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This post is a look back at my first 12 months in online business. It is written just as much for my own enjoyment in documenting my progress as it is meant to be helpful/inspirational to those that may be interested in pursuing an online business as well.
Also, the level of effort put in to online business is rarely discussed, much less glamorized so I decided to publish my personal reflections to show just how much work goes in to achieving "passive income".
This "passive income" amounted to hundreds of hours of work, resulted in 127 written articles, 29 instructional videos and podcast interviews, 9 e-Course Lessons and 1 membership site.
Ok, maybe even thousands of hours of work...
However, the payoff in terms of skill development, career and personal growth and generating tens of thousands of dollars in revenue has been well worth it.
I work on my business a little bit each day. It's been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I would highly encourage you to set, take action towards and realize a BIG GOAL in 2017.
This post serves as a sort of diary into my first year in business. I never set out to achieve what I accomplished, but looking back on the year I thought it may be helpful for others looking to build their own online business. I was hesistant to publish such a personal memoir, but many pharmacists I speak to have indicated that they too are interested in creating their own online business or e-courses. I hope that sharing my story will help shed some light on the mysterious process.
My number one rule is to give the people what they want. You follow that and success will soon follow. Disregard it and you will waste time and money. Online business is an attractive option for aspiring entrepreneurs because you have the benefit of “building it once and profiting forever". This is why we are so enamored with e-courses, membership sites and the elusive “passive income”. One thing they don’t tell you is how long it actually takes to build those things. I want to give you a step by step, honest look into how I built a successful e-course and now run a profitable membership site in the last 12 months. I hope that it will encourage you to forge your own path regardless of list size or perceived success. If you are willing to put in the effort on the front end, you can build an online business that provides you will recurring “passive” income to fund your dreams.
Let me first tell you the story of my nightmare...
I had been working as a pharmacist for the past 3 years. I was in the early stages of exploring financial independence and personal finance. In March of 2014 I talked my husband into venturing into the world of rental real estate. Little did I know that just two months later I would be laid off from my job. I also happened to be six months pregnant at the time. One thing I knew well was that being pregnant did not give one much leverage in a job interview. At this point, I was still bitter and jaded by the idea FTE. Relying on a single source of income again terrified me. I decided the answer was to diversify my income streams, thus leading me to explore entrepreneurship.
My first idea was to build a pharmacy staffing business. I had experience with relief work and thought that I could hire other pharmacists and schedule them out on an as needed basis. I considered this as I continued to work in many different pharmacies around my state.
One of the pharmacies I was doing relief for asked me to do their MTM consulting. After declining previously, I finally relented and then promptly fell in love with the service. I knew this was the business I had been looking for. I had my sights set on a local pharmacy consulting business so I started educating myself on all things business.
Day 1 Checklist - business tools you must have:
Business and Marketing: 101
As a pharmacist, I didn't know the first thing about how to create a business, much less how to market it. I tried everything to learn how to start a business on my own. I took small business classes at the local community college. I watched webinars. I read pharmacy industry white papers. I even considered going back to school for an MBA. Unsure of how to proceed, I turned to the best source of information ever invented: podcasts. At the time I really had no intention of building a business outside of my home state, but I thought that maybe if I listened to some business podcasts something would “rub off”.
My meandering entrepreneurial journey finally led me to listening to a podcast called the BizChix Podcast. One show, I heard the host mention her upcoming mastermind program. I thought, maybe this is what I need and immediately booked a call. In speaking with the host Natalie, she mentioned several things that really hit home and inspired me. Usually fear and insecurity prevent me from taking action, but my gut told me this was the right next step. I didn’t end up joining that mastermind because it was for more advanced entrepreneurs, but I did hire Natalie on the spot to be my personal business coach. I couldn’t wait until our first session.
Beginning in October, 2015, we met once a week for the next twelve weeks. One of the tasks she gave me was to start writing about my business progress on my blog. I was already attending these pharmacy industry events and webinars so it was easy for me to share those notes. Plus, I’ve found documenting my ideas helped me to develop unique insights and connect the dots. A few of these articles produced “ah-ha” moments for me, so I thought they would be helpful to other pharmacists. I shared them in a few LinkedIn groups and they practically went viral (by LinkedIn standards).
Thankfully, Natalie also had the foresight to have me add an email service provider to my website to begin collecting emails and distributing a Newsletter. I went with Aweber, but didn’t really expect anyone would sign up. Slowly, week by week, more and more people would join. We were consistently adding about one subscriber a day. All of a sudden, engagement started to blossom. People started commenting on the posts, responding to my email “newsletter” which at the time was an RSS feed of my blog articles and connecting with me on LinkedIn.
They were all in the same position I had been!
They were interested in consulting, but had trouble figuring out where to start. People started asking for calls, sometimes I would take as many as three per day on top of my normal workload. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to help much on these short calls, but I wanted to find a way to share my information and ideas with others in an affordable and less time intensive way.
Before you can run, you need to learn how to walk
That desire to find a more sustainable way to share this information with more pharmacists led Natalie and I to explore the idea of building an e-Course. The strategy we developed allowed me to gain insight into the barriers of consulting in the short term, focus on how I could help offer solutions and to validate the business idea. The solution we decided on wasn’t one of six figure launches or passive income, but in fact quite the opposite. I offered a one on one coaching package at the lowest price possible. I knew that this would not be a scalable model, but I can not stress how important it was to defining my avatar and outlining my program. It gave me clarity on where I needed to start.
I offered my coaching program to my email list, which at this point was only around 50 souls. Several people responded with some interest. In addition I did some “personal selling” by personally contacting persons who had reached out previously for advice. I put together a 12 week program that consisted of 4 one hour sessions. Three people signed up, then it was off to the races.
I kept extremely detailed notes of each of our coaching sessions, recorded their most common questions, concerns and barriers. We talked about what they had already tried and what had failed. I asked them why they wanted to do consulting. We talked about personal finance and my strong belief that an entrepreneur needs both time freedom and financial freedom to be successful.
This customer development phase was the single most important step for me in my business. It helped me gain confidence, validate my ideas and give me a solid outline for developing a coaching program. My plan was to continue offering personalized coaching, but I quickly realized that coordinating the schedules of two busy pharmacists was more difficult than expected. Then Natalie made a suggestion: offering an recorded video version of my coaching program.
I had an outline for the coaching program so it wasn’t too big of a leap to think about what it would take to put together a recorded lecture or two. At the time, I had no idea what tools to use to accomplish this, how much money it would cost or what it would look like, but I do now!
Contrary to popular belief an e-course is not the path to instant success that the internet marketing gurus preach. It took me twelve months to pay myself a regular salary. Throughout those twelve months my business model changed from personal coaching, to a one-off e-course and finally to a membership site. But it didn’t happen overnight, it required more work that I maybe have ever done in my life. I am here to be real with you, tell you my story and show you how a normal pharmacist from Arkansas can build a profitable online business.
December 2015- Pre-sold the e-course
I admit that I was drawn to the allure of making "passive income" through the interwebs. The idea of all my hard work paying off in this way was enough to motivate me through the many, many hours I spent crafting blog posts, writing articles for other sites for exposure (like the ones I did for my favorite loan refinancing company CommonBond - Get $200 Bonus for using my referral link) and connecting with others on social media. But most importantly to offset all the money I was spending on getting the site up and running. In addition to that, I was taking a huge leap of faith by hiring a business coach to help a nascent entrepreneur navigate the shark infested waters of online business. But, I am so glad I did.
The first large amount of money Natalie helped save me was by telling me about a wonderful tool call Google Suite. At the time I was only using my hotmail address from the year 1999 and to be honest, I still use it too. I had been on a Windows PC since I had taken over my parents desktop computer. I used to spend hours playing around on the internet until I got kicked off our dial-up internet or someone needed to use the home phone line (there were no cell phones yet). The only word processing software I knew was Microsoft Office.
So almost one year exactly from the time of this writing I got my first Gmail account, I even figured out how to get it through my website domain so it looked even more legit. Natalie was quick to give me permission to be able to move forward without have everything perfect.
At this point I was listening to podcasts mostly focused on e-course creation, marketing and launches.
I decided to pre-sell the course to my email list once it reached 100 people. I researched launching, software, sales copy and email marketing. I put together my sales page copy, drafted my first email campaign and started looking into course hosting software. I didn’t love the idea of relying on a third party site for anything. Since they own all of your traffic and none of my target audience were active on those sites anyway, I decided it would be better to host my own course in the long run.
This was the best decision I have made. It has allowed me to build a stronger brand, retain traffic and most importantly to pivot my business model. I had built my original blogging website through the drag and drop free platform Weebly. My past experience with a personal blog hosted on a Wordpress site had gained me two things. One a dislike of Wordpress and two a hosting contract with Siteground. Armed with my lack of technical Wordpress skills and a host, I started searching for someone who could help me build out the site.
Natalie referred me to a wonderful person named Jill from UltimateWPHelp.com (referral link) who became my developer, designer, mentor and friend. She identified several software options that would work for the course and design. She also suggested that we also add a Forum feature to the site. This recommendation would become the feature that allowed me to make the shift from one-off course launches to a membership model. But I am getting ahead of myself.
We identified a few possible options, but Jill agreed to hold off building the entire site until we had people enrolled. She used my sales copy and a few pictures of my world travels to build a beautiful sales page which I still use today. She connected that page to Stripe, which I connected to my business bank account and put up a buy button. Natalie decided we needed three course options to choose from.
The base price which offered only the e-course and forum access for $197. The “anchor tier” was e-course, forum access and a one hour VIP brainstorm session with me for $297. And the “premium” tier was e-course, forum access and three one on one coaching sessions for $697.
The page went up, the buttons were live and finally we were ready to launch!
I researched several “product launch formula” gurus, but decided that I had already spent enough money. The one thing I did do was to take note of the selling tactics they were using on me and figure out a way to tweak them in a way that would work for my audience.
At this point my list was nearing my 100 person goal so I decided to launch my e-course at the worst possible time of the year; the ten days before Christmas.
Miraculously 8 people joined the beta group before the December 31st cart closing. An 8% conversion rate during the worst converting (for coaches) month of the year. No one was more shocked than me.
Natalie and Jill assured me that this was practically a Christmas miracle, so I spent the first six weeks of the New Year busting my butt to make sure I didn’t blow this golden opportunity.
January, February, March the rough draft
January - course creation with beta group
Now that I had a beta group of clients to work with, I had a sounding board instead of an echo chamber. I had a very rough outline of the course at this point. I knew there would be six Lessons. The first would focus on basic business knowledge and the pros/cons of some of the various corporate structures. Drawing upon my own experience with my lawyer and accountant, I shared my experiences. Just as I am doing now. Not telling you what path to choose, just letting you in on my journey.
Now that I had a group to work with, it was time to start recording. Our mantra was minimum viable product so the first iteration of the course was shot on free, blurry screencast-o-matic.com It wasn’t produced, high quality or even edited. The free version of the service only lets the user record in 15 minute increments. Thus creating the three module structure I still use for each of the Lessons. Not so much because of a streak of brilliance on my part, but a decision solely based on necessity. As it turns out, the members really liked the three module set up as it was easy for them to download into smaller chunks, remember where they left off and return to a timestamp to re-listen to a point.
The downside of the inability to edit the videos was that if I messed up or got interrupted was that I had to start recording the module all over again. This also lent an entertainment value to the videos as a few times my rooster would wander by my office window and make sure his “voice” was well represented. I left it in because it is part of who I am.
The first lesson focused mainly on LLC vs. S-corp, EIN numbers and business bank accounts. Basics of business. In that first Lesson, I also talked about the mindset of the entrepreneur, creativity and confidence. A lot of what can hold a person back is the desire to meet the expectations of others. For me, my “imposter syndrome” manifested by causing me to question whether I was skilled enough to pursue consulting. Or if I had enough letters behind my name before I was permitted to start a business. Many of my clients still lose sleep over these barriers. I wanted to inspire them to make a decision quickly and move forward. This is one of the best pieces of advice I can give to the aspiring entrepreneur. Make decisions quickly and committedly.
Also, I share why I loved being an entrepreneur and the flexibility it added to my life. Since entering the profession of pharmacy, I had never met a single pharmacist who worked from home. The idea was identifying why the pharmacist was there in the very first week. What did they want to accomplish? One, to get them excited and generate motivation. Two, simply because I was interested in learning about them.
I also was able to work another of my interests, personal finance, into the course. The problem with being involved in a highly compensated profession is called the Golden Handcuffs. This refers to the lifestyle inflation that occurs as income increases. The high salary creates a safe zone to get very complacent. It was an important barrier to address because there is no guaranteed salary in entrepreneurship. I want to encourage you to think of your ideal client in a holistic way. This was key in nailing down my avatar.
I practically begged for feedback. Sometimes I got it, sometimes I didn’t. I moved forward anyway. Week by week, starting with Week 1- Lesson 1, Modules 1, 2 & 3, I built the course on a seven day timeline. Six if you didn't include the day of the launch. Each week the next Lesson had be added to Dropbox by Sunday night so in the wee hours of Monday morning a virtual assistant in the Philippines could publish the new videos to the site. I feel like I didn’t cut it close to the wire too many times.
Mondays new videos were posted. Tuesdays, I would email requesting feedback. Wednesday, if I was lucky, I had some feedback to go on. If not, I’d move forward with my outline. Research, flesh out slides on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Then on Sunday morning before my husband and daughter even got out of bed, I’d be in my office recording the next week’s Lessons. This behind the scenes look certainly explains a bit more regarding my rooster’s presence in this narrative.
That is how the first six weeks were produced. Dripped out on a weekly basis. Moving on to the next Lesson almost immediately. Week 1 Inspire, Week 2 Give Options, Week 3 Give Details, Week 4 Give Marketing Strategy, Week 5 Give Systems, Week 6 Scale. That was the gist of the program. To give a very broad introduction then to move into more detailed specifics as the course trudged forward.
February - finished course and prepped for relaunch
I wrapped up the final Lessons in early February, just ready to get them done and shooting the last 2 weeks on the same day. At this point I was thinking about re-launching the course to my growing list. The Forums were starting to have more activity that just my postings. Because of my technical ineptitude, I had no idea who was participating or for how long. I just did my best to add value and share every bit of information that I could.
Some of that information took the form of sharing my own resources. I was mentioning my templates and documents so I decided to start posting sharable links to my google documents through Dropbox. The process was to create a Lesson thread in the Forums, then share all the resources mentioned in that Lesson there. Much, much later someone finally gave me the brilliant idea of putting them all in the same place, so now there is a dedicated “Downloads” page on the site. This is one thing I wish I had done from the very beginning.
At this point, I felt comfortable with giving more specific details about the course and doing a bit more of a traditional email marketing launch model. I decided to do the launch over a 10 day sequence with a cart opening and closing since we were dripping the content and it felt much more like a traditional course at the time. I typed out the emails on google docs, copy and pasted them into my Aweber template, cleaned the up a bit and scheduled them to go out to the three hundred or so people on my email list.
The February launch gained another 16 participants, about a 3.8% conversion rate. Three of the sixteen participants also purchased the add on: a one hour Brainstorm Session. My goal was 35 participants. I was secretly hoping to get even more so that I could say I had a “five-figure launch”, but that wouldn’t happen until about six months later.
As a special reward to myself, I bought myself (actually my business bought for me) a brand new Macbook Pro. I also took a much needed vacation touring Ecuador with my best friend.
Since the course had already been built, I was able to focus on creating quality content to share on the blog. I felt very happy with our first two successful launches and felt that was enough to validate the business idea. I set about to turn some of the course into a book.
One thing that helped me more than anything is listening to Shelley Hitz’s podcast Author Audience Academy. Nick Loper’s in-detail book publishing case studies at SideHustleNation.com also helped me understand the process. Following Nick and Shelly’s advice, I decided to start a plan to put together a book launch team. I recruited twelve pharmacists or pharmacy students to join the team. Some were friends of mine, some were readers and some just may have wanted a free book.
Regardless, they got a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the book launch process that took up most of my time during the month of March.
March - book creation
The idea for the book was to serve a few different purposes.
I wanted to create a low cost option for people to be able to get a taste for my services and the e-course. My plan was to take the first three Lessons in the e-course, have them transcribed by Speechpad, put them together in chapter form, edit the copy and post on Amazon. This is an oversimplification of the process, of course, but that was the general idea.
In order to publish on Amazon, you also must have a book cover and the text formatted in a certain way. I highly suggest hiring someone who knows what they are doing. My book cover designer was familiar with the process and helped to walk me through the different requirements for a Kindle version and a paper version. The book cover for CreateSpace had to include enough space on the side to cover the bindings. I would have had no idea about this small detail, but my designer knew how to figure the binding based on the number of pages.
Before we could figure the number of pages, however, I had to have the text formatted correctly for print and then again for Kindle in an .epub format. This is another task I highly recommend hiring out. If you get the formatting off even a small amount, it will affect the printing process and may cause your book to be rejected by CreateSpace. Hiring help in the transcription of the video, editing of the copy, formatting of the text and finally cover design helped me turn around this book in around sixty days from start to finish. Now that I understand the process, I have found that I very much enjoy the process.
Another purpose for my first book “How to Build a Pharmacy Consulting Business” was to market the Academy on another very powerful search engine: Amazon. I had been working diligently toward search engine optimization on Google and LinkedIn, but I saw Amazon as a way to reach a much broader audience of pharmacists. Including keywords in the title and the book description is the secret to showing up in an Amazon search.
There is also a very useful tool on Amazon called an Author page. You can set up your Author page and connect it to an RSS feed on your blog. You can add links back to your website and include more information about yourself and your background. It is just one more way to get in front of the audience that you want to help.
The third purpose of my first book was to create an additional income stream for the business. If you were planning to get rich off a book on Amazon, please don’t waste your time. Unless you happen to hit the NYT bestseller list, don’t expect making more than a couple hundred dollars each month. I spent several hundred dollars on cover design, formatting, editing and I even wasted money on someone creating a press release. The paperback version is $19. It is published on demand through Amazon’s affiliate company CreateSpace. The Kindle version is $9.99. The book is profitable now and adds an additional "passive" stream of income for me, but income wasn’t my main motivation for publishing.
The final reason for publishing the book was in order to serve as a very, very cool business card. A book is something that sets you apart from the crowd. It helps to position you as a thought leader in your subject of interest. I was also able to recruit some of the people from my email list to help launch the book.
The book launch team was a group of volunteers that would receive a copy in exchange for a behind-the-scenes look at my book launch process and a free PDF of the book. They helped me proofread the book for any errors before publishing, plus edit and clarify any confusing ideas. Then, once the book was live on Amazon, I asked them to write a book review. And finally to share the book on social media and with their peers.
Self-publishing a book is a ton of work and requires some monetary investment. I would highly recommend it only if it is part of a larger strategy. If your main motivation is to turn a profit, focus your time elsewhere instead, like on building your own e-course.
April, May and June my Transition from e-course to membership community
April - upgrading the course
The book went live on Amazon on April 1, 2016. The launch went fairly well, except for a bit of confusion on my part as to how to set up the “giveaway” feature on Amazon. All in all, I was happy with the feedback that I got from the book and the small, but consistent monthly revenue it brings.
As I have already mentioned, there were multiple reasons I decided to publish the book, but the number one reason to introduce people to the e-course content. My goal was to keep adding new Lessons to the e-course and continue to raise the price. However, this is where my business coach stepped in to offer brilliant insight and advice. She suggested that I look into the membership model.
In a membership model, subscribers pay a set amount each month to continue their access to the course. This would help me accomplish a few various objectives:
Looking forward to 2017 and beyond, I thought there must be some way to encourage continued participation and excitement for current members. The new Lessons would also be a way to attract new members during the launch period.
Each Lesson took me around 40 hours each to research, outline, build out the slide presentation and record. Then there was the expense of having my website developer add the new modules to the site. Including all the launch marketing materials I was close to 50 hours total commitment. I knew that this was not sustainable for profitability if I was to continue doing all of this work myself. This led me to the idea of a low monthly membership fee.
This low monthly fee helps to cover the time spent answering member questions in the Forums, technology costs to keep the site running and helps subsidize my time for researching and building out new Lessons.
It also helps me with budgeting my expenses and allows me consistent revenue that I can build in to my business. This reliable source of income helps me make projections about next year’s revenue and also plan for how I’d like to reinvest it into the business.
So far, our retention rate has been phenomenal. At first, I was very afraid of not being able to offer enough value to my members to offset their costs, but as I see more and more of what else exists on the market, I feel more confident than ever that my prices are more than reasonable. In fact, I’m probably too low, but getting and keeping members is most important.
Many of my members are also in a time of transition in their careers so it is very important to me they feel that this course is an investment in themselves at a time when money may be tight.
It was also much, much cheaper than purchasing one on one time with myself. I charge $250/hour for one on one coaching, but as a member you get an unlimited number of questions to post in the Forums. Not all questions are directed towards me, but regardless I try to respond and add to each discussion.
As far as return on investment (ROI) for participants, I feel that the $27/month was a no brainer for most members since I use the Forums as a kind of “group coaching”. This has definitely been reflected in increased activity of the Forums and the very good retention rate we have had to date.
In order to prepare the site for the shift to a membership model, there were a few tweaks that needed to be made. The first thing I did was upgrade my video recording software. Now that I had a fancy new Macbook, I purchased Camtasia, the recording and editing software de jour for Mac.
I spent the rest of April re-shooting all of the course modules and getting them to my developer to post on the new membership-site version of the site. There were also a few plugins that I had to purchase in order to run the membership site that was a bit different than the ones we were using to run the e-course and Forums. All technical stuff that Jill guided me through.
By the end of April I had all six Lessons re-recorded and posted in order to begin the transition to membership site.
May - developing a new lesson
In May the e-course was being offered as “evergreen” meaning the cart was staying open all the time. I had new people joining the e-course at a rate of 2-3 people per month. I was quick to let everyone know that in order to access the site after June 1st, they would have to sign up to continue their membership.
Since I also had a decent sample size in which to poll current members, I had started to develop some TypeForm surveys to help me develop new content for Lesson 7. I shared these surveys with my current members, my email list and on LinkedIn. My main goal was to determine what information was needed and then prioritize content based on the data. Somewhat based on the premise of the book “Ask.”
I used the most common responses to build a totally stand-alone Lesson 7. The information from Lesson 7 alone, is good enough information to charge $97 for. For a microsecond, I even considered selling it separately when a few people asked for it. Ultimately, I decided to keep the program whole.
We added two more members with very little marketing effort on my part besides what I had already been doing. I was also able to add a few more consulting jobs in order to bring in revenue. Once was a ghostwriting article and the other a one-off training webinar. All of this while planning Lesson 7 and the site transition.
This month, I was also contacted by the director of a medical clinic in India. He had found my information through the GHO website that I have a profile on. He reached out and asked if my “pharmacy network” would be able to help support their organization Asha Kiran. After some discussion and thought, I decided that we would participate. Since May, the Academy donates 5% of each enrollment to this charitable organization.
My long term vision for my life and business is to advance the profession of pharmacy. I also wish to do this through volunteering and building a medical clinic in an underserved country. Creating this business was one step closer in creating a business that could help to fund my own dreams.
June - switch to membership
In June, I was finally ready to launch Lesson 7. In order to garner excitement, I decided to publish a series of 7 posts on LinkedIn detailing each of the seven lessons. The information I published on LinkedIn was pretty much the exact outline I had used to develop each lesson. I thought it would be a helpful way to refer people with specific questions back to some information.
On June 6, 2016 we had our very first customer join since the transition. We were officially a membership site! Throughout the month of June, eleven more pharmacists joined during the Lesson 7 launch.
This is also around the time that the first feedback from the book started coming in. The book was selling well, later in 2016 it would actually reach #1 in its category. This provided another small, but reliable income streams.
I also began to really focus on what I wanted to provide for my members. I created one of my infamous “10 Ideas Lists” for the 10 things a perfect membership site needed to have in order for me to participate. One of those things was a weekly Forum recap. Another of those ideas was the Monthly Mastermind call. I wanted to focus on the members and I heeded the advice, “Your best customers are your current customers”.
In addition to the posts I had published on LinkedIn, I also continued to market the course on the blog, through my column in Pharmacy Times and on the Pharmacy Podcast. During this time, I was regularly writing 8-10 articles per month in order to promote the Academy. In order to take some time off from writing, I decided to create a blog series that would carry me through the remainder of the summer. I was spending too much time indoors working on my business when what I really wanted to be doing was be outside with my family enjoying my summer. This desire for a more automated approach became my main focus and I looked for ways to be more efficient and productive.
July, August, September automating and scaling
July - switched email service providers
One of the ways I decided I could be more efficient was to switch email service providers. I had been looking at adding LeadPages, but it came with a hefty monthly price tag. Also, I wasn’t sure if I had the time or the technical ability to create them. A blogger friend of mine recommended ConvertKit (CK) as an affordable alternative.
I was also looking at creating email “templates” or “canned responses” as they are called in Gmail. The canned response feature has consistently saved me time and sanity. It allows me to efficiency answer common inquiries and also reach out to contacts in a specific way.
It was also around this time that I discovered Boomerang and created the system I still use for following up with emails. I use the “star” feature, plus the Boomerang app to help me manage the large amount of emails I receive.
With CK I could more easily build opt-ins, leadpages and use templates. This was important as my main focus was growing my email list. By July my email list had to grown to push me into the $49/month package offering, but I was still saving money.
In July, I also hosted the very first Mastermind call. I asked the members to send their questions to me in advance and prepared a little presentation based on the questions. The basic format of the call was introductions, short presentation, Q&A discussions and finally goal setting. This format worked well for the 90 minute call.
I recorded the call, but ultimately decided NOT to share it in the Forums. I wanted members to attend live to see what it was all about instead of listening to it after the fact. I did make an outline of the call and the goals to share in the Forums.
The month of July added 3 more members to the Academy. I wanted the members to know how much I appreciate their support and involvement so I began sending handwritten thank you notes to each of the new members. I was a bit disheartened by only adding 3 members during the month and began to think that I had helped all the pharmacists that needed helping.
Unsure of what to do, I reached out to fellow pharmacist and business coach Alex to ask his advice. He encouraged me to continue on the path I was on. I believe he said something to the effect of there are 300,000 pharmacists in the US alone. He encouraged me that if I could just help 0.001% of these pharmacists, the Academy could be wildly successful in helping advance the profession. I owe it to Alex, for encouraging me to stay focused on the Academy and avoid getting distracted by “rabbit trails”.
In addition to this, I began thinking about the content to include in Lesson 8. Again, I polled my members. What do you need the most help with?
Some of the feedback I received directly impacted the direction of the eighth lesson.
August - creation of Lesson 8
In August, I created the eighth lesson. It built upon Lesson 7, plus added some new content about collaborative practice agreements. It was during this time I also began the process of officially copyrighting the first six lessons of the signature e-course, How to Build a Pharmacy Consulting Business. I’m not sure this was 100% necessary, but my thought was that if one day I decide to license out the e-course content, I would be able to do so without fear of not being legally “legit”.
I also began polling my email list on which opt-in would be more beneficial. A or B? I then created it and gave it to the list for free. It was such great content, I still have it as an opt-in on the site. During the month of August, we also added 9 new members. My faith in what I was doing returned.
As a way to advocate for pharmacy to a larger audience, I decided to submit an article to the Huffington Post. The article 3 Reasons President Obama is Helping Pharmacists Test Your DNA is one I am very proud of, I continue to share it on social media.
August also brought an entirely new opportunity and challenge to the table. I was asked to speak to a group of students at a national pharmacy conference on the topic of Entrepreneurial Innovation. With zero formal speaking experience, I decided to invest in developing that skill.
Fortunately, my mastermind buddy Carol happens to be a brilliant speaking coach. I hired her up on the spot. We began outlining a plan for the October speaking engagement.
September - first speaking gig
When Carol and I began crafting my presentation for NCPA, I was also in the middle of another launch.
On September 1, I launched the eighth lesson. For this launch, I decided to do things a bit differently. I created a video tour of the e-Course, Forums and Downloads (swipe files). I was afraid that members may be hesitant to join if they were not familiar with how online courses and membership sites worked. At this point, I was very proud of what I had built and had not doubt it was well priced and could provide results.
We added 7 new members during the Lesson 8 launch. I also made it my goal to be of the utmost service to my colleagues through my speaking, the course and the blog. I wanted to add 20 new members to the course by the end of the year. I had also made a decision to close the doors to the e-Course at the end of October.
My thinking was we could add a large number of new members, focus on getting them results and them closing the cart for the Holidays. That is exactly what ended up happening.
In the meantime, Carol had prepared me for my presentation. I was going to discuss my journey as the “accidental entrepreneur” and give tips on networking online and off. I also created a free LinkedIn cheat-sheet to give to the students at the conference. I used the free text-to-join app Textiful to gather emails and send out the PDF cheat-sheet automatically.
September was only the calm before the storm as October proved to be the most busy and challenging month in my business to date.
October, November, December vision casting and focus on current members
October - conference and a scholarship award
October 15th was the date of my presentation. I presented my talk on Entrepreneurial Innovations at NCPA in the New Orleans Convention Center. I’m so glad I decided not to wear my beautiful Christian Louboutin stilettos. I did a ton of walking, networking and enjoying my solo trip to NOLA. The presentation was very well received and I made a ton of new contacts. Embarrassingly some people at the conference recognized me from my website. I was glad for their support and kind words, but it was a bit surreal.
I also wanted to award a free e-Course membership before I closed the course as a way to say thank you to the Pharmapreneur Newsletter Community. I ran a scholarship application to choose a recipient. We had 54 pharmacists apply. The winner was chosen based on need, desire to build a consulting business and dedication to be involved in the course. I also decided to offer each applicant a significant discount on the course.
Normally, I don’t like awards or discounts because the less investment you put in the less invested you will be to getting results. However, I wanted to make sure price wasn’t a barrier for those pharmacists who truly wanted the information.
We added exactly 20 new members including the scholarship recipient. On October 31st, as promised, I closed the course and the price permanently increased.
At first, I had trouble charging $197 for the e-course. Now that I have created something of such great value, I have no qualms about charging for my expertise. Just like many others, I suffered from imposter syndrome and questioned whether or not I could actually help other replicate my processes.
After hundreds of hours of study on these subject, a sort of fluency developed. I found that I could now explain these very complex ideas more succintly that others I had learned from AND distill them down into just the relevant "need-to-know" details. With this in mind, I raised the price of the e-course to $597 and have no reservations about it.
I also began thinking about how I could use my NCPA presentation to re-purpose as a webinar series to use during the January launch. I also began the process of developing Lesson 9.
November - vision casting for 2017
In early November, I also attended the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists (ASCP) annual meeting in Dallas. This meeting was very encouraging as well. I was excited to share the innovative business models that were being discussed in the two meetings I had recently attended.
This idea got me thinking about how I could reach even more pharmacists in 2017.
My goal was to reach 10,000 pharmacists with my message and double the number of pharmacists taking part in the Academy.
One of the ways I decided to try and accomplish this was by creating an affiliate (referral) program. In exchange for help sharing the message of the Academy, I would share a portion of each new enrollment that came directly from the affiliate referral. This created a good opportunity for my members to share about their experience in the Academy and a way for others in the industry to refer people who were interested in consulting to the website.
In addition to creating an affiliate program for the re-opening of the e-Course in January, I also began planning a super exciting project that would take up the first half of 2017. This project will be revealed very soon; I don’t want to “jinx” anything just yet. I promise to include an update on it as soon as the details are finalized, but I will say that my goal is to have 5,000 pharmacists participating.
We had our very last Mastermind of 2016 at the end of November and had the best attendance to date. I am excited to share about the results the members are seeing. I also put the finishing touches on Lesson 9 for its “go live” date of December 1st.
The content in Lesson 9 was a passion project of mine as it was something that I had been excited about for quite a while. In Lesson 9, we explore the new world of lab testing, including genetic testing in the pharmacy setting.
I am committed to continuing to build the Academy and add new trainings at least quarterly. In addition, I'm going to be adding more member's only interviews and masterclasses.
I want the Academy to be a place where any pharmacist can join to learn about consulting, enhanced clinical services and how to build a profitable business online and off.
I thank you for reading and for a wonderful year. I hope your Holidays are safe and happy. See you in the New Year!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Blair Green Thielemier, PharmD is an independent consultant pharmacist living in Arkansas with her husband and daughter. She is the founder of Pharmapreneur Academy, an online e-Course and Community where she guides pharmacist-entrepreneurs through the process and barriers of building a pharmacy consulting business. She is the author of How to Build a Pharmacy Consulting Business, a contributing author for Pharmacy Times and guest host on the Pharmacy Podcast. More information about Dr. Thielemier can be found on her website.
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