Below is a letter, yes, a letter (ok, not really a letter), exploring what a colleague might do with his, very excellent, content business. Whilst it was written for him, it might be helpful for you.
Commercial conundrums are like red rags to a bull for me. How to increase demand - through the fallow periods - and increase margin in your courses more generally was a problem I went straight to work on.
This thinking is without proper context or reality, so feel free to do with what you wish. It's a shame we don’t communicate with letters any more. If we did, you could turn these into a paper airplane.
I had a look at the course calendar. It makes sense, as you explained, that interest is high Sept and Jan but harder in June. I can see that at £2,500 it could be profitable, but at a push. The cost of organising, running, doing, dancing. These are expensive endeavours, as you well know.
So I asked myself the question….
How would I increase demand and margin?
I would start by looking ahead. Five years, maybe. I prefer longer time periods to shorter. They’re easier, more forgiving and, I’d argue, more realistic. Someone cleverer than me said we massively over estimate what we can do in a day or a week and massively underestimate what we can do in a year. Or ten. I like to give myself room for decision making, for adjusting, refining. A five year goal does that for me, as a framework.
What will the courses look like in five years?
Seth Godin is interesting. Always. His view of courses is instructive too. Make them hard and not for everyone. Make them for the committed only. Expensive is hard. Some pre-qualification is hard too. Content can be hard. We learn with effort and endeavour. Make the content a challenge. And what about learning? How does this best work? Well, what's best for me is probably different to you. Broadly. In making his AltMBA course Seth Godin set out to create courses which sustained interest all the way to the end. And beyond. What digital routinely fails to do, of course. HIs learnings are useful.
Back to the five years. The courses and content might come in different shapes and sizes, with different hues and colours. They should almost certainly come with different price tags, reflecting different ways of engaging, consuming, eating the content. Some digital, some ‘real’ life, some on my mobile, that super computer in my pocket, some on a Sunday, some a Monday. Some in a classroom on a Saturday. Different hues, different shapes and sizes. Not one size fits all.
A customer can only pay what we charge them.
Customers should be able to pay different amounts. These might range from a lot to a little, reflecting value. Different courses will be worth different amounts to different people. Everything is. Work this to your advantage. Use it to drive margin.
So, in five years we might have courses which are delivered via different mediums, some in a classroom, some on my phone, laptop. The courses will be hard. They will demand commitment. They might be quite difficult to get into, to participate in. As a consequence you’ll be super charging your goals, your ambitions.
Five years need not be left to theoretical. We can test now, in five months.
I would test the hypothesis that people can only pay what we charge them.
I would have three different options. One would be very expensive. And hard to get into. It would come with greater value, but for the few, not the many. A door policy is a powerful motivator. Use it. An expensive course, maybe run over a year.
Of course not everything can be expensive. We know that today about 60 people a year are happy to pay £2,500 for ten weeks of goodness. That remains. It's your engine room. Oh, and another thing, if you add a very expensive option above and a cheaper option below more people will want the middle option. Three options are important. Don’t believe me on this, although I know it to be true, believe him and this Its the realm of behavioural economics. More people wanting the middle option is more demand. More demand, more interest, more people wanting to do the course, can be used to manage demand over the whole year. Make this a goal: Sept is oversubscribed. “I’m sorry, course is full, but we can offer you a place in Jan". And on into June. A story of sold out feeding demand, feeding interest, in the next.
What about that third option? You’ve got a very expensive version for the few, you’ve got a middle option for the many. Add a third, maybe a digital only option for the everybody. Ok, not everybody, but the everybody interested. Pre-recorded content only, perhaps? Something to eat and digest myself, at home. No cohort. No group sessions. Just me and my device. People will buy it, probably. But most importantly, having the three options will drive sales and demand more generally. Remember him and this.
This doesn't get into the actual course content or drivers and contributors of value. But it does start to address how to sell more, for higher margins and more frequently. Nudge the needle on each of these and you’ll start to increase margin, joy and multiples of goodness (as defined by your mission…!). But of course you know all this.
Anyway, as said, I offer these as an exercise in problem solving. And because I like your mission, vision.
You may have tried all this.
You probably have an alternative, better vision for your next five yeas and five months. I would expect nothing less. As I said, tinkering with the problem is an exercise I enjoy. If my tinkerings are of use, then great. If they’re not, make a virtual paper airplane and release it to the wind!
All the best,