching a course, the first thing I set out to do was to start building an email list.

For years I’d been writing my blog full-time, and that was my primary communication channel. But I’d learned first hand that the best way to build and launch a product to an audience is to use email.

So, in February of 2015, I started writing a weekly email newsletter even though it would still be several months before The Focus Course was ready.

My email list proved to be the single greatest asset for creating and selling the course.

After a few weeks of the newsletter, I began promoting it to my website and Twitter followers. I put together a lead magnet (which is something I gave away to folks who joined the list). It was an ebook I wrote called, The Procrastinator’s Guide to Progress. (You can grab your own copy right here, btw.)

The free guide helped garner attention and bring in subscribers to the list. My newsletter was featured on InVision, and I was asked to do a guest post on the ToDoist blog as well.

(I should have done more guest posting. I didn’t really think of it though, and I was (honestly) so slammed with building the course that I don’t know when I would have made the time.)

In mid-April of 2015 my friend, Pat Dryburgh, finished the design of the Focus Course landing page. And wow! It was (and still is) absolutely stunning.

We put up that new “official” landing page, and used it to drive as many people to the email list as possible.

I wanted anyone who was interested in the Focus Course to be able to sign up to be notified about the launch, plus I would also send them that same lead magnet: The Procrastinator’s Guide to Progress.

A big part of what made the email newsletter so powerful was that I could capture the attention of people who were interested in the course before it launched. About 3,000 people signed up for the email list during the two months that we had the landing page up and before the course launched.

But I was doing much more than just collecting emails. I was also trying to build an audience based on trust and reciprocity.

That’s why it’s so important to keep the following in mind:

Don’t Screw Up Your Auto-Responder Series

As I mentioned above, your email list will prove to be the single greatest asset for creating and marketing your product or service. So step one is obvious: start building that audience.

But a list of email subscribers isn’t enough.

You’ve got to open a dialog with your audience as quickly as possible.

Make sure you’re giving them as much relevant value as you can and also asking them about what they’re challenged by.

When I launched my course, it was to an email list of about 6,000 people. Which is teeny tiny when you consider that it did $117,000 in sales the first week.


Step 2: Start Serving Your Audience Immediately

When people first sign up for your email list, that’s when you most have their attention.

Consider this: The open rate for most of my weekly email broadcasts is right around 55%.

But the open rate for my welcome-series emails (what someone gets right after signing up for the list) is around 85–90%.

That’s a massive opportunity.

The email you send after someone first joins your list is the email that will be read more than any other. Make it count.

My 2-Part Welcome Series

For my list, I had a short series of two emails that went out after people joined.

The first email they got right away. I thanked them for their interest in the course and I included a link for them to download their free PDF guide.

Then, the very next day I sent the second email. This one informed the reader all about the Focus Course and what was included, and then I asked them to hit reply…

Here’s how those two emails performed:

1st email, sent right away:
“Here’s your free guide” (90% open rate / 77% Click-Through)

2nd email, sent after 24 hours:
“The Table of Contents” (86% open rate)

That second automated email was so powerful. Like I mention, I outlined all the main themes of The Focus Course, and then asked the reader for their personal feedback.

The reason I asked for them to reply is because I wanted to know what their biggest challenge was related to focus. And that feedback was invaluable.

I received countless replies to that email over the months. And thanks to those replies, I knew exactly what my readership was challenged by. Therefore, I could address those specific issues right in the course contents as well as in my promotional content leading up to it.

Moreover, by asking for feedback, it gave my readers the opportunity to take ownership of the future product — they felt involved from the beginning. From the get-go they had a stake in this course and it was something they were involved in, even in a small way.

If you’re adding people to your list, you need to have at least one or two emails that go out to them over the first few days.

Takeaway: Use your welcome series emails as an opportunity to deliver on your promises, offer some immediate value, introduce yourself to your readers, and find out more about who they are.

CREATING THE COURSE

I architected The Focus Course on 3×5 notecards.

Cracking open a fresh pack of notecards, I wrote down all the individual ideas and topics for the course that I could think of.

I put only one idea, topic, assignment, or lesson per notecard. Then, I laid everything out to survey what was there.

The Focus Course Notecards

Being able to see it all laid out visually like this proved to be immensely helpful. I could quickly move stuff around and get an idea for the overall flow of the course.

I had 7 “rows” of cards: one for the Introduction, five rows for the five modules, and one row for the conclusion. At first I had just shy of 60 days worth of cards in there, but I knew that I had to keep it to 40 (in the end I cheated by not counting the introduction or conclusion day, so technically it’s 42 days).

The challenge of paring the course from 60 days down to 40 wasn’t easy. Some of the cards I just tossed out altogether. Others I ended up combining. When friends would come over, I’d bring them down to my office and show them the outline and ask what they thought.

Finally, once I had the topics of the 40 days settled, I went through the order. I went through it over and over in my head…

I wanted Day 1 to lead into Day 2 to lead into Day 3, etc. I wanted all of Module 1 to lead into Module 2, and then all of Module 2 to lead into Module 3, and so on.

I wanted there to be an ebb and flow to the lessons, so that the days that were more fun would be interspersed with the more challenging introspective days, etc. And I wanted the course to start with something easy and fun and to end with something fun but challenging.

In short, I considered the information architecture to be just as vital as the contents. The notecards were instrumental in helping get the architecture just right.

With the order of the course finally finished, I started outlining each individual lesson.

As I mentioned, on the front of each card was the focus for each day, and on the back of the card I would put any notes, ideas, and references for that day — but it had to fit on the card. I didn’t want to have so much content that it would be impossible to get through each day’s lesson in a timely manner, so my outlines were literally constrained by the physical size of a 3×5 notecard:

The Focus Course Notecards

Then, I put the whole stack of cards in order, placed them next to my desk, and started writing. Each day I took the topmost card and wrote the corresponding lesson for the course.

It took me 47 days to write the course. I began on March 19, 2015 and finished on May 5, 2015.

During that month and a half, I wrote 40 daily lessons, plus the course’s introduction, conclusion, and the 5 module overviews: roughly 55,000 words in total — an average of 1,170 words every single day.

It sounds intense, but by this point the writing just flowed because I was so deeply immersed in the topics and content that everything was top of mind.

Plus, thanks to the constraints of the notecards themselves — a single topic with a pre-defined outline — much of the ambiguity involved in the writing process was gone. All I had left to do was expound on the few ideas I had already written down.

This daily writing of the course coincided with my pilot group. I wasn’t just creating the course in a vacuum — I was emailing out each day’s course contents to a group of 90 people.


The Pilot Group

90 folks who helped me refine the course before it went public.

With the Focus Course announced and most of my research done, I sent an email out to my newsletter list asking for volunteers to take part in the pilot program. I thought it would be a cool way to get people to help me test the content.

There were about 125 applicants, and I picked 75 of them while trying to get a good cross-mix of demographics and careers paths. I also reached out to 15 personal friends and family members and invited them to go through the pilot course as well.

The pilot group was also a way to test the waters of pricing. Was there anyone out there willing to spend money on this thing?

I charged $50 for the pilot course, and that proved to be far too little. What I will do differently for my next course is ask pilot members to pay the full registration price, but offer them additional value, such as group coaching calls only for pilot-members.

The way the pilot program worked is that it was literally just a list in MailChimp. Each day, I would write one lesson for The Focus Course and then email it to the pilot group. I did that every day for 47 days.

In addition to sending out the email to my list, I also posted the lesson as a blog post on the Focus Course website. As readers replied with feedback, typos, etc., I fixed it in real-time on the website.

This small, daily progress proved to be an extremely efficient way to create the course. By the time the pilot program was done, I was 95% done with the course contents as well. All that was left was to refine a few things and then have the text professionally edited.


Deciding on Price

Don’t discount the value you’re providing.

Originally I was going to charge $79 for The Focus Course. Honestly, I was afraid to charge any more than that.

My friend, Ben Brooks (who was also a pilot member), said I would be crazy to charge so little. He recommended that I charge at least $250.

And my mom, who is always the encourager, said I should charge $500.

I already felt nervous at the idea of charging $79… I just couldn’t imagine that I had the ability to ask people to pay that much for a product.

The hard part of pricing is that because you are so familiar with your work, you struggle to see the true value and worth of what you have to offer. Because you’re so comfortable with your content, it’s not always clear just how much value you actually provide.

The deep familiarity you have with your work is, in fact, what qualifies you to teach it and to charge a fair price for it.

In the end, I decided to sell the course for $249, with a special launch-week price of $199.

Not only did this seem more reasonable to me than $500, but it also meant that people would have skin in the game. At $249, they would have an investment in the course. They’d perceive it at a higher value, and, hopefully, they would actually work through its contents.

Because that’s the whole point! I care as much about delivering the value within the course to my audience as I do about making enough money to keep delivering future value.

We don’t make movies so we can make money. We make money to make more movies.” — Walt Disney


A Second Round of Pilot Members

A handful of folks to sign up early and use the final version.

One week before the launch of The Focus Course, everything was ready and in place.

The design and content were finished. The videos were uploaded. The on-boarding welcome emails, the community forums, and the welcome landing page were all done.

But before I opened the doors, I wanted at least a handful of people to sign up and have several days to go through that “first mile” of the course and make sure all the moving parts worked correctly.

To get this second group of pilot members, I reached out to the 50 remaining folks who had previously applied for access to the pilot group but who hadn’t gotten in. I invited them to sign up early at the launch-week price of $199.

But of the 50 people I reached out to, only 7 signed up…

…and that frightened me.

Here were 50 people who had applied just a few months earlier to be a part of the course — these 50 people were my ideal customers, right? They had already expressed their willingness to sign up for the course. Yet response rate was so low. Why?

Turns out, the response rate with this group was low because of the price of the first pilot. Those 50 people had initially been willing to spend $50 on The Focus Course. But now the price was $199.

In their mind, they had anchored the “value” of the course at $50. And so most of them were not willing to spend $199 to sign up. The course felt “too expensive” to them.

But it wasn’t too expensive to everyone else.

As you’ll find out, when I did officially open registration for the course, the $199 price point was hardly a barrier of entry at all. Because for everyone else, they didn’t have a “price anchor” in mind. In fact, many people even felt that the $199 price was so low that it made signing a no brainer.

Two takeaways here:


Building Anticipation With Pre-Launch Articles

This is what makes or breaks a big launch.

With one week to go, I began a Countdown to The Focus Course.

On my website and my email list, I published a series of articles every single day leading up to the Launch of the Focus Course.

I wanted it to be ridiculously obvious that The Focus Course was launching soon, and I was hoping to get people excited about the launch.

Here are the pre-launch emails I sent out to my list of 4,350 people.

  1. Countdown to The Focus Course (48% opens; sent Sun, June 14)
  2. Living Without Regret in the Age of Distraction (49% opens; sent Mon, Jun 15)
  3. You Have Ideas (50% opens; sent Tues, Jun 16)
  4. The Jolt (50% opens; sent Wed, Jun 17)
  5. Fight (48% opens; sent Thur, Jun 18)
  6. An Interview with Tyler Soenen (47% opens; sent Fri, Jun 19)
  7. Tomorrow: The Focus Course (48% opens; sent Mon, Jun 22)
  8. Here It Is: The Focus Course (49% opens; sent Tue, Jun 23)

The goal with the first six emails was to build anticipation of the course. In each email I wrote something that was helpful, practical, and valuable (those articles are still today some of the best I’ve written). And then, at the end of each email, I mentioned in the P.S. that the ideas behind that article were just a taste of what would be unpacked inside the Focus Course.

With email number 7, sent the day before launch, I laid out all the details of the course. Nobody knew the full details yet. It’s here that I showed the first screenshots of the members-only areas of the site. I also revealed the pricing and the launch time.

Then, lastly, email number 8 was the launch day email. It was short and sweet, just letting people know the course was now available to purchase.

I highly recommend this strategy of pre-launch sequences.

As you can see from the open rate during launch week, sending out an email every day is not a bad thing — not when you have a story arc and you’re providing something people want.

During these emails that led up to launch day, I was getting replies every day from people saying how much they were enjoying the articles. Several people even asked for early access to the course because they couldn’t wait until launch day.

Here’s a screenshot showing traffic to the website during June 2015.

focus-course-june-traffic

Leading up to the launch, the website was averaging 300 unique visitors per day. On launch day, the site had over 5,000 visitors.


Preparing For Launch-Day Traffic

Just in case things blew up (in a good way).

I had no idea how well the course would do or not, but I reached out to Flywheel, Memberful, and Stripe just to make sure. I let each company know that I’d be seeing a rise in traffic and transactions — though I didn’t know how big.

I’ve heard stories of people getting shut down by PayPal or Eventbrite on their big launch day. And while I didn’t expect that to happen, I still wanted to be proactive about even the possibility of it happening. The folks at Flywheel, Memberful, and Stripe were all very helpful.

I even got a couple of emails directly from Drew, the founder of Memberful, on launch day saying that his team was keeping an eye on my account to make sure it kept running smoothly. Thanks, Drew! 👍

LAUNCH WEEK SALES FIGURES

In my experience with selling Delight is in the Details, the launch week revenue of a product is about equal the half-life revenue for the next year.

So, my expectation was that whatever I did in sales during the first week, I would then do again over the course of the next 12 months. Thus, I had a few goals for what the launch-week revenue would be:

Launch Week Revenue Goals:

Why these revenue goals? Well…

With $5,000 in sales combined with the income from the pilot group, then I would break even on my financial expenses of building the course, and be profitable post-launch. It cost me $9,600 to build and market the course — this included website design and development, video recording and editing, editing of the written content, the purchase of tons and tons of research materials, paying for hosting and other services, and a few other odds and ends.

If I could break even during launch week, I would consider that a win. It would mean I had built and launched a new product that was profitable from day one and would provide me with at least some passive income for years to come.

With $37,500 in sales, then it meant I would likely gross a total of $75,000 over the next 12 months (half during launch and half over the next 51 weeks). And with that amount, I would no longer be dependent on the sponsorship revenue of my other websites.

From a business perspective, this was my primary goal. Up until the Focus Course, sponsorship revenue was my biggest source of income, but I wanted to primarily be supported directly by my audience. Moreover, I just didn’t want to have all my eggs in the advertising basket. While advertising is a perfectly legitimate business model, and one that can be tasteful and relevant, it’s not the financial foundation I want to build on for the long-run of my creative career.

$75,000 in sales was my wild and crazy dream. Who knows, right? With a $75k launch, it would mean well over six figures in the upcoming year. And I already knew how I could use that to fund the growth of the Blanc Media websites.

Actual Revenue…

The sales blew past even my biggest goal. On launch day, I sold 45 courses within the first 45 minutes of launch, and went on to do over $30k in revenue the first day.

Here’s the breakdown for launch week sales:

Launch Week Gross Revenue: $112,088

Include the pilot group and early memberships, and gross revenue after launch came to $117,330.

(Since launch week, the course gone on to generate an additional $215,000 in gross sales. But more on that later.)


Launch Week Giveaway

How to make things more fun.

I reached out to my friends at Baron Fig, Ugmonk, and Day One to get some prizes to give away. I had two awesome posters, a handful of notebooks, and a few dozen codes for Day One on iOS and Mac.

Everyone who signed up for The Focus Course during the launch week was eligible to win one of the prizes.

Doing a giveaway like this is so much fun. It brings a community dynamic (other brands helping one another out), and who doesn’t love to win free stuff?

What I would do differently is change the giveaway deadline. I would make it only for those who signed up in the first 24 — 48 hours. This would help create an additional level of “urgency” during the launch window.

As you can see from my daily sales numbers up above, the final day of launch, there is already a huge amount of urgency that happens when the price is about to go up. You don’t need any other forms of urgency if you’ve got that one.


Launch Week Emails

What you send out during launch week is just as important as what you send out leading up the launch.

These are the emails I sent out during the launch week to keep the momentum moving.

  1. 24 Hours Later… (49% Opens)
  2. Free Video on Procrastination (46%)
  3. Answers (46%)
  4. Discounted Pricing Ends Today (41%)
  5. Last Call (43%)

The first email was to tell everyone about the successful first day of the course. Provide social proof that people were signing up.

The second video offered a free video from the bonus content area of the course. It was a way to show folks the production quality and content of what’s inside.

The third email was to help address any remaining doubts, obstacles, or questions related to the course.

And for the final two emails (#4 and 5), the segmentation got pretty confusing. I actually sent four different versions of each of those emails, each one to a different segment of people on my list. (The more specific and relevant you can be, the better!)

Side note about Email Service Providers

Because of the way I had MailChimp set up (with three unique lists), several folks were getting multiple versions of the same email because they were on more than one list.

This was my biggest frustration with MailChimp. And it’s why shortly after The Focus Course launch, I moved my list to ConvertKit and then, ultimately, to Active Campaign.

Takeaways:


Celebrating Success

Regardless of if your product launch goes great or totally flops, invite your friends and family into what you’re doing.

Obviously, every day of the launch week I was keeping very close tabs on sales. It was exhilarating.

On the last day of the launch week, It became obvious that we were going to cross over the mark of $100,000 some time that day.

It was around 8pm in the evening that we were approaching $100,000 in total sales. We were right around $99,500. Just three more sales to break $100k.

I got out two shot glasses and poured two shots of Blanton’s bourbon. One for my wife and one for me.

And we waited…

After the third sale, the one that crossed us over the $100k launch, we toasted. What an incredible milestone! 🍻

Also, a few weeks later, we hosted a backyard BBQ party to celebrate the launch of the course. I had spent the better part of the past year — over 1,500 hours of my time — to create the course, and there were so many people who were involved in the process.

We invited all our friends who had been so instrumental and supportive in helping with the building of the course. We catered in Jack Stack BBQ, played life-size Jenga, and sat around a camp fire.

Building something can often be isolating and lonely. You put in hours and hours of work while sitting alone at your desk. Don’t let that work stay isolated, and don’t let yourself experience your failures and successes alone — share them with others, invite your friends and family into what you’re doing.

FROM $117,000 TO $333,000

Now that the launch week was over, I had a library of assets I could use. I’d written some of the best articles of my career, and I knew they would be helpful to future readers.

How then could I take these assets and use them to build an “evergreen” launch series so that new people who express interest in the Focus Course could be led along the same path as the original newsletter list?

Moreover, the success of the course made me re-think everything. Instead of moving on to the next thing, wanted to double down and continue building. I wanted to iterate on the version 1.0 that launched and turn it into a 2.0 version.

Plus, I now had to think of ways to get in touch with potential new course members as well as provide ongoing value to all the current members.

With the launch week over, it felt like my work was just beginning.

That’s what I’ll be sharing in the next article…

To be notified when I publish the next articles in this case study, please punch in your email. I’ve also got a special worksheet I’ll send you that can help with finding your creative focus.

Coming up next in the series:


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And as a bonus, I’ve put together a free worksheet I’ll send you that can help with finding your creative focus.

Creative Focus

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