There are many articles on the web about building an online business. But they don’t look at the project management aspects. Recently, one of our readers asked for information on start-ups, getting a blog going, multi-media marketing – and how to project manage all of this.
I’m not an expert. But, as you can see, I have done it all. OnlinePMCourses was a start-up in 2016, this blog is active and successful, and I use multi-media marketing to reach readers and learners like you.
So, this will be a rather different article to our usual guides. I’ll tell you how I approached building the OnlinePMCourses online business, and what I learned.
As with any project, if you want to launch a full-on online business, or a personal project management blog, you have to define:
We start or project definitions by understanding the purpose, goal, objectives, and scope of our project. As an example, here is my own project definition:
The next tier of my own project definition was to start to define and understand the aspects of the online business I wanted to build; my:
We need to talk about the strategic project management approach. On the face of it, the choice was simple:
The option of a planned approach is comforting for me. I have been in Project Management for nearly 30 years. So, building a robust project plan is almost instinctive for me now.
The benefit is that it gives a lot of certainty – or, at least, confidence. I could set a launch date and plan my work, to meet it. And I could do the same with Phase 2 and Phase 3…
The problem with this approach is that this was a project type that was wholly new to me. I could do my research, and speak to some people, but I couldn’t predict the outcomes with any certainty whatsoever.
Many online businesses launch incrementally, taking a highly agile approach. Some will launch a course with only a few modules, and use revenue and feedback from them to fund and inform future development.
That was not what I wanted. I did not feel my prospective audience would like the idea of buying an incomplete course and then have to wait for vital information.
I do get the benefits of Agile project management here:
It’s just not who I am. I considered this option carefully, But, ultimately, any project has to be true to its sponsor and their values. I
Regular readers of my articles and newsletters will know that I prefer to reject binary choices where I can.
I chose a planned approach to launch, the business, and then an agile approach to growing it, post-launch. Indeed, I built a very detailed plan for the first quarter of 2016.
I took a traditional project planning approach that I learned in the mid-1990s: rolling planning. In this approach, you plan over a long period, but for nearer term plans, you plan in greater detail. So, during the second half of December 2015, I developed my plans for the project:
Some people love to hear about tools. I gave up trying to find the perfect tool on a free trial and decided to make use of what I already had and knew.
I am a big fan of Wunderlist. I was a bigger fan still, of Wunderkit, but the company stopped investing in it – too much of a project management tool for its time management/getting things done market.
Wunderlist is a highly capable task list manager. It’s by far the best (for me) that I have found, with a great User Interface (UI). And I stretched it right to the limits of its capabilities.
I still use it today. So, it’s a great sadness to me that its new owners, Microsoft, have decided to stop investing in it and eventually close it down. It seems they bought the company to get access to a great bunch of developers, who have now built a new and inferior product (that doesn’t play nicely with Mac). #SaveWunderlist
I use Trello to record ideas and track them through the development process.It’s a joy to use and everything I need – including collaboration – is available on the free tier.
Most of all, I’m a pen and paper guy. At the start of a substantial new project, I start a new notebook. I sketch ideas, mindmap articles and course structures, and make lists. I take notes compulsively, when learning new things or attending meetings.
And, I draw out strategy charts to indicate the main features of my project schedule graphically. These aren’t Gantt charts – but they use some of the conventions loosely. They are less precise on timing, and show only workstreams and major work packages. But, as a visual thinker, they help me see where I am going.
The essence of planning this project was understanding the logical sequence in which components needed to be ready.
It was tempting just to get on with creating the content. That’s my strength and what I enjoy. But for a good launch, I’d need people to be aware of the new business. With smart scheduling, I could build that awareness at the same time as building the products.
This meant the first priority was to build the framework of a website and some landing pages.
I also built a lead generation asset that would encourage people to engage early. A website with no content would hold visitors. So, I also built the project management glossary I still give away today: ‘Decode the Jargon of Project Management’.
With that ready, I could then contact people I knew and invite them to take a look. I set up a new email list, using a new platform, Active Campaign. Selecting this was a big chunk of work, but the secret is to know what functionality
It’s worth mentioning that anyone wanting to build an online business will need a whole stack of technology. And selecting this can be a big task.
So, here are my tips:
If you are interested in the details of what tools I chose, I’ve documented it here. However, do recognize that, while it all works well for me, it may not be optimal for you.
The largest workstream for me was going to be building the three core project management programs. Here are the planning assets I created:
Full course content breakdowns. This was a side-by-side schedule of the modules and sections for each of the three tiers of
Production and post-production checklists. I would be shooting and editing a lot of videos. I wanted an efficient repeatable process and I didn’t want to make mistakes. Making video courses before, I’d made many, including:
Checklists ensure you don’t forget any step. For your Project Management Checklists, take a look here.
I created a recording schedule for quiet times of days when nobody else was in the house.
Unfortunately, I had to amend my schedule when landscaping work started in a neighbor’s garden, rendering it impossible to get good audio. I shifted my whole schedule to record after my family
Part of my planning process was re-watching the video courses on video production and editing. I was familiar with all of
Importantly, I use video training as a primary way to learn business and professional skills, myself. In the dreadful corporate-speak jargon, I eat my own dog food.
What can my experience tell you about the process of delivery?
It’s hard work. Lot’s of hard work, in fact. But having a plan to work to made it feel easier and certainly not overwhelming. On the face of it, it should be. Over 6 months, I:
A plan makes everything seem easier and more controlled. And when you need to abandon part of your plan and rebuild it due to diggers in next door’s garden… Well, you have a framework to start from.
And checklists mean I made very few errors along the way.
The day your business goes live with its first saleable product is a big day. And, when you make a sale – and then another – that’s special.
But launch is not the end, it’s the start of the next stage. For some businesses, it’s the start of the operational stage, where customer care and maintenance are your only concern. But for this kind of business, we’re into cycles of new projects to develop new products.
It feels pretty Agile, but in truth, I plan out each new product carefully.
But we do need to close the ‘launch’ project. And Project Closure means three things:
I’ll come back to the lessons learned review in a moment. I did, of course, have a range of too-dull-to-discuss-here tasks to clear. And, of course, I made sure to spend some of my first sales revenue on treating my family to a celebratory meal.
But it’s the lessons I learned that you want to hear about.
I learned a lot, and I am continuing to learn. That’s what keeps me doing this. Most were matters of detail – and project specific. That is, I learned more about video production, design, and marketing that I did about Project management.
But three Project management lessons stand out for me, as I look back. And none of them is ‘new’ in the sense that I did not already know it.
But each is an important reminder of an essential truth of project management.
And, the benefit of a fixed timeline is that there is an end-point to the early mornings and hard work. When someone tells you there’s easy money to be made online, take it from me: it is not easy money if your ambition is to offer a good quality product at a fair price, with integrity. The easy money comes from scams and get-rich-quick courses.
By the way, that is not to say that you cannot make a lot of money. I’ve met some incredible online course creators who have made a metric Tonne of hard cash. But the ones worth talking to have also worked hard to get there.
Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer researched what makes people feel good or dejected at the end of a working day. The secret lies in whether or not you feel you have made progress.
If you break
By checking off every video recorded, or edited, as a milestone, and marking each web page as an achievement, I was able to make many achievements each day. That’s a good feeling!
Here’s the big one. And this was a little more surprising than the first two. I knew, from my career in managing projects and leading teams, how important it is for people to have the answer to the ‘why?’ of their project.
And I had that from Day 1: to bring my real-world live training to an audience beyond the large organizations in the UK to whom I’ve been delivering it for the last 15 years.
But there’s a place beyond knowing why. It’s truly believing that your project can work, as well as that it is worth doing. To sustain you through a long, self-motivated project, you need to believe in that project.
Have you launched your own online business? If you have, I’d love to hear about your experiences and project management lessons. Please do comment below and I’ll definitely respond.
If you are, what are your questions? Again, use the comments below and I’ll do my best to offer suggestions.
This article is published on 1 April 2019 – April Fools’ Day in some countries.
This is NOT an April Fool post. Although I marked this slot for a joke post in my content plan, back in December 2018, I decided against it for two resons:
Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 13 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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