7 months ago I took my business full-time. Being a freelancer for most of my life, and even doing it full-time for a while after college, I thought I had a pretty good handle on how things would work. But as it turns out, the product space is a lot harder to work in than the services space (for me). I’ve lamented over the last few months that it’s easier for me to sell one person on a $5,000 project, than 100 people on a $50 course. But after attending CaboPress and participating in an amazing Master Mind group, I was able to get some perspective and readjust. The Autumn and Winter have been much better than the Summer.
But what does that have to do with a new site I launched called Creator Courses? Everything! I decided that as well as do an intro course on Gutenberg, I would launch a new brand. Here’s how I did it, and why.
What is Creator Courses and Why?
WP in One Month is not a great name, to put it nicely. When I first started the site, it made a lot of sense. It was supposed to be live, in-person classes that focus on WordPress. We’d meet once a week for 4 weeks. However, after several pivots, I’ve landed in a place where I do online courses, that may or may not take a month, that may or may not focus on WordPress.
After going full time, and especially at CaboPress, I was presented with a few questions. “Why WP in One Month,” “What do you do exactly,” and “Who is your audience?” I didn’t have great answers. My audience is people who make websites, but the name suggests otherwise. So I reworked my mission, my goals, and my name. I wanted to a name that made what I offer explicitly clear. So I went with Creator Courses. This allows me to expand beyond WordPress, and it gives visitors a good idea of what I do, right off the bat.
So armed with a new name, and a new mission for 2018, how did I pull together this website?
Domain and Hosting
First up (and the easiest to accomplish for me) were domain and hosting. I got my domain from Hover and set up my hosting with Liquid Web (who recently rolled out Managed WooCommerce Hosting. More on that later). Related to that, I got GSuite for email, making Hover an even better choice for domain since I can manage the DNS from a central location, and be hosting/service agnostic.
Next up was creating a logo and choosing a site design. I’m not a logo designer by any stretch, so my logo is basically a font with some colors. I picked my favorite Orange, found some complimentary colors, then picked Glacial Indifference as the font. Done and done.
For the design, I wanted to break from my current design at WP in One Month. I wanted Creator Courses to be clean, focused, and only really have course content on it. I wanted it to be a good place for people to learn. After some searching I settled on Academy Pro by StudioPress. I chose this for a few reasons:
- StudioPress has a great reputation
- I have yet to try a Genesis theme and wanted to give it ago
- It came recommended by Justin Ferriman of LearnDash
- I love the design
They also have fantastic documentation. I was able to go in, choose my primary color, and build a site that was mostly to my liking.
There were a few customizations I had to make. It mostly revolved around CSS in certain places, like the blue section on the homepage. However, there were a few things I had to do to make it play nice with LearnDash.
What I really wanted was a nice big area for the video, with the course content under it. While LearnDash allows you to add Video Progression, the video embed is tied pretty tightly to the content. So instead, I added Advanced Custom Fields (ACF) and created a new template for single LearnDash templates to include the ACF video field I added on the WordPress Dashboard.
Aside from that, Academy Pro worked really, really well out of the box.
Next up, I had to pick what functionality I wanted to move from WP in One Month to Creator Courses, and what, if anything, I wanted to add. I made a list of the plugins I’d bring over, which included:
- LearnDash and most related add-ons
- WooCommerce and most related add-ons
- Gravity Forms
- Convert Kit for WordPress
- Sales Accelerator by iThemes
- SeedProd Notification Bar Pro
Because I also wanted to remove as much technical debt as possible, so I removed duplicate functionality or unused plugins, which included:
- Follow-Up Emails for WooCommerce (replaced by LearnDash Notifications & Jilt)
- Holler Box (replaced by SeedProd’s similar plugin)
- Beaver Builder & Related Plugins
- Google Analytics Monster Insights
- DW Question Answers Pro
In many cases, I had replaced the functionality with something that was bundled. With Beaver Builder, while I love the tool, Academy Pro displays everything the way I’d like. I don’t intent to create any advanced pages or layouts on Creator Courses. My sales pages will be elsewhere. With Monster Insights, I’ve opted to just use the Google Analytics dashboard.
But I also removed my forum plugin, DW Question Answers Pro. Instead, I’m creating a separate, BBPress-powered site called hub.creatorcourses.com. I’m still working through some technical details (like sharing user data between the sites), but I want the “forum” to be a much bigger community that encourages students to interact with each other more.
I would like to just mention Holler Box, which I’m a big fan of. However, SeedProd’s offering does everything I need, and I basically got it for free with the other plugins I got from them.
Putting it all together
Because I’ve spent about 2 years building WP in One Month into an online courses site, I was a lot more proficient in building Creator Courses. I decided to code as little as possible (it was probably 6-10 hours of custom code), so most of the time was spent hooking everything up and testing.
There were a couple of pitfalls in the fast development cycle. The first was WooCommerce Checkout Manager (WCCM), which I thought I needed, and didn’t. I decided to hide most of the billing fields through a fork of Patrick Rauland’s code, but WCCM was still marking certain fields as mandatory even though they weren’t on the page. When people from certain countries tried to check out, WCCM prevented them from doing so. Once I realized I didn’t need that plugin, I deleted it.
I’m currently testing a new plugin by my friend Clif Griffin and his team called Checkout for WooCommerce. I’ll be adding that to the site in the near future.
The other big pitfall is the Hub. Syncing user data will definitely cost more money than expected or require some serious development time. That is instrumental in making that site work well though, as I plan to have course-specific forums for students only.
Plans for the Future
As I move everything from WP in One Month to Creator Courses, my main goals are to get all of the courses in one place, and move any users over (this will be an opt-in process). WP in One Month will run for the foreseeable future, it just won’t accept new accounts.
Once that happens I’ll focus my attention on The Hub, as well as building Curriculums – sets of courses users can register for all at once. I’m really excited for this year, and I’m ready to recognize the full potential of selling online courses!