Online Courses As A Marketing Vehicle with Iman Aghay
I want to start the show with a question. Have you ever tried to build a course that you wanted to then use to create a company, the foundation of what you teach? If you answer yes to that, then drop everything as my next guest is going to walk you through the exact process on how to do that. A TEDx speaker with over 400 stages under his belt, featured on CBS, NBC, ABC. He’s founded the largest info marketing training center in Canada and currently serves over 10,000 students through his amazingly powerful program called Success Road Academy. Iman Aghay, welcome to the show.
Thank you very much, Mitch, for having me here. I’m super excited to be here with you.
I wanted to start with what we usually start with. I’d like to hear about your background. Tell us how you decided to get into business and build a company.
Back in 2008, I had this dream of becoming an international professional public speaker. Back then I was in Iran. I had several companies before that. At that point, I wanted to get bigger, go international and everything. With an Iranian passport, you can’t travel to a lot of places. I couldn’t speak English at all at that time. My wife and I decided to move to Canada and start building an international business, international company, and becoming an international speaker. When we moved here in 2009, my money was supposed to support us during the earliest stages of immigration and it so happened that it didn’t.
We landed here with $12,000 in our pocket and then we were like, “Let’s look for some jobs.” If you remember 2009, it was after the 2008 recession. There were a lot of people who were out of jobs. I was like, “I’ve got to apply for some survival jobs.” I was dropping off resumes one after another. When I went to drop off my résumé at Walmart, they said in the past two weeks there were over 500 résumés dropped off and they weren’t even hiring. They said, “To be honest with you, you probably even don’t have a chance to get hired because you can’t speak English properly.” That was how things started here.
We got to this point that one day I went to check my mailbox and I saw this $1,000 bill. I went to pay for it and I realized we only had $2,500 left in our bank account. The significance of $2,500 was that it was enough money to pay for two one-way tickets to go back to Iran or I could pay the bill, pay the rent, buy some food, and then we would have 30 days to become homeless. I couldn’t make that decision on my own. I went to my wife, I was like, “Honey, this is our situation.” In my heart, I was like, “We left a good business life in Iran. We came here and then because of going after my dream, I am making my family become homeless.” I was like, “Honey, we need to make a decision on this.” She turned back to me and said something that changed our entire life. She said, “Iman, have you ever given up on any of our dreams?” I said, “No.” She said, “Why would we give up now? Pay the bill, pay the rent, and we do what it takes to make your dream come true.” Have you ever had a person who believed in you more than you ever believed in yourself?Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. Click To Tweet
What she did is powerful. It’s one of those moments you’ll remember forever because it spoke of your true nature together. What a gift. What a wonderful, amazing person to have at your side to be your partner for life. Congratulations.
I was like, “She believes in me so much.” I was like, “We are paying the bill,” so I paid the bill, paid the rent, and the countdown to become homeless started, 30 days, 29 days, 28 days. I went all the way down to seventeen days. That morning I woke up, seventeen days away from becoming homeless. I realized I was insane. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. That’s exactly what I was doing. I realized that for the past few months, every morning I’d been dropping off résumés after résumés. I haven’t gotten any interviews and yet I was expecting to get a different result in the next seventeen days. I realized I should own my own power and strength and stop looking at others to come and give me a job. I realized that I have to build my own business because that’s the only thing I can rely on.
Basically, you arrived in this country. You could barely speak English. You have a limited amount of funds, barely enough for a few months’ rent and basic survival. You tried to get job after job, but everyone turned you down until you finally reached this moment where you say, “The only way for true freedom, the only way for me to truly become what I want to be is to build my own company.” You did have experience because you’ve done this before in your native country. Is that right?
Yes, I had an entrepreneurship experience. However, I never had any Canadian or North American experience. When I moved here, the reason I didn’t start from the beginning with my own business was number one, I couldn’t speak the language properly. It was hard to do anything. The second thing is that I didn’t have any confidence because I’d never sold anything here as like anything. I didn’t know the culture. I didn’t know anything. I was like, “I have to get a job to learn the culture and the language and everything first before I can go and rely on what I know already.”
When you are at the bottom of things, when you have nothing left, then I was like, “I’ve tried everything I could and none of it works. The only thing I have is the one thing that I know the best, which is how to build a successful company. I have to learn the North American way of it by building the actual company.” There was a good lesson in this because a lot of people hold back on starting their own business or building their own companies because they constantly question themselves, “Do I know this? Do I know that? Have I ever done that? I’ve never done this. I’ve never taken any class on this.” For any of our audience, if you are in any of the situations that you’re questioning yourself, stop doubting yourself. Most entrepreneurs learn things by doing them. By doubting yourself over and over, thinking, “I haven’t taken any class or anything,” you’re postponing something that at the end of the day, the only way of learning it is doing it.
That day I started my first company in Canada. At that time, I was like, “I know a little bit about search engine optimization. I understand online marketing.” I didn’t know how to design a website, but then at that point, I was like, “I can build a web design company.” Three days later, I got lucky and I found my first ever client. That’s gone and paid me $1,800, which paid for the rent of that month and bought us some food. That’s how my first ever client came about and how I happened not to become homeless.
That first client was a search engine optimization client, not doing what you do now?
That was a web design client. At that point, I had no clue how to design a website. I knew online marketing, but I didn’t know how to code, I didn’t know how to design a website. I’ve got the $1,800 check and the first thing I had in my mind was like, “What should I do now?” because I had to go and learn web design. Every dollar would count at that point. I couldn’t hire any person, because I needed every dollar of that money.Stop doubting yourself because most entrepreneurs learn things by doing them. Click To Tweet
At the time, I was working from 9 AM to 9 PM every day looking for clients. At 9 PM I would go back home, I would have dinner. Starting from 10 PM to 4 AM, I would watch YouTube videos and read books on how to design websites. Click by click, YouTube by YouTube video, support by support of the tools and the software we had to buy to design the client’s website, I learned how to design the technical side of the website. That went on for about five, six, seven months. Every month, the company grew and grew more. Within eighteen months, that company was a six-figure company. I always make a joke that I started taking clients from the people who didn’t hire me. I always appreciate them not hiring me because now I could take their clients from them.
We had a software company years ago and we had entry-level positions in tech support. People would join our company, work for us for six months to a year, and then move across town to a different company who was paying far more than we were. We got a thank you note once from the CEO of that company who said, “Thanks for training all of my entry-level people. You’ve done a great job.”
At least they didn’t hire me. They didn’t even give me an interview, that was the difference.
That was a gift because they forced you into desperation where you had to take action. We all somehow end up in a situation like that. Now you’re doing even something different. You’re helping people to create their dream course, take their passion and share it by using the vehicle of an online course. How did that come about from what you were doing by building websites?
As part of building that web design company, I realized I’m not doing what I came here for, which was public speaking, becoming an international speaker. I started doing some public speaking and that’s how I grew that company. I grew that company by doing speeches on the stage and then people coming back to me and wanting to buy our services and products. When I took the company to six figures in eighteen months, all the people that came to me had started asking me about how I built my company. I started coaching one person, two people, five people and ten people.
My coaching practice got much bigger than my web design and SEO company by 2012. I decided to drop the web design and SEO company and put my 100% focus on the coaching side and the public speaking side, which was my passion. By 2014, I was doing 200 talks a year, flying from one city to another city doing a morning talk, and then going to another city doing an evening talk. Although from outside it sounds amazing because you look like you have a lot of money and you’re rarely alone wherever you’re walking. You’re on the stage. From outside it looks super fun. From the inside, I haven’t spent months and months with my family, our friends. I was 280 pounds. I was constantly eating at hotel rooms, restaurants and conference rooms. I simply didn’t have a life. I was doing so many public speaking that it was killing me in a way.
I said, “I need to find a different business model that I can create the same financial security that I have at the moment, but then also give me something that gives me location freedom and time freedom. Something I can do whatever I want, whenever I want, and at the same time I can make a positive impact in the world because that’s what my top value is.” I reverse engineered twelve different business models. One thing I realized is the best business models that could give me financial freedom, location freedom, and time freedom was using online courses and webinars as the foundation of the marketing of the business.
A lot of people create online courses because they just want to sell a course. That’s a huge mistake. That is creating a course for the least important part of the impact you can make in the world and for the least amount of profit that you can make in the whole business model. What you need to do is when you create a course you need to create that course to use the course as the foundation of the marketing. In a way, you’re using an online course as a filtration process between people who are interested in what you teach people who are committed to what you want to teach. That makes the difference because there are three groups of clients that you have, interested ones, qualified ones and committed ones.
You use your online course as a filtration process to separate people who are just interested from people who are qualified and committed in an automated way. In between, use that course to generate enough income to pay your affiliates, to pay for your ads. Whatever comes from the qualified and committed group of people adds to your bottom line of profit without you being personally involved during that marketing process. Not being super involved during that marketing process, making that marketing process as automated as it gets.
This is a unique strategy, which I like. It’s one that most people would not figure out but would eventually end up with once they’ve realized what was going on. What you’re basically saying is don’t use your course as the end all, be all product. Use your course as a marketing vehicle to build a relationship with your client. To familiarize them with your nomenclature, your technology, your process, whatever it is, and then you now have somebody who is more qualified than ever before to become a client. Did I get that right?Desperation forces action. Click To Tweet
Exactly, and in between, the client also has paid a little bit for the course that they invested in, which that money covers the cost for getting joint venture partners who do referral partners, people who refer the client to you, or for paying for ads on Facebook, Google, or whatever you want to run ads on. Which covers the cost of your ads or covers the cost of getting traffic, it makes your traffic free and gives you a little bit of profit. More importantly, it gives you super qualified clients.
We’d normally call this a self-liquidating offer because the entire purpose of the course is to get in front of these folks. If you made a few bucks, great but it’s not the intention.
You can even go a little bit further than the self-liquidating offer because generally the self-liquidating offer, you might be looking at not making any profit or even have a little bit of loss or a little bit of profit. Usually, in self-liquidating offers, people are looking at about a $97 program or a $47 program. Even when you are looking at the $500 course or a $1,000 course, a lot of people create courses that are at that price and then they get stuck there. They’re like, “I have this $1,000 course or I have this $2,000 course,” and that’s their entire product. That’s the end of it for them.
That $2,000 isn’t the most important part of this client. The most important part of that client is that the client is raising their hand and saying, “I am willing to invest in myself. Come and take my hand and help me change my life. I’m willing to heavily invest in seeing that change in my life.” By creating that $2,000 course, I’m saying, “I’ve done my job.” What you are doing is that you are disappointing the client for not getting the dream service that they were hoping for. At the same time, you are hurting your profits in a very big way.
To our audience, if you’re getting this, this is brilliant. This is really smart. You also keyed in on one of the things that most people make their biggest mistake on and that’s making that course their all there is. That’s their whole product. You’ll make some money on selling the course, but the true value and the big money will come after the course is complete. Explain, if you can, what you do once someone takes that entry-level course that you provide. What’s the next step for you and your company?
I’m always an open book. It’s interesting because my students always tell me, “Iman, you were telling us all along and we did the exact thing that you predicted that we do, and we did the exact same thing.” I’m like, “Yes because they’re logical steps in my business and it makes sense.” Let me explain to you how, for example, that process for you is in my business and how it works. In our business, what we can help people with is how to position yourself as the go-to expert and become a world-class expert. There are many pieces involved with that whole process. There are many things that a person needs to be able to do to be able to achieve that goal. They need to be able to get on the stage, get themselves booked for this. They sell from the stage. They need to be able to understand their own introspection, what they’re all about, and what they want to talk about. They need to understand how to sell on the phone. They need to understand how to position themselves as a go-to expert, write a book, build their credibility, and do podcasts, all of these things.
This is not something that we can go out and right away tell people, “Let us teach you all of these.” They are going to get overwhelmed. They’re not going to be able to do it. It’s not a two-week course or a two-month course. This requires support over time while the person is doing all those works. They need support. They need to be able to get all the pieces and get the knowledge that is relevant for implementing those pieces with excellence. We go and break this down. We’re like, “If they are going to teach this person who wants to become a world-class expert one thing and that one thing should be the foundational piece that they know so they can do the rest of the stuff, what would that one piece be?” From my point of view, it’s either creating an online course or having an automated webinar funnel. If you don’t have an online course, you won’t be able to afford your traffic. If you can’t afford your traffic, then you can’t do anything else in the market.
I’ve broken that entire complex model of positioning yourself as a world-class expert into the first step, which is the course creation. For people who already have a course to have a high converting webinar funnel. Even if you have the course and you don’t have a high converting webinar funnel or high converting sales funnel, you can’t still afford the traffic. They come together. From my point of view, the most converting funnel are webinar funnels. Either you need to have an online course, or you need to have webinar funnels. I’ve broken this big thing that my dream client wants to do into the first step. That’s the first step.
I have a course, we call that the signature program. Our signature program, the program that I use to position myself as the go-to expert within the world, is the course creation course. Anywhere that I go, I go to a conference, I teach people how to create and sell online courses. If a student of mine is there, they always laugh. They’re like, “Seriously, he can do a lot more,” but that doesn’t matter. If I say all of the things I can do that will just overwhelm the person, but the person can’t position me as the go-to expert for that specific thing.You'll make some money on selling the course, but the true value will come after the course is complete. Click To Tweet
What you’re definitely doing here is you’re picking the thing, the entry ramp to what becomes a much bigger, larger relationship. To our audience, we’re talking to Iman Aghay, who has created the Success Road Academy. The Success Road Academy is known for helping people create online courses. Iman has helped show us how the course itself is a first step to creating a relationship that leads to you becoming a world-class expert. Even if you are a world class expert, it leads you to build a business around that expertise, which you may or may not have done at this point in your life. Iman, the strategy is exactly right. I couldn’t have prescribed a better strategy myself as a business consultant. Here’s the big question. How do you create the course itself? People know that you can pick up Thinkific and there’s a structure to build a course. How do you do it? What’s the philosophy behind it? Give us some of the steps.
Number one thing that you should think about in a course is that the biggest reason that people don’t create a course is that they get overwhelmed with technology or with the marketing piece of it. They can’t start creating a course because they’re either overwhelmed with the technology or the marketing or they don’t know how to structure the content. If I wanted to do this, I’ll have to restructure the content. What we usually do in the course creation, we have a method. It’s a method that you can use to create and sell your courses in 60 days or less. We call that method Ultimate Course Formula, which is the method that I teach my students. What we do is that we walk people through an eight-step process. During the eight steps, each step has about a four-hour homework. If you dedicate four hours a week to this, you can get everything done within eight weeks.
If you want to do it faster, you can read much faster. My record is that I’ve created and sold a course in seven hours from scratch without using my mailing list or anything. When you get used to this method and follow this step-by-step, you get better at it. However, the biggest mistake that people make is that they try to skip steps. The moment that you skip one step, it slows you extremely down, you go to the next step and you don’t have the material for the next step.
I’ll talk about the first few steps, which is the method that you need to use to create your course, to make sure that you’re creating it with excellence. The number one thing that you want to do is that you always want to create a course that you know and you’re sure that it will sell well. You never want to create a course that you’re not sure if it sells well. How do you do that? The way that you do that is that you sell the course first before creating it. The moment that I say this, many of you will think that I’m talking about preselling the course that doesn’t exist and then trying to convince people on something that doesn’t exist or lying to people. It’s not like that. Let me explain how you do this. We usually want to create a course and think about what do people want to buy? At that point on step one, that doesn’t matter. In step one, what matters is that you go back to your business and think about why you need to create a course?
We have three types of customers in our business. We have a group of people who are interested. For example, let’s say you want to talk about weight loss. The moment that you said, “I want to teach you about weight loss,” then 10,000 people raise their hands. They’re like, “I want to know.” What percentage of them are willing to put their hands in their pocket and pay you for it? Maybe only 100 of them, but not all 10,000. We have a lot of people who are interested in things that you want to talk about, which that creates your mailing list, which creates your followership. Between those, you have another group of clients that are called the qualified clients. Those are people who are willing to put their hands in their pocket and pay you something for it, $100, $200, $500, to $2,000, something like that. Not a lot of money, but a good amount of investment that shows that they are qualified. They have someone to invest in them.
We call those group qualified people. Between the qualified people, we have another group of people who are committed to their success. Those are people who are willing to heavily invest in themselves. They’re willing to invest $5,000, $10,000, $25,000, $75,000, $150,000 to make sure that they achieve the results, whatever results that it is that you teach. Those are committed people. You need to go back. The first step of the business is going back and asking yourself, “Which one of these do I need now?” What I want you to point out that most people don’t realize is that most of us, most of the world-class experts have many courses. We don’t have only one course. I have 48 courses as of now. Do you think I love creating courses? I don’t love creating courses, but we create courses because each course has its own purpose in our business. We create a specific course for interested people, we create specific courses for qualified people, and we create specific courses for our committed group of clients.
Each course has a different structure, different ways of doing it. What you need to do is the first step, go back to your business and ask yourself, “Do you need a mailing list? Do you need to get known in the market? Do you need to position yourself as the go-to expert?” If the answer is that, then you need to create a course for interested people. Do you need to create an automated stream of income? You have a list, people know you, but then you need to create something to generate more income from your thing, from your connections. If that’s the case, then you need to create a course for qualified people. If you have those two, then now is the time that you need to raise your prices. You need to attract higher-paying clients to yourself, and then you need to create a course for committed people. That’s the step one. Deciding why you need to create a course. We call that the business model. For what part of your business do you need to create a course?
When you say for what part of your business, do you mean for which of the expertise that you want to offer as a paid service? What do you mean by what part of your business?
For example, if you don’t have a mailing list now, that’s the part of your business that needs attention, regardless of the expertise. If a business isn’t known, doesn’t have the expertise and doesn’t have a mailing list, the first thing they need to do is they need to position themselves as the go-to expert, regardless of the expertise. To do that, you need to create a course for interested people. That’s the first step. Some businesses, regardless of expertise, have a lot of people on their social media following them, but they can’t generate any income from it. Those people need to create a course for qualified people and some people are charging $100 an hour. Now is the time to go and charge more, to start creating packages. Stop charging per hour and start packaging their services. Those people need to create courses for a committed group of people, and this is regardless of expertise. What do you need? Do you need a mailing list? Do you need to generate an automated stream of income? Do you need to raise your prices?You never want to create a course that you're not sure if it sells well. Click To Tweet
A course is great for teaching something to somebody, but the true value of a course is in using that course to identify and then create an audience based on the people who pay attention to that material. That is one of the best ways I’ve ever heard before of using the course, whereas everybody else just uses it as their product. Let’s wrap up with the idea of what happens after the course is created. If I don’t have a mailing list but I am an expert at what I do. Maybe I even work in Corporate America and I’m an expert at what I do, but now I want to strike out on my own and create a business. In that case, is the goal of my course to build the mailing list? Is that the first goal that I should use if I am starting out and I already have an expertise that I could promote?
That is one of the courses that you will build and that is probably a shorter course. That probably is a series of three videos or it can be one 40-minute video. That’s still one course. You need to create that to be able to use it to position yourself as the go-to expert. At the end of that video, that course, that process, you invite people to invest in your paid program. That paid program can be a course that generates an automated stream of income for you, or that course can be a one-on-one consultation session to a higher-end program. We are using the course as a filtration process between the interested people and people who want to take action.
Here is one thing. We are skipping several steps here because we did step one, which is why are we creating the course, and then there are another seven steps in between. What should we do when the course is finished? When you do the step two of the course creation, at that point, there’s a specific market research that I teach. We call it Iman’s Eight Golden Questions. When you do that market research, you create an irresistible offer based on your expertise and based on what the customers want.
Step three is creating the structure of your content and step four is inviting people to join a live beta program where you will teach people online but live. During that process, you put together the structure of your content and the actual content, and you get feedback from people who are going through the course. What that does is it gives you confidence that you know what you’re teaching. It gives you competence because you have taught it once. It gives you testimonials and feedback to improve the program and also have the foundation of the testimonials and everything else you need in an actual sales funnel and sales process.
To our audience, I have to stress that this is a tried and true method of moving from unknown to known to running a business. It seems the steps are all in place. To our audience, I know that Iman has a special gift for us. Iman, why don’t you tell us what that gift is?
Our audience can go and follow the link. It will get you to a document, to a 20-plus page eBook that describes all of these steps that covers course creation. After you download the document, you can also sign up for a free 90-minute training that explains all of that process to you. Learn about all of these eight steps in details on what you need to do to be able to successfully create and launch an online course in less than 60 days. Mitch, here’s an interesting thing. I talked to a lot of people who want to create online courses. There are lots of people who want to create an online course in six months, a year, two years or five years. They’ve been thinking about creating an online course and they don’t take action. Simply the reason they don’t take action is that they’re overwhelmed with not knowing where to get started. The key to these steps is that at every step, you only need to think about that step alone and nothing else.
For example, if you’re worried about how to get the traffic, you don’t have a mailing list. You have to put all of that worry aside. Those worries don’t matter if you follow our Ultimate Course Formula because during that process you are only thinking about one thing at a time. That thing is the thing that is ready for you. For example, to think about your business, what you need, you don’t need a mailing list to think about that. You can’t think about that now. You don’t need to know about Facebook advertising to know about that. Those steps are designed for any person, regardless of their experience or how long they’ve been in business. They can use it and they can use this system to create their online course in less than 60 days.We create courses because each course has its own purpose in our business. Click To Tweet
Iman, I have a couple of questions for you. These questions are my favorite questions of all. They always help me get a better idea of who you are. Here’s the first question. Who, in all of space and time, would you like to have one hour to enjoy a walk in the park, a quick lunch or an intense conversation with?
Tell me why.
I’ve always admired him in his sense of understanding how money works and his values. His value is not just making money, although he’s rich. He has the same sense of view of the world that I have, and I can relate to him.
Warren Buffett would be a great person to ask the type of life questions that we’d all benefit from hearing. For the grand finale question, the change the world question. What is it that you are doing or would like to do that truly has the potential to literally change the world?
It’s exactly what I’m doing. What I help people with is to change other people’s lives by using their knowledge and message. I have the marketing knowledge and I can share my marketing knowledge with any person that I like. If I share it with a person who is making the world a worse place to live, then I create more of that. If I share my knowledge with people who can make a positive impact in the world, I create a ripple effect of my marketing knowledge. When I’m helping the person who teaches people how to overcome their anxiety, I am helping thousands of people to overcome anxiety. When I’m helping the person to help cancer patients to overcome their problems with cancer, I am helping thousands of people with their cancer. Any person that I’m helping in my world on a day-to-day basis is creating a ripple effect in the world. Those people, when they change their lives, they go on and they change other people’s lives around them. In fact, as part of our mission at Success Road Academy is to change the lives of 100 million people by helping 10,000 experts change the lives of another 10,000 people. That’s our exact mission of Success Road Academy.
Basically, you are the amplifier that is being used to distribute and broadcast the brilliance of others with the work you do. It’s a mission worth hearing about and participating in. To our audience, if you like what you’ve read, if you believe that you too can build a course that will create a way for you to create a bigger portion, a bigger impact, a bigger business, a new branch of your existing business, then check out Iman’s incredible work. Iman, thank you for your time. Thank you for sharing generously. I know you’re going to have lots of continued, interesting conversations together.
Thank you, Mitch, for having me here. It was super fun to share this information with everyone.
Resources Mentioned in This Episode:
- Success Road Academy
- Ultimate Course Formula
- UCF ebook: http://www.successroadacademy.com/dap/a/?a=1849&p=ultimatecourseformula.com/how-to-create-and-sell-online-courses-guide-book
- UCF webinar: http://www.successroadacademy.com/dap/a/?a=1849&p=ultimatecourseformula.com
- UWF webinar: http://www.successroadacademy.com/dap/a/?a=1849&p=ultimatewebinarfunnel.com
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