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Most online businesses are about helping people. But how many programs or courses have a one hundred percent success rate? Or even fifty percent? The truth is very few.
Whatever the niche – business, health, personal development – online programs have a high non-completion rate. And of those students who complete a program, only a few realize all the promised results.
It’s my belief that we can do better. Much better. And I include myself in this.
I’m committed to helping my students build profitable businesses they love. And it’s become clear to me that to help more people, we need to approach the design and delivery of online programs differently.
The traditional method of delivering content and adding on support (either via a group or coaching calls) is not enough. Too many students are dropping out, not engaging, and failing to get results.
To find answers on how to do better, I had to look outside the online business world. Sometimes, improvement means completely rethinking the way we do things.
Listen in to find out what I discovered and how I’m changing Business Growth Lab to help my clients get results..
What you’ll learn on today’s episode:
- An honest look at the online business industry and the results we help our clients get.
- Why most online programs have low completion rates.
- What we can learn from sports, top universities, and scientific research about getting results.
- Three things an online program must provide to help students succeed.
- How I’m rethinking the way I’m delivering Business Growth Lab.
Featured on this episode:
Get more information about Business Growth Lab here: sallyannmiller.com/thelab/
Welcome to Introverts Thriving in Business, the podcast for introverts who enjoy the comfort of her, hate the idea of selling, and want to create a thriving business on their terms. If you’re ready to go from overwhelmed and anxious, to feeling calm and accomplished in your business, then keep listening. I’m your host, Sally Miller.
Welcome back to the podcast. So today’s topic is about building programs, whether that’s online courses, coaching programs, anything that has like an educational coaching learning element to it, building programs that get your clients or customers results. I’m going to talk about something that people do talk about it. But I just don’t think we have been in this industry and this online business industry, I don’t think we’ve been talking about this deeply and honestly enough.
So I’m going to make my first attempt today to talk about getting client results. What that looks like, how we can do that, where I think as an industry, for the most part, we’re failing, including myself, and how we can do a lot better. Because, hey, let’s be honest here. I know my audience well, and we’re all in this because we do want to help people. This isn’t just about us. My business isn’t about me, money for me, money for my family, some kind of personal satisfaction. I just want to help people. At the end of the day, that’s what I want. And I don’t think I’m doing it well enough. And I don’t think I’m alone in this.
So, let’s just dig in, what do I mean, first of all, by results? You know me, I love to define things and get as clear as I can. What I mean by getting or delivering results, or helping your clients or customers get results is actually helping them achieve the promised outcome, whatever that is. So this is what I teach my students. I talk about, if you’re selling something, whether it’s a book, or whether it’s a coaching program, or whatever, I talk about getting clear about what is the promised outcome? What is it that your customers can expect, as a result of buying and consuming your product or your service? How many of us get 100% results? Nobody. And I’m going to come back to that in a moment.
But we all do make promises in whatever we sell. If we’re in the health industry, business industry, personal development industry, it doesn’t matter. We are making promises; sometimes literally, sometimes very specifically, and sometimes we imply them, you know, lose 10 pounds, make $100,000, be 20% happier. We’re all making promises like this, but are we truly delivering on it? This is hard stuff. Okay, this is really hard to look at. I know, I find it very difficult myself to look at, in my own program, Business Growth Lab, to actually look and see how many of my students who’ve been through the program or in the program and doing the work currently, how many have already launched their businesses? How many are already making money in their businesses? How many have businesses they love that provide the lifestyle they want?
It’s tough to look at, because I’m going to be honest here, only a small percentage have hit all three of those outcomes that I’ve discussed. Why is that? I know I’m not alone in this, okay? Now, some people don’t look at this at all. They don’t look at all at, you know, customer satisfaction or customer results. In fact, I’d say the vast majority do. Some people do look at data, but they tend to look at hard data that’s easy to measure, for example, completion rates, how many people actually complete my program, if you have technology that gives you that data? Some people look at engagement, what percentage of people are engaging? These are the kinds of numbers I have looked at traditionally.
And by the way, those numbers are bad across the industry. Completion rates—I’m going to come back to this—are really low, engagement rates are really low in the online business industry. But like I said, most people are not looking at anything, any data at all. Some people, myself included, look at completion and engagement, and there’s nice stats that are helpful. They are indicators of what’s happening in your program. But how many look at results? How many gather information on what number of their customers or clients actually achieved their promised outcome? Practically none. And why is that? Because they’re too scared to look at it. And I get it. That’s been me, too. But that’s something that I’m really going deep at, and I’m looking at now and my program.
And I want to inspire you all to look at this, and be honest and be okay. And by the way, I’m going to say that some dropout is inevitable. Some people are not achieving results, because maybe their life goes in a different direction, maybe they lose interest. That is going to happen. But for those who want the results that you’ve then sold them on. And I think you want to look at doing everything you can to help them get there. So let’s talk more about the problem. I’ve already told you most programs, including mine, don’t get anywhere near enough results for enough of their customers and clients.
Now, I’m super stubborn, and that’s why I’m talking to this. I want to raise the standards, my own standards, anyone who’s in my programs know that I have pretty much impossibly high standards for myself. You don’t have to have as high standards as I do. It’s just the way… I find that motivating. I don’t feel bad by having those high standards. I am extremely motivated by just looking at what is possible, and what can I do to improve? I really love the challenge of improving my program, all right? But I want to raise the standards for myself. But I also want to help raise the standards for everyone, because I know we’re all in this industry to help people. So that’s what I’m going to be talking about.
And I’ve looked around, before doing this podcast episode, I mean, I’ve obviously been looking at my own students results in my own programs, but I looked outside. First of all, I looked at all the programs I’ve been part of myself in the past, and it’s a lot. If I go back in my 10 year history, including way back in the beginning, I joined some of the well-known programs, they’re still around. Now I’m not actually going to name specific programs on this episode. This isn’t about calling anyone out, because we’re all in the same place. We all have good hearts, and we are helping people. I just think we can help more people.
But I look back, I actually dived into some of the old communities that I used to be a part of many years ago. And many of the same people are still around, still not getting the results they were there for. This is true for online courses I may have paid $100 for and masterminds and coaching programs that are multiple thousands of dollars and higher. It’s true at both the high and the low end. Again, this is not about calling out people, I just think as an industry, you can do a lot better.
Now, I did also try to look for stats. So I had a lot of anecdotal evidence from my own experience, from talking to people, from observation, I could see like low engagements, like low results. By low, I mean 5%, 2% of people actually achieving the full promised outcome in most programs I looked at. But I didn’t have the exact numbers. Of course, I didn’t. I don’t have the insights to other people’s businesses and their numbers, and very few people actually track results. So I try to like Google for statistics.
Now, within the entrepreneurial world, the kind of online businesses that I and my audience, for the large part, are creating, there were no stats out there that I could find on, like, even completion rates, let alone percentage of students getting results. But I did manage to find several studies on MOOCs, Massive Open Online Courses, and they’re structure really similarly to the way those of us who build online programs in the entrepreneurial world do. So your typical online program has content that you learn, and then some kind of support, whether it’s through group coaching, whether it’s through a Facebook group, whether it’s you can submit questions and get answered. That’s pretty much the structure content, plus some sort of support added on top of that. MOOCs, Massive Open Online Courses are structured identically.
And I’ve had multiple studies, including one—the most recent, I found was a 2019 study that revealed that these online courses recorded an average dropout rate, so these are people not just not getting results, just dropping out altogether, of 96%. And it’s my suspicion that many entrepreneurial programs are not much better than that. So why is it? Let’s not beat ourselves up? Let’s not judge, but surely we can do better. That’s what I wanted to know, is first of all, why is this happening? And then how can we do better? So I started out by digging in.
And by the way, I’ve been quietly doing this for—well, from the beginning, for over a year since I’ve launched the lab, but in depth for the last month. And I started looking deeper at why this is the case, why is dropout rates so high in programs, non-completion rates? Why do we have low engagement where only a couple of, I guess, 5%, maybe actually engage and the support that’s offered and the rest don’t? Why do only, like, a few people actually get the full promised result of these online programs? It’s not, in my opinion, the content, I looked at my own program, I looked at the programs I’ve been part of, and I looked at the content, by which I mean, you know, any training, any video programs, any workbooks, like the content, the teaching. For the most part, content standard is really high. If you’re buying a program, you’ve done some research, it has been recommended to you, the content, the information is high. Yeah, the evidence is, most people still stop consuming it, or they passively consume. And I’m going to come back on all of this in a moment and talk about solutions.
So it’s not the actual content, not the actual training, not the actual information being put out there—for the most part. There are always courses that may have lower level content than others. But for the most part, it’s the consumption of the content and the acting on it. So the problem is not the content. It’s often not the standard of support in coaching either. Again, the groups that I’ve looked back on, and I’ve been a part of, the coaching you receive when you ask for it, the level of support, the answers to your questions, standards are really high. There’s great feedback. However, few people actually ask for the help, actually raise their hand, actually engage. So it’s not the quality of the content, and it’s not the quality of the support and the coaching, etc.
I will say there is one problem, as well as the fact that people aren’t fully engaging, one problem I’ve noticed with support and coaching is when people are given feedback, then not necessarily acting on it. And again, myself, too, as a student I’ve noticed in the past, all right? So it’s not the content, it’s not the sport and coaching. One thing I have noticed, so generally, it’s the consumption is do people consume and finish the content? Or do they finish it but only passively consume it? It’s not the sport, it’s not the coaching. But do people actually engage with the sport and coaching and then act on feedback they get? Something else I noticed in a lot of programs, as I look back, is I don’t think most programs addressed the fixed versus growth mindset problem.
Now, this is one thing I think I actually do do well in Business Growth Lab. In fact, it’s in the name, Business Growth Lab. And I’m very much about adopting an experimental mindset. So this is something that is a fixed mindset is where we as humans tend to most humans tend to go to a fixed mindset where you think your skill is your skill, your talent is your talent. This is put upon us by society and by growing up, you know how we kind of get these labels like, well, I’m just not that musical, or I’m not that athletic, or I’m just not that smart. Those are kind of symptoms, those kinds of statements are symptoms of having a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset, there’s things can change, you can change.
And I actually do address this one deeply inside the lab is I’m always coming back and talking about nonstop having an experimental mindset. But I have noticed that most programs don’t go that deep into addressing that problem. So these are the problems that I see is addressing the fixed versus growth mindset, like people stopping consuming content, or only passively consuming content, not acting on it. And then people either not engaging with the support that’s there, or they do engage, but then don’t act on the feedback. So what’s the answer to all this? Well, you know me, I like to boil things down to something simple. So I started with what’s the behavior for students that would create the best possible results in a program? And I came up with three things. For students inside the program to get results, they want to, one, practice on the content. By the way, I’m just going to assume we all have good content in our programs. I’m going to just assume that the content is good. If the content is not good, get your content good first, become a master of your subject. But for the most part, for the people I work with, that’s not the issue. We are good, we are experts, and we do create quality content. But that’s a given. Do that first.
But assuming you’ve got that piece, you then want your students, one, to practice, by which I mean act on your content, two, get through feedback. And not just have the option to get feedback because you happen to have given them a Facebook group where they can go and ask or weekly coaching group where they can come in as, you want them to get feedback. I’m going to talk about the how in a moment, don’t worry. You’ve got to make it easy, all right? You want everyone to get feedback. So that’s two, and then three, act on that feedback, three is improved.
So one, practice, two, get feedback, three, improve. And you want all your students doing all three, and feeling safe to do all three. You need to create an environment where there’s safety to experiment, and safety to fail, else that growth mindset isn’t going to kick in. People aren’t going to act on the initial content. And they’re definitely not going to act after their first failure and keep on acting. So you want to create an environment where all three happens, not just is possible, but almost everybody who is sufficiently motivated, who enters your program, does do all three.
So how do we do that? I probably haven’t told you anything that surprises you. It makes so much sense. But programs, online programs just don’t create environments, where that is easy, where most students do all three of those things. So, again, I started looking outside of the industry, because I believe the online course, the online program, industry is failing. So I looked into several areas, and I looked at where do I see the majority of people who are engaging in learning, actually getting the promised results. And I looked, I eventually came down to sports, that was where and specifically, children’s sports. Because here’s where I have personal experience at the moment with having my kids and putting them into different sports programs. I’ve noticed that where I’ve seen the most students learn and learn quickly is in sports, and I’m going to talk about swimming because both of my children are in a swimming team at the moment.
And I looked at why are all kids improving? Why are all, like, near 100% of kids…You might at the very first week or two, get that one to 2% dropout in the swim team or a swim program, where the kid just realizes they don’t like it. They’re just not motivated. You need your students to be motivated to learn. But if they stick with it past that first one or two weeks, they’re getting pretty much 100% improvement throughout the summer swim season. Why is that? It’s because they’re doing all these three things. They’re getting kids to practice swimming, they’re giving all kids, every single kid is getting feedback, whether they asked for it or not, by the way, and then those kids are practicing against that they improve. They’re taking that feedback, incorporating it, practicing and improving.
There’s an environment in sports, and this is not just swimming. I’ve had kids in soccer, I’ve had kids in baseball, okay, all the sports. It’s the case in all of these sports. They provide an environment where the kids basically practice. Practice is assumed, there’s no question, you know, we’re not just going to sit and watch a video on how to swim, of course, we’re going to get into the pool. And it’s taken for granted that we do that, we’re going to try what we learn. Then also all kids just automatically get feedback. There’s no question about it. Like, oh, is my coach going to give me feedback or not? The coach give all kids feedback.
When they see a kid struggling, they zoom in on that kid, and they go give that struggling kid feedback and they get more feedback, okay, until they stop being the struggling kid. And then it’s just automatic, by the way. They keep on practicing. It’s an environment where, oh, I’ve got feedback, you don’t even think about it. You don’t question, should I act on that feedback? They just go do it. I want us to create online programs that look like this. This is a complete shift in the way things are done in the industry.
So again, I had to say, well, how do we take all this and bring this into like an online program, an online learning environment? How do we bring this practice, get feedback improve into an online? Like, is anyone doing this? And then I remembered something way back in time. I’m trying to remember what year, but it was more than 10 years ago. I got my MBA, and I got it with the Arizona State, ASU. Okay, Arizona State University. I actually did that program online. And that program had incredible results. And this was a long time ago. And I realized… I remember when I graduated, and I went in person to my graduation, you know, all the students were there. I think we had like one or two dropout at the beginning. And then everybody made it to the finishing line. Everybody got a passing grade. Everybody engaged in the online projects.
I was like, how did they come conduct that online program? Because I did it 100% online. I was in the UK. I was splitting my time, before I moved here to the US permanent, I was splitting my time between the UK and the US, and I actually had a job. But I was splitting my time to in the UK in the US the whole time that I was in that program. It was a two year program. I never gave up. I did all my homework, I engaged in projects. We had monthly or quarterly, I can’t remember, we had regular projects that we did as a group. We were worldwide, our group, mostly US based, I was UK based, there was another person in Europe for half the time in my groups. And we made it to the finishing line. And I learned a lot about business, different story about the difference between an MBA versus an online program. But the way it was structured is we learned, we did the homework, we improved, we reached the finishing line, we got results. Why was that? I’m going to come back to some of the reasons why I think.
And I was like, okay, some universities, some top online learning institutions, outside of the entrepreneurial space are actually doing this quite well. I know it because I’ve experienced it, my experience in that MBA was very different. And it wasn’t just because I paid a lot of money, I paid more money to be part of coaching programs, and I paid to be in that particular program, by the way. But they got more out of me than all of these online programs.
So, I started looking at online institutions, mostly big name universities that have very established online programs that were successful. And I looked at how are they doing it differently to the way we in the entrepreneurial world are doing online programs? And I observed quite a few things. I’m going to come to them in a moment. And then I also looked at is anyone doing this differently in the entrepreneurial space? And I did find one institution that was doing it differently. And it’s Akimbo. Akimbo was originally started by Seth Godin, and anyone who knows Seth Godin, he’s a great thinker, an incredible entrepreneur, who’s written many well-known books. Go check him out, if you aren’t already aware of him—you probably are. And he started doing online programs differently. He called them workshops, he did things differently. And I noticed the way he was doing things was very similar to my experience of an online university program—a good online university program, by the way, they’re not all the same. So if you’ve had a bad online learning experience within the university, just know that not all the same.
Then I also dived into scientific research, because I love to research I want to know, as psychologists looked into this, and I went deep down the rabbit hole of effective online learning. And there’s a lot of research out there, a lot more now, and a lot of it’s been resurfaced, since the pandemic and a lot of learning having to move online, hadn’t previously been online. And I pulled together all the lessons from what Seth Godin did, what I experienced myself and what the most successful online universities and institutions are doing. And I looked for what they’re doing differently, and what’s the research telling us is effective when learning online.
And here is what I discovered. And here’s what I’m going to be doing in my own group program. First of all, I want to double down on experimental mindset. I’m not dropping that. That’s the one thing I’m doing well, I want to double it down, but add in more feedback and action. That’s what’s missing, is feedback for everybody and everybody taking action. Something else I’ve noticed that these programs do is they break down the learning into very clear learning objectives. We’re pretty fuzzy about this in the online business world. But all these online programs have super clear specific learning objectives. And then they design the programs around those learning objectives. So the way I want to do that is designed projects, design work around very clear specific learning objectives.
I’m going to give you an example of that from my program. So one of the learning objectives of the beginning of my program, which is finding a business idea is to write a product or service description that’s compelling and unique within the student’s niche. That is a learning objective. That is something specific and measurable, that I could tell as a teacher and a coach, have my students mastered the ability to do. That’s what I mean by learning objective. It’s not fuzzy, it’s not clear but it’s highly measurable.
And then what most of the programs do, and what I want to do is focus on the skills and tasks that lead to positive outcomes. So let’s not harp on about making money losing weight all the time. And this ties into the learning objectives, again, really hone in on what are the skills people need? What are the tasks? So, for me, it’s to have a successful business, a business that’s profitable and fulfilling. What are the skills that you need? What are the tasks you need to complete in order to have that? And then focus in on those.
I also want to embed a lot more action into my program, and I think we all should be. This is hard, by the way, this is not easy to do. It requires both technology and people changes. But I want to move towards a very immersive single platform. I’m sick and tired of having a separate Facebook group for my community, by the way. I don’t even like Facebook. An immersive single platform technology can help with this. I remember when I did my MBA online, it was a single platform, it was very immersive. All the discussion, all of the learning all of the homework was embedded in one place. It was easy and actually fun to do. And it’s something I do do a lot of in the lab is I make things as easy and fun as possible. But I want to make it so that everybody follows through.
You need to motivate people to take action. We humans, it’s so easy to procrastinate. I’ve done many podcast episodes. I’ll sure have many more on procrastination, but motivation, tapping into motivation to keep taking action. Some ways you can do that in your program, and I want to do more of it in mine, is quality feedback for everyone, and rewards, all right? Reward people who act on feedback too.
Something I want to experiment with is this idea of cohorts. I can’t get away from the fact the most successful online programs like Seth Godin’s, Akimbo, and the online institutions, they all have cohorts. What do I mean by that, is groups of people who go through the learning experience, who go through a program together. This provides accountability, it provides support, it provides feedback from your peers, as well as from your teachers. It provides an environment that feels safe to take action, that encourages action.
I also want discussion to be a natural part of my programs and platforms. I’ve kind of mentioned that. That’s part of technology. I need to move to a different technical platform to do that. But also, it’s part of how you design your program. So people are constantly prompted and reminded and motivated to be part of the discussion, there need to be a reason for people to discuss, right? So those are some of the ways to do this, some of the things that I am playing with building into my Business Growth Lab program. This takes time. This, like I said at the beginning, is a complete rethink about the way we do things online. And I will be coming back and reporting more specifics about what this will look like inside my program, Business Growth Lab.
Just a final note, since I’m talking about changes inside my program, some other things I want to do is make it more accessible to more people. Listen, I hear you guys, I can’t tell you, I get weekly emails from people saying, “I can’t afford the lab, how can I get started at a lower cost?” I want to break it down into chunks. So you can get started on the first chunk, but much lower investment, initial investment. So you can have the experience start making progress immediately without having to put up a larger sum of money. All right, I want that to be possible, so it’s accessible to more people, and more accessible.
Something else I’m doing is practicing what I’m kind of preaching is I want to get much better at measuring my students’ results against the learning objectives that I have for the program, and then look for ways to continuously improve your aid. And having complete transparency about that, about my client’s results, and about how the program works. So you can expect a lot more on all of these things.
One final thought—I know this is longer than usual, this podcast, I just had so much to share. As you can tell, I’m very fired up about this topic. But one final thought I think it’s important to mention is when we talk about results, I personally see a big difference between external results and internal growth. And I’m shifting my focus away from external results and towards internal growths. Like I said before, this is Business Growth Lab. I am all about the growth. And I’ve talked more about the problem about focusing on external results. You can see my episode on “The Problem with Today’s Success Culture” on that.
But here’s the deal: I have a belief that when we focus on internal growth, internal change, learning new skills, external results are a byproduct. But obsessing about results like that, like how much money am I making, for example, in business? Or how much weight am I losing? Obsessing about those external results—or how many people like me—is counterproductive. So like I said, if you want to know more of my thoughts on that, go back to the episode on “The Problem with Today’s Success Culture.” But also, something I stumbled on, and I actually learned about this way back in time, but I’d forgotten. Also, if you’re interested in this topic, Google mastery versus performance goals. This isn’t new, but this really talks to the same thing.
So mastery goals are the kinds of goals where you are motivated by desire to learn a skill or do task well. That’s the focus I want to have. I want to be focusing on mastery goals. Performance goals are traditionally what we all experienced in school is where we’re focusing on the desire to demonstrate competency relative to others. It’s comparing yourself to others, do you get the A grade?
And the research shows that individuals who set performance goals and focus on performance goals, which is similar to my idea of external goals, display more anxiety, become disorganized, have superficial learning habits, lower performance, they avoid engaging actively in tasks. And remember, action is a key thing that I want to emphasize and help people do. And they view that success as outperforming others. It’s all about being competitive, out passing, looking smart. I want to get away from all that. And I think that’s how we’re going to be happier individuals who build more profitable businesses as a byproduct of just getting better at what we do.
So I need to wrap up this here. So some final takeaways for you. Your takeaways are, if you’re delivering any kind of online program, have a look at whether you’re addressing all three of these things. Do your students practice what they learn, get feedback and act on their feedback? If not, look like I am, look for ways to incorporate more of those three things.
If you want to be part of the new lab experience, it’s going to be coming starting September 1, is my plan. Make sure you get on my email list, just go to my website, www.sallyannmiller.com, you can hop on my email list at the bottom of the homepage. And you will be the first to hear when the new Business Growth Lab experiment goes live. But it will be September 1 and I just can’t wait to share more about this and what we’re doing. Let’s shake up the online business industry, guys. I’ll see you next time.
If you’re ready to thrive in business, I want to invite you to join Business Growth Lab. This is my group program where I teach you the exact process I and my students have used to grow profitable businesses we love. When you join the lab, you get lifetime access to everything you need to grow a six-figure business, the training, expert coaching, accountability, and community. The approach we take is scientific. We don’t dabble in business, and we don’t waste time. You’ll create your business on a solid foundation, using proven methods. To join, go to www.sallyannmiller.com/thelab. We’ll see you inside.